Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How are you spending your extra day?

I woke up this morning and realized we have an extra day today. It's February 29 and it makes this year one day longer than usual. For all the things we had to do this year, we've got one extra day to do it. For all the things we had to pay for this year, we get one extra day for free. Don't waste it like our cat Henry here.

So, if you pay rent by the month, you get to stay in your apartment one day for free. If you have a project to do (as I do at work), this day gives you one extra day to get parts of it done before March rolls around. It's almost like my supervisor came up to me a said, "I'll give you one more day to add that feature to our product." This lets me take a little more care in doing it right. It gives me time to make sure I don't miss anything. It lets me take a breath and relax and not feel like I'm behind. This is going to be the best year ever!

Well, of course, it doesn't work that way in reality. As software engineers, we use a method called Agile Development which splits a project up into one to four week frames (we use two weeks). You're responsible for doing a certain amount in that time frame and leap days don't give you more time. I still have to be able to read data from an external file and use it to calibrate my data correctly by Friday. Leap day or not. But it's nice to think that you could have an extra day some time. Some day.

Monday, February 27, 2012


We were driving around the other day and when lunchtime rolled around, we all started wondering about what we would eat. My wife said she'd like to get some oatmeal at McDonald's and the kids had things they wanted there, too. Now, I didn't know McDonald's even had oatmeal but I figured they have some other name for it. While you can order just a hamburger, you could also order a Big Mac, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese or a Big N' Tasty. You don't order a fish sandwich, you get a Filet-O-Fish. You don't order an English muffin with egg, ham and cheese, you order an Egg McMuffin. So, I figured there would be some fancy name for it. As we were pulling up to the drive-through area (called the "Drive-Thru"), I wanted to be ready for the big question and answer period. I was sure it was going to be called McOats or Maple Delight or something like that. I asked my wife, "So what do they call the oatmeal?" and she simply answered, "Oatmeal." Every one (but me) started laughing (at my silliness) and it took a while for the sound to die down so I could order "oatmeal". Sure enough, they knew what I was asking for.

If you think it ended there, though, you don't know my kids. For days after that, they would ask each other what you call oatmeal. Then it expanded to everything in the house. Evan would ask, "What do you call that?" and Emma would answer, "That's a cat!" Then she'd ask, "What do you call a pizza?" Evan and my wife would shout, "A pizza!" I found out later that the full name of McDonald's oatmeal  is Fruit and Maple Oatmeal but they know what you're talking about if you just call it oatmeal. I'm glad I bring my family such enjoyment.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Quick note about lack of posts

Once again, I'm falling behind on my blog posts. This is mostly due to the high-priority project I'm working on at my job. It's not that it leaves me less time to write these articles. I normally write these in the early morning, at lunch time, in the evening or on week-ends. But with all the mental expenditures at work right now, I can't imagine doing anything requiring thinking when I do have time to write!

I have a few articles that I've started and that I hope to finish and post in the next couple of weeks. I won't list my upcoming posts like I did back in September last year. I'm not sure enough of my schedule. But since I passed a big milestone in this project, I think I will be less tired during my regular blogging time. Also, I took Friday, February 17 off so I have a four-day weekend with my family (with President's Day holiday on Monday, February 20) so this should recharge my mental battery. We'll see.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Not really a Valentine's Day story

This is a true story I wrote up for a Valentine's Day challenge from a radio show for bad date stories.

Many, many years ago (probably about 1979 or 1980), when I spent months of my life working on a research ship, I would dream of doing something fun when I got off the ship. Something that would prove the world wasn't bound by steel bulkheads, didn't serve one type of food every day and the danger of drowning wasn't involved. I thought taking a long bicycle trip would fit these conditions. I convinced a shipmate, Marshall, to go with me. He looked more the part of an oceanographer than I with his long hair and beard. He was outgoing and he had a way of helping us meet people wherever we went.

We picked a route called the East Coast Bicycle Trail that ran from Richmond, VA to Boston, MA. We took the train to Richmond and rode our bicycles north. We planned to take a detour at the end to get home to Woods Hole, MA. We were having a great time. When we got to Lancaster, PA, though, we had some minor problems and needed to stop to repair our bikes, figure out where to get some food and where to camp. As we fixed flat tires in the town square, an attractive woman our age stopped by to talk. Beth was a teacher in town, loved to bike and would ride with us for a while to show us an Amish farmers' market (where we could get some good food) and to show us a campground. She was delightful and Marshall and I both fell for her. After a few hours, Beth said she would be leaving. I took a picture of the three of us with our bikes, got her address and said I'd mail her a copy of the picture.

When I got home, I did send Beth a picture with a short note saying how nice it was of her to help us and how much I enjoyed meeting her. She responded with a short note of thanks for the picture. That was it. I think I may have written another note to her but I can't remember.

