Archive for Surlywood

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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And the grass won’t pay no mind

Rainfall in these parts, since the first of the year, is running at about one-third of normal: yes, we had 19 inches of snow in February, but its actual moisture content apparently was somewhere around what you’d get from a box of moon rocks. This has had the expected effect on the lawn: the actual grass is still more or less dormant, but the weedier sections — and wouldn’t it be nice if they were actual sections instead of random outcroppings? — have more or less flourished.

So I hadn’t brought out the mower until yesterday evening. Part of that was good old fear: my knees have been most unkind to me this year, and doing the entire lawn involves a walk of a bit over a mile, plus several jumps to avoid a hundred-foot extension cord and, inevitably, a trip or two over something I didn’t see. I vowed, for this first attempt, to do just the weedier zones, which means the west side of the front yard and the east side of the back, and to do no more than half an hour’s work. I did trip once, and it wasn’t fun, but I wasn’t in any particular pain after 35 minutes or so, which should alleviate at least some of that anxiety. Downside: the conditions prevailing yesterday between 5 and 6 pm — middle 80s, 30-percent humidity — are not likely to recur in, say, mid-July.

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Blown away

A reader sends a question to Glenn Reynolds:

I just do not get it. For how long have Americans known about Tornado Alley? For how long have they known that a typical house would not withstand a once-in-20-years tornado, much less a worse one?

And yet houses are still built of clapboard and a couple of two-by-fours. Just like New Orleans is being rebuilt just where it used to be, because that worked out so well the first time around.

To which the Instant Man replied:

Even in Tornado Alley, the likelihood that any particular house will ever be hit by a tornado in its lifetime is pretty low. (Also, brick and stone construction, while good for tornadoes, is bad for earthquakes; wood-frame buildings actually do better there.) And basically nothing except quasi-fortified structures will withstand an EF4 or EF5 tornado.

The most significant storm of the 1999 Oklahoma outbreak, which sent funnels as far east as Tennessee, was a single F5 that started near Amber and didn’t lift until Midwest City, still packing F4 winds. (By the time it got to my neighborhood, I think it had just barely dropped into the F3 range.) The storm took out about 8,000 buildings, which sounds like a lot, but that’s over a sixty-mile stretch.

I am reasonably certain that another F5 would scrape my little frame house right off its slab. As it stands, though, the worst I’ve seen so far was from a hailstorm last year, which caused about $10,000 damage to the roof but left the house pretty much intact. Certainly nothing that happened then would have motivated me to move away.

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That little old bullet-dodger, me

So I’m unloading a trunk full (okay, five bags) of groceries, three the first trip, two the second, and in between I spot something on the garage floor that wasn’t there before: a wood screw with a hex head. “Damn good thing I didn’t drive over that,” I thought as I picked up the last two bags.

And then, of course: “Where the hell did it come from?” It’s not like hardware blows around in the Oklahoma wind or anything.

Well, wind has its own subtle effects. One of them is rattling the garage door in its tracks. And after rather a long period of rattlement and several hundred up-and-down trips, one of the screws that holds the door hardware onto the actual door had backed itself far enough out to be subject to routine gravitational forces.

I replaced the screw and checked the others in the door: two more were loose, though nowhere near that loose.

Now this is an old door, though I can’t vouch for its age. The garage was added onto the house in 1951, so it’s at most sixty years old. The mechanical (chain-driven) opener is newer, but not impressively so. And one of the big coil springs fragged a couple of years ago and was replaced. Having no desire to replace any more of this stuff if I can help it, I will consider myself fortunate for having been semi-attentive for once.

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Dysfunctional space

A sibling visiting the palatial estate at Surlywood once swore up and down that the premises were at least as large as his own, even though the County Assessor measures a 35-percent difference. This is, I suggest, something they used to call Good Design: the ceilings are a mere eight feet, and the bathroom is maybe a little bigger than one of San Quentin’s, but otherwise it’s a pretty efficient — with or without a comma between “pretty” and “efficient” — use of the limited available space.

