Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Scary Christmas Eve Moment

Greetings everyone. I don't have a lot of new stuff to write about but I thought I'd share an experience I just had. I had a notice that there was a package for me in the office today, and I went to the office to get it, but they'd already closed (this being Christmas Eve.) Anyhow, walking back from the office, I went past my old apartment. It was rented out after I moved into my new place by an older lady...I haven't ever really talked to her, but I've seen her walking to and from her car a couple of times. Anyhow, when I walked past her apartment, the door was open slightly. I got a bad feeling.

I am never sure what to do in those situations. I mean, the door COULD be open just because she wanted to air out her apartment. On the other hand, her windows were NOT open. I dillied and dallied for a moment but finally decided it was worth pushing the door open a bit more and asking if everything was OK.

I knocked on the door and got not response. I pushed the door open slightly and saw a pair of legs on the carpet. Oh Jesus, I thought. But I was yelling at the same time, "Ma'am? Is everything OK in here?"

It turned out the lady who lives there was just kneeling down next to a cabinet to put up some Christmas decorations or something, and everything was fine. I'm still not sure why she had the door open but I was rather embarrassed to be intruding, so I didn't bother asking. Actually, I kind of felt like an idiot for knocking on the door. But I'm still glad I checked, since I figure it's better to have a minor invasion of your privacy rather than be collapsed in your apartment having a heart attack or stroke with your door open, and have nobody stopping by to see if you're OK.

Hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas. I actually have tomorrow night off (although I'm working tonight) and I'm planning to have dinner at my sister's place in the afternoon. See you all again soon.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Persona non Bloggity

Greetings everyone. Sorry I haven't posted since NaBloPoMo ended; I guess I just haven't been inspired. Or I've been too busy at work. Or suffering from inadequate Christmas spirit, or something.

Everything has been going fine. I have been working a lot, and I'm counting down the days until I have no more scheduled graveyard shifts. (I have eight remaining, if anyone cares.) Someone I work with hates afternoons even more than I hate graveyards, so I traded off a few shifts to him. He's even working Christmas night for me...which I was happy to trade off, but I also told him, wow, you really don't like afternoon shifts, do you?

Anyhow, as a result of all this trading, I worked last night, got off at 6 AM, then went back to work this afternoon at 2 PM, and just got home a little while ago (my shift ended at 10.) I'm kind of tired but perhaps the exhaustion gave me inspiration to post a blog entry.

The old soft-sided briefcase I bought right after I moved here has died so I just ordered a new one today made of leather. I got a good deal on it though at overstock.com (not screamingly good but still decent.) Also, I recently tried out some bacon jerky. It was different than regular jerky but still pretty tasty. Not as good as actual fried bacon, though, and rather pricey. But I couldn't resist trying it.

Not much other news to report...I am going to visit one of my relatives later this week for a couple of days, and that should be fun. It's become a December tradition for me since I moved to Texas. Also, my apartment is a mess...my housekeeping always seems to suffer while I'm working night shifts. Hopefully things will get better in that respect next year.

Back soon, with more exciting stuff.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Memories of a Good Dog



This is a picture of Bentley, the last dog my parents got. I think I was about 18 when we picked him out, and I really considered him to be my dog also. He loved to go hiking, and this is a picture of him on a hike, which is why he looks so happy in the picture. He was not a big dog (only weighed about 11 or 12 pounds) but when he was young, I could take him on a strenuous 10+ mile hike in the mountains and he'd keep up the whole way with no problem.

He passed away several years ago. I was sorry I wasn't there when my parents had to make the decision to put him down, but he did have a good life, for a dog (almost 15 years) and he was quite active for most of it, although he did noticeably slow down the last year or so of his life. He was always good company, though, and very fond of his humans.

There was one time with Bentley where I came home and discovered him feeling bad, kind of out of sorts and not able to jump up on anything, and insisted on taking him to the vet. It was nothing serious...he had an inflamed gland or something minor that they were able to give him medicine for and treat right away. However, looking back at my life, that incident always sticks out to me as a turning point for me...I recognized something was wrong that my parents did not see, and took an appropriate, grown-up action.

I have thought about getting a dog of my own, and some people have encouraged me to do that, but others have said that I'm smart not to. With the hours I work it would be something of a challenge, since I live in an apartment with no yard, but I'm sure if I worked at it I could manage to have a small dog here. Time will tell.

And with this post, we come to the end of November NaBloPoMo. I'm proud of myself for making it through the whole month with a daily post (even if some of the posts were short ones.) Hopefully regular blog posting is now more of a habit for me than it was...time will tell, anyhow. I am probably going to take a break for a couple days from posting, but I'll be back at some point next week.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Postbrief and Adventures In Facebook

I did have to work last night, but everything went pretty well with Thanksgiving. Good dinner, the rolls I baked turned out OK, and it was good to see everyone. I hardly ever get a chance to see my niece, but she is doing well in school, in her senior undergraduate year at UT, and has just been accepted in to medical school. Mom was a bit disoriented but seemed to really enjoy dinner, and my sister is flying her home today.

We also had food at work...just what I needed, but it was tasty also. They had some dishes I like that weren't at my sisters...ham, green beans, sweet potato casserole, and pecan and pumpkin pie...so that made for a good post-midnight meal. I skipped breakfast. Also I had an extra tray of rolls that I baked, and everyone at work thought they were good. Yay for a successful first attempt at baking with yeast!

It was my Monday last night, so I had a bit of trouble not getting too sleepy, but there was plenty of coffee available as usual. As I mentioned yesterday, I just signed up for Facebook, and unlike MySpace, I can access Facebook at work. So anyhow, I decided to tweak my Facebook profile, since things were slow due to the reduced holiday schedule. I discovered that this is never a good thing to do if you're sleepy. When updating my profile, I put down, Single, Male, checked the appropriate boxes for "Looking For" and then intended to check "Women" for the "Interested In" box. Instead, I somehow checked "MEN."



Two hours later when I went back to look at my profile again, I was like, hmmm, that's weird, why am I seeing all these Facebook ads for gay travel and European men's underwear? (Please understand, I have nothing against that lifestyle, but it is so NOT my lifestyle.) I discovered my mistake fairly quickly, but damn, talk about embarrassing.

The good thing was, this profile change was only up between one and three AM, so it's likely nobody noticed it. I put a disclaimer comment up in case anyone did. This would have been especially bad if I hadn't noticed it right away, since I'd just friended both of my nephews and my niece yesterday evening. I can just imagine the conversations..."No guys, that is NOT why I'm still single..."

Anyhow, hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving and enjoys their Black Friday. Personally, I'll probably delay shopping until the last minute as usual (or at least wait another week or two) but I'll get it all done before Christmas comes. I only buy for my niece, nephs, sisters, and mother, so that makes it a bit less of a chore. Happy holidays, everyone.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Bonus Thanksgiving Post

Wouldn't be Thanksgiving without the Macy's Day Parade. Here is my favorite part of this year's event.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Test Baking

OK, as promised, here is my wild experience with baking rolls today. I swear, sometimes my life is so exciting, I don't know what to do with myself.

This was a test run for tomorrow, when I am baking rolls to take to my sister's place, and I did discover a couple things...slightly decrease the baking time, and DON'T FORGET TO GREASE THE PAN. Those things being said, the rolls still turned out pretty well. I ended up liveblogging it from Twitter for simplicity but here are the pictures.

First, I got part of the dough I made up yesterday and rolled it into balls before putting them in a baking pan:



Next, I put the future rolls on top of a pan filled with warm water and let the dough rise for an hour, covered:



The aluminum pan in the background of that photo is what I'm going to use tomorrow for baking so that I don't have to worry about bringing dishes home with me.

I should have taken a picture of the rolls before they went in the oven, but I didn't. However, here is the finished product:



They came out slightly brown, but not too much. I'll reduce the baking time by about 30-45 seconds tomorrow. And they did come out yummy tasting. I used this recipe which is easy and designed for beginners, if anyone needs it. One nice feature of the recipe is that you can mix the dough up to three days in advance before making the rolls. A caveat to mention: this is not a low-fat recipe, which is probably the reason the rolls have a nice buttery texture.

UPDATE: I took some of the rolls into work to try them out on some unsuspecting victims impartial observers, and everyone said they tasted good, so I'm hopeful the Thanksgiving batch turns out well also.

Hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Holiday Week

Last year, I was fortunate enough off to have several days off the week of Thanksgiving. This year, I am unfortunately working every day this week. However, I do have a mini break from Wednesday night until Thursday night...that is to say, I'm working swing shift (getting off at 10 P.M.) on Wednesday, and I don't have to be back at work until the graveyard shift begins on Thanksgiving (around 9:45 P.M.) So, while I will be working, I'll at least get to have dinner at my sister's place. This is good because my mother is visiting for the week.

As I mentioned yesterday, I hosted Mom here at my apartment last year. It went fairly well, overall, but dealing with Mom (or with any relative who has dementia, I suppose) is quite stressful. Still, we had a nice turkey dinner at my sister's, and I got her back to the airport safely on Saturday morning. Last year was also the last time she flew anywhere by herself. I was there to meet her plane, and we had someone meeting her in Albuquerque as well, but over the course of this year we've decided that it was no longer a good idea for her to travel alone, even on a relatively short flight such as that. Having a passenger on board a flight with dementia is an issue I have dealt with before in the course of my job (he had gotten confused, didn't know where his son was, and was wandering the aisle trying to get off the airplane) and I agreed with my sisters that it was no longer safe for Mom to travel by herself. My sister flew to Albuquerque yesterday to pick her up.

