Endless Summer

It hardly seems possible: it’s been nearly a year and a half since I retired. Some mornings I wake with a start, re-living that old-time feeling “I overslept and I’m gonna be late for work.”  This is a treat, since I can sleep in as long as I want. Some mornings, I indulge in the shameless luxury of turning on the TV and lingering in bed.

Retirement certainly provokes ample opportunities  to keep “gentleman’s hours”. Marathon 10 to 11-hour sleep-ins are possible.  In truth, the lure of a pot of fresh-ground French Roast usually has me out of bed before I even get my 8 hours in. Now that I can sleep as long as I want, I often don’t sleep as long as I should.

Back in our school days, we used to slog through the September – June school year for the promise of nearly a quarter-year of summer vacation. Over the next 45 years in the workplace, employers substituted the traditional 1 to 4 weeks paid vacation time, depending on seniority, “human resources” policy, and what they thought we should be able to tolerate.

I stayed up late last night, coding in Perl and mySQL until 2AM for a private web project of my very own. It isn’t work when you’re doing it for yourself. The $0.00 pay isn’t anything to write home about, but the satisfaction of seeing your own project come to life is one hell of a rewarding experience.

After that, I stayed up another half hour watching the tail end of a PBS Churchill documentary.

So, this morning I got up at 7:30AM by mistake, misreading the digital clock on the wall without my glasses. As long as I was up, I fired up that pot of dependable, aromatic French Roast. The way I figure it, I shouldn’t officially be up until 10:30AM.

My mom used to be fond of a saying that she was “non compos mentis” until her second cup of coffee. It’s entirely possible I’m not entirely awake yet. Who cares? The time to compose this short post was all “free”. It was a gift. Soon, I can put last night’s test code through its real-time shakeout.

The retirement scenario most closely resembles the title of that old Beach Boys album, “Endless Summer”.

You are 15, the sky is blue, the sun is starting to peek through the faded summer vacation cabin curtains, and a gentle breeze stirs over the lake. What do you want to do, sleep in, or dash down to the boat dock and do a little fishing?

This brings to mind that celebrated old Bernard Shaw quote, “youth is wasted on the young.” No, no, I didn’t believe that when I was young, of course, but now it is starting to make a little more sense.

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“Resealable Bag Inside”

"Resealbale Bag Inside"

Since I grew up in the ’50’s, we as a nation have progressed from cardboard boxes and wax paper to hi-tech plastics and ziplock bags. All of us except the food packaging industry, that is.

Now, I love raisins. Yep, I have always loved raisins since I was a kid. And I usually buy Sun-Maid, because that’s what my mom bought, 60 years ago. I’m a transplant from New England, new to California in 1950, but I’m a loyal transplant.

Needless to say, when I saw that Sun-Maid now packages our excellent California Raisins in a new, improved Resealable Bag”, I had to put a box in the old shopping cart.

And, when I opened the box for my after-dinner raisin snacks, here is what I found:

Here you go, "resealable"

Here you go, "resealable"

In other words, in case anyone else is as dense as I was, what you get to make your space-age bag “resealable” is the piece of yellow tape with the instructions:

  1. To open: pull apart bag at top
  2. To close: fold bag in toward tab and reseal

In case it looks to you like I just cut off the bag top with a pair of scissors, that’s exactly what I did. The new bags are NOT wax paper, they are a super-tough non-tearable plastic; in fact, they are the same plastic used to protect your Krispy Crackers, but without protecting them from crumbling into cracker meal. This kind of plastic is fabricated to protect the contents from the purchaser.

Not even Charles Atlas nor Mr. T could pull the walls of the raisin bag apart by hand. The heat-sealed crimp closure is designed to withstand nuclear attack. If an endorphine rush gave you the super-strength to open one of these bags, you’d be cleaning an explosion of sun-dried Natural California Raisins out from under the couch, washer and dryer for the next several months and beyond.

While I’m no longer exactly in the prime of my strength, I shudder to think what an 85-year-old granny would do. Actually, I know exactly what she’d do: she’d go straight for the scissors.