The opposite of this, apparently, is where Daphne hangs her hat and stares in disbelief:

Two thousand square feet should be enough room for our small family. Hell, if you spent any time with us, you’d wonder why we even need that much space since we always seem to be crowded in one tight circle of a room. Unfortunately, our house was designed by an absolute moron who lacked any crucial comprehension of spacial flow or system design. He also failed to possess a scintilla of esthetic sensibility. The entire left side of the house resembles a dungeon maze of narrow halls and weirdly sized, dark rooms that everyone avoids like the pages of Proust. Tell me, is it so difficult to plan at least two walls featuring windows in every room? Maybe plant a skylight in the long run of an interior corridor, maximize storage space, carve out appropriately sized air-flow intakes that won’t choke the air conditioning system into grisly death seizures every summer?

I might fail on a couple of rooms, window-wise. The living room has only the one exterior wall — what used to be the second now adjoins the garage — but there’s enough glass for two, maybe three walls. However, the master bedroom, you should know, has actual windows on three walls out of a possible four, which is a neat trick.

In the past I have suggested that construction techniques have gotten sloppier in the last six decades, and I suspect Daphne will back me up on this:

When we bumped into a secondary bedroom to expand the master bath in the last good house, we discovered existing two by fours that weighed at least twice as much as our newly bought lumber and there wasn’t a bowed one in the bunch after years of service. The quality of common building materials has degraded, so has our respect for qualified craftsmen in the trades and they’re both as rare as hen’s teeth these days. When housing turned into a cheap, mass-produced commodity of banal cul-de-sac boxes, crudely built by unskilled labor with shoddy materials intended to maximize profit at the expense of quality, we ended up with the shittiest living spaces imaginable. They may look shiny on the outside for a few years, but they degrade into expensive, falling apart nightmares not long after you’ve hung the pictures and planted a few shrubs.

The house at Surlywood could use a coat (or two) of paint, but it’s in pretty good shape for being almost 63 years old. A couple of walls are showing crack, so to speak, and I have all the excuse I could want to rip out the bathroom tile, but as banal boxes go, this one can probably go on for a long time.

Oh, and the last HVAC guy who was out here was briefly shaken by the size of the unit, and it’s not often I can say that.

“Only two tons?” he asked.

I pointed out that the house was barely a thousand square feet, for which a two-ton capacity was appropriate. “Looks a lot bigger,” he said.

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Where it all goes (’10)

For the last couple of years or so, I’ve been breaking down the property tax I pay by recipient. This year, no doubt inspired by my initiative, the County Treasurer is doing the math and enclosing the details with the annual tax statements, so here are his numbers for 2010, alongside my numbers [in brackets] for 2009:

  • City of Oklahoma City: $142.27 [$130.71]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools: $524.90 [$517.11]
  • Metro Tech Center: $138.15 [$136.73]
  • Oklahoma County general: $110.34 [$113.81]
  • Countywide school levy: $37.02 [$36.64]
  • County Health Department: $23.17 [$22.92]
  • Metropolitan Library System: $46.50 [$46.02]
  • Total: $1022.34 [$1003.94]

The individual millages for each of these are listed here.

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The last holdout

Two days of what they call a “hard freeze” in these parts — folks in the Dakotas and thereabouts may now take a few moments to laugh — and that’s it for the roses for 2010.


Last rose of fall 2010

Click to embiggen. And yes, that’s my car in the corner; I’d left the garage door open. I decided I liked the picture better uncropped.

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Massive goblin count

Based on last year’s experience, I brought in slightly less candy stock — only 5 lb or so — and figured I’d get two dozen or so trick-or-treaters.

Yeah, right. I got twenty in the first ten minutes, and the supply was completely gone in 60 minutes after I’d served 102 goblins, which is far and away the most I’ve ever seen in this neighborhood.

Weirdest outfit: someone was done up as Blinky, the three-eyed fish from Springfield.

Addendum: Yeah, I know. Read this.

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Get your own damn fiber

This is the time of year when I get the premises inspected for termites, and, as was the case every year since 2003, no trace of the nasty little buggers was found.

