Archive for Surlywood

I, geezer

In fact, here’s one way you can tell:

I didn’t even know that AOL still existed.

Or that people still had email accounts with them.

Very, very old people, apparently.

Still got mine. Then again, I actually spent some time as a room guide in the old QuantumLink service, which eventually spawned AOL, so I’ve never really felt compelled to kill it off.

And yesterday, when I got home from work, an 8-year-old girl on a bicycle was being warned to stay off my lawn, or at least off my driveway — but not by me. I spoke with the nearest adult, and pointed out that the reason my driveway was in demand was because it’s the steepest slope on the block, and were I a kid on a bike, I’d have been launching myself from there all along.

(No, I didn’t ask the youngun who was best pony.)

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It’s just grass

I was delighted to see a fifth of an inch of rain two days after the first lawn treatment of the season — I bought a package of eight — and said so; and then by the sheerest of coincidences, Dan B, a regular in these parts, told this story on Facebook:

The home was bought from an older couple, and he was METICULOUS about his lawn, including yelling at kids to get off of it. He always had the best lawn in the neighborhood, and he made sure EVERYONE knew he worked hard for that perfect lawn.

The older couple sells the house to a family with a 5 year old boy, who has many of the toys typical to a suburban/exurban 21st-Century Lonely Only, including a battery-powered mini-truck that destroyed the old man’s 3 DECADES of effort in less than 6 months.

A hit, a palpable hit.

That said, I note for the record that I have never once told a kid to get off this lawn, not even on the day when several of them were lined up to run through the sprinkler.

And I do have one rule: never have the best lawn — or the worst lawn — on the block. I do believe I have been at least somewhat successful.

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Weedier than thou

For several years, I happily did business with one of the major national weed-control outfits, dropping them only when I realized that keeping the yard nicer was costing me a thousand dollars a year, far more than I could spare.

Two years and two-thirds the usual amount of rain later, you can actually hear the grass whine. I hunted around and found a local firm who offered me a yearly program for under $500. (If this sounds like a lot to you, keep in mind that the palatial estate at Surlywood sprawls over 11,000 square feet, more than 7,000 square feet of which is actual lawn.) I’m hoping that things will look a little better next year, or the next visit by Google Street View, whichever comes first.

And I’m hoping nopony reminds me of this:

Desert Brush took a bite of his sandwich. “If I’d known dandelions were this tasty I’d have never spent all that time trying to kill them.”

“I never understood that. Dandelions break up the monotony of grass, grass, nothing but grass, even if you’re not going to eat them.”

“It’s those crazy humans,” Brush explained. “They like the monotony of grass, grass, nothing but grass. It’s like the ideal place to live is on a golf course.”

Perhaps I need to renew my Crazy Human card.

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Dried cell

Back in the fall of ought-seven, I related a tale of woe that began with the failure of the backup battery in the Surlywood security system. I ended up with two batteries, one purchased locally at Batteries Plus, one dispatched from the monitoring service’s secret headquarters, and Tatyana asked, reasonably enough: “So your back-up back-up will have to wait for 6 years to be installed? What is its shelf-life?”

Answer: five years, three months, based upon the events of the past weekend.

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Time life

1970s clock“Sweet smoking Jesus, what was the matter with these people?” asked James Lileks in his epic Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible ’70s (New York: Crown Publishers, 2004), and you may be certain that this ghastly clock, which I bought in an Eighties garage sale for $1.50 or so, does not actually hang in my crisp mid-century house, but in the garage, where it’s kept indifferent time for the last decade.

Usually it loses about three minutes a week; when it stops doing that, it’s generally time for a new C battery. Since New Year’s, it’s been gaining about three minutes a week; yesterday, it stopped dead. I duly fetched another C-cell from the pile, and it refused to start. Okay, fine, it’s more than earned its eternal rest. I set it back on its mount and started contemplating its replacement. About two hours later, I went out to the garage, and it had started up again. I assume it can’t be due to temperature variations in the garage — it’s been within a couple of degrees of 45 since Saturday morning — so it must be Just One Of Those Things.

