Archive for Surlywood

Where it all goes (’16)

The property-tax bill has arrived, and it’s marginally higher than last year, owing to a marginally higher assessed value. As always, the County Treasurer duly sends out a breakdown of what is paid to whom, and I reproduce it here for future reference (last year’s numbers in [brackets]:)

  • City of Oklahoma City: $120.39 [$124.57]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $482.54 [$476.19]
  • Metro Tech Center: $125.29 [$123.21]
  • Oklahoma County general: $96.57 [$94.03]
  • Countywide school levy: $33.65 [$33.02]
  • City/County Health Department: $21.05 [$20.66]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $42.27 [$41.47]
  • Total: $922.07 [$913.14]

This year’s millage is 113.43, down from last year’s 114.50. (Record millage: 117.58, 2011.) I’m not complaining.

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No goblins

My fault: I wasn’t well enough to answer the door three or four dozen times, so I wound up blowing off Halloween entirely. I will add this to the burgeoning “I Hate My Life” files.

Addendum: Reports from the neighborhood indicate turnout was pretty sparse compared with previous years. I blame sidewalks.

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How cool is this?

An unusually warm October — the temperature has yet to drop below 40° F (4° C) — has encouraged the late-season roses to go flat-out while they still can:

Roses on the 29th of October

There are several other budding clusters elsewhere on this bush: it’s not exactly Spring finery, but it’s not bad.

(Other sizes at Flickr.)

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Not to be chewed

The annual Termite Inspection came yesterday, as it has every October since 2003. Usually I follow the inspector around the premises, but that wasn’t happening. And it’s probably just as well, since anything I’m likely to say is going to be a variation on the theme of “Sorry about the mess.”

They’ve changed one protocol since last time: instead of a paper receipt, they email you a PDF. As always, they asked whether this is the correct billing address; as always, I wrote out a check rather than wait for the bill. But this chap seemed surprised at my, um, “low account number,” giving me the impression that a lot of their customers move on after a few years, while I’ve been here for thirteen.

Me, I’m thinking warranty: if I keep this up, and some year they actually find the hungry little bastards on the premises, the contract says that they will remediate at no additional cost. Over the years I’ve forked over a little more than a grand, which is trivial next to the average Kill The Damn Bugs bill.

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As the escrow flies

I have received the renewal for my homeowner’s insurance, and the premium is dropping from stupidly high to somewhat less stupidly high: the annual savings will be just over $100. (Still, unless you live in some place like San Simeon, my premium is probably higher than yours.) At least part of the expense is due to my having specified some comparatively pricey options over and above the standard package, including an escalator clause that adjusts the amount of the policy upward when the value of the property increases. Still, Oklahoma has some of the highest insurance costs in the land, and this isn’t going to change so long as we have some of the most perverse weather this side of Baffin Bay.

Which means, I have to figure, that unless the county seriously jacks up the property tax rate, I will not be running an escrow shortage in 2017, inasmuch as the actual value of this property, as determined by the County Assessor, has risen by less than two percentage points.

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Twice the redness

You may remember this little guy from last year:

Red spider lily

He went into hiding shortly thereafter. But this year, he has a friend:

Two red spider lilies

Should I expect four next year? Or does it not work that way?

(Full-sized shots at Flickr; just click either to embiggen.)

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Bungle in the urban jungle

I wrote back in 2005:

Nobody knows for sure how long the Survivor Tree will, well, survive. It’s been given the best of care, including treatments to repel the blight, and it’s an integral part of today’s National Memorial, insuring that it won’t be forgotten. But this mute witness to the terrible tragedy of the nineteenth of April has brothers and sisters and cousins all over the city, and I believe that the strength of one, by some genetic anomaly, by the grace of God, by something, somehow resides in them all.

Except for two of them on my block, which subsequently survived multiple ice storms and typically horrendous winds over the next decade, only to meet with the chainsaw today, the result of Stupid Fucking Contractor putting down sidewalks on the wrong side of the street. I had read the original scheme at the time, and I’d complained; a couple weeks later, a revised scheme was released, evidently to everyone except SFC, which doggedly proceeded with the old one despite the fact that it made no sense — why have the sidewalk on the south side of the street on one block and then move to the north side on the next?

Nothing can be done, of course. The wood has been hauled away; SFC will presumably get some sort of bonus for beating a deadline, and the city will disclaim any responsibility for hiring them.

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The small break gets slightly larger

From a couple of months ago:

[A]fter some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month.