I was working last night when they got in, but I arranged to pick Mom up and take her to lunch today. Seeing Mom was kind of painful because she looks so NORMAL and well put together. Mom has always been a sharp dresser and she has so far kept this ability even in the midst of her illness, and she looked really good today. Seeing her at first glance, you'd never suspect there is a thing wrong with her, and it's painful for me to know that her mind isn't there like it used to be. She has real issues with making decisions, and can often repeat herself multiple times over the course of a meal or conversation. For a long time, I think she was covering (quite effectively) the fact that she was having any problems with her memory...but now, it becomes pretty evident after talking to her for a couple of minutes.

We did have a very good lunch, though. I took her to the club/spa I recently joined, and we were both very impressed with the lunch buffet. I thought the salad bar was especially good...instead of having to toss your own salad, you pick out the ingredients you want, and a chef chops them up, mixes them together, and adds your dressing of choice. They had a wide array of vegetables along with chicken, different types of cheese, and some cold cuts to choose from. Anyhow, it was the best salad I've ever had. Mom really enjoyed her lunch also, and I was glad to get a chance to spend time with her (as well as give my sister a break so she could go get some shopping and errands done.) We had a very good server...Mom forgot a sweater she had with her, and I didn't notice it myself, but the server followed us down the stairs and got it back to us before we left.

After I dropped Mom off back at my sister's, I had to run home and get ready for work. I'm sorry I won't get to spend more time with Mom this week. However, I'll make the most of what time I do have with her. I hope everyone reading this blog, whether you're working or have the day off, single or married, has a great Thanksgiving and can spend the day with one or many people they care about. Remember, as Sully likes to remind everyone, THANKSGIVING COMES FIRST!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Another "Lack Of Ideas" Day

I'm pretty proud that I've stuck with NaBloPoMo this month, and I think I've gotten some good writing done so far...and the month is not yet over! However, there are some days where I have a limited amount of time, and I can't think of anything worth writing about. So you get to read about my WRITER'S BLOCK, isn't that EXCITING?

My mother is coming in from Albuquerque today...my sister flew out there to go pick her up...and I am looking forward to spending Thanksgiving with her. Last year she stayed at my place, and while I love my mother, this year I am THANKFUL that she is staying at my sister's. Mom requires pretty constant attention any more, and I'm working all week. However, I do have off Thursday afternoon (although I go into work that night at 10 PM) so I will be able to enjoy a nice family dinner at my sister's place. The turkey I consume should enable me to fall asleep that afternoon before work pretty easily.

I just found a clip on YouTube of what German pilots do for fun at the airport. It is completely unrealistic, of course, but it's very funny, and the special effects are pretty well done. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This Deal Is Getting Worse All The Time!

There's a new Robot Chicken Star Wars episode out (hat tip to Merujo for letting me know about it.) I'm including a couple of clips from the show below.

First off, we have Lando Calrissian complaining about Darth Vader's new terms:





Next up is Bob Goldstein, a lawyer for injured Jedi victims.






The full episode can be seen here.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Airport Is Eating My Head



The exposure in this picture was a bit too low...damn cellular cameras...but I thought it made for an amusing photo. Originally me and the guy taking it thought it looked like I was wearing the airport as a crown, but Marvo of The Impulsive Buy fame opined that it looked like the airport was about to bite my head off, when he saw the original photo on TwitPic. I liked his interpretation better.

OK, so what is going on with the big airport display in the first place, you may ask? Well even if you didn't ask, I'm going to tell you. This is one of our new tools at work, that is put up on some large plasma monitors next to our desks, showing the position of all the flights on the ground at our hub airports. We can use it to see which runways are in use and how long the lines are for planes taxiing out. It's actually one of the first good tools they've had up on the plasma screens, if you ask me.

Bonus aviation geek points go to you if you can identify the airport up on the screen. However, please do not leave that information in the comments section. Feel free to email me to ask about it though. I like to keep where I work at something of a mystery.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Airborne Medical Emergency...behind the scenes

Something many people probably don't ever think about is...what happens if you're on board an airplane, in flight, and a medical emergency occurs? I just had one happen on one of the flights I was dispatching yesterday, and I thought discussing that topic here would make for a good blog post. (The actual airports involved have been changed, just to prevent giving out any potentially confidential information.)

The short answer is, if a life-threatening emergency is occurring, the plane you are on will in all likelihood divert to the nearest suitable airport so that the sick passenger can be taken to the hospital for medical treatment. There are several steps that are normally followed before the decision is made to divert, however, so let's go through them.

When an emergency occurs, there will be an announcement made on board to ask if there are any medical professionals on board who can assist. Normally, there is a doctor, nurse, or paramedic traveling on the flight, but not always. Next, the flight will attempt to contact its dispatcher (me, in this case) to report the emergency and request a patch with a service we use called MedLink. MedLink is not widely known outside the industry, but it's a pretty cool service to have...they have doctors on call trained to give advice on what to do in any medical situation, so even in the unusual situation of having no medical personnel on board, they can advise the flight attendants on what steps to take. They also make the call in whether a flight should divert immediately or not.

This is good for two reasons: first, we're getting advice from a doctor trained in dealing with inflight emergencies, and second, it provides legal liability for the airline. I know that second part sounds odd but think of it this way...if a doctor on board is asked to treat a patient, and they seek his opinion on whether the flight should divert or not, he will almost always say yes, for liability reasons. I am not blaming any doctor in our lawsuit-happy society for doing this, but MOST of the time, an immediate diversion is not necessary. (Not always, of course.) If a problem is serious but can be adequately treated on board the aircraft, MedLink arranges for paramedics to meet the flight in its destination city. MedLink also can help us determine if an ill passenger is fit to fly or not before the flight leaves the gate, if the crew has any concerns. Once again, this shields the airline from potential lawsuits.

Let's get back to the situation last night. The announcement was made on board requesting medical personnel, and a doctor was traveling on the flight who came forward to help. Since most of our domestic planes no longer have onboard phones (due to the manufacturer of those phones no longer supporting them) the flight contacted me through a radio service all the major airlines use called ARINC. I got some details about what was going on from the captain and contacted MedLink. In this case, a male passenger in his 60's who had just had recent coronary bypass surgery was experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, and a doctor on board was performing CPR. MedLink got information from me about the flight (flight number, aircraft type, destination, ETA) and talked briefly to the captain via the ARINC phone patch, and then briefed their physician.

The MedLink physician just had a few questions for the crew once he found out CPR was being performed...he asked if the onboard defibrillator had been used, and if the doctor treating the patient needed any advice on drugs to give the patient. Normally, my role in these calls is pretty minimal; I just monitor what is being said and make notes for later to put in my shift log. In this case, though, while we were waiting for the pilot to get back to us with some information on the ill passenger, the doctor asked me where was the nearest airport the plane could land at. I told the doctor Birmingham looked like it was closest, and the doctor said that getting the plane on the ground fast would be important.

On a side note here...sometimes the closest airport that a plane can land at is not the closest one geographically. A plane can be directly overhead an airport, but if it's up at cruising altitude, it can take longer for the plane to descend and land there than it might for an airport farther along its flight path. Also, it's important to go somewhere that the plane can get to a gate fast and have paramedics waiting. In addition to it's location last night, Birmingham was a good choice in this case because they had gate availability, on-site paramedics, and good ground support.

The captain came back on the line and said that while a defibrillator had been hooked up, it hadn't had to shock the patient's chest. (The defibrillator determines whether it has to give a shock on its own when it tries to detect a patient's heartbeat.) The MedLink doctor told the captain the plane needed to land ASAP (which the doctor on board helping the patient was also saying) so the captatin talked to me about where to land. He said next big airport along their route was Nashville, but I saw that Birmingham was slightly closer, so I passed my recommendation along to the captain. The captain agreed that Birmingham would be closer and confirmed with me he would be diverting there.

MedLink said they would take care of calling paramedics in Birmingham, and I told the captain I'd notify our station personnel there. After verifying again that we were diverting the flight to Birmingham (always good to verify things like that twice) the phone patch was ended. In situations like this, I don't call air traffic control directly unless the pilot requests me to, since he's already talking to them on the radio and can let them know he needs to divert much faster than I can.

Someone on the desk next to me offered to call Birmingham operations, and had a little trouble getting through, but finally managed to find some of our people at the ticket counter. I entered the diversion information into our reservations system, and worked up a new flight plan and flight release so the flight could continue on out of Birmingham once the ill passenger was taken care of. I then began calling everyone I needed to get in touch with in the office, which was a fairly long list of people...my supervisor, our operations director, customer service, load planning...but it didn't take a very long time, and I had the new flight plan ready to go before the flight even landed in Birmingham.

I was kind of proud of myself about how well everything went with the flight last night. I didn't have a major role, but I may have saved the flight a few minutes in getting on the ground by suggesting Birmingham rather than Nashville, and in cases like this, every minute is important. The captain called and said thanks for my help after he landed and the ill passenger was taken off the plane. I was very impressed with how well he handled things as well...there have been cases where the first time we find out there's an emergency is when we see the flight diverting on the screen we use to track them with enroute. In some emergencies (usually mechanical ones) the crew doesn't have time to call us, but for this emergency they did, and by doing so they made the full use of all the resources available to them. I would go so far as to say that this was a textbook example of how inflight medical emergencies should be handled.