By now you are probably wondering why they would make these things this way. And of course you knew I was going to tell you why they do. That’s so the marketing and packaging jerks who sit at the long, polished zebra-wood conference table can boast: “THEIR product is just dumped into conventional packaging and loses its freshness. OUR product is resealable.”

Resealable, my ass. I am still waiting for the yellow plastic tape to fall off.

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Cooking for Partisans and Politicians

Lidia Bastianich

Lidia Bastianich on her cooking show

I enjoy watching cooking shows. And this is odd, because I rarely cook. Nowadays, my idea of a gourmet meal is Camembert and crackers.

I enjoy most all of the TV chefs. I didn’t quite “get” Julia Child until she’d passed on. I used to watch Rachel Ray with my late partner Bob. Mostly these days I enjoy “Lidia” – Lidia Bastianich.

It’s true I do enjoy really good salads, pasta and such (when I don’t have to prepare them myself). What I enjoy most about these famous chefs is their unpretentious, task-oriented attitude. The show isn’t about them. It’s about the food. It’s about quality ingredients. It’s about allowing the ingredients to shine at what they do best.

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011110

Today is January 11, 2010 – commonly shortened to 011110.

011110 is a palindrome: it reads the same way in either direction. We will have another one in 11 days: 012210. In November of next year we get 111111 and 112211.

Only two calendar days are palindromic: 11 and 22. No month has a 33. This decade we get a palindromic bumper crop: 011110, 012210, 111111, 112211.

Last decade also reaped a palindromic bumper crop. But the reciprocal of every year number 01-12 is not necessarily a month.

In mmddyy format, in the coming decades of the century we do get at least (2) palindromic days each 02dd20, 03dd30 and so on up to 09dd90. But when can we get more than 2 palindromic days in a decade?

121121 and 122221 would be the highest non-decade palindromic years.  What is the highest number whose last 2 digits, reversed, equal a month number?

month: 01 02 03 04 05 06 07 08 09 10 11 12
year:  10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 01 11 21

No big deal – I rarely get interested in palindromes – but the thing is, after 2021, I believe this parlor game will only work twice a decade (on the decade years ending in zero).

Can you think of others?

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Signs of the Times

I went to our local upscale market, and found they were out of Swiss Cheese. As I told the checkout clerk (“Hi, did you find everything you needed?“), that’s like being out of milk. He said that was odd, customers had reported that last week too, and he thought the store might be having some difficulties with the bad economy and all.

Of course.

The first rule of retail display is to keep the shelves full, or, if you’re out of stock, to pull the remaining stock forward so the shelves still appear full. They had done that with the cheese section. Next on my list was “Wheat” style saltine crackers, a favorite of mine. They had pulled them all forward too,  and had rearranged a surplus of “Regular” to fill in the holes.

I dug out the very last box of “Wheat” from the rear of the display, and put it in my basket. I didn’t rub it in by telling the checkout clerk about that too.

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Retiree’s Progress

Millions long for immortality who don’t know what to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon. — Susan Ertz

There’s nothing on TV this Saturday night. Oh, I know, there’s a four hour “Man vs. Wild” marathon, but they’re all reruns we’ve seen before. Heavens, I don’t want to get sick and tired of Bear Grylls. I watched enough to get through dinner.

I’ve put a lot of work into the website, mostly under the hood. There’s more time now for this two-year plan to gradually convert the site from HTML to WordPress. That means more time to figure out how to deal with obstacles like photo galleries.

If you browse our Photo Notes department regularly, you’ll note a new permanent link to Alex’s Gallery. It’s done in a splendidly designed freeware javascript application I discovered called Jalbum. This first album contains all 58 of my photos entered into the Photo Notes web log (they’re still there too). As we speak, I’m adding the link to a Gallery of all 213 images of of Swan’s Gallery.

I didn’t mean to turn this into a “What’s New” post, but the application picks up text titles, descriptions, keywords and such from metadata actually stored on the JPG file itself. That means manually loading the text into each file. For that, I use an application called Exifer. Remember the old HTML Photo Department page? It’s still there, but I’m halfway through in Exifer with the 86 images I’d posted there over the years. That’s how I’ll merge the old with the new in Photos.

