Sunday, May 28, 2017

100 Push Ups

I recently started watching One Punch Man, which is a popular anime comedy.  In it there is a running joke that a normal exercise routine any athlete might have, gave the hero super strength.  That routine includes one hundred push ups.  One hundred push ups seems to come up a lot.  If you want a muscular chest, the answer is push ups, and the correct number is 100 a day.

I had heard this years ago, and started working my way up.  I started at 20, and took years to consistently do that everyday.  A couple of years after that, and I had worked myself up to 35.  About 2 months ago I realized it's been a while since I've pushed myself.

To my surprise, I was able to push myself to 50 a day in just a couple of weeks.  Now this is 50 in a row, once a day, everyday.  But I only did that for 3 days.  Then I took a week off to pack, because I didn't want to exhaust my will power during that time.  Packing had to get done.  And after my move I was very sore and didn't start up again for another week.

To my surprise, 35 was work again.  It took me two weeks to get back to 45, and that was like pulling teeth.  I decided to try something different.  I tried 2 sets of 25, just until I got back into the swing of things.  It was crazy easy.  Too easy, even.  I did 2 more sets of 25.

I finally did 100 push ups in a day, and it wasn't even hard.

I checked around online, and found out that's pretty normal.  Most people do "sets" of "reps" when it comes to exercise.  I also found out my form is bad.  I was taught when young that there should be the space of a fist between your chest and the ground when doing push ups, and it looks like your nose should actually touch the ground.

So, there is work to be done, but after all this time, can't believe I'm finally here.  I'll be fighting crime in no time.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Techie versus The Application

You can’t do that!”

I am a self-avowed computer geek. I greatly enjoy finding both Windows and Android applications that make my life and my work easier. ( Though retired, I continue to use my computer for both household paperwork and the job(s) that my volunteering requires. These things constitute ‘my work.’ )  I especially like the applications that are freeware ( no cost ), though I have liked several enough to pay the modest cost they’ve asked. This story involves overcoming a wonderful Windows application that thought I was doing something in violation of the free license agreement. It’s a technical story.

The application is PhraseExpress. It belongs to a class of applications called clipboard managers, because it significantly enhances the Windows clipboard. I bought a license for this before I retired because I used it at work and the freeware license did not allow using it when being paid.

I have upgraded the software often since then, and that license is no longer valid …  and I have been receiving what we techies call ‘nags.’ This particular nag does two things:

  • It types, at the current cursor location, a long sentence asking to please pay for the software;
  • It opens a window which stays open for about 10 seconds, in which there is text saying I’m sharing the data base with my mobile device, which is illegal per the terms of the free license.

This is a techie version of screaming, “You can’t do that!”, which is fine, except I am not sharing it with my mobile device; I don’t even have PhraseExpress installed on my mobile device!

I could, and did, live with the occasional nag, but they started being more than occasional … and most recently they have become quite regular, popping up several times in one work session and, occasionally, popping up six or seven times in the creation of one email … which email, admittedly, was a heavy user of the application. I couldn’t stand it anymore.

I use DropBox as my backup medium, and DropBox can be used to synchronize folders/files with my mobile device. My PhraseExpress data files were in DropBox, PhraseExpress, of course, knew that, and I believe the possibility of using Dropbox to synchronize files between two devices is what caused PhraseExpress to accuse me of performing this illicit behavior. I needed to fix that.

PhraseExpress creates and uses several data files; I moved the main data file from Dropbox to another folder on my computer, made other arrangements to back up the file, and figured I had changed how PhraseExpress was determining I was cheating and was done with the nags. I was pleased with myself and my technical acumen.

Until a few days later: PhraseExpress once nagged, “You can’t do that!” I thought I had resolved this issue; its resurgence annoyed me. A. Lot. More determined that previously, I found all the files PhraseExpress had created and moved all of them from Dropbox to the folder to which I had moved the primary data file. I also “unloaded” from PhraseExpress the files that were still in Dropbox. ( Unloaded these files means I “told” PhraseExpress I am not using them. ) Sure enough, PhraseExpress popped up a window saying, “I found a PhraseExpress file in a folder that is scheduled to be synchronized; do you want to load it?” I said, “No.” This happened twice. And I believed, because it found those files and asked me if I wanted to use them, I had convinced PhraseExpress that I was using it legitimately.

I sat down to write the story about this success and … right! PhraseExpress told me, twice in the first paragraph, “You can’t do that!” Damnation; tarnation.

