Monday, March 22, 2010

Various Happenings

Well, I'm overdue for a post, but hey, I'm posting twice in over a month, so that's got to count for something. I do think I need to post more...since I get fewer comments if I post less, and I can't blame people too much for not checking in regularly if there's nothing here to read. Anyways, it's something to work on.

I had another computer meltdown, although this one was self-inflicted. I was trying to find something in my old computer's registry file, and I ended up corrupting my laptop's registry beyond my means to repair it. After looking at service options and being discouraged by the estimates I got, I decided to bite the bullet, wipe the hard drive, and install Windows 7. Windows 7 was not cheap, but it was only slightly more to buy it than the estimate I got to repair the computer at one place...and I'm planning on installing it on my inherited desktop, whenever I can manage to drive up and get it, so I figured it would be good experience. My other option, of just restoring the laptop to factory settings, was not an option since I had lost one of the restore CD's, and since it's over three years old I can't get a new copy. Windows 7 comes in DVD format, so it only requires one disk for the full install.

Anyhow, Windows 7 is pretty slick, and runs well even on this old laptop, which has the minimum memory required for Windows 7 and a very weak graphics engine. I had a bit of trouble getting some of my old peripherals to work with Windows 7, but after messing around for a while, updating drivers and system software and whatnot, I got everything working except for my old, old 2.0 megapixel camera which struggled to run even in XP. I didn't really ever use it for pictures any more (my phone is a 2.0 megapixel camera itself) but it did have a webcam option that I sometimes used. However, new webcams are pretty cheap if I ever get the urge to replace it. My biggest challenge was getting this one cordless handset I use for Skype calls to work, but eventually I succeeded.

So, now that I've bored everyone to tears with computer jargon, what have I been up to this month? Well, not a whole bunch. I've been trying to exercise more, with limited success. One good thing I've noticed, though, is that when you're out of shape, you don't have to do a long muscle workout to get your muscles tired. As for cardio, I've mainly been walking, since one of my knees doesn't like the pounding from jogging and I enjoy walking more anyhow. I need to get my bike tuned up as well and that might be another fun option for exercise.

In keeping with my newfound attempts to get in better shape, I decided to walk to a recent union meeting, held near where I work. I actually do live close enough to walk to work (about two miles and change) but it's not a realistic option to do on a regular basis, unless I want to allow an extra hour to stop sweating and change into work clothes at my health club (also located near where I work.) And in the summer, I'd probably need to allow 90 minutes to stop sweating (anyone who's lived through a humid Texas summer will understand this.) However, since I was just going to a union meeting on my days off, I figured nobody would care if I showed up in shorts and a t-shirt, and in fact there were some other people there in similar attire.

We got some good news at the union meeting about a new contract, and while I can't go into details, everyone was happy for the most part with what was negotiated. Pay raises tend to improve everyone's mood. We still have to vote on the proposed agreement but it seems certain to pass. So, after the meeting, and continuing in my attempted fitness regimen, I went to my gym and worked out, followed by lounging in the hot tub, steam room, and sauna, before finally showering and leaving. (Hey...the hot tub, steam room, and sauna are EXCELLENT reasons to go to the gym if you ask me. Those are my rewards for a good workout.)

Since I was kind of wiped after my workout/sauna/etc. I wasn't planning on walking home, but I did walk to an area nearby with several restaurants. One pub I've been to before was having a steak special that night, which I partook of, along with a couple pints of Stella Artois. I was DEFINITELY not in the mood for walking any further after that meal. Unfortunately, the bus I wanted to catch drove by right as I walked out of the pub, so I decided to walk one street over and catch an alternate bus.

Now, the area the pub was in is nice...there has been lots of new development there in recent years...but I soon discovered the neighborhood I was walking through near the pub was kind of a rough area, with lots of non-remodeled properties. I felt a bit out of place, but nobody bothered me any. I was glad not to be attempting to walk through there late at night, though. Anyhow, I caught the bus back with no fanfare after making it to the bus stop.

The bus stop near my apartment is next to a convenience store. I went in there to buy a soda, and when I walked out I saw a panhandler. Since I was in a really good mood after the union meeting, instead of just ignoring him which is my usual technique for dealing with panhandlers, I gave him $5. He then said he wanted to go eat at Boston Market, and the meal he wanted cost $7, and asked me if I had any MORE money. Well in fact I did, but I didn't want to give it to him, and I knew he could eat a meal at Jack In The Box just down the street for under $5, so I told him no. I then noticed he was drinking a beer in a small paper bag, most likely bought at the convenience store (they sell singles there.) I told him, hey now, you're going to use that money I gave you for food and not beer, right? He replied, very self-righteously, "Oh, I don't drink beer!" while holding a beer in his hand. Then he saw me looking at his hand and admitted that he might have ONE beer sometimes, but that was all. Honestly, that was so amusing to watch that it was worth five dollars right there. And I was in a good enough mood that I didn't care whether he bought more beer or not, really. However, I can see why cops get a jaded attitude about dealing with people after working the streets for a while. The panhandler did tell me thanks, but I won't feel guilty not giving one money next time.

