Monday, August 28, 2006

I'd prefer a Friday the 13th next time, please

My husband and I took off from our jobs today in hopes of having a family day at the beach. Unfortunately, it was damp and in the 60s. So, we scrambled for a backup plan.

My car needed to go to the dealer for soome minor recall-related work, so we figured we'd drop it off before we ventured off for our day of family-bonding. On the way to the dealer, my car started acting up. At one point, I couldn't drive faster than 20 mph. This was problematic on the highway. We got it to the dealer and left them our cell number.

We decided to spend the day in Portsmouth. We wanted to see the U.S.S. Albacore (a submarine). That turned out well. Then we were going to visit the local library's used book shop, which was no longer there. So, we headed off for lunch. We planned on visiting another used book store that we'd heard of after lunch. When we located the address, the building had been torn down. We did manage to find a nice independent book store. While we were there, we got THE CALL.

Turns out that my car wasn't just acting up a little bit. Turns out that it needed about $2k in work to even be driveable. The car has 101k miles on it. We could neither afford to fix it, or to buy another vehicle at this point. Dilemma. The drive back home took about 40 minutes. By the time we got home, we decided that we might be able to swing a previously owned vehicle (for under $10k).

We arrived at the dealership at 4:30. We needed to be at our son's school for an orientation session by 7pm. With all the negotiating and paperwork, and what not (lots and lots of what not), my husband was just nearing the home-stretch on the paperwork at 6:50. (It takes 20 minutes to get to the school from the dealership.) The dealer handed me the key and slapped the temporary plates on the new (to us) vehicle, and I dashed down the road.

The most important aspect of the school orientation meeting was finding out about our son's math placement. So, imagine my consternation when I arrived to the classroom just after the math teacher's presentation. Fortunatley, she graciously answered all our questions at the end of the meeting, including telling us our son's home room assignment (which had somehow not been communicated to us all summer, though some folks have known theirs since June).

Amid all the chaos of the afternoon, we missed eating dinner. So, I put some vegtables on to steam and a dairy-free organic lasagna in the microwave. I was so busy ranting about my day on this blog that I let the water run out on my vegtables. The whole house smells like burnt food, though the veggies were somewhat salvagable.

But, hey, I did get to see the U.S.S. Albacore and I have a cute little black hatchback now, which gets 10 more miles to the gallon than the car that died. "Always look on the bright side of life.... whistling sounds"

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Convenience orafice

The english language is so versitile. We have dozens of ways to convey basically the same information. Some words or phrases are more straight forward than others. While I enjoy having a deep vocabulary at my disposal when trying to achieve an exact concept, I admit that utilizing such a vocabulary can put some people off. Not everyone has had the same broad exposure to the english language that I have. And even those who have had that exposure do not see the point in complicating one's communication with a fifty-cent word when a nickel word will do. (Then again, I admit that sometimes I misuse a word here or there.)

I for one believe that posted signage should use the most common language possible, so that the most people can grasp the meaning of the sign. Take the following sentence copied from a public rest room sign:

Please deposit adult absorbent material in the intended receptacle, located in the oversized cubicle.

Pardon my baseness here, but WTF? Why on Earth couldn't the sign simply read:

Please put adult diapers in the Diaper Genie in the large stall.


Pardon my potty mouth.

Friday, August 25, 2006

How to have a truly unpublished phone number

Last summer, we purchased our current house from some people who were on the verge of bankruptcy. We got a pretty good deal, though the house had major issues (we had to pay $4k to have the former owners’ junk removed, had to replace the toilet and floor in one bathroom, and we’ve had to replace almost every major appliance in the place, including the furnace and AC).

We thought we had finally rid ourselves of the “issues of owners past” until this summer when we started getting calls from collection agencies looking for them. I was baffled as to why we would be getting calls for these losers when our telephone number had no connection to do with them. I finally grilled one of the fell automatons as to what led them to call our phone number. They said that they used a database that linked addresses to phone numbers.

I was incensed. I thought that we had an unpublished number. If that was the case, how could we end up in one of those directory databases?

So, I called Vonage and inquired as to how this could be. Initially, the moron I spoke to at Vonage had no clue as to the existence of these address-based directories. Upon reflection, I recalled knowing of them myself from my days as a summer employee of the phone company when I was in college. I couldn’t believe that Vonage had someone working their second tier of customer service (second tier, because I totally stumped the first tier) who did not know about these types of directories. Heck, you can even make use of such a directory yourself, for free, via!!!

