AThing I Have Learned

When in the library, if someone sits down next to you and starts imbibing then opens up their phone to watch videos with the sound on (no headphones):   this is a cry for attention.  Do not engage!   If you ignore them, they will eventually become bored and move to some other area of the library to bother someone else.   Also, bring headphones.  

I'm sorry you need attention so badly, but I have things to do! 

I am afraid..

Afraid that on Friday there will not be one person in the White House who feels this way.... (watch the entire thing or zoom ahead to 1:45 for the start of the really good part).  

Sam Seaborn: It was high treason, and it mattered a great deal! This country is an idea, and one that's lit the world for two centuries and treason against that idea is not just a crime against the living! This ground holds the graves of people who died for it, who gave what Lincoln called the last full measure of devotion, of fidelity.

Sam Seaborn: You understand that last full measure devotion to, treason against them is.

A President and Love and Books and Empathy

Just Do It

Ever have a to do which you'd do anything to avoid doing or procrastinate or make excuses to not do?   No, I'm sure I'm all alone in that wonderful trait.   But just in case...  

For most of my life, I have not cooked.  I didn't enjoy cooking.  I didn't like spending time cooking. Why couldn't fun, delicious food appear from nowhere?   Then I started Hello Fresh and attempted to become a vegan (still a work in progress), so I started cooking.  I've learned to make many interesting and fun dishes.   

You know what happens when you cook, when you actually turn the oven on from time to time?   I'm told you're supposed to clean it periodically.  What?!  Yes, it's true.   Here is an embarrassing fact.  In all the time we've lived here, ahem years, the oven has never been cleaned, not one time. Last time I used it, smoke came out.  It was just like when smoke comes out of the toaster oven when you've left crumbs on the bottom, so I knew just what it was.  

But I don't want to clean the oven!   I don't wanna.  Do I need Oven Off?   I did think about just getting a new oven for a bit.  The oven is entering it's golden years. Surely it will need to be replaced soon anyway.  I realize that is ridiculous.  I can't do that just because I throw out the $35 toaster oven when it gets too dirty.  Oh, the oven is self-cleaning!  Excellent.  Then I read the instructions. The oven will go up to 1000 degrees and it takes hours.  Frankly, that sounds terrifying.  Also, I want to make baked sweet potato fries.  I don't want to wait.  Ok, Scrub Daddy, you and me... we're going in.  

To my amazement, the black stuff came right off.   Super easy.  Wo!  Victory!   Sure, I probably need to give it a more substantial cleaning at some point, but things will work out fine for today.   There was no reason to be so intimidated of cleaning the oven.  

Lesson:  sometimes the things you just don't want to are the exact things that you really need to do.  It's entirely possible it won't be as bad as you think and you will feel fantastic when you're done, not to mention enjoying yummy sweet potato fries! 

I don’t really have book problems.  Others think I have book problems, but I do not agree.  What I have is a reading problem in that there is nowhere near enough time to read all the books.  But I love books!   I love being around them.  I love seeing them on the shelf.  I love going to bookstores. I love going to the library.  I even love to smell them. I know I’m not alone.  When I’ve had a bad day, heading to a bookstore and bought two, three… seven books to feel better is my thing.   It’s like this scene from Almost Famous, just switch out bookstore for record store. 

 

But all this book buying has led to a space problem.  There isn't room anywhere for even one more book.  Well… not true, they could be piled up on the floor.  What is wrong with that?   I see nothing wrong with that, but let’s say not everyone agrees.  So now new books are hidden under the bed.   I also went through a phase of squirreling them away on eReaders.  I barely remember I own them because I don’t see them.  I need to SEE the beautiful books!  

The possibility of my reading the books I already have rather than buying even more new books has been suggested.  Am I even aware of how many unread books I own?   Do I know that there are some duplicates?  Pshaw!  Sacrilege.  You know nothing!  

