Garage burglaries on the rise

Austin Police Department reports that garage burglaries are on the rise:

“This is the season. It’s summer. Many people are outside working in their yards. They leave the garage door open, and then thieves are driving around looking for opportunity,” said Austin Police Department Detective Jason Jewett.

One of the victims in Jester Estates is Senior Judge Jon Wisser. For years he’s sentenced crooks. This is the first time he’s been on the other side of the crime.

“I wasn’t gone but two minutes,” Judge Wisser said. “My garage door was open. The guy came in and stole my $4,000 carbon fiber bike.”

Crime of opportunity. Open doors, unlocked windows… most criminals want an easy target, an easy score, which they can then pawn.

We all do it… mow the lawn, leave the garage open. Might not be a big deal when you’re mowing/working on that side of the house, but then when you go into the backyard, it’s all unattended. And you might live in a “good neighborhood”, but check out these crime databases and you’ll see that crime strikes everywhere around you. So maybe when out working, close the garage door and lock it. Keep the opener in your pocket, the keys in your pocket, whatever. Maybe that’s a pain, but think about how much of of a pain it’ll be for all your things to get stolen and to deal with the loss, the police report, the insurance, and so on.

One thing I thought was cool in this story?

Families posted fliers in the neighborhood after many people started noticing items missing. A mail carrier saw the sign and notified police.

“That tip came in, and in about three days we had our guy,” says Detective Jewett.

Active and interested neighbors. They communicated with each other, they worked together. Involved and nosy neighbors can be good things.

I need to buy an IR game camera

I live in the city. I can’t shoot any of the deer that come up through the greenbelt behind my house.

That’s ok tho… as far as I can tell, none are shooters anyways.

But they’re fun to watch, and Sasha sure loves to bark at them.

But that’s why I need a game camera… tho an IR one so my neighbors don’t get bothered by (or curious about) a flash going off at all strange hours. I’ve got a couple with a flash, want an IR one tho. Every time I go to Cabela’s I look at them then walk away because I just don’t feel right about dropping that sort of cash on one. Call me silly, but I’ve got this feeling that someone will notice and steal it and then I’m out a chunk of change.

I’m just curious about the deer that come around. Mostly it’s does, but we see a nice buck now and again. I’m very curious about those guys.

Then tonight as the sun was going down, I saw something I hadn’t seen before.

Looking out back and I see 1… 2… ah, 5 deer. A little one, a doe that’s probably 1-2 years old, a couple older does… and then a spike.

First time I’ve seen a spike around here this season. Hopefully won’t be the last we see of him… for years to come.


Saw a story on Austin YNN about Habiturf.

From research here at the Wildflower Center that is funded by Walmart, we have found that a mix of Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss), Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama) and Hilaria belangeri (curly-mesquite) and other species needs less mowing, watering and weeding and also replicates nature’s shortgrass prairies. Although the species are different, these grasses have almost identically shaped leaves and color and produce a great-looking, even-textured, dense lawn that does well in full sun but also tolerates 50 percent shade. The mixes are available from native seed suppliers such as Douglass King Company and Native American Seed. For every 1,000 square feet you will need about 3 to 4 pounds of HABITURF™

More info.

That’s pretty cool. I’ve seen buffalograss planted for landscaping at some shopping areas, and it doesn’t look bad, but it also isn’t as awesome as St. Augustine. But, St. Augustine just can’t handle it out here: you have to fertilize it a lot, ensuring a lot of sulfur (to counteract all the limestone), and you have to water the stuff to no end. Now with our drought, St. Augustine lawns are just going to die out. I love how well it stands up to foot traffic, I love how it looks and feels, but folks, it just doesn’t work here.

Really, what works best and grows best anywhere is that which is native to the area. And obviously the seeds that make up HABITURF are about as native as you can get for this area.

The only bummer I can see is these grasses don’t stand up that well to traffic. They can handle a little, but not a lot. That’s a bummer because I’d love to try this in the backyard, but that’s going to have a lot of dog running traffic. This year we were finally able to get all the St. Augustine in the backyard to die out and it’s now mostly all bermudagrass. I’m still not in love with bermuda, but all things considered it’s the best that can be done.

Nevertheless, we’ll continue our efforts to xeriscape. Now that the heat has broken, our landscaper, Fertile Ground Organic Gardens (who BTW just 3-peated in the Austin Chronicle’s Reader’s Poll for Best Landscape Services) was just back out here to get some measurements. Once all is done, I’ll finally post some pictures of the work.


When we bought our first house, despite years of hating landscaping and lawn care,  I had my own lawn and felt it was time to become Hank Hill and have the prettiest yard on the block.

That didn’t last long.

Mother Nature, she will always win.

