Saturday, January 31, 2009


So last night while leaving the office, I stepped funny as I was coming down the loading ramp. You know how when you're coming down a set of stairs and you think there's one more step but there isn't? Well, that's basically what happened. I thought the ramp continued, but it didn't and when my foot hit the ground, it sent pain shooting up my leg into the small of my back.

When I got home I took some ibuprofen and strapped an ice pack to my back and tried to explain to Scoob that I wasn't doing anything stupid or anything I wasn't supposed to, like heavy lifting, it was just the way my foot hit the ground. I did get a lower back massage, though, and he made dinner and took care of the dishes.

As if the back pain wasn't enough, there's really no polite way to say it, my period started this morning, which comes with it's own brand of fun. So, since I'm in double the pain, does that mean I get to take double the pain meds? I'm voting for this option, and I think Scoob is too.

Poor Scoob. This puts him in a no-win situation, he feels terrible when I'm hurting and wants to help me feel better, but between the cramping, bloating, unpredictable moods swings, and just general crankiness he also wants to stay the hell away from me on Day 1 of the period. And sometimes Day 2, too.

Making the best of a bad situation, he's been out riding his bicycle today and is including a stop at Target to get a heating pad for me because we haven't been able to find where we put the old one the last couple of times we needed it. So he's helping me and he's no where near me.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Gotta Get It Outta My Head

Well, my rosy optimism about uncluttering the house has gotten off to a unbelievable start, which is to say that, aside from going through my closet, nothing has happened. (The unbelievable part is that I went through my closet.)

I think the thing that bothers me most about all the "stuff," other than the fact that it's just in the way most of the time, is that more than likely somebody spent money on it and it just sits there. It's not being used; it just sits there.

And if money is just going to sit there, it might as well earn some interest while it's at it, however little that interest may be. Instead, the stuff just depreciates in value over time to the point that we just want to give it away to get rid of it. It made me remember this post over at The Simple Dollar.

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned that I work for a book publisher (which is part of the reason I have so many books in the house), but it also means that I read the trade journals and websites. Well this book caught my attention and it is one book I'm positive will never end up in my house, Sanjaya Malakar's Dancing to the Music in My Head: Memoirs of the People's Idol.

Now I haven't watched American Idol since I was completing an internship in Washington, D.C. It was the season Fantasia won, and the reason I watched then had more to do with my almost-21-year-old-roommates than any true desire of my own. At any rate, whether or not you watch, it's nearly impossible to avoid all exposure to the spectacle, which is to say, okay I vaguely know who this Sanjaya guy is.

But I also know he's only 19. How do you write your memoirs at 19, let alone 256 pages of them? Okay, Britney Spears might have been able to pull off memoirs at 19, but this guy? Does this mean for hom that it's all downhill from here?

Oh, and he's written his memoirs with Alan Goldsher, which really means one of two things 1) either Sanjaya truly did write the memoirs, but the editor had to do so much work to get them presentable as a book that the editor demanded a rather prominent cover attribution, or 2) Sanajaya told this guy Goldsher some slightly interesting stories and Goldsher had to beef them up to make it interesting enough to publish as a book, in which case the title really should be Dancing to the Music in My Head: The Imagined memoirs of Sanjaya Malakar, the People's Idol.

Simon & Schuster is publishing the book (I don't work for them), which probably means the guy got a hefty advance to write/dictate it--I would guess mid-to-high 5-figures, but I always lowball these things; I wouldn't at all be surprised if he made 6-figures. Oh, and it was published as a hardcover! Really?

Anyhow, I certainly won't be buying the book, and I don't really have any interest in borrowing from the library. I hope the library doesn't spend any tax dollars on this piece of pulp.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


So, yesterday morning as I was sitting in my car at a red light on my way to work, I saw this little old man out walking. He seemed normal enough, well-groomed, white hair, glasses, medium build, you know normal.

Then as I watched, he walked up to a light post, stuck his finger in his nose, and wiped the boogie on the post! ACK! Thank goodness it wasn't the post with the crosswalk signal, but still, is this normal?