I admit to looking up “termite” in Wikipedia just for background information, and this amusing little notation was near the top of the page, even before the inevitable link to disambiguation:

Not to be confused with Termit, Thermite, or Turmite.

I know some people who, having discovered said nasty little buggers on their premises, were willing to subject them to thermite.

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Annual out-forking

This is the time of year when we start anticipating our property-tax bills and the Trepidation Meter starts deflecting rightward. We already know what we’re going to be taxed on — the Assessor publishes the taxable values in the spring — but the actual tax rate isn’t determined until fall.

And while they haven’t published the rate yet, a little down-digging into the Assessor’s Web site turns up a place where the new rate is already in use, and in my district it’s 114.33, up from 113.44 last year. This will increase the taxes on the palatial estate at Surlywood by $18.40.

Since I’ve been here, the market value of the house has risen by a third; the tax rate has bobbed up and down, and while 114.33 is the highest it’s been, the lowest (for 2008) was 106.08, so we’re talking a fairly-narrow range here. The Assessor’s online records go back to 1983, at which time the tax rate was 83.63; the tax rate has therefore risen 37 percent in 37 years. Market values, of course, have risen faster, especially considering that the local real-estate market in the early 1980s was in a deep, dark hole.

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The return of the Stubborn Rose

It was hot this summer, and it’s been on the dry side for rather a long time. As of the 10th of October, the rosebushes were pretty much bare.

But then:

Fall rose

This is an unusually-good flower for the waning days of the growing season, and there are a few more buds behind it, though you can’t see them from this angle. Last year, I had roses as late as Thanksgiving; with the first winter freeze still some time away, I might be able to pull that off again, and with better blooms too.

(Embiggened version on Flickr.)

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Recoup de grace

Last fall, faced with a 35-percent increase in the insurance premium for the house, I decided to take my business elsewhere.

Then came the spring, and suddenly every insurance company from Mangum to Miami was paying out bazillions of dollars in claims; my new insurer forked over $7500 or so to replace my roof.

So I figure that I may as well eat this year’s 35-percent increase, because all those guys are going to have to reprice their policies, presumably making shopping around a waste of time. Besides, Current Insurer did a creditable job of handling my claim, and more than a few people in this state were sent cancellation notices instead of renewals. And if I’ve figured correctly, I have about a $200 surplus in the escrow account, which will cover almost all of the increase anyway.

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Skedaddle mode remains at the ready

It’s been a while since the last World Tour, but when the power went off here at the Estate at 6:20 or so, I was packed and ready to go in my standard thirty minutes, ready to check into the nearest hotel (which did, I verified, have rooms, despite the widespread power outage).

Well, there was one little hang-up, and it’s one I presumably wouldn’t encounter on the road. I pulled the rip cord on the garage-door opener so I could back the car out — taking a taxi just didn’t seem budgetarian enough — and raised the door. I then came back through the house and went out to reconnect the beast so it would be working when the power came back on, whenever that might be.

And failed. Miserably. In fact, I knocked the door off the track during one attempt. It took me all of twenty minutes to get the thing reconnected, and as I was putting the ladder away, power was restored.

This is, I must point out, a very old opener, and newer ones may be easier to reconnect. Still, I suppose I’m slightly reassured that my Quick Pack routine still works.

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Modern mid-century storage

Daystrom dining furniture

The ad here is for the dining table and chairs (a mere $155), but what’s really spiffy about this setup is the cabinetry above: it’s accessible from both the kitchen and the dining area via sliding doors.

I was delighted to see this, because here at Surlywood I have a similar storage arrangement, although it’s located between living/dining room and hallway, it sits on the floor, and it’s six feet, six inches tall. There’s a divider between upper and lower halves, so there are eight access doors in all, though they’re not translucent: I actually have to open them to see what’s in there. Still, it was a selling point when I was house-shopping, since I’d never seen anything like it before and I’d been looking for some improbable combination of “distinctive” and “not expensive.” (When I found it, I jumped.) I suspect rather a lot of similar cabinets were installed in the postwar period, and likely most of them are now gone.

(Found in Mom’s Basement.)

