It's more than a house. It's an adventure.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Now I can say I've tried it

I gave Tor spin tonight. Not so much because I'm ultra-paranoid about my anonymity online, but just as an occasional extra layer of protection to use when I'm on a network I don't fully trust.

Setup was a snap with the Windows installer and Firefox extension. Only took about 3 minutes. Unfortunately, I had to give up on it. My web browsing speed was cut by at least 50%, and it seemed to really mess with some of my website logins.

I've uninstalled, and have abandoned any notions of using it regularly. But like I said, I'll keep it in mind when I'm dropped on a foreign network and want that extra bit of security.

Word vs. OO.o, part 2

The gap between OO.o and Word 2003 widened today. My document is now up to 27 pages, and over 750KB in Word 2003 format. OO.o - still under 60KB. And Word keeps getting slower and slower as it flashes "analyzing the document" on the status bar every few minutes.

I'm trying to use Word properly - styles for everything, lots of structure to the document, etc. But the document map keeps dropping elements, performance is going to hell, and the file is getting really bloated. I keep fighting the app as it constantly reformats and guesses at the formatting it thinks I should have. I'm spending 20% of my time undoing what it's doing!

I've been fighting with MS Project 2003 as well. And PowerPoint was fun a couple weeks ago. Visio is the only MS Office app I've used in the last 2 weeks that hasn't given me lip. I am quickly becoming MS Office's bitch. And I can't fight back and replace it altogether.

A tale of two word processors

I'm writing a pretty large spec document at work (relatively speaking) and MS Office Word 2003 has been struggling with it at times, slowing way down when working with certain portions of the document. It's not complex, just a lot of content, including a couple tables with over 100 rows on them. The file is around 697 KB right now. Pretty large for a Word document.

Then I remembered that our consultant uses, and when he sends me updates to documents we're working on together, his version is always about half the size of what I sent to him. Very interesting indeed - he's saving as Word, but cutting the file in half.

So, I downloaded and installed OO.o for comparison purposes, both performance while dealing with a large document and file size. My first surprise was in performance. OO.o handled this large document much better than Word 2003 had. However, all the custom styles I'd set up in Word disappeared; I think they're in the Word template, not in the document itself. Dang.

Then things got real interesting. After making no changes, I saved the file from OO.o in Word format. The file was only 347 KB, with the identical content! Only 50% of the original size. Amazing. Then I saved in OO.o native format. Only 54KB That's 92% smaller. This improvement is in large part thanks to the fact that the OO.o "document" is really a zipfile containing the elements that make up the document - style information, images, and the content itself. Non-binary data is stored as XML, which is plain text and massively compressible.

So I got to thinking that OO.o, in addition to being a lot less expensive than MS Office (it's free), has a lot of other hidden TCO advantages. How many gigabytes of documents does your organization have? What if you could reduce that storage (and backup, and data-management) requirement by 50% or more just because you're using a different office suite? Think of the bandwidth savings, reduced network congestion, less load on your email system. Carry all the documents for one project on a USB thumbdrive, instead of having to waste time and materials burning DVDs to move them around.

Now, OO.o isn't a "perfect" replacement for MS Office, as there are still some compatibility issues (especially with macros), but if you were just starting up an office, OO.o would be a great place to start for your employees. Maybe keep one or two MS Office licenses around to handle any really tricky documents sent from the outside, but beyond that, why not take the opportunity to enjoy the savings?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A "me" day

My wife had some shopping to do, then a Pampered Chef party to attend today, so I had most of today to myself. I took the opportunity to get a few things done, and do some relaxing.

Started out by being very lazy this morning, rolling out of bed about 8:30. Didn't even shower & dress until about 10:00. I finally made a solid backup of my C drive, something I had been procrastinating on for quite a while. While that was going on, I replaced the left taillight on my car, as the lens had been destroyed about 2 months ago in an unfortunate incident involving me, the car, Reverse gear, and the automated payment device at a car wash. That only took me about 20 minutes, but now I don't have to worry about getting a ticket.