Unfortunately for me, I believe in holding myself accountable.  I only paid off my student loans by maintaining a budget spreadsheet and being brutally honest with myself about what I spent.   So… I made a spreadsheet of all my books.  Author, Title, Type (fiction, non-fiction, etc.), Format (print, ebook, etc.), guestimate of when it was acquired, Read or To be Read.  But to be fully accountable to my book compulsion, I couldn’t track merely the books which already beautify my shelfs.  What about the ones I want to read, but do not yet own?   So I added in my Amazon wishlist, all fifteen pages of it.   What?   Fifteen pages is completely normal! 

The results were striking.  The list was so long I decided to add a second tab to hold just the book already read.  Then I would have a true To Be Read (TBR) list and be able to sort on whether I own it or not.  That way I could refer to this list when looking for my next read and pull from it.  Excellent idea… yes?   Until I totaled up the spreadsheet.  Want to know how many books were on my TBR?   657.   Even I think 657 is batshit crazy!    I own 308 print and 146 eBooks I haven’t read.  Hmmm…  Let’s do some math.  I read around 50 books a year (time constraints!).  This means if I only read the print books I already own, I, in theory, don’t need to buy another book for six years.  If I include ebooks, nine.   NINE years!   This doesn’t even account for the books I’ve marked as ‘On Scribd’ because A. of course I have Scribd and B. theoretically I don’t HAVE to buy a book if it’s on Scribd.  Though sometimes book leave Scribd, but that is a whole aside.  

This feels daunting to me.   Also, it was 657 when I originally made the spreadsheet some time back.  It’s now up to 763, but shhhhh…  

I’m either going to have to pick up the pace or stop adding to this list, right?   I can’t stop adding to the list, so it’s going to have to be pick up the pace.   Why am I writing this?   Gotta go!

Customer Disservice

Having worked in product development for some time, I’d like to think I understand how customer service can and should work.  The level of incompetence in this area is truly astounding.  Let me give you an example of how it should NOT work and then we can work through how it should work.

 

Barnes & Noble.  So sorry to pick on you when you’re flailing, but possibly one of the reasons you’re flailing is you need to improve in some areas.  I’m here to help you with at least one of them.  

I love books.  I love physical bookstores.  I want you to stay around, at least until independent bookstores return to every town.  Dare to dream.  

As a supporter, I am a Barnes & Noble member.  I pay $25 for the privilege of free shipping online and additional discounts.   I’m happy to do it.  It’s a good deal for me.   Except when the following occurred.  

Last year, while checking out in a store, the cashier told me my membership would soon expire and asked if want to renew today.  Sure, sounds good.  A few weeks later what did I notice on my credit card statement but two charges for Barnes & Noble renewal.   Some research tells me one is from the transaction in the store and the other another auto-renewal initiated from the website.  Seriously?    Since I’m logged into BN.com, I enter the support area and enter an inquiry.  I received the below in response: 

 

Thank you for inquiring about your Barnes & Noble Membership.

To protect your privacy and respond to your request, please provide all of the following information:

-Member name
-Member mailing address
-Barnes & Noble Membership number

If you do not have your Membership number available, please provide one of the following:

-Phone number
-Last four digits of the credit card #
-Last store in which your Membership was used.

Please accept our sincere apologies for the inconvenience.

 

To protect my privacy, provide information that you already have because I was logged in to your site when I sent this inquiry?    Sigh, but ok.  I return to the Customer Service section of the website, but there is no apparent way to view existing support tickets to add this information, which they already have.  So, I’m left with the assumption that for my privacy I should personal information to them via email.   Now this was last year, perhaps they weren’t yet aware that email isn’t the most secure mechanism.

Note:  because I have worked in technology, I know what this means.  It means their Customer Service functionality isn’t fully connected to their website.  It’s just email and phone in issues, and it’s most likely a completely separate operation from any other part of the business.  This is insane because:

1.      You have an e-commerce operation where people may need support. 

2.      You have digital products, i.e.) the Nook that may actually require support. 

 

If you don’t want to support a real Customer Service area online, possibly there are other more pressing areas of your business to focus on, then don’t allow people to enter in information online that appears to an actual support ticket, but is in reality just an email.  I hate having to call and wade through the phone menu. HATE IT.  But I’d prefer it if you just told me that upfront rather than go through this farce.  

