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September 2017

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 My wife and I returned home yesterday after spending last week at an all-inclusive beach resort in Puerto Plata. If you have been paying attention, you may note that this is, in fact, our third trip so far in 2017. When I mentioned that we were hoping to begin travelling more, I was quite serious.

I will need to sort and upload photos, and there will probably be a couple more entries detailing the trip, but this trip was mostly about relaxing on the beach, enjoying endless food and bottomless drinks, while making new friends. And I think we managed to accomplish all of that. We managed to find some quite lovely spots on the beaches, in the shade of the palm and mango trees, where we could relax in the breeze off the Atlantic Ocean, listening to the surf, while sipping cold drinks. The restaurants were good, and a couple of the meals were quite excellent. And we met wonderful people...a young couple from Charleston who were celebrating a slightly delayed honeymoon, and another couple from the Netherlands who were in the middle of a two week stay. 

There were minor bumps along the way, including some drama at the airport before we even really got started. As our flight out of Washington National Airport began boarding, a young man with a guitar rushed to the gate, anxious to get on board. The gate crew pulled him aside...they had already made several announcements about how full the flight was and asking for volunteers to gate check some of the carry-on baggage. I'm sure that the airline personnel simply wanted to make sure there would be enough storage space for this guy's guitar, but he was sure he was going to miss the flight, demanding to be allowed to board. When the gate agent who had been speaking with him turned her back, he dashed down the jetway with his guitar, which prompted calls for security.  He only made it as far as the aircraft doorway, and after a loud debate, he was eventually convinced to return to the gate area, but not before they airline staff had threatened to cancel the entire flight! Needless to say, when we finally finished boarding and departed, he was not on the plane.

Beyond that, our travel was mostly uneventful, which is about the most you can hope for these days.  Modern air travel is no longer fun, but a chore to be endured in order to get where you want to be, at least for those of us who can't afford to sit with the 1% up at the front of the aircraft.
On June 18, 1990, I reported to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to begin my career as a Patent Examiner.  Many of the details of that first day have faded from my memory, but I do remember having to complete a bewildering stack of paperwork, and I do remember being sworn in as a federal employee.  I'm pretty sure I got to meet my first supervisor that day, and that he took me around to meet the people I would be working with after I completed my initial training.

I know that I was nervous...I had little idea about what to expect from this new job.  I knew very little about patents and patent law, and I was about to go through a rather intense two week introduction to the legal terminology and concepts that would define most of what I would be doing every day on the job.  At the end of that all-too-short training class, I would have to learn on the fly.  I would be handed a patent application and told to examine it.  I remember being overwhelmed, initially, but quickly found my footing, with the assistance of the primary examiner who would become my mentor.

Now, a quarter century later, I have been doing that same job for more than half of my life.  At the beginning of my career, twenty-five years seemed almost impossibly far away, but now it feels as if it has almost flown by.  I have seen so many co-workers come and go.  The Office has relocated from Arlington to Alexandria.  The paper files we relied upon when I started are all gone now, replaced by digital files floating in a computer network.  More and more of my colleagues work from home full-time, scattered across the country...I no longer can just walk down the hall and stick my head in to their office to chat.  The fundamentals of what I do every day remain the same, but at a cosmetic level, it hardly looks like the same job any more.

I have just a bit more than nine years to go before I reach my minimum retirement age, where I can begin collecting my pension.  While I enjoy my job (for the most part), I don't expect that I will linger here very long past that date.  How many more things will change before I retire?  It will be interesting to see the changes, but I expect the time will fly by and a decade from now I'll be looking back at a completed career, wondering where all the time went.
I took the day off from work yesterday, at the request of my beloved, to help her with the last minute gift shopping.  Not exactly my idea of a wildly fun day, but we were pushing hard up against the time limit and this was about the only way it was going to get done.  We were gone from the house for most of our daughters' school day (about 9am to almost 3pm), looking for the last few gifts for tomorrow.  For the most part we were successful...we even managed to find a GPS unit for my wife (it is SO much easier to buy gifts for her when she's right next to you for consultation!).