You may ask, well, that all sounds fine if you're flying over the US or some other heavily populated area, but what happens if there's a medical emergency and you're out over the middle of the ocean, or over the North Pole? The answer to that question is...pretty much the same thing, but it will probably take a lot longer for the plane to get to an airport with medical facilities available. Getting in touch with those flights is not a problem...all of our long-haul birds are equipped with satellite phones...but some of our long flights use emergency airports in Eastern Siberia (or for the Pacific ocean, Midway Island) and while we can gas up our planes in those places, they don't have much in the way of emergency medical services. Still, in any emergency, your airline will do the best it can and get you to the closest place there is with good medical care as fast as possible, wherever it is you're flying.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Airline Chronicles Chapter 2, Part 1: Go West, Young Dispatcher

OK, when we last tuned in, a LONG time ago, I had just taken a new job with a regional airline based near my hometown of Albuquerque, and hauled all my stuff there from New Hampshire. The trip west was MOSTLY uneventful but I did have my hotel room broken into one night in Tennessee, while I was asleep, and all the cash taken from my wallet. I haven't been back to Tennessee since.

I was able to stay at the pilot training facilities at my new airline for a couple of days right after I got there. They came in about zero on the comfort level (although I didn't have to have a roomate) so I quickly went searching for a new apartment. I found a place only slightly more expensive that my place in New Hampshire was, which even included free utilities. My new boss helped me move some of my big stuff upstairs, which I appreciated (mainly my bed and coffee table) and I was all moved in pretty quickly, since I still didn't own much furniture.

My next step was buying a new (used) car since I'd sold my pickup to make the move. I found a decent deal on a Plymouth Duster (similar to a Dodge Shadow) and was all fixed up pretty quickly. It took me a while to get unpacked and settled in at my new place (that's unfortunately become all too common of a trend, I'm afraid) but I was pretty happy with my apartment, and I ended up staying there for the entire length of my time in that town.

Although I had gotten a slight pay raise from this job, I wasn't very happy with it at first. This mainly had to do with dealing with crew scheduling, which we had to cover for on weekends. Calling pilots out if there is a sick call, etc. I truly despised that job and I admire the people who can do it for a living, because I sure as hell couldn't. However, things started to get better after a few months when I finished my dispatch training.

There was a lot that went on during my time at that airline. We consolidated operations with a separate division that had been based in Florida, so we had a big influx of new people into the office. We moved to a bigger office to handle the influx of new people, and then moved offices again when a larger space became available. We went through a transition from Part 135 to Part 121 for a lot of our flying...this is airline-federal-regulation speak, but from my job perspective, it meant that all of our flights were now required to be dispatched. Prior to the transition, there was a "flight following system" in place but no dispatcher was required for planes with under 30 seats...after the regulation change, this number of seats went down to 10.

I participated in the "proving runs" to demonstrate that we were capable of dispatching all the flights that had previously not been dispatched, and that went pretty well. However, the day of the actual transition to Part 121 was a nightmare...the system just wasn't set up to handle the volume of information we were sending out. I was having trouble getting an open phone line on the day of this transition, and the CEO of the company, who was in our office, offered me his cell phone to use. I tried calling one of our stations, only to have someone pick up the phone and hang up on me. I called again, and the same thing happened. I told the CEO, "I'm afraid they just keep hanging up on me," and he didn't look real happy. Fortunately, they did get most of the kinks worked out fairly quickly, and the following day went much more smoothly.

I actually liked living in that area, if not the town itself, which was a bit too "country" for my tastes. It was in a cool area though...good skiing only an hour away, lots of outdoors stuff to do, and there were lots of flights back to Albuquerque every day. There were management issues with the airline, though, and we ended up losing one of our major airline codeshares towards the end of my time there...and this ultimately precipitated a management change and a new CEO being brought in. Basically, the previous CEO and founder had run the airline on a philosophy that worked well when it was a small company, but really badly when it was a large one, and he eventually paid the price for that.

(Side note here...with the spike in oil prices earlier this year, 19-seat planes have become increasingly unprofitable, and the route I used to fly home on when I lived in that town that had almost hourly service, currently has NO service. The gates I flew into that used to be bustling with activity in Albuquerque are now empty. It's kind of strange to see that when I fly home these days.)

The new CEO made moves to consolidate operations and training, and move our HQ from a small city in the Southwest to a big city in the Southwest. I ended up leaving that town after two and a half years or so...I wasn't extremely sad to go, since I was looking forward to all the things to do in a big city, although I did miss being able to get back to Albuquerque as quickly as I had. It was a paid move, though, so I couldn't complain too much. Tune in next time for more adventures in my continuing airline saga, and my first experience with big city life.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Who says no good ideas come from Texas?

I have been a beer fan for a long time, which is part of the reason I need to start going to the gym more. I generally prefer a craft brewed import or microwbrewed beer, although I don't turn down the occasional macrobrew such as Miller Lite or Coors from time to time (although I am not much of a Budweiser fan.) Anyhow, my point is that I do like beer and drink it regularly. That's why I was excited to see this article about a beer designed to actually be healthy! Here is an excerpt:

BioBeer, as it's called, has three genes spliced into special brewer's yeast that produce resveratrol, the chemical in red wine that is thought to protect against diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer's and other age-related conditions.

Let's hear it for science! And, this beer is being formulated right here in Texas. Of course, Texas does have quite a few original settlers who came from Germany. Whoever thinks Texas beer isn't good, I beg you to try a Shiner Bock and reconsider, or a St. Arnold's (although that second one is probably hard to find outside of the state.) Even Lone Star, although it's more of a macrobrew-styled beer, I think tastes pretty good for the price. Hmmm, perhaps a road trip/brewery tour is in order here for me. Well, no rush.

One other scientific study, also performed in Texas, says that we may not have to wait for BioBeer in order to get some health benefits from it. According to this study, men and women who consume a moderate amount of beer have a 30-40% lower risk of coronary heart disease than teetotalers. Here is an excerpt from it:

The positive health effects of light to moderate consumption of beer match that of previously released studies regarding red wine and provides more benefits than white wine. The report states that "per drink, beer contains a similar amount of polyphenols (antioxidants) as red wine and 4-5 times as many polyphenols as white wine."

That second study was partially funded by a Texas beer distributor, so make of that what you will. Also, I can't swear to limiting myself to only one or two beers all the time. On a regular workday, that's a normal amount of beer for me to have after work...or if I go out and have beer with a meal at a brewpub, I usually never have more than two, since I have to drive home. If I'm on my days off, though, and at home watching a game on TV, I probably will exceed the "moderate" amount recommended by this study. Still, it's good to know that something I enjoy, long thought to have no health benefits, may actually not be as bad for you as it was thought to be.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

You Knew This Was Coming...

Now that the presidential election is over, here come the porn movies based on Joe the Plumber and Sarah Palin. To which I can say, only in America. But I do have to admit that the phrase "Joe the Plumber Porn" does sound kind of cool, although I'd personally be more interested in watching "Nailin' Palin" (which I do think is a much more original title than the Joe the Plumber movie, "Layin' Pipe.")

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Is that a boy robot or a girl robot?

I found this article on robot sex to be rather interesting. The article is safe for work and is not talking about cybernetic porn, but rather about building robots that have male or female characteristics. That is, if you buy a robot, is it a boy or a girl? Robots are getting advanced enough now that it's possible to build one that appears, in behavior or appearance, to be male or female.

I'm including a video clip below from YouTube of a robot named Nexi that is designed to mimic human expressions. You can judge for yourself, is Nexi a boy or a girl?

Friday, November 14, 2008

My First Angry Comment

I just got an angry response to a post I did earlier this month regarding a commercial for Sprint/Nextel. Evidently, I offended an actual roadie. It was a fairly well-written and non-obscene comment, though, so I thought I'd share it with you here:

HEY PUNK!!!! I am a roadie. The 'backline stageing crew' depicted in this commercial is a stereotype. I just did Madonna's stage in San Fran, San Diego, and L.A.!!! Sticks, pass, and check stub to prove it! 35 semi's full of gear, 3 elevators, 2 lifts, 14 20x16 video boards, 346 separate lights to wire, etc. Look on her site to see the thing. HUGE! It took us 30 guys less then 14 hours to build it and only 5 and a half to tear down and load out! I was looking for the commercial and I have to see someone say that roadies would have done worse then the existing industry does now. Please... The good thing about roadies... we're smart, we actually WORK hard and fast, and we don't **** around! I bet you couldn't do it! Idiot.

This commenter is probably quite correct in his assumption that I couldn't do his job, since I've never had any training in or interest in becoming a roadie. I am sure that they work hard at what they do. I work hard in my job also, and most of my airline's flights do get where they are going, on time. I know that my fellow co-workers, be they dispatchers, ramp agents, ticket agents, flight attendants, or pilots, all work hard at their jobs too. (We did have an over 80% on time arrival rate last month.) My main point of the post I did was not to complain about roadies, but just to point out that people love to complain about the airlines, and you rarely hear such complaints about other industries. Rock concerts are just one example.