Is it normal and they've been doing this all along and I'm only just beginning to notice because I'm getting older myself? You know, like you don't really notice the ingredients mom puts in your favorite soup until you actually start cooking. Or, how you don't notice the little tricks that mothers do while juggling baby, diaper, bottle, and sanity until you're preparing to enter motherhood yourself?

Is this what I have to look forward to?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Feelin' Good

So, while I wouldn't exactly call our volunteering experience yesterday at the Food Bank fun, it was enjoyable. We spent the afternoon sorting a couple of pallets coming in from a grocery store, but first, we had to be trained.

Training consisted mostly of explaining the distribution chain and making sure we understood what we could and could not accept as we sorted the food. The food bank sorts the food and distributes it to about 300 other organizations in the county who then prepare or otherwise get the food to individuals; they do not give food directly to individuals from the food bank warehouse.

The training on what is and isn't acceptable was a bit more detailed, and surprising. We were told we needed to read the ingredients list of every product for alcohol content. This actually makes total sense to make sure that folks in recovery aren't inadvertently exposed to alcohol but I hadn't thought about it until they told us. We found salad dressings that contained wine and a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale mustard.

We also needed to read the ingredient lists because of the current salmonella outbreak associated with peanut butter. As the contaminated products list expands to include pet foods and brownie mixes, rather than expect us to memorize an 8 page list of unacceptable peanut products, we were asked to simply segregate anything containing, or exposed to, peanuts for food bank staff to sort through. We got a whole box full of sliced almonds, halved walnuts, pecans, and cashews, but because they were processed in a plant that also handles peanuts we had to set them aside. Anything that contained peanut oil also fell in this category.

Anything separated from it's ingredients list was immediately discarded.

We also had to set aside non-food items (adult diapers, cough syrup, tampons and the like), which are typically rerouted to health clinics. Surprisingly, we saw quite a bit of that, though the strangest item in that category had to be the personal lubricant. Who donated personal lubricant? Nevermind.

We set aside pet items, which get sent to the local SPCA, baby products, both food and non-food, were set aside to go to specific community organizations, and we set aside any straight-up alcohol for the food bank staff. Just kidding. Though we did get a bottle of white wine in one box.

We also had to remove high-sugar content drinks. To help battle obesity, Alameda county doesn't allow high-sugar drinks (full-sugar sodas and juices) to be served to children by county agencies, or agencies that receive county assistance. So out went all the Capri Sun and Juicy Juice pouch drinks.

Along with what types of items we could and couldn't accept and what to do with them, we were also instructed on how to spot spoiled foodstuffs, and how to evaluate damaged packaging to determine if the food inside was still acceptable.

We were all stunned at how much of the canned food was unacceptable due to denting. Any can with multiple dents, accordion-style denting, or a single dent where your finger fits in the valley of the dent was thrown out. Of the 20 – 25 boxes of food we sorted, we only accepted 4 cans. We could tape up cardboard packaging as long as the contents were sealed in bags.

I've always associated food drives with canned foods, but after seeing how much of it gets discarded, I'll be donating other types of packaging from now on. The best type of packaging was probably the vacuum-packed pouches—the pouches are flexible and pretty difficult to puncture, they're lightweight and don't take up nearly as much room for storage and transport. We saw pouches of pasta sauces, tuna, and chicken breasts. One of the chicken breast pouches had ruptured, though, and had gotten pretty funky.

Any foodstuff that was unacceptable and unspoiled and wasn't in a can, was set aside for the pigs. The food bank has a huge bin for collecting this stuff that's then sent to a pig farm out in Stockton, and let me tell you, those pigs eat well. Grandpa was a pig farmer and he would have loved an arrangement like this.

After our warehouse shift was finished, we sat down with a community outreach representative and he gave us some facts and figures. The one that really stood out to me was that historically, the food bank used to get about 75% of their donations from grocery store leftovers, but today that number is closer to 35% and it's because computers and software have enabled stores to better manage their inventory and ordering.

While they still receive food donations from individuals, giving is concentrated during the holiday season and the food bank ends up purchasing a lot more food to help fill the gaps than they ever used to.

