Friday, November 11, 2016

"How Can I Keep From Writing"

My title is in quotes but it probably shouldn't be. I'm referencing the old hymn "How Can I Keep From Singing". The words are wonderful. They say that in spite of all the trouble in the world and the problems we may have, there is great joy in knowing that Christ is Lord. God is in charge and he loves us. He provides for us and will see us through our difficulties. Therefore, how can we not be happy? Indeed, how can we keep from singing?

We've just had a Presidential Election that has shaken many of us. Not only was it a complete surprise that the man who won the election pulled it off, many of us are shaken that he is now President-elect of the United States. He ran a negative campaign that was terrible in its use of lies and innuendo to attack his opponents both in the primaries and in the general election. His own indiscretions made him appear a fool but it never seemed to affect the people who backed him. He once famously said, "I could shoot someone on 5th Avenue [in New York City] and I wouldn't lose any votes." He claimed to know more about opponents on the battlefield than the generals in charge. He has never won elected office before and it seems like his entire appeal is based on his non-politician status and his being an outsider. His followers seem to like the fact that he doesn't know anything about how to be the President because it means he will do things differently. They feel he tells it like it is and he will help them where none of the career politicians ever helped them before.

He tells it like he thinks it is. He doesn't know more than the generals but he doesn't even know that. He has never done anything without the promise of making a profit from it and in fact is a pretty bad business man. He thinks he is a great negotiator but he couldn't even get a widow to sell him her property so he could expand a casino in Atlantic City. How will he negotiate with hostile foreign powers? I am worried about our country's future and worried about my family. So, with all of that on my mind, in spite of the fact that I haven't written in this blog since September, how could I keep from writing this?

But I know everything is in God's hands. As the hymn says, "No storm can shake my inmost calm, While to that refuge clinging; Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?" I can live with that.

Here are the words to the hymn.
My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

What tho' my joys and comforts die?
The Lord my Saviour liveth;
What tho' the darkness gather round?
Songs in the night he giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that refuge clinging;
Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it,
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

Monday, September 26, 2016

Another of my neurotic problems

"Another neurosis. How does this guy cope?" you ask. Well, my wife and I have been binge watching Sherlock (with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman) and Sherlock Holmes describes himself as a high-functioning sociopath. So, I guess I could describe myself as a somewhat-functioning neurotic. I get by with a lot of help from God, my family and friends.

Anyway, the neurosis I'll talk about here is my fear of using the telephone. It's not the phone itself that bothers me. It's the act of talking on the phone.

The worst thing is having to call someone. I know I'm bothering them - even if I'm calling them with good news. I am absolutely certain they are about to leave for a long anticipated vacation or they are in the middle of a conversation with someone else or they just don't want to talk to talk with me. No matter how they answer the phone, I am convinced I've interrupted them. Yes, you may say that they always have the option of just not answering the phone but my neurosis has an answer for that. They've probably been waiting for an important call and feel they must answer the phone. Lots of people have Caller ID but how many people really look at it? And how much can you tell by the short, cryptic characters that you can barely see in that little display? No, I'm bothering them.

The other problem is being called by someone. That covers all the bases doesn't it? For all the reasons I don't want to call anyone, I don't want to be called by anyone, either. I have yet to get a call saying, "You've just won a million dollars!" If I did, I wouldn't believe them anyway.

The final problem I have with the telephone covers both being called and calling. The problem is having to come up with things to say without time to think about it first. They always ask me a question that I might be able answer if I had time to consider all the possibilities. The worst kind of call is the argument. I never know what to say. Not that I want to argue with people but I can't think of the right thing to say to diffuse the situation. I can't even come up with a good apology without some time to think. And if you're talking with someone face to face, you may not have time to consider all of your answers but at least you have some body language to go by. You can see their face and know if they are mad or happy. And I'm a terrible conversationalist anyway. I think I'm working myself into another neurosis about talking with people.

I much prefer email. If I receive an email, I can handle it when I have time. I can think about my answers. When I send an email, the other person doesn't have to respond right away. Or they can just not respond at all.

I vividly remember the first time I had trouble with the phone (I've written about this before here). I was just a kid and I was going to call a friend. I had called relatives before but for the first time, after looking my friend's number up in the phone book, a saw a phone number with a zero in it. Well, one of the first things I learned about the phone was that if you needed the Operator, you dialed zero. I dialed the first part of the number and got to the zero. I paused. What do you do? If I dial the zero, the Operator would come on and I'd have to talk with her! I dialed the zero and, probably because I'd paused so long, something clicked on the line and I panicked and hung up. I tried to dial again but gave up when I got to the zero. I don't remember how this ended up but it's been downhill ever since.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Misheard phrases

I've talked about misheard lyrics in the past (at this link) and about the site Am I Right and it's section on Misheard Lyrics. But in the past few days, my son and I have had a two instances of misheard phrases from the news (my son) and from a commercial (me).

There was a tragedy in Boston recently where the driver of an SUV (sport-utility vehicle) lost control of his vehicle and drove into a restaurant killing two people. My son was just waking up and was not quite in the TV room room when he heard, what he thought was, the announcer saying, "An SOB drove into the restaurant." I'm afraid to say that for as sad as the story was, we had to laugh. In a way it was true. It turns out that the driver, the SOB, is being charged with vehicular homicide.

My misheard phrase came from a commercial for a bank. The announcer says that their bank offers "hassle-free" loans. I was busy in the kitchen making noise and I was sure he said, "ass-hole free" loans. No one else thought he said that, though, so I guess it really is hassle-free loans.

A long time ago, I also misheard a commercial about a hospital for children in Boston associated with the Tufts Medical Center. They were touting their Floating Hospital for Children but the way the announcer said it made it sound, to me, that they were talking about their Exploding Hospital for Children. I know kids like exciting things and enjoy going to action movies but this seemed to be taking it a bit far. I was wrong, of course, but you try saying, "Tuft's Medical Center and it's Floating Hospital for Children" and see if it does sound a little bit like, "Tufts Medical Center and Exploding Hospital for Children." See what I mean?

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

How an automobile differential works

You probably already know all about this but I just learned. I've always been interested in how the differential of an automobile's rear axle works. It seems like magic and, surely, it must be very complex. Just look at the picture on the right!

I happened to be looking up another mystery (to me) - What's the difference between All Wheel Drive and Four Wheel Drive? The site I found explaining that had this video from Chevrolet. It was made back in 1937, it's not in color and it starts with a precision motorcycle team and you wonder, "How is this going to explain a differential for four wheel vehicles?" Well, just watch. It's very well done and makes it seem so simple.

In case you have trouble playing the video, here is the link to the original.

By the way, the original article I was looking for, explaining the difference between AWD and 4WD, is found at this link. It's really good, too.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

I'm not sure if this is good or bad

 I enjoy playing FreeCell on Windows. It is similar to a game on the Macintosh called Seahaven Towers. The reason I first liked these games is that the game play is a lot like programming a computer in a low level language. The four open 'cells' in the upper left, the Free Cells, are like the registers of the processor. Building the stacks of cards in the main playing area are like last-in-first-out stacks we're used to using in programming, too. The four cells in the upper right are the results of the program. So, in order to get the cards separated into suits (hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds) and in order (start with Aces and end with Kings) in the final cells in the upper right, you have to manipulate the cards through the "registers" and the "stacks" like you would in a computer program.