I have been to quite a few concerts over the years, and they did not all start on time. Many of them did. Even when they didn't, though, I've never read news stories later about a massive public outcry, calls for Congressional hearings, or demands for legislation to give partial ticket refunds for the affected concert-goers. Take another example...medical offices, doctor or dentist. I've been to many of THOSE appointments where I did not get in to see the health care provider at the scheduled appointment time...and once again, there is no public outcry for tighter mandates on medical scheduling.

Do not get me wrong, I'm sure airlines do have room for improvement, but unfortunately I feel that major gains will likely not be seen until the aging US air traffic control system is modernized to handle the volume of traffic present in our country's airspace today. I know there have been several very well-publicized incidents where people were stuck on planes for hours, and I don't think that's right. I don't think that passing a law with strict standards will necessarily fix everything either, as every airport and situation in aviation is slightly different, and a standard that might work well for some airports will not work at all for busier places.

Also, to the roadie I offended...may I suggest that, if you're interested in finding a commercial online in the future, just go to YouTube and perform your search there. That way, you won't risk seeing commentary that might offend you.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

High School Mascots OR What Were They Thinking?

I really have to wonder what they were thinking when they came up with this high school mascot. That is not a fake web page...Hoopeston, IL really is the "Home of the Cornjerkers." There is also a web site where you can order some Cornjerker apparel if you so desire. (I was especially amused by the Cornjerker Nation t-shirt.)

Evidently, Hoopeston is big on corn and has a sweet corn festival every year. Prior to mechanical harvesting methods, a cornjerker was a person who harvested the corn by hand. (Click on the link for more details.) Still, I have trouble coming up with a mascot more likely to cause rival high schools to collapse in giggles. I have a friend who went there, which is how I heard about them...and in a testimony to his psychological health, he's never needed therapy to recover from that teenage trauma.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It was a smashing time Down Under until everyone died

I just saw this article on Yahoo, which got me thinking about high temperatures. I suppose the issue with that desert park in Australia is not just heat but also remoteness. I would presume so, anyhow, since you never hear of Death Valley National Park getting closed in the summer.

Although I lived in Las Vegas for many years, I never made it to Death Valley. I meant to go one time after I had moved to Wisconsin but was still traveling back there regularly because I had my house rented out...but it didn't work out. I did drive through Baker, California a few times though, going back and forth between Vegas and SoCal. They have what they claim to be the world's largest thermometer. I don't know if it is or not, but it's definitely distinctive, and it's definitely really hot there in the summer. In addition to living in Vegas for three years, I also lived in Phoenix for two years...so I think you can trust me that when I say a place is really hot, I'm not exaggerating.

I was in the military during Desert Shield/Storm, but I never did get sent to the Middle East. I've heard the heat is even worse there, with temps routinely above 120 Farenheit in the summer. My airline doesn't fly anywhere in that part of the world...the closest we get is Delhi, I think, and those flights routinely get weight restricted in the summer due to high temperatures.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Getting out of da funk

I can tell when I'm in kind of a down mood (which I have been, recently) because all my household chores don't get done. I think the recent time change and not sleeping well during the day last week didn't help any. Anyhow, my apartment was getting to be a mess, I was out of groceries, and behind on all my errands.

Today, perhaps because I was in a better mood at the start of my days off, I ran errands (including getting a long-overdue haircut), did shopping, and started cleaning my apartment. (Still got a ways to go there, and laundry to do, but it's a start.)

I'm also going to try a new gym tomorrow, as the latest one I tried out (24 Hour Fitness) was nice enough, but not really working out well for me, for whatever reason. This is another thing that I tend not to do when in a down mood...exercise...even though I should, because it helps improve your mood. Also, regular exercise helps me keep my weight in control, and prevents me from not being in a funk about that.

Other than the volunteer program I was involved with earlier this year, I haven't really made any effort to socialize much outside of work, and I think that's a mistake. I did recently sign up for this thing called Meetup that helps you meet people with similar interests (and it's free) so we will see how that goes. This year has been kind of a rough one in spots...getting a skin graft done, dealing with my Mom being in hospital, etc...but I have nobody to blame except myself for not making a bigger effort to make friends locally.

I am looking forward to being more active socially next year, when I will be OFF OF GRAVEYARD SHIFTS! If you can't tell, I'm a bit tired of them, and I was able to snag a regular 2 PM-10 PM line for 2009. I also did some shift trades for the rest of this month, so I will pretty much only have the month of December left on graves, before I go back to working my personal favorite shift. I tend to do a bit more socializing with people at work after the swing shifts end...which I haven't done much of this year, perhaps not surprisingly, since few people want to go out after work at 6 AM when you're working the schedule I'm on now.

Sorry if this post is a bit dull. But hey, it is NaBloPoMo, and I've been good about posting every day of the month so far. I have off for the rest of the week so I'll try and work on something with a bit more dramatic narrative here shortly. Hope everyone is having a good week, and I will see you tomorrow.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fly for Free!

One of the (supposed) benefits of working in the airline industry is free travel. And, I do take advantage of this when I can. However, I think the reality is a lot less glamorous than people imagine. I imagine that at one time, back before deregulation when planes were rarely more than two thirds full, it was pretty easy. In today's travel environment, flights are a lot more crowded.

It's easier for me to do travel standby than a lot of airline employees both because I am single, and also because my job allows me to ride in the cockpit jumpseat if a flight is full. If I had a family, though, and I was trying to travel somewhere popular during peak travel times...I'd probably do what a lot of people I work with do and just buy tickets. I have seen families get split up on full flights before, and it's not a very pretty sight.

In the last year, other than visits to see my Mom in Albuquerque (which can be fun but also can be rather stressful) I've only flown to three places. Once was to see my sister last month, once was on vacation to New England last summer, and once to Amsterdam on a work-related junket (international cockpit observation time.)

Part of this lack of travel is caused by finances (even if the flight is free, hotels and rental cars are not) and part is by schedule (being relatively new to the airline, I have a quite limited amount of vacation time.) Still, I do hope to do more international travel in coming years. I have to admit that I've very rarely gotten stuck anywhere or been late getting back home...having backup plans when you're flying standby is always a good idea, though.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Time Keeps on Shifting

Working in the airline industry, it's been well over a decade since I've had anything resembling a "normal" 8-5, Monday through Friday type schedule. My time clock (already suffering from the effects of working graveyard shift) is doubly screwed up this week due to the daylight savings time change, which makes it a bit more challenging to fall asleep in the morning. Anyhow my point is that it is very easy for me to forget which day of the week it is, and so, when I ran by the bank at 3 PM today, I was initially puzzled as to why it was closed, until I remembered it was Sunday. Oops. Guess I'll head back by tomorrow.

I guess the last regular office hours type job I had was a work-study position with the VA back when I was finishing up my degree after getting out of the military, so that would make it...early 1994. I worked at a factory job to save up some money before going to get my FAA dispatcher license later that same year, and those hours were also odd (6 AM to 6 PM) but at least they were during the day. I've often said that if I worked a traditional schedule with weekends and holidays off, my body wouldn't know how to handle it, but I suppose I'd get used to it soon enough.

The schedule I work right now (on the graveyard shift) is one I'm kind of getting tired of...6 days on, 3 days off. True, it does ensure that I have a long enough break to get reaclimated to falling asleep at night, but on the negative side, if I am trying to pick up an extra shift for overtime, it makes for a very long week. I usually don't like working seven days in a row, so I end up normally picking up an afternoon shift in the middle of my days off, if I want to work OT.

The other (non-graveyard) shifts at my job work in a 5 on 2 off 5 on 3 off rotation. I like that better so it's what I'm bidding for next year...working swing shift, 2 PM to 10 PM. I still don't know for sure if I'll get it or not. If I don't, I'll be working a "reserve" line where I fill in as needed for vacations and open time. That is not my first choice, but they do normally take your shift preferences into account when building those reserve line schedules, so I can hopefully end up with afternoons most of the time. My point is, I'm tired of working graveyards all the time, so I'm going to avoid working them next year as much as possible.

The advantage of the 5-2, 5-3 rotation (or the 6-3 rotation, for that matter) is that your days off are not always the same. I suppose senior people might see this as a disadvantage since you can't always get weekends off, but I like the weekdays I have off changing. It's generally a lot easier to get errands done during the week than on weekends...and this way, even junior people get weekend days off occasionally. I have a friend who used to work at a large airline in Seattle as an operations agent that had the traditional 5 on 2 off type schedule, and he said some people there had been working for that airline for over twenty years that still could not get weekends off. I think NEVER having any weekends off other than from vacations would get kind of old after a while.

The worst shifts (in my opinion) are ones that start super early and end around noon. I am not a morning person or early riser (I think 6 AM starts are way too early) so how people enjoy working a 4 AM to 12 PM schedule is beyond me, but we have several people who seem to like it. We used to have one shift that started even earlier, a 3 AM to 12 PM desk. Can you say OUCH? True, they did get some extra days off for working nine hour days...but it would not be worth it to me. I have in the past had to work some 4 AM shifts...even some 3:30 AM shifts a while back...and I truly hate them. I end up taking a nap when I get home and not getting anything done after work.