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Standing watch

Of late, mostly due to hot and dry summers, there have been two distinct cycles of rose growth: early in the spring, then late in the fall. I have four blossoms remaining on this particular bush.

2012 stubborn rose

This flower will not abandon his post until the weather gets much, much worse. After all, it’s only the last week of November.

(Multiple sizes at Flickr.)

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Where it all goes (’12)

There’s really only one good thing about stagnant or declining property values: in a properly designed property-tax system, one’s tax bill should remain the same or even go down. And indeed mine went down this year, following the double whammy of a calculated $4500 drop in value — all attributable to the house, since the figure assumed for the land on which it sits remains unchanged — and an unexpected 2.87-mill decrease from last year’s record-high tax rate. What I’m paying for, with last year’s numbers in brackets:

  • City of Oklahoma City: $133.46 [$141.26]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $494.54 [$548.87]
  • Metro Tech Center: $128.87 [$136.58]
  • Oklahoma County general: $100.43 [$107.23]
  • Countywide school levy: $34.53 [$36.60]
  • County Health Department: $21.60 [$22.90]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $43.37 [$45.97]
  • Total: $956.80 [$1039.41]

For the curious: the County Assessor considers the palatial estate at Surlywood to be worth about $3500 less than what Zillow does.

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Goblin report

I was late pulling out of 42nd and Treadmill today — there were idiots to denounce, and I wasn’t going to miss out on that — so I missed the bulk of the Neighborhood Event this time around, and decided I’d actually hand out the goodies myself this year. The sparkleball I have been employing as a substitute porch light, I’ve discovered, is genuinely creepy from the curb, and since getting to my front door is a genuine hassle — thirty feet up (quite a grade) the driveway and fifteen more down the walk, unless you cut through the hedgerow, in which case the rosebushes will get you — I figure anyone who makes it through deserves to be served.

I opened up at six-thirty. No takers until seven, and then the floodgates opened: twenty-one in ten minutes. Final count was 49, about half what it was in 2010, which I attribute to losing a lot of the smaller fry to said Neighborhood Event. Still: second-best year ever.

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Fleecing as white as snow

This is normally the day I get my online billing notification for the landline, and the amount thereof varies very little: the taxes creep up now and then, but that’s what taxes do. Today’s arrival was startling, but there is, of course, no way that I’d owe $2,328.05 on a landline, and the handy links for online payment go straight to a scammer.

Curiously, my homeowner’s insurance bill, which also arrived today, is for almost exactly the same amount, a 44-percent increase from last year, which in turn was a 35-percent increase from the year before. (Last time I switched carriers was 2009.)

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The lone sentry

Bird on a holly

Here’s a different angle. I got off three shots before umbrage was taken and the premises were vacated.

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While your lawn dies

If you’ve seen late-Forties side streets in this town, you’ve seen concrete cracks a block long in various shades of green, courtesy of the vegetation that’s been growing in them for the last few decades. Traffic, of course, cuts it down to size on a regular basis.

For a few months, there was an apparently immobile Volkswagen — and not one of the cute ones, either — hard against the curb up the street. The strange grasslike substance, now protected from traffic, just grew and grew and grew. A couple of days ago, it was tall enough to reach over the Vee Dub’s bumper.

The city ticketed the offending vehicle, which was removed sometime yesterday. (By what means I do not know, but I’d be very surprised if it departed under its own power.) I brought out the trusty garden shears, walked up the block, and scissored the weed at street level. This won’t kill it by any means, but it’s a matter of principle, dammit.

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Birdies affected

An earthquake of magnitude 2.5 — trivial, right? — struck shortly after 3 pm yesterday. The epicenter apparently was below the 15th hole of the Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club (par 3, maximum 148 yards).

For those keeping score, the palatial estate at Surlywood is about a mile and a half away. I didn’t feel a thing, but then I wasn’t there when it happened.

