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July 28th, 2009


04:03 pm - Electricity
Jon and I are dealing with a very frustrating electric bill situation.  Our April utility usage was 186 kwh, May was 218, and June was 951.  Obviously, this is a huge difference, and we were concerned.

First, some background on our electricity usage.  We did not use the air conditioner until May, and we keep the apartment between 85 and 90 degrees when we do use it.  We turn it off while we are away from the apartment (although I am unclear as to whether that actually saves energy, I figure that it can't hurt).  We use a fan when we are in a room and turn it off when we leave.  We have a few clocks, radios, and lights plugged in mostly permanently, and of course the microwave/stove/oven and refrigerator/freezer are always on.  We unplug my computer and everything attached to it after we use it, which is usually only a couple times a week for a few hours, we don't own a TV or video game stuff, and we have fluorescent lights in most of the sockets.  I say that both to make myself feel good and to say that we always had very low electric bills when we lived apart, and now that we live together, we expect and, until this last one, have had, low electric bills.

Back to the situation at hand.  We were concerned that there was an error in the bill, so we emailed the company.  Here is the email exchange.

Us:

We are concerned that there is a problem with our June electric bill.  We used 218 kwh in May, and the current bill shows 951 used in June.  We were out of town for most of the month (June 8-July 9), and we unplugged almost all of our appliances (not the refrigerator or range) and turned the air conditioning off before we left, so it is extremely surprising that the meter showed such a high reading.  Is there a way to have this checked?  We certainly want to pay what we owe, but we feel that it is very unlikely that we used four times as much electricity in one week as we did in the previous month and would like to have it checked out.  Thank you.

Them, in red because their email was and to help you, dear reader, tell us apart:

There was a tenant complaining the lives beside your unit that their bill has been outrageous.  Our maintenance found that when we had an issue with their air conditioner, an outside technician crossed wired your air conditioner and they were paying for your unit.  I kept wondering why your unit was so GREATLY below usage below any other townhouse or one bedroom at the property, now we know why.

You have been getting a fabulous rate and deal due to not paying for your true usage.  There is not way of going back and figuring out what your savings has been but we are cutting the tenant that has been paying for your usage a huge cut back.

Hope this helps in explaining the difference in monthly rates.

Us:

Thank you for the information.  What was the date of the air conditioner repair that caused the crossed wiring?

Them:

Before you took possession…June 2008

I went back and looked at your electric bills; you guys have been billed lower than a one bedroom sine you have taken possession.

Nothing we can do about it now.  I feel sorry for the person that was paying those bills for so long, but I had no clue.

Here ends the exchange.  Some of our thoughts:

-It is inappropriate to try to make me feel guilty that another tenant was paying part of my electric bill.  One of the benefits of renting instead of owning is that certain things are taken care of by the landlord.  In our case, they have some sort of deal with an electric company, and the entire complex gets a low rate on bulk service from them, and they bill us.  Not all apartments do this, but that is the case with us.  This means that they are responsible for billing the proper amount to each tenant.  Also, they are responsible for maintenance, and if someone miswires some air conditioning units, that is their problem, not ours.  (That's why we pay them.)  I am glad that they feel sorry for the tenant who was paying too much, but the situation is not my fault, and I feel like they are trying to make me feel guilty for it so I won't try to make sure the bill, and our future bills, are right.

-Even if, as they claim, our bills have been artificially low because of the wiring problem, there is no way we should have used 951 kwh in June, given that we were out of town and definitely turned off the air conditioning altogether before we left.  Their claim is that the former billing problem was just an air conditioning unit mix-up, so our other electrical usage should have been about the same as or lower than the month before, let's say 200 kwh.  So somehow we used 751 kwh of air conditioning in a week.  With the rate that we get, that is about $112.  We were told that the average monthly utility bill for the former tenants was $150-170 in the summer.  If we had had the air on for four weeks, that would be $448 just in air conditioning.  Since I doubt that the former tenants kept the temperature as high as we do, I feel like there must be some mistake.  Possibly the opposite air conditioning wiring problem has happened, or there is something terribly wrong with the air conditioner that should be fixed, or there is some amount of misinformation being given to us.  I hope that they have not decided that we should pay for some amount of what had wrongly been charged to the other tenant and not telling us.