The one thing that struck me, though, was the almost complete lack of crowds.  Here we were, two days from Christmas, and, for the most part, the stores were deserted.  The first mall we went to felt like a ghost town.  Except for the half-dozen new mothers jogging around the concourse with their babies in their strollers, the place was deserted.  About the only other people at Sears were the employees, looking bored nearly to death.  One whole section of that mall's parking lot had been rented to a car dealership to store their surplus inventory (I think it speaks volumes about the economy that a mall has space in its parking lot to rent to a car dealership during Christmas shopping does the dealership's need for such storage space).

The second mall we went to was almost as bad.  I'm so used to having to fight through masses of people rushing to finish their last minute gift shopping that it was a bit surreal to be in a large mall with only two shopping days left before Christmas and find ourselves almost alone.  However, the lack of crowds made it much easier and less stressful finishing our own shopping.

A key save

Dec. 16th, 2008 09:35 am
resqgeek: (Default)
Yesterday afternoon, as I was walking home from the bus stop after work, I spied something unusual in the middle of the street. It was a neck lanyard, with a bunch of keys, including a couple of expensive remote entry keys for a Dodge van. I wasn't sure what I would do with them, but I knew I couldn't leave them in the middle of the street so I grabbed them and continued on my way home. As I walked, I examined my find. In addition to the keys, there were a number of those key ring sized club membership cards for various chain stores' savings clubs, and several pictures of girls about my daughters' ages. But no name or phone numbers, which I guess made sense since there were also house and storage unit keys in the set.

When I got home, I showed my wife what I had found, and she, being the clever detective that she is, started calling the various stores and reading the card numbers to them. Unfortunately, the first few we called couldn't (or if they could, wouldn't tell us) find any information that might identify the owner of the keys. We began to wonder if all the cards were old and expired (there was one for a discount department store that went out of business almost ten years ago!). But, just before we gave up, we hit the jackpot. The manager at the Giant Food store ( told us to call their customer service center, and gave us the phone number. The operator at the customer service center took our names and phone number, and told us she would contact the owner of the card and him/her call us. Not five minutes later, the owner of the keys was on the phone with us, getting directions to come pick up his keys! Kudos to Giant Food for the quick response to an issue that really had nothing to do with them!

When he arrived, we learned that the back window of his van had been smashed by vandals, and the glass repair company had been to his house that afternoon to install the new window. They had driven away with his keys on the back bumper of their truck. He had planned to have them pay for the replacement keys, so he wasn't terribly worried about the loss, but we did save him a fair bit of hassle. As we were talking, the glass repair company truck drove slowly down the street, clearly looking for the lost keys! We flagged them down, and the owner of the keys had a brief chat with them, before everyone went on their way.
I went out for a walk yesterday at lunchtime, and found myself fully entertained by the new parking pay stations the city has installed on the streets around my office. In an effort to control the parking and generate revenue, the city wanted to meter the parking in the area around my office, and decided to install central pay stations (one or two per block) rather than conventional meters. According to the e-mail we received, these pay stations were supposed to be activated this past Monday.

As they installed the machines over the last couple of weeks, they covered the faces with a piece of cardboard that read "Pay Station Coming Soon". As I was walking, I noticed that someone (or maybe more than one person) had modified a number of these temporary signs. The first one, perhaps added after the Monday deadline for activation had arrived, had added a "When?" That seemed like a reasonable question, though perhaps not the most efficient way to find the answer. A little later, I noticed that a pay station where the temporary sign had been modified to add a "I can't wait" after the "Coming Soon". That got a smile from me, but my mood continued to improve as I reached the next machine. This one read "Pay Station 3 Coming Soon". Hmmm...parking meters that play video games? The next sign now read "Play Station 4 Coming Soon". Does someone have some inside information from Sony?