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Disrupting the limbic system

It’s, well, a limb, and it should not be there. It wouldn’t be there were it not for the Tuesday-night thunderstorms. This is how it looked on Wednesday:

One dead tree limb not quite coming down

The black line starting in the northwest corner is, of course, the power line. Note that the free-standing (ha!) limb isn’t actually touching the line, but it’s pulling down one that is.

This sucker being too unwieldy for me to wield, I put a call out to the neighborhood, and currently it’s in several pieces on the curb. I really need to buy me a chainsaw.

(As usual, the picture is shrunk for this column, but is rebigulated on Flickr.)

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Slower than the speed of night

The Big Storms converged right over my house at 8:10. I think. The power had dropped by 8:03, and stayed gone for the better part of three hours. (Which meant no cable, which meant the basketball game on the old portable radio on top of the fridge. Now you know why it’s there.)

As of last night before I turned in, I noticed rather a large section of tree out back entirely too close to the power line. If it doesn’t move too much, no problem. (And inasmuch as it’s practically screwed itself into the ground, it may actually fend off threats to the line.) Then again, this is May. Things move. I’ve had entire trees split in half in May.

For now, though, I am grateful to have a relatively unpunctured (we shall see later on) roof over my head. I spotted no hailstones over ping-pong ball size, but they made up in volume what they didn’t carry in sheer heft.

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Over my head, evidently

Some of you may remember the utter ineptitude exhibited by yours truly a while back when I was confronted with a bad bulb in the track-lighting array in the kitchen.

On the off-chance that you were curious, it’s a 50-watt MR-16 halogen bulb, running on 12 volts and casting a 40-degree beam. And apparently they last, at least in this installation, a bit less than four and a half years. (I had three spares on hand last night, because … well, because.)

Tangential note: These particular bulbs cost about five bucks apiece. I looked at one of them and wondered how it compared to automotive headlights, about which I know zilch these days since I haven’t had to change one since the days of sealed-beams. Gwendolyn, says the service info, takes an HB2 bulb, 55 watts (low beam) or 60 (high), for which the dealership will charge me $36, which is probably only about twice what I’d have to pay for the non-OEM product. Not that Nissan makes any of their own light bulbs, mind you. (I do not have the HID lamps, bulbs for which cost somewhere in the low three figures.)

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Mower than I bargained for

A couple of weeks ago, I sent the electric mower out for regrooving; they called Thursday to say it was done, but I didn’t pick it up until yesterday.

And I almost didn’t recognize it: apart from a couple of spots on the handle where the paint had scraped away, it looked brand new. From the looks of the invoice, they replaced everything that moved, and a couple of things that didn’t: even the handle grips are new. I can’t imagine they’re making a whole lot of money on this at the $90 (plus tax and the usual shop-supplies fee) price tag. I admit to not having tried out the machine yet: there was baby stuff to deal with when I got home, plus storms on the horizon. Still, all the parts about which I had doubts were replaced, so I’m going to assume that All Is Well.

Incidentally, once I wheeled the mower out to the car, I took the handle off so I could get it into the trunk; a fellow in a Ford, just pulling in, offered to help me boost it. I thanked him and waved him off, sure I could get it myself. He probably had no idea this machine weighs barely 60 pounds.

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The invaders

It rained rather a lot Monday: as the phrase goes, it was fit for neither man nor beast. It’s not too unusual for neighborhood critters to take temporary shelter on my porch, but this is exceptional:

Bird nest on porch light

(Lots of sizes on Flickr, if this one won’t do.)

I have next to no expertise on the subject of birds’ nests, but I have to assume that this little encampment belongs to the robins, inasmuch as they massed in a nearby redbud and complained loudly when I stepped up close enough to get the shot.

