Posts belonging to Category Domestic Affairs

Out Of The Sun

My office has two computers and a laser printer that all put out copious amounts of heat, making it pretty toasty in here, especially in the summer when it hits 100°F outside.  I’ve responded by putting up blackout panels behind the curtain.  They block out a lot of heat and most of the light.  Unfortunately, it meant that I couldn’t see out and that it’s too dark to see in here.  I got a lamp for the desk to allow me to read the occasional printed document.

But lately it’d really been bugging me that I couldn’t see what was going on outside.  I had an internet camera laying around so I installed it today.

So now I can see out the window again.  But it just seems weird to use a remote camera to see out of a window that’s three feet to my left.  I suppose when fall hits I’ll be able to “see with my own two eyes,” but until then the nuclear blast furnace known as the “Texas summer” keeps me safely indoors behind cover.  cool smile

Another Opportunity To Spend Money

Unfortunately, I won’t likely be attending any gun shows for a while.  One section of my fence has gotten so bad that I can’t put off replacing it much longer.  My dog, the canine escape artist that she is, has learned how to get out through the loose boards in the gate.  Fortunately she hasn’t gone farther than the front yard (and then comes back to whine at the gate to be let back in), which is an improvement over her initial escape where she was found on the highway over a mile away from the house.  I guess after nearly a year with me she’s finally settling in.

I got an estimate today for just over $1200 to replace an 80-ft section (which includes the gate).  That includes replacing the posts and all labor.  I was estimating it would cost me about $500 for materials if I did it myself without replacing the posts, which turned out to be in worse shape than I’d realized (after I cleared some of the junk in the yard I found that a couple of them had rotted at their bases).  So I suppose that the estimate isn’t too far out of line, given that they’ll be using better materials (I’d priced the cheaper pine fence sections at Lowe’s) and given the amount of labor involved.  So my choice is either several days of labor wrestling fence posts and fence sections into place (and more time cursing over the fact that the gate is slightly unlevel) or a few seconds to write a check.  Hmm…  That wasn’t a hard choice after all. 

Breaking And Exiting

As I was finishing with breakfast this morning I happened to see a small white dog in my back yard.  The neighbors in back of me have two dogs—the little white one and a large, young, rambunctious chocolate lab.  The first time I saw the little white dog in my yard, he’d found a loose board in the fence and managed to push it far enough out to squeeze under it.  He couldn’t get back, since the board had to be pulled out and while dogs are good at pushing, they don’t seem to have grasped the concept of pulling something.  I pulled the board out and he squeezed back through and I nailed the board down.  I thought that the problem was solved.

Then a couple of weeks ago the little white dog was back.  This time the big dog had been banging on the fence with enough force to cause the nails at the bottom of the board to come out.  Once he got it into that state, a couple more hits caused the board to break in the middle, allowing the little white dog through (who knows, perhaps he was sending in the white one as advanced recon for future operations).  I pushed the little dog back through, put the board back in place and put some bricks in front of that spot in hopes of discouraging further incursions.

This morning, though, when I went out to send the white dog on its way I discovered that two boards were now broken, the bricks were scattered, and the big lab was in my yard now.  I tried to coax him to go back through, but he seemed more interested in jumping and slobbering on me than going back into his own yard.  I even tried putting the little white dog back through the hole in hopes that he would follow.  No dice.

At this point, I thought I should get the dogs’ owner involved, so I walked around the corner to his house.  I rang the bell and waited a bit (it was around 8:15) and the guy finally came to the door, dressed only in shorts and with disheveled hair.  It’s obvious that I’d woken him up.  I explained that his dogs had broken through the fence and were in my yard and asked him if he would call them back while I blocked the hole.  When I came around my house to go into the yard I noticed that half a board was missing at the bottom of my gate and the gate itself was knocked halfway out at the bottom.  There was also evidence of digging.  I surmised that the small dog had dug out under the gate and the big lab had followed, knocking the gate all to hell in his haste to follow the white dog.  I noticed the neighbor looking through the hole in the back fence at this point and told him that it looked like they escaped by going under my gate.  I went out to the street and down a ways, but I couldn’t locate them.  As I was coming back he showed up in his Explorer and asked me how long they’d been out.  I guessed it had been less than 10 minutes, since they were still there when I left.  He then took off to look for them.

