Thursday, February 27, 2014


Today, I am 63 years old. We won't be celebrating my birthday today, though. The celebration will happen this week-end. You know what the best part of this is? I said, "We" in that second sentence. I know you're getting tired of me making such a big deal about not getting married until I was 42 years old but it was very important that it took me that long to find true love. Men who got married young and had children when they were young are fortunate and I know they love their wives and children, too. But getting married and having children so late has affected my life and has made me appreciate these gifts so much more than I would have if they had happened earlier. I feel the way I hear people talk about thinking they had died and then finding that they were still alive. It makes them so much more appreciative of their life. That's the way I feel about being married and having children. It nearly didn't happen. I don't deserve it. It was a gift from God and I thank Him every day for that gift.

I didn't actually post this until the next day and thought about not posting at all. But then I thought better of it. Better to have posted late (and back-dated the post) than never to have posted at all. Also, I wanted to look forward to two posts I'm going to make about what happened for my birthday celebration. You'll see.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Windshield wipers

I just have to tell you about this. I bought some new wiper blades to replace the ones on our minivan that this horrible winter has ruined. I always put off getting new wiper blades because 
  1. When I'm in the car and the weather is good, I'm not using them and I forget that I need new blades
  2. When the weather is bad and I remember that I need them, I don't want to put them on in bad weather
  3. I don't have the money at the time
  4. They'll just work for a day or two anyway
I know. None of those are good excuses. But that has all changed. I have seen the light.

I finally remembered to go to Auto Zone and get some new wipers on a nice day. I kind of deluded myself into getting the ones I did because when the salesman looked them up on the computer for me, he told me they were $25 and the best they had and I said, "Let's get them. I'm tired of getting the $7 replacements and having them fail after a few days." Then I found out they were $25 each. I was too embarrassed to say they were too much after my little speech about wanting to get the best. So, I brought them home and struggled over installing them.

I should tell you that I always struggle over installing new wiper blades. It seems that people who design wipers have never seen any other wiper blades and start from scratch in how they will be attached. Then the designer moves on to another job in the company and a new guy is brought in to design next year's wipers. I guess there is a good reason for all the various ways of attaching them but I just don't understand. Anyway, I attached the blades and jumped in the car to test them. The windshield was dry so I was prepared for the rattling, scraping, sound-of-death as the blades ran over the bone dry glass. I hit the switch and they glided over the glass as if they weren't even touching it! I tried it again. Again the gliding and I could see they were touching the glass. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

To make it even better, we drove to Boston a couple of days later in a misty rain. I had never been so happy in the rain in my life. The wipers continued to silently sweep across the windshield cleaning off the mist and water like magic. They never made a sound. In a mist, I always leave the wipers off and wait for enough water to accumulate so they don't make the death rattle as they cross the windshield. But then, there are times when I can't see out the window very well. Now, with these wonderful wipers, I just left the control in the intermittent setting and didn't have to think about it again. I almost hated to get home and have to turn the wipers off. It was that good.

If you ever need new wiper blades, I urge you to save up your money and get Bosch Icon Wiper Blades. You will not be sorry.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A few more pictures from New York

Here are a few more pictures from my trip to New York City in January. Links to my previous posts about it are here and here. When I found out that I was going to New York, one of the things I looked forward to was finding interesting places to eat. In the end, I ate where the rest of the guys in my group wanted to go. I'm a team player if nothing else but I would have liked to get a chance to try one of these places. Especially when I was on a fixed budget. I should have at least walked in just to see what they looked like inside. I can't imagine finding slices of pizza for $1.00 anywhere but especially in New York which has a reputation for being an expensive place. Now, I may never find out what they are like. They have a lot of locations (what a surprise) and here's a link to their webpage.

I started writing this post yesterday and this morning I heard a story on National Public Radio about this very thing. Here's a link to the story on Morning Edition. You can listen to the story. It's only 50 seconds long. It's about a petition to ban $1.00 pizza in New York. Apparently, it's been a tradition in the city for a number of years and the petitioners want to promote diversity in the food that is available.

Well, it looked to me like there is a lot of diversity. All of these pictures were taken on 9th Avenue within one block. Right next to 2 Bros. Pizza was a nice looking noodle place called Tabata Ramen and here's a link to them. Now that I look at their webpage, I really wish I had gone in there. It looks wonderful. And different - as in diverse. It would be one thing if all you saw around were $1.00 pizza places but that's not the case. There were all kinds of different types of food in this one block. In the next block was a Subway sandwich place and an Italian place called Pomodoro.