OK, that's fair enough but it has gotten to the point where I play this game too much. If I have any free time or I am waiting for something on my computer, I start a game. As you can see in the pictures here, I've played 2,487 games of FreeCell. That's a lot of time spent manipulating registers and stacks! I need to cut down on this but I'm having a hard time. Unlike Solitaire (one of the other games you get for free), someone has proven that every game of FreeCell can be solved! So, I can't just give up and say, "This is impossible!" It is possible and I'm just not patient enough or smart enough to figure it out.

Another problem is my competitive spirit. I've worked my way up from winning only occasionally to having won 85% of the time. And also, as of now, I am working on a winning streak of 41 games. Those make it hard to just stop. By the way, there are ways to cheat and throw away a game you can't solve so that it doesn't go into the lost column - but I don't do that. I use only the Undo method that the games allows.

So, it's not a terrible habit but it is a habit, of sorts, that takes time away from other things I could be doing. I'm going to try weaning myself off of FreeCell. We'll see how well I do.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

How to NOT ship something cold in the mail

This is another one of those stories that I just remembered that I want to write down before I forget it for another 30 years.

I was working in the US Geological Survey in the Water Resources division and we were asked to look at a proposed solution to shipping water samples from the field to a testing facility. The proposed container was similar to what is in the picture here except it was much smaller than the 30 gallon drum in the picture. It was about 24 inches high and maybe 18 inches in diameter. It was made of steel so it was very strong. The lid was loose but could be attached to the drum with the clamp you see resting against the side of the drum. It seems silly, in retrospect, to have thought about shipping something that big and heavy via the post office but that's what we were asked to do.

We thought about various ways of keep it cool for the whole trip. I forget what the target length of time was but let's say it was a week. We figured the final product would be heavily insulated but that might not be enough. So, we tried packing ice in the container. No matter what we did, though, the ice would melt and make it very difficult to keep out of the insulation and to keep from contaminating the water samples. Of course, one solution would have been to use frozen gel packs encased in plastic like you see in food coolers but I don't think we had access to those back in 1975 or so. So, our next goal was how to keep the ice from melting. Our first thought was to use dry ice, in a separate waterproof container, to keep the water ice from melting. We had already drilled a hole in the top of the canister so we could slip a temperature probe into the container so we could monitor the temperature over time. We had a rubber grommet in the hole so the sharp edge of the metal wouldn't damage the temperature probe. So, we figured, this would act as a safety valve for the expanding carbon dioxide when the dry ice warmed.

We started the test and it looked good at first. The temperature stayed nice and cold and we didn't hear any sloshing around when we moved the can. But days later, I noticed that the top of the canister was bowing up. It looked like our "safety valve" wasn't working (I must have picked a grommet too close in size to the temperature probe's cable) and the carbon dioxide was putting quite a lot of stress on the container. So, I unfastened the screw clamp to open the lid. But even after I loosened the screw all the way, I couldn't get the lid off. This couldn't be good. Maybe I should have tried drilling another hole in the lid but that would take too much time. So, I started tapping the clamp with a hammer to loosen it.

All of a sudden, there was a BOOM. The lid hit the ceiling and ice, some water and what remained of the dry ice flew everywhere. People from all over the place came running to see what had happened. Nowadays, with an explosion occurring in a government facility, I'm sure the police or building security would have been called. But all that happened was that we had a lot of cleaning up to do and we looked kind of stupid. I think that project was taken away from us, too. I don't remember. But I do know we never assumed that a hole with a grommet would act like a safety valve again.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The elves didn't cover for me

We just got back from a short vacation. I hope to write more about that in a later post. But what I want to talk about here is how you really don't get to go on vacation. Yes, you can go away. You can be out of the office. You can do something besides your job for a short time. But in the end, the work doesn't get done and you have to work twice as hard when you get back to catch up. It puts up a barrier to taking time off. I love to be with my wife and children and the more time I spend with them the better. But when I think about taking time off, all I can think about is that when I get back, I'm going to have to work harder for a least as long as I was away.

This time, things went better than I could have hoped. We are nearing the end of a months-long project and we're now just needing to finish up the testing and we'll be ready to release a new version of the application. Only two new bugs were found while we were gone so I only had those to work on (besides the usual paperwork of getting the application ready for release). So, while I do have more work to do than I would have if I had not gone on vacation, it wasn't as bad as it could have been. And now I am refreshed and I can work better. But I'll still have worries for the next time we want to go on vacation.

The problem is that businesses have had to streamline their processes and cut down on "redundancy". I put redundancy in quotes because it's not really redundant to have two or more people working on one thing. It may mean that the people have some down time every once in a while but it also means that the work doesn't stop when one of the people takes time off - or gets sick - or gets fired - or quits. But I'm afraid fewer and fewer businesses think about work this way. The new way of doing things is to have people have so much to do that there is no down time. It can be wearing.

My title refers to one of the fairy tales collected by the Grimm brothers.  It's the story of the poor shoemaker who finds that elves have come into his shop at night and finished the work that he started during the day. You can find a version here if you'd like to read it yourself.

Monday, August 15, 2016

New Year's Day in August

It's been a long time since my last post. When my mother passed away in May, it was hard to get motivated. I miss her a lot and even though I have more time for other things now, I found I had a lot more things to do. As Mom got weaker and her ailments multiplied, I had more things to do to help her, coordinate her care and pay more bills and buy more things she needed. And with all those extra duties, I neglected things that my wife and children needed, I let jobs around our house go and I let things at work back up a bit. So, once I had some time to catch up, I had to drop things like updating this blog.

But now I think I'm finally getting caught up. So, I've made a list of New Year's Resolutions to get my life back on track.

Walk every day - I've started this. I'm back to walking about a half to three quarter mile a day. Not much but it's a start.

Drink plenty of water every day. Part of this is to cut down on the amount of coffee I drink, too.

Use my Water Pic and floss my teeth - There were reports in the news recently about how little flossing has been studied and how it was being recommended without really understanding it. But I see the difference in myself and I know this is a good thing. I just wish they didn't call it "flossing". It sounds so useless - like your polishing your teeth.

Practice the piano - Boy do I miss this! Within this, I want to concentrate on two things - I want to learn a bunch of songs that I can just play at any time. Some of this is re-learning the songs I used to be able to play. The other thing I want to concentrate on is my velocity. I've always been good at playing slow songs and putting a lot of feeling into them. But I've always had trouble playing fast (some would say, happy) songs.

I hate to admit the next two things because they are so important:

Pray - I've always done this, of course, but over the last couple of years with the extra time needed to take care of my mother, my prayer was centered on my mother and myself. Most of my prayers were pleas for help. The prayers were answered! But now it is time to start with prayers of worship and thanksgiving and to pray for other people more.

Read the Bible - I always miss this when I'm not doing it. And, of course, I always read the Bible verses for our weekly worship service. But now I'm getting back to reading the Bible every day. It is not a burden but it does take time. But it is enjoyable time. It is enlightening and invigorating.It's like eating a good meal after having fast food for two years!