I still don’t know if he found them.  I haven’t heard them back there all day.  I noticed that neither of them were wearing collars, hence no tags either.  If they haven’t been found by animal control, they could be miles away by now.

It’s hard to tell for sure from the surveyor’s drawings, but I think the fence in back is on his side of the property line and hence his responsibility.  Regardless of that, though, since his dogs did the damage, he should be responsible for fixing that section of the fence.  But for now, I’ve temporarily nailed a piece of fencing over the hole.  It looks like crap, but it should keep the dogs from getting through there again.  Of course, that big, rambunctious lab could probably make a hole anywhere he wanted to with enough persistence.  It’s not like he’s using his head for much else…

The Great Keller Chainsaw Massacre And Archeological Dig

I set out with the intention on Friday afternoon of removing the gravel from where the pine trees had been, but I was distracted by some crap that was growing near the patio in one of the beds left behind by the former owners.  They seemed to plant stuff almost indiscriminately.  There are beds seemingly everywhere (and I’m finding landscape timbers in weird places, buried in the ground as well).  Since I have no patience or ability at gardening, I’ve taken an “everything must go” approach.  Grass is much simpler to deal with.

After hacking up all the crap and digging up a pretty good sized bush I ripped up the metal edging in preparation for putting down grass seed.  Then I turned my attention to the gravel.  It turns out that gravel isn’t easy to get up.  You have to take a bit of soil with it if you want to get all the gravel.  This in turn makes for heavy work.  I only got about halfway through the gravel before giving up.

Saturday morning I returned to the gravel, digging it all up and moving it to the corner of the yard, where I’m temporarily piling all the wood shavings and other debris until it can be hauled to the dump.  The pile was significantly bigger when I was done. 

I then turned my attention on an old dog house that was left by the former owners in the corner of the yard.  I yanked it out and ripped it apart.  Underneath I found some old lumber that someone had buried for some reason.  What was weird was that under the lumber they had buried bricks.  When I was done digging all that stuff up I had around 70 bricks (I was tempted at first to leave them there, but they didn’t seem conducive to effective grass growing).  For now they’re stacked up against the fence until I can figure out what to do with them.

This brought me to my final, and most daunting project: the removal of a 16 ft. by 4 ft. raised flower bed that was made of landscape timbers.  Each side was composed of 8-ft timbers laid end-to-end and it was two timbers high.  The thing was held together with those huge landscape spikes/nails, which made getting them apart something of a challenge.  After I got a couple of the timbers out (and dodged the little black snake that came out from under one at high speed) I realized that there was zero probability that I was going to be able to get them to the street by myself (not only were they too heavy, the trash company doesn’t like dealing with items over 5 ft. in length).  It was getting late by then, so I decided to wait until Sunday to bring in the chainsaw.

After a trip to Home Depot to obtain a chainsaw (and another to buy “bar and chain” oil) I finally got down to the business of reducing those damn timbers to manageable pieces.  My only mistake was forgetting ear plugs.  Afterwards I could hardly hear anything.

At this point, all that was left was the clean up.  But that wasn’t a picnic, either.  I had about 40 2 ft. long chunks of 8×8 timbers (some still crawling with annoying red ants), the remains of a dog house, metal edging, 8 or 9 bags of miscellaneous crap, and the remains of a large bush to hump down to the street.  The garbage people are going to be very busy at my place come Tuesday morning.