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And less is mower

Five years ago, I spent a smallish bunch of money on a lawn mower from Black and Decker, utterly lacking in engine: it has a little electric motor and a place to attach an extension cord. Gas prices were on the rise back then, and were worse the following year, so I was able to console myself with the thought that 12 amps times 120 volts equals 1440 watts times one hour equals about a quarter’s worth of electricity.

The Lawn Hog, as it was designated, held up decently well, though it has what I consider an irritating design flaw: unless you’re in the habit of carrying around calipers and maybe a small scale, you’ll never know if the blade is properly balanced on the motor shaft. This is usually what happens when it isn’t; if things are sufficiently out of plumb, the machine gives off a belch worthy of a Hungarian dinner and then flings the blade and its fittings in some random direction. The last time it did that, I flipped the box on its back, and noted that the little plastic fan that is supposed to circulate air to create mulchitude had a broken blade. Well, geez, no wonder it’s out of balance.

So I detached the handle, kinda sorta, and hoisted the machine into the trunk, grateful for its low mass (about 50 lb, plus several ounces of what used to be topsoil). That was Wednesday evening. Thursday afternoon I ditched work early, motivated by the following considerations:

  • No one will work on this little darb except B&D factory service;
  • There’s only the one service depot in town, and it closes at five;
  • It’s damn near the Cleveland County line, which I generally am not.

Arriving after a half-hour trip that would have taken 18 minutes were it not for random appearances of members of the Anti-Destination League, I pulled the creature from the trunk, attached its handle upside down, and wheeled it through the doors.

Estimate was $90, which didn’t sound bad; advised there’d be about a week of turnaround time, I responded jauntily, “A week is good. Take your time.”

“We get a lot of that,” said the tech.

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Neighborhood flotsam

Given the height and position of my house, I’m not surprised that odd things occasionally blow into the yard, but yesterday’s debris, obviously beyond the capacity of the wind unless there was a tornado, and I’m sure I’d have noticed if there was, threw me for a loop. On the southern edge of the porch, I found approximately two-thirds of a plastic milk jug containing about half a bowl’s worth of Cheerios (or some generic equivalent thereof), with a kid-sized shirt tied to it. One row of bricks away, a cat was staring at the stuff.

Well, thought I, kitteh didn’t bring this here on its own. I wondered if maybe this is how some unscrupulous humanoid (not human, really, if you ask me) plotted to lose the cat by dumping it at the nearest faraway place. I puzzled over the matter for a moment, then poured out the cereal into a low spot in the yard from which it was unlikely to spread, thinking either the cat (who fled after I picked up the stuff) or the resident birds would polish it off. I threw away the jug, and hung the shirt (which was wet, it having rained much of yesterday morning) on the mulberry tree to dry.

If it seems early for birds, consider that earlier this week, I’d found about forty feathers and/or fragments thereof concentrated in a small area near the driveway. White or very light grey, so it wasn’t the marauding crows from the Target store; I’m suspecting turf wars between scissor-tailed flycatchers, a few of which wandered into the area last year, though I didn’t find any evidence of same. Then again, their ferocity in defending their territory is legendary.

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Where it all goes (’11)

For the last few years, I’ve been breaking down the property tax I pay by recipient. The actual tax rate in my particular district rose by 2.84 percent; it’s the highest ever, or at least the highest since the beginning of the County Assessor’s online list, but not by much. Here’s who’s getting what, with what they got last year in brackets:

  • City of Oklahoma City: $141.26 [$142.27]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $548.87 [$524.90]
  • Metro Tech Center: $136.58 [$138.15]
  • Oklahoma County general: $107.23 [$110.34]
  • Countywide school levy: $36.60 [$37.02]
  • County Health Department: $22.90 [$23.17]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $45.97 [$46.50]
  • Total: $1039.41 [$1022.34]

Note that with one exception, everyone is making do on slightly less than they got last year.

The individual millages for each of these are listed here.

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Surrounded by the best

Last month I tossed out what might have seemed to be a throwaway line about living “in a Neighborhood of the Year nominee.”

Well, now you can amend “nominee” to read “winner.”