The car fixed, I put my to-do list together hit the road. First stop: the mall on the far side of town. I went into Dick's Sporting Goods to check out their pocketknife selection. They didn't have the Leatherman Squirt S4 I was looking for, only the P4, the Leatherman Micra, and the Gerber Shortcut. The Leatherman Squirt P4 goes about $30, the Shortcut about $20. And while a little smaller & lighter than the Micra, both seem to be short on tools and long on something extra - eye candy. Both have a little "cover" on each handle for color, and while they look nice, they seem flimsy. Further, the Shortcut is considerably wider than either of Leatherman's offerings. I told the guy at the counter "thanks, I may be back in a few minutes" and walked down the mall to EMS.

EMS apparently doesn't carry Gerber, but they did have the original Micra, 100% pure Stainless Steel, nothing extra, and a good tool selection. And only $22. Did I mention that EMS also had a sale going, 15%-20% off everything. Such a deal. Of all the tools I had looked at, the original Micra I think was the smallest (in total volume), simplest (no extra colored covers), and best overall package deal. EMS also had the Mag-Lite Solitaire I had been looking for, only $9. Keychain is complete. I'll post pictures later.

I also picked up a pair of full-brimmed hats for my wife and I. We really need to start keeping the sun off us while working in the yard and for vacation, and a ballcap doesn't fit the bill (HA! I made a pun!). I walked out of there with over $75 of stuff for about $60.

Back to Dick's, to check out their selection of Crocs (for my father in law). No luck there, but I did pick up a pair of shirts for $15 each which will be very nice this summer. One is button-down, the other a CoolMax T-shirt which should be comfortable while working in the yard. I love cotton, but once you start sweating, it sucks.

Then it was across the street to CompUSA to check out the MacBook and MBP again, and just browse. The MacBook's keyboard felt really weird. Those keys are spaced really wide. I much preferred the MBP's keyboard, I think. Bought nothing, then went next door to PetSmart just to look around. Bad idea. They were having one of their regular adoption days and I really wanted to bring home a few of the kittens they had. There was one named "Smokey" who looked almost identical to a cat my parents have by the same name. I thought I was looking back in time 11 years to when he was a kitten. They also had a year-old cat named "Ben" who is a displaced resident of New Orleans (courtesy of Hurricane Katrina). If I were to give our Juniper a haircut, this cat would be his twin. Walked out empty-handed, then had a 6" Tuna sub at Subway.

My next to last stop was Home Depot, mostly to browse but I did want to get some supporting cages for oue Peonies which can't support themselves. They didn't get any in this year. Also looked at Dremel tools, and briefly considered some landscape timbers to put alongside the driveway by the garden. I meant to buy a magnet for picking things up in hard-to-reach areas, but forgot. Again, left empty-handed.

Last stop: haircut! But I didn't get it, the wait was 30 minutes and I didn't want to sit around doing nothing.

Came home, assembled my new keychain, emptied the dishwasher, washed some dishes, tossed some laundry in the washing machine, and then came outside to hang out on the porch, as it was cooler outside than in. Enjoyed a nice frosty mug of beer and some hummus on crackers while bopping around on the 'net. Gotta love WiFi. My wife will be home Real Soon Now after a stop at Blockbuster to pick up the original Superman and we'll watch that tonight as I've never seen it, and we're getting excited about seeing the new one next weekend.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

$5 Million before taxes, you say?

Last week, I posted about what I would do if I managed to hit the lottery and my take, after taxes, was $5M. El Gee's original post was about $5M before taxes. He's since updated with his version of my post.

So, what if that $5M was before taxes, and we ended up clearing $1.25M after the IRS, the lump sum stuff, etc.? Well, the list wouldn't be too much different, just scaled back. We'd keep working for sure. Still set up the college funds, but only fund them at $50K each instead of $150K. Pay off those debts, replace cars, maybe skip the truck, boat & travel trailer. Put some money into the house, just maybe not as much. Then invest the rest.

More garden progress

This past weekend, we worked mornings on the garden between the driveway and the house, and inside the fence behind the kitchen. Some plants were relocated, like our delphinium, irises and mint (mint repels mice and some other rodents, so we planted it along the foundation), and a couple new hydrangeas were planted. Tuesday night, we finished things up and laid down 7 bags of mulch. The difference is amazing. Days 160 and 162 in the photo gallery (link on the sidebar).

Now we're cooking with gas!