I have a feeling I’m going to pay for all this tomorrow.  I’ve already got an assortment of aches and pains.  And I think my nose is sunburned.  It’s pretty red right now, giving me that drunken glow.  I guess it’s good that I work from home so no one at work will think I’m drunk on the job tomorrow. cool hmm

The Ents Would Not Be Pleased

In the middle of my back yard, right up against the fence, and right under TXU’s power lines were two large pine trees.  The previous owners had put down white gravel in an pretty good sized area under the trees.  It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, since nothing would really grow there anyway.  They even had an A-frame swing set on the gravel between the two trees.  Unfortunately, they took the swing with them when they moved.

Anyhow, shortly after I moved in I noticed that the pine trees were leaking sap/rosin from several areas low on their trunks.  Earlier in the year I had them looked at by a tree service who said they might be saved by micro injections (10 injections per tree at $15 per injection).  For one reason of another I kept procrastinating calling the tree service to have the injections done.  Despite the predations of whatever parasite that was attacking them, they still seemed fairly healthy.  Until last week, that is. 

Asplundh showed up to trim the trees along the power lines.  They took so much off the tops of both trees that I couldn’t see how they would make it.  Most of their good, green limbs had been taken.  So I felt I didn’t have any choice anymore but to have them taken down.  I had that done (not by Asplundh, though) on Thursday and I also had them take away some other bushes in the back yard and along the side of the garage.

All of this activity spurred me to finally get around to most of the things I’d been wanting to do in the back yard, starting with removing all that damn gravel.

Lazy And Disingenous

If there’s anything I hate more than being demanded to part with my Social Security Number for numerous things that don’t really need it, it’s the tendency of late for the asker to lazily shorten it to “your social.”  That makes it sound so much more innocuous and “friendly.”  After all, who doesn’t want to be “social”?  It makes you seem unreasonable for getting offended by such a request. 

I just ran into this because Cingular’s obnoxious computer system had mangled my address yet again, substituting “Court” for “Street”.  Luckily, the Court is connected to my Street and serviced by the same postman.  This means that he actually knows my name and delivers it to me.  If it’d been a weekend, the substitute carrier would have likely left my bill at the corresponding address down the way.

After navigating Cingular’s designed-to-make-you-give-up-and-go-away VRU and escaping through hitting zero (even though ‘0’ wasn’t a listed option, it took it), I was eventually transferred to someone who demanded my cell number again and “the last 4 digits of your social.”  It turns out that it’s their policy to either ask for your birthday or the last four digits of your SSN.  I had her put my birthday in the system.  However, it occurred to me that I don’t recall giving them my SSN.  I originally started with them before they changed their name to a silly made-up word, so it’s likely that I didn’t care as much about privacy at the time.

Anyhow, given my previous dealings with Cingular’s online systems, I’m not sanguine that my address will actually get changed.  When I moved I had a hard time getting it to take my address, since it wanted to shoehorn my address into a set of fields, such that I entered the house number in one field, the street name in another, and then selected the type (Street, Drive, etc) from a drop-down.  Given that my correct address requires an additional directional modifier, their system was obviously not designed with me in mind.  As an example, my address would be written as “### Name Street South”, which I had to enter without the “South”.  Fortunately, the north part of my street doesn’t have a house with the same number as mine.  Somewhere along the way, though, the system morphed that into “### Name Court”. 

Given that this type of confusion resulted in having my gas disconnected without warning, you can understand that I’m likely to be a bit peeved with systems that change my address for no apparent reason.

I think part of it is that companies often “normalize” addresses and for some reason their normalization routine changes it if the original isn’t correctly entered.  I know the postal system wants it to be written “### Name St S” or it won’t recognize it.  I always enter it that way on forms, but people have a habit of entering them wrong or changing parts of it.  About a month ago I had the same thing happen with my truck loan. 

Same Old Crappy Business Model

I’d been looking forward to the rollout of FTTP (fiber to the premises) from Verizon here in Keller.  They were promising truly high-speed internet access.  Well, they’ve announced the pricing scheme, and it’s the same old tired crap with upload caps (and I’ll bet a bunch of restrictive terms about what you can run).  Further, they’re bundling all the same useless content that they do with their DSL service (MSN Premium content; Verizon’s new Broadband Beat entertainment portal).