Anyhow, that's what an afternoon at the Alameda Food Bank was like. There wasn't nearly as much physical work as I had anticipated with warehouse work, but I am a wee bit sore today. It was a rewarding experience, and a reminder of how easy it really can be to give back to the community. I hope to do it again.

Friday, January 23, 2009


I've never had an overly developed fashion sense. I would even be tempted to say I don't even have a developed fashion sense.

Growing up, Mom had 3 types of clothes for me--dressy (those frilly, lacy clothes for special occasions), regular (no holes, no stains for school and such), and play clothes. Play clothes were the regular clothes that were no longer acceptable for regular purposes. Play clothes were also called grubbies, meaning if you get them dirty (grubby) or otherwise ruin them no one is going to be upset.

When I would stay with my Dad, he only recognized two types of clothes--dressy and regular. As such, he would often dress me in what Mom would call regular clothes for something Mom would have put me in grubbies. Which, of course, by the time I was done doing whatever I was doing, I had new grubbies.

As far as Dad was concerned, kids shouldn't be dressed in anything you don't expect to get ruined anyway--it was only natural for kids to destroy their clothes. He never understood why Mom got so angry when I came home with a suitcase full of grubbies that used to be school clothes.

Eventually Mom just stopped packing regular clothes for me when I went to stay with Dad and I'd run around all summer dressed like a ragamuffin urchin, which is totally fine when you're 9.

These days I have dressy clothes (formal wear, very few of these), office clothes (slacks and blouses), casual (denim and cotton shirts), and grubbies (denim and t-shirts I don't mind getting dirty or ruining).

Today, the editorial department at work will be fulfilling our pledge and volunteering at the Alameda County Food Bank. We've been instructed to wear comfortable clothes that we can move freely in and that we don't mind getting dirty in the warehouse.

Clearly, this is a situation for grubbies. But I also need to wear these clothes to work in the morning. Not a situation for grubbies. I could just take a change of clothes, but it's casual Friday anyway (not that we limit casual to Friday at our office--cargo shorts and flip flops are de rigeur).

Most of my co-workers are pretty cosmopolitan; I'm just fretting that what I consider grubbies might really belong in the rag bin. Because after clothes are too ruined to even be grubbies, that's where they go. Another Momism.

I'm starting to think my neck may be redder than I realize.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It Ought to Be a Crime

I don't like to dwell much on things I have no control over, but I'm going on a mini-rant, 'cause if I go for a full rant I'll probably explode.

So Scoob works for Hewlett-Packard. He's worked there 15 years; 3 as a contractor and the last 12 on payroll. He has received one, count 'em, one, 2% raise in the past 7 years, and in that time his workload has easily quintupled. More than that actually. He used to be responsible for 5 wizzy-whigs, now he's responsible for 90 whizzy-whigs and managing other people (not that his job classification has changed).

Hewlett-Packard laid off nearly 25,000 employees last year due to "the poor economy" and "restructuring." They have plans to lay off another 2,600 in the next few months.

Yet, Hewlett-Packard reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission that CEO Mark Hurd's total compensation for 2008 was in the neighborhood of $42.5 million. MILLION. Other high level executives were reportedly compensated in the $20 million range.

Just last week, managers at Hewlett-Packard met with their project teams for brainstorming sessions on how to save the company more money. Well, I can see some glaringly obvious opportunities for saving some money—a helluva lot more money than cancelling holiday parties, turning down the thermostat, and taking away the free coffee and tea in the break room would.

Where is the Board of Directors in all this? They approve the CEO's compensation. I bet their compensation packages are just as padded, even though corporation Boards typically only meet once per fiscal quarter. Where are the shareholders? Your Board is not protecting your interests when it approves such astronomical compensation packages.

We're just frustrated. As Scoob says, "Hell, even the mafia takes care of its people." Scoob actually likes the work he's doing, but it's getting awfully difficult to want to go to work everyday and give 100%.

All I can say is W.T.F. It's just obscene.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Afternoon Outing

Scoob and I spent the afternoon yesterday playing tourist in Palo Alto (you know, where the rich peole live) enjoying the sunshine and taking pictures. We started out at Stanford Shopping Center because they have amazing landscaping, with planters lush with flowers and water features. It's usually a good place for people watching too. Usually.

