Category Archives: Technology

Heavy Lyfting

There was some serious budgeting for the trip to San Diego with YA.  First off, the trip would not have been possible at all except for free airline tickets that I won last summer as well as all the award points that I’ve saved up at work over the past few years (they paid for the hotel and the zoo/safari park).  That left us with food and transportation.

We had an Excel spreadsheet for all of this and the transportation was the most challenging.  While the airport, the zoo and Balboa Park are all fairly closely clustered, the safari park was quite a distance.  Plus we were working with a limited selection of hotels due to the budget (I only had so many award points).  I initially just wanted to rent a car, but that got expensive fast with overnight parking as well as parking at many of the attractions we wanted to visit.  We used a website we found for approximating taxis in San Diego – not much better of a price point.

YA suggested we should just use Uber/Lyft like she did on her last trip and the initial research showed quite a bit of savings over rental cars and taxis.  But I was hesitant.  I’ve never used Uber or Lyft and it made me really nervous.  YA said she would take care of it all.

The first morning, the Lyft driver showed up at our house 10 minutes after she set it up.  Perfect.  Since that was the transfer I was the most nervous about, I could relax.  Uber/Lyft are just big software applications that hook drivers up with passengers.  More than once during the trip, we had a driver change while we were waiting; at the zoo the driver changed twice after we set up the initial request, which ended up getting up back to the hotel sooner than we had anticipated.  After doing a bit of research I figured out why it’s cheaper and why taxi associations are up in arms.  Uber/Lyft drivers are not employees – they are individual contractors and the software just puts them together with folks who want a ride.  No fleets of cars to maintain, no huge workforce to deal with employee issues, insurance, etc.  (I did this research because the day before we were to come home Uber and Lyft both announced they were going to stop service in California (that night!) due to a new law that the state has passed concerning the employee status of drivers.  Luckily within a couple of hours there was a stay granted so that Uber/Lyft can continue challenging the new law, so we were still able to arrange a transfer to the airport the next morning.

Really the only problem that I found was that both Uber and Lyft driver rely completely on GPS, unlike taxi drivers who actually do a lot of training and testing before getting their licenses.  So if the GPS is off, then the ride is off.  On our first full day, we headed up to Escondido to the Safari Park.  It’s a long haul, about 40 minutes and YA had her phone open to the Lyft app the entire time so we could track where we were along the route (apparently this is “how it’s done”).  As we approached the main entrance to the park, there was a clear turn off and a huge sign but our driver went right by it and turned left at the next driveway, which was exactly what GPS was telling him to do.  Unfortunately this was some sort of service entrance with a security gate; it took YA a couple of minutes to convince the driver to go back to the first entrance to the park.  Luckily, you pay upfront for your trip, not by the miles or the time you are actually in the car, so this kind of thing doesn’t jack up your price.

So every single one of our transfers was done by Lyft.  YA says she likes Lyft better than Uber but she can’t articulate why.  It doesn’t seem like the two companies can be that different; several of our drivers had both Lyft and Uber stickers on their windshields.  But whatever the difference, it worked out quite well for us, saved us money and I survived using a new technology.  Of course, we’ll see how it goes if I ever had to set up a Lyft on my own!

Any new technology that you’ve survived recently?  Or that is driving you crazy?

Putting On A Show

I was the assisting minister in church yesterday. That required me to sit up front with the pastors and read aloud a selection from the Old Testament, read the Psalm responsively with the congregation,  and then read a selection from the New Testament.  This week I read from Jeremiah and Romans. I really love reading the lessons, and I try my best to convey the meanings in them to the congregation.

Last year we hired a new Worship and Music director.  It is a lay position.  She has done a nice job revitalizing our worship services. I must confess, however, that I find her presentation more than a little disconcerting .  She really, really, loves the Lord, and during services she beams with this beatific glow from her head to her toes.  The problem is that she expects those of us assisting in the worship services as well as musicians to exude the same joy she does. I was raised in a more somber tradition, in which you don’t show much emotion in church, and public displays of religious fervor are highly suspect.  This passage from Matthew sums up what was deeply ingrained in me growing up:

And when you pray, be not like the hypocrites.  For they love to stand in the synagogue and on the street corners to be seen by men. . . But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.

Our services are now in person (we are all masked), as well as broadcast over a live Facebook feed and over the local radio. The other Sunday after Husband was the assisting minister, our Worship and Music Director emailed him to  chide him for looking too serious and glum during the service. Husband always looks glum. Moreover,  it is hard to exude joy in a mask, or when you are reading something gloomy from the Old Testament.  We just ignored her email.