-Our electric bills have always been approximately what we expected based on our former electric bills.  As stated above, we have always had low electric bills, and our usage has been what we would expect based on our old bills with some wiggle room factored in for the fact that every place is a little different.  So when they repeatedly say that our electric bill is dramatically lower than anyone else's, I am not surprised in the least and don't think that that's a reason for me to pay the bill without asking more questions.  I would be surprised if we did use as much as a typical one-bedroom because our habits and heat tolerance are different from most people's.

-If the other apartment was just paying for our air conditioning, it shouldn't have made any difference in their bill from October-April because we didn't use the air or heating, or if we did, it was only for a couple days at a time.  I find it hard to believe that it would cause it to be this high if there aren't more things involved in the crossed wiring, and I am worried that perhaps

Now we need to decide how to proceed.  Since rent is due at the end of the month, I think Jon and I might go together tomorrow to pay rent and discuss this further.  I need to think about the points we should make so I won't get upset.  I like the apartment very much, and I want to have a harmonious continuation to our relationship with the management company.  I think we are good tenants.  We pay on time, we're not noisy, we don't smoke, we have only asked for minor maintenance.  I just want things to be right.  We would like some information on electricity usage of the tenants before us, some sort of documentation that the alleged wiring mix-up did occur when they said it did, and the meter readings.  We are going to try to find our meter so we can keep track of it ourselves and perhaps perform some simple experiments like what happens to the number if we leave the AC off for two full days.  We would also like some sort of assurance that the wiring is currently right.  I am worried that it may not be if they made this mistake before and only now noticed it.  If the July bill is still sky-high, we would like them to fix the air conditioner because it should not be using so much electricity.  We may turn off the air conditioner altogether and get window screens and fans for more of the rooms if the situation does not improve.  (The management company refuses to get window screens for us because they are "unsightly", which is weird but not part of this post.)

I really hate situations in which I have to very clearly take a stand against someone else and be demanding because I am naturally a non-confrontational, easy-going person, but I don't want to pay for electricity we didn't use.  If we are going to pay this much, I shouldn't be sweating in the house!  I'm going to have to put on my big girl panties and deal with it.

Other things that happened today: Pyrex violently exploded in my oven (it's not broiler-safe) and a car almost ran me over by making a left turn into the wrong lane (the lane in which opposing traffic would be driving if there had been any opposing traffic besides me on my bicycle).  I think she was trying to make a quick left right after the light changed so she wouldn't have to wait for the other cars to go through the intersection.  She either didn't see me or thought I shouldn't have been there.  Not fun.

Current Mood: annoyedannoyed
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June 4th, 2009


12:41 pm - Phasing in the office.
Today they are testing the fire alarms in the office.  There are two that I can hear from my office.  They do three short bursts with a pause in between.  They started out almost in sync, and I've been listening them to them phasing slowly since then.  It is annoying because it is a loud, unpleasant sound, but I enjoy observing the slowly changing pattern.
Current Mood: minimal

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April 18th, 2009


02:18 pm - news
I started a food blog, evel8yn.blogspot.com.  You should read it and feel sad that you don't get to eat with me all the time.

I also bought a ticket to go to France from June 8-July 8.  Jon and I are both going to a conference in Marseille for a week, so we're making a vacation out of it.  He would also like to go to Bonn for a few days.  I may try to go to Taize, France while he's doing that, or I might just go with him.  We will of course spend some time in Paris, too.  We are flying into and out of Paris.  I am looking forward to the trip.  I haven't been to France or Germany yet.

My garden isn't dead yet.  I ate my first strawberry this morning.  It was delicious.  I have baby tomatoes and baby peppers growing, and my herbs and lettuce have been quite prolific.  It's a wonderful thing to have.  I'm so glad I bought the plants.

