I'll choose customer service over security any day

My local bank has implemented a new security feature that is making it impossible for me to keep my account there. If I forget to log out of my account their system doesn't just log me out, it locks me out. If I leave my machine idle for too long or if my computer goes to sleep
because I got a phone call while I was checking my balance, or if I simply close the browser window instead of logging out first, I am locked out. I have accounts with Vanguard, Smith Barney, Ameritrade, ING, AG
Edwards, not to mention all the credit card sites. Not one of them has
ever locked me out of my account because I didn't log out properly. But wait, it gets worse.

The only way I can regain online access is to call their help desk. The help desk doesn't know the business online banking system so they have to refer my call to one of only two people in the bank who do. One of those people is the primary business banking account manager who is usually out visiting a customer or otherwise engaged. So usually there's one person in the whole bank who can unlock my account. If she's having lunch or on the phone I am out of luck. And if it's after business hours, when I am most likely to be using my online access, I am, again, out of luck.

It was bad enough their system doesn't let me use my Mac (it requires Internet Explorer) but I happened to have a PC on my desk that I could use.

So why don't I just switch to another bank? Because this is my local bank that contributes generously to my community. I have my mortgage and all my personal accounts with them and I love knowing that my money is going to such things as the new arts center and dozens of other organizations and events they support. And I love being able to walk down the street to the local branch.

But sometimes I don't have time to take that walk or it's after banking hours. And that's when I need online access. Security that prevents you from conducting business isn't security, it's bad business.

Greening Commonwealth Road – Part 3

This morning a garbage truck drove into a limb of the Red Maple tree in front of 71 Commonwealth Road and split the entire tree in two. The company, BFI, called Chris Hayward, Watertown Tree Warden, and he determined that the tree had to come down. It's a big loss as that was one of the few healthy trees on the street. BFI is going to pay to have several trees planted on the street.

This unfortunate event did have one good result. It got the Tree Warden to visit Commonwealth Road, something that a number of us have been trying to do for quite a while and more urgently since a big limb fell off the tree in front of #63 a couple weeks ago. Chris said he had received calls from at least five people on the street about the condition of our trees but that we were still very far down on his list and it would have been a long time before he ever got here.

While he was here he did a survey of the whole street and the news, as you can guess if you've looked up lately, is not good. Most of the trees are Norway Maples that were planted at the same time after a 1938 hurricane knocked down all the trees on the street. They are reaching the end of their lifespan, which has been made much shorter becuase of the way they have been mistreated.

Trees in front of #60, #56, and #41 will be taken down as soon as possible. Many other trees could come down but Chris said he would leave them for now so that the street doesn't lose too many at once.

Some of the trees that look like they are dying are actually relatively healthy but being attacked by fungus. “Tar spot” is a fungus that grows in the soil and gives the leaves black spots. The best thing to do to get rid of it is to be sure to collect the leaves in the fall and dispose of them rather than mulching them back into the soil. Anthracnos is a fungus that makes the edges of the leaves turn brown and crinkly. It is particularly prevalent this year because of all the rain we had in the spring. With luck it won't be so bad next year.

Here's the important part: To get new trees, property owners need to call the Office of the Tree Warden (Daphne Collins, Clerk: 617-972-6426) and request that a new tree be planted. This will put us on the list for plantings in fall (late November/early December) or spring (early June). Only 60 trees are planted each season. The list is posted on the Watertown web site here: Fall Planting 2006 (here's what was planted in the spring: Spring Planting 2006). So we are currently on the list for two trees, #23 and #60. There are only 29 trees on the list for the fall so PLEASE CALL AND REQUEST A TREE NOW.

But even once we are on the list much has to happen before a tree actually gets planted. First, a new tree can't be planted in the same place as an old tree for a number of years. They won't plant it right next to the stump either because when the town (finally) sends a crew to take out the stump they might damage the new tree. So a new spot for the tree has to be located. This means calling the DPW to locate the water and sewer lines and DigSafe to locate the underground utilities. On a street as tight as ours, there aren't many good places for trees.

Taking a cue from nearby towns like Brookline, Chris is recommending that new trees be planted on the property (within 10 or 15 feet of the curb) rather than in what is aptly called the “death strip” between the sidewalk and the street. If you would be willing to have the tree planted on your property be sure to let the Tree Warden's office know. The town will plant the tree and take care of it for a year. After that it's the owner's responsibility.