But if yesterday was any indication, the shopping center has chosen landscaping as one of their budget cuts. Only about a third of the planters were being tended. The people watching wasn't all that great either. I didn't end up taking any pictures at the shopping center. Though I must admit a large part of the reason was me being self-conscious.

After roaming the shopping center, we headed over to the Rodin sculpture garden at Stanford University. The sun was beginning to set when we got there, which is usually my favorite time to photograph, but unfortunately, the sun had already passed the sculptures. I did manage to get a few of The Gates of Hell in the sun though.

We wrapped up the evening with a splurge at The Cheesecake Factory on University Avenue. (Thanks for the gift card, J&B) It was the first time I'd been to a Cheesecake Factory and I must say I was overwhelmed—the menu was enormous (so much so that they actually sell advertising space, every recto was menu items and every verso was a full-page ad. Actually quite off-putting) and it didn't seem like they quite knew what they wanted to be.

There were southern-style soul food items, and pastas, and pizzas, and seared ahis, and of course cheesecake. Which I guess is good for appealing to a wide dining audience, but it makes me somewhat apprehensive and makes actually deciding what to order (an always difficult task for me) very time-consuming. Once I got over the whole menu thing and made a choice, I enjoyed the night out. I ended up ordering a chicken cashew salad, and of course cheesecake. Chocolate raspberry truffle, to be exact.

Here are some of my favorite shots from the day:

And of course, the cheesecake:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Hog Heaven

We are in hog heaven here this weekend because Scoob decided to make kalua pig. Oh. My. God. It's. Good.

I first had kalua pig when Scoob took me home to Hawaii to meet his mom 6 years ago. We thought kalua pig was one of those foods you have to be in Hawaii to enjoy; but we were wrong.

Scoob was out riding his bike about 3 years ago and as he rode through the park, he passed a group of Hawaiians having a bbq. He stopped and chatted them up as he does every time he meets another Hawaiian and he ended up crashing the picnic.

They had all the good stuff that Scoob hadn't had since he was back home: lomi lomi, "real" macaroni salad, poi, and so much more. You could tell all the aunties had been up since dawn putting on this spread. But best of all, they had the pig.

Now traditionally, kalua pig is cooked in an imu (an underground pit bbq). So here we were wondering how they managed to cook this pig in the Bay Area. Even if somebody actually had a backyard big enough to have an imu, we knew you wouldn't be able to, at least not within the metro area. About a year later, the guy in charge of making the kalua pig for their parties shared the recipe with Scoob. And now I share it with you.

CAUTION: This is not a diet friendly recipe. It is neither low-fat, low-cal, nor low-sodium. Oh damn but it is good. Do not attempt to make this with a leaner cut—you will be disappointed. We tried it. Once.

Kalua Pig

Cooking time: 15–20 hours (You'll want to start this the night before you actually want to eat it.)
Servings: 8–12

    1 (4–6 lb) pork butt
    1–1½ Tbsp Hawaiian sea salt
    1 Tbsp liquid smoke

  1. Pierce the pork butt all over with a fork. The more the better. Rub the sea salt all over and place your butt in a crockpot. (The pork butt—not your butt.) Pour the liquid smoke on top.
  2. Cover and cook on low 16–20 hours.
  3. Remove from crockpot and shred. You may need to add some of the drippings to keep it moist.

We usually cook up a bunch of pig, a pot of sticky rice, and get a head of cabbage. We then shred some cabbage and cook it in a pan over medium-high heat with some pig (no need to add oil, the pig's got enough fat for all of us) just until the cabbage begins to soften, season to taste with some pepper, then serve it over rice.

As it turns out, the kalua pig I had in Hawaii was probably also cooked in a slow cooker. The FDA and Health Departments don't allow kalua pig cooked in an imu to be served to the public.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Suburban Dreams

I've been talking a lot about Scoob and I moving at some point, and while we've had some debate over where we will move to one thing we've always been in agreement on is what type of place we will move to. We know we want cultural diversity, culture and arts, open spaces, and all those wonderful things, but we also know we want to live in the 'burbs. And while we technically already live in a suburb, the Bay Area metropolitan sprawl has really engulfed it.