Once spring hit, we picked up a small tabletop gas grill to take care of our outdoor cooking needs. I love to work on the grill, and although charcoal is best, it's more time consuming and offers less direct control. So gas it was. I would have preferred a full-size grill, but with nowhere good to put it, and money being a little tight as we're still landscaping, we opted for the smaller and cheaper option.

For a while, we were using the 14 oz cylinders that hook right up to the grill. Trouble is, this is very wasteful, and gets expensive in a hurry - the cheapest we found the cylinders was $3.75 for a pair at Wal-Mart. And you always run out in the middle of a meal.

So, this weekend, I found the 4' adapter hose to let me hook the grill up to a regular tank. $17 at Lowe's. Then over to Wal-Mart to pick up a Blue Rhino 20 lb tank for $42 (I had no old tank to exchange. Exchanges are about $15). So now, for under $60, I'm set with gas for over a year, instead of spending the money for one cylinder a week and having to dispose of them. And I won't run out mid-meal!

Plus, I won't have to buy a tank when we do get that big grill later.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

No more dressing in the dark

I discovered Monday morning that the light in our closet had burned out. Naturally, it's not a "normal" bulb such that one would have a temporary replacement readily available in the house. Instead, it's a 22W 8" flourescent ring bulb.

Tonight I remembered to stop at Home Depot and pick up a replacement. I don't know what the original bulb was, but this new one, a Phillips "Daylight" model, seems to be twice as bright. Maybe now I won't end up wearing the completely wrong things to work.

Who are we kidding, I'm a terminal geek whose only fashion sense is the wisdom of his wife.

Hard drive panic continues

Last night, I thought I'd lost the computer. Shortly after booting, it really flaked out - it thought it was running on battery, apps weren't behaving properly, it was scary. HDD Health was telling me that my hard drive was at 37°C, which I knew couldn't be right - it starts at 42, normally. So I decided to reboot. A few programs refused to shut down clean, and it took a long time for Windows to finish. Finally, it did.

And then the box wouldn't POST. First, it wouldn't ID the CPU. Then, it got through the CPU, but nothing more. I powered it off and let it cool while I searched for our small boxfan, but came up empty. After about 5 minutes, I checked the various expansion cards, disconnected the secondary hard drive, and booted successfully.

I thought I lost everything last night. A fire has been lit under me to get my backups made more regularly.

2006, the summer of identity theft

Once again, data that identity thieves drool over has been compromised. That's at least the 4th time in the last couple months it's happened This is getting completely out of hand.

Companies just aren't accountable for this stuff. Not even a slap on the wrist, really. In some jurisdictions, they have to inform people whose data may have been compromised. Some laws place a limit on how many affected people it takes to trigger a notification. But by and large, companies don't pay any penalty for screwing this up. It's "whoops, sorry" and you're left wondering whether you're safe or not.

It's only a matter of time before every American is nailed by this. I've had the good fortune of only having a credit card number stolen once, and given how infrequently I used that card and the manner in which it was used, I think that person really just guessed on the number and got lucky. But I know my day will come. I safeguard my data, but I can't say the same for the other entities that hold it.

I posted the following as a comment on Slashdot last week, but I'm going to expand upon it. These companies need to see a real financial and time-cost impact to their lax approach to data security. Some people have suggested $1000 per affected person per lapse. But that's worthless. The money isn't significant to many companies. It's just not a punishment. The company writes a check after a years-long investigation and goes on their merry way. It doesn't repair the damage done. It doesn't protect those affected from further damage. The company's resources aren't consumed in a punitive way for their transgression.

Meanwhile, the people whose data was leaked are in a world of hurt. They're spending days, weeks even, calling banks, creditors, credit agencies, utilities, employers, insurance companies, etc. warning them that there might be fraudulent activity attempted in their name. Spending hours each week going over every little detail of their financial life, making sure that their credit hasn't been destroyed. Wondering if people are going to commit crimes in their name. But the company and people responsible for all this, they pay nothing. They don't have to care.

Here's what I want the company responsible for the information leak to be accountable for.