The reality of living in Central Texas is it’s hot and dry. Oh sure, some people manage to have green grassy lawns down here, but they usually have lots of shade plus spend a lot of time and money to irrigate their yard. I’ve had varying amounts of shade, but never enough; I certainly don’t have enough money to budget for heavy watering.

Even if I did have the money to keep my yard flooded, I’ve always felt there was something wrong in doing so. This is the water we need for drinking and basic life needs. Texas has gone through numerous droughts, and the one we’re in now is exceptional and could go down as the worst ever. I just cannot justify watering the yard when water is a finite resource and we need it for more important things. I’d rather have water to drink, and if water is going to go onto vegetation I’d rather the farmers have it.

Alas, I live in the city… I have some semblance of a HOA to deal with… and I admit to not liking erosion nor an ugly house and neighborhood. So, some sort of “yard” is necessary.

I never thought I’d do this… but I’m going to try xeriscaping.

It’s just not aesthetically pleasing to me, because it implies a lot of desert, and I do like the look of plush green. Xeriscaping invokes images of sand, rocks, cactus… not much color, a lot of hard and sharp lines and materials. But it isn’t exclusively this way. For one, a central notion of xeriscaping is to use native plants. I never was a fan of going to Home Depot and getting whatever they sold because they are rarely native and able to handle the environment. But I also wasn’t a huge fan of the way a lot of native plants looked. That has changed and I now find great beauty in the native plants of this area — the key is exposure. So many of the yards and commercial landscapes go for what is common, what is easy to find. But if you look deeper, especially using local nurseries, you can find an amazing depth of plants that look beautiful, give year-round color and interest, attract desirable wildlife, and work in the high heat/sun and low water environment that we live in. For example, some years ago I tore out a bunch of shrubs and planted Barbados Cherry. They’ve thrived, they look gorgeous when flowering and fruiting, attract a lot of birds, provide a lot of color throughout most of the year… and I haven’t seen them anywhere else in Austin (tho I’m sure other people have them).

The key? You cannot start out picking plants you WANT. You have to pick plants that are appropriate. You have to consider size issues, sun exposure, water availability, animals (attract, repel, etc.), and so on. Austin’s Grow Green Guide is quite useful. Once you narrow down to what’s appropriate, then you can choose what you like. The Barbados Cherry were not something I would have picked if given the choice, but they fit best for the particular situation and have turned out to be wonderful.

Another useful thing? Using a good landscaper. We’re using Fertile Ground Organic Gardens. Yes, it’s run by an old friend of mine, but she’s done work for us in the past and it’s always been excellent. I’m using her not because of friendship, but because of solid work and creative design. Look at their website and you’ll see examples of their work.

The thing is… our front yard is always going to suffer. There’s a good portion that gets sun most of the day, and a fair portion that gets sun all day long. Consequently, no turf grass can survive. In drought like we tend to have most years, the grass eventually dies off and all we have is either burnt, dead grass, and then very tolerant weeds grow. It’s ugly. I hate it. And the weeds can’t even grow enough to cover for soil retention. So after debating solutions for the past few years, Wife and I decided… let’s try xeriscaping.

I’ll try to document how it goes, with pictures. Should be interesting. 🙂

Termites – we got ’em

Last week we looked in the backyard and noticed this quivering mass of something on the ground. Upon closer inspection, termites. Swarming. Didn’t last long tho… the birds came and picked them off.

Of course, I called our exterminator. They scheduled their termite guy to come out today.

Meantime yesterday, Oldest reported he saw them again in the same area yesterday.

There’s no question, we have termites. In fact, just about everyone in Texas does… they’re everywhere, you can’t escape them. The trick is tho, we don’t appear to have any structural damage to the house. There are no dirt tunnels up the side of the house. We have a slab foundation and it’s fairly high off the ground, so it’d be obvious if we did. We do get monthly exterminator exterior spray to mind for things like scorpions or other bugs, so that helps.

The question at this point tho is… should we get a preventative, like in-ground baits or Termidor.

It’s expensive.

Repairing your house is more expensive.

As I read up on Termidor, it seems amazingly effective. But that same effectiveness is also a source of concern. Toxicity. I read that it is highly toxic to bees, to aquatic life. Upland game birds too, tho oddly not waterfowl. I even read one thing that specifically said it’s non-toxic to mallards… but what about muscovy? Doubt I’ll get any direct info there. Still, I’d hate if any of the ducks died because of this treatment. Plus think about it… it sits in the ground for 10-12 years churning out its effective poison. While that sounds great from a termite control perspective, that also means this potent poison is in the ground… and what sort of impact will that have on our groundwater and aquifers? I don’t know, but I wonder.

