Travel and appetite

Some days when I’m traveling, my appetite gets extremely erratic. I’m not sure why…my current theory is that my digestion slows to almost nothing when I have to sit for like twelve hours without moving, and it may take several days to get moving again.

Anyway, we’re in Copenhagen, and I’m having one of those days. We got up and ate at the restaurant buffet (and I ate too much, as I always do at buffets). Then we went to Tivoli Gardens, and walked around looking for something to do. Unfortunately, there were two things to do: ride carnival rides, or eat at the restaurants. And I couldn’t work up an appetite for anything.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a 7-Eleven to get some drinks. They had something under the counter called “Raw Balls” that caught our eye, so we bought 3 of those, and I ate one and a bite of another.

So that’s my total food consumption today: breakfast, and one-and-a-fraction Raw Balls.

Bah. Bots.

Am I the only person who hangs up on an incoming phone call the moment you hear that pause at the start that means that a predictive dialer is looking for a human to take over?

You’d think they’d game it to make the system make a little noise during that pause, like a cough to make you think the person who’s calling is there, but momentarily inconvenienced. Admittedly, we’d all learn to recognize those little tricks as well, but it’d work for a while.

I was sitting at my desk at home this morning when the land line rang. Absent-mindedly, I immediately answered it.

Pause. Classic predictive-dialer dead-air sound.

Then a human voice came on the line: “Hello?” Without even thinking I hung the phone up. 

Some time later I tried to check the caller ID to see who I’d hung up on, but for some reason the call wasn’t listed. Perhaps it’d been too short in duration to be captured.

I idly wonder who it was… but I don’t really care. They didn’t call back. Can’t have been very important.

(I’d turn off our land line entirely but having it is how we get DSL.)

Unread Email

 

I work for a software company. I travel all over the USA consulting with and training our customers. As a consequence of this, it’s not uncommon that I get a glimpse of someone’s email — usually because they’re connected to the projector and happened to need to go into their email to look something up. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to restrain myself from going “you have HOW many unread emails?”

Earlier this week, I was at one such customer site. And one of their staff did exactly what I said above — launched their email while connected to the projector. And right there on the screen, next to their inbox, was the indicator that they had 20,000 unread emails.

Twenty freaking thousand.

And this was otherwise a very competent, intelligent person who was a pleasure to work with. We’re not talking some computer-challenged person who calls the Web “the google” or thinks that everyone still uses America Online.

I wanted to say “you know, it might be an idea to just mark everything older than a month read, and get a fresh start, so you can actually use the unread indicator for its intended purpose: letting you know you have new email.” But I didn’t. Wouldn’t have done any good. There are two types of people in the world: hoarders and non-hoarders. Even in the world of email. A hoarder is terrified of getting rid of anything because it might be important some day, and that includes all those unread emails. The idea of marking everything over a month old — or, heck, over six months old — “read” would be in their eyes equivalent to tossing out the chemical process for turning lead into gold.

Now, if you’re reading this and you have lots of unread email in your inbox, you may not fall into the “hoarder” category. You might just get a lot of email, or you might be one of those people who feels that every email deserves a deep and personal and well-thought-out response.

I try to keep my inbox all but empty. In my personal email, I have Gmail rules to file new emails to folders, and I use the “is:unread” search to review them. If I look at them and go “You know, I can live without that” I just mark ’em read. I recently started unsubscribing to every mailing list I’ve signed up for over the years because, in the sober light of day, almost none of them really added any value to my life. As for personal emails from actual humans, it’s generally not hard to identify those that do need a response from those that don’t. And I just don’t let myself fall behind on those. As a result, the only stuff that ever winds up in my “inbox” folder proper is stuff from people I’ve never heard from before, which therefore don’t hit any of my rules. And I file those, and set up rules if appropriate, and my inbox goes back to its pristine emptiness.

As for work emails, well, I’m terrified that I might miss something critical… which in my job, might mean that I show up 3,000 miles away from where I’m supposed to be. I have Outlook rules that file all the corporate heads-up messages and “we’ve hired a new VP for a region of the company’s operations you’ve never heard of and will never interact with in any way” emails to a folder where I can happily mark them read and ignore after a quick glance. Other stuff gets automatically sorted into folders by customer, so I can quickly review everything relating to a given customer without having to go searching for it all. If I encounter something that’s important that I be able to find quickly, I don’t leave it unread — I flag it using an Outlook category like “Critical” or “Project Code” or “Really Important To Not Forget”. And then I have search folders where I can quickly go to those messages. And when they’re no longer important, I remove the flag.