  • Contact all 3 credit bureaus and put a fraud watch flag on my account for at least 2 years, at their expense. I understand that today only I can make this request, by law. Amend the law to make this exception.
  • Contact every other institution the responsible company is aware of that I hold accounts with and inform them of the leak, and to watch for bad activity. For example, if my employer leaked my data, I would expect them to contact my bank (I have direct deposit, so they know the bank), the government (IRS), my 401(k) administrator, my health plan administrator, and probably a few others.
  • A simple method for me to report all expenses incurred cleaning up after the mess that the other institutions can't do themselves. I'll record my time. I want a fair hourly rate (my personal time is valuable), and payment should be swift (within 4 weeks of reporting, if reporting electronically).
  • A fine paid out not to the government, but to each individual whose data was lost. After all, they have those records, right? A flat amount disbursed to each person, at least $1000. Within 4 weeks of the information loss detection. Over and above the payment above.
I know, it'll never happen. But I can dream, can't I?

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Since he won't post it himself

Go over and wish Eric a happy birthday. It's'm not sure, but it's lower than my count.

Monday, June 19, 2006

5 Megabucks

El Gee asks what would you do with $5 million? I'll leave the math there on his blog. Straight out - let's say I won the lottery and took the lump sum, after taxes I ended up with $5M. What to do? I'm in a very different place in life than El Gee is, so my ideas will be quite different.

  • Set up college financing for all our nieces and nephews, plus our own child(ren). That's 5 nieces & nephews, plus our own kids, let's guess high and say 3 of them. 8 kids total, I'll budget $150K per for college (figuring that a 529 account will earn money, etc. that should cover most stuff). That's $1.2M.
  • Pay off all of our debt other than the mortgage. Under $100K.
  • Pay extra into the mortgage. Negligible, really.
  • Massive home improvement. Rewire the whole house, improve insulation, radiant floor heating in the master suite, fix up the plumbing, new roof, landscape the backyard. $100K or so.
  • Replace our cars. Gotta treat yourself. Won't go crazy with luxury cars, just some nice hardware. We're talking about a couple practical cars for daily use, a 1-ton Diesel pickup for home improvement supplies & dragging around a boat or travel trailer,and maybe a "fun" vehicle too. Under $200K.
  • Boat and travel trailer. Under $150K

Less than $2M has been spent out of the $5M so far. Yikes! I must be a bad consumer. I'd probably keep working. With most of the nasty bills taken care of, salary wouldn't be super-important, and most could be socked away in savings and used for nice vacations and other travel.

The $3M that's left would get invested for the most part. Split it between some aggressive investments and government-issued bonds & bills in a ladder setup. Somewhat low yield, yes, but quite safe. The aggressive investments would be the real moneymakers.

I think, with some careful yet aggressive investing, it would work out pretty well.

However, for any of this to even be remotely worth considering, I'd have to play the lottery in the first place, which I don't.

Friday, June 16, 2006

More on the hard drives

My post last night about HDD Health may have sounded a bit harsh. Really, it was borne of frustration more than anything else. My changes to the settings last night did stick, so I'll keep it around a while. The hard drive temperature is still high. I'll have to see if I can separate the two drives a bit to let some air flow around them.

Really though, I'm just frustrated by the computer itself. It's fast enough, but its heat issues are causing stability worries and it's getting loud. More fans will just make it louder. It needs to get replaced, but that's not in the cards right now. Though I will want a good video editing platform (MacBook Pro) in about 8 months.

I gotta say it was a good day

Or at least morning. This week a co-worker has been working on making some updates to a pretty important Perl script, but she's got no experience with the language. It's been a couple years since I've done anything with Perl, but I offered some help as questions came up. It's a mixture of flat-file access, database work, and manipulating Excel files. DBI, Win32::OLE, and a few other fun things thrown in.

She started by stripping the script down to the barebones, than building it back up gradually, adding back in the functionality that was unchanged, and tweaking the things that needed updates.

I initially tried to steer her toward using MS's ADO for the database access, instead of DBI, as there were a few things she needed to do that would be easier that way than with DBI. But, with most of the script already using DBI, it was better to keep using it. I'd never used DBI, but seeing code that did work, it was easy enough to get my head around it.

So, we chipped away slowly at the piece she was having trouble with, discussed how we thought the code worked, tried some basic "print debugging" and lo and behold, got things working as expected! Spent about 45 minutes on it, but made huge progress for her.