I don't know why the whole set left me feeling so amused. Normally, I'm not a fan of graffiti, but these signs were clearly temporary and destined for the trash as soon as the machines were activated, so no harm was done. They showed a bit of whimsy that just caught my imagination. I was trying to think of my own modifications to add to some of the other signs, but this morning the signs are all gone and the machines are active, so I guess I've missed my chance.
I have been regularly riding the Alexandria Dash transit buses for almost ten years now, and in general have found them to be clean and reliable (though their schedule is a bit thin at certain times of the day). I know that lots of people don't like the idea of riding public buses, but I haven't encountered any of the problems they point to: drunks, trouble-making kids, mentally-disturbed individuals, etc. The only real complaint I have is that a couple of their drivers are unnecessarily agressive in the way they drive their buses.

Yesterday morning gave me a chance to reflect on other people's concerns. I arrived at my bus stop at my usual time, a couple of minutes before 6am. Already waiting there was a man (I'd guess he's in his mid- to late twenties) that I've seen on a few other mornings over the past couple of weeks. He wears jeans and a military style coat and carries a fairly heavy backpack. He doesn't say anything, and pays for his bus fare with loose change he has to dig from deep in his pocket. Yesterday was different, though, in that he reaching into his back back and pulled out a plastic bag with a can in it, popped the can open and began to drink. He finished this rather large can (probably 24 oz) fairly quickly, since the bus was due any minute and slid the empty can into the trash back someone has tied to the post holding the bus stop sign.

I was fairly certain that he was drinking some sort of malt liquor, and was more than a little surprised to see him do so at that early hour. Nothing about his behavior was otherwise any different than any other morning, but somehow my impression of his is now completely different. I can't help wonder about someone who appears to be drinking a beer at 6:00 in the morning while waiting for a public bus.

This morning, my curiosity got the better of me, and I looked at the can he left behind yesterday. It was indeed a malt liquor, 'Hurricane' brand, from Anheuser-Busch...
Normally, I appreciate the fact that my commute to and from work does not involve getting in a car and driving. I like the walk to the bus stop, and the chance to read on the bus. But a few times each year the weather makes this commute really uncomfortable.

When I first got up this morning, I stuck my head out the door (to let the dog outside), and it was overcast, but not raining, with moderate temperatures. I knew the temperatures were supposed to drop dramatically through the day, so I chose my clothes with that in mind. What I didn't plan on was the rain. By the time I got showered and dressed, it the rain was coming down in buckets. My shoes had soaked through before I was halfway to the bus stop, and the wind was driving the rain in under my umbrella, so my pants were wet up to the knees. The final insult came just a few yards before the bus stop, when a car drove through a curbside puddle as it went past me, drenching me to the waist. I had avoided this up to that point, watching the cars, and timing my walk to avoid being next to the curbside puddles when the cars went by, but after turning the last corner to the bus stop, the wind was blowing straight at me, so I had my umbrella lowered in front of me and I didn't see this last car until it was too late.

I'm now sitting, damp and chilly, at my desk, waiting for my wife to drop the kids at school and come over with some dry clothes for me to change into. Thankfully, this rain is supposed to move out of the area by this afternoon, so I won't have to repeat this on the way home.
I've been thinking about getting my eyes check for several months. I'm not having any problems with my sight, and my eyes aren't bothering me, but its been more than four years since my last vision check-up, and I figure it would be prudent to get them checked. I just hadn't gotten around to doing it yet.

Yesterday, I was sitting in for a supervisor in a meeting with one of our newer employees and an applicant, when the frames for my glasses broke. I had noticed that they were sitting funny on my face, so I took them off to check them, and the right temple arm fell off. I called the shop where I got them, and they ordered a new piece, which will come it today, then I called my optometrist and made an appointment to get my eyes checked. I managed to muddle my way through the rest of my day balancing my broken glasses on my nose, until my wife showed up with a pair of my old glasses.