I haven't updated my books recently.  As time goes on, the task seems more and more daunting.  But I might be able to man up and do it.  I have read at least two that I haven't blogged about yet.  One of them was very long (2^10 pages).

It has been raining like crazy here.  I know we're behind on our rainfall, but I would prefer that less of it happened on weekends.  I missed a lot of fun frisbee for it.

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March 18th, 2009


03:58 pm - balcony garden
I decided to start container gardening on my balcony.  I have never had much success with plants.  I really want to make a good go of this, and today I went to a real garden store to get some seedlings and advice.  My balcony faces east, so it gets sun only in the morning.  I would be surprised if it gets a full five hours a day because there is an overhang, so they recommended against tomatoes.  I picked up some peppers, eggplants, and lettuces along with a LOT of herbs: rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, Thai basil, lemon balm, lemongrass, cilantro, various mint varieties, dill, and some that I can't remember right now.  I also got some good potting soil and fertilizer.  I have never used fertilizer before, and I think that might have hurt some of my plants.  Unfortunately the place I went didn't have cheap pots, and I think I'll need a lot of pots, so I'll need to go to Home Depot today or tomorrow so I can transplant them soon.  I cook with a lot of herbs anyway, and I think it will be fun to start adding more fresh herbs to my salads.  It seems a very fancy thing to do, and I love fancy salads.  I might change my mind and go pick up some cherry tomatoes anyway and just see if I can grow some despite my lack of sun.  I also picked up some seeds for plants they didn't have out, so I might try starting some beets, bok choy, chard, or edamame too.  It might be a little too late for them for the spring, but I won't use all the seeds, so I'll try again in the late summer/fall.  I'm going to try to be a good plant mommy this time so I can reap the profits (aka delicious salads) for months to come.
Current Mood: optimisticcautiously optimistic
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March 12th, 2009


01:50 pm - very frustrating bank story
This is not my story, but it's noteworthy.

The day before we went on our spring break trip, Jon was looking over his bank statement recently, and there was a withdrawal for a larger amount than he usually withdraws, and he couldn't remember it.  We thought back to that date, and thanks to my "picture a day" project remembered very specifically what we had done that day.  We had gone to the bank a few days before, but that was the only time we could remember going during that month.  He was very concerned, so he called the bank and asked for more information and to report possible fraud.  The person he talked to eventually deigned to tell him that the withdrawal was made in Grand Prairie, which is at least four hours away.  It was supposedly made on a school day, and we definitely didn't drive up to the metroplex to withdraw a large amount of money, so we were convinced that it was definitely a mistake/possible fraud.  The person he talked to basically said "when we review the security tape and confirm that it was you, we'll call you back" and begrudgingly agreed to send Jon a copy of the transaction slip.  He also refused to put a hold on the account, saying Jon would have to do that in person.  Jon wanted to do that because he would be gone for the week and very reasonably suspected that someone had his account number and was using it.  When we got the transaction, it was clear that it was not fraud but an innocuous data entry mistake.  The name on the slip is not Jon's, and the account number differs from Jon's by one digit.  The other honest bank user's driver license number was also on the transaction receipt they sent us.  Enclosed with the transaction was a statement telling Jon that they would charge him for the document.  Clearly, no one looked into Jon's case AND they gave us some other person's private information.  That's just not acceptable.  We are good people and won't steal this other person's account number, but we now have all the necessary information, and it was given to us by the bank itself.

It should be noted that this gripe is only with the phone people.  Jon went into the local branch on Monday, and they said that it looked like a data entry error, they would look into it, and they would call him back on Thursday.  I don't know whether they have yet, but they seemed much more helpful.  I'm sure if Jon goes into the branch with the information he was sent, they will fix it.

This is probably a headache for the other person, too.  They withdrew money, it's been over a month, and they are either worried because their account isn't balanced or they figured they had made a mistake and might overdraw when the error is corrected.
Current Mood: angryangry

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March 10th, 2009


10:15 am - What goes down must come up
Jon and I got back on Saturday from our fantastic spring break trip to the Grand Canyon. A picture is worth a thousand words, but they fall far short of the real thing. It is breathtaking.
Our tripCollapse )


Current Mood: happyhappy

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February 27th, 2009


03:06 pm - the five steps to advising a student
Told to me by a Rice postdoc:
1) Think of a problem for your student.
2) Explain the problem to your student.
3) Solve the problem.
4) Explain the solution to your student.
5) Convince your student that she solved it herself.