And, of course, I am going to write in this blog regularly. Here's to starting again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Something else I didn't know about my mother

We took my mother back to her hometown to be buried next to her husband (my father). We were told by the funeral director that there was no rush so after she passed away on May 11, we set the funeral for Saturday, May 21. Since the end came rather unexpectedly, it gave us time to contact all of our relatives and to make sure everything was ready instead of rushing. For as sad as I was that she died, I am glad that her pain and anxiety won't bother her anymore. As I said in a previous post, she is with God and my father and many of her other relatives and friends. I also hope she is with the pets that she loved in life. Heaven would be even better with dogs.

In a post from seven years ago, I told part of the story about my parents eloping during the Second World War. But there were two things I didn't know about that story. One was that my grandfather really did take a gun with him to stop my parents from getting married. The other was that my mother was supposed to marry another man. Now, some people say they were engaged and others say that my grandparents had just arranged for her to marry the other man. But now I see that this wasn't the funny little adventure I'd always thought and I now see why my mother didn't like to talk about it. She made a lot of people mad by running off with my father. At the funeral, I talked with one of my aunts about it and she said that she had seen the letters that her sister and her husband had exchanged about the event. It turns out that the man my mother was supposed to marry was the older brother of her older sister's husband! My Aunt Edith and her husband (my uncle) Bill must have had something to do with setting Bill's brother up with my mother. They say that Uncle Bill's brother was a good looking man but he was not really the kind of guy my mother would have liked. He was spoiled (they say) and rather self-centered. Those are not things that appealed to my mother. Supposedly, she tried to break up with him a number of times but her parents and her sister and brother-in-law kept pushing her into it.

So, as my Aunt June explained it, my mother really had no other choice but to elope with my father. I now see why emotions were running so high and that this really wasn't something my mother wanted to talk about because she did feel a little sorry for the other guy. But not too sorry.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Something I didn't know about my mother

Mom in 1942 or 1943
On one of my trips to see my mother, back in 2013 while she was still living in Pennsylvania, we were going through her high school yearbook and I noticed that a couple of her friends had mentioned something about modeling in their comments to her. More than one of them said something like, "Good luck with the modeling." This was something I'd never heard Mom talk about. How could I know her for over 60 years and not know about this?

As my mother explained it, she and a couple of other girls from her high school had been selected to model clothing at the company store in the town. A company store is a kind of department store that is run by the mining company - hence the name "company store". It was for the people who lived in the company-supplied housing in the town. Those people could buy things in the company store, including food and other necessities, using non-cash vouchers and it would be deducted from the paycheck of the person working in the mine. My mother had told me that often the workers would go to get their paycheck and find that there was nothing left after they had "purchased" food, clothes and other necessities and after their rent for the company housing had been deducted. You may have heard of the song Sixteen Tons. It's about working in the coal mine and how the person singing the song can't afford to die because he owes his soul to the company store. Here's a link to one performance of the song.

The company store also sold women's clothes and they needed the models to show new items. My mother said she enjoyed doing it and at the end of each show, they got to pick an outfit to keep. That was their pay. Apparently, she must have been somewhat encouraged to keep modeling (judging by the comments in the yearbook) but she didn't pursue it. I never got to ask her why but my guess is that she just didn't have anyone to talk with about it. She knew people did that for a living but she didn't have a path to making it her career. All she knew was what the people around her did for a living. In a poor mining town, there weren't a lot of role models of that type. Yet some people in those conditions did find jobs like that. That's why it's important not to limit yourself to what you know. It's important to look around a bit and seek out people who are outside your own little environment. You never know what you could be capable of.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A sad and awful day

Mom with her 12-day old grandson in 1996
As you may guess from my last post, my mother has passed away. She died last night around 9:30 pm. She was peaceful and pain-free but she wasn't really aware of me being with her in the final moments of her life. But I am glad she wasn't struggling and I am glad she is now at peace. She is with God and with my father and I am happy that she is finally free of the body that gave her such anguish in the final years of her life. She was happy to see us each day but distracted by the aches, pains and anxiety. She was 91 years old.

Yes, she was anxious because she thought she needed to be doing things even when she couldn't do the things she wanted to do. She used to have a ritual at bed-time of getting her thinning hair in place and putting a hair net on so it would be easier to get ready in the morning. She liked to have a small felt throw (a 3 x 5 ft blanket) inside the bed so she could snuggle her feet inside so they wouldn't get cold during the night. She liked to have a small bag of cookies ready in case she got hungry during the night - and the cookies always had to be some Pecan Sandies, some Golden Oreos and some Lorna Doones. She needed to have a glass of water ready during the night in case she got thirsty. This was all necessary because she had trouble moving because the arthritis was so bad in all of her joints - especially her knees.

So, even though she depended on me to do those things for her at night (except for fixing her hair - she did that) , she would worry about it all day as if I might not be there each night to do them for her. I'd show up every day around 5:30 pm and she'd tell me she was worried that I might not get there. I specifically used that time to show up every day so she'd know to expect me at that time and not worry but she couldn't help herself. I think the worry and anxiety were as much trouble to her as her many medical problems. The bad knees, the weak heart, the water accumulation in her lungs, the weak kidneys, the overactive bladder, the frequent attacks of gout and cellulitis. And later the pancreatitis and the trouble swallowing so that water and food would go down her windpipe instead of her esophagus. She had so many problems it was no wonder she was anxious. Even when she felt relatively pain free, she worried about when it would return.

The picture here is one of her happy times. She had flown in an airplane all by herself (she hated to fly) to come to stay with us when our son was about to be born and she stayed and helped us as we learned to be parents. She is 71 years old in this picture but was so vital. There was little hint of the trouble ahead except for some worries about her heart and the fact that she'd had tuberculosis in her kidneys when she was very young. She went back to her home after a few weeks, though, with the promise she'd come back again for a visit and would think about moving up here. She didn't move here for another 18 years and by then, most of the problems she would later have were in full force.

I am thankful my mother was with us those last couple of years of her life so I was able to help her. It was hard seeing her so full of pain and worry. It's good to know she's at peace again.

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Happy Mother's Day?

Mothers deserve to be honored. I am glad we set this day aside to do that. I bought my wife a small plant (to be planted later, not thrown away) and a card and, maybe soon, a gift. But this is the worst Mother's Day in a long time for me. My mother is in a nursing facility and is not doing well. She is having trouble breathing and chokes a lot when she tries to drink or eat. They've only been giving her minced food to try to cut down on the choking but it only helps a little. Fluid is building up in her body and collecting in her lungs but when they give her medicine to get rid of the water, it puts a further strain on her already weakened kidneys. I'm afraid she is fading and it is tearing me up.

I go to see her every day (and sometimes twice a day) but I feel so helpless. I know people that have taken their mother into their home so they can see her all day and give her help whenever she needs it. They have nurses come in to do the things they don't know how to do or cannot do given the other responsibilities in their lives. But I haven't done that. I have my reasons but I don't know if they count. I am leaving the day-to-day care of my mother to strangers. They are very dedicated and skilled strangers who can do more for her than I can but they are strangers. I wonder if I made the right decision two years ago to sell my mother's house and move her 650 miles to be close to me but far way from her three sisters and the town she grew up in and lived in for most of her life.