Yesterday as I sat in front and read the assigned verses, I couldn’t help but smile surreptitiously behind my mask as I thought about this number from The Producers.

I imagine the Worship and Music Director wouldn’t think it was very funny, but it really sums up her idea of putting on a church service.  Her tenure is limited, as she and her family have moved to another state. She brought us some good ideas to enliven worship, but I am relieved I won’t be chided for not putting a sappy look on my face as I assist or provide music.

When have you had to put on  a show?

New Toys

Husband’s new smoker/grill arrived on Tuesday. You can see it in the header photo.  It is quite the machine, something my dad would have called a “delicate piece of equipment” given all the complexity involved in using it. It is iron, true. It took two trips to the hardware store just to unpack it. We needed a tin snips to cut the thick, wire strapping that secured its protective wrappings. Then we found it was firmly attached to a heavy wooden pallet by screws that had odd heads needing  a bit with a square head for the electric screwdriver.  I am thankful I managed to remove the screws without stripping them.  What would we have done then?!

Husband has waited years for this grill with the same anticipation as a child waiting for a long hoped-for special toy at Christmas. His first smoked sausage and country style pork ribs turned just as he wanted.  We are truly blessed with good cooking equipment.

What is the most complex piece of equipment you ever had to operate? What is your favorite cooking vessel or utensil. 

 

10K

Photo credit:  Sebastian Pena Lambarri

Last week Chris mentioned that we were closing in on 10,000 followers.  If the rate that someone new clicks on Follow keeps up, we will hit that number this weekend.  As I’m typing this on Friday night, we are at 9,996.  This is for just the Trail – if you look at our WordPress account, it also adds in Blevins and Kitchen Congress, so the number looks a little higher than 10K.

I’m not big on social media optics, so I’m not sure what this really says about us.  Obviously from looking at the stats, we don’t have thousands of folks looking at the Trail every day; we average between 150 and 200 views most days.  And of course, I find it fascinating that not everybody is always looking at the same post as we are.  For example, yesterday 2 people viewed Why I Don’t Eat the Coleslaw from August 2015 and The Magnolia Steakhouse from November 2010, among other pages.

Although the overwhelming number of readers hale from the U.S., we have a worldwide viewership.  Yesterday we also had folks from Canada, Australia, Finland, Kenya, Cameroon, Germany, Nigeria, France, India, New Zealand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Georgia and Benin visit.

We are all over the board in terms of comments… some days we are chattier than others.  I used to worry that we didn’t have more folks commenting, but then I think about all the other blogs that I read on a regular basis.  They have way more followers than we do, but fewer comments.  I also don’t see the kind of community that we have in the comment section of most blogs.  And I can’t speak for anybody else, but I almost never comment on any blog except ours (unless there is a possible prize in it for me).

So all in all, as we’ve hit our decade anniversary and 10K followers, I’m still feeling like we’re just a small fish in a big pond and I like it that way.  Hope the Trail is meeting your needs these days.

Not sure about a question for this data – did you ever imagine, in your wildest dreams, that we’d come this far?

RIP Grant Imahara

I saw the sad news that Grant Imahara has passed away, from a brain aneurysm at the age of 49.  Although he worked for 9 years behind the scenes and Lucasfilms and Industrial Light & Magic as well as winning the third season of Battlebots, he is probably best known as one of the co-hosts of Mythbusters from 2005 to 2014.

I started watching Mythbusters right about the time that Grant started and I was hooked from the beginning.  This was about the time in my life when I was really starting to embrace my interest in science or as my baby sister says “my nerd stuff”.  As I know I’ve talked about here before, I spent decades of my life trying to mask my intelligence.  Even though I was the “smart one” in the family and did well in school, I never highlighted any accomplishments and purposely didn’t gravitate to things that were too nerdy.

But by the time Grant came into my life I had begun to realize that being interested in science, being a big reader, watching shows like Mythbusters was nothing to be ashamed about.  I loved the show and I was always amazed at Grant’s ability to whip up a robot whenever it was needed, from a baseball pitching machine to a robot that could fling a metal rimmed hat at a statue (a la James Bond).

So I will always be grateful to Grant for helping me along a path that has made me happier – I (and the rest of the world) will miss him.

Anything around your house you would like a have a robot do?

