Friday, January 29, 2016

The night visitor

Photo from Wikipedia, see link below
No, this is not a post about the excellent movie, The Night Visitor, but you should look that up and watch it sometime. This is a story that I remembered a few days ago and want to write down before I forget it - again.

When I first moved to Cape Cod (about 38 years ago), I shared a small house in Woods Hole with two other guys. We shared cooking duties and were members of a food cooperative and bought food in bulk and stored it in pantries and cupboards around the house. At some point, we noticed that certain containers were knocked over and the food spilled out. At first, we thought we had just not stored the food canisters correctly. There was a lot of food to store and not a lot of room. We had to squeeze containers into the small cabinets and thought we were just being careless and that the containers were falling because they weren't balanced. At first.

So, we spent more time ensuring that the food was stored properly. But it kept happening and seemed to be getting more frequent. Then we noticed the little footprints in the flour. They looked like tiny little hands and we recognized them as raccoon footprints. So, we weren't careless we were just clueless.

We looked for a way the little guys could be getting in. We never left the doors open and there were screens over the windows. We checked the screens and none were ripped or loose. Then we noticed the cat door (or dog door?) on the front door. We didn't need it because none of us had a pet and we'd forgotten about it but it appeared that the raccoons had noticed it. So, we blocked it up and congratulated ourselves. The night visits actually stopped - for a while.

Then we started seeing food containers opened and scattered again. We were at a loss. We double checked for openings, loose doors or loose windows. Nothing. Then the raccoons got into the pots and pans one night. The fellow who slept downstairs where the food was stored was roused from his sleep and ran into the living room and heard them escaping up the chimney. Could that be how they got in, too? When we went into the kitchen in the morning, it looked like the chimney was the way they got in because of all the sooty little paw marks all over everything. We figured it would be easy to solve this by just making sure the flue was closed each night. We rarely used the fireplace anyway. It was easier to remember to open the flue when we needed it that to constantly be cleaning up the kitchen and food storage areas every night.

That worked for a little while but then they learned how to open the flue. So, finally, we decided to get some fencing with really small spacing but think enough to hold up to an all-out attack by our little friends. Finally, we weren't bothered anymore and they must have found somewhere else to get their midnight snacks.

The photo above is from Germany via Wikipedia. Here's the link.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I don't understand economics

I am no businessman. All of the options in financial markets are beyond my understanding. If it wasn't for people who do understand those things, I would not have much money in my retirement fund. So, with that out of the way, and my qualifications fully shown to be worthless, I'll tell you how ridiculous I find the recent drops in the US stock market and people warning of dire things in our future.

Oil prices are dropping and the Chinese economy appears to be stagnating. So, our stock market is dropping. This does not make sense to me. If oil is cheap, except for those unfortunate people who work in that business, it's good for the rest of us. It is cheaper to drive our cars. Car sales are up. It is cheaper to heat our homes. Energy prices in general are dropping. This is a good thing! Out stock market should be climbing because a major expense for most businesses and homeowners is dropping.

The Chinese are a big competitor to our country's businesses. People have lamented the fact that US manufacturing jobs are being lost because the Chinese are building things cheaper there. Now, those plants are struggling and we have the opportunity (if we take it) to move those manufacturing jobs here. Also, the Chinese have been very aggressive (in a business way) of selling their goods to developing countries and they have been investing in those countries. Now that is harder for them and it gives our businesses an opening into those markets. This is a good thing! Our stock market should be climbing.

"Ah," but people say. "If the Chinese economy falters, it means less demand for our goods and services." Well, how many things have we ever been able to sell to China? They are closed to our imports and make it very hard for our businesses to get a start there. They demand all kinds of things from businesses that want to invest in China. In our country, governments tend to give businesses big breaks to move their area (just recently, General Electric decided to move its headquarters to Boston because of big tax breaks and other concessions from the state and city). We're not losing much. This is just another great opportunity for US businesses. If they still want to go to China, the conditions should favor them over the demands the government there wants to make.