Upon further research, I found that our phone number was not actually “unpublished”. Since we had a directory listening under Verizon, we had one when we switched to Vonage. There had been a check box in the initial LOA with Vonage that had asked if we wanted to keep our same directory listing. I think I thought that the directory listing would go away when we lost our battle to keep our old Verizon number. Drat!

However, even if our number were “unpublished” it would not fully protect us from being listed in these address-based directories. Apparently, there are companies that pay to get phone numbers and addresses from various and sundry sources (mostly web sites that ask for your contact information). There was even some discussion regarding phone numbers harvested from retailers who ask for them on your checks when paying face-to-face.

While you can put your phone number on the “do not call” list, this will not protect you from ending up in these insipid address-based directories which can be used by the same people who are excepted from obeying the stipulations of the “do not call” registry. According to the FTC, the exceptions include “calls from or on behalf of political organizations, charities, and telephone surveyors would still be permitted, as would calls from companies with which you have an existing business relationship, or those to whom you’ve provided express agreement in writing to receive their calls”.

In our case, since the callers are trying to reach someone that they have a legitimate business relationship with (the former loser home owners), they are not in violation of the rules. And, while we have asked that they remove references to OUR phone number, the former owners were in such deep financial trouble, different companies keep calling us trying to track them down.

So, what’s a poor harassed receiver of such calls to do? How do you keep from getting such calls in the future?

We have a plan!

  1. Have Vonage change our phone number; this time as truly “unpublished”.
  2. Get a voice-mail only phone number to give out to non-personal contacts (web-sites, retailers, and other organizations that insist on having our phone number).
  3. Block our caller ID before calling any one that we don’t want to have our real phone number.

For Item #2 above we will be establishing a non-personal phone number with eVoice. For $4.95/month we will get a phone number that callers can leave us messages on, without disturbing the peace of our home. Each time a message is left, eVoice will then send us an email to let us know that someone has left us a message. We can then check the message at our leisure and decide if (and when) to return the call.

We hate the phone. This strategy may help us to better manage our interactions with the dreaded beast. I’m not sure exactly when we’ll execute the plan. I have some work-related reasons to want to hold onto our current phone number for a while longer. However, I may pick up the eVoice number soon, to see how the service works, since they have a 30 day free trial of the service.

I’ll gladly accept any feedback on our plan, or any horror stories dealing with similar scenarios.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Back to the gym!

Friday, I had an appointment with a personal trainer at my new gym. I wanted someone to help me refamiliarize myself with the equipment. Plus, much of the equipment was very new fangled, so I wasn't sure how some of it functioned.

My primary goals in returning to the gym are to strengthen my core (and hopefully combat the chronic back issues thereby) and to regain muscle tone. The trainer knew I had back problems, but she must not have realized how serious the issue is for me. She tried to get me to reverse sit-ups (where you lay across a piece of equipment on your stomach bent at the waist, and lift your torso until you are completely horizontal). This is not an exercise that my lower back takes kindly to. I did about five of them and told her I was done with those. She was a little surprised, and suggested ways to do them that would be less strain on my lower back. I nodded politely, while my brain said "when donkeys fly, you bimbo".

Still, I got a pretty good work out. And, here's the important thing to note, I went back and did it all again on my own today!

I hope to go every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday afternoon. I'll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Musically out of touch

I have been listening to audio books in the car for the last three or four months. In between, I've mostly been listening to favorite CDs. I feel totally out of touch with music. It makes me kind of twitchy, actually.

I guess the Fates wanted to help me out on this. My NEW CD player is acting up. It has issues with ejecting CDs. Sometimes it ignores my requests to do so. The player's been installed since May. We tried to find the receipt, but have lost track of it. Maybe we'll take it back to Best Buy tomorrow and make a fuss, all the same, since B purchased the thing on his Best Buy card.

Any way, I've been forced to listen to the radio in the car instead for the last day. I haven't found a station with tolerable new music yet. However, I do have to wonder if this is somehow meant to be.

Another way to 'catch up' is to listen to Pandora. I'll put in the names of a few new artists that I've managed to hear this weekend, and they'll play stuff by those artists and ones with similar qualities.

I also went over to Billboard and checked out the charts. They really are less-than-useful since their charts reflect sales, and high sales watermarks are usually achieved by rap, hip-hop, and dance, these days. I'm not against those genres of music. However, they're not core to my listening enjoyment.