Under Lock and Key

I saw a young man by a white car in the college parking lot near my work the other day. His bicycle was propped up against the car, and he was evidently trying to get into the car with  a long wire inserted through the window frame on the driver’s side. Given it was broad daylight and that there is a low crime rate in our town, I knew that he was the owner of the vehicle and he had locked his keys in the car.  He was still there, with a friend, when I went home for lunch, and they were still at it.

We are preparing for my agency moving to a new building, and we are faced with clearing out decades of materials before the move. Storage space in the new building is limited, so we need to go through multiple filing cabinets to sort and toss what we don’t need. We have discovered full, locked filing cabinets in storage rooms. We have no idea where the keys are. What now? Do we try, like the young man in the parking lot,  to jimmy the locks? Do we toss the whole thing, hoping that what ever is in the cabinet is not useful? It is a hard decision to make. I am glad that it is not up to me. I have the keys for the four psychology filing cabinets in my purse, and there they will stay until the cabinets are in position in the new building. I just better not lose my purse.

What do you have under lock and key? Ever been locked out of anything?

Brave New World

YA: I’m going to Costco.  Do you want anything?

VS: Can you get me a box of my sausages?  (Vegetarian – good price at Costco)

YA: (rolling eyes, clearly hoping I hadn’t wanted anything).

VS: Wait, I’ve got a $20 you can take.

YA: Can’t you just Venmo me?  (Online money transfer app)

VS: But I’ve got the cash right here.

YA:  I don’t want cash.

VS:  What?  (You have to imagine the incredulous tone of voice here.)

YA: It’s too much trouble.

 

What has surprised you this week?

Thank you, Mr. Parker

In the early 1980’s, I was a budding classical music audiophile who lived on a graduate student income. Winnipeg had a number of good record stores for classical music albums, and I wanted to make sure that I got the best albums for my measly disposable income. I was able to do that with a handy dandy guide courtesy of MPR and Mr. Bill Parker with  Building a Classical Music Library.  It was very helpful identifying good recordings and  performers.

I hadn’t thought about this book for quite a while until Thursday night, when Husband brought it up out of the basement as we were trying to figure out what was so important about our vinyl recording from  1981 of Vladimir Ashkenazy’s piano version of Pictures at an Exhibition.  Paging through the book, I realized how many treasured recordings we have that Mr Parker suggested.

One favorite recording from that period of my life is that of Percy Grainger playing Grieg’s A minor Piano Concerto.  Grainger was long dead by the time of the recording. He made piano rolls of the concerto in the 1920’s, and a piano set up to play the rolls was recorded with the Sydney Symphony. Here is the same set up with Andrew Davis conducting at the London Proms in 1988.

 

What are some of your treasured recordings?

It’s Ringing

This past Solstice, one of YA’s gifts to me was a Ring doorbell – you know, one of those doorbells that has a camera in it.  This gift falls into the category of a gift for herself rather than a gift for me.  YA does a lot of her shopping online, so she worries about packages left on our front porch.  Installing this thing required drilling holes into the stucco, so it was very easy to put off at first.  Then it ended up in a box in Nonny’s room and I was hoping a little bit that it would be forgotten.

But thanks to shelter-in-place, YA is stuck in the house and looking for projects.  I resisted a bit by not being helpful but YA was persistent.  She went to the basement and got the drill, looked up directions on YouTube, got out an extension cord.  Then she realized that we should really move the mailbox over a few inches, so she had to collect up the tools to get this done as well.  But eventually I couldn’t put it off any longer, so I drilled the holes for the Ring and then drilled new holes for the mailbox’s new location.  YA has done the rest, including putting the app on my phone.  I guess I still get to pick my own ring tone.

What technology have YOU succumbed to?

False Alarm

We had rather a to do here on Monday when the city police issued a shelter in place order for the part of town north of the interstate.  Someone had found a cylindrical metal container, like a mortar shell, chained to a fence near the Department of Transportation lot where they park the snow plows and road graders.  After assessing things, the police determined it was not a bomb,  but a container for geocaching.  Someone attached it to the fence without getting permission from the DOT to do so.

I like the concept of people  getting outside and wandering around searching for hidden objects with their GPS. How fun!  It is too bad the north part of town had to be so alarmed about being blown up.  My friend the General Mills security guard says they get several reports a year of such unsanctioned containers on the borders of General Mills property.

What are your favorite  outdoor activities?  Any good scavenger hunt stories?