She was already in really bad shape when I convinced her to sell the house she had lived in for 60 years and I don't think she could have stayed in the house much longer. But maybe it would have been better if I'd found her an assisted living or nursing home near her town. It would have been cheaper than what is available where we live. But I would have worried. And her sisters could not continue to help her out because they are all near her age and have their own health problems. My cousins, who were helping her before I horned in, were angels. They were doing a lot to help her like buying things she needed and setting up her pills. They were taking her to doctor's appointments and helping around the house. But they also have lives of their own and the one who was helping Mom the most had health issues of her own. As I said, their parents (my mother's sister and brother-in-law) are getting older and need more help, too.

So, here we are about two years since my mother broke her hip and had to have it replaced. But before that, she had already started to decline. Her knees were already wracked by gouty arthritis (although her doctors didn't know that), Her heart was weakening more (she already had a pacemaker keeping her heart from slowing down too much due to the pills she took for her atrial fibrillation), she was getting up five to six times a night to go to the bathroom (which the doctors there were not treating) and she was found to need supplemental oxygen when she went in for the hip replacement surgery (which her doctors there had not known about). I don't see how she could have continued in her town without full-time help and increased trips to the doctor and hospitals. But I still feel like I'm responsible for the bad things she is going through.

When I was young, my mother made everything better. She helped me when I was anxious (which was pretty much all the time). She made the pain go away and always made me feel better. I can't return that to her and I am miserable on this Mother's Day.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Watching out for the second owner

I haven't seen the commercial recently but I remember seeing a car commercial where someone is about to enter their car and they are asked to be careful with it by a person they don't know. It turns out (in the commercial's strange world) that the person asking the car owner to be careful is the next owner of the car. The car company is touting the fact that their cars are well made and will still be in good shape when the original owner either sells it or trades it in on a new car. Then, the next person that buys the car will have to live with any mistakes or problems the original owner allowed to happen to the car. Did they get the scheduled maintenance? Did they drive it too fast or get in an accident? Did they lend the car to someone who didn't take care of it? Of course it's just a fanciful idea. Unless you promise to sell your car to someone or give it to them, you will never know who the next owner of your car will be.

I thought about this today when I saw a story on the news about a fellow who got a double lung transplant and had built himself up to be able to run a 5K race to help publicize organ donation. I am already listed as an organ donor and it made me wonder who might get my organs when I don't need them anymore. What if I was doing something and some people walked up to me and said I should take better care of their heart or their liver or their corneas or any of the other organs that can be donated. When I'm sitting at my desk at work and lunch time rolls around, maybe if I thought of the second owners of my organs, it would motivate me to get out and exercise instead of just sitting there. If I think about the second owners of my organs, maybe I won't have that second helping that I don't really need. Of course, those are all good things I should be doing anyway but by thinking of someone else, it may help motivate me more than just my own self-centered interest in staying healthy.

Friday, April 29, 2016

An interesting article about procrastination

I read an article in The Washington Post about what may cause us to procrastinate and what may help us get over it - or at least do it less. It's entitled "The real reasons you procrastinate - and how to stop". I hope you can get to that article. More and more newspapers are limiting how you can get to their articles and how many articles you can read a month. This seems kind of silly to me. There is advertising on those pages and if they keep you from seeing them, you are not seeing and, possibly, responding to the advertisement. Anyway, here's a brief synopsis of the article.

The article first goes into why we procrastinate. While some people say it is just laziness or weakness but this article sides with the studies that say procrastination is more a way of avoiding fear or dread. It has to do with the way we perceive time and how we see ourselves. And when we procrastinate, we react by feeling worse about ourselves which just makes the problem worse. We come to expect that we will put things off but we don't know how to deal with it. We feel anxious about the thing we want (or are supposed) to do so, instead, we do something fun (or at least, less threatening) to make us feel better. We figure we'll pass the problem off to our future self - who we don't have as much empathy with as we'd think. We know we are going to have to face the same problem in the future (with less time to do it) but we (the procrastinators) don't seem to care.

So, one of the strategies for reducing our tendency to put things off is to get a better understanding of our future selves and to start feeling more empathetic to our future selves. The other strategy is to break up the tasks we are anxious about into smaller and smaller sub-tasks. These sub-tasks should be small things we can can accomplish in a short time. By doing those things, we start on the bigger job and we start to feel better about ourselves. We replace the dread with a feeling of happiness that we've done something. The quote that ends the article is a good one to remember:

No one 'builds a house'. They lay one brick again and again
and the end result is a house. - Tim Urban at Wait But Why

One of the people referenced in the article is Tim Urban who co-write a blog called Wait But Why (at and you can read three articles about procrastination there:

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

How to Beat Procrastination

The Procrastination Matrix

One of the things I find that keeps me from procrastinating is when I see that other people depend on me doing what I'm supposed to do. If I put this off, other people will be hurt.

What if we procrastinators just put off procrastinating until later?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Two notes about Windows 10

My post about upgrading my home computer to Windows 10 (not!) was getting too long so I moved two small tips about using Windows 10 to this post. If you're just starting with Windows 10 when coming from Windows 7, here are two small tips I hope will help you.

To log out, without turning off the power or restarting, click on the Start menu (now just a window graphic - see the image in the upper right of this post) and look at the top of the window it creates. You'll see your name at the top - I've placed a grey rectangle with to show you where). Click on it and you'll see a list of actions (shown on the left here). They made the big decision to change "Log out" to "Sign out". Select "Sign out" and your computer will go to the Log in screen. If you have multiple users on the computer, you can log in as someone else but if that's what you want to do, you can also select "Switch account" for this menu. But then I'm not sure if your original account keeps running. Sorry. I'm still learning about Windows 10.

Click to see larger
The other tip is how to get the old Control Panel listing. Windows 10 has an item named Settings which collects your Control Panel items in number of completely unintuitive groups which I am still trying to figure out. To get a list of all of your Control Panel items, right-click on the Start Menu and you will see the list I've put on the right. Click on the Control Panel item (circled in red) and you'll see a full list of them without the ridiculous grouping they want to put on top of these Control Panel items.

That's it. Not Earth shaking but hopefully useful. As I find more things I'll write them up in this blog.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Windows 10 upgrade - well, maybe not

Our company has decided to make a concerted effort to get all, or most, of our Windows computers upgraded to Windows 10. One big reason is that this is a free upgrade - but for a limited time. This is a first for Microsoft and you don't want to miss those opportunities. Apple has released free upgrades for the last three versions of OS X so it's nice to see Microsoft following their lead. That last sentence may be a mistake because if people from either camp read it, they will be mad at me. It's funny how true believers in anything can work themselves up into unnecessary agitation. If they disagree with you, you are a biased idiot who doesn't know anything and need to be punished. If they agree with you, you didn't go far enough and you need to be punished. But it's too late now. I've written it and the backspace key is on vacation.

So, my supervisor chose me out of our group to get the first of the upgrades and to see what problems the rest of the group might have to face. It went flawlessly! And I was pleasantly surprised at how well it worked and how easy it was to get used to from my use of Windows 7. There were a few little problems like some of the programs I like to use a lot were hard to find. And when I found some of them, their saved configurations were incorrect. But on the whole, I was up and running about an hour after the upgrade finished (which took about an hour and half). The other great thing was that none of my existing programs needed to be upgraded to work on Windows 10. Whatever worked on Windows 7 also worked on Windows 10. Now, you may not find this because there are many programs that do need an upgrade for Windows 10 but none of my programs did. So, I thought, I should upgrade my home computer, too. Fortunately, I had finished another release of our software product and was not under a lot of pressure to work at home. Because...