Our schedule bid ends in a few days, so I'll find out what kind of hours I'll be working next year soon enough.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Day Eight

Eventually, with the posting every day thing for NaBloPoMo, I guess it has happened...I need to write a post, and I can't think of anything to post ABOUT. Oh well, such is life.



I'm including a photo today that I took last summer when I was on vacation. I went to a resort type place called Eastover in New England that had a herd of buffalo on the property. I guess the original owner of the land, back when it was an estate, had a fondness for buffalo and imported some. Eventually the estate became a resort, but they still have the buffalo around. They have a trailer they pull behind a truck so that visitors can go on a "Buffalo Safari" during their stay. It might sound silly but it was actually kind of cool.

If anyone is/was an internet/political blogs junke and you're now in withdrawl since the 2008 elections are over...Newsweek has an excellent series of articles on what went on "behind the scenes." They had reporters following each campaign who agreed not to write anything until the election was over...now that it is, their work is up. Here is a link to one of the articles.

See y'all tomorrow. (It's true...since I moved to Texas, I have started using the words "howdy" and "ya'll." Scary!)

Friday, November 07, 2008

Workstation



For those of you curious as to what my desk at work looks like...well, now you know. Actually, I rotate between three different desks, but they're all similar in appearance. This particular one has mostly "Far East" flights assigned to it...Japan, Hong Kong, etc. but there are also a couple of Hawaii flights on the desk also.

Interesting trivia fact: from an ATC perspective, there is a facility in Oakland that handles a lot of the Pacific's airspace. There are a total of 20 US air route traffic control centers in all. Oakland Center is just unusual in the volume of airspace it controls: nineteen million square miles, or nearly 10 percent of the Earth's surface.

I am not a controller, but I do work with ATC on a daily basis, and I hope that the Obama administration can modernize our ATC system, which I think it is long overdue for (and I'm far from the only one who feels this.) I also hope that they can revisit the labor contract imposed by the Bush administration on air traffic controllers, as I feel it was not a very fair process. Yes, it was legal to do it the way the Bush administration did, but it's also led to a skyrocketing level of early retirements among the controller ranks. For a good article on that issue click here. For another interesting read on some good ideas for the Obama administration to pursue in terms of aviation, check out this article.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Metal Armadillo

If I had small children I wanted to terrify, I'd just show them this statue. The glowing eyes are rather creepy.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Post-Election Thoughts

I don't really feel like getting very political on this blog...so all I will say about my views is that I did not either donate or volunteer for either political party this time. I did attend one election rally in 2004 (back when I lived in a Swing State) but this year, living in a solidly Red State, I don't think either of the candidates campaigned here (at least not after the primaries.) I did vote (in early voting) and I enjoyed participating in the political process, as I always do. I was also glad to see record-high turnout for this election. For a slant on what an Obama presidency might mean for the aviation industry, there's a pretty good article on it here.

I have worked as a poll worker before, waaaaay back when I was in college. This would take us back to 1988, for the election of Bush the First. I remember it was a pretty busy day. Most people were friendly so it was a fairly fun job. There were a couple of people who probably were used in character development for the Grumpy Old Men movies. One guy was very upset his first name was misspelled and let us ALL know about it. We explained he'd have to contact the county clerk if he wanted it changed, and of course he never did. I worked in one other local election after that, and it was still misspelled, and he started shouting about it again. Well, not our fault. Anyhow, he got to vote. Still, overall, things weren't bad at all.

We had about three precincts voting in our one location. For some reason, our precinct's line was not that long, and a couple of the other precinct lines were long, out the door lines. We tried to keep everyone notified about our precinct line NOT being that long, but inevitably we missed someone, and had one couple that stood in the long line, was standing there at 7 PM, and then came to our table after the polls had closed (for us.) They were unable to vote, since we'd already locked down the machines. They were also not very happy, and I can't blame them, but it was fortunately an isolated incident. There was also a news crew that tried to film our table since our line was so short compared to the other precincts, but our head poll worker ran them off, telling them they weren't allowed to film inside a polling place.

All in all it was a fairly fun way to spend the day, and it actually paid decently for a poor college student (I think around $70 or so) but it was a LONG day, since we had to be there by 6 AM to start setting up and we didn't leave until after 8 PM that night. It was a fun (and slightly profitable) way to learn more about how the voting process went, so I'm glad I experienced it. If you ever have a free Tuesday the next time your city is voting on something, I'd recommend checking it out.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A unique incentive

You may have heard of various promos being given out by companies for people who vote today. (For instance, Starbucks is giving everyone who says they voted a free large coffee.) I have just found the most unique get-out-the-vote "free prize" I've ever seen, for those of you living in the NYC area. Click on the link for details, because words fail me here.

Monday, November 03, 2008

What if roadies ran the airlines?



I enjoyed this commercial, but I agree with another blogger I follow, King Kaufman, that if roadies ran the airlines, flights would routinely be hours late. Passengers would sit there having no idea what was going on. Alcohol sales would probably go through the roof, though, and nobody would complain later to management.

I guess I'm prejudiced since I work within the industry, and I know flying has become a huge hassle from what it once was...but it does seem to be an industry people love to hate. My airline isn't perfect...I don't think any of them are...but everyone I work with works hard at their job, and we try to run a good on time operation as much as we can.

As for airfares, I know that the price of oil has been dropping. This doesn't mean the price of plane tickets will drop overnight. I know nothing about how fares are set but I do know it took YEARS for fare increases and schedule reductions to happen once the price of oil started climbing in the early 2000's, so I don't expect fares to drop overnight now.

This is all just from an informed layman perspective, you understand. I have nothing to do with setting fares in my job, although people sometimes ask me about them when they find out what I do. Actually, when people find out I work for the airlines, it's probably the second most common question I get. (Most common question: Oh, so are you a pilot?)

Anyhow, I'll get off my soapbox for tonight. In spite of the economy, I hope that everyone who wants to is able to travel to visit loved ones for the holidays, be it by plane or by car. And if you're flying, you may be pleasantly surprised to find that delays are reduced and things go more smoothly this year, since there are fewer planes flying right now after all the airlines reduced their schedules this fall.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

New Dishes and a Lack Of Domestic Bliss




I recently went on a bit of a home improvement binge starting with buying a set of new dishes, pictured above. I definitely live my life in Bachelor Mode, and since I hadn't bought any dishes in...ever, I think, since the ones I was using were castaways from my Mom's house combined with some I got as a housewarming present, so I decided it was high time to get some new ones. I'd been looking for some new ones in dark blue for a while, so when I finally found some I liked at Target, I went ahead and took the plunge. They are quite nice. I still don't think I'm using them enough at home (being lazy about cooking) but I did go through and throw away all my chipped older dishes, so I have respectable flatware now...albeit in three different styles.

I have found lately that, working the midnight shift, I tend not to get much done around the house on the days I work. Whether that's just laziness on my part is certainly debatable, but I did seem to be more productive when I worked afternoons...so I'm not going to bid to work the midnight shift again next year. I may get stuck on what is known as a "reserve line" where I don't get guaranteed days off (basically you fill in for vacation coverage as needed) but I think it's time for a change. And, since I'm on my days off now, tomorrow I'm going to attempt to tackle all the laundry and SOME of the housecleaning that is quite overdue.

I still love my apartment's location, but I haven't decided yet what I'm going to do next year when my lease is up. As I mentioned in my last post, I went on a trip to see my sister for a birthday celebration. The trip went pretty well, but as often happens with air travel, I picked up a virus on the way home. In this case, it was some kind of 24-hour stomach bug. Anyhow, on the day it was bugging me the most, my apartment, without announcing anything, decided to shut off the water for twelve hours or so. Without going into details, let me say that it was a VERY BAD DAY for them to do that.

I understand in this case it was an emergency, and the repairs took a lot longer than they originally thought (evidently they had to change out about 30 feet of pipe) but they never made any attempt to print out fliers and put them on people's doors about what was going on, which I think would have been a nice touch when the repair is going to be several hours away. Plus, I had to go into work that night, and if I hadn't had a gym membership, I would have had no way of taking a shower before work. Evidently the water came on right after my shift started. I am going to try and get a day's rent adjustment for my check this month, so we'll see what happens. If they try and raise my rent on me when it comes time for lease renewal, I think it may be time to go apartment hunting. For those of you who are wildly bored and have nine minutes to kill, a virtual tour of my apartment can be seen here on YouTube.

Well, that's it for today. Back tomorrow, with more better stuff.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

New Post, New Goal

OK, sorry I haven't been posting for like a month or so. It wasn't a hugely busy month, I just wasn't motivated to write for some reason. I am going to attempt to make up for it this month, though, with a blog post EVERY DAY. We'll see if I can stick to it or not. I was inspired by the NamBloPoMo site which actually offers prizes, randomly awarded, for those who complete this challenge. It's high time I post more regularly, anyhow.

In the meantime, what's been up in the last month? Not much, other than working. Oh yeah, and I had a rather big birthday...turned 40 on the 21st. I think I'm still living in denial about it. I did go see my sister to celebrate, though, and we had a good dinner. More details to come about that later this month.

I found the following video rather hilarious. For those of you who haven't seen the original commercial it's based on, you can find it here.



Remember, whatever your political affiliation, if you're a US citizen, please get out and VOTE ON TUESDAY! (Unless, like me, you voted early.)