Further notification received. Payment is dropping by $12 more, and they sent me a check for $250.

I mean, I’m generally pretty happy with this bank, but there are times I wonder whether their fecal matter is properly aggregated.

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It’s magically malicious!

After a horripilating session of “Meet the Beetles!” I ordered up a grub treatment for the lawn, and there was spritzed upon the turf a product called, um, Malice. It fit my mood of the moment, and it’s claimed to be relatively non-nasty for an industrial-strength insecticide, but while the flowers and the trees can deal with it, the birds and the bees aren’t keen on the stuff at all.

In the case of bees specifically:

Experts believe that imidacloprid is one of many possible causes of bee decline and the recent bee malady termed colony collapse disorder (CCD). In 2011, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, no single factor alone is responsible for the malady, however honey bees are thought to possibly be affected by neonicotinoid chemicals existing as residues in the nectar and pollen which bees forage on. The scientists studying CCD have tested samples of pollen and have indicated findings of a broad range of substances, including insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides. They note that while the doses taken up by bees are not lethal, they are concerned about possible chronic problems caused by long-term exposure.

Apparently not doing this all the time, as I don’t — this is the first time I’ve had the stuff on site in several years, and I may well wait for several more before doing it again, because it’s kinda pricey — was the right thing to do, or not do, all along.

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Squirrel update

Over the weekend, I discovered a dead bishop on the landing squirrel out by the curb. After contemplating the disquieting possibility of hoisting the poor deceased critter from his resting place and dropping him into the refuse bin, I decided that hey, I pay taxes for this, and Monday morning I left a note for the city’s Action Center.

Almost exactly 24 hours later, within the time frame expected, Animal Control failed to find the ex-furball, perhaps because it was in the shadow of said refuse bin. I know this because I sent a second note to the Action Center Tuesday afternoon, and that’s what they told me. Wednesday they were properly contrite, and promised to have it hauled off that day. Which they did.

I think this is only the second time I’ve dealt with the Action Center. Not bad for twelve and a half years, I guess.

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We are all roadkill

The Hour of Indecision presents: “There’s a dead squirrel on the curb!”

For comic relief:

Hope it works.

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The smallest possible victory

In the Battle of the Century, it’s Man vs. Bathroom Fixture!

Spoiler: See below.

Read the rest of this entry »

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A splash of color

Trini, wielder of the mighty smartphone, snagged this photo (and a few others) from the west end of my flower box this weekend.

Flowers of mine as photographed by Trini

A couple of clusters of roses, a trace of yellow-orange from irises — I also have white ones, but not at this angle — and off to the upper right, the pointy leaves of a holly.

I may serve up a few more of these in the coming days.

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A small break

Last year, the bank declared that I somehow had way too little in escrow, and duly commanded me to fork over an extra $130 a month to bridge the gap — or send them a check for a rather large sum I didn’t happen to have at the time. I did some calculations, because that’s what I do, and after some third-grade arithmetic I determined that the escrow shortage would have been cleared with a mere $80 a month, but there’s no arguing with the bank on these matters. Perhaps, I figured, they will drop it next year after they’ve taken a few dives into the vault, à la Scrooge McDuck.

Comes the notification. Payment is dropping by $75 a month. In response, I spent rather a long time in Told You So mode, though it didn’t seem useful at the moment to tell them so.

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When things get complicated

Middle of the morning, I got a note from a neighbor via Nextdoor: “I am going to close your garage door.” This, of course, leads to the obvious question: why in the fark is it open? I contemplated several possibilities, the most unnerving of which was the chance that someone might have figured out the Double Super Secret Code that runs the remote. This particular garage-door opener dates back to — well, not the Pleistocene, exactly, but it’s old enough to have its code set by a row of jumpers, the sort of thing we haven’t seen since we got rid of master and slave drives in PCs. I put in a call to William of Ockham, who noted that I happened to be carrying two remotes, one in the car, one on my person, and if I started the process with the former and inadvertently engaged the latter while turning away from the house, I could easily have created this situation myself. I argued that I didn’t think the secondary remote had that kind of range, but to no avail. I arrived back home about 11:30, and everything seemed to be in order.

And it is an election day, so I figured I’d take care of that detail on the way back to work. Turnout was expected to be light, given the single race on the ballot: finishing the unexpired term of Oklahoma County Court Clerk Tim Rhodes, who resigned last year to take a job at the Corp Comm. I did not, however, imagine it to be this light: at a quarter to twelve, four hours and forty-five minutes into the session, I was preceded by a mere 23 voters. There are more than 1500 registered voters in this precinct.