It seems so strange to say we want to live in the 'burbs because the suburbs have such a negative connotation. That's why when I ran across this article on subrubiphobia in the Walls Street Journal, it caught my attention. (I don't know if that's even a word, maybe I should copyright it.) The short, short version of the article is that American art portrays the suburban experience as somehow inauthentic and homogeneous, being neither urban nor rural.

When I think of suburban portrayals in pop culture I think of The Brady Bunch, The Stepford Wives, Bewitched, and the like, images typified by late-1950s and early-1960s suburbia. (So sue me, I've never seen Desperate Housewives.) But Scoob and I wouldn't want to live in that version of the suburbs. So something doesn't match here; Either our perception of the suburbs is way off, or the suburbs have changed.

After a bit of Googling, I think it's the latter. The suburbs of today are not the homogeneous cookie-cutter developments of an earlier era. In fact, The Economist goes so far as to say the 'burbs are beginning to resemble city centers.

This article at USA Today seems to think that gas prices are driving this shift in the suburban landscape. And while I'm sure energy prices are a contributing factor, these new suburbs didn't just pop up overnight when fuel hit $4.00/gallon. I think it's been more of a matter of technology and convenience. I see this with Scoob.

He's been telecommuting for a few years now and I've seen the change in his habits. When he worked at the office, he used to go out to lunch with co-workers or take break at the coffee shop. He would swing by the bicycle repair shop and talk shop with other cyclists. Or he would just hang out at the bookstore.

Since he started telecommuting, he doesn't get together with co-workers as much as he used to even though they're also telecommuting and living nearby. When they do get together for lunch, the quality of restaurants they have to choose from is much lower. Their coffee shop option is pretty much limited to Starbucks. And the nearest bookstore is another behemoth chain and is clear across town.

As more and more people telecommute either part or full time, I think they're finding the same situations and more people are pressuring city planners for multiple use developments and sustainable communities. I think we'll continue to see this as we find new ways to apply technology.

I think another shift has been employers moving out of the city cores. In the Bay Area we've seen employers move out of high real estate areas and into the suburbs as a cost saving measure. We've also seen companies, like Sccob's, outsource so many jobs that they don't need to keep as many office parks open, and those that they do keep open don't need to be in such high rent areas. In addition to seeing tens of thousands of jobs from his company go overseas, he has also seen whole departments relocated from a first tier metro area (like San Francisco) to a second tier area (like Atlanta or Albuquerque).

This new American suburb is so popular in fact, there's growing demand from overseas, which is a good thing for builders given the current slump in new home construction.

An interesting cautionary article here, on the dilemma of repurposing suburban space once the landscape changes. I'm sure we'll be seeing more and more of this issue as the housing market shakes itself out.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Balancing the Books

I'm having a problem keeping the books. Or rather, I'm having a problem not keeping the books. While tidying up the house for the home appraisal last week, I ran across a few boxes of books in the garage and more than one stack tucked away in the darkest, dustiest corner of my closets.

I know why I have the boxes of books in the garage. Each one of those was connected to my college education, and I in my new graduate optimism thought I might need them for reference since I was probably going to find a job in my chosen field. I was a Native American Studies major, yeah. Not much work to be had in that particular field, at least not without a Master's in education, social services, or casino management.

But I can still identify which pueblo/tribe a piece of pottery/basketry/beadwork comes from based on materials and design, and I can still partially read a totem pole. As you can imagine, it's knowledge I don't call upon very often; but it's there all the same.

The other books I seem to have squirrelled away just about everywhere are from work. It was bound to happen working for a book publisher. Thankfully, now that I've switched the the travel guide arm of the company, I bring home far fewer books.

Anyhow, I've decided it's time to get rid of them. Well, most of them. I'll keep true reference book, cookbooks, and particularly meaningful book, but everything else is going to go.

Thankfully, books are pretty easy to get rid of, if sometimes heavy. But Scoob has a difficult time giving away something if he thinks he could get something for it. So I've come up with a plan of action: This weekend we will pull together all the things we need to get rid of and we'll give ourselves 3 months to do something constructive with it, or, at the end of 3 months, whatever is left gets donated.