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Think of me as your Bovine Overlord




This post's title is the cool phrase of the day, courtesy of Dilbert.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Solsbury Hill

I had several days off from work recently due to some shift trades I did, and after the recent events with my Mom, I thought it would be best to fly home and visit her while I had the time to do it.

I flew into Albuquerque on Friday morning, September 19th. I picked up my mother's dog, Gus, at the kennel where he'd been staying since Mom went into the hospital, which seemed like a nice place. He was happy to see me, though. Traffic really sucked on the drive over there due to road construction, so I ended up not getting to Mom's house until about two hours after I picked up my rental car at the airport.

Upon arrival at Mom's house, I discovered that my old housekey did not work. On her last trip there, my sister had changed out the locks in Mom's house from single-sided to double-sided to help prevent Mom from leaving the house. For whatever reason, I had assumed that the new double locks would match Mom's old single locks...I blame nobody but myself for this error, though.

I let Gus into the back yard (although he seemed confused about why we weren't going inside) and then called my cousin, and left a voicemail with her asking if she could bring her extra set of keys by the house. While exploring my options, I decided to look at the windows on Mom's bedroom. We have double (storm) windows on the house, and the outer window was unlocked, so I was able to pop the lock on the inner window and open it and get into the house that way. I had already turned off her alarm, otherwise that trick wouldn't have worked.

Looking back, I probably should have gone to Mom's care agency to pick up the keys, but I was kind of tired and wanted to get inside...at any rate, it all worked out. After I got in, the next trick was getting out, since I had no keys for any of the exterior doors, and they all needed a key to open (except for the door leading to the garage.) The wires for Mom's garage opener had been cut by my Mom's caregiver when Mom was trying to "escape" the house before she went to the hospital. However, I knew where the remote was kept, and it still worked, so I was able to get the door open and bring my rental car in. I was also able to fix the switch fairly easily. My cousin called me back and brought by her copy of the key a bit later, and I had two copies of the new housekey made at over the weekend.

I took Gus to see Mom that night (Friday) during visiting hours. During the week, the only visiting hours available were from 7-9 PM, although they had afternoon hours available for the weekend. The staff seemed unsure at the front desk about letting Gus in, but I explained that it was on her chart that he be allowed to visit, which the nurse on duty confirmed. Mom was able to visit Gus in an atrium area outside her unit. I then put Gus my rental car and went back to see the unit itself. Mom was very happy to see us, and seemed to be doing well, but wanted to go home. She also asked why my sister who had her admitted to the hospital was so "authoritarian." I explained that she was in the hospital because she needed help when she went in, not because of my sister. Mom seemed to have no recollection of the events leading up to going to the hospital (trying to escape the house, fighting with the caregivers, etc.)

The unit Mom was in seemed fairly nice, although it was definitely not exactly a "fun" place. However, all the staff seemed pretty dedicated and the patients appeared to be well cared for. Mom had made friends with some of the higher functioning people in the unit and she introduced me to them.

I visited again the next day (Saturday) in the afternoon. Mom's doctor came by while we were visiting in the atrium. I asked him about Mom being able to come home anytime soon, and he said that we could request that, but he had his doubts about it. I got the idea that for whatever reason, he thought she'd be better in an assisted living facility. I couldn't really talk in detail about things because Mom was sitting a few feet away at the time.

The doctor did mention that he couldn't give updates to three different family members (me and my two sisters.) I felt like asking him if he had been giving updates to ONE family member or not, since I think we'd all had issues getting in touch with him. (I thought he may have been leaving messages for my oldest sister, though, so I didn't press the issue.)

After a while, I took Gus out to the car and parked in a shady spot so he wouldn't get too hot before going back inside. One of my friends who is working on his psychology Ph.D. and was in the area (since my mother was at the university psych hospital) had asked if he could stop by and I said sure. Mom enjoyed seeing him and showed us around the unit until the visiting hours were ending...I then took Gus home and drove back to the university area to meet my friend for dinner.

Dinner was quite tasty, as was the beer at the brewpub we went to. I was kind of exhausted emotionally from the day so I took a nap when I got home instead of letting Gus out. This turned out to be a mistake since he pooped TWICE in the house while I was asleep. Resisting my urge to strangle him upon waking and discovering this, I cleaned up the mess and let him out into the back yard for a while. Unfortunately, although Gus is housetrained, he seems to have developed some bad habits in this area (probably caused by my mother not letting him out at appropriate times before she had a caregiver full-time at home.)

The following day (Sunday) my visit with Mom was not as long as the previous ones since we just visited with Gus in the atrium area. They sent a technician with us to monitor things. Mom seemed to enjoy this visit (actually, she enjoyed all of our visits) and again asked about going home. I explained, as I had on each of my previous visits, that this was our goal.

The technician, who was sitting nearby, said that normally there was a meeting between the doctors and caseworkers on Monday morning, and that there was a chance they would decide Mom could be released at the meeting (which she said should be over by 10 AM.) I was originally going to catch a flight leaving at 1:30 Monday afternoon, but I thought that if they made the decision yea or nay by then, it would be plenty of time to take Gus back to the kennel, return my car, and make my flight if there was a "no" decision (like if they needed to monitor Mom's reaction to the medicine she was on for a longer period or something.)

I finished up working on the house and the yard the next morning (Monday.) After I showered and got ready, I called the hospital around 10 AM, to find that the meeting was running late and wouldn't be over until 11. No, problem, I thought, so I finished packing and loaded the car, and called again at 11. The meeting was still continuing, and was also still continuing at 11:30. Since it was getting kind of late to make my flight at this point, I canceled my 1:30 trip listing and made reservations but did not check in on a later flight that afternoon (flexibility is one of the few advantages of space-available travel) and called to let the rental car company know I would probably not be returning the car on time.

I decided that if I was going to get answers I'd probably have better luck in person, so I drove to the hospital. (I left Gus at home, although I did take him for a walk before I left.) When I called mom's ward after arriving at the hospital, the meeting was FINALLY over but it sounded like no firm decision had been made. From what I could gather through the nurse, it sounded like they felt Mom was ready to leave but they wanted to find a proper placement for her before letting her out, such as an assisted living facility.

The nurse transferred me to my mother's doctor, who actually answered the phone for a change. I told him that if they could release Mom to her house, I could arrange for 24-hour care right away, and he said he'd talk to the social worker and get back to me later that afternoon. Since I was already at the hospital, I went directly to the social worker's office and waited for her to get back from a meeting she was at.

The social worker came back fairly soon after I sat down, and we discussed some assisted living facilities that she liked. I emphasized that I thought Mom would be better off at home for right now, and that when a move to a facility is necessary, we'd prefer not to rush into a place without visiting it first. I explained the situation with Mom to her...which is to say that her house was secure, and that we could arrange for immediate 24-hour care. (I still wasn't sure mom's old caregiver was available or not, but I knew her care agency has always been good about getting a caregiver out when we need them to, even if it's a substitute one.)

Mom's doctor came in while we were talking and was a bit surprised to see me, since I hadn't told him earlier that I was already at the hospital. I forget here the exact order of what happened next..at some point they asked if I would like to go see Mom, I think so they could talk privately about what to do with her, so I went to her unit. Her doctor came in about 30 minutes later and said that he would go ahead and get working on a discharge order.

I told the social worker I could call Mom's care agency, and she said that it was standard practice for the hospital to call, but that I could call also if I wanted. I went ahead and placed the call to get things rolling and they said her old caregiver was indeed available, which I was very happy to hear, and that she could show up before I left for the airport the next morning.

Mom's doctor came out after he finished with his paperwork and discharge order. He said that the two things that seemed most important to Mom right now were her house and her dog, so that living at home wasn't a bad option as long as she is monitored. He seemed like a pretty nice person but BOY was he young-looking. (I found out later he was a second-year resident.)

Getting out of the hospital took quite a while...I got to the hospital a bit after 12 PM, and I don't think we left until around 3 PM. Mom said goodbye to the friends she'd made there (Mom always does seem to make friends wherever she goes, and I was happy she'd been socializing there.) They gathered up her stuff, I filled out a survey, and they escorted Mom out to my rental car.

I did feel like that if a family member hadn't been there at the hospital advocating our case for releasing Mom to her home, that they wouldn't have let her go home when they did. The squeaky wheel gets the grease sometimes, I suppose. I know Mom really needed to go into the hospital when she did, but I also felt that there wasn't a whole lot more the hospital could do for her by yesterday. She wasn't in denial about her disease, and seemed in temperament similar to how she was on my last visit to Albuquerque, which went very well.

After driving home and unloading the car/getting water/et cetera, we went to the post office to pick up Mom's accumulated mail and get delivery restarted effective today. We then went to Mom's pharmacy, and they filled part of her prescription for a new medicine she's taking to help stabilize her moods. They had her evening (250 mg) dose in stock, but not the smaller (125 mg) morning dose. The pharmacist said they could get it in by the following afternoon, but I explained I really wanted it then so that I could sort Mom's meds before I left town the next morning.

They found that a nearby Walgreen's pharmacy had some, although not a full 90-day dose as had been prescribed, but they did have 30 days worth. We headed up there and waited about 15 minutes in the drive-thru lane. The technician said it would be about 20 minutes to get it filled, so I said we'd come back after dinner. (By this time it was 6 PM, and I hadn't had any lunch due to waiting for Mom to leave the hospital, so I was starving.) Mom had said she'd like some Mexican food, so I took her to a well-known Albuquerque restaurant I knew she liked not too far away. Mom enjoyed dinner although she had trouble deciding what to order. We had a good meal, and went back to the Walgreen's around 7:15. Her prescription STILL was not ready.