My advisor is currently trying to convince me I just proved a theorem. But I'm not sure I even understand the statement of the theorem. To rephrase, if I knew the statement of the theorem, I would probably agree that I proved it.

This may be the theorem I just proved:
Let M and N be a branched hyperbolic surfaces with k branch points of order 2. Let f be a harmonic map between M and N such that f is a bijection between branch points. Then f has finite energy, and the associated Hopf differential has at worst simple poles.

Or it could be:
Let M and N be a branched hyperbolic surfaces with k branch points of order 2. Let f be a harmonic map between M and N such that f is a bijection between branch points and such that f restricted to an epsilon neighborhood of each branch point is homotopic to the identity. Then f has finite energy, and the associated Hopf differential has at worst simple poles.

Or maybe I'm missing something and it's something else entirely. I am going to try to write it up before I leave for Spring Break because I won't remember what I was doing if I wait until I come back.
Current Mood: worriedworried about homotopy classes

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February 23rd, 2009


09:49 am - Five lucky people
...get something made by me just for them. It can be anything I want, I get to choose. It can be silly or serious, edible or not, but don't plan on anything alive. There are a few rules involved.

1- I make no guarantees that you will like what I make!
2- What I create will be just for you.
3- It will be done sometime this year.
4- You have no clue what it's going to be.
5- I reserve the right to do something extremely strange and/or silly.

The catch is that you must repost this on your blog and offer the same to the first 5 people who do the same on your blog. The first 5 people to do so and leave a comment telling me they've posted on their blog win a hand made, super creative, possibly lovely whatever in the world I decide!

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February 13th, 2009


03:08 pm - The Princess Bride
I rewatched The Princess Bride at the end of December and was pleasantly surprised to find it was a very entertaining film that didn't consist only of "My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die." Somehow that was the only thing I could remember from my initial viewing of the movie. Jon had read the book a few months before, so I decided I should too. It was also very entertaining, and the book and movie are really good versions of each other. The book of course has a lot more details and fleshes out the backgrounds of the characters more fully, but the movie doesn't do it injustice. There's not a lot to say in a review, really, because the book is pretty much plot. I did think it was weird that the movie had the grandpa and boy reading the book when the story did just fine on its own, but that was in the book, where the side comments by the adult are a little (not much) less pointless. I must say Andre the Giant was a brilliant selection for the movie. I can't imagine someone else being the giant and pulling it off the way he did.

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February 10th, 2009


05:21 pm - Orlando
I am behind on book reviews. Oh no! I reread Orlando by Virginia Woolf in January. Jon gave it to me in December of the first year we were dating because he knew I liked androgyny and had enjoyed the book himself. It is a very weird little book. It's hard to know where to start on this one. It is the story of a man born during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I who doesn't age and eventually becomes a woman. It's very episodic, and Orlando is an odd fellow/lady who occasionally sleeps for a week straight and wakes up somehow changed. He falls in love with a Russian princess who abandons him, is the patron for a poet who mocks him, is an ambassador in Turkey, where he becomes a woman, joins a gypsy caravan, gets back to England, has a lawsuit against her because she is either dead or a woman and therefore can't own property, meets a lover, has children, and is presumably still alive today. The book often seems like an inside joke that I am outside, and I've read up a little on Woolf's history and still don't "get" it. But it was fun to read, if not easy. I know that a lot of it is based on Vita Sackville-West's family history. Vita was Virginia's lover for a while, and it was quite the scandal. Many people describe the book as a love letter to Vita, and I can see how the character of Orlando could definitely be an idealization of one's beloved. I enjoyed rereading it, and I must try to reread more in the future. I definitely retained more of it this time. I am in the middle of two other books right now, but maybe the one after those will be another reread.

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