My first stop for all those course books will be I probably bought a good portion of those books on when I was struggling to save money as a student, so it seems only fair.

Beyond that I'll probably put the books up on Freecycle or donate them to the SF Bay Area's Prisoner's Literature Project. Unfortunately, the PLP won't accept hardcovers, I guess the inmates could use them as weapons. Just repeating what I was told. Anyhow, anything else still left will be sent to Goodwill.

Though I do like this idea at Bookcrossing--essentially you join their site (it's free) register the book you want to get rid of and give it a tracking number, then you leave the book in a public place for someone, anyone, to pick up. They then login the book and continue to pass it along and you can see how far your book went.

While my goal is to get things out of the house, Scoob is more interested in having something tangible after getting rid of things (you'd think a clean house would be enough). So for him we will focus on swapping. If I can't convince him to get rid of things, at least I can get him to trade them for things he will actually use. Scoob has a number of things I'm hoping he'll be ready to part with, mostly books, PC games, and DVDs.

He has traded DVDs in the past using Swaptree and PC games with Goozex (that's a "z" not an "s" I made the mistake of typing it in the other way first, and you know anything with "sex" in the URL is going to be adult in nature, though at least this wasn't NSFW). Scoob prefers the Swaptree system, but so far, Goozex is the only reliable trader we've found for PC games.

A few other book trading resources: PaperBackSwap lets you print your mailing postage from your home printer. BookMooch helps you connect with people who want the books you want to get rid of, though you need to source the postage. America'sBookShelf charges a $3.50 monthly fee, but this covers the postage on your trades.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Does This House Make My Butt Look Big?

Things have been a bit hectic what with the website launch on Friday. And Scoob has been trying to refinance the house. Apparently he thought he had signed a 30-year fixed loan, but it turns out it was an adjustable loan; so now we're scrambling. Don't ask. I've no idea how this happened.

The house is not in both our names, so I'm usually not involved in this process. But this time I've done everything I could to nicely say, "Don't sign a thing until I've at least read it this time." My name may not be on the house, but if we lose it, I've still lost a home, so I really kinda need to know what's going on there.

The good news is that we should be able to refinance and combine the 2 loans into 1. We won't really get much of the benefit from those super low "rescue" interest rates because we haven't actually defaulted on our loans. So anyhow, the home appraiser came by Friday morning to inspect, and now we wait.

One positive thing to come from all this is that we did a lot of straightening up around the house. All the tools and paint finally made it back downstairs into the garage. I finally put away the clothes drying rack that has been a near permanent fixture. Anyhow, the house looks so much better. Granted, a lot of stuff just got stuffed into any available space.

Scoob wants to keep the house just like this. I also want to keep the house looking like this, but I also want to dive into those closets and purge. So that was my project yesterday. Anything in my closet that hasn't seen the light of day in 6 months got bagged for donations. I didn't try on any of the clothes. I didn't hem and haw about whether or not I might actually wear an item again. I didn't say, "Oh, this will fit once I lose some weight." I was ruthless, and it felt so good. Now if I could just get Scoob to do it too.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Good Enough

Things have been a bit crazy back at work this week, but in a good way. Reality set in on Monday that we are launching our new website at work on Friday. Friday! Everyone seems to be in good shape for their specific area for launch, so it's really just adrenaline. We've only been working on this for about 18 months taking a static HTML site and transforming it into a dynamic, CMS database driven site with a complete design and functionality overhaul. It's been a major undertaking and it's exciting to finally see it come to fruition.

I'd love to post links to it, but I am trying to maintain some distance between work and this blog. (I will probably send out an email to you that I know in the flesh, though.) But I can't not talk about it in some way because it has been 18 months of my life, 8 or more hours a day, 5 or more days a week. I'm sure there will be plenty of bugs to work out once we take it live this weekend, and then there's always the next stage of development and content rollout, so it's not as if there will magically be no more work to do after Friday.

With all the giddiness at work, I realized I've been sitting on more than a few links for the blog. First things first. I think it's pretty safe to sweep out all those holiday shopping links at this point. Talk about a day late and a dollar short. I will pass along this one though.