After waiting about 15 minutes a clerk came back to the window and said that they could not fill Mom's complete prescription and wanted to give us a 5-day supply. I explained that we had gone there because her regular pharmacy had said that they had 30 days worth, and that I really needed that to sort Mom's meds before I left the following morning. We then waited another 15 minutes or so, but finally got the 30 day supply, and made it home close to 8 PM. I went ahead and sorted Mom's medicines before I went to bed.

I went to bed that night pretty early for me, since I had to get up early, but I slept fairly well (due to being fairly exhausted.) I got up just before 5 AM, showered, and got ready to go (again.) I brought the newpaper inside, and moved my rental car outside the garage before securing the garage opener switch so that it couldn't be opened easily in case Mom decided to try "escaping" again. I walked back into the entryway around 6:20 and Mom's caregiver was already waiting outside. (The agency had said she'd be there by 6:30.) When I let her in, she explained that she hadn't wanted to ring the doorbell and wake up Mom. I thanked her for coming so early today.

We went over the new meds, garage door opener, etc. and I told her Mom seemed back to where she was before the "escape the house" episode occurred. Mom was still asleep when I left for the airport about 7. My flight home left Albuquerque at 8:30, and was fortunately on time since I had to be at work about two hours after it landed. I would have updated the blog earlier, but I've been working every day since then until today.

Mom was initially euphoric to be at home again, although she seems to have mostly forgotten the hospital episode now. She had trouble with a new weekend caregiver and we're still searching for one she likes. However, she's been happy with her regular (weekday) caregiver and things are going about as well as can be expected.

Growing up, I know Mom did a lot of favors for me that I didn't or wasn't capable of fully appreciating at the time. While I can never completely pay her back for everything she did, I do feel like I helped a lot with getting her back home again this trip, which is where she wanted to be. I wish that me or one of my siblings actually LIVED in Albuquerque to help out with things when emergencies come up, but our lives have taken other paths. Anyhow, I was proud of myself for getting everything done, and I did think of the lyrics for Peter Gabriel's song, Solsbury Hill, on the drive home..."Grab your things, I've come to take you home."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Overdue



Yes, I know I haven't been posting, soon after I made a promise to post regularly. It's been kind of a crazy week, but I do have off this weekend, so I thought I'd use the time to give everyone an update, before Babar breaks my pinkie.

As I have mentioned previously, my mother is suffering from dementia, most likely Alzheimer's. On a recent trip my sister made we determined for various reasons that my mother needed 24-hour care. Mom didn't take well to this at all and began fighting with her caregivers (which is totally out of character for her.) Anyhow, things got so bad that one of my sisters flew out there this past week, and after discussing things with a geriatric psychiatrist, it was determined that Mom needed to be hospitalized to help get her behavior under control. According to her doctor, she'd been having what is known as a manic episode.

Evidently with Alzheimer's, as the disease progresses, it can cause many symptoms similar to other psychiatric diseases (such as bipolar disorder.) While the underlying cause is different, treatments and medications for those same disorders can be effective in managing the problem. So, Mom is in the hospital while we attempt to find an appropriate treatment that will allow her to return back home (but still with 24-hour care.)

Anyhow, even though I haven't been out there myself, it's been a rather time-consuming week with phone calls and such...my other sister and I tried to help out doing what we could while my sister who was in town dealt with things there. Right now, the house is locked up, mail and newspaper stopped, lights are on timers, and her dog is boarded at a kennel. We hope Mom will be able to return home within a week or so, depending upon how effective the new medications are. I'll probably make a trip out there soon after that.

Hope everyone is doing well and has a happy and safe weekend. Talk to you all later.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Blogging From The Library

Since I happened to get to the library today at rush hour, and the traffic in my city always sucks but ESPECIALLY at rush hour, I decided to kill some time (and follow up on my latest commitment to blog regularly) by posting from here.

I've honestly had better weeks. Saturday night, I was driving to work when I hit a curb, blowing out the right front tire of my car. I pulled onto a side street and went to get out my spare, when I discovered that while the spare was there, the jack was NOT. (I bought a new jack today...status on the tire iron is still undetermined. My trunk is kind of a mess right now.) Anyhow, I do have roadside assistance through my cell phone plan, and I called them and they showed up sooner than they said they would, so all was well. I ended up getting to work only about 30 minutes late.

For some reason this past week, I wasn't sleeping that well during the day, and on Sunday, I got a call from one of my sisters regarding Mom. The younger of my two sisters is out visiting her, and we have determined an increase in care hours to full-time, 24 hour care is now necessary. At that level of care, we won't be able to keep Mom at her home indefinitely, but we do have a good primary caregiver, so for now things are covered. This will give us time to pick the best long-term solution for her without rushing into anything, but I am afraid Mom will resist moving out of the house just as strongly as the last time we tried it. Anyone seen season one of The Sopranos and remember the reaction Tony's mother had to being forced into a retirement home? Picture that, only without the mafia or gang hits being involved.
(I should emphasize that my mother is a very kind and loving person, even with this illness going on...but when she is stubborn, she is VERY stubborn.)

We'll also probably need to find a home for her dog. She admitted that, prior to her previous move/tryout of a retirement place, that she got a dog in large part because she thought we couldn't make her move if she had a dog. The place she tried out did allow pets, but I kind of doubt that it will be an option for an Alzheimer's facility to take animals. Dealing with an elderly parent who has dementia is just as fun as you might imagine...I'm just glad my sisters and I are in it together. Doing everything on my own, especially living in a different city than her, would be overwhelming.

Anyhow, my point in bringing all this up is to say that my sleep was interrupted on Sunday, but I went back to bed around one P.M. to try and get some rest. I hadn't been sleeping well all week, and I hadn't set my alarm (I usually do set it when I take a late afternoon nap, but I forgot in this case...also I probably figured I'd wake up in plenty of time.) Anyhow. I did NOT wake up in plenty of time, instead waking about a half hour after I should have been at work. I called in, got ready, and drove to work ASAP but I ended up getting there about an hour after I was supposed toe, making me late for the SECOND night in a row. I really don't like being late, and the first night was kind of unavoidable, but the second night I felt very annoyed about. Oh well...at least I was well rested for my shift.

I had off last night, and tonight, so I finally took the car to a tire place today. (I drove by yesterday but the place I went was closed for the holiday.) I was just going to get a single used tire to replace the one I'd damaged, but they had no used ones in stock, so I ended up driving to Discount Tire Company. He took a look at my tires and pointed out that another one of them had two bubbles on the sidewall. He said the other two were starting to get pretty worn also, but that I definitely needed to replace at least two of them. I got a quote for replacing all four, which was quite a bit less than twice the price of replacing two tires, so I went ahead and just got all four done. At least they have 90 days same as cash there. I do want to sell the car probably in two or three years, and while I don't expect to get much money for it, it will look better to have four tires all the same brand, with equal wear, rather than two different kinds.

I chose the Discount Tire location since it's close to my back doctor's office, and I had an appointment for this afternoon. I walked over to the appointment (walking is always kind of viewed as odd behavior in this town, apparently, but I survived crossing the street.) My doctor bugged me about buying some new shoes with better arch support, and I said I would look into it...but seeing as my car just got four new shoes of its own, I might have to wait a couple weeks. I still need to get my car's alignment checked also, and there's a couple other minor car maintenance items I need to take care of. Still, for a 12-year-old car, I have to admit it's been pretty darn dependable. Helps that it only has 60,000 or so miles on it.

I think that was enough fun stuff for one week. Hasn't been a whole lot else happening here other than the old work/sleep/work routine. I did get a new (used) coffee table from someone moving out of my apartment complex, a new metal table for my patio, and a new sixties-retro-looking reading chair and ottoman for my bedroom. Pictures to come sometime this week. I moved my old bar stools out to the patio to go with the table I bought. They're a bit high for it, but the color matches, and the bar stools are anodized aluminum with vinyl seat cushions, so I think they'll hold up reasonably well outdoors. They look better outside than serving as mini storage tables in my bedroom.

If past history is a guide, I'll probably get completely settled into my apartment right about the time it's time for me to move, but I am pretty happy with it, as far as apartments go, and the location is kick-ass.

Hope everyone out there had a Labor Day weekend that was MUCH MORE FUN than my own, and I'll talk to you again later this week.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Airline Chronicles, Indexed

Greetings Curtain fans! As part of my blog housekeeping this week I decided to create an entry that I will use to index my Airline Chronicles series. As subsequent chapters are added this entry will be edited to include them, and linked from my "Greatest Hits" area over on the sidebar. Anyhow, if you haven't read them before, here they are:

The Airline Chronicles: Prologue
The Airline Chronicles Chapter I: Destination New Hampshire
The Airline Chronicles Chapter 2, Part 1: Go West, Young Dispatcher

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Template Updates

OK, this post will only be of interest to those of you with Blogger blogs (and specifically, Blogger blogs with the classic template.) If you're still reading, you may notice a tweak on my sidebar for my archived entries (or as I so lovingly call them, "The Morgue.") Instead of having every month listed since this blog has been in existence in my sidebar, I now have a dropdown menu that lets you cruise to the month of your choice without scrolling for two days. (Well, probably not that long, but you get the idea.)