Things did NOT go smoothly at home. To be fair, the big problem was probably our poor Internet connection. No, our Internet connection is terrible. We still have DSL through Verizon over copper wires and barely get 1 MB connection speeds. And if it rains or the wind is blowing, you can count on the connection either disappearing or being so slow that it is practically unusable. So, since the download was going to take a long time, I started the upgrade process before I went to bed and assumed it would be ready when I got up in the morning. Who says old people aren't optimistic?

I thought I had hit all the Continue buttons before I went to bed but, again, because of the slow speed of our Internet connection, I found one or two more waiting for me when I got up the next morning. I hit them as they showed up and saw the satisfying Downloading graphic and could see disk activity. It was Saturday now so I went on with my other jobs for the day. I checked back periodically and say the slow progress (blame DSL again) and it finally finished downloading and started the actual upgrade. I knew that would take at least an hour so I went off and came back. When I did, I saw a Blue Screen of Death with a message about an IRQL_UNEXPECTED_VALUE error. Instead of saying what had gone wrong, it said I might want to look for that error on the Internet! Part of the error message was that it was going to gather information and then restart my computer. I waited another hour and there was no restart. Ctrl-Alt-Del had no effect so I had to hold the power button until the computer powered down and then I restarted it. It seemed to be booting into Windows 10 so I thought it might be a temporary problem and waited to see how it went.

Amazingly, it did start and showed my old Desktop picture with the Desktop icons in the right places. But as soon as I moved the mouse, I got the Blue Screen of Death again. Again it said it was gathering information and would restart my computer. Again it didn't restart my computer and I had to hold the power button until it powered down. I was completely stuck. I couldn't go forward and I couldn't go back. So, I decided to use my work computer (having to wait until Monday to get there) to create a DVD with the Windows 10 installer on it. I'd use that to repair the mess on my computer.

Monday came and I created the Windows 10 install DVD and brought it home that night. I set up my computer to boot from the DVD drive and the installer started. I got a few steps in and it detected that I'd already tried to install Windows 10. The only options were to do a clean install of Windows 10 (losing all of my saved files, pictures, passwords and applications) or quit. I quit! Now I was in a quandary. I didn't seem to have any options. I kept trying to restart the computer and it seemed to get further each time so I thought that maybe it would eventually set everything up after a few restarts so I could use it again. After 10 restarts, it didn't look good. The only good thing that happened was that if I went directly to the Shut Down button, I didn't have to use the power button to turn off the computer.

My computer sat useless for days as I used my work computer to search for help. Finally I found the answer. If you hold the Shift key down while you restart Windows 10, you will get a screen offering a few choices and among them is Troubleshoot (see the graphic here). Fortunately, after hours of restarts and waiting around, I was able to get to the Restart selection for Windows 10. After choosing Troubleshoot, the next screen appeared which has a number of options including Advanced Options. See that screen next on the left.

I saw a number of suggestions on various forums all over the Internet and some seemed authoritative and others seemed like they were written by idiots. That's the trouble with looking for information on the Internet - there is no shortage of advice but there is a great shortage of good advice. Some people advocated selecting Refresh your PC and others said to chose Reset your PC. But the people who seemed to know what they were talking about said to chose Advanced Options so I followed that advice.

Finally, from the next list of options I chose "Go back to the previous build". I wasn't sure but I hoped this meant "Give up on Windows 10 and go back to Windows 7". It did. But you know what? That option is only available for one month after you do the upgrade! So, if you get stuck like this, don't wait for more than a month or you won't be able to go back.

After another hour or so, I had my Windows 7 machine back. It's going to be a long time before I try to upgrade to Windows 10 - if I ever do.

I am going to make another post about two things that caused me problems when I upgraded to Windows 10 at work. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I guess I'm just invisible today

I've been riding my scooter in to work for about a month (with days off for rain) and it feels great. But one thing I notice, just as any bicyclist or motorcyclist will tell you, is that you have to act as if car and truck drivers don't see you. It's a good defensive plan but it's still frustrating when people really act like that. Today was one of those days.

There were the usual number of people on their cell phones that would probably not see you if you were driving a bus. But today, it was everyone. Mostly, it's people pulling out onto the road - right in front of you. But I saw them and since I was assuming they were going to pull out in front of me, I was prepared. But there is only so far this can go. You can't afford to be watching the other people all of the time. There are other things to look out for, too, and you can't slow down for every car and truck that looks like it might pull onto the road. So, you just do the best you can. A car or truck at an intersection will always draw my attention. But often, there are a few of them at different distances. Needing to stay on the alert all the time can be tiring but you have to remain vigilant. Getting too comfortable or letting your attention wander can be fatal.

That's why I'm pretty pleased with myself today. I got to work safely and so did the people who cut in front of me. I hope they continue to make their mistakes around people who are alert and ready to handle their poor driving. And I hope they didn't hear the things I yelled at them from inside my insulated helmet.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Another sign of getting old

Click on this picture to see it larger
My daughter bought me this mug (pictured on the right) a few years ago. It replaced another mug I lost or broke or something. I have a bad history with mugs. I've cracked them, I've dropped them and, while I don't have a blog post about it, I've lost a few.

As I've mentioned before, we adopted our daughter from China. So, it seemed logical that when she wanted to buy me a mug as a present, she bought one with my Chinese Zodiac Animal on it. Since I was born in 1951, she bought the Rabbit mug and I've used it just about every day since then.

I noticed the other day, though, that my birth year is the oldest one on the mug. Yet another sign of my being an old guy. I know they could only put so many years on the mug but why stop with 1951? There should be a lot of people who were born in 1939 around and I'm sure there are even some people born in 1927 around (my mother was born in 1925 and she is still going!). As you can see in the lower left of the mug, the design was copyrighted in 2006 so why show the future years of 2011 and 2023? Obviously, they didn't want to have to redesign the mug every 12 years and figured these would stay nice until at least 2023 so people could buy them for the babies born that year and in 2011. I hope you 5-year-olds are taking good care of yours.

So, I'll stop feeling sorry for myself and just continue to enjoy this gift. I'm always more careful with something that I have been given as a gift. I always feel that if I'm careless, I could make the gift-giver sad that I didn't think enough of their gift to take better care of it.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Our trip to the quilt convention

Click to enlarge to read the sub-title

I'm post dating this blog entry because this happened back on April 9 but I'm just entering it on April 19.

The Original Sewing and Quilt Expo. This is one of the things my wife looks forward to every year. And since she has taught our daughter to sew, our daughter looks forward to it also. My son - not so much. So he stayed home while I drove the girls to Worcester, MA (about a 2-hour trip from our home on Cape Cod) and planned to spend the day reading. That's just fine with me!