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Zeno says to get off his lawn

The problem with August heat is obvious; it’s worse, though, when it shows up in June, simply because we’ll have to go through it again in August.

So here we are with highs in the middle 90s, maybe a touch higher, and lows around 75 at best, and dew points too close to 72 to suit me, and what with Monday’s cloudburst and all — the official rainfall at Will Rogers was 7.62 inches, the highest they’ve ever measured in 24 hours — the damn grass continues to grow, and perforce must be cut down to size. Unfortunately, while I am not yet classifiable as “old and infirm,” this heat definitely saps my strength, so I am having to do the job in stages: knock out about half of it at first, take a break, do maybe half of what’s left, take another break, do maybe half of what’s left, and so on. The trouble with that scheme, of course, is that it seems like you’ll never get finished.

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Wood chips keep falling on my head

But that doesn’t mean I’m hurt: I never even bled. (Bleeding’s not for me.)

A couple of the light fixtures here at the Estate are peculiar: they hang from the rafters and don’t quite reach the ceiling. On the ceiling itself, below each fixture, is a square wooden frame which contains a sliding pane of glass. Think of it as recessed lighting without the actual recess.

The disadvantage of this layout is that it collects dirt on the inside, meaning I have to fetch the ladder, slide the panel out, give it a decent cleaning, slide it back in, and take the ladder back to its storage space. (It hangs on the garage wall.) I’m not in the habit of looking up at light fixtures unless they’re producing no light at all, but these were lit, albeit decidedly dimmer than usual, a side effect, I figured, of last week’s roof replacement.

So I duly fetched the ladder, slid out the first panel, and got a face full of sawdust and such. A couple of full-fledged sticks dropped out of the corner. It took several minutes just to clean the scuzz off the inside of the glass.

The second fixture had three times as much debris; I could hear it thunking on the hardwood floor.

I suppose this could be construed as better what I usually find up there, which is a lunchroom for the resident spiders, but I generally don’t have to sweep up after spiders.

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I, up-follower

Two thousand square feet of shingles, fiberglass plus asphalt, applied in the summer sun, using some sort of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Tar! sealant. The olfactory result?

“That’s odd,” said the guy supervising the job. “Usually it’s just the women who smell it.”

I am sufficiently anal (“That’s a polite word for what you are” — Annie Hall) to look (or sniff) for things that aren’t a hundred percent. For instance, while fitting a new flue head, they knocked loose the draft diverter on the water heater. (And they’d never have known this from up top, believe me.) About a forty-five-second fix, but were I not, um, sufficiently anal, I’d not have noticed this, and eventually the gas would blow out a wall or three.

I also ran the attic fan for half an hour, not really expecting to dispel the faint odor of whatever it is, but mostly to see if anything had fallen into the blades. It was scarifyingly rattle-y for the first six minutes or so, after which a single tink, and the sound changed back to the usual low roar. Bits of debris from the new upper decking, plus one actual nail, which landed in the hall.

The guys did run the magnet over the yard in an effort to retrieve nails; I didn’t find any while mowing the front yard yesterday, and by “didn’t find any” I mean “well, there was this one complete coil that wound up under a shrub.”

There are things to do yet: replacing the little spinning-ball ventilator, and redoing the gutters. Most of the really nasty stuff, though, is over and done with. I think. Keep in mind that what I know about roofing is right up there with Al Gore knows about setting an example.

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Rain delay

About six this morning, I was dashing outside to retrieve the newspaper before the rain started. I looked over at the ginormous stack of Shingles ‘N Stuff over by the driveway, and thought, No way are they coming out today.

I’d left for work before the roofing company called me to advise me that no way are they coming out today, what with the storms all morning. It was nice and clear at noon, but of course the day was half gone by then.

Speaking of the newspaper, the Big Headline this morning was “Losses from Oklahoma’s May storms likely to top $1 billion.” At the time I saw it, I shrugged: what’s a billion these days? The Feds can spend that in a matter of minutes.