I inspected all the folders which might be used to synchronize with my mobile device, found all the PhraseExpress files, and changed the file extension to make sure PhraseExpress would neither attempt to open them nor even recognize them as PhraseExpress files, and, therefore, stop the nagging.  I think this last finally took care of it. My techie geekiness is restored and I once again recognize myself when I look in a mirror.
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Monday, May 22, 2017

A Series of Unfortunate Ducks

The other day I saw my mother for Mother's Day.  We had breakfast, and I bought her some traditional Mother's Day soda pop and cigarettes.  It is what she wants.  Then on the short walk back she got a look of panic on her face, and grabbed my arm.  It took me a moment to find the source.  A mother duck and about 8 chicks were trying to cross a very busy intersection.

There was a time that this was the most dangerous intersection in the nation, measuring by accidents per minute.  I grew up on the east side of Saint Paul Minnesota, and don't recommend it.  That particular intersection isn't as bad as it once was, since it was renovated a few years ago.  Still, not a super safe place for ducks to cross.

After a car narrowly avoided them, I was able to guide them away from the street, and into an alley.  But what now?  There was lake about two miles away, but there was no way for us to get them there.  After trying the DNR, Raptor Center, and Animal Control, it turns out this isn't something our society is set up to help with.  They were on their own.

I'm a practical person.  I moved on.  My mother on the other hand kept suggesting that praying for the duck will help them, or envisioning them by the lake will help.  I'm pretty sure life doesn't work that way, but I would like to help her feel better.  Eventually I got curious, and asked, "Have you ever eaten duck?"

Her response surprised me.  She said "yes", and  immediately went into how she does and does not like her duck prepared.  It seemed to be the perfect subject to get her mind off of the ducks in danger.  I know at one time I must have compartmentalized my thoughts the same way.  I probably still do to some degree.  It's got to make you think though, right?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Story of Benjamin

As far back as I can remember, people have called me Ben, Benny, and Mr. B.  It might seem odd since none of these are my name.  I was born Jose Benjamin, but my mother had that changed to Joseph Benjamin quickly after the divorce.  I was not involved.  They say going with my middle name was my idea, and I believe it.  I've always hated being called Joe.  But did I choose Ben over Benjamin?

I remember when I was young I considered changing my name to Miles.  Not that I loved the name, but I thought people might actually call me that.  I gave up and resigned myself to being called Ben for most of my life.

Then about 10 years ago, I was talking to a very blunt acquaintance.  Some other Benjamin from a book or history had come up, and he asked me, "Is Ben short for Benjamin?"  I told him it was.  He thought about that, and decided, "No one would ever call you that.  You're not cool enough."

I was mad.  Mad for days.  I was mad long enough that I needed to evaluate why I was still mad at him.  I knew he wasn't trying to offend me.  He was just socially awkward, like I had been.  I had to face the truth.  I was mad because I agreed with him.

I decided that day, I deserve to be called by my name.  I told my friends and family.  The next time I applied for a job I insisted my name was Benjamin, and corrected everyone every time they called me Ben.  It was like pulling teeth.

I can't tell you how many new people I've met that started:
"Hello, my name is Benjamin."
"Hi Ben, bla bla bla."

As for my friends and family, I've said something a couple of times each, but I haven't insisted, and they all call me Ben except for Walter and our friend Wojciech.

But I've decided to try some more.  I told my roommate a month ago that now that we will be living together again, I'm going to remind him to call me Benjamin every single time.  And one month in, he's called me Benjamin zero times.  I think I've corrected him at least 50 times, and he's self corrected 2 or 3.  And it has been... amazing.  I've felt great standing up for myself.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Customer Service?

 “Your plan is not compatible with this phone.”

I hope you’re up for another story about customer service.

Ellie and I got new smart phones and a less expensive plan with the same wireless provider in late March. We switched to phones that are slightly less expensive than the prior ones, added the cost of the interest-free loan for the screen savers and phone covers, and expected to save approximately $15 on our wireless bill. I left the store feeling good about what we had done. 

Imagine my surprise ( and other emotions ) when our next bill came and it was approximately the same as prior bills! And it included recurring costs for the phone cases and screen savers.

Loaded for bear, so to speak, I called customer service to get this fixed. As politely as she could, and she was quite polite, the representative reminded me that the recurring cost of the cases and screen savers was paying off the interest-free loan we signed up for. “Oh, crap,” I said. “Of course; I apologize as humbly as possible. I forgot we’re using your money!”

About the other discrepancy, however, she noted an error: the clerk in the store had failed to switch our plan. The customer service rep did what she needed to do, told us the change is now made, and gave me the exact amount that I would be charged when the charge occurred. This was good; I was happy.