So after my initial panic when I learned about one week before Christmas that we were exchanging gifts this year after all, I headed out that weekend for some marathon shopping. I had planned several stops, but I ended up finding a little something for everybody at Big Lots! I was honestly surprised at the variety of things they had and I'm happy to have rediscovered the store. Apparently, I'm not the only one. The Budget Fashionista has posted some helpful tips to keep in mind when shopping Big Lots!, the biggest of which may be to keep and open mind and be patient.

Before we completely leave the subject of shopping, I ran across this project today. This person has plotted the location and date of each and every Wal*Mart opening in the continental United States. It starts out slow but then it kind of resembles what I imagine blossoming bacteria in a Petri dish might look like. Funny, I think about the immediate backlash to even the rumor of another Wal*Mart opening out here on the West Coast, then I look at the concentration of stores in the East and realize that we really just have no idea what a significant influence Wal*Mart must have in the lives of so many. Here's hoping they use that power for good.

Okay, stepping away from shopping, but not entirely (I think I may have a problem), I spotted this article about decision making almost a month ago and it really rang true. It actually reminded me of something else I'd read a long time ago about being happier by learning to let got of perfectionist tendencies in favor of satisficing, but I can't remember where I read that.

I try to embrace satisficing a lot now, but how this relates to shopping is actually kind of key in our house. Scoob is an optimizer. He wants to know everything about every product and compare them to make sure he's getting the most perfect product at the best possible deal. Me, I'm a satisficer. I'll figure out what it is I need the product to do, find 2 or 3 that meet the criteria, read a few reviews, and make a decision. If it does what I need it to do and it is reasonably priced, do I really care that there's this other model that also glows in the dark? No.

On more than one occasion Scoob's optimizing behavior has stalled a purchase. Take, for example, the purchase of our vacuum cleaner. It's not accurate to the day, but it's also not a gross exaggeration to say that it took us 2 years to buy a new vacuum cleaner. Mostly because he would wait long enough between doing the research and making the purchase that he would either forget what model he decided to purchase, or newer models would come out and he needed to redo all the research. We don't play that game anymore.

To be fair, we actually balance each other out. I help him realize when enough is good enough. But on more than one occasion he has helped me see that something really wasn't good enough when I had thought it was. So because we're together, I usually end up giving decisions more thought and he usually gives them less than we would have on our own.

Another couple items that caught my attention, then I'm off to bed. Wired rounded up some of their favorite tech-related cartoons as part of their end-of-the-year wrap up. #9 is funny, #7 is unfortunately true, and from what I hear, so is #4.

I've been paying a bit more attention to photography articles since getting the new camera. This one is noteworthy in that it give a lot of non-photography tips for getting more out of your digital camera by using it in unexpected ways. Some of them are kind of out there, but several are surprisingly practical.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Was It You?

Was that you this morning, with your wipers on super sonic speed and driving 45 MPH in the far left because it was raining? If so, there were about 20 of you. Okay, I get that you want to drive a little more safely when it's wet out. I respect that. But please, don't do it in the far left lane, you're just forcing the morons who don't want to slow down to weave in and out of the rest of us, which creates a much bigger safety concern than you just driving the speed limit.

So please, if you're going to drive slow, don't be a road boulder (a term coined by Mrs. Roadshow, wife to Mr. Roadshow at the San Jose Mercury News). Move over so the idiots can pass without killing the rest of us. Because if the idiot can't see the sense in slowing down, I'm pretty sure that driver is also not the person you want doing word problems when your life is on the line. Because your brain is basically doing word problems every time you get behind the wheel, you know.

Car X is driving 85 MPH in the rain with gusty winds. Car X is 200 yards away from and approaching Car Y, which is traveling at 45 MPH in the same direction. When is the last possible second Car X can swerve into the next lane of traffic without colliding with Car Y or Car Z, which is 100 yards away traveling at 65 MPH in the same direction in said next lane?

Okay, now add Cars A through W to the equation, because they're also on the highway traveling at varying speeds and distances, and don't forget to factor in the potholes and any ongoing CalTrans construction projects. Yeah, that's what I thought. So please, move over.