So far, I've been intrigued by:

Panic! At the Disco
Finger Eleven
Blue October
Nina Gordon
!!! That really IS their name

Wish me luck in my pursuit of decent current music, and the repair of my CD player! Also, feel free to comment with the names of any groups that you've 'discovered' in the last year.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Web-based word processing? Writely so.

Years ago, people were talking about a future full of web-based applications. No, I don't mean all those high end pay-as-you-go business oriented tools. I'm talking about replacements for applications installed on your personal computer. I was kind of dubious about this prediction.

Not long ago, I started maintaining a couple of my email addresses fully on web-based mail accounts (and not, not just gmail and yahoo, though I have those too). One account is for professional oriented mailing lists. Having the account, and the archives of sent and received messages, available via the web just made the most sense. I can then access the account fully from home, work, or where ever I am.

About two years ago, my Palm Pilot croaked. I've been meaning to get a replacement, but I just haven't had the funds. In the interim, I've been keeping all my calendaring and contact information on Yahoo. I think there is a way that I can sync up that info with my cell phone. I just haven't gotten around to it. But, during the meanwhile, I can get my contact info and check my calendar from any where. Also, when I enter appointments in Yahoo's calendar, I can have it email me twice to multiple email addresses to remind me of the appointment.

Today, I found out about a new product in beta from Google. Writely is a web-based word processing and collaboration tool. You can create and store documents using their interface, or you can upload MS Word compatible documents and edit them using their interface as well. In addition, if you would like to work on a document collaboratively with one or more people, you can grant edit access to any document to any number of people. What's more, you can 'publish' your document so that limited people can see or, or you can make it available to the world. There are other features as well. It is definitely worth checking out. I might find it handy to have some key personal documents available through the site, since I can't connect my personal USB thumb drive into my workstation at my new job (due to security policies).

It sounds like Writely is the first of several planned desktop-replacement applications coming from Google in the coming year. Check out the intriguing story from Techcrunch. I'm definitely going to keep my eye on them.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Food Oxymoron

I was in a store last night purchasing lottery tickets (or, as someone I
know likes to say "tax receipts for people who can't do math"). The
clerk and I were engaged in a friendly discussion regarding his age and
how he wouldn't know what to do with all the money if he actually
managed to win. While he gave a list of a few things that he likes to
do that he can no longer do, he did mention his motorcycle. Then, he
lamented that his daughter was worried for his safety on the thing so
she bought him a sidecar in hopes of making it more safe, less likely to
tip. (According to my husband, sidecars actually increase the
likelihood of tipping. Silly woman) Anyway, some other customers
joined the increasingly jovial conversation, as the man told a few more
stories about his daughter's efforts to try to "help" him.
The best one was that she was worried about the quality of he food
he ate so she made him a tofu meatloaf. This stopped me dead in my tracks as I was about to leave. And I said, "Isn't that an oxymoron? Tofu meatloaf?!?!
That's like saying 'jumbo shrimp'." Everyone enjoyed that, and I was
on my way with a smile and a brief story to blog about.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dietary busy bodies

This afternoon, a coworker and I were discussing nutrition and eating habits. She related how two friends had invited her over for dinner and how she felt obliged to eat what they offered her, even though she keeps herself on a pretty restricted diet. Several days later, one of the friends remarked at how glad they were that she ate the dessert in particular since they worry that she is "too thin".

While I must admit that I think S is too thin (and that her dietary restrictions are extreme), I joined her in being a bit outraged that her friends would say this too her. Then it suddenly struck me. Really. This was a revelation.

Why is it that we, as a society, think that it is perfectly acceptable to foist food upon people while making overt comments to them that we think they are too thin? Conversely, as a society, we would never dream of trying to keep someone from eating something bad for them, or from having a second helping, while telling them that we are concerned that they are too fat.

Once we got to discussing this particular topic, S went off on one of her tangents about our materialistic American culture, and how wasteful and environmentally unconscious we all are. I'll leave all of that for a later discussion.

However, think about it, would you try to discourage a friend from having a second helping when you know they are at least 25% overweight and can hardly walk up a flight of stairs without turning beet red and breathing heavily? Maybe you're not the type to encourage someone thin to eat, because you think they may be too thin (in your non-medical opinion). Then again, maybe you have, even if only by subtly offering that person more food even when they appear sated.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Need for approval satisfied

I have been at my new job for three weeks. I have gotten a few minor thank you's from my boss (and hers). But today, I got a BIG thank you, since I provided some examples of why something needed to change (something that my boss had been trying to get changed for a while).