The happy sewers
As you can see in the sub-title of the sign in the picture at the start of this post, "What will you create today?" it's not just about learning something new but about actually doing it. That's the best way to learn, I think. You can sit in a classroom and think you understand what is going on. You can know the words the instructor is using and understand the drawings they make. But until you actually do it yourself and use the knowledge, you haven't really learned anything. That's the reason for labs in science and technology courses and the reason for homework in any school. Putting the pieces together to use what you've learned is the final, essential step.
Shopping for just the right "thing"

We had wonderful weather and not much traffic so we got there in plenty of time to register and find the rooms. Then I went out to have breakfast and start reading. It was wonderful. If I'd been home, there would have been chores to do or things to fix or, I hate to admit it, TV to watch. But here, I had the freedom and the time to read.

As you can see in the bottom picture on the right, there is also a large exposition area with fabric and patterns and tools and books for sale. My wife says it has gotten a lot smaller over the years. It still looked impressive to me, though. Maybe as people have stopped making their own clothes and sewing has fallen into decline, it does make sense that this show would be smaller. But I'm glad that things like this still exist and that they are close enough for us to get to.

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Some things don't change

In my previous post, I mentioned that it snowed here earlier this week. So, while I usually walk at lunch time, I didn't want to go out that day because it was slippery (or as those who grew up near Pittsburgh would say, it was slippy) and it was cold. But it did give me the opportunity to do something I had been meaning to do for a long time. So I went out for a short time.

I remember in my days in the Boy Scouts, one of the tings we did was measure the length of our stride. That is, we measured the length of our step. That way, if you were given directions, say, to walk a certain direction for 100 feet and then turn right, you could do that by simply counting your steps (after you figured out how many of your steps it took to make up 100 feet). So, we all took turns taking 10 steps in soft ground. We then measured the length (from heel to heel) of the 10 steps and divided by 10. This gave us a good average because each step wouldn't be exactly the same. Some people suggest taking 20 steps and I suppose that gives you a better number. But for our purposes, 10 steps was enough. I remember that my stride length was 2.5 feet. I often used that number as I'd go for hikes or need to measure things outside when I didn't have a long tape measure.

But it's been almost 50 years since that measurement was made and I've been wondering for years if it has changed. So, the snow outside gave me the chance to measure my stride again. I took the 10 steps and measured the total and divided by 10. From the title of this post, I suppose you can guess the answer - 2.5 feet! It's amazing to me that it hasn't change. I certainly walk differently than I did back then. I tend to slouch now and I don't walk as fast. I thought maybe I am a bit taller now than I was when I was 15 or 16, too. And I'm certainly heavier. I weighed about 140 - 150 pounds back then and I weight 220 pounds now. So, with all those changes, you'd think my step length would have changed. But it didn't. It's nice to know that all those directions I've followed since then and all those things I measured with my stride since then were correct.

Monday, April 04, 2016

It's Spring?

Here it is, the fourth day of April and it's snowing again. This is the view out the window at work into our parking lot. It's not a bad storm and it's kind of pretty but - come on! It's time for the flowers to bloom and the birds to sing.

At least it's not a bad as the storm we had here on April first back in 1997 when we got about a foot of snow (if I remember correctly). I still remember talking with customers on the phone when I was one of the few people to get to work that day. They wondered why they were talking with an engineer instead of the technical support group or the shipping group. People in other parts of the country didn't realize how unexpected and large the snowstorm had been.

So, it could have been that bad so I should stop complaining, be glad it's warm inside and get back to work.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Getting ready for the elections - Part 2

This is the second of my posts about finding ways to get to the truth about the issues in the upcoming elections. The candidates and their followers will say a lot of things between now and November. Some of it will be truthful and some of it will be lies. Some of it will contain some truth to hide the lies. and some will just be mistakes. In "Getting ready for the elections - Part 1", I listed three websites that I use to find out what the facts are in the issues and in the statements the candidates make.

Now, in this post, I cover a different way of interpreting the statements and arguments made by the candidates. That is by looking for False Arguments or Errors in Logic. Just because we find someone making a false argument or making a mistake in their logic doesn't mean they are lying or, conversely, if they make a perfectly logical argument, it doesn't mean that they are telling the truth. It just gives us a way of seeing if the argument they are using is valid. Maybe they are trying to say the correct things but are just getting it wrong. This would be like me trying to convince you that the apple we are both looking at is really red when other people are saying it is green. It may really be red but I could make a fallacious argument, say by using a bad analogy. I might say, "That apple is a fruit and here is another fruit that is red so the apple must also be red." Well, that is just a bad argument. It doesn't mean the apple isn't red. It just means you're talking with a person that doesn't know how to make a good argument. You should call me on that and force the conversation back to logic.

But this can also help us not be convinced of something that is just wrong. By looking at the logic of the argument, you can look at the individual pieces of the argument and independently check them for truth. Earlier this month, I read an article on one of my favorite blogs, Earl Pomerantz: Just Thinking, in a post titled "Inside Job", where Mr. Pomerantz starts by talking about how hard it is to have a discussion where one side is arguing from a logical standpoint while the other side is arguing from emotion. He says that emotion will win and we have to watch out for that.

But then he goes on to talk about how even a logical argument can be subverted by a logical fallacy. For instance, in the argument about when one side sees that it does better in elections if the voter turnout is low while the other side does better if the turnout is high. One panelist said that since both sides work to get the turnout in their favor, it all evens out. But Mr. Pomerantz labels this as a false dichotomy meaning that they are making these things seem equal when they are not. After all, working to lower the voter turnout is a subversion of our democracy and everyone should avoid trying to get fewer people to vote.

If you look at the comments to that post, you'll see that I responded with a short list of websites that talk about other logical fallacies and I will repeat those here (with some more additions I've found since then). I think it is important for us to be able to analyze an argument to get at the truth. This is important not only in politics and in this election year. It is an important skill to have in general. While I think it is wrong to learn how to win an argument just for the sake of winning, I think it is important to know how to argument effectively and truthfully so we can convince people of our ideas and to let people know what we think. We should strive to present our ideas in a clear and understandable manner and we should do it without distorting the truth.

If you want to learn more about the idea of logical fallacies, you might want to look at these websites:

The Fallacy Files - This is a blog with periodic posts about where logical fallacies show up and how to spot them. It also has a drop-down list of named fallacies you can use to look up a specific fallacy.

Logical Fallacies section at the Nizkor Project - This is just one part of a larger website that is intended for educational purposes to teach about the Holocaust and to combat hatred. It lists the logical fallacies to deconstruct arguments that the Holocaust didn't happen or that there were good reasons for the terrible things the Nazis did.

A list of fallacious arguments - This a part of the website run by a computer scientist who seems to want to investigate arguments that distort the truth about global warming, UFOs and scientific creationism. He has a nice list of specific logical fallacies and short descriptions of them with examples.

The Wikipedia list of fallacies - Of course you knew there had to be a Wikipedia entry for something like this. This is similar to the others but it is arranged differently and links to other Wikipedia pages about the specific types of fallacy. But each one has a short definition on the main page to help you find what you're looking for.

There are more but that is enough to get started. I find it fascinating that people have studied this and given names to different types of false arguments. It's nice to know that some people are interested in
trying to wall off the bad arguments that can be used to distort the truth or to persuade people of the wrong thing. Lets hope the candidates won't make us work too hard to see through their lies.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

He is risen

Today is Easter and we went to a wonderful service at our church. The music was great. The crowds were happy and excited. We enjoyed seeing friends and meeting new people. Our pastor's message was inspiring and exciting. But with all that and including the clear skies, it wasn't the best part!