All this drinking in bars, walking through rough neighborhoods, and giving money to panhandlers passed by with little fanfare. However, late that same night, I got up to use the restroom, and not wanting to blind myself, didn't turn the light on (I have a nightlight in there.) On my way out of the bathroom, I had left the door partly open, and, half-asleep, I walked right into the edge of the door, banging my nose, scratching it to the point where it started bleeding. I turned on the lights at this point and grabbed a washcloth. Like all head wounds it bled like crazy, even though it was just a small scratch. I had the wherewithal to remember to wash it and put on a band-aid, but I had forgotten about it until the next morning, when I walked in the bathroom to find a bunch of dried blood in the sink and looked at my reflection in the mirror. It's not a bad scratch, but it does look like a took a nice punch to the nose, possibly from someone wearing a ring.

I went into work later that day looking like an extra from Fight Club. Not many people have asked me about it, fortunately, although one of my friends said I should make up a story about how I got it by fighting off a biker gang. It should be better in a few days. In the meantime, I decided to skip going to church over the weekend, since I don't know many people there yet and I didn't want to have to explain myself to strangers. Especially since people saying "I walked into a door" is often the way people cover up domestic abuse. However, I'm single and live alone, and that's really what happened to me. (People who have known me for a long time and know how clumsy I can be will realize that "walked into a door" for me is the MOST likely explanation for what happened.)

More updates to follow soon, hopefully not involving personal injury.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

February happenings

I guess this blog has been turning into a monthly digest of sorts. I will try and update a bit more frequently this nice to get up to weekly posts or at least bi-weekly, but we will see how things go.

February started off relatively uneventfully, but I got a cold (again) about halfway through the month. It was a pretty bad one, so I called in sick one day and went to see my doctor. The doctor suspected a possible return of bronchitis so I was placed on some stronger antibiotics than last time, along with a few other medicines. I have recovered from the cold although I still have a little bit of chest congestion. I'm glad I went to the doctor, though. Sometimes I'm stubborn about not using my sick leave unless it's a dire circumstance, but I definitely needed to this time. Everyone at work was glad I'd gone to see a doctor when I came back to work, so maybe I looked in even worse shape than I felt.

Another thing that happened is, my sisters and I decided that it was time to find a new home for my Mom's dog, Gus. She just wasn't able to take care of him anymore and seemed increasingly unaware of him. I placed a "Free To A Good Home" Craigslist ad for him, and I only got a few responses...probably because Gus is ten, and takes arthritis medicine (currently via a monthly shot.) However, one of the responses I got did work out, and I took Gus to his new home last week, where he seems to be settling in fine. I did consider keeping Gus myself, but as I have no yard, and I like to bring Mom by here once in a while if I've cooked something, I thought it was best just to find a new place for him. Also, he sheds like crazy.

The new owner has another older outdoors dog, and an old parrot...he says his kids sometimes call his place "the house of dysfunctional pets." It seemed like a nice situation for Gus, and I think things are working out well there so far. Mom hasn't even noticed Gus being gone, which one of my sisters was worried about, so I think that just goes to show it was definitely time for Gus to move on.

Gus was a nice dog, but honestly, Mom really never should have adopted him in the first place. I guess Mom was probably lonely, as my father had passed away in 2004, but she had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer's when she got him in 2005, and part of the reason she got him was to prevent us from moving her out of her home. (She told me this herself.) He was very good company for her, I must admit, but she was never really able to properly care for him from the get-go...things like remembering to take him out regularly, making sure he got fed at the same time each day, keeping water out for him, things like that, she was never good at. Additionally, Gus really trashed the carpets in her old house, although I don't blame Gus for this; she just wasn't remembering to let him outside before she went to bed or at regular intervals throughout the day. Mom was also getting in the bad habit of feeding Gus while she was eating, giving him table scraps. One of the most frustrating things was if I ever brought up anything about his care, Mom would find some excuse for what she was forgetting to do...when I asked about giving him heartworm medicine every month, she'd say there weren't many mosquitoes in Albuquerque, and so forth. Anyhow, I am glad to not have to worry about Gus any more, and I hope he does have a nice rest of his life in his new home. Gus did help Mom get adjusted to living here but he was a lot of work also, and I'm glad to be able to just concentrate on Mom's care now.