Looking down the street (in my last picture) you see even more types of restaurants. Fresco Tortillas. Trattoria Casa Di Isacco (sorry, no link -  may be closed). Curry Hut. Atomic Wings (you can't see it in my picture). My goodness. I think I may have to go back to New York just to walk down 9th Avenue just below 40th Street and try each of those out. It's a good thing it's lunch time or I would be going crazy. It's Wednesday and the company is feeding us. American Chop Suey. Not as good as my wife cooks but not bad.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Dodging a snow bullet

It been a cold, snowy winter. Even here on Cape Cod. We got more snow last night and the forecast was for us to get up to 14 inches. But we were fortunate this time and only got 5 -6 inches. But the next town,Sandwich, did get 15 inches. That's only about 15 miles from here. Also, the forecast was for very high winds and that usually means we will lose power but the winds were also not nearly as bad as was forecast. So, today dawned and the sky was clear and the sun bright. It was beautiful so a took a few pictures.

The top picture show the two maple trees in our front yard and our neighbor's trees in the background. The snow came from the north and you can see that direction on the trunks of the trees because that's where the snow stuck. But aren't the limbs of the trees beautiful? There especially nice with the sun shining so brightly.The second picture looks down the main road that runs in front of our house. Even as clear as the read is, there is no traffic because lots of people haven't dug out of their own driveways yet. One of my pet peeves is that the reason is that the snow plows throw so much of the snow and ice from the road onto our driveways. That is always the hardest part of shoveling - the final 10 - 15 feet where the plows throw the heavy, water-laden snow.

The final picture is a nice view through the low hanging branches to the front of our house. I really love our house. It's so cozy and comfortable. But it wouldn't mean anything without my wonderful family inside. I am blessed by God to have such a terrific family. And to think that I wasn't able to even have hopes of getting married until after I was 40 years old. I am one of those guys who never had a clue about what women were looking for in a man. I fell for all the wrong women and seemed to be trying too hard, I guess. But when I met my wife, I didn't have to try to figure out how to act. It just came naturally. I didn't get nervous about our dates and she is always so easy to talk with. So, at 42 years old, I finally got married. It's been the happiest, most peaceful, most fulfilling 20 years I could imagine.

To see these pictures in a larger size, just click on them.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Another way I'm going to get rich

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post titled, "How I'm going to get rich". It didn't happen, though. I didn't get rich. Not because it wasn't a great idea. It didn't happen because I just didn't do it. It would have worked. I'm sure of it.

Now, today, I just had another great idea and it's even better. Today is Valentine's Day and someone brought in a bunch of doughnuts. As usual, they went fast early in the day. As the day went on, fewer doughnuts were taken until late in the day, there was only one doughnut left. It got cut up into pieces but no one wanted to take the last one. No one ever wants to take the last doughnut. Or the last piece of candy or the last of any kind of treat. So, my idea is to provide a cheap replacement for the last doughnut (or piece of candy or whatever) and let it just sit there. It would be cheap so when you bought a dozen doughnuts, you'd only pay for eleven doughnuts plus one cheap imitation doughnut. The idea would be to make it look like a doughnut but an unappetizing doughnut. So, no one would try to take it and realize that it's a fake but it would sit there and be the sacrificial "last doughnut" so that all the real ones could be eaten. I will patent this idea and then sell it to Dunkin' Donuts or some company like that and retire on the royalties. I still promise to continue writing this blog, though. I may have to rename it - "Adventures of the Idle Rich".

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shirley Temple

Yesterday I heard that Shirley Temple had died. She was married, of course, and her name was Shirley Temple Black but I only think of her as the little girl named Shirley Temple. I've always liked the movies she made in the 1930s. I remember seeing them on TV when I was about the age she was when they were made. I would have been 10 years old when I saw her first in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I wasn't in love with her because I didn't like girls at that age. But I did admire her. She seemed, to me, to be the perfect child. She was bright, happy, talented and helpful. And very resourceful. In many ways, she seemed much more capable than some of the adults around her. And people were all over themselves trying to help her. Maybe that's why young children liked her films. She was the center of attention and always knew what to do.