But I do it.  I respond with the information.  I even provide them with the date, the store and the total amount of my purchase to help.

Days later a response arrives.  I should take the receipt from the store back to the store and tell them to refund me.  Customer Service can’t initiate that refund from their system.   For real.  

So now I further know that the website and the store systems aren’t really connected.   They are connected enough that when I use my member card in a store, they know it’s going to expire, but not connected enough to have one channel process a refund processed through the other.   Ridiculous. 

At this point, I give up.  I don't have the receipt anymore.  It’s only $25.  I’m not investing any more time.  Except to go on to the website and turn off auto-renewal for my membership, because I don’t know that I want to renew.  

Flash forward to this year to my renewal time.  What do you think happened?   Take a guess.  Naturally, the membership auto-renewed anyway.   I return to the website and look under Membership settings.   Somehow the setting has reverted to auto-renew and here is the really interesting part, it displays my credit card information with the correct credit card number, but incorrect expiration date.   I return out to the payments area of My Account. There my credit card and expiration date are accurate.  So they must store credit card information for memberships separately and somehow, someone changed it.   Lunacy.  

 

Barnes & Noble:  get your shit together. 

 

Here is how this should go: 

I enter my issue into the system.  I receive a response saying they will respond soon.   The response should include research determining that, indeed, I have been charged twice for a membership and informing me that I have been refunded for one.   Done.

How to go from Dumbass to MacGyver

Da da dah da da da da daa dah…  ok that is the Mission Impossible theme.  What can I say, my grandfather loved it.  

The following is a true story…

The facts:

·        I am feeding my friend’s cats while they are on vacation

·        The litter boxes are in their basement

The story: 

Upon entering the house, I remove my boots so as not to get the snow, just beginning to fall, all over.  I say hello to the adorable kitties, drop my bag and keys on the kitchen counter.  I go about my business:  fill up food bowls, check.  Change the water, check.  Set up the feeder to go off again at 8pm, check.  Then it’s time to go down to the basement to clean the litter boxes.  No problem.  I take care of business, return up the stairs to the basement door, turn the knob and…..  it’s locked. 

WHAT?  It’s fucking locked?!?  I’m in the basement and the door is fucking locked.  This is not happening.  I smack my pockets.  OH!  My phone is in my bag, upstairs on the kitchen counter.  Damn it!    The lock has a key!   My keychain with their keys is on the kitchen counter.  FUCK.

No… this is NOT happening.   I am not locked in the basement.  

I go downstairs and look around, then return upstairs and try the knob because again...  I’m NOT locked in the basement.  

Fucking A.  I am locked in the basement.   

{Deep breaths… deep breaths}.  No one is coming here today and I have no way to communicate out.

This is still not happening.  I’m not locked in the basement!  And I’m certainly not locked in the basement, where there is no food and it’s quite chilly!  

Ok.  Maybe there is a door to the garage somewhere down here.  Interesting fact:  basements are underground.  Garages are usually not.  This house falls into the not category.  

Maybe there is a phone down here.  I can call someone!  There are not one, but two, other people who I know have keys.  It doesn’t faze me that I wouldn’t be able to call them because I don’t know anyone’s number anymore, it’s all in my cell phone which is IN MY BAG, on the COUNTER upstairs.  I’ll call Information.  Does Information still exist?   I lurch around aimlessly… phone here?  Phone there?   Phone NOWHERE!  

It’s ok.  This is not happening.  I am NOT locked in the basement. 

I return up the stairs and try the door again.  Apparently, I am still… locked in the basement.  

Maybe this has happened to them before and they have hidden a key around for this express purpose!    I look under rugs, go through random baskets of nonsense, even look in hats.  I go through the pockets of some coats hanging down there.  You never know!  I feel bad about this, but at least I can tell her where her sunglasses are in case she is looking for them.  But no key.

It’s ok.  This is NOT happening.  I am not locked in the basement. 

Except I am locked in the basement.  Ok, what next?   I check out the water heater room.  There is a ladder.  That could be handy.  And a stocked wine rack!   Thank goodness.  Now I know I won’t die. 