After I got home, I headed over for my appointment. This was a good news check-up--my eyes continue to be healthy, and the vision in my left eye has actually improved! The doctor gave me the new prescription, and I'll be shopping for a new pair of glasses soon. I then went next door and left my broken pair at the shop for them to fix when the new temple piece comes in later today. Unfortunately, it looks like I'm going to have to suffer through the weekend with these heavy old battered glasses. At least my vision hasn't changed greatly in the last decade, so I can still see with this pair!
On Friday, I saw an article about Saturday's impending total lunar eclipse, which caught my attention. It seemed like a fun opportunity to try and get some interesting pictures, so I spent a good amount of time on Friday and Saturday trying to think of places that were convenient where I could get a good view of the eastern horizon, as the eclipse was to occur right at moonrise here on the East Coast. Eventually, I decided that the most promising and convenient spot was the soccer field behind my daughter's school. So, on Saturday evening, just before 6pm, I grabbed my camera bag and walked up the street with my daughters. When we arrived, I discovered I wasn't the only one who thought this might be a good spot. Another gentleman from the neighborhood was there with his grandchildren and his camera. Unfortunately for all of us, there was a bank of clouds low on the eastern horizon, and we didn't get to see the moon at all until almost 6:45, by which time the total eclipse was completely over. While the moon was still a bit reddish, it was still obscured by some high thin clouds, so there was no opportunity to get any pictures.
On our last day of our vacation at Steamboat, we had an experience that simply defies any sort of probabilistic belief. Because it was our last day, we lingered on the mountain far later than we had any other day, and we found ourselves trapped at the end of a LONG lift line waiting to ride up to the top of the front peak, where we could either catch the gondola back to town or ski down. This was to be our last lift ride of the day, and all the other lifts on the upper part of the mountain were already closed for the night.

At this point, as we're standing there, my wife's right foot starts to get cold. This isn't normal, because my wife has a set of Hotronic heaters installed in her ski boots, which generally work to keep her feet warm. So, she bends down to check the battery on the back of her right boot, only to find that the battery was missing! We look at each other, stunned. We've been skiing all over the mountain, and could have lost the battery anywhere. The lifts are closed, and its our last day, so there's no way we can even begin to look for it. We decided to stop at Lost and Found on our way back to the condo, but we held out very little hope of recovering the battery. It looked like we would be out about fifty dollars for a new batter pack.

Eventually, we made our way up the lift and down the front of the mountain. Lost and Found was closed by the time we got there, but the lady at the Resort Information Center took our information and promised to pass it on to Lost and Found. We headed back to our condo to have dinner and pack for our trip home.

When we arrived at the condo, we told the other family that was sharing the condo with us about what had happened. "You're never going to believe this," the mother said when we finished, "But my son found a Hotronic battery at lunchtime today. Maybe you can use it to replace yours?" She had tried to get her son (age 12) to turn it in to Lost and Found, because the battery pack is useless by itself, but he thought it was cool, and had pocketed it. When he pulled it out, my wife gasped. It was either her missing battery, or else its twin! It even still had the original tag on it, just like hers did. He had found it at the cafeteria area where we'd eaten lunch.

I'm still stunned by this sequence of events. Steamboat has almost 3,000 acres of ski-able terrain, and has thousands of skiers on the mountain on a busy day. What are the odds of losing a piece of equipment somewhere in all that space, in the midst of all those people, and having it recovered by one of the seven people in your own condo, who was completely unaware that you'd lost it? This has to be one of the luckiest coincidences I've ever experienced in my life!
Yesterday afternoon, the Qgeeklets went off to play at a friend's house, and Mrs. Qgeek and I found ourselves with an afternoon to ourselves and nothing to do (poor planning, that, eh?). Since we weren't excited by any of the movie choices in the nearby theaters, and because it was a beautiful day, we decided to go for a walk in the historic district of Alexandria.