Shirley always seemed to be in a tough situation but she made the best of it. As part of my "Working for the Man" post back in 2009, though, I wrote about the film Our Little Girl where I don't think that she made a very good decision. She tried to get her parents back together after their divorce by running away. I can see why this film wasn't shown often on Sunday afternoons when I saw her other movies. I've not seen this movie all the way through yet, and I'm glad I didn't see it as a child. Looking at it with adult eyes, I can appreciate the desperation a child might feel in that situation but to think that a young girl would use that sort of a desperate measure to solve a problem is a little scary. But as I often argue about other movies that I like in spite of their story, it's just a movie. What she said and did was written by a team of writers and helped along by an adult director. It was not meant as a blueprint for children's behavior. But that is not how I looked at Shirley Temple's movies when I was around 10 years old. I thought she was the brightest and most wonderful child I knew. She brought the writers' words come to life and I tried my best to be like her. And I still do. I will miss you, Shirley.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Telling a story

I think everyone likes to hear a good story and I think a lot of people like to tell a good story. Sometimes
we're telling a story and sometimes we're telling a lot of stuff that happened. In the first case, we're performing. In the second, we're reporting. Even simply reporting what happened can be done in an interesting way. I am not a good story teller in the sense that I mostly just list the things that happened in order. Sometimes, there is an air of mystery to my reporting that draws people in but for the most part, I'm a pretty bad story teller. But like a lot of folks, I'd like to get to be a better storyteller. As I've said many times, I'm hoping that my writing in this blog will help with that. But you can't just keep making the same mistakes over and over again and expect to get better. You have to get some feedback from people reading what you've written and you have to learn new things from other people.

If you get a chance, take a look at the video that this link points to. It's a clip from the film The Last Tycoon. In this clip, Robert De Niro's character is trying to get a writer (played by Donald Pleasence) excited about writing for the movies. You can see Mr. Pleasence being drawn into the story Mr. De Niro is telling. That's what you want in a story. You can be telling people the most important thing in the world but if you bore them, they are not going to follow you.

Another interesting link is this one pointing to a list of 22 story guidelines written by a former employee of Pixar. These are not just useful for people wanting to tell animated movie stories. They are really good guidelines for any kind of story telling. And really, I think, most of them are really good guidelines for writing in general. As a matter of fact, I think a lot of these guidelines are really useful in writing software, too

In the the software development method we use in our office, Agile Development, we call the list of things we need to do to complete a project as the stories for that project. Yes, software development is a little like writing an article. For instance, a story might be:
I want to be able to find words in a document and mark them so that I can see them.

Yes, as a software developer, you write it up like it's something you (or a customer) would want to do. Then, under that story, you would list a number of tasks that must be done to realize that story. You have to split the story up into a list of definable operations that can be done in a reasonable time (usually less than a day). By making the tasks small enough, you aren't intimidated by them. For instance, the first task might be:
Get the text of document as a String
We're no longer writing it as a story. It's a task to do. You have to be able to get the text from your document in a form that the rest of your program can use. A String, in the Java programming language, is a list of characters, words and punctuation that you can access with the rest of your program. It's like saying that if you want to work on something, you have to be able to pick it up. Later tasks could be to use some sort of algorithm to look for specific words. Then another task could be to find a way to mark the words or phrases once you've found them. When you get to the last task, you've finished the story. When you finish all the stories, you've finished the project. And like item 8 in the Pixar list:
#8: Finish your story, let go even if it’s not perfect. In an ideal world you have both, but move on. Do better next time.
This is sometimes the hardest part of a software project - deciding when you are done. That's why it is very important in a software project to specifically write down what you plan to do. When you are finished with that list, you are done. There are always things you or the marketing department think about later that could be changed, improved or added to the project but that could go on forever. You have to release the product and then start working on the next version with the new and improved features. If you have a good product, you can keep improving it and making our customers happier. Only bad projects cannot be improved later. Or you keep adding features as you are developing it and it never gets released. That's a really bad project or a story that never ends. You'll start to see people leaving after a while.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Jumping in the dark

This isn't about playing jump rope at night. But before I get to the main story, I have to set it up. Over the week-end (after burying the skunk), I went to start our car to run an errand but instead of starting, it made a rapid clicking sound and all the gauges and displays on the dashboard went nuts. I've seen a run-down battery give one click and then nothing before but this had me worried. Even the speedometer dial went from 0 to 120 and back a number of times! It seemed like something big was a problem here. I looked for loose or charred wires but nothing looked obviously bad. So, I hoped it was just a dead battery. I pulled my mother-in-law's car around and hooked up the jumper cables. As I hooked them up, I got the small spark that showed that the connections were good and tried to start our car. Still a rapid clicking and dashboard madness. I adjusted the jumper cables. No good. Then I remembered that I'd seen problems in other cars where the battery terminals were corroded and didn't make good contact. So, I cleaned those. Still no good. I gave up and put my mother-in-law's car back in the garage.