But eventually the math demanded to be done, and assuming that I have somewhere around the average amount of damage — just on the near side of $10,000 — then more than a hundred thousand people were hit by either the funnels on the 10th or the ice cannon on the 16th. Maybe both. Under the circumstances, I suppose I ought to be thankful I’m getting my stuff repaired during the first week of June — provided, of course, it doesn’t rain.

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To top it all off

The adjuster was here, and we apparently will be adjusted: new roof and new gutters.

Actually, it’s a little more complicated than that, since underneath the old roof is an older roof, with shake shingles, that will have to be removed. (Which I knew beforehand.)

Still, if it’s a hole in the wallet, it’s a load off my mind. I have one of these newfangled hail deductibles, equal to one percent of the insured value of the structure. It’s more than the deductible for other losses, but not that much more.

And it’s another round on the rollercoaster. So far I’m taking it well, especially since the insurance company fronted most of the replacement cost already. But I’m starting to wonder just how far I am from being officially declared bipolar.

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Sadder still

From last summer:

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: “This model uses its own special [fan] motor, not used by any other air conditioner in the line, or for that matter in the industry.”

Add to that “And it apparently lasts for only ten and a half months.”

Bottom line: If this thing can’t be fixed, I’ll have to replace the entire unit. Which I can’t do: I have no credit, the result of a Chapter 13 plan that was confirmed — get this — today, and my bank account is in the low four figures. I certainly won’t be able to sell the house.

Is there some reason why I shouldn’t go drive into a bridge abutment and get it over with? I can’t take this emotional rollercoaster any longer.

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Hailing frequency open, and then some

Now I know what it’s like at the bottom of the popcorn popper. Minus the hot oil, of course.

Doesn’t look like a lot of damage around here — a couple of fence panels down, and so what else is new? — and rather a lot of broken tree branches, but I figure any storm that doesn’t take out my old metal shed, which stands in the back yard as a sacrificial offering to the Weather Gods, is less than maximum severity. The winds, I guesstimate, stayed below 60 mph or so.

But Jebus, that hail was loud. Nothing too huge — golf-ball size, mostly — but golf balls, I seem to recall, make a hell of a lot of noise when they hit something they weren’t supposed to hit. Just my luck, the minor deities picked this afternoon for a nine-holer.

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I resisted as long as I could

But with 90 degrees outside and pushing 80 inside, I decided I’d go ahead and crank up the A/C. This is, I note, about three and a half weeks later than usual; it helps that the weather has been (relatively) cooperative.

Tomorrow, a cold front arrives; Monday, if not earlier, they’ll read the electric meter. I figure I’ve done my best.

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And the curves cross here

Last year, about this time:

Because of the cap rule, during periods when valuation increases, taxable market value lags assessed market value by several percentage points; but there’s no mechanism to push taxable value back down again unless the assessed value drops low enough to take up all that slack.

The County Assessor has now sent out the Notice of Change in Assessed Value, and it appears that all the slack has now been taken up, at least on the palatial estate at Surlywood, the taxable value of which has been deemed to have increased by a mere $834. At the current tax rate, this will cost me an additional eight bucks or so in property tax when the bill comes out this fall.

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A day late and several dollars short

I mentioned earlier that the tax on the palatial estate at Surlywood had jumped up a bit for 2009, mostly due to an increase in the actual millage, since the value on which the tax is based didn’t go up a whole lot. It occurred to me that this might cause a substantial upward adjustment (current euphemism for “frickin’ ginormous increase”) in the monthly outlay, and since the mortgage holder normally calculates these things in March, I figured I’d send in the March house payment with an extra $250 or so to keep the escrow account from looking like a Federal deficit chart.

Score this as a temporary Connivance Fail. The payment duly arrived on the first of March, as it’s supposed to, but they ran the escrow analysis on the 27th of February. Which was a Saturday, and since when do bankers work on a Saturday?

Oh, well. When the property tax goes up for this year, as I assume it must, I’m prepared.

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At least one impossible thing before breakfast

The plumber stared in disbelief. “Roots, all right. But this is a plastic line.”