Here are the announced prices:

  • 5 Mbps/2 Mbps for $34.95 a month as part of a calling package, or $39.95 a month stand-alone
  • 15 Mbps/2 Mbps for $44.95 a month as part of a calling package, or $49.95 a month stand-alone
  • 30 Mbps/5 Mbps at pricing to be announced later

I guess I must not be the core market, but all I want is the damn pipe, and I want one without a stupid upload cap.  I don’t need (nor do I want) their content.  I don’t need their email or web hosting or any other stuff.  I work from home and I frequently need to upload large files.  Upload caps get in the way of that.  Given that this is for work, I’d be willing to pay a little more per month for a service without an upload cap. 

15M/2M or 30M/5M is still a lot better than what I get now (3M/128Kbps), but it’s kind of disappointing to find these stingy upload caps after all the hype about what they were touting as “true high speed” access.  Don’t get me wrong—I’ll probably still sign up, but I’m not as enthusiastic as I was about this when they first announced it.  Yes, I know the equipment itself isn’t symmetrical, but the technical capabilities of the equipment should at least allow something like 15M/15M through bandwidth shaping techniques (the tech specs are 155M down and 100M up and they’re likely using bandwidth shaping/throttling software in the routers or the modems to limit the bandwidth to the contractual amounts). 

I almost forgot to mention that they’ve named the service “Verizon Fios”.  I think I’ll stick to calling it FTTP.  I absolutely despise the current corporate trend of making up nonsense words as names for their products. 

Bring On The Fiber Already!

Late last week I noticed that Verizon employees were in the neighborhood working at the new fiber optic boxes that have been put in near the street.  This was the first time I noticed actual Verizon employees, though.  All of the other work has been done by contractors.  So I took this as a sign that they were nearing completion of the new fiber network. 

The Verizon press release has a few more details about the FTTP rollout, including this tidbit about proposed service speeds.

Bob Ingalls, president of Verizon’s Retail Marketing Group, said some of the new broadband access products will feature download speeds of 5 megabits per second, 15 megabits per second and 30 megabits per second. Verizon expects to begin marketing these products in Keller and elsewhere later this year. The new network will also support video applications and other new services.

“These services will be provided at a substantial value over anything that’s in the market today – highly competitive pricing because we know that’s what customers will expect,” Ingalls said.

30 Mbps is certainly better than anything I can get today, but I’ll be a bit disappointed if this is all they’re going to offer.  The equipment is capable of doing 100 Mbps (at least according to its specs).  I’m also anxiously awaiting the publication of their offerings and the terms of service for those offerings.  I want a symmetrical high-speed internet service that doesn’t have a significant penalty in cost for being symmetrical.  Since I work from home these days, I find myself being hampered by the silly upload cap imposed by the cable modem provider.  If you want symmetrical speeds with cable you have to pay for a business plan, which the last time I checked was around $100/month (unfortunately, they’ve removed their pricing information and replaced it with a contact form on the Charter website, so I can’t tell what their service costs now).

Verizon has a general information page for their new FTTP ‘DSL’ service here, including the ability to sign up to be notified when FTTP is available in your area.

Domestic Industry

Since I was feeling better I decided to tackle the flower bed that starts at the front of the house and goes down the side as well as to try to do something with the front yard, which is growing a lot of weeds, but not much real grass.  The previous owners had stopped tending the flower bed well before they moved out and I hadn’t done anything with it either, so it was full of weeds and grass.

The first thing I decided was that the metal edging had to go and that I was going to replace it with brick edging.  I also decided that I was going to go for a minimalist approach (which would also simplify upkeep).  Of course, as I’m learning, none of this is cheap and it required multiple trips to Lowe’s.  So far I’ve spent nearly $400 on materials (although alot of it is one-time expenses, like a wheelbarrow, brick edging, hoses, sprinklers, etc).