Was that you this morning driving in the rain with your lights off? If so, there were about 200 of you. "But I can see fine," you say. Well this isn't about you, it's about the rest of us who can't see you through the road spray without your lights on. You should be turning your lights on in any inclement weather. It's in the California Vehicle Code (Section 24400 (a)(2)), and just about every other state's vehicle code too, I'd wager. And folks, just so you know, the vehicle code is a set of laws.

Well, because we here in California apparently require a Nanny State to tell us to breathe, we needed the state legislature to define "inclement weather". As of 2007, Section 24400 (b)(2) goes on to define inclement weather as "A condition requiring the windshield wipers to be in continuous use due to rain, mist, snow, fog, or other precipitation or atmospheric moisture." It should be pretty clear now. You're off the hook if you're smearing bird poo around with your wipers, but if they're on for pretty much any other reason, your headlights need to be on too.

So, what's it going to take to get you to turn on your lights, people? Then again, if you still can't see the sense of turning on your lights, I'm not so sure I want you doing those word problems either. Please, if it's still raining on Monday, leave the car at home and just take BART. Please.

For those folks who do turn their lights on in the rain (it's completely unscientific, but I would estimate that was about 60% of us on 880 around 10:00AM this morning), thank you. There's one caveat, though. When the weather is bad, you turn on your lights. But when the weather gets worse, this does not mean you turn your lights on brighter. I can see how this logic might make sense and apparently there's some confusion. That blue light on your dash? That means you have your high beams on. The only time you should be using these is when there is no one, no one, else around. M'kay? Cool.

For my part, this year I resolve to be more aware of my driving habits. I resolve to move the the right when not actually passing (i.e., to not be a Road Boulder), and I further resolve to use my turn signals when moving over, even if there's no one around. I also resolve to turn on my head lights in the rain. (Actually I just leave them on all the time anyhow, so that I don't forget to turn them on.) Please, won't you join me.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! It's 2009, and so far, it feels just like 2008. I tried talking to Scoob last night about things he wanted to accomplish in the new year. "More of the same," was his answer. So I guess I'm not the only one.

Actually, given everything that's been happening with the economy, more of the same might even be a blessing—we both still have jobs, we both have health insurance (I was able to get on my employer's plan), we still have some equity in the house, we can still pay all our bills, and we're still managing to set aside some savings each month. There are really a couple milestones we would like to achieve—we would like to get married and move—but neither of us feels that we have to get married this year, though we would like to move sooner rather than later. But it really feels like 2009 is going to be about making the effort to hunker down and maintain.

I've often used "hunker down" to describe how I felt about W's second term in office. But that was more like the keep your head down, don't rock the boat, observe and try not to say or do anything that might get you picked up by Homeland Security. This hunker down is different; it feels much more urgent. In both instances I'm confident that things will eventually get better, but with W, at least there was a timeline. I mean, I knew he couldn't be reelected after a second term. With the economy, it's much more open ended—there's just no telling when this may turn around.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to be a pessimist, but I'm having a hard time mustering the exuberance of a true blue optimist. I guess I'm just trying to be a realist. Or pragmatic. Or a stick in the mud.

You know, one of the biggest adjustments in New Years past was remembering to put down the correct year when filling out checks. But I do nearly all of my bill paying online these days and I haven't even had a checkbook for about 2 years. Without that direct interaction with the calendar, I feel somewhat detached from the whole new year thing.

Anyhow, we had a mellow New Year's Eve. Fireworks started in the neighborhood around 7:30pm and I was bracing myself for a noisy night and trying to locate the tranquilizers for the cats, but things settled down around 9:00pm and it was a nice evening. I roasted a chicken for dinner (which took forever to cook) with a nice salad, then we snuggled on the sofa with popcorn and a movie, Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I'm not sure that a break-up movie was the best choice for a couple on New Year's Eve, but I am sure that no thought was given to it in that context when he picked it. And hey, it was funny.

So Scoob and I really didn't end up making any resolutions other than to eat healthier, though I did find myself scribbling "move more" in the margins of a puzzle book. So I guess that really boils down to the same old diet and exercise resolutions.