Archive for the 'news' Tag  

Middle Road Development

December 3rd, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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Just over the hill from me are two new development projects in Middlebury, the “Lodge at Otter Creek” retirement community and the other is an upscale residential neighborhood.

For those who are interested in the extent of the development, I’ve biked the new roads and recorded their positions via GPS:


View Larger Map

Middle Road KML

Finally a way to prevent identity theft

May 10th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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3As identity theft has grown to staggering proportions in the United States over the past 10 years or more I have been horrified at the willful corporate negligence that allows this to happen at all. Why does identity theft exist? One simple reason:

Lenders are willing to grant a line of credit based solely on one’s ability to recite (or print) a name, address, and matching public number.

Why they are willing to is a more complex issue, but comes down to the fact that creditors don’t pay the brunt of the costs of identity theft, ordinary people and retailers do. For a short while when I was getting myself situated as a post-college adult I tried to not give out my SSN to anyone for whom it wasn’t properly needed. The government needs it for tax purposes — its original intent — and the bank needs it for car loans, but Verizon sure as heck doesn’t need it to sell me a cell phone, or the cable company to sell me internet service, etc., etc. After fighting for a while I gave up, but with ever more worry about my chances of identity theft.

Most uses of a person’s SSN are actually perfectly good uses of the number. The SSN is [and only is] a unique identifying number that all citizens have. Using a unique identifier in university, employer, and customer databases is a very good way to prevent setting up multiple accounts for the same person. No one should have to worry about giving out their SSN to any and everyone who wants it. The big problem however is that lenders seem to stick their heads in the sand and pretend that the SSN is some kind of privately known password. It never was and was never intended to be a password.

So now in our current day anyone can sign up for a credit card in my name provided that they know my name, address, and public number [SSN]. That person can then run up the balance on this card and then I get stuck with years of fighting to clear my record of someone else’s abuses while being denied legitimate credit and/or forced to pay high premiums due to a tarnished credit rating. All of this because lenders refuse to more strongly check who someone is before opening a line of credit.

Until recently what could you do to prevent identity theft? Nothing substantial. You could shred credit card offers, try not to give your SSN to too many people, but there was no way to prevent it from happening. The three credit reporting agencies Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union are all happy to sell you a “credit monitoring” service for $6-$12 per month, but this doesn’t actually prevent anyone from opening an account in your name, it will only tell you after the fact that it happened.

As noted in this this Washington Post article, finally — and in the face of enormous lobbying from the credit reporting industry — 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws requiring that the credit reporting agencies allow people to “freeze” their credit reports, preventing lenders from opening lines of credit in that person’s name (1). In return, you are given a pin number (a weak, but real password) (2) that can allow you to temporarily “thaw” your credit report to allow access to certain businesses that you wish to open a line of credit with. The credit reporting industry has tried hard to fight these changes and have been most successful by trying to keep the fees for this “service” high and the delays in temporary thawing long. I don’t believe that there should be any fees for this as they are essentially blackmailing us with our credit score, but I digress.

What I see an ideal implementation of this idea is that a person places a freeze on their credit report and is returned a [more than 4-digit] password. When that person does want get a credit card, mortgage, or Verizon phone they fill out a web-form or call the credit reporting agency and supply their password and the name of the company that needs to access it. 15 minutes later that company only can pull your credit report and maybe can do so for the next week as needed. If you loose your password you would then need to contact the credit reporting agency and answer a heavily detailed questionnaire — with things like what month/year did you buy your first house, when did you open your first credit card, when did you close that account, who is your mortgage with, how long have you been with your current employer, etc — as well a provide several forms of identification, valid drivers license numbers, valid passport numbers, etc. The total of passing all of that would be a very good indicator of your identity and allow you to get a new “thawing” password.

In my home state of Vermont, while we were one of the first to pass a law requiring the ability to freeze credit reports, the credit reporting lobby was successful in forcing a $10 charge for the freeze (unknown cost to thaw) and requiring that all freeze-thaw requests go through certified mail, adding another $4 to each. This brings the initial freeze cost to $42 since each reporting company must be addressed separately. The reporting companies then must add the freeze within 5 days of receiving the request. This is still a large cost and hassle, but at least we can now at least do something to help prevent the theft of our identities. I will be contacting my state representatives to urge them to amend our legislation to reduce the costs and ease the thawing hassle with a system like that of Delaware and NJ.

By the way, if you didn’t read the Washington Post article, it is very in-depth and informative. Here are some other helpful links:

Notes:

  1. Government agencies, companies who you currently have accounts with, and a few other special cases would be able to access your frozen report. Also, a limited amount of information — such as just your overall score — is available to allow lenders to know if they want to market their services to you, but not enough for them to open an account.
  2. This pin number is only specified in the laws of some states, NJ in particular. Laws in other states may vary.