Our primary goal accomplished (connecting to the database and getting results back), I turned my attention to her development environment. She was using Notepad. I asked her if she'd be interested in another editor that might help her work with the code a little better, and she readily accepted. I sent her a copy of SCiTe and she promptly installed. She loaded her Perl script into it and I think I actually saw the light bulb over her head come on. She was thrilled! Syntax highlighting, bracket matching, code folding...she could actually see how the code worked about 100 times better than the plain black & white of Notepad. I think I made her week. And I had a good time too. It was great just looking through the code, picking it apart, learning how it worked, and getting everything new working again.

She asked if I like brownies, I think I might be getting a plate on Monday.

DVR Disappointment

It appears that my DVR is no better than a VCR when it comes to scheduling recordings. I set up to record The Tonight Show the other night, when George Carlin and Ann Coulter appeared. I figured it'd be great fireworks.

Unfortunately, the NHL playoff game went long that night and Leno didn't start until nearly midnight. I had hoped that since I programmed the recording via the on-screen program guide, the guide would have updated and I'd get my whole program. Wasn't that supposed to be one of the promises of DVR?

I got the entirety of Carlin's "solo" appearance, and about 5 minutes of Ann Coulter, with no sign of fireworks. Very disappointed.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The cure is worse than the disease

A few days ago I was discussing my recent hard drive related issues with El Gee and he suggested I check out HDD Health to monitor and diagnose my drives. This program monitors the S.M.A.R.T sensors, among other things, and over time builds an overall picture of the drive's health - good, bad, etc. Hoping it would give me a better idea of what's going on, I installed it.

The program comes configured to pop up alerts anytime certain thresholds are hit. Especially temperature, but also some error counts. I have no idea what these error counts mean. But the temperature is the one that's been bugging me the most. By default (and it appears that it doesn't save changes to this), it alerts when the drive crosses 45°C. My one drive with a temperature sensor seems to start at 42°. So, within a few minutes of usage, it's popping up messages. And it pops up a new one repeatedly even if you haven't acknowledged the previous one(s), so after a while of ignoring them I'll have a few dozen stacked up that need to be cleared.

Still no clear picture of what's causing my freeze-ups, aside from maybe heat. I'm going to attempt to disable these pop-ups while continuing to run the program, but if it won't store that as my default, it's getting uninstalled I think.

I have no idea

I really wish I could help El Gee out with his IRC issue, but I have no idea what's going on there. I haven't a clue what got stuck in whomever's bum.

But I also doubt that an apology is going to change the minds of those responsible for what's going on.

Time for a new keychain

Inspired by Jeff at Coding Horror, I started thinking about my own current key-management last week. No, not PGP keys - the keys to my house and car.

For the last 7 years or so, my keychain has been a cheap (non-climbing-use) carabiner with a 3-inch piece of nylon webbing attached. The webbing has 2 loops on it - the carabiner goes through one, a standard keyring goes through the other. My car key and fob (which controls the door locks) usually snaps right into the carabiner, so that I can easily detatch the 'biner while driving (otherwise, it bangs into my knee constantly). The keyring itself has about 4 keys on it, only one of which I use regularly - my house key (we had all 3 exterior doors keyed identically). One is for my parents' house, another is for a padlock I'm not even sure I own anymore. Do I need to carry all these? The whole setup is bulky, and not very utilitarian. It's getting long in the tooth.

Anyway, back to Jeff's keychain. I've often found myself needing a bottle opener, knife, scissors, or other tool at odd times. I own a Gerber Multitool which I bought at least 10 years ago, but I can't carry that around daily. It's great on weekends, but it just doesn't go with dress slacks and a nice shirt. So a Leatherman Squirt like he has looks to be a good fit. Hang it off a conventional ring with just my car stuff and a housekey, and I'm good to go. I'm thinking scissors will be handier day to day than pliers, but OTOH, I can in a pinch use the knife to cut, skip the scissors and get the pliers.

