Monday, October 30, 2017

Learning the Ways of the Hoop

My weight loss plans slow to a crawl, but that's really okay.  I feel like a guy at the end of the pack, walking to the finish line of a marathon.  I never wanted to be first, I just wanted to get there.  It's taking weeks for a single pound to fall off, but these pounds are coming with subtle changes to my figure.  And that has me thinking about where I want to end up.

I'm not weak or feeble, but I think part of me is.  I'm just not very flexible or coordinated.  I can't touch my toes, for example.  I never could.  Something like yoga seems like the best solution, but that's not super convenient for my life at the moment.  I looked around, and came upon the hula hoop.

Hula hooping is exactly the kind of thing I fail at.  I don't have the coordination, and I don't have the stomach muscles to hula it.  It seems a lot like my 100 push ups, in the sense that I can do it in my living room, without any  investment, and should have real results with just a minute a day.  I spent the $3.

Well, I hate my $3 hula hoop.  It has beads inside to make a noise.  It also had a warning sticker marked, "Do not remove."  I removed it, because I did not intend to break it open and choke on the beads.  Turned out that was a load bearing sticker.  The hoop is now held together with staples.

I should replace it with one that is not a toy.  It looks like a non toy version will be called a dance hoop, or a fitness hula hoop.  I should also stop making excuses.  I tried it, and it's hard.  My first few attempts are only adding a single rotation to my initial spin.  Day 2 wasn't any better.  I don't like to keep failing, but Yoda is full of it.  "Try" is real, and it's exactly what I plant to keep doing.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Digital Trouble

"There was a problem sending the command to the program."

I am a user of Microsoft's spreadsheet program, Excel. In my work as the "IT Guy" for one of my parish's ministries, I maintain several Excel files. I save them in the older XLS format, because other volunteers need access to the files and they may not all have the latest version of Excel. Because I do this, Excel always tells me, when I click "Save File," that the format is an older one, blah blah yadda blah. "I know, just go ahead and save it," I tell Excel. This is slightly annoying, but only slightly and I'm willing to live with it while I'm doing the IT job.

In the same way, I save a personal file that I originally saved in the older format and, of course, go through the same dance with Excel every time I save it. Recently I decided I didn't want to do that dance with this file, saved it in the latest format, and …

… and chaos ensued. When I double clicked on the file to open it, before giving me the worksheet, Excel opened an error window, "There was a problem sending the command to the program."

"Hmmm," I thought. I clicked OK ( the only option in the error window ) and the file was completely fine. "I wonder why changing the file format caused that to happen. Shouldn't be." I tried another file; same problem. I tried another … several others … all of them gave me the same error.

The error suggests a communication error between the program and something else. If I started Excel and opened the file from inside, files opened without error. This further suggests some communication problem: clicking on the file in the file system requires Windows to command Excel to find and open the file, and generates the error. Doing it inside Excel doesn't require this, and there is no error.

As far as I could tell, this was a cosmetic error … I stress that. The files worked and behaved exactly as they should. But I was not happy about even a cosmetic error; I am a techie.

I looked for help online. Finding material about this problem was very easy. Finding a definitive solution was not so easy. Lots of suggestions, though.

I tried an easy suggestion; no affect. Because this suggestion involved configuring, I thought maybe I needed to reboot the computer. I tried
that … and the problem was gone. ( "Computer reboot; why didn't I just think of that in the first place. That solves so many issues," I ranted internally. ) I tried opening multiple files; no errors.

I was working happily away … I opened another Excel file and the problem returned! Holy Hannah!

I returned to the online user forums … and found two divergent, possibly relevant, entries. First, one responder is complaining about opening Excel worksheets in multiple windows simultaneously, and he talks in terms of multiple instances of Excel. Second, several people, responding to a suggested Windows Registry change, had written, "Yes that fixed my problem."

The posting about multiple instances got me to wondering if I had multiple instances of Excel. I checked. Nope, just one. I shut it down
( killed it ) and restarted Excel in the way that was giving me that error message. No error message this time. I opened several more files; none of them generated the error message. Simply killing and restarting Excel fixed the problem.

I am willing to let well enough alone, ignoring the posts about the registry. Excel is behaving appropriately and all is well in my technical world.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2017


As I sit down to play Prey for a third time, it occurs to me that I should review the game.  I give it an "A".  I'll keep this is relatively spoiler free.