The best part is the part that's been around since that Sunday dawn over 2,000 years ago. It is the heart of our faith and our hope. It's the reason for an entire religion. Did you ever think about that? If Jesus had not risen this day, there would be no Christians. There would have been 11 guys and a number of women and a bunch of other followers that would have just died out. After Jesus was captured and tried, found guilty, crucified and buried, his most ardent supporters went into hiding. Only one of them went to his crucifixion to show his support and to comfort Jesus' mother. They were defeated and had were now only interested in their own preservation. They thought it was over.

But after they saw that Jesus had risen - what a difference! They willingly came out of hiding so they could spread the good news. Before, they were hiding to save themselves. Afterward, they came out of hiding to spread the good news that Jesus was alive. And it's the Good News that is the best part of this day - just as it has been since that first Easter. That good news is that we are given something that we cannot, even with all our effort and determination, earn for ourselves. We are offered forgiveness and pardon. We are offered grace that we didn't, and can never, earn.

He is risen, indeed. Be glad and rejoice!

[Update: You can watch the message at this link and view the PDF discussion notes on the same page or by following this link]

Friday, March 25, 2016

Getting ready for the elections - Part 1

Yes, I guess I'm a little late. The Presidential Election campaigns have been going for quite some time. It feels like they've been going on forever - or at least since the last election in 2012. I'm going to try to stay neutral but I will pick someone to vote for in the end.

Until November, we are going to hear a lot things said by the candidates and their supporters and you need a way to help figure out where the truth is. More than ever, I find candidates are just saying things that they know are not true but they are willing to be found out later as long as it stops their opponents at that moment. They figure that by the time they are found out, they will have figured a way to twist what they said into something else. But what we need is a way to quickly find out where the truth is and to not be fooled into thinking they know what they are saying.

I'm going to present a few links in two categories in two posts. The category for this post is Fact Checking. I've mentioned the Snopes site before and it is very good at helping to expose things that are just plain wrong or may just be mistakes. But if you get an email from someone who says the President just abolished the Supreme Court, Snopes is a good place to check. The only thing is that Snopes covers everything from people finding fingers in their fast food to web pages that rewrite the history of the railroads. So, to find information about the political campaigns, you have to dig through a lot of other things. But just in case you can't click on the link above, here is the link spelled out:

A politics-only site is PolitiFact (here's the link spelled out: I find their format much easier to look over quickly. If you want to look into the item in more depth, you can click on that item and see a more in-depth discussion. But they have a nice meter (a Mostly True reading  is shown to the left) for each item that shows how much of the candidates statement is true or false. Yes, very few things are completely true or false. There are subtleties to any statement and the folks at PolitiFact look into that for us. It saves a lot of time but is very thorough. All of the sources for their article are available so you can make your own determination, too.

The other site I want to highlight is (that link spelled out is simply It is run by the highly regarded Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. It is not a politics-only site like PolitiFact but neither is it as broad as Snopes. But since politicians are usually the ones making questionable statements, the majority of the items at FactCheck are about the people running for President. You can usually get the idea of whether the statement made is true or false by the headline given to that article. But this site makes you do a bit more reading to get the answer. Again, there is a link to click to get a more in-depth discussion and you will find links to all the sources for the articles along with charts and tags for similar articles.

There is so much information flying around out there and this is such an important decision to be making that I think it is everyone's duty to check up on the claims being made by the people who want to run our country. If you don't check up on them, you have only yourself to blame if the wrong person gets elected.

My next post will be a discussion on Logical Fallacies. These are the misleading ways people can make a statement and make it sound true when it is really false. They usually show up in a debate but they can show up anywhere.

[Update: The second part of "Getting read for the elections" can be found in this post.]

Friday, March 18, 2016

A radio show reminds me of a story my father told me

Last Friday when I was listening to the radio on my way to work, I heard an interview on Morning Edition at National Public Radio that reminded me of stories my father used to tell me.

The show I heard was an interview with actress Helen Mirren and director Gavin Hood about their new movie Eye in the Sky about the use of drones to hunt and kill terrorists. By using those remote controlled weapons, they found themselves isolated from the action and making decisions about whether innocent people should be killed in an attack to get the terrorists before they dispersed. They were making those decisions from their safe position. Would it affect the decision they made? I know this is a current question but it is similar to how war has always been run by politicians and generals who are also removed from the fighting and making decisions about innocent lives without seeing them first hand. This is a separate, interesting thing to discuss in another post.

What reminded me of my father's story was the part where Ms. Mirren was talking about London during World War 2 when the Germans sent unmanned flying bombs (the V-1 which was really an early type of jet) over the city that were loaded with explosives. Their flights were timed to end over the city and when they crashed, the explosives would destroy large parts of the city and kill many people. She talked about the distinctive sound of the engines (they were called "Buzz Bombs" or "Doodlebugs" because of that sound) and how people would hear them and pray that the engine would keep going for a while longer. Once the engine cut out, there would be an explosion a few seconds later and it could kill you or people in your neighborhood.

My father was born in Wales and his mother and he moved to London before the war. He joined the Royal Air Force and was usually out of the city at his base. But when he would be on leave, he would come to London to visit his mother. He remembered first hearing the Buzz Bombs and thinking it was just some different type of airplane. When he heard the engine cut out, he thought to himself, "Good. They got that one." Only later did he find out the story about why the engines cut out. He always talked about how terrifying it was to hear the sound of those engines and wonder when the engine would cut out. He said he always felt safer when it was time to leave his mother and go back to the military base. But he was always afraid for his mother who couldn't get out of the city. I suppose she would have gone if she could.

You can listen to the interview and read the transcript of the radio story at this link.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Not so bad this year

I never thought I'd be writing this but here it is - the time change this past week-end wasn't so bad for me this year. I have to read that again myself because I can't even believe my own words. We "spang ahead" at 2 AM Sunday morning, March 13, lost an hour of sleep and I didn't feel it! That has never happened before.

In fact, I usually write about how I hate the time change; I hate both fall and spring - but especially spring. I've written about it in spring 2009, fall 2011 and spring 2012. And now again. But this is the first time that I can remember that it hasn't disrupted my life. I was finding that as I got older, it was becoming harder and harder to adjust each time we changed the clocks. But now this. Am I getting younger? Maybe last November, when we turned the clocks back one hour, we really turned them back and now we're all much younger than we were before. At least I feel that way. I don't think I ever got through a time change this well even when I was much younger. But I don't want to analyze it too much. I'll just enjoy this while I can.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Another good movie

We've had a pretty good run of movies lately. Last week-end, we went to see Zootopia. Even though we'd seen the trailers before the earlier movies, I wasn't really sure what we were getting into. The part we saw before, the main characters need to get information at the registry of motor vehicles where all of the workers are sloths and they move and talk very slowly. This is especially funny because the person needing their help is a rabbit who is in a hurry. It was really well done and we all enjoyed that scene. But you always worry that maybe you've seen the best part of the movie.

Well, we were happy to find out that we hadn't seen the best part of the movie. It was a delightful mix of an interesting story (most of it is a mystery), wonderfully intricate animation (you'll have a hard time seeing all the jokes in the background the first time you watch this) and really good voice acting. The voices were one of the things I was worried about. I knew that a lot of famous actors were doing the voices and I find that doesn't usually work very well. But this time, it worked. I thought the voices matched the characters very well.