I investigate the other room. It’s a tool room!  Her husband has a room full of tools!   But even better: there is a window in here!   It’s a mere foot above my head!   So what that it’s small.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.   I drag the ladder in and climb up.   Hmmm…. There are not one, not two, but three sliding windows and a screen on this tiny window!  It looked like this:

I could barely fit through this window if fully open.  The options appear to be removing the windows or sliding open one window and squishing through half the window.   

Let’s consider other options.  

I return to the main room.  Another window!  Only one opening!   I drag the ladder over, climb up and attempt to open the window.   I could get through this.  It wouldn’t be pretty, but I could do it.  I open the window, it opens from the top down, like this:

WHY?    If it opened from the bottom up, I could possible shimmy under the open window.  With top down I’d be forced to climb over the glass and put my whole weight on it.   I imagine this going one of three ways:

1.      I get stuck and must yell for help to the surely multitude of people walking by in a snow storm.  

2.      The glass breaks and though I’m bleeding, I escape alive.  The house is now open season for burglars.  Only later do I realize that any burglar that went through the window would also end up locked in the basement… and they would deserve it!

3.      I remove the window, even though it has weird screws that I’ve never seen before, and escape with ease.  At that point, I’d be outside, in my socks, in the snow, with no keys, no phone and no identification.  I’d be a person who didn’t exist.  I’d be forced to knock on neighbors’ doors and explain this.  

None of these options are appealing. 

It’s ok.  This is not happening.  I am NOT locked in the basement. 

Now a rational person might take a breath and think:  ok, let’s make a plan.  What are you going to do?   All I could think was:   I’ve got to get out of here!  I suppose the worst-case scenario is I’m here for 24 – 32 hours until someone comes home.  I look around.  I would have nothing to do!   No phone, no tv, no radio, no books, no… nothing.  Except the wine rack… NO.  I have to get out of here!  I won’t make it solitary!  This is why I don’t commit crimes (among many other reasons).   

I look around.  What materials are here that I can use?   What else can I do?   WAIT!  Is that a paperclip on the floor?   Get OUT!   I grab it, run up the stairs.  I’m going to jimmy this lock like they do in the movies!   Come on paperclip, get it done!   

I have no jimmy-ing skills.  None, zip, zero.   I’m still locked in the basement.    Why didn’t I ever learn how to pick a lock??   Maybe I can Google how to pick a lock!   Note:  you can!   If only I had my phone, which is in my bag on the kitchen counter.   Damn it!  

I take another look around.   People kick doors with locks open on tv all the time!  It’s just as easy as using the paperclip, which I’ve shown no ability to do.  However, the door is directly at the top of the stairs.  I visualize myself kicking, then falling backward down the stairs, being found days later in a pool of my own blood.  This is undesirable. 

It’s ok.  This isn’t happening.  I am NOT locked in the basement. 

I return downstairs and up the ladder again to look out the window.  So peaceful, the snow is slowly falling, creating a winter wonderland.  Maybe a neighbor will stroll by and I can yell to them.  Maybe that neighbor will be the one I know also has a key or will be able to get that neighbor.  The snow comes down and all is quiet.  I watch quietly for a few minutes.  It’s entirely possible no one will come by for hours and hours and hours and hours!   It’s snowing.   Did I mention we were about to get 8 – 12”?   Everyone is inside, buckling down.  Not outside, wandering about in case their neighbors’ crazy friend has locked herself in the basement and is now yelling out the window for help.  

Eventually I’m going to have to go to the bathroom.   Don’t think about that!

I return to stare at the smaller window.  Nope. Still not going to work. 

That’s it!   I’m getting out of here!   I’m going to have to break that friggin’ lock.  What can I use?    I return to the tool room.   My hands fly everywhere. Tool drawers!   Display like thing guys use to hang up tools!  Shelves. So many options!   Pliers, that thing you use to scrape off paint, metal things that I don’t know what they are, screw drivers.  Screwdriver?  Can I just unscrew this MF?   