Prey is so many things.  For starters it's sci-fi, but it borders on survival horror for the first 25% of the game.  I say 25% because that's when someone should have a handle on what sort of danger to expect, and have a plan to handle most of it.  That's when the story gets good.  It centers on an alien threat.  The aliens are interesting, and well designed on many levels.  But that's not what drives the story.

The game introduces devices called Neuromods that it uses as a story vehicle in several ways.  These devices let you install new skills and abilities in your brain.  It's a very interesting way of leveling up your character through a skill tree.  It makes sense that you would make med kits go further with more medical knowledge.

But they also remove any memories you have formed since having installed them, if you remove them.  This allows the game makers to put you in the head of your character.  You are learning what's happening at the same time as your character because of this memory loss.

Neuromods also act as something to lose.  Most of these types of games try to include tough moral decisions.  This game actually succeeds.  The potential for all of humanity to instantly share the knowledge and abilities of the best and the brightest is something worth fighting for, and dying for.  It would dramatically improve the lives of so many.

The game had some flaws.  It also had it's share of glitches.  The bugs will be worked out in a patch, I'm sure.  The few design flaws are forgivable.  There are two things that would have bumped it up to an "A+" for me.

The first is the survivors.  You have a chance to save some people, but once you do, they pretty much disappear.  You can't track them on the map, which you should based on the in game mechanics.  I would like to have them make their way to safety off screen.  They could let you overhear them talking to other survivors.  The people organizing them could say, "Good work.  Looks like so-in-so made it to us, thanks to you."

The other is the very end, after credits scene.  I won't spoil it for you, but it builds on an interesting concept that was teased at earlier very briefly.  I think they should have introduced that idea in the game, and made it part of the story.  That, of not at all.

I can't stress enough that this is a great game, and highly recommend it.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Becoming a Reading Buddy

"That's Milwaukee," I interrupted, "I grew up there."

I called the Reading Buddy coordinator on Monday a few weeks back. It was 5:30 before I got around to that and I didn't figure she'd be in. She wasn't. 

I recorded what I determined to be a stupid voice mail, erased it, recorded another equally stupid voice mail, erased it, and repeated this several more times. I finally figured out what was 'stupid' about the messages and how to fix it, but the Voice Mail system ended the call. I figured it believed the caller had no redeeming social value and hung up in disgust, leaving no messages. This was fine with me … no time-line to make another call.

Then, to my complete surprise, "Hi, Walter, nice to actually talk to you. How are you?" greeted me when I phoned again and introduced myself several days later.

"You responded like we're old friends," I said, after telling her I was fine, thanks for asking, "but I don't think you know me from Adam."

"Well, you left a Voice Mail on my phone several days ago. No call back number, just your name. I hoped you'd call again."

I felt a slight chill. I believed all my messages had been stupid, run on, of no use to the listener save to betray to her my uneasiness and inability to utter a coherent paragraph.

"Well, … " I managed.

Believing honesty is the best policy, I continued, "I recorded several stupid messages, thought I deleted each one in turn, and the system ended the call, hanging up in what I can only assume was complete disgust. I'm embarrassed whichever one remained on the system."

 "No worries," she said, using the current vernacular. "How can I help you?"

We talked about reading buddies, my friend ( who lives and volunteers in a county different from mine ) and discovered we have something in common: we're both residents of the same part of the city, about twelve miles removed from my reading buddy's home and the facility in which she works. Without being specific we found we live close to one another.

After more chatty material, she said, "I'll send you information on the program, the volunteer application, and we can go from there. How's that? How would you like to receive it … email, USPS, fax."

Unthinkingly I said, "USPS."

"OK," she said.

"Now I have to be specific and tell you where I live, don't I?" I said. She laughed again, appropriately and appreciatively. "I'm going to like this woman," I thought.

"I like to meet with potential volunteers," she went on. "We could meet near your house on my way to work next week, after you've had a chance to review what I'll send you."

"That works for me," I said. "I'm pretty open."

"You know the ( name not provided ) café?" she asked.

 "On ( intersection not provided )?"

"That's the one; you know where it is?"

Feeling a bit devilish, I said, "No idea." Again, she laughed appreciatively. "Yes, I do," I continued. "Of course. How about 10:00?"

After laughing, she said, "That's perfect."

"More vernacular."

"Let me give you my cell number, just in case. It's 414 … "

"More commonality!" "That's Milwaukee," I interrupted, "I grew up there."

"You did … I spent several years there, met my husband, though he's from here, there. Nice city."