Edit: I incorrectly quoted the certified mail charge as $10 per letter. It is as of this writing $2.63 + regular postage.

Spring is Here

May 6th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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After a long winter that included some unseasonably late snows in April, spring is now in full swing. As flowers push up through the soil tree-buds are unwrapping their new leaves, the birches leading the way.

New Leaves

In addition house repairs, wedding planning, work, life and everything else we are also planning to put in a garden this summer. We’ve started seed indoors already — about a 100 basil plants, some lufa sponges, morning glories, green peppers, and tomatos — and will need a place to plant them after the risk of frost is gone. To that end I’ve started building a dry-stone retaining wall along the edge of the cliff below our house.

As the cliff-top is the only place not overshadowed by maples (and our reluctance to cut down our beautiful trees) the cliff-top is where the gardens will go. We don’t really have too much good soil elsewhere, so after the terrace walls are complete we will bring in large amounts of compost to grow in.

Our current vegetable plans are for:

  • basil
  • tomatoes
  • zuchini
  • green peppers
  • spinach

April Snow

April 5th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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Today we received an unseasonably late snow-storm that has left us with several inches of snow on the ground. We woke up this morning and were greeted by the first several inches of heavy, wet snow clinging to branches during a lull in the storm. After accidentally letting the cat slip out the door I spent 45 minutes tromping around the yard with my camera. Click on the image below to open a Quicktime VR panorama (a 3D view that you can rotate around in).


QuickTime VR (5.5MB)

equirectangular panorama, a stitch of 93 photos (3.6MB)
I have made a few more QuickTime VRs as well, of a sunset off the back deck (3.1MB), our front yard (7.1MB), and the Parthenon (4.8MB).

More Blizzard Photos

February 18th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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Sarah’s Valentines Day blizzard photos

Featuring your’s truly in snow-blower action shots as well as crazy downtown drifts.

Valentines Day Blizzard

February 17th, 2007

Filed under: Life and Everything Else

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On Wednesday, February 14th, 2007 snow started falling, hard. Sarah had class and I had a meeting that was not yet canceled, so we headed in to campus in the morning with several inches on the ground. A quick errand to the Agway for flowers at 10:00am required 15minutes of shoveling to free the car. By noon my meeting had been canceled as had Sarah’s afternoon classes, so for home we headed. After a futile attempt at freeing a colleague’s car from the snow, we giving him a ride home to Cornwall then worked our way slowly through the clogged streets of downtown Middlebury. At this point visibility was limited to about 50 feet and what traffic existed was crawling along. The Jetta did ok as long as we kept up our momentum to blast through drifts; if we had stopped we may not have be able to get going again without a lot of shoveling.

We knew we wouldn’t be able to get the car up to the house right away, so we stashed it in the Paris Farm supply parking lot across the road and scrambled over the snowbanks and up the driveway. Luckily Sarah had decided several days before to stay in and roast a duck for Valentines dinner instead of going out; a brilliant bit of luck now that travel was pretty much impossible. The snow kept falling harder and the winds were picking up so I got out the snowblower and started cutting a car-width path up the driveway to our parking area. By my 4th pass the first strip that I cleared was covered with two fresh inches of snow so I put the blower in high gear, cleaned off two tracks for the tires and ran to get the car.

The car by this point (2:30pm) was beginning to drift over. I could barely see Route 7 and had to stomp around looking for the exit from the parking lot onto the highway. Exit located I jumped in the car and with about zero visibility brought it around up to the house. I finished blowing the rest of the parking area and headed inside for the night.

The next morning we awoke to over 30 inches of new snow on the ground and an announcement that the college was closed. A lazy breakfast later we began three and a half hours of shoveling and snow blowing to clear all of the snow off of the driveway. The 10-hp Cub Cadet blower worked like a charm, though cutting through the 6-foot snow banks along the road still took a lot of effort: blow out a bit, cut down the overhang with the shovel, blow that away, lather, rinse, repeat.

As I finished the driveway I chatted with my neighbor, George, about the snow and the strength of roofs. I went up on our roof to check it out and was greeted with hip-dip drifts. I was under the mistaken impression that we had only 2×6″ rafters so I began the 2-hour project of shoveling off the roof. When it was done we were left with 6-7 foot-deep piles of snow surrounding the house. While the shoveling of the roof may have been unnecessary, the piles were much fun for jumping off the roof into!

Friday afternoon was the biweekly employee ski race at the college Snow Bowl. Conditions we epic. After our race runs, Mike S. and I spent the rest of the afternoon getting fresh tracks in the knee deep snow in the woods between Ross and Hadley. Wonderful fluff!