Which, as we used to say, can mean only one of one thing: the suckers had grown into the junction between the metal pipe inside the house and the plastic stuff that leads to the city sewer. It’s a good ten feet from any actual trees, but trees don’t much care about distance.

For now, the suckers have been cleared away. For later, I’m thinking in terms of something that works like copper sulfate but less likely to kill everything within a twelve-yard radius.

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Ceci n’est pas une pipe utilisable

All the interior water lines survived the Great Freeze. The ones out in the garage, serving the laundry gear, didn’t do so well.

And this disturbs me greatly, not so much because I have two loads of wash to do, but because these lines are nicely wrapped and buried inside a layer or two of insulation, which in turn is covered by a sheet of plywood. Add to this the fact that the garage seldom drops as low as 25° F on the coldest days. Then again, a string of four “coldest” days in a row (lows below 10°) is extremely rare.

I can’t very well leave the washing machine running — the pump therein will commit suicide if it doesn’t get some timely H2O — so I’m playing a waiting game while the temperatures finally climb above freezing. I really don’t see what choice I have, as pointing a heat source at a 13-year-old piece of plywood is a really good way to start a fire. Maybe by Wednesday things will be back to normal.

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Shovels and rakes

In fact, bring all the implements of destruction you have at your disposal, for this is what’s outside the palatial estate at Surlywood:


In the upper left, you can see the far edge of the flower box, which is eight inches — one standard American brick — tall.

I’m heading out with a shovel. (Rakes probably won’t help at this point.)

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Standing alone

The young sweetgum tree, aged three and a half years — first mentioned here — is presently surrounded by what Paul Simon once called a freshly-fallen, silent shroud of snow:

Sweetgum tree at night

This was taken about a quarter past midnight. I didn’t even crank up Photoshop: this is the way it came out.

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Which is master, and which slave?

My garage was built in 1951, three years after the rest of the house; the garage-door opener is clearly newer than that, but it’s pretty much an antique just the same. After six years, the aftermarket remote control failed — a new battery did not restore it to health — and I ordered a new one, same brand, pretty much the same model.

Now if you remember these old village-smithy openers, the actual remote code is set by a bank full of DIP switches, extremely easy to work but presumably very difficult, or at least very expensive, to duplicate in miniature.

And if you remember old IDE drives, they came with a couple of jumpers, which you had to set with a pair of needle-nose pliers to identify which drive was which to the controller. A genuine pain in the neck, but generally you only had to do it once.

Now copy that pain, paste it to the size of a remote control for a garage-door opener, and multiply it past all understanding: there are fourteen jumpers, each of which can be set in one of two positions. I wound up having to move eight of them and discard two others to get it to work. A genuine pain in the neck. I hope I never have to do this again. Then again, this opener’s days are probably already numbered: the guy who works on my door has warned me that parts supplies have long since dried up. (We’re talking seriously obsolete here.)

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I blame HGTV

Curb appeal, like sex appeal, can trap the unwary:

Our present shelter was sold to us because Mr Charm liked the the double green doors and the green trim at the front entrance. I liked the big screened in porch adjoining the patio. I could just imagine it filled with charming wicker furniture and charming guests sitting upon the same. A few potted plants, maybe some hanging ones. Laughter and jollity and good will all around.

We forgot to notice that there was a steep flight of stairs leading up to the second floor. Actually, we failed to notice that there was a second floor. The floors were hideous and there were no cupboards. Most of our kitchenware had to be stowed in the basement, where it resides to this day. The porch is nice, however.

It happens, I think, to all of us. Six years ago this week, I took possession of the palatial estate at Surlywood, persuaded by its mostly-undiluted 1940s charm, and by the price, which was about $15,000 less than the maximum the bank would dare lend me. I still love the place, even though I must concede that the bathroom — there’s just the one — is basically a tile-lined penalty box, and that doing the wash in the garage becomes even less enjoyable when the weather is at its intemperate worst. (The garage is decently insulated; I’ve never actually seen it freeze in there, but it’s come close once or twice. And then there’s July.) I do, however, have cupboard space bordering on adequate, and the flooring is lovely, though white tile in the kitchen is probably not the best option for a sloppy cook.

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