I went into the local(ish) Dick's Sporting Goods tonight and after waiting about 15 minutes for someone to help me, I learned that they didn't have the Squirt I was looking for. They did, however, have a Gerber Shortcut, which is basically the same thing. It looked nice, and at $10 less than the Leatherman, was attractive fiscally. But the outer casing seemed to be plastic, which is a major turn-off. Gerber's site says it's all Aircraft Aluminum, so I'll have to take another look. The display model was also dented (the colored part), which made me think it was plastic.

So, decision yet to be made there. I definitely want to put the contenders side by side and give them a thorough checking over.

I also plan on getting a Mag-Lite, the single-AAA "Solitaire" size, to hang off the keychain. But again, time plays games with me. The site says they have one coming out with an LED instead of a standard light bulb. Great for battery life and durability. Mag-Lites are already rugged, and well worth the extra price. They take a serious beating and for their size are tremendously light. I had an imitation brand once and the device paled in comparison to the real deal. That plus the terrific battery life of the LED makes waiting on that new Mag-Lite worthwhile.

One thing I won't be putting on my keychain, at least not yet, is a USB memory device. That Iomega Micro Mini looks like a good one to put on a keychain though. My Lexar Jumpdrive's cap is always coming loose, I don't want that happening on my keychain. And it's a lot of extra bulk to carry for probably infrequent use. Just not worth it now. Maybe later.

When I get everything, I'll snap pictures before and after.

Keeping up with the Joneses

Memorial Day weekend, we moved the good TV (42" Samsung DLP HDTV) into the living room, and about a week later I went into Time Warner's office to upgrade to the HD cable box. "Would you like to try the DVR while you're at it? Only $4.95 a month for the first 3 months."

I hadn't really planned on getting the DVR, but the VCR situation was getting old and busted - the units work, but recording 2 hours/day, 5 days/week takes a toll on tapes. They just don't like to be reused that much. If my wife cared a lot about picture quality for her soap operas, we'd be spending at least $5/month on tapes alone.

Plus, there's a lot of stuff I'd like to watch, but can't because it's on too late. Or we're not home. Or I just plain forget to watch it entirely. So...yeah, I got the DVR.

It's pretty nice, I have to admit. We aren't even close to filling it yet, but at some point we might. The whole "set it and forget it" thing is nice - just tell it to record every airing of a particular program, and you're done, even if it changes timeslots.

Someday, maybe a large-scale MythTV setup. But before I can do that, I need to wire the whole house with 100base-T or GigE. And buy a few low-power, silent, high-storage Linux boxes.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Dog Dead End

The village animal control officer stopped by tonight to discuss the situation and have us sign the formal complaint, if we were so inclined. We were not so inclined.

Don't get me wrong - we haven't had a change of heart. We still want the dogs leashed and controlled by their owner. But going forward with the complaint will not be productive. The officer told us that he had spoken to the judge, to see what he would do with the case if it was brought to him. Unfortunately, it would be at most a $25 fine, not even a slap on the wrist.

The current animal control laws are just not that strict. Sad but true. If the dogs aren't causing harm to people/property, or posing a threat, there's just not much that can be done. Even if one of the dogs were to maul me within an inch of my life, a judge could very easily drop the case (as opposed to locking the dog up, or destroying it).

I still have to call the officer back, but we've pretty much decided that it's not worth stirring up all kinds of bad karma over this case right now. A $10 or $25 fine every 6 months is not going to deter this guy from walking the dogs unleashed.

This was the officer's recommendation as well. He wasn't trying to dissuade us, but he's totally right - why stir up the hornet's nest when we already know the judge won't or can't do anything? This guy & his dogs have been a problem for him for a long time, but until we can get solid evidence of the dogs on our property, we can't make a real claim of being threatened by them.

Surveillance will continue. If we can get photos of the dogs on our property, we'll be in better shape and might be able to build a case. It's just very discouraging.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Winter projects

Summer projects are well behind schedule, but I'm already thinking about winter projects. Little things that have been nagging me for a while, but lower priority than outside and livable space work.

  • Garbage disposer (requires a sink drain line reroute).
  • Basement lighting
  • Basement storage, organization and cleanup.
  • Shed storage, organization and cleanup.
  • Upstairs bathroom paint and light/fan fixture.
  • Maybe some reworking of the pantry shelves.

All this to avoid some diaper duty.

Who let the dogs out?