They were very careful to keep all of the animals in character. The main story line is introduced at the beginning of the movie in a school play where they point out that now, predators and prey live peacefully together. But it is never quite that simple and we also learn right away that the predators can still be dangerous and they prey must be careful. The big mystery starts when a number of predators go missing. But just before they disappear, it seems that they have reverted to their age-old instinct for predation. It's up to the main characters to figure out what is going on. There are a few misleading clues and they think they've found the answer but it turns out that there is more to it. All the while, we meet a fascinating mix of characters and situations. The time flew by. The themes are not as simple as you may often see in an animated movie whose main audience will be young children. I think they aimed higher with this movie. We all enjoyed it.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Power from the sun

Facing south-east

We have had solar panels installed on our house and we've been doing quite well - mostly generating more power than we use. And it's still winter and the sun is low. I should have written about this when we first did it. As it is, I'm going to have to update this post when I finally get around to taking pictures of our set up. We have two sets of panels. One facing south-east and one facing south-west. So, we get pretty good coverage. There is an app or smart phones that lets you track how much energy you are using and how much you are producing. It really makes you aware of what is going on and helps us conserve.

There are more and more options for getting solar power for your house. But the two main groups are that you can either buy the equipment yourself or you can have a service provider install the equipment and buy your power from them. We opted for the second one and decided on Solar City as our provider. It really is a no-lose proposition. We didn't have to pay anything. Let me emphasize that. We didn't pay a penny for this. There were no hidden costs. The salesman came to our house and asked some questions about our usage and looked our place up on Google maps and did a preliminary estimate on how many panels we could install and how much energy could be produced by them. He gave us an estimate for how much power we'd get from the panels versus how much we'd still need from the power company. Then, a more exacting survey is done where they draw up the final design and then they start applying for permits from the town and state. Once those are done, the work crew comes out and does the installation. They were very fast and neat and left nothing laying around after they were done. Then, the big wait was fro the power company to come and install a different kind of power meter that can run backwards. Yes, as it is now, we are selling power back to the power company most days.
Facing south-west

So, this is how it works. We buy our solar power from Solar City at about half the rate we were paying the power company. Then, we get credit for power we sell back to the power company. And we don't have any maintenance to do. I have heard people say that they are better off with their purchase of the solar panels and other equipment because the power is essentially free. But they do have to buy the equipment and maintain it and we never have to worry about that. But you can look into those options yourself. Just be prepared to deal with your state and town, though. But maybe you can find a company that will help you with that. With Solar City, we had to do nothing but turn on the switch.

I added the pictures of our collectors on March 6.

Monday, February 29, 2016


As a software engineer and a computer user, one of the things I am used to having is the ability to undo an operation. It's just second nature for computer users. There are so many places where you can make a mistake that you need the ability to undo the mistake. There are many places in life that you can't undo your mistakes and I understand that, too. Get off the highway at the wrong exit? You've got to navigate the unknown roads until you get back on the highway going the right way. Drop something in the toilet, without noticing it, and flush - there is no undo for that. But something we use all the time that surprised me that should have an undo that doesn't is an elevator.

I happened to be using one the other day and mistakenly hit the wrong button. It was easy enough to then hit the right button but there was no way to undo hitting the wrong button. It's not the end of the world but it would be so easy to add that feature that I'm surprised no one has. At least no elevator I've ever seen has that undo capability. In my case, I was alone and the floor I mistakenly pressed was beyond the floor I wanted. But it meant that someone trying to use the elevator after me was going to have to wait as the elevator went one more floor  in the same direction as I was going (down in this case). So some poor (or unfortunate) person above was going to have to wait just a little longer for the car to come back their way.

Like I said, it's not the end of the world. It's just one more inconvenience in our day but those things add up. I wonder if the elevator manufacturer would mind not having an undo after they mistakenly delete the pictures they took on their last vacation? I think not.

Happy Extra Day, by the way. What are you planning on doing on your free day that only comes once every four years?

Saturday, February 27, 2016


Today is my birthday. It's a big one. Today, I'm turning 65 and that means I must register for Medicare. At least for Part A. I don't have to sign up for Part B only because I am still working and have insurance there. But if I didn't, I'd need to register for Medicare Part B, too.

But beside that, 65 doesn't seem any different than 64 and that hasn't seemed any different than the last 5 or 6 birthdays. In many ways, I feel better than I have in years. It takes me a little longer to stand up when I've been sitting for a while and I can't reach as many places on my body as I used to and I don't hear things as clearly in my left ear (and the ringing, or tinnitus, is pretty bad in that ear, too). But other than that, I'd don't feel that bad. I'm not taking any pills other than a multivitamin. My heart is in good shape and I can still walk for miles and lift things without hurting myself.

This year, I got some nice books, a very nice movie on DVD, some nice coffee and some money. The movie I got is From Up on Poppy Hill. It is an animated movie from Studio Ghibli in Japan. Our family has loved the Studio Ghibli movies since we first saw My Neighbor Totoro. From Up on Poppy Hill is now one of our favorites. It's a wonderful story of two high school students who meet and fall in love only to find out that they may not be able to express their love as they would have hoped. But there is even more to appreciate about this movie with it's interesting situations and eccentric characters. It's lovingly drawn images of Yokohama as it existed in 1963 make me wish I could have visited Japan at that time. It also mixes in a theme that we can relate to now with worries about balancing progress with preserving the past.

The first book I got is The Finest Hours. You may have seen my earlier review of the movie The Finest Hours. It was seeing that movie that made me want to read the book so I asked for it for my birthday. It goes into finer detail and covers more aspects of the amazing story of the Coast Guard rescue of the men from two ships caught in a terrible storm in 1952 off the coast of Cape Cod. As books can, this one covers more of the back story of the characters in these events and gives more details about what happened and who these people really were. Now that I've seen the movie, I'm sure those images will be running through my mind as I read.

The other book, I know much less about. I've been hearing about it for years and have A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is about a young man taking over the raising of his younger brother (with help from his sister and some friends) when their parents both die within a month of each other. I can't tell you much more about this book (unless I just parrot back other reviews) because I haven't read much of it yet. But just reading the section titled "Rules and Suggestions for Enjoyment of This Book" and the Preface has been excited about what lies ahead.
meant to buy it myself but when you have a birthday coming up, why not get someone else to buy it for you?

The coffee I got is from our favorite coffee roaster, Green Mountain Coffee.  Unfortunately, Green Mountain Coffee bought the Keurig single-serving coffee makers and most of their website is devoted to those. I guess you can make more profit from a device instead of the actual coffee so I can't make too much of a fuss about that. But if you want to get to the real coffee (ground coffee or whole beans instead of the pods used in the Keurig coffee makers), you can go to this page. The two I got are Mocha Nut Fudge (pictured on the left which I've never tried before) and French Vanilla flavored coffee. I've had their French Vanilla (and hazelnut and many other varieties) and love them all. I've loved Green Mountain coffee since I had it in the inn my wife and I stayed in for our honeymoon. Whenever I have Green Mountain coffee, it reminds me of those wonderful days - 22 years ago.