For those of you wanting an easy "fix" to this, just update to the new Blogger, and you have lots more options, including drop-down menus for each year that you've been blogging. For stubborn bastards such as myself that don't want to lose all the customizations they've added to their "classic" template, let me know if this is something you're interested in, and I'll shoot you the code.

I should emphasize that I did NOT write the code myself, as I am (mostly) an HTML and Javascript know-nothing. I yanked it from this post at ID Web Template, but I just grabbed the drop-down archive menu portion of that template and not the whole thing.

I may well update to the "New" Blogger someday, since it does appear to have several nice features for people who are not code wizards (such as myself) but for now I'm kickin' it old school.

Oh, also, I'm going to try and start posting three times a week. Summer is over, after all! This way, even if I'm lazy and skip a post, the blog will at least get updated bi-weekly. And, coincidentally, this is my third blog post this week, but if I get inspired I may try and write something else by the weekend.

Monday, August 25, 2008

A Flashback to 2006 OR The Movers From Hell

As you may recall, I did not have a very good experience moving to Texas from Wisconsin. I blame myself for this in part. I went with the lowest estimate I got, when I should have just hired a reputable national company for the job. While I did ultimately get my stuff, it was the least professional move I've ever had.

I knew the move was not going to be a good one when the movers I hired showed up in n Enterprise Rent-a-Truck. I had packed the majority of my items, but evidently my packing wasn't up to their standards, as they proceeded to re-pack and wrap everything. I also hadn't put my free weights in a box, never having needed to before...they said they had no suitable boxes for them so I ended up just letting them keep them (I should have kept them myself and left them by the dumpster, but oh well.)

Anyhow, the movers, one of whom was not very fluent in English, proceeded to wrap and pack everything (including my sofa) I think to run up their charges, or maybe because my stuff was being stored in a warehouse prior to the actual move. I don't know. What I do know is that when they gave me the bill it was several hundred dollars higher than the quoted price based on the weight estimate I'd gotten from many other movers. This wasn't the end of the world since I did have some money coming to me from my old company...but I was still kind of upset. I went to the post office and got a postal money order for the first 50% of the amount (balance due on delivery.)

The wrapping/packing went on all afternoon. I threw out my old computer desk (which was pretty banged up anyhow) when they said that it wouldn't be practical to pack it. Carrying the desk out to the dumpster, I tweaked a muscle in my back which bugged me for several weeks after the move. Still, after all this fun, the packing was finished. I turned in the apartment keys and went to the hotel.

I was glad to get the first part of the move (and hardest part, I thought) over with. I felt kind of bad I ran out of time and didn't get a chance to thoroughly clean my old apartment but the manager said not to worry about it, as they budgeted a certain amount of cleaning with any apartment move-out and if they needed more time than was budgeted they would take some out of my deposit. I appreciated his good customer service, since I certainly hadn't got any from the movers.

Fast forward to two weeks later. I had made it to the Rather Large Airline, and after living in a hotel for about 10 days, I was looking forward to the arrival of my worldly possessions. The movers showed up about three or four hours late. I was beginning to think they weren't going to show at all. They said their first job had taken much longer than expected.

I was expecting a similar sized truck to the one that the movers had used in Wisconsin. Instead, this time I got an 18-wheeler. When they tried driving it around my building to go to the side door closest to my apartment, the truck was too big to make the turn without hitting something, so they had to back the truck all the way out.

I opened up the exit gate for my complex (at my place, you need a key card both to drive in AND to drive out, which I think is a good idea) and they were able to back the truck in and park near the desired entrance. The driver was rather upset both that I was on the third floor and that there was no elevator available. He also tried to charge me an extra $250 for what he said was a "long carry with extra stairs." Keep in mind that I had told the company in advance I would be on the third floor and already included this in the charges for my move. After calling the moving company and trying to figure out what was going on, he talked with them also, and we finally compromised. I agreed to pay him an extra $100 in addition to the remaining 50% of the move price that I owed, which I already had gotten postal money orders for. The unpacking commenced at around 8 PM.

Since the apartment I moved into was smaller than my old one (went from two bedrooms to one) the place rapidly filled with boxes. I got just about all of my stuff, but the coffee table was damaged and I ended up throwing it away...also, there was one box containing some glass and a couple of pictures that I never received, but I didn't notice until several days later. They did remove the packing material from my furniture, but made no offer to help unpack anything else. I didn't mind this very much. What I did mind was that they didn't attempt or offer to help set up my bed. It was getting late and I was rather tired also at this point. They also left without letting me know they were done (which I've had happen in the past with shoddy movers) but there was a little surprise in store for them when they got to the exit gate.

While I was attempting to put my bed frame together, I got a call on my cellphone from the truck driver. He asked if there was some trick to getting the gate to open. I told him there was no trick; you just needed a gate card to do it. I would have done it for him had he told me he was leaving, but I proceeded to vent about the movers not setting up my bed, and he said they were all tired and the men he had hired had families to go home to. I was kind of expecting violin music to start playing at this point, but I agreed to come down and open the gate...AFTER I finished setting up my bed. I also had a beer, I think. I went down about ten minutes later. I was VERY tempted to ask for my extra $100 back in exchange for opening the gate, but I didn't. I went to bed around midnight since I had to be back at work by 7 AM.

I never did get all my boxes completely unpacked in the year or so I lived in that apartment. Every time I would start unpacking, I began thinking about the move and getting upset, and then I stopped. Of course did get my bedroom unpacked and most of my furniture arranged, but I still had boxes remaining when I moved into my current place in the same complex. (For this latest move, I didn't hire anyone, doing most of the work myself with friends helping on the larger items. It went MUCH more smoothly.) I also have some more storage space here than I did there, so the extra box or two of junk that I own (that I probably could safely get rid of since I haven't used it for over a year, but don't want to part with) is safely hidden from view in my bedroom closet.

After getting online I published this quick post about my move. I also started Googling around and found out many people had bad experiences with small moving companies. This whole experience is the reason I still have a moving scam information link in my sidebar.

After I published my posts about the wonderful people at Galaxy Van Lines I got two separate emails from other individuals who had bad experiences with them. One person had such a bad time that I think my experience sounded totally smooth and hassle-free by comparison. His experience follows:

Movers arrived at 4:30pm after originally scheduling an early morning move.

Movers arrived in a truck too large to fit in our yard after claiming that it was not going to be a semi-like truck (it was)

Movers arrived in a budget rent-a-truck

Movers immediately asked us to sign a 10% additional cost fuel surcharge, despite our estimated quote which included fuel.

Movers showed us, after two hours of loading, that we were using up 300% of the allotted cubic footage of their estimate.
(This is the real hassle - our boxes are average size. Our furniture is small - everything can be lifted by one person. They loaded nothing which was not on the inventory for the initial estimate. The initial estimated square footage given must have been intentionally low to produce a lower estimate than other moving companies.)

Movers required payment of half of total cost of move, which now almost reached the original entire estimated cost of move.
(Our initial estimate was $1300 - we now owe them a total of $2200.)

Movers claimed they would be the same people delivering our belongings, in same truck, in three days. Two days later we called the company and spoke with Ann, who apparently is the only person in charge and the owner of the company. Ann told us our belongings would in fact probably not arrive on Friday (June 30), because they had a truck going out but our stuff might not make it onto that truck. The hold-up, Ann claimed, would be the verification of funds. We explained to Ann that we paid in cash. Ann told us it shouldn't be a problem to get it onto that truck.

We called Ann the next day (Friday) to see if the belongings made it onto the truck. We left a message.

Ann did not return the call. We called Ann back, and Ann explained that our things did not make it onto the truck. Also, even if we had made it onto that truck, apparently it was being diverted so as not to arrive on Friday anyway.

We asked Ann to guarantee that they will drop our cost of shipment by $.50/lb, as stated previously, knowing that our belongings can't possibly weigh the 3700 lbs estimated. Ann confirmed that this was true. (We are waiting to see whether or not it really is.)

Ann told us to call her back today to see whether our things would arrive Tuesday or Wednesday. We will be doing that in the next few hours.


Well, that's enough therapeutic ranting for one night, I think. I was going to include a link to Galaxy's web site along with a warning not to use them, but it looks like the site is no longer there, so I will assume they have gone out of business. I hope so, anyhow.

UPDATE: Their phone number is also out of service, and an email I sent to the person I had dealt with bounced, so I think it is quite likely they no longer exist! Yay!

UPDATE 2: After doing a some internet research, I have found a post stating that Galaxy is now doing business as Peak Van Lines (www.peakvanlines.com is the addy.) There is no contact information or physical address listed on the site, but the domain is registered to an address less than three miles away from where Galaxy's "office" was (someone posted that they operate as a one or two-man operation out of an apartment) so I would definitely avoid doing business with them also.


Of course, as with all bad experiences, I did learn a lesson from it...namely, not to use small moving companies for long-distance moves, and that if a web site looks unprofessional, the company behind it likely is also.

BONUS LINK: For an excellent story with a moving scam as its premise, click here. You may have to click through an ad to get to the article, but it will be worth it, I promise.