It's very very sad, but I live for that kind of approval. I know exactly where it comes from. (I could easily lie down on the couch and tell you about my mother - yes, really.) And, while I've known this about myself for several decades it doesn't stop me from hungering for the approval of others, particularly others who are in some sort of position of authority over me.

I wonder what neurosis I'm nurturing in my son.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


I am officially down fifty pounds since the beginning of the year! This means that I weigh less now than I have in over 13 years. I also weigh less than my husband for the first time in that span. He's put on about ten pounds since our son was born. (big deal) My ultimate goal is to lose about another twenty. That'd put me slightly below where I was before getting pregnant, which would still be a good fifteen pounds over the recommended weight for my height I think. However, I know what's workable for me, and that's about as far as I can go and maintain it.

On Friday, I have an appointment with one of the personal trainers at the gym. I am ready to start working on my abs, pecs, glutes, and triceps. I am hoping that working on my core strength will help alleviate my chronic back pain, as well as help with my ultimate weight loss goal.

I bought myself a new bathing suit this week. Most women would not be proud to parade around in a one-piece size 16 swimsuit. I, however, am thrilled. Only time will tell, but maybe next summer I'll be willing to pour myself into a bikini! (Doubt it, but stranger things have happened.)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

My son, the chef?

My son, K, has shown an interest in cooking over the years. We had a pumpkin festival at our church last year, and he made pumpkin bread from SCRATCH. He enjoyed the experience so much, that he has made the bread a couple of times since for various events.

K and I have spent a good deal of time over the last few months watching cooking shows together. Some of our mutual favorites have been Bravo's Top Chef, Fox's Hell's Kitchen, and the Food Network's Good Eats with Alton Brown. K and I have been talking about possibly doing some sort of culinary summer camp. I found one in VT that might be worthwhile.

However, a couple of nights ago we watched and episode of the Food Network's Unwrapped entitled Cooking with Kids. The show focused on kids who cook. The first story was about a teenage boy who began his love of cooking when he was about three years old. They mentioned that he had honed his skills with professional chefs over four summers at Johnson and Wales University in Rhode Island. K and I did some research and found that JWU offers week-long half-day camps for kids 9-12 and for teenagers. K is VERY interested in this program. In addition, JWU offers and actual Bachelor's degree in Culinary Arts.

We stopped by Borders this evening and picked up Becoming a Chef. K started reading it in the store and more so in the car. The book got him even more interested in JWU. It turns out that one of the chef's that K admires, Emeril Lagasse is an alumni of JWU's CA program.

While it's highly likely that K will change his life direction half a dozen times before he graduates from high school, it is very gratifying to see him think about his future and to research the possibilities.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Got IM?

I never used to be a huge fan of instant messaging (IM) technology. However, in my last job, it was both professionally useful (asking for and getting assistance from other engineers who were also on the phone with customers) and personally necessary (relieve stress by goofing around with other people sereptitiously over IM).

My new shop is not quite as 'free wheeling' when it comes to personal use of corporate technology. Plus, since I am in the network security group, I think it might be poor form to engage in a behavior that I have concerns about from a corporate perspective.

Thankfully, I can engage in IM without installing actual IM software on my corporate computer. If you haven't heard of this site, jump on board the web-based IM train. Using a web interface, Meebo lets you sign on to Yahoo, MSN, AOL, and ICQ IM servers. No software to install!

I don't abuse the technology. I typically only sign on for 15-20 minutes later in the day for a mental break. Half the time, the folks I IM with are actually working and can't have a conversation. Still, it's nice to have the option to use IM without installing software on the corporate workstation (and thus violating many corporate edicts ... even though about half my organization seems to have some form of IM running).

UPDATE: Just to show how really cool this technology is Time Magazine listed Meebo as one of the 50 coolest web sites of 2006!!!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Getting wet over a grocery store?

Yes. I meant that in the crassest way possible.

Since entering into the Ultrametabolism life style, I've been finding it difficult to acquire a wide enough variety of wholesome food. I know me. If I get bored eating the healthy stuff, I will be more inclined to fall off the wagon. So to speak.

A couple of the regional chain grocery stores have a fair sized health food section. Shaws and Hannaford complement each other's selection pretty well. Hannaford is actually a little bit better on produce, but Shaw's has a wider variety of some varieties of pantry foods.