My wife spotted the unleashed dogs again this evening, and then we both saw the pit bull a little later after a run to the grocery store. Unfortunately, we still haven't managed a picture.

Slow going

Haven't posted much lately because there hasn't been much to post. We did almost nothing last weekend. The grass in the front yard is growing nicely, but will need some major weed & feed to eliminate the weeds that have developed.

I did manage to start trimming the tree on the east side of the driveway, between the blacktop and our neighbor's house. I just took one limb off, but it made a huge difference. Soon, I'll remove the whole blasted tree.

With the tree and the area around it a little less cluttered, last night I turned my attention to the rosebush at the top end of the driveway. It was sagging and looking ragged, so I tied it up to the fence in a couple places. Once that was finished, I somewhat securely planted the trellis for the Clematis plant and tied that up to it. Unfortunately, the way the plant grew, all the leaves and flowers are pointing more or less at the house, but they'll turn around over time. I'm in no rush.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

What we did last weekend

This post is long overdue - this week was a little hectic. Last weekend (Memorial Day weekend for those in the US), my family came out and helped us with a bit of yard work. Over the course of 3 days, we managed to get far more done than I ever imagined we could.

In the preceeding days, we had re-weeded the front yard by the driveway, put edging around the roses, lilies and tree, and mulched all those.

  • Pulled out all the raspberry bushes at the end of the driveway.
  • Finished pulling out the pachysandra
  • Pulled out some of the lilies that were near the pachysandra
  • Sectioned off part of the front yard under the living room windows for plants and mulch
  • Mulched
  • Planted grass seed and spread some lime
  • Built a stone channel below one gutter downspout
  • Relocated numerous plants
  • Gave away even more plants to other people.
  • Removed and discarded still more plants and weeds (noticing a theme?
  • Had a little party
  • Cleaned up quite a bit of the garden between the house and the driveway.
  • Planned out some of the flowerbed borders.
  • Edged all the new and existing flowerbeds we could.
  • Cut down a few small trees and removed the large burning bush from the back yard.

Total bill: I have no clue. Spent a lot on mulch, paid too much because we bought by the bag instead of just taking a pickup somewhere and getting a bed full. We did get a very nice pitchfork out of the deal - the local CountryMax had what felt like a pretty flimsy stamped-steel one for $30, then I found one with a cast head for $22. Easy decision! That device will last quite a while.

Pictures are in the gallery linked at right. We've got grass sprouting already and most of our transplanted plants have taken well to their new homes. Still plenty left to do, but we needed all the manpower to get that first big push completed.

Venison - it's what's for dinner

Had my first taste of venison last night, in the form of venison sausage. It was terrific - had I not been told it was venison, I may not have known it. Now, the real trick - finding places to buy more.

What really surprised me was that a die-hard vegetarian was eating this venison right alongside me. Turns out that venison is OK by him because unlike beef, chicken, pork, etc., hunting deer and cooking the meat is a predator/prey relationship and a natural occurrance. Livestock is raised to be slaughtered and nothing more. Plus, venison is a lot leaner than beef or pork.

Loving the online bill pay

I finally set us up with the online bill payment option that our bank offers back in April. I've slowly been migrating things over to it as my trust level has increased.

Today I think I finished moving the last regular bills over to it. It's so much easier than writing checks. I don't have to spend money on postage. I don't have to lick envelopes. I can "write" the check well in advance and not have to worry about it clearing early, because I can tell the bank when to actually send it out. For example, I just set up our trash pickup payment to go out on 6/23, as it's due on July 1. It'll actually be mailed on 6/23, but it's taken care of 3 weeks early and I don't have to think about it. I suspect that for many of the payees that the bank already has set up, it's not even a paper check that's mailed, it's actually an electronic funds transfer - making it safer for everyone involved (checks won't get lost in the mail).

This also makes recurring payments a breeze. I just set up one credit card payment to happen incrementally - a little bit each week, repeating for 12 weeks (it's a no-interest card that we're paying off). Now I don't have to even think about it - it's scheduled in Quicken as a weekly transaction, the payment goes out from the bank every week, and I know the payments will arrive on time. Done.

If your bank offers free online bill pay, and you aren't using it, what are you waiting for? The time savings alone make it worthwhile - the extra security and convenience are just icing on the cake.