Until the amount was charged to my card. It was the amount on the bill that I complained about. “Yikes,” I thought, “these people are really incredible!”

On the phone again with Customer Service, I am told that once the bill is printed/delivered/calculated, it cannot be changed. Also, to unburden me from having to figure out the details of a prorated bill, if they change plans in the middle of a billing cycle, they don’t prorate bills. Yes. Even when they switch a plan in the middle of a billing cycle, they don’t switch the rate at which customer gets charged mid cycle.

I could scarcely believe my own ears. ( “Does this same philosophy hold,” I did not ask, “when the customer is switching to a more expensive
plan?” ) “So ( the name of the tech I spoke to before ) didn’t know this when she told me the exact amount you’d charge me?”

“She should have known, yes sir. I apologize for her error.”

“This is ridiculous.”

He offered to credit my account for the difference between what they charged and what they should have charged. I accepted that offer and we graciously wished each other pleasant dreams.

Less than two weeks later Ellie and I were driving to meet her sister, in town from Texas; we’re meeting at a restaurant we’ve been to before but whose specific location we didn’t remember. “It won’t come up,” she said, trying to get Google on her phone.

She tried all the usual things, like closing and reopening the application, shutting the phone down and restarting it, trying a different web site, and she kept getting no response, or, when she did get a response, it was a message, “Your plan is not compatible with this phone.” Eventually I pulled over, pulled out my phone, did the same things, and found the address of the restaurant. We entered that into the car’s GPS, continued our trip, and had a nice dinner with my sister-in-law.

Later, I found myself talking to customer service, again. “And what is going on with your phone?”

“Blah blah; no response; blah WiFi here at home. Your plan is not compatible with this phone, sometimes.”

This error message seemed to trigger a memory in my CS rep; she excused herself. She returned. “Your plan,” she explained, “has a no-cost add-on of unlimited internet, which didn’t get added to your wife’s phone. I can add it here, she needs to shut her phone off for 30 minutes, restart, and all will be good.”

“Would you please check my phone, to see if it has that option?” I asked.

“Nope, yours doesn’t either. I’ll add it, you shut your phone off for 30 minutes, and all will be good. Call back if either of you can’t access the internet without WiFi.”

I have now invested one visit to a store and three phone calls to Customer Service attempting to change my plan and get new phones. I checked my bill and it finally seems correct. Both Ellie and I can access the internet without WiFi … but we could both do that for a time earlier, too. I think we have been successful, but I wonder. I also wonder if this would be as difficult with another provider.

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Monday, May 8, 2017

Reflections on Life in My New Place

I've been at my new place a couple of weeks, and it's been pretty great.  I thought I'd run down the pros and cons, but I should warn you, the con list will be a short one.


Hot water, and lots of it.  I've only ever experienced water pressure like this in an apartment complex, and never this good.  The shower head is one of those rain forest types, with a separate detachable sprayer closer to waist level.  It's also the biggest bathroom I'm ever had, with a door separating the sink area.  I've seen that overseas, and loved it.  One unexpected benefit of that is the mirror never gets fogged up.

A spray attachment in the kitchen as well, and the garbage disposal has been surprisingly great.  I haven't intentionally put anything in it, but it never occurred to me how great it is to be able to let anything from my dishes just go down the drain.  I have a dishwasher, but I'm not really sure how and when to use it.

The stove is induction.  I'm not sure where to put this one.  It turns out only two pieces of my cookware work on induction, and it's taking some time to figure out how to use it at all.  I'm putting this in the pro column because my old cookware wasn't good anyways, and everyone says induction is better.  It's supposed to be much faster, safer, and use less energy.

A new home is a great time to form new habits.  I have not eaten in bed once.  I have been using my dinning room table.  I'm happier this way, and my bed is cleaner.  Just having a roommate means it's not okay to leave things lying around, so I don't, which is great.

Walking to work has been amazing.  I've actually been doing more walking, with much less travel time.  I've been pretty busy with life and moving, and this extra time has helped.  And when doing that life stuff, the extra mobility living near a transit hub provides has been amazing.

This place probably has about twice the laundry facilities that they could get away with.  It's great being able to do multiple loads at once.


I would like more freezer space.  I had been using 75% of my freezer before, so that's a 33% reduction right there.  I'm looking into getting a shelf so we can make the most of that though.

I am paying more, even after saving on transport costs.  If my time has value though, I am definitely coming out ahead.

It's just as noisy as my last place, but the noise is much more intermittent.  Earplugs while sleeping is a solution.  It would be nice not to need them, but at the same time, it was my plan to train myself to use them.