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Continuous reassessment

Leonard Sullivan, the County Assessor, is expected to come up with a new value for every single parcel of land in the 700-odd square miles that make up this rectangular-looking county, every single year. It’s a tag-team deal: Sullivan issues his assessments in the spring, and County Treasurer Butch Freeman figures the tax bills in the fall.

In the twelve years I’ve been here, the value has been on a bit of a roller coaster: it rose markedly once I got here, for which I claim no credit whatsoever, and then it plunged during the Great Recession. Things have leveled out a bit since then. This year, Sullivan says that the palatial estate at Surlywood is worth 1.7 percent more than it was last year, which should not result in a whopping tax increase unless Freeman goes berserk or the Feds decide to foreclose on the County Jail, and the latter has apparently been ruled out until 2018 at the earliest.

Last year’s tax bill was a hair over $900; I will be surprised should it rise to $1000. (It’s been there before, though.)

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First rose of 2016

This bud opened up over the weekend, despite being bracketed by two frosty mornings in succession. It’s at the very edge of the rosebush.

First rose of 2016

From the looks of things, this rose has a visitor.

(Embiggened version at Flickr.)

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The disappearing woodpile

Shortly after the official ice-storm debris had been hauled away by the city, I got the bright idea of having the backyard wood, which consisted of two and a half full (albeit dead) trees plus a stack of limbs slightly shorter than I am, rendered into almost-handy-sized remnants and parked on the curb just in time for the second debris pass. Unfortunately, I got this idea about 24 hours after the second pass was completed, although I didn’t actually read the schedule until two days later. (So much for semper paratus.)

Not to worry, said everyone. The city will pick it up as part of Big Junk, the monthly collection of non-hazardous materials that won’t fit in the official blue bins. Four cubic yards goes free; after that, it’s about $10 per cubic yard. Not a bad deal, all things considered. And then I looked at the expanse of dead-tree stuff, three or four feet high and seemingly 30 feet long, and wondered just how much of this crap they’d be willing to take, and how much it would cost me if they did.

Short version: They took all they could load into the truck, though inevitably some of it dropped out of the giant claw. And the pertinent bill was $20.42, the regular monthly charge for once-a-week trash service; apparently it all fit into four cubic yards.

Or maybe not, said a resident who’s been here longer than I have: “Sometimes,” she said, “they don’t even bother to record these things because it’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

Then again, this is the first month with the New and Improved Water Bill, so I’ll watch for one more month before I declare this matter closed.

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Shed shed

From late in the fall, and fall is the operative word here:

Gale-force winds for much of Wednesday came awfully close to blowing my old metal shed off its concrete block. There wasn’t much of anything out there worth saving — a bottom-of-the-line broadcast spreader was about it — but the structure itself looks like about two and a half seconds before the end of a round of Jenga.

You may safely assume that it didn’t gain any additional stability in the last hundred days or so, and yesterday I had it torn down. No great loss.

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Some things you are not meant to know

This is, I hope, the last chapter in the water-heater debacle. Cue Ed McMahon: “How … hot … IS IT?”

Well, it’s like this: today, it’s apparently considered bad form to put any kind of actual numbers on the control knob. There’s a dot, and there’s the word “VACATION” about 180 degrees away from it. Nowhere will you find 180 actual Fahrenheit-approved degrees, which is too hot anyway. In the US, everybody says 120. The Canadians beg to differ:

To reduce the risk of burns from hot tap water, the temperature setting on the water heater can be turned down. But if the temperature is set too low, bacteria may begin to grow in the tank. Even at 60°C — the setting on most electric water heaters — an estimated 25% of all water heaters are contaminated by legionella bacteria.

Legionella bacteria tend to grow in the lower temperatures at the bottom of water heater; such bacteria can cause a form of pneumonia. The organism is generally transmitted when people inhale contaminated water droplets from whirlpool baths, showers or building air conditioning systems. In Québec, about 100 people a year are hospitalized for pneumonia caused by contaminated residential water heaters.

In light of the statistics, it is not advisable to lower the water heater temperature to, say, 49°C. This would not only reduce the hot water supply by some 20%, it would also put your household at risk of contracting pneumonia.

Forty-nine degrees Celsius is — guess what? — 120°F.