It seems like it’s almost one of those “too good to be true” sorts of solutions, which means it probably is….

So the bait system. It seems less ideal in a way, because some studies I read on the Termidor is that it can’t be detected so the termites don’t avoid it, thus colony destruction is pretty quick therefore making the window between treatment and destruction rather narrow. With a bait system, they have to find the bait then take it, and who knows how long that could be. So you potentially have a larger window of opportunity for destruction to still happen. In mentioning this to Karl, he said he’s used baits and likes the added benefit that someone comes around every 3 months to inspect things, instead of 10+ years and hoping it’s still working. There’s a good point to that.

Then there’s money. Termidor is a huge expense up front. Baits are a lesser expense, but constant treatment. Over the lifetime of things it’ll probably add up to about the same amount of money spent, but I think bait ends up being cheaper if you expect to not live in the house for the next 10-20 years. And hopefully, cost of bait doesn’t skyrocket.

Really tho, I think at this point it’s more about what’s going to be effective yet safe. I don’t want to bring harm to anything, really… it’s just wanting to keep my house safe. If that means termites go bye-bye, then it does, but if it’s not hurting my house, I don’t want to see it harmed.

Any input?

Updated: We do have an exterminator that comes out once a month and sprays the exterior perimeter of the house. We do this mainly for scorpions, but of course it keeps a host of other things out too. Looking at the sheet, they put down birenthrin and cyfluthrin, which Google tells me are both barrier repellants that work against termites.

So you know…. I may just stick with that and save my money.

It’s a gamble, I know.

If you need tree work done in the Austin area…

I just had some tree work done at my house. Took one tree out, some serious trimming on another that was causing constant roof and fence issues for myself and a neighbor. I am pleased with the work: the job done, the cost involved, how long it took, etc.. I wanted to give some credit to the guys that did the work. If you’re in the Austin area and need tree work, give them a call at least to get a bid:

Don Glass of Arbor Logical Tree Care: 512-368-6523

Silvester Rodgers of Awesome Tree Service: 512-466-1169

Technically two companies, but they work together. Call either one.

They have almost 50 years experience between the two of them, are arborists, and from the looks of the services offered can handle almost any tree need you have. Estimates were free, so there’s no downside to contacting them when you need work done.

I write this because everyone bitches when things are bad, but people aren’t so quick to provide support and complements when due. I try to give both: if it’s bad, say it’s bad; if it’s good, say it’s good. Let people know there’s good out there. 🙂

Breaking into a garage, and how to prevent it

A while ago, someone sent me this video on how to break into a garage with a coat hanger and a few seconds:

It relies upon a few things:

  • A garage door with an automatic opener
  • The automatic opener has the pull to release the door from the opener’s track
  • The door has windows, so the person can see what they’re doing. Someone with enough practice and experience could probably do it without a window, but certainly being able to see what you’re doing makes it a lot easier.
  • The door is likely a daily opener, thus there’s no cross bars or other physical devices that prevent the door from opening.

They straighten out the hanger but for a little hook at the end. Wedge the top of the door just enough to fit the hanger in. Hook the hanger on the door release, and pull. Ta da.

There are some things you can do to make life more difficult, like not having windows. If you have windows, covering them or making them harder to see through is better than nothing. If the door is not a daily opener, like for a shop, consider using cross bolts or other hard and fast means of securing the door.

But there’s also something else you can do: zip ties

Wonderful idea… if you have a second hole to put the zip tie through.

I have Genie garage door openers and there’s no second hole. But thankfully, the big black plastic housing has some airspace in the front, in the area just above the release lever. A few seconds with a drill, a hole through the housing, and viola.

Necessary tool support

Yes, you need tools. Good tools. Things break, you have to fix them. Screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, hammers… and the many variants that exist of these things.

But sometimes we need things to support the tools. Tools alone don’t cut it.


Duct tape.

3-in-One oil.

Goo Gone.

Electricians tape. Masking tape. Teflon tape.

Liquid Wrench.

That last one is a favorite. I think my little vial of it is geez… maybe a couple of decades old. You only need a little bit, and you don’t need it all that often. But when you need it, nothing else works like it does. When the guy came this morning to install the new washing machine, of course he had to turn off the hot and cold water supplies. When he turned the hot supply back on, it started to leak from the valve stem. We could tighten it and get it to stop, but it didn’t really stop. Went to Lowes to get a replacement spigot. Trying to remove the old spigot? Oh my. I guess 25+ years of lime and calcium build-up, and the spigot would not budge. Liquid Wrench to the rescue. Soak it, tap on the spigot threads, crank and cuss… wipe off what was loosened, repeat numerous times cussing louder each time. I didn’t have a solid combination wrench large enough so I had to use adjustable combination wrenches (Craftsman), and I swear I was close to breaking them, it was that stubborn. Eventually, with more soaking and cranking, she gave. Thank you, Liquid Wrench.