But as I said at the start of this post - I don't know anything about this. But to me, it's a chance for people to whine and for other people to take advantage of us in the stock market. To me, this is all just a big diversion by the people with power in the monetary markets.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Happy birthday Mom

Today, my mother is 91 years old. She is holding a small arrangement of flowers my wife picked out for her for the occasion. Mom loves them. My daughter was excited just to be carrying them and give them to her grandma. They were the hit of the party. She needs every bit of happiness we can help her get because she has had a rough few years. She had been living alone (my father died in 1993) in her house until September 2014 and managing pretty well. My wife and I had been trying to get her to move closer to us since we married 22 years ago but she "didn't want to be a burden". Then, she broke her hip in May 2014 and things haven't been the same since.

I need to write up what happened after that before I forget all the details. But the end result is that she sold her house and moved from a tiny town south of Pittsburgh to an assisted living facility on Cape Cod so that I can be close to help her. It hasn't been easy. She has gone from one medical problem to the next. The last problem she had was that she fell and hurt her head and had to go to the hospital to be checked out. That was before Christmas. After she got out of the hospital, she was moved to a nursing facility to get some physical therapy she she could move back to her apartment in the assisted living facility. She was supposed to be back in her apartment by the end of the year. Then she developed a respiratory problem and was sent back to the hospital for a week. Now, she's back in the nursing facility for physical therapy again. That's where this picture was taken.

Before the fall before Christmas, Mom had only needed oxygen at night while she slept but now she is on oxygen all day and at a higher rate. But she is definitely doing better. She is more alert than she was when the respiratory problem wiped her out. She had been confused and even had trouble eating. She was in bed most of the day but now she can sit in her wheelchair for long periods and knows more about what is happening around her. When she gets back to reading her Bible and doing her crossword puzzles, I'll know she ready to move back to her apartment.

The bottom picture is a better view of the flowers. You can click on it to see it better but these are not very good pictures. Something doesn't seem right with my camera. It has real trouble in low light situations but even with the flash, it doesn't take clear pictures like it used to.

Everything wears out over time. Some things can be fixed and some things just can't be helped. With people, it's important not to give up hope. You have to be realistic but I think the best thing for my mother is understanding, hope, love and planning for her 92nd birthday.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Salada Taglines

I remember drinking Salada Tea as a young child. My father was born in Wales and lived there and in London for most of his younger years. So, his love of tea isn't a surprise. My mother also had a Welsh and British heritage and drank tea, too. It was only natural that I'd start drinking tea at an early age. I always remember our teachers in grade school telling us not to drink tea or coffee because it would stunt our growth. I was the tallest kid in school. But maybe I'd be taller than 6' 2" now if I hadn't drunk that evil stuff.

Salada tea was one of my parents' favorites. And I remember reading the Salada Taglines as soon as I could read. As a matter of fact, I believe it helped me learn to read because I'd see a word I didn't know on the tagline and ask my parents about it. I hadn't been reading the little sayings printed on the backs of the tag for a long time but recently started reading them again. Here are some of my favorites.

A meeting is an event where the minutes are kept and the hours are lost.

Do today what you may not get to do tomorrow.

Among economists, the real world is often a special case.

To err is human - to blame it on someone else is even more human.

Insurance is what keeps people poor so they can die rich.

He who laughs last probably didn't get the joke.

Bronze doors at Salada's old Boston
headquarters - click for a better view
Salada is an old company. It was started in 1892 but the taglines weren't added until the 1960's from an idea by a Salada employee named John Colpitts (that's his picture at the top - it's from a page of Salada history at their website). An interesting tidbit is that when the company opened a headquarters in Boston (at 330 Stuart Street), it commissioned Henry Wilson  to create the large bronze doors for its entrance. Follow the link to see other bronze doors Mr. Wilson designed. The company moved out of the building in 1959 but the doors remain there. You can go to Google Street View and still see them as I did here. A screenshot is at the left. Click on the picture to get a better view. Too bad the van was driving by as the Google folks were taking the picture.

These little sayings don't prove anything and they won't win an argument for you. They won't change the world and they won't give you the answers to the tests you need to take. They are just fun to read and think about. And some quotes from some pretty famous people have been used as the taglines, too. Since it's only a couple of days since the holiday named for him, here's one for one of the famous people to end this post.
Let no man pull you low enough to hate him.   Martin Luther King Jr.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Walk away back pain

On the way home tonight, I was listening to the radio and a story came on about the number one way doctors have found to help with lower back pain. It's not a device and it's not a pill. It's not an operation and it's not some weird treatment. It's exercise. I would heartily agree with that. I find that when I haven't been walking for a while, my back starts to bother me. The longer I go without walking, the worse it gets. My back mostly bothers me at night while I'm laying in bed. But if I can keep walking (20-30 minutes a day five days a week), I have no back pain. The story was on All Things Considered on National Public Radio and the specific story, is entitled "Forget The Gizmos: Exercise Works Best For Lower-Back Pain".