Marking things unread just because you think they’re important is so … weird. How can you then tell the true unread stuff from the stuff you’ve read before and just need to be able to locate quickly? Which, incidentally, you can’t because it’s all mixed in with several hundred or thousand other real unread email messages?

Makes no sense to me. But on the other hand, there are people out there who eat dirt and people out there who keep sewer rats as pets. It takes all kinds to make a world.

Ick

There is nothing — and I mean NOTHING — more pleasant than stumbling across a bag of old this-and-that (miscellaneous camera gear, and suchlike) which cats have taken to peeing on. For months, as far as one can tell.

Our cats have been sabotaging us by going in places we really would rather they not — but this is probably the worst I’ve run across yet. The stench of concentrated, aged … well, you can imagine.

I think we’ve got a fix for it, though. A week or so ago I finally convinced Carole to go back to Pestell cat litter, which we used to use, in place of World’s Best, which she preferred. Carole’s been unwilling to consider a change (she is nothing if not a little bit stubborn) but we’ve had too many “they’ve did WHAT WHERE?” incidents lately. A week ago we did a trial run of Pestell in one of our many litter boxes, and in that time, the cats have used that one box almost to the exclusion of all others. Carole likes World’s Best because it produces less dust and because it seems to be less heavy for the same volume of litter. I like Pestell because the cats seem to like Pestell. He who ignores cat preferences does so at his peril.

Given the results over the last week, we went out today and bought five more bags of the Pestell. If I’m right, these little peccadilloes should soon be a thing of the past.

But for now, I’ve got some very smelly old camera parts (underwater diving case, etcetera) airing in a corner of my office. (Fortunately, the bag they were in took the worst of it.)

Ick.

Attack of the Wild Turkeys

We get wild turkeys around our house in Vermont all the time. Sometimes we see whole mobs of ’em sprinting to and fro. But lately we’ve been seeing a few adults shepherding some chicks around. Very cute!

I can’t help thinking this video needs the Imperial March (the “Darth Vader Theme”) synched to it. (If I actually did that, Disney would file a copyright infringement complaint so fast my head would spin. So just imagine it as you watch.)

Ruined Songs

Ever had a favorite song get ruined by its getting played at a really inappropriate/bad/awkward time and ever afterwards, finding yourself thinking of said tragedy whenever you hear the song? Like, oh, having your favorite Muddy Waters song playing at the exact moment a huge tree branch falls on your garage and wrecks it … and every time thereafter you hear Muddy Waters you flinch, expecting a tree to come through the roof?

I used to be a big Creedence Clearwater Revival fan. Not that I ever went to any of their concerts — they broke up when I was what, five? But I enjoyed their music.

Then came the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. I’m an alumnus of Virginia Tech. I’m also a native of Blacksburg. I was a thousand miles away when it all went down, but I couldn’t help being … rather upset each time I saw a news anchor reporting from the campus and sharing each new detail about the shootings and the deaths.

Don’t see the connection with CCR?

Well, Fox led off the 2008 Orange Bowl (pitting Virginia Tech against Kansas) pregame show with “Who’ll Stop The Rain”. As an announcer spoke of the incredible tragedy and the Tech community’s attempts to overcome the grief and shock and loss, John Fogerty’s voice was right there wailing “I went down Virginia, seekin’ shelter from the storm” / “Crowd had rushed together, tryin’ to keep warm”.

Never been able to listen to that song since.