That said, I usually make a trek to Trader Joes once every other week. Then, when I happen to be in Manchester, I go to A Market Natural Foods. And, when I'm in Nashua I hit up this little hole-in-the-wall store that is more about supplements than food, but it does have some things that the chains don't carry.

I had heard that there was a Whole Foods near my new job. I'd been meaning to swing by on my way home, but I've been so focused on just getting home that I haven't wanted to take the side trip. Until ... today!

Whole Foods is easily as large as some of the conventional chain grocery stores. However, they pride themselves on focusing their selection on healthier products. Most of their produce is either locally grown conventional stuff or organic (sometimes both organic and locally grown). They have a huge butcher case full of healthily raised meats (no hormones or antibiotics in anything and free range poultry). Excellent looking seafood. Boatloads of healthy varieties of snacks. A fantastic smelling bakery. Great prepared foods for the busy, albeit spoiled, gourmet consumer.

I was low on cash, so I limited myself to a couple of things I just HAD to have. I picked up three bags of Guiltless Gourmet Baked Organic Blue Corn Tortilla Chips. Those suckers are hard to find. I've only seen them at Trader Joe's. I also got some organic mission figs, and some organic salsa (to go with the chips, of course).

I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Strange metaphor at this point, considering that candy is (pretty much) out of my life for good. :)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Hodge Podge reading

With my new job, I have a longer commute. In the morning it's about 45 minutes. In the evening, it's between 45 and 65 minutes, depending on a variety of factors which are completely out of my control (and we KNOW how much I hate that). And, once school starts back up, I've been told to expect the traffic to worsen my commute in both directions.

However, the up side of this is that I LOVE listening to audio books in the car. If the book as even a little bit good, I can ignore whatever traffic snarl I happen to be sitting in the middle of.

Here's what I've listened to so far in the last two weeks:

  • The Stationary Bike by Stephen King

  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Diddion

  • Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

The King book is a very short story (just 2 CDs). Not very frightening. Though it was a little tense in spots. The Diddion book us an interesting memoir recounting her first year of widowhood and the reflective state of mind it put her in. And, the Patterson book is a Young Adult SF tale told mostly from the first person perspective of genetically engineered girl. I enjoyed it so much that I ordered the second book in the series.

I'm going to have to wait to listen to that one (Maximum Ride: School's Out Forever) since I'm committed to finishing Matthew Perry's The Dante Club by August 29th for my church book group. Also on my 'to listen' list are Stephen King's Cell and Jennifer Traig's Devil in the Details.

As a juxtapostion to my audio 'reading', I've been immersed in a boatload of professional reading. My new boss recommended a book that is turning out to be the best book I've ever encountered on networking, though it's goal is ultimately to be the best book on intrusion detection, which it succeeds at. If you are into network security, I highly recommend Stephen Northcutt's Network Intrusion Detection.

My other non-fiction reading has still been focused on the "whole foods" and "natural foods" topic. I've been reading a lot about the organic movement as well, not just for foods, but for all sorts of products (household cleaners, clothing, etc.)

Any way, it's past my bed time. Need to try to get eight hours. Remember? The Impossible Dream!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

A+ weather?

When the temperature in New England officially hits 103, in places, does that mean we get an A+?

I knew it was supposed to hit 100 today, so I got to work early to garner one of the coveted interior garage spaces. Most of our parking is out in the open. The garage spaces go quickly when its really hot or when there is a chance of precipitation (snow, rain, hail, flying tunnel tiles, etc... sorry, poor taste showing on that last bit). So, I got my coveted space. And, boy, was I grateful at 5 p.m. When I opened the car door, it was actually a few degrees COOLER inside the car than outside. How often does that happen in the summer, huh?

Guess I better hurry off to bed so I can be assured of a similarly early arrival since tomorrow will be better, but probably no picnic.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Indoor street sweepers?

I knew that my new place of employment, aka The Center, was big, but it really hit home this evening how big. I'd recently wondered how the cleaning crew dealt with vacuuming the numerous large hallways of our organization. Tonight I witnessed their solution: mini ride-on street sweepers. They are massively quieter than actual vacuum cleaners, and they seem to do the job just fine. I don't know if they come back and vacuum the individual offices, or if they just do those 'on demand'. It was very interesting to see the vehicle making its way slowly down the hallway though.