I can’t just unscrew the MF.   Which makes sense.  If you could, it wouldn’t be much of a lock, would it?   So I go to work on the lock.  I can DO this!   I’ve never, not one time, seen MacGyver… but I have seen MacGruber (the skit, not the film.  Come on, give me some credit).  I can DO this.   Whatever this metal stick is with a hook like thing on the end, I can use it to pry the lock off.   What if I break the lock and it’s not un-lockable?   I’m in no worse shape than I am now.  I’m getting out of here!!   I pry and pry and pry and pry.  

The phone rings upstairs.  It’s probably my friends asking me if I’ve died.  I wonder if the alarm company has alerted them that someone is breaking this dumb lock.  Could it be?  Could they call someone to get me out?   No, I turned off the alarm when I came in.  The phone stops ringing.  Sigh.  I look at the lock.  You flimsy little thing.  I can bust out of this.  I can DO this!   I pry and pry and try the screwdriver and return to my new best friend, the metal thing with the hook ending.  I jiggle and pry, then pry and jiggle the lock around.  I rip part of the door around the knob off.  Whoops!   Amazing the door seems only solid right around the frame and knob.  They don’t make things like they used to.  Even in crisis, a cliché is no help.   I jiggle, I jangle, I bang I push and voila!   The lock gives just enough to let me out.  

PHEW!   

I’m NOT locked in the basement!  I won’t die in the cold, alone on a basement floor after only drinking wine for 24 hours and having nowhere to go to the bathroom!    

I am motherfucking MacGyver!   

And that is how you go from dumbass who doesn’t check if a doorknob is locked to MacGyver. 

 p.s.

See…it really was ok.  This didn’t happen.  I was NOT locked in the basement.   Except that I was and I figured out how to get out by busting stuff up.  Feminism!   Safety locks are for dudes!

Christmas Happiness

We counted down the days.  We wrapped all the gifts.  We got excited for the love and sharing.   Then in a short burst of energy way too early in the morning, the gifts have been opened, the food begins to flow and we settle in to the holiday spirit. The sharing, the caring, the specialness of this one day where we are supposed to enjoy all the blessings we have.  Today is special, celebrate damn it!    And we do.  All except one family member:  

She is doing the same thing she does everyday:   sitting on the bed, sunbathing.  A girl needs her vitamin D, don't you know. 

Hey lady, don't you want to play with your new toys?    Nope.

What about coming out to say hi?   Nope. 

And I realized she is happy there.  Warm sunshine makes her happy and so that is what she wants to do on Christmas.   Then I realized if she is happy doing that, that is what she should do.  But it's such an every day thing!  So boring!  It's the day to share and care and all that.   Then I further realized if she has incorporated happiness into her day every day, she gets to have a little piece of Christmas every day.  No need to save it up for one day a year.

I resolve to bring a little Christmas into each day by doing something I love to do or that makes someone else happy.   I hope you will, too. 

Happy Holidays!

Brown Quacamole Makes Me Sad...

But very green quacamole after two days makes me scared.  I've gotten into the habit of making my own quac since acquiring the NutriNinja food processor.  So great, so fresh, so exactly they way you like it!  Do it.    But recently I bought a box of 100 calorie containers of quac.  95% avacado the box declared.  Sounds great!  

Below is one of the containers after it's top was removed and it sat in the fridge for 2 days (the acceptability of returning this to the fridge without top and forgetting about it is a topic for another day).   TWO DAYS and still as green as the day it was processed in some huge vat and slopped into this little container.  WTF!

Some folks probably think this is great!  Wo.. quac that doesn't turn brown after an hour.  I am suspicious of what chemical is producing this effect.   Below are the ingredients. 

Avacados,,, great.  Organic onion.. rock on.  Organic garlic power.  wo!  Sea salt, ok.  Organic sugar.  Is that necessary?  Oh well. move onCitric acid.  does that mean lemon juice?   Ascorbic acid.  Isn't that basically the same as Citric Acid?   Xantham gum.  WTF is that??  

From WebMD:  http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-340-XANTHAN%20GUM.aspx?activeIngredientId=340&activeIngredientName=XANTHAN%20GUM

Xanthan gum is a sugar-like compound made by mixing aged (fermented) sugars with a certain kind of bacteria. It is used to make medicine.