We parked on the edge of Old Town, and strolled down to the waterfront. It was a pleasant walk, with the flowers blooming and the leaves just coming out on the trees. When we reached the river, we turned toward King Street and the heart of Old Town. Now I haven't been down in this part of Old Town on a weekend in a long time, so I was a bit surprised by the amount of street life. There were crowds of people walking up and down King Street and along the waterfront. There were a number of street performers, including a cellist, a trumpeteer and a guy playing his "water harp," a table covered with glasses filled with varying levels of water. This last guy was quite impressive, playing Pachelbel and Bach, as well as some more contemporary tunes by running his fingers over the edges of these glasses. Amazing.

We continued our stroll, watching a clown make balloon animals for the kids, and parrot rescue group show off some of their birds. The air was festive, and all the people seemed to be enjoying the glorious weather. We continued back up King Street, back towards where we left the car. At Washington Street, we took a brief detour to cut through the cemetery at Christ Church (which was where both George Washington and Robert E. Lee attended services), before returning to our uphill climb on King Street. Eventually, we returned to the car and headed home, but it was a very pleasent way to spend part of our afternoon. My only regret it that I didn't grab a few books to take with us before we left!
What? You look puzzled. Didn't you know that it's the Iranian New Year? Well, now you do.

One of the things I like about my job is the incredible diversity of the employees here. A few months back, a co-worker from Ethiopia took a bunch of us out to an Ethiopian restaurant to celebrate the retirement of my old boss. Today, it was Iran's turn. I have a number of co-workers who were born in Iran, and every year they invite a bunch of us to join them for lunch at an Iranian restaurant to celebrate the Iranian New Year. Today, a group of about two dozen people from our work unit piled into a bunch of cars and went out to celebrate. We had a variety of Iranian dishes to sample, and I believe we all left the restaurant wishing we were headed home for a nap instead of back to the office to work. The food was fabulous, and the conversation included discussions of Iranian New Year's traditions. All-in-all, quite a fun lunch.
Yesterday afternoon, I was listening to BBC Radio Guernsey while I was finishing up at the office. Their evening show features Duncan Warren, broadcasting on several BBC local radio stations in the UK Southwest. At one point, Duncan started talking with one of his callers about the Stella Awards, named for the woman who sued McDonald's after spilling their coffee on herself and getting burned. These awards are allegedly given to outrageous lawsuits that actually collect damages. He specifically mentioned one that involved someone setting the cruise control on their new RV and leaving the driver's seat. Supposedly, this person sued the RV manufacturer arguing that the manual didn't warn that they couldn't leave the wheel when the cruise control was engaged.

Now this caught my attention, because the RV cruise control story is a notorious and venerable urban legend. So I went to and did a quick search. Sure enough, the cruise control lawsuit is in there as a confirmed myth. I also noted that the entire existence of the Stella Awards is also apparently a myth.

So, I sent Duncan an e-mail to that effect, pointing to the Snopes website. I got a reply from his producer, indicating that he wanted to talk to me on the air today. So we arranged for them to call me at 8:30pm England time, and I spent about five minutes on the air with him, discussing the nature of the urban legend and the Snopes website. I did manage to mention BookCrossing in passing, but wasn't able to steer the conversation in that direction.

Unfortunately, while [ profile] skyring was all set to try and record my interview for posterity, it seems that BBC Radio Guernsey wasn't streaming Duncan's show today, but was instead streaming their AM feed with local programming, and he missed my five minutes of air time. Oh well. JKT has been hinting that she'd like to talk to me on the air at some point, so maybe next time will work out.
Christmas eve was the quiet before the storm. The following two days would be a blur of activity. I am a Boxing Day baby (though I wouldn't know anything about Boxing Day until adulthood!), and my mother was a Christmas baby. So, great we went to great lengths to make sure that no one felt cheated out of any celebrations!

The exhausting tale of Christmases past, ResQgeek-style )
I wish I could post a Christmas photo from my childhood, but my parents still retain custody of the childhood photo archives. I'll see if I can't dig through them while visiting next week, and maybe I can post picture(s) over New Year's weekend.

Memories of Christmas eve as a child )