I have a week off from work this week and I originally planned to use some of the time for a mini getaway somewhere, but I ended up staying in Texas. The hotel I wanted to stay at in Trinidad was booked full, and all the alternative hotels were very pricey. I still needed to get my cockpit observation time done for the year, though (I have to do five hours of it per year) so I flew to Cancun and back. I wanted to fly somewhere international since all the flights I'm working these days are international ones. Cancun was the easiest and quickest way to get things done. I could have stayed there also, I suppose, and next time I will, but I needed to get the flying done by the end of last month, so staying a few days wasn't an option this time since I flew down and back on the 28th.

The way it works for cockpit observation at The Rather Large Airline is, I call into work, and they list me as a must-ride for the cockpit jumpseat for whatever flights I'm going on. This often confuses the gate agents, since if there is room in the back of the plane, they want to give me a regular seat. I finally got everything worked out at the airport here and got on board in the cockpit jumpseat. The crew, both the flight attendants and pilots, were very friendly. I was staying with the same plane going back to Texas. Since I was only going to be in Mexico about 40 minutes, I didn't go through customs, and this threw the gate agent there for a loop...also, he said they had no record of me having listed on the flight, even though I had done so before my trip. They may have been looking in the wrong place or something, I'm not sure. They had to call my office to verify I was authorized to fly back, and I finally got on board the plane and in the jumpseat at the last minute. The flight out of Mexico was full, so the cockpit jumpseat was the only extra seat available coming back.

The flights themselves were pretty uneventful. Nice views of the beaches in Mexico while going in and leaving; I'll have to definitely stay longer next time. The cockpit jumpseat in a 737, while not the worst one I've ever been in, isn't very comfortable for long-haul flying, so I was definitely ready for the trip to be over, but the view for takeoff and landing can't be beat.

I was wearing my airline ID while on board the plane, so that any passengers who saw me entering or exiting the cockpit wouldn't think I was some random passenger riding up there. I should have asked the crew if I could go through customs with them, but I just went in the regular line. I kept my airline ID on (which is in a lanyard ID holder I keep around my neck) since I was going on the bus back to the airport employee parking lot once I got through customs, and I had to wear it for the shuttle bus.

The line in customs was very long, and slow. I finally got stamped and proceeded on, but evidently I was "red-flagged" somehow since I got pulled aside for extra screening before leaving the customs area. As it turns out, the customs people don't like airline employees wearing their employee IDs in customs for some reason...they said that they couldn't tell if I had been working a flight or not. (Well, technically I was working by observing the flight procedures from the cockpit, but I didn't argue, just put my ID in my pocket.)

The customs agent had to look me up on a computer in another room. He was gone for several minutes; then some people that were also in the "extra fun" line paid some more duty taxes that they owed to him over there. As they were finishing up, I wandered over to check on things and was told rather sternly to get back to where I had been standing.

I think I may have raised some kind of alert either because I flew to Mexico and back in one day, or perhaps because I never went through customs in Mexico. I had to explain what I was doing on the trip, and it's never easy explaining my job to someone outside of aviation. ("So, you're a dispatcher, and you do flight planning?" was one response I got from the customs guy as he was typing on his computer.) He then went through everything I had in my briefcase EXTREMELY carefully, inspecting a John Sandford novel I had in there and closely examining some photocopies of some back exercises my chiropractor had given me. Actually, after sitting in that uncomfortable jumpseat and standing around for an hour in customs, I'm glad I have a chiropractor appointment scheduled this week. (I felt like telling the customs guy that but I didn't want to delay my processing even further.)

The most annoying thing was that customs never did tell me why I'd been pulled aside for extra screening. I suppose they had their reasons, security and all that, but it was a rather disquieting experience. I guess if I do another international jumpseating trip, though, I'll stay over in wherever I'm headed for more than 30 minutes and hopefully avoid getting a long stop in customs before re-entering the United States. I understand the customs guy was just doing his job, but any event like that always makes you wonder what the hell is going on. Had I forgotten to pay some traffic ticket from last year and gotten flagged in the computer? Did I underpay my taxes? I was VERY glad to finally walk out of customs and ride back to my car once he was done with typing up his report, and believe me I slept well that night.

I go back to work at the end of this week, and while I do have another break of five days off later this month, instead of tempting fate again I think I'm just driving to my relative Rex's place and avoiding aviation completely for a few days. Pass travel is nice, but it's also nice to just completely take a break from airlines, airplanes, and airports on your days off once in a while.