So I feel much better with my estimated 140°F (60°C) setting. Admittedly, this would be considered a seat-of-the-pants estimate if pants were involved, which they are not. My criterion, using my current single-knob shower, is this: “With the knob turned all the way up, does it seem like it’s almost too hot?” If so, the setting is correct. It reminds me somehow of P. J. O’Rourke’s advice on steak in an iron skillet: “As soon as you think the steak should cook just a little longer, stop cooking it.” This, of course, assumes the steak is as thick as the heel of a Bass Weejun.

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Warm-water update

When last we looked in on the Great Water Heater Caper of 2016, I was vowing vengeance on the uncooperative elements, which in circumstances like these tend to be all of them.

For maximum spitefulness, I called in at 6:30 am Wednesday, thereby cementing my reputation as a Nasty Person for all time. The tech arrived a couple of hours later with about twice as many tools and, eventually, a sheepish admission: “I think I may have cracked the thermocouple.”

Off to the parts depot to obtain an uncracked thermocouple. He had to eat the cost of it, so it’s probably a good thing he identified the problem component fairly quickly. No further issues, and smiles all around when he left.

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Wet but not hot

When I feel like pretending I’m a Mad Scientist, I tell people I have a closet totally devoted to the distribution of hot, maybe even scalding dihydrogen monoxide. Of course, if they pop open the door and see this perfectly ordinary water heater, they’re going to be disappointed, but such is life.

I got my own disappointment over the weekend, when “hot” was displaced by “tepid, if you’re lucky.” I am not lucky, at least in this regard. There are several cheap parts that go into one of these devices, and all of them were intact. However, the gas valve itself, which costs about half as much as the entire tank array, was kaput, and was replaced in a surprisingly brief session this afternoon, accompanied by the sound of money disappearing in the distance.

Upside, such as it is: while the standard “These things don’t last as long as they used to” disclaimer was issued, no indication was given that this particular thing was on its last legs. And frankly, next time around, I’m considering buying smaller, on the basis that a device of this sort ought to fit into its space, and this one, installed some time last decade, was put in sideways, with the control gizmos facing the side wall. Had I screaming kids lined up to bathe, of course, I might see things differently. Downside, apart from the expense: the unwritten law says that you set the thermostat to 120°F for Safety Reasons. I strongly suspect that no two thermostats agree on where exactly 120°F should be.

Update, next morning: The fix didn’t take, or something. I am currently in the mode best described as “You will fix this, and you will fix this now, or I will kill you and tell God you died.” Okay, maybe not quite that harsh.

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Soffit assault

Eventually, after the ice storm was over and the temperature had climbed up to a tropical 35° and I had regained a measure of composure, I sat down and muttered something to the effect that at least it didn’t blow through my insurance deductible.

And then I went out back and saw this:

Hole in the wood trim

The connector for the cable TV and Internet was mounted on a board that used to be where that hole is; a couple of limbs of the back-door holly, loaded up with too close to an inch of ice each, pulled it, and the board, a good four feet back of the house. I stuffed the hole with my last few pieces of bubble wrap in an effort to keep the moisture out, and started hunting down hungry contractors.

Found one on Wednesday; he gave me a bid, scheduled the job tentatively for Friday — it wound up being Saturday, but no big deal — and to give the guy credit, that section looks better now than it did several years ago.

And amazingly, I still haven’t blown through my insurance deductible, though I can think of lots of things I’d rather have spent money on in preference to recovering from one of Mother Nature’s bitchy fits.

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Cube heaven

You might recall this from late summer:

I filled up the ice mold from a coffee cup; two hours later it had produced the expected number of cubes, but the mold was empty. This tells me that the mechanism still works, but the water valve is toast. A parts operation offered to sell the valve separately, for about 60 percent of the price of an entire icemaker. (Lowe’s has a bolt-in replacement for about $100.)

Thursday I actually got around to summoning a repairman, and I recounted this story to him. He nodded. “Yep, that’s probably what it is.” He removed the valve, and found it unsuitable for any use other than industrial-art paperweight. Price of the new valve: $41.18. (Service call: $86.) The list of Things Needing Fixing grows ever so slightly shorter.

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November in a nutshell

This sequence of events is a perfect metaphor for the way this month has gone.

The house in which I live was built in 1948, and some of its fixtures are either original or so old they might as well be. There are two towel bars in the bathroom, each suspended by a pair of ceramic holders; the smaller one has a spring-loaded ceramic bar, the larger one a similar-looking bar, but plastic. I found this out when I went scooting across the floor on a not-yet-wet bath mat, grabbed the bar with my left hand, and watched as it broke almost exactly in half.