About a year later, out of the blue, I got a very nice Christmas card from Beth with a rather long message. What had brought this on? Could she have kept the picture I sent so long ago? Had seeing me day after day worked on her? In all my lonely nights during the previous year, had someone been secretly thinking about me? The card had come early enough for me to send her a reply with a long message of my own. We started corresponding and things seemed to be heating up. It seemed too pushy at this point to suggest my traveling so far just to see her. But I had to go to Washington DC for business and suggested that I could "just stop by" to see her on the way back. To my surprise and excitement, she agreed.

The next weeks of waiting and hoping were agonizing and thrilling. When I got to Washington, I had a hard time concentrating on my work. When Friday came and it was time to catch the bus to Lancaster, I felt happier than I had in years. I bought some flowers to give Beth when she picked me up at the bus station. When I arrived, I called to let her know I was there. Beth sounded as happy as I felt. I said, "I hope you recognize me. I've grown a beard since we posed for that picture." I heard nothing but my heartbeats for what seemed like a long time. Finally she said, "OK, give me a little time to get there." When she arrived, I recognized her right away except that it looked like she'd been crying. I got in the car and gave her the flowers. This caused the thin veneer to crack and she started crying again. As we rode along, I wasn't sure what to do. Was she always this emotional? Was she upset that I didn't try to kiss her? Was she upset because I looked like I wanted to kiss her? Were the flowers too much right away? I asked her if I'd come at a bad time. Was anything wrong? Could I help? We drove and drove with only the sound of her little breaths between sobs and the sounds of cars rushing by. Finally, she was able to compose herself enough to say, "I thought you were the other guy. I thought I was writing to Marshall"

Nothing happened for a long time. No cars came by. Beth's car made no sound. The lights by the side of the road went dark. My heart stopped beating. I didn't know what to say. Beth didn't know what to say. Time was passing and we had to do something. I said, "Should I go home?" She said, "How will you get there this late?" We had a problem to solve and that gave us a distraction. Beth had planned things for us to do that week-end. We would go ahead with the plans, "as if nothing had happened." But it had happened.

I ended up having a good time. Beth was very gracious and her friends and family were welcoming. We talked and played games. We drank hot cider around a wood stove. We ate good food and told stories. My hope that she would somehow change her mind and see me as attractive that week-end didn't come true. On Sunday, she drove me to the train station and there wasn't much to say. She had made a couple of sandwiches for me for the trip back. We said we'd write and I think we did write one letter each.

I told my wife this story a while ago and she wrapped her arms around me and kissed me and said she felt so bad for me. But my wife has made all the bad feelings go away.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

It can be scary

[Update: Since this was written in February, I assumed people would know I was not riding my scooter in this story. But just in case, you should know that I was driving our minivan to work this day.]

Yesterday, as I was driving into work, I had just passed an interchange where one heavily-traveled road joined the four-lane highway I was on. I usually pull to the left to let drivers from the other road merge into traffic on the larger road because traffic can be pretty heavy on both roads. Lots of people from the smaller road seem to forget that they are supposed to merge - but that's a story (and rant) for another day!

This day, drivers from the other road settled into positions ahead of me and behind me and it was a relatively easy day for me. Until I noticed that the driver behind me was pretty close. Uncomfortably close. So close that I could see that they weren't on their cell phone (what a surprise) and they were looking straight ahead. So, there didn't seem to be a distraction causing them to ignore the space between us. I assumed they were getting ready to pass me and were just waiting for other people in the left lane to pass first. But when I looked in my mirror, I saw no one in the left lane. My bumper hugging friend could pass at any time.

I was on time for getting to work so I was not speeding but thought that maybe I could help out by slowing down a bit. The car behind me didn't get closer (which would have really alarmed me) so I knew they were at least paying some attention to the situation. So, I slowed down some more. Still nothing. As I stole glances in the rear view mirror, it looked like the driver wasn't looking around (as you would expect if they were looking to pass) - just staring straight ahead. I began to be distracted by this situation and just wanted them to pass me so I could get back to paying attention to other things. I slowed down some more. We were now going 50 miles per hour in a 55 miles per hour speed zone. No change. Slowed down to 45. No change. 40 - no change. Finally, when we got down to about 35 miles per hour, the driver turned to look around and then passed me. Not fast or cutting it close like you might expect from someone who was upset with my going so slowly. Just a normal pass.

Maybe they were used to really heavy traffic where you don't have the luxury of having a three second buffer between you and the car in front of you. Maybe they were listening to something really interesting on the radio and were not paying attention. Maybe they had a hands-free cell phone and were engaged in a really interesting conversation. Maybe they were just sleepy and driving on autopilot. No matter what it was, they were not paying attention and it scares me (I wrote about this before). As I sped back up to my regular speed, I was glad to have that behind me. But when would the next one come up?