We chatted a little about the city of my birth and marveled at the coincidences that bind us. I hung up looking very forward to meeting at the café the next week.

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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

How to T-Shirt

When I was young, I wore what I was told to.  That was almost exclusively t-shirts.  As I got older, I realized there is a variety of shirts, and the t-shirt was the most casual of all.  I began to notice people wearing t-shirts as outerwear that were clearly meant to be underwear, and all t-shirts became underwear to me.  Dress shirts looked professional, and hid some unwanted curves.

As the years went by, I came to realize that wearing a button-down, usually dress shirt, was not projecting the image I was going for.  People would comment on how my clothing choice was unnecessary, as though I had gone to some lengths to button a shirt.  Or how uncomfortable I must be, as though a shirt that buttons is less comfortable than a shirt that doesn't.

I can't say I get it, but I don't need to.  I'm certainly not going to chose clothes that I need to convince people they like.  I'm trying to wear clothes that people think look good on me.  I moved on to hoodies, and the infamous t-shirt.  I watched some youtube videos on men's style, and picked up some interesting, and good advice.

First of all, t-shirts as outerwear have a shorter lifespan than other shirts.  They're more prone to looking faded, torn, and even just start getting clear or discolored in the armpit area over time.  They need to be replaced more often, but they're fairly inexpensive, so that's not a problem.

As a general rule, v-necks are more likely to be made to be worn as outerwear than crew necks.  You also have to consider the weight of the fabric, the color, and it's transparency, of course.

Another big one for me was size.  The seem at the shoulder should line up with your shoulder joint.  This one isn't true of any t-shirt I own.  They truly don't make t-shirts that would have fit me at shoulder blade, and at my belly.  But that was in the before time.

My chest is 44 inches, but that's mostly muscle.  My belly is not gone, but certainly endangered.  I've worn XL shirts as far back as I can remember, occasionally moving up to 2XL, depending on the brand.  Now I see larges, and even mediums, fit  my shoulders, and that's all that matters in a t-shirt when I have so little to hide.  I'm even finding the cheap yet fashionable asian cut clothing online will fit me.  Suddenly the world is my oyster.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

I Mourn for Vegas

I weep for the lives ended
    for those changed forever
and for their mothers and fathers
    friends and lovers.

They were out enjoying each other
    listening to music and laughter
languages of the soul, both, when
    their world was violently assaulted

I weep, too, for the shooter
    of an age to know better
but he didn't and his pain
    has become ours

Why didn't he kill himself first?
    I ask this, too
Did he require the deaths of so many   
    to feel guilt enough for that?   

Why didn't he kill himself first?
    and save us our pain
was suicide an after-thought
    the guilt of so much harm?

How often … I ask … and why
    does a single person's pain
become so great as to cause
    a whole nation to weep?

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Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Hey, Siri Knows what I'm Talking About

It turns out cheap phones are cheap.  Last time I needed a new cell phone I decided I wanted a big screen, and a stylus, everything else should be standard.  The LG Stylo II seemed fit that bill, and at a very low price.  LG is a good name.  What can go wrong?

I'm not very demanding on a phone, and it's usually the connection that's the bottle neck.  This is the first time I've been frustrated with the loading speed on a cell phone.

I don't take fancy photos.  A snapshot of a memory here and there is fine.  These aren't going up in an art houses.  This phone couldn't even handle that.  It was actually a huge disappointment when I was in Costa Rica.

Less than a year in, and I started having trouble with the headphone jack.  At this point, I have to admit I'm harder on my headphone jacks than most, so I just switched to Bluetooth.  Then I started getting weird cracking over Bluetooth once in a while.  Rebooting was a temporary fix.

Then, just when I was planning for my phone to have an "accident" the stylus broke.  Now, mind you, this is just a regular stylus.  There is no circuitry built in.  There is no reason this couldn't have been made out of something rigid.

I'm back to Apple with a 6S Plus, just in time to take advantage of the announcement of the 8.  And I'm loving it.

The pictures are so amazing I've been actually capturing more than just a memory.

The interface and apps have been so fast I've been keeping up with a meditation app, and my calendar, and such.

And instead of annoying me by daring to think I might want voice interaction, I actually do want to talk to it sometimes.  Siri hears me, and does what I tell her to.  "Hey Siri.  Schedule lunch with friends at noon on Sunday," will actually result in that event being added to my calendar.  I ask her about the weather.  I ask her to start a timer.  She will even play the music I ask for.  It has been amazing.