I rigged up a temporary fix, involving good old strapping tape, and on an impulse, I checked to see if Amazon had a replacement bar. They had three of them, as it happens; but two of them were restricted to Prime members only. Disinclined to put up $99 for the privilege of spending ten bucks on a plastic rod, I passed them by, and several pages down found the third, from a merchant in Arizona. Five bucks for the bar itself, seven for shipping. Well, thought I, it’s not gonna fit in an envelope, y’know?

It somehow arrived about two days ahead of schedule, despite the punishing weather. (The postman actually clambered through the space I’d cleared in the Fallen Branch Zone and left it on the porch.) Grateful for anything that worked at this point, I hurriedly opened the box, verified that the sizes were correct, and took it into the bathroom.

The old one wouldn’t come out. It was solid, inflexible, and incompressible. Almost like it was, um, ceramic.

If all my temporary fixes worked this well … but never mind, it’s not going to happen.

And with the house in utter darkness for another night, and me stuck on a 15-year-old laptop that can no longer keep up, this may be the last update for a while: the strange-query feature and the Thunder game recap tomorrow will likely be delayed.

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A waste of water

This should be ice in my drinks, not ice all over the foliage:

The stubbornest rose of all

We were visited last night by the Ice Fairy, or some such nuisance like that: it will take a guy with a chainsaw (due tomorrow) to clear away enough of the mulberry to open up the driveway, which was utterly impassable this morning. I’ve seen worse, but this is bad enough.

(Embiggened version on Flickr. You know that one holdout rose from a couple weeks ago? It’s still there.)

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Where it all goes (’15)

The county was a little late getting the property-tax bills out, though of course they’re not going to be cutting taxpayers any slack in getting those bills paid. The actual amount I get to pay is a smidgen higher than last year, due to a small increase in the assessed value and a fraction of a mill added to the actual tax rate. Here’s where all those dollars go, and in brackets, where they went last year:

  • City of Oklahoma City: $124.57 [$120.39]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $476.19 [$462.53]
  • Metro Tech Center: $123.21 [$120.39]
  • Oklahoma County general: $94.03 [$90.78]
  • Countywide school levy: $33.02 [$32.26]
  • City/County Health Department: $20.66 [$20.18]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $41.47 [$40.52]
  • Total: $913.14 [$887.04]

This year’s millage is 114.50, up from last year’s 113.84. (Record millage: 117.58, 2011.) The bank presumably will cut them a check on Monday.

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Let’s do it again

While my attention was focused on the back yard and my presumably soon-to-disintegrate shed, the roses up front were assembling a final forward thrust for fall, and this was the first one out:

One rose, photographed on 14 November 2015

At center-bottom you can see one of the reinforcements coming in: there are a dozen buds at the moment, and temperatures look to remain above freezing for at least the next week.

As usual, there’s a bigger version at Flickr.

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“Shed” is also a verb

Gale-force winds for much of Wednesday came awfully close to blowing my old metal shed off its concrete block. There wasn’t much of anything out there worth saving — a bottom-of-the-line broadcast spreader was about it — but the structure itself looks like about two and a half seconds before the end of a round of Jenga. Replacing it would cost somewhere around half my insurance deductible, so I’m waiting to see what the weekend brings before I contemplate this matter further.

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Goblin report

A slow start, and inevitably a slow finish, but in between was a pretty steady flow of trick-or-treaters: fifty-three in all, second highest on record, beating out the 49 count in 2012. (I don’t ever expect to see the 2010 record of 102 broken.)

At some point during grocery shopping this afternoon, I decided “Maybe I need just one more bag.” Turns out, I needed at least a third of that bag. Otherwise, the event was, um, largely uneventful; one girl tried to exit through the rosebush — she won’t try that again — and one very sleepy boy in a stroller wasn’t quite sure what was going on.

And yes, I unloaded all the Twizzlers: the first 45 customers got one along with a Mild Amusement Size candy bar.

Update, 8:45 pm: I am informed — and provided with photographic evidence — that Number One grandson, the guy who did his best James Bond earlier this month, went full-on girl mode for this event.

Update, 8:55 pm: Number One granddaughter — she’s twelve — made a pretty convincing-looking Tina Belcher from Bob’s Burgers.

Update, 9:15 pm: While cleaning up the inevitable disorder, I found one stray Twizzler. Damn.

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