This was terrible. What do I do? Have it towed to a garage? Have AAA come by and see what they can do? I worried around for a long time but it was dusk and I didn't want to be working in the dark so I pulled my mother-in-law's car out one more time and tried a jump again. This time, I really made sure the cable clamps were well positioned and I noticed the engine of my mother-in-law's car, which I'd left running, sounded different as if the load on the battery had changed. Yes! That must have been the problem before. Even though I got small sparks when I connected the cables before, they weren't making good enough contact to carry the load that was needed to get our car going. Sure enough, when I got my son to come out and rev the engine of my mother-in-law's car to make sure we had enough power, our car started right up. That was it. A dead battery. I must have left a light on or something when we used it the day before. I could sleep well that night.

The next day, I needed to take the car to work because it was going to be very cold and was going to snow so I couldn't take the scooter (there hasn't been much scooter riding this winter). The car started up with no problem and I took it to work. And it did snow. We got about 4 - 5 inches. I left right at 5 pm so I could get the last bit of light to clean the snow off the car. As I was scraping the ice and dusting off the snow, I decided to start the car to get it warm for the ride home and to help melt some of the snow. I turned the key and got rapid clicking and a wild dashboard. I guess I hadn't left something on in the car over the week-end after all. Our battery was just not holding the charge. I'm surprised it held up over night and started that morning. Now I had another problem. There were cars parked all around me and their owners didn't seem to be leaving. I had jumper cables, of course, and other people did, too, but they weren't long enough to run past the cars that were parked around me. I'd have to wait until the people around me left work. But they didn't. I just happened to park among a bunch of people who were staying late that day. A lot of nice people at my job got out their jumper cables and we measured them against the length they'd need to go and no one had super long cables. One guy thought he knew whose cars were parked around me and said they probebly wouldn't be long but it had been dark for about a half an hour and the snow was continuing and it was getting colder and the wind was steady. I couldn't wait much longer. So, I called AAA. They are very nice and called the closest garage but said that it could take up to 90 minutes. I was going to die. So, more people checked the length of their cables. No luck. Just when I was about to give up, I saw the AAA truck pull into our park lot. It had been only about 10 minutes! He had super long jumper cables and had me up and running in seconds. I gave him a tip and he seemed really happy. But not nearly as happy as I was.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Burial for a skunk

No, this isn't about my going to a funeral for someone that no one liked. It was a real skunk and it had been killed one night while crossing the road in front of our house. I sort of wish I had taken a picture of it to post here but I wasn't thinking. All I could think about was my duty.

The deed happened over a month ago. The skunk was there in the morning when I left for work and, of course, I knew what had happened before I saw it. It was on the side of the road and just assumed the town would take it away. I should have known better because I've had to get rid of other animals that have been hit on our street before. But never a skunk. Before, I was able to just scoop it up and throw it in the empty lot across the road. But this was too much. The smell filled the air and was only going to get worse.

After a few days, though, we got a big snow storm and, unusually for Cape Cod, it stuck around for a long time. And just as it was melting, we got another snow storm. So, Mr. Skunk was buried, so to speak, already. And it was so cold, that the smell stopped smelling. Then a January thaw came and the snow started to melt. The skunk was no longer on the side of the road and we assumed the town had picked it up. They hadn't. The town snow plows had shoved the skunk off the road and into the sidewalk and then the sidewalk plow had shoved it up against our fence. Then it got even warmer and the smell returned.

So, this past week-end, I finally had to do it. Completely unrelated to this - I had a hole already dug in the woods in our back yard. When our dog Charlie was alive, I would dig holes in he middle of the wooded area way behind our house and bury his poop there. When the hole was nearly full, I'd cover it with the dirt from digging a new whole in another area. I had dug a hole for Charlie's winter production before the winter freeze came. As you know from an earlier post, Charlie died before Thanksgiving so the hole was still there. I was going to fill it in in the spring but now it would come in handy.