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Meanwhile on the goblin front

Mayfair Heights SpooktacularSo this year I decided: rather than have the goblins come to me, I will go to the goblins. Two adjacent neighborhoods took over the business end of Smitty Park in the late afternoon and filled it up with all sorts of things to attract the younger set, up to and including a bounce house, and by the time I showed up — pushing sixish — the place was wall-to-wall kids. (“And they weren’t even on my lawn,” sighed the empty-nester.) I dropped my supply of goodies into the community bowl and watched as mischievousness was channeled into something almost controllable. My one moment of alarm came when several dozen rolls of toilet paper were produced for an event I hadn’t seen on the agenda: the youngsters were going to TP each other. “Wrap Your Mummy,” it was dubbed. Some of these kids have a future sealing packages at UPS.

Neighborhood Association officials pronounced themselves pleased with the turnout, and things started to run down at sundown. There’s a lot to be said for being halfway between downtown and the ‘burbs.

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Just add water and stand back

Summer was discouragingly hot and unusually dry — for several months the Drought Monitor has put this neck of the woods at either Extreme (which is bad) or Exceptional (which is worse). October, however, has had its wet moments, and apparently there were enough of them to coax a few more buds out of the rosebush closest to the driveway. I took this between downpours yesterday:

One lovely fall rose

Different sizes at Flickr, should you be interested.

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Happily unchewed

The fall termite inspection here at the palatial estate at Surlywood has been completed to everyone’s satisfaction, which is a boon if you live in what is essentially a wooden box on a slab, as I do. Another decade or so and I’ll have spent enough on these to pay for a new set of treatments — but hey, I’d rather dribble out a hundred at a time than write a four-digit check later. And yes, I know the little bastards swarm in the spring, but I bought the house in the fall, and I tend to stick to a schedule until it hurts.

Not that they asked for a plug or anything, but I use these guys.

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A matter of policy

You may remember this from two years ago:

We brag a lot in Oklahoma about our lowish cost of living, but there’s one item that costs a bundle: insurance for the home, which runs a good 10-20 percent above the national average, no thanks to our too-often-nasty weather.

And then there’s mine, which is going up 35 percent next year, to over $1200, on a $100k house.

For “10-20 percent,” read “30-40 percent”: various sources around town are now quoting the state average at somewhere in the $1400-1500 range. Mine has gone over $1600 for next year. Then again, I have about an average-priced house with slightly better-than-average coverages, and you have to figure that every underwriter who does business out here is sweating wildfires. Besides, I have had demonstrably good service from these guys, and I stand to gain little if anything by shopping around.

Oh, well. Nobody said it would be cheap to live in a Neighborhood of the Year nominee.

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Taken for granite

Megan McArdle, on kitchen fads and fashion:

My understanding of the luxury cycle is that as soon as everyone can afford a decent replica of high-priced items, the replicated qualities become outré. By that metric, stainless steel and granite have to be on their way out; the only thing more ubiquitous in the American kitchen is the George Foreman grill.

On the other hand, maybe in 1948 I’d have been saying that wall-mounted cabinets were a passing fad.

I dunno. I wasn’t around in 1948, when they built this house I live in, but I suspect that even then, hanging cabinets on the wall just seemed like a sensible space-utilization practice. Of course, the one distinctly non-period feature of the kitchen — a section of wall between kitchen and living room now has a ginormous rectangular cutout, and a breakfast bar (with track lighting!) has been installed therein — probably made no sense to anyone but a previous owner. And, of course, me.

Truth be told, if I were actually looking for another house, I’d ring up Trini and ask her to evaluate kitchens for me. She’s good at that.

Oh, and granite countertops release radon.

Disclosure: I own a George Foreman grill. Also, Firefox 3.6.23 spell check doesn’t bat an eye at “ginormous,” but frowns at “countertops.”

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Where has all the equity gone?