Nostra maxima culpa

We want to apologize to our fellow Vermont residents for the extremely hot and sunny weather we’ve been experiencing this past few weeks. 
Um, see … we had solar panels put on the roof in mid-June. And, er, apparently the folks at SunCommon (our solar installer) took us seriously when I said “now, make sure we get lots of sunny weather this summer!”
We’ve been merrily cranking out the megawatts over the last three weeks, and even though we’ve run our electric heat pumps (rented from Green Mountain Power) to cool the house much more than we normally would’ve, we’ve still been returning more power to the grid than we’ve actually used:
For what it’s worth, going solar was almost disturbingly painless. SunCommon partnered with our utility, Green Mountain Power, and with the Vermont State Employees Credit Union and all we had to do was sign a couple of forms and get out of their way. VSECU’s green energy loan program made it possible to pay less per month for the solar array and system than we’re currently paying in power bills, and at the end of the loan period, we’ll own the array. Green Mountain Power hooked our array right up to the grid; they’re happy to have additional generating resources coming online and will give us net metering credits for excess power produced, which we can then cash in at night and in the winter. We’re on the waitlist for a couple of Tesla Powerwall 2 batteries; they’ll be installed sometime this year so power from our array can be stored and used locally and as a failover when there is an actual outage in our area.
My only regret is that my father didn’t live to see it. He was always super-interested in solar and even installed a solar hot water array (producing hot water for baths and showers, not electricity) on the roof of our house in Virginia when I was in high school. It didn’t work all that well, if you ask me, but it was the 1980s. Technology has come a long way since then.
I can’t guarantee that everyone across the USA will have the same fantastic results and ease of installation we’ve had; Vermont does have a pretty good green energy apparatus in place and not every state does. But that said, if you do live in Vermont or the Hudson Valley of New York and are interested in talking to SunCommon, you can use our link at https://my.suncommon.com/u/furrs to start the ball rolling. If you use our referral, SunCommon gives us both $100.
Oh, and about the weather: it turns out that really hot weather isn’t actually where you’re going to get max production from your solar panels. Sunny is good, obviously, but the panels produce better when it’s cooler. It’s just a matter of conductivity. Obviously, winter days in Vermont bring obstacles other than cold, namely, snow on panels and shorter days. But that’s why we have 36 panels, to overproduce in the summer so we build up enough net metering credits to get us through the winter.
Ain’t science grand?

Yahrzeit

Today is the one year anniversary of my mother’s death.

My mother died on the day of the summer solstice, a month and a half after her 75th birthday. I wouldn’t remember the date so well if it weren’t for those memory joggers.

Her death did not come as a shock. She’d had a stroke the previous October (that was the shock), and had been in various levels of inpatient care ever since. From ICU to transitional care to rehab facility, with a few trips to the emergency room and back to the ICU when she had severe infections. During that time, she was definitely aware of things, and could speak words clearly, but couldn’t really converse with us. She never became herself again.

Any readers who are Jewish will know that I’m using the term “Yahrzeit” incorrectly. The only thing I knew about Yahrzeit before today, was that Jews have an observance on the first anniversary of a loved one’s death. I read up on it (at this link), and learned that it is normally calculated as the anniversary of the Hebrew date, not the Gregorian date. But that’s not important to me right now.

What does matter to me about Yahrzeit is, I like the idea. I like the idea of observing the anniversary of my mother’s death, because, well, there’s a lot of adjustment to be made when someone dies, and it takes at least a year for it to sink in.

I miss talking to my mom. I missed her during the eight months she was in the hospital, but it wasn’t permanent yet. We had hope that she might get better. After she died, I had to adjust to the fact that I would never talk to her again. I don’t have any regrets about things I said or didn’t say; I think Mom and I had pretty well settled our issues a while ago. I’m glad of that, and I’m glad that I called often and kept talking to her.

Rest in peace, Mom. I love you.

Bearly There

I finally set up the game camera Carole bought me last September. We put it out back near the back porch, at a spot where we occasionally toss out food scraps, bread that’s gone stale, stuff we’ve stared at in the refrigerator off and on for days and finally given up on, and so forth. I’ve always assumed that skunks and raccoons and so forth were responsible for the food disappearing overnight, but it appears I may have been thinking too small.

So, one day we tossed out some old meatloaf. That same evening:

We knew we had the odd bear around; we’ve seen bear tracks after snow, and one time a bear ambled through our back yard in the middle of the afternoon. On that occasion, I went pelting outside, smartphone in hand, to try to take photos, but the poor bear just turned and ran into the woods.

We’re not stupid enough to put food or birdseed or anything like that out when bears are waking from hibernation. Early June is probably safe. In any event, Mr Bear didn’t make any trouble for us. He was so stealthy and quiet, it was like he was bearly there at all.

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