I spent nearly every free moment outside working on it over the weekend,  as well as some time last night.  A brief summary of my activities:

  • Ripped up the metal edging
  • Raked out all the wood chips in the flower bed (which were right up against the foundation and seemed to me to provide way too much temptation for termites)
  • Trimmed the bottom of the big holly bushes so I could get under them
  • Dug up the weeds and grass
  • Hauled countless wheelbarrows full of wood chips, dirt, and weeds to the back yard (until I can figure out how to get rid of them)
  • Put down weed-stop fabric
  • Put down the brick edging
  • Ripped up every weed, bush, rose plant, trellis, and other assorted junk along the side of the house (remember, I said minimalist above; in this case I took the “everything must go” approach)
  • Spread grass seed and fertilizer
  • Put down a 6-inch wide layer of lava rock at the edge of the foundation on top of the weed-stop
  • Covered most of the rest of the weed-stop in ‘enviromulch’ (I have to go back today to get a couple more bags to finish the last little area)
  • Setup a timer, hoses, and sprinklers
  • Complained about my sore back and took lots of Tylenol in the evenings

I had to setup all that sprinkler apparatus because the grass seed has to be watered twice a day until it gets going (at least two weeks).  Of course, my sprinkler setup didn’t work as expected.  I had four sprinklers on two hoses fed from one timer using a splitter (it’s a pretty Rube Goldberg looking setup).  It worked when I tested it, but when the timer started, other people in the neighborhood were also using their sprinklers, which caused a couple of mine to not have enough pressure to cycle.  I’m going to go back today and get a second timer and hook it up so that the timers are on the splitter and only two of the sprinklers are on each timer.  Then I’ll stagger the programs so that only one timer (and its two sprinklers) are running at any one time.

I should look into a payroll deduction going directly to Lowe’s…

Overtaken By Events

There always seems to be something to do around here, especially with spring just around the corner.  On Thursday we got our first real dose of wind, with 40-50 MPH gusts.  On the side of the house there was a large Bradford Pear tree, which unfortunately was planted directly under the electric lines that feed my house from the transformer.  On several of those gusts I would lose power for a second.  Just long enough to completely hose the one PC that I haven’t yet connected to a UPS. 

I called a tree service and waited around for them to come out and give me an estimate.  Around 7:00pm they called and said it’d be the next morning.  Well, they finally showed up around 2:00pm on Friday.  Despite my misgivings about their punctuality, I went ahead and told them to take down the tree.  They came on Saturday and cut down the tree and ground the stump down.  They did a good job, despite being late to every appointment.  The owner of the service also offered to take the old swing set when I told him I was going to tear it down.  In return he trimmed up a couple of other trees in the back yard.  Unfortunately, when it came time to tear it apart, they discovered that the posts were buried a couple of feet deep and encased in concrete.  So now I guess I’m going to have to attack it with a chainsaw and a shovel.

I spent most of Sunday raking and bagging the junk that had accumulated in the back yard.  The previous owners quit bothering to do anything back there sometime last summer, and I hadn’t had time to mess with it until now.  I finished the last bag (number 17) just as it was getting too dark to see what I was doing.  I just hope that the trash collectors don’t balk at the number of bags.  I checked their collection policies on the city’s website, but I always expect trouble. 

I’ve still got a lot of work ahead.  The area where that tree used to be got so much shade that there is no grass there.  There’s also a lot of other junk that I want to get rid of (some planters, an old dog house, etc).  And then, there’s the fence.  Not only do I need to replace the gate, but the entire fence on the left side of the house needs to be replaced (although on the plus side my neighbor offered to pay for half the cost of the materials—I’ll be doing the work myself).  So it looks like I’ve got plenty of work to keep me busy during the next month. 

Anyhow, all this domestic activity kind of cut into my blogging activity.