The company I used to work for had another round of layoffs yesterday. Professionals with 20 to 30 years experience were escorted to the door. I talked with a couple of them, friends at work with whom I was close. It’s been less than two months since I was tagged for layoff, but now I’m the seasoned professional since I’ve been through it recently and know what to do – and what not to do.

If you are laid off and are eligible for COBRA, get on your HR department right away to get your package to you. It’s not automatic. You have to enroll. Use FedEx. COBRA may be administered by a third party, and they’ll take a week or so to get the plan to you in the US Mail. Your HMO may take an additional two weeks to update you in their system(s).  I was told I had four months to enroll (not true), but it’s my fault for not believing what I read in the Plan. My existing coverage expired on February 1, and my HMO didn’t get me back into their system until the 23rd.

Here in Retirement Land, I had two disaster mornings in a row — I woke up and got out of bed at 730AM. I seem to be having a hard time training myself to sleep in ’til 8 or 9. What with my projects, and organizing for the eventual Move – to Phoenix – I certainly have enough on my plate to keep me busy and out of mischief.

I’ve done more social networking in the last month than in the previous year – former co-workers now laid off, friends and family.

As for the company I used to work for, I loved what I used to do (software QA), when I was allowed to do it. Now, though, I don’t miss the work and never dwell on it. But I do miss the people I worked with for over 16 years – those that are left behind.

When someone “leaves the company” it’s like a death without the funeral. The company makes a clean break, and the remaining employees find out about it through the grapevine. One day you realize you haven’t seen someone for a week, and find out they won’t ever be coming back. It’s as surgically clean as an amputation.

So I was curious: my company was different than all the others throughout the years. People sometimes made friends privately, but on-the-job fraternization was “unprofessional”. In all those years, I was actually invited to the homes of only three other co-workers, peers, and we (Bob and I) only entertained two or three of them at our home. So, now that I was retired, would some of those people finally reach out?

I enjoyed getting three phone calls, a luncheon, and a wonderful afternoon and dinner. Two of the co-worker friends who called had just been laid off. All in all, I did almost as much off-the-job socializing in eight weeks of unemployment than in the previous 16 years of work. But these were already friends, or folsk who would have been if we’d ever had time to get to know each other in the employment venue. Of all of the other people who didn’t call “before”, unsurprisingly, there was no change.  A lot of the office friendships we miss are borne out of the internal necessities of professional networking – and evaporate like water on a hot griddle – when the professional relationship is severed.

I have friends yet to see who go back 30 years – another thing I’m looking forward to in retirement. Whether I’ve seen you recently, or “not in ages”: I rarely have to check my dance card these days. No longer do I have to say “but I have to work tomorrow”.

And I’m more relaxed than I can remember in years. I can’t say for sure this is as good as a vacation in Hawaii, but I darn sure don’t have to worry about “going back” at the end of the week!

Cheers

Alex

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More Camembert

Waiting for my flight at the airport, I caught a distinct whiff of Camembert cheese, of all things. You might have caught my earlier post on Camembert last month. I love Camembert, though, I’ll admit,  it sure can get ripe.

In a simultaneous development, the cutest little toddler you ever saw was tottering around on her own two feet close to her parents. Mommy laughed and said to Daddy, “Goodness! (sniff) she needs to be changed!”

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Christmas Curmudgeon

I burned out on Christmas music back in the 1970’s, when I took over management of a Sears toy department for a couple of seasons.

Our local Bay Area classical station is playing nothing but Christmas music between now and Christmas. I can handle medieval Benedictine church music. I can’t handle string quartets that crank out “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.

So I’m listening to Salsa music on KRZZ 93.3 FM. I’ve lived in California since 1950, but never really studied Spanish. So, this too could be Christmas music, for all I know, but they never played this in the Toy Department! It reminds me of many happy summers on Loma Prieta, and I enjoy Salsa.

Merry Christmas and Feliz Navidad to you all!

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