But another thing I think that helps, and I've never seen this written up anywhere, is riding my scooter. When you're on a scooter, you have to hold your back straight. In a car, you just lean back but there's nothing to lean against on the scooter. I don't know if it's the same with a motorcycle. The people I see on motorcycles are not sitting as straight up as we scooter riders have to do. That would be an interesting study - if anyone is motivated. But you'll have to get your own scooter for the tests.

Friday, January 08, 2016

A sneaky way to get a date

As this is our 22nd wedding anniversary, I was thinking about how wonderful it is to be married to my wife. And we both say how happy we are not to have to be dating anymore. As I thought about how hard it was to be dating, I remembered a bit of weird logic I used a couple of times to get a woman to agree to go out on a date with me. I would tell her I was going to ask her three questions and she could answer, "Yes" or "No" to them.

The first question was, "Do you promise to be completely honest with me and answer the questions truthfully?" This sometimes caused a little worry because they might think I could ask a very personal question that might be embarrassing. So, I assured them, on the side, that I wasn't going to ask an embarrassing question.

The second question was  a hypothetical question. I'd say, "What if my third question will be, 'Will you go out with me this week-end?' Would your answer to that question be the same as your answer to this question?" That's the logic problem. If she would say, "Yes" to this second question, it meant she would need to answer, "Yes" when I asked her the third question which would, indeed, be, "Will you go out with me this week-end?" If she answered, "No" to the second question, meaning that her answers would be different, she would still need to answer, "Yes" to the third question.

Of course, this is more of a joke than anything else and it tended to give us something more to talk about.. My potential dates were not obligated to go out with me, of course. I think I only used this a couple of times and it was with women who were inclined to go out with me anyway. But since I don't need this anymore, you are welcome to use it if you'd like.

Good luck.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

When a leaky basement isn't a leaky basement

from Heritage Plantation in Sandwich, MA
I was reminded of something that I want to write down before I forget again. After one memorable rain recently, everyone was telling stories about it the next day at work. But as I listened, I remembered how I used to always run down to our basement after a heavy rain to see if I could find where our basement was leaking. I assumed that as I plugged the leaks I found, it would get better but it never seemed to improve. I'd see water near the door out of our basement and I assumed there was a leak around our bulkhead door (that's a metal covering over the steps that lead out of our basement and up to the back yard). After all, if the basement wall wasn't cracked, how else could water be leaking into the basement?

I'd seal around the bulkhead and I'd seal the joints between the basement wall and the wall around the stairs leading out of the basement. Then, sometimes, after the next rain I would see no water. But other times, after a rain of similar proportions, I would see water. What was going on? And the worst part was, the more I sealed up what I thought were leaks, the worse it seemed to get. At one point, it looked like it wasn't just leaking into the basement but also leaking along the floor above. So, the leak must not be low in the wall but higher up near where the floor is. It was very frustrating and this went of for years. I just got used to running down stairs to mop up the water I'd find and then go on another search for where the water was coming in.

Finally, it got so bad that water was falling on our water heater and dripping on the electronic controller. At first I thought the leak was in the pipes leading to the water heater but I couldn't find any problems there. I fashioned a metal cover to try to keep the water off the controller but that leaked, too. We ended up having to get a new water heater. And the leaks in the base continued.

Finally, one day I happened to be down in the basement while the leaking was occurring. There was no rain outside and the water heater, which had just been installed a couple of weeks before, was not the problem. Then I realized that the dishwasher was running! It was right above the area where the leaks seemed to be coming from and where the water heater was located. With that thought in mind, I pulled back all the insulation in the basement ceiling and traced the wet floorboards back to the area where the dishwasher was standing on the floor above. I unhooked the supports for the dishwasher and pulled it out and there it was. The people who had installed the dishwasher had used copper pipe to hook up the dishwasher instead of flexible hosing.. When they'd pushed it back into place, the pipe had bent and weakened its walls. After years of using it, it started to leak and was getting worse. One of the factors that made it seem like it was night-time rains that were causing the problem was that this dishwasher was terribly noisy. You couldn't carry on a conversation or watch TV when the thing was on. So, we usually ran it at night while we slept upstairs.. If it happened to coincide with a night-time rain, I'd be down there looking for a leak and it reinforced that idea. If there was no rain during the night, I wouldn't check for it and if I happened to go down in the basement later and see water, I'd just think it was left over from the last big rain.