I picked a wide, flat bladed shovel to scoop up the skunk. When I got to the spot, I was amazed at what good condition the coat was in. It was beautiful as a matter of fact. I'd seen live skunks in our yard and had gotten fairly close to some live (and de-scented) skunks in zoos but I don't remember them having as beautiful a coat as this month-long dead skunk. I had second thoughts about burying it and covering up such a beautiful animal but then reason returned and I headed to the woods and threw it in. I have to admit that I was very sad as I covered up the skunk but it had to be done. The smell has now faded from our front yard and you'd never know the skunk was there.

I was thinking about how skunks are probably a pretty confident bunch. They know that other than really young predators who haven't learned better, they are pretty safe. Who would be stupid enough to threaten a skunk? Skunks are a pretty calm animal because they aren't under a lot of stress. They feel pretty safe. But then along comes a car or truck. They can't comprehend this threat to themselves. This is a lot like us humans. We build our nice strong houses and invest in retirement funds. We go to college and get a good job. What could possibly give us trouble?
We can make our plans,
but the Lord determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9 New Living Translation

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Stop rushing around

To start the year off, our pastor preached a three-week series entitled "Slow Down". I found it very helpful and I want to point it out to you, too, because you may find that you, too, have been working hard but not accomplishing what you want to.

The series is listed here in order with the date of the sermon on the same line as the title with a short summary below. The titles link to the Vimeo video for that sermon. They average around 40 minutes each.

Three questions - January 5, 2014
The three questions are:
  1. Who am I?
  2. Who am I pleasing?
  3. What slows me down?
"Who am I?" involves asking what our gift is and what our mission is. Why am I here? We can't do everything. We need to make sure we do the things we are meant to do and to not get distracted too often which is part of the second question. "Who am I pleasing?" involves our trying to please everyone and not wanting to disappoint anyone. Don't let busyness become a badge of honor. "What slows us down?" concerns our need to get away from the busy life to recharge and renew our relationship with God through Jesus.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. John 15:4 NLT

Sabbath - January 12, 2014
The three sections of this sermon are:
  1. Embrace the value of work
  2. Invest in relationships
  3. Schedule a sabbath
In part 1, as we see in Genesis 1:1-31, God was pleased with each part of the creation as it was completed.  We were made for something and work gives us a purpose (not just a job we work for a wage, either). Part 2 starts with the realization that it wasn't good for Adam to be alone - even when he was is Eden! As we read in Ecclesiastes:
Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Eccl 4:9-10 NLT
This sermon ends with a reference back to the third question of the first sermon. Just as God's reason for resting on the seventh day wasn't because he was tired, we don't need to wait until we're exhausted to take time to get away from the world and renew our relationship with God. Our week is not complete without taking a rest.

Let it go - January 19, 2014
The three sections of this sermon are:
  1. Let go of the stress of the uncontrollable
  2. Let go of the fiction of domestic perfection
  3. Let go of digital distractions
The main text for this sermon is the famous story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42 where Martha is upset with Mary for not helping with the work of hosting Jesus, his disciples and guests who are there to listen. Jesus doesn't say Martha is wrong about doing the work but she is wrong in condemning Mary for wanting to listen to Jesus. We must not get distracted by the stress of succeeding. We must let go of the worry that everything in our house must go as we plan. This sermon ends with our pastor reminding us that while all of the electronic helpers and assistants we use are not bad in themselves, we must remember Paul's words in First Corinthians:

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. 1 Cor 6:12 NLT

A great book on this subject (besides all the Bible verses used in the sermons) is Crazy Busy by Kevin DeYoung.

Before I go, I want to tell you a little story I read a long time ago in The Reader's Digest. It was written by someone who was traveling out west and had stopped at a scenic overlook to see the beauty of a huge canyon. They were enjoying the vast scene and reveling in the stillness. As they relaxed, a station wagon came tearing into the parking area, a family spilled out and ran to the railing to take a look. The father furiously snapped pictures of the mother and kids in various poses with the canyon's high rising walls as a back-drop. After a few minutes, the parents started to herd the kids back into the car. The children wanted to stay for a while longer but the mother rushed them off with, "We have to hurry. You can look at the pictures when we get home." Let us not do this with our life.