One thing that could help the remaining trees live a little longer is to take up the asphalt that is covering the roots of so many of them. They should have at least 3 feet around them for the roots to get air and water. Many of the trees on our street have a foot or less of soil around them. Back in June 2005, I called the DPW and talked to Ed Baptista who told me I just had to put in the request and they would come and rip up the asphalt and put down soil and seed it. So I went ahead and put in the request to do the work in front of the houses listed below.

338 Belmont
32 (also requested sidewalk repair)
Obviously the DPW hasn't gotten around to us so I will follow up with Ed Baptista.


Previous posts
Another Tree Taken
Greening Commonwealth Road
Greening Commonwealth Road – Part 2

Massachusetts Per-Pupil Spending, How Watertown Compares

Data on per-pupil expenditures for Massachusetts school districts

Ppxall Ppx100Near

The graphs show that school systems with enrollments similar to Watertown’s generally spend between $7,000 and $9,000 per pupil while Watertown spends $11,548.
Only three districts spend more per regular student and only two spend more per special ed student.

In the second graph, the three school districts that spend more per pupil than Watertown are Weston, Greater Lowell and Greater New Bedford. The latter two are districts that only include Special Ed and Occupational programs.

There are 27 school districts in the Commonwealth that spend more per regular student than Watertown. Only 9 of those include all grade levels:


The rest consist of only elementary and middle schools (11) or only middle and high schools (7).

Here’s the underlying data: download spreadsheet
The original data came from the MA Dept of Ed site: Per-Pupil Expenditures

Watertown Water Bill

I just read in the Globe that the Watertown Town Council will be reviewing the town's water billing schedule at Tuesday's council meeting. It seems the latest billing cycle included a much longer period than previous bills and this meant that people's total consumption for the period was over 7500 and they paid the higher billing tier for the amount over 7500. I'm one of those people and here's why I was so surprised:

Date Reading Days Usage  Use/Day Meter Water Sewer
6/1/99 162796
12/1/99 0 183 $20.00 $119.98 $290.67
6/1/00 610 183 610 3.33 $20.00 $20.00 $73.37
12/8/00 4846 190 4236 22.29 $20.00 $58.53 $163.51
5/11/01 8228 154 3382 21.96
11/30/01 12941 203 4713 23.22 $75.97 $188.99
5/22/02 16171 173 3230 18.67 $38.45 $129.52
12/12/02 20804 204 4633 22.71 $6.38 $119.89 $227.94
5/6/03 24425 145 3621 24.97 $6.38 $95.09 $178.15
12/1/03 29871 209 5446 26.06 $6.38 $139.81 $263.59
4/30/04 33316 151 3445 22.81 $6.38 $90.78 $166.74
11/15/04 38957 199 5641 28.35 $7.66 $173.51 $310.82
4/22/05 43165 158 4208 26.63 $7.66 $131.38 $231.86
12/2/05 51929 224 8764 39.13 $7.66 $282.50 $495.53

So this latest bill was the first time we've ever broken the 7500 cubic foot cutoff and by a lot at that! This gave us a bill that was 55% higher than last year's bill.

Watertown's erratic billing cycle results in billing periods that range from 145 days to the latest 224 days, which is a full half a month longer than the longest it's ever been before. Why can't Watertown just bill on regular cycles like credit card companies, insurance companies and just about everyone else?

Now the rest of the story on our huge bill is that, in addition to the long billing cycle, our average daily usage for the latest period jumped 38% from the same period in the previous year! That's a mystery to me since our usage patterns have remained constant and, in fact, we watered the garden less last summer than in past years.

UPDATE: Mystery solved. Our usage patterns had changed during
that last period. Well, not our usage, but our tenants at the time. I
forgot that we allowed them to have their younger sister live with them
from April to September. Actually they just assumed it would be okay.
Lesson learned – next time say no or increase the rent.

The Black BMW

Almost everyday between 4:30 and 6:00 PM a black BMW speeds down Commonwealth Road. It hits the long downhill and just floors it, accelerating all the way down to Belmont Street, so fast that it is impossible to read its license plate even if you are standing there as it zooms by.

Since last summer the police have tried to slow it down. One or two evenings a cruiser sat waiting but either picked the wrong day or the wrong time. Then they left the “Your Speed” sign there for a week but that didn't work either.

This is a street with many children, dogs being walked, people jogging and walking to or from the bus. A serious incident could happen any day. Last week it almost did. A neighbor was walking her dog across the street as the BMW raced toward her. She didn't even have time to make it to the curb and as she jumped out of the way she waved to the driver to slow down. He swerved around her menacingly close and then laid on his horn all the way down the hill.

If you know him please ask him to slow down. If you see him please get his license plate number.