We got a new dishwasher and we haven't had the problem again. Plus, the new dishwasher is so nice and quiet that we can run it any time and it doesn't interfere with our TV watching or with our conversations. And it was hooked up with a flexible hose so a kinked copper pipe won't be a problem this time.  Sometimes, the solution to a problem depends on changing how you look for the problem. Or when you look.

Monday, January 04, 2016

We saw Star Wars Episode 7

My son and I went to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens the week after it opened. We had hoped the crowds would have died down by then but they hadn't. We purchased our tickets online but got to the theater just before the previews started and had trouble finding seats together. One person was reserving an entire row of seats by placing their coats over some of the empty seats and simply waving their hands over the other seats saying, "These are reserved, too." Does that seem fair? Some nice folks in the last row offered to move over so that we could sit together - without our even asking!

My son and I enjoyed the movie. The time passed too quickly. I liked the new characters a lot and thought the dialog was much better than in the previous six episodes. And the special effects, not surprisingly, were much better than previous episodes. It's been 10 years, after all, so if they hadn't been better, it would be a shock. But it wasn't just the effects themselves that were better. They were used better, too. The dogfights between the Rebel ships and the ships of the new Empire (called the First Order) were incredible. They looked so real and drew you in. We really liked the fact that they brought in the old characters from the earlier episode. I liked the fact that the new bad guy (Kylo Ren) is not seemingly invincible and is really very immature. I also liked the fact that the most powerful good "guy" in this episode is a woman. It adds a whole different feel to the movie. And she is still discovering the power she has so we get to be surprised along with her as she learns. There were a few sticking points to us but they didn't ruin he movie. I won't go into them here because they really are not that important.

One thing I do want to address, though, is the complaint I've heard by some reviewers about how similar the plot of this episode is to the original Episode 4 plot. Yes, there are many things you could add to a checklist of things that are superficially similar between the two movies kind of like you can make a list of similarities between the assassinations of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Like the assassination list, there is a much longer list of big differences. Also, I found it ironic that this past week the news was about how the new movie passed Titanic and Jurassic World in the list of most profitable movies of all time. The fact that these two movies had so much in common with previous versions doesn't seem to have registered with those reviewers.

It's a very entertaining movie with a deep story and it makes me very excited about the upcoming movies because there are a lot of questions that still need answers. We can't wait.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Looking at the future

On this New Year's Day, it's interesting to think about the life insurance commercial where they asked 2,400 people to put magnets of different colors on a big time-line. The magnets were labeled with positive and negative events in our lives (marriage, birth of a child, loss of a loved one, job success, losing a job). The positive events were colored yellow and the negative events were colored blue. After everyone had placed the events on the board, they pulled the camera back to look at the whole board and you could see by the colors that the past was a fairly even mix of blue (negative) and yellow (positive). Actually, it was 60% positive and 40% negative. The future, though, was overwhelmingly yellow or positive (84% positive and 16% negative). It seems like most people think the future will be better. After all, isn't that why we get up every morning and do what we do?

The message of the commercial was that people don't tend to think that bad things might happen to them and they don't plan for the worst. Of course, the life insurance company wants you to use their product to help you plan for the future.

But then you ask yourself if you can really divide events into positive and negative. For instance,  I got what I thought was the dream job only to find myself working for a jerk. What color would that be? And would people really show their true thoughts out on a plaza in front of other people and cameras? I'm not sure. But it is important to realize that even though we are mostly optimistic about the future, it's important to keep an open mind that bad things could happen. As the company says, it's good to be optimistic but it's also good to plan realistically.

Happy New Year to you all. It will be a better year this year. If you don't remember the ad or never saw it, you can find a copy here. I'm not advocating this company or even life insurance. But,
A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
    The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. Proverbs 22:3 NLT