The hardest thing for some of us to get our minds around has been that there exists no Law of Conservation of Equity: if it’s reduced at Point A, there is no Point B at which it must therefore increase. There’s still a lot of it out there — $6.2 trillion, said the Federal Reserve at the end of June — but six years ago there was over $13 trillion. That’s one hell of a vanishing act.

Still, not everybody is underwater yet:

Roughly one of every three homes is mortgage-free, according to federal and industry estimates.

Among owners who have mortgages, according to CoreLogic, 48.5 percent of them have at least 25 percent equity stakes in their properties. Roughly a quarter of owners with mortgages — 24.6 percent — have more than 50 percent equity.

At the other end of the spectrum, 22.5 percent of owners are in negative equity positions, burdened with houses worth less than their mortgage balances.

According to the county assessor, the value of the palatial estate at Surlywood dropped by a percentage point this year, but the amount due on the mortgage went down more than that, so technically my equity position has improved by a smidgen: about 27 percent, putting me pretty close to the 50th percentile. Property-tax rates won’t be released until later this month, but I anticipate about a 1-percent increase — which would leave my tax bill for this year at pretty much where it was last year. Then again, my mad prediction skillz have been fairly questionable of late.

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Sweating joints instead of exams

Last night water pressure here at the Estate dropped alarmingly, which we will define here as “Five freaking minutes to fill up a toilet tank?” I duly went out looking for leaks, and didn’t find any; a couple of hours later, things were back to normal, which suggests a problem at the supply end. And given our drought-stricken condition — even after half an inch of rain, the soil is about as porous as manganese — I would hardly be surprised to hear of a main break up the road.

This is not to say that I could actually fix such a leak, but there are people who specialize in such things, and while we’re awash in people with degrees in Grievance Studies, what we really need is more plumbers:

[B]y all means if someone doing plumbing wants to take college classes, they should. But there are enough guys (and women) who DON’T want college classes, and would be happier doing something like apprenticing to a plumber and learning the trade. And boy darn, do we need good plumbers … I know I couldn’t have taken care of this problem at all.

A nation full of nothing but white-collar workers means a nation where the toilets leak and electrical wires are frayed and streets aren’t repaired…

I have often thought that if this IT thing ever blows away, I should probably invest in several cases of hand cleaner and go study automotive repair at CareerTech. If nothing else, I’d feel about 0.5 percent better when some damn warning light comes on.

And yes, they still have apprenticeships: the guy who did my last garbage disposer brought along a young lady who was learning the fine art of wrenching.

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Surly to rise

Product of Surly Brewing CompanyLast weekend, a friend in the Twin Cities dropped the phrase “Surly buttercream,” which was received here at the palatial estate at Surlywood with a wide-eyed “Huh?” She explained to the ignorant questioner — that would be me — that “Surly” is in fact a local brewer.

Even better, Surly Brewing Company, of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, has a whole line of grumpy-sounding brews, including the spring-only Schadenfreude, a dark lager, and a year-round oat-based brown ale called Bender. And there’s the inevitable iPhone app to find the nearest watering hole dispensing those Surly brews.

I am, you may be sure, uncomfortable with the idea of declaring a beer I can’t even taste the Official Brew of Surlywood, but on the other hand, what else is there? At least it gives me another excuse to return to the Twin Cities. (Last time I was there, I had the kids in tow, which mandated Reasonably Responsible Behavior.)

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Range on the home (once more)

Indoor Comfort Meter by La CrosseYou may remember this contraption which I described back in March ’09, noting that it retained the highest and lowest values it recorded for such time as the batteries hold out. Said batteries are now no longer holding out, but I did managed to get the new extremes before slapping in the new cells. The warmest it’s been along the north wall of my bedroom — there are windows west, south, and east, which is a neat trick — is 92.9°F (recorded on a summer morning when the A/C failed), and the maximum humidity has been 82.7%, which I’m sure came about some evening with the windows open. (Previous low figures were unchanged.) I have a duplicate device in my office, which I suspect will start screaming for batteries shortly.

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