Bought a washing machine

So with the old washing machine dying, today we went shopping to buy a new washer.

At the urging of a friend, I avoided the big box stores. Went to a couple local places and ended up buying from Depew Appliances. Not a bad place, glad I went there.

We ended up with a Maytag Series 2000 (MHWE200XW).

Why that one?

Well, first it was one of the least expensive models they had on the floor. I sunk around $2000 into that Kenmore Elite HE3t 8 years ago expecting it to last me 15-20 or more years. If things are just going to break in 5-8 years and be too costly to repair, I just don’t see the logic in sinking lot of money into this stuff. Sure, I still want to get something that will take good care of my clothes, that has the cycles/features Wife wants, and that doesn’t suck. But $1000+ on a washer? I just can’t justify that outlay. So, low price tag was a plus. BTW, this washer ended up being about the same price as the replacement tub for the HE3t… couple that with labor and the rest of the parts? I could buy a couple washers. It’s a shame that “disposable” is how it is but working in the software world I understand “upgrade revenue” because if you make a product that lasts 40 years, while people will love it today’s business world can’t support that business model any more. Pity.

Second, rated it a “best buy” (click to see the review, if you have a subscription), and I’ve generally had good experience when I buy something they rate well. So, I’m hoping the positive trend will continue. I will say, this is one huge reason why I finally got a smartphone. The ability to have “Internet in my hands” out in the field is invaluable. I purchased my subscription while Wife drove to the stores, then did searches and researching on models and prices while in the stores. Hooray technology! It certainly helped me narrow down the choices to what appeared to be the best buy. What reviews I could find on this model were positive. So, here’s hoping.

And of course, it had the features and things that Wife wanted. So, all good there!

I admit, the price was listed slightly lower at and a few other online places, but I still bought from Depew. Yes, after showing the sales guy that I could get it cheaper elsewhere, he did give me a price lower than on the sales tag. Still a hair higher but it was in the ballpark so, good enough. I didn’t feel like getting into a haggle-fest. It was an acceptable price, and I’m happy to help out Mom & Pop shops.

We’ll see how it works out. Hopefully it won’t suck, and if it can last at least 5 years the well…. I guess I’ll be ahead of the curve. They deliver Monday.

of tools and appliances

I was going to buy a chainsaw this weekend. But now, I’m buying a washing machine.

There’s a small tree in our front yard that needs to go. Just got the postcard from the city saying brush collection is coming up, and what with the 3-day weekend upon me I figured now was the right time to get that tree cut down. In the past I’ve borrowed chainsaws, but it’s come up enough and I’ve had enough offer from friends for firewood if I cut it myself so… time to buy a chainsaw I can call my own. STIHL appears to be the top of the heap, with something like their MS 290 Farm Boss model. But that also appears to be overkill for my needs, at least right now, so I’m thinking of instead of a Husqvarna or an Echo CS400, which should get me by for my needs and not cost me a fortune. When I end up living out in the country, I’ll get the STIHL. Either way, something greater than a 40cc engine, 16″ chain, should be enough for my needs right now.

So while I was researching chainsaws, the washing machine repairman came. We’ve been hearing this god-awful noise during the spin cycle, but not always. He wasn’t 100% sure of the exact problem, but he could tell the problem was going to involve the tub, which would have been 3-4 hours worth of labor, then parts, and he said it just wasn’t worth it for us to do it: it’d cost more to fix it than to just buy a new one. 😦  After he left, I hit Google just to find the specs on the washer (a Kenmore Elite HE3t, purchased 8 years ago), and to my shock… I found lots of people having what appears to be the same problem. YouTube videos of the same noise, of people disassembling their washer, forum postings, you name it. It all seemed to point back to the “spider”, which is this bracket on the back of the tub, failing due to corrosion. Hrm. When you see this much failure, you have to wonder about design flaw. I did see some stuff about class action lawsuits, but those tend to only serve to make the lawyer rich.

Either way tho, I’m out one washing machine. And so, the chainsaw has to go on hold (going to borrow one) and it’s time to go shopping for a washing machine. Quick searching last night seems to have good results for Samsung, and a few people I know own one and have had positive results with it. I’ve had more than enough experience with various brands to know that in some way they all suck and have problems, but I’ve never tried anything from Samsung before. People who use their stuff seem to be generally happy so, why not… it’ll be an adventure.

If you have any particular product recommendations (chainsaw or washer) post ’em now. I mean, sucks that I have to buy a new one, but it’s nice that it’s on a holiday weekend when there should be lots of sales going on.