Xanthan gum is used for lowering blood sugar and total cholesterol in people with diabetes. It is also used as a laxative.

Xanthan gum is sometimes used as a saliva substitute in people with dry mouth (Sjogren’s syndrome).

In manufacturing, xanthan gum is used as a thickening and stabilizing agent in foods, toothpastes, and medicines. Xanthan gum is also an ingredient in some sustained-release pills.

How does it work?

Xanthan gum swells in the intestine, which stimulates the digestive tract to push stool through. It also might slow the absorption of sugar from the digestive tract and work like saliva to lubricate and wet the mouth in people who don’t produce enough saliva.

Yeah, a laxative...   swelling the intestines to help push stool through.  Just what I want to think about when eating quac.  

I'm not sure if it's the Xantam Gum that prevents the browning of the quac, but I do know that I don't need it and I don't need it, I don't want it.   Back to making it fresh!

Sorry Again, because I should have known about Trump…

Has it really only been a week?  

On election night, my life was an SNL skit.  This actual SNL skit: 

 

I’m not proud.

Because I should have known.  I should not have listened to all those pundits and insiders guaranteeing Ms. Clinton would win.  Why should I have known?   Because though I live in liberal Massachusetts, where Trump didn’t win one county, and have all my life, my parents were life-long conservatives and would have believed Trump's message.  Why?  Because they grew up working class.  Working class Irish Catholic. They didn’t go to college.  They adored Ronald Regan’s message of lower taxes.  Having been raised strictly in the church, they agreed with many conservative social policies. 

Now Trump isn’t really cut from the cloth conservative Republican.   All this talk about white men, not college educated people, where were the Latinos and Black, why did this group or that vote the way they did.   It’s not a clear cut as race, economic or gender issues.  No one is just one of those dimensions and no one votes 100% of the time based on any one of those labels.   It’s more complicated.  What Trump did was find that economically disadvantaged people could be made to fear and dislike groups of people they do not know because they believe they will take what is theirs or worse they are being given something that they believe to be theirs.      

Take my own community.  The opening of The Departed is like listening to my grandparents all over again, except they would say two generations from No Irish Need Apply to an Irish Catholic President.  

 

They would also say a facsimile of ‘no one give you anything, you have to take it’.  My grandparents would say you have to earn it (because they weren’t mob bosses in Southie).  But what does that say:   ‘we fought hard to get what we have in this country and you’ll be God damned if you think we’re going give it away to other group’.   That is the mentality of some groups.  When faced with economic survival, there is a prioritization of what is important to you.  Why did any woman vote for Trump?   Watch in that Departed clip how Costello treats the young woman.  Watch her father watch it, too, not do anything.  That store is how they live.  When people feel threatened in that way, they may act in ways that those of us who aren’t threatened find incomprehensible.  It’s Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. 

It’s easy to stigmatize another group if you think they will take from you and yours, especially if you’re not exposed to members of that group.  Trump played that fiddle perfectly.  They believe he’s going to change trade agreements so their jobs don’t go abroad, that he’ll build a wall so immigrants can’t come here and take their jobs and that he’ll cut their taxes substantially.  Even though similar things have been promised by Republicans before and their lives haven’t improved.  Why do they believe it now?  Because no one spoke to them so blatantly before?   What happens when reality strikes and he can’t do any of those things to the extent he’s described is not something I’m looking forward to, though I’m sure blame will be deflected away from the administration.

It’s easy to label people as anti-this or anti-that, but doesn’t that also make people ‘the other’?  How is that different?   Shouldn’t we spend the time to understand their real concerns, complicated and interconnected.   We may find a cesspool of hatred and bigotry, we may.  But I suspect we’ll find a populace riled up on rhetoric which blames other groups without understanding those groups, something the men in charge have been doing since the dawn of time.  If we fight each other, we’re not fighting them, and that makes it so much easier for them to stay in charge.  When we give into fear and don’t work together, we get the government we are now facing.  Let’s not do that.  What we all need is more empathy.  Empathy for other’s experiences, lives, opinions and beliefs.  We need to actively fight those who do not want us to do that or will subjugate whole groups of people.  We need a government for all of us.