Friday, July 10, 2009

Trains and things

I guess we all have memories of things that seem like just yesterday but when we stop to think about it, if we ever do, it was really many years ago. Many of us have memories of things we did or were involved in and we still view ourselves in that way.

For example, when I was growing up, my family had horses and raised cattle. We were around livestock almost everyday, doing what you do when you are around livestock almost everyday. Riding the horses, feeding them, caring for them, helping with the cows, whether it was moving them from one field to another, rounding them up for vaccination a couple of times a year or just driving through them every once in a while to look at them and make sure they were all doing ok.

And then there was the hay. Cutting, raking, baling and hauling when it was so hot you could hardly stand it. Then, it seemed, then next time you handled that hay to feed it to the cows, it was so cold you could hardly stand it. I don’t remember ever touching a bale of hay when I was not sweating profusely or shivering uncontrollably.

I have not done any of those things (except for sweating and shivering) for more than 25 years, but if you ask me, I somehow think I can tell you anything you need to know about horses or cows or hay (or scorching heat or shivering cold). Because, in my mind, it was just yesterday that I was doing that. In my mind, I am still the same expert that I thought I was back then on all things rural. But really, I am not. Never was. But don’t tell me that. It’s my memory and I’ll remember it the way I want to.

Others may still be living in the memory of playing football, baseball, being a cheerleader or something else but most of us have something that was long ago but we still see ourselves in that way.

Then there are those things we have not really thought of for a long time. Those memories that come back when we go into the attic to get something and we see that box sitting there that has all those cherished things that have not crossed your mind in years. Things so important that you can’t get rid of them, but not so important that you have even thought of them for years. Things like the father’s day card for the soon-to-be dad that your wife got you before your first child was born. Or the first watch that your kids got you that quit working about 2 days later. Stuff that brings back memories that no one would remember but you. Stuff you enjoy looking at and thinking about, but not everyday. These memories would not be so special if you looked at this stuff everyday.

There are also things you did that you know you will do again, but you just haven’t gotten around to yet. Many times we never get around to it again but we keep thinking we will. I have a model train set that I had set up in my basement and used to work on years ago. It was one of those things that was a work in progress and would never be finished. The layout was the size of three sheets of plywood and part of it had a lower level also. It either had, or I had plans for, mountains, a lake, a river, fields, forests, farms, roads, a school, an industrial area, a commercial area, a residential area and a train yard. The lower level was connected to the upper through a tunnel that led down to it. The lower level was used for staging and for storage of full trains. I had two freight trains and an Amtrak train that I could run simultaneously. It was wired for working street lights (which I never got around to), working crossing arms with bells and lights and many other true to life features.

Years ago the train had to go to make room for additional bedrooms. That was ok because at the time it was disassembled, I had not done anything with it for a couple of years anyway. My life had taken a turn in a different direction and there was no time for it. It was boxed up and went in the attic where is has been for about 10 years.

I always knew I would get back around to setting it up again. I even had mental plans of how I was going to set it up in the attic. But I never got around to it. I have recently gotten down the five boxes of train paraphernalia and have started showing it to my kids now that they are old enough to appreciate it. Maybe we will get at least part of it set up again.

Memories and things from our past can be a great thing if handled properly…

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

We are going green at my house.

Ok.. maybe not fully green. But some shade of green. Mint green maybe. But it is a start. Anything is better than what we have been doing.

A few weeks ago, my kids I were talking about recycling. One of them probably brought the subject up because, at that point, I’m not sure it was important enough to me to introduce into a conversation. Yes, I was that bad. Anyway, we decided we were going to start our own little recycling program at home.

In order for me to take this “be-green-save-the-planet-thing” a little more seriously than I had in the past, I needed to do a little research on it. I tend to feel like I need to fully understand everything before I do anything. That has left a lot of things undone in my world. There is a medical term for it, but that is not what we are talking about here so I will move on.

I don’t remember the phrase I actually googled, but it was something like “how does a moron start to recycle”. There is a lot of good information available on the Internet. So, I started surfing and printing all the information I could find. My research had been underway for an hour or so when I got to an article about not wasting paper. I looked at my printer and saw about 100 pages of information that I was going to read one time then throw away. Woops, wrong direction. So, instead of printing, I started book marking sites. I hate using book marks, but I did it anyway. I decided that was step #1 toward a better world.

I soon realized there was more to recycling than I thought. We decided we would start slow. Paper (which I already had some experience in) and plastics looked like a good place to start. Before we saved anything, I wanted to know where we were going to take it to get rid of it. I’ve got enough piles of stuff around my house without creating more piles that I don’t know what to do with. I found a recycling center not too far away so I called to get their operating hours. Well, I also got their rules for accepting recyclable materials. They were quite lengthy, so I told the lady on the phone to focus only on paper and plastics. Her rules on paper and plastics were quite lengthy also. They are picky people.

Paper must be divided into categories. Newspaper, magazines, mail and office paper (of which I expect to have less of now), cardboard, catalogs and brown paper bags (who uses those anymore?) must be separated and bundled. Plastics must be rinsed out and have no more that 5% food products on them. I’m not sure how they determine the 5%, but it seemed important to her. Plastics are divided into seven (count them seven!) different categories. Separating them is easy enough because the little recycle emblem on the bottom has the number stamped in it. The closest recycle center to me only takes type 1 and 2 plastics. It was really fun going around the house looking at the bottom of all of the plastic things I could find, but I could not find any type 1 or 2 items. I was too far into this project to be deterred by such trivial matters, so we pressed on.

The kids had a lot of fun planning and organizing our recycling program. We got two big boxes and wrote “Paper” on one and “Plastics” on the other. For the last few weeks we have been placing all our paper and plastic items in these boxes. Sometimes we forget (it’s usually me that forgets) and we have to dig (it’s always me that digs) through the trash to get them out. Now, I figure on the original rinse we knock the food product percentage to close to zero, but by the time it comes back out of the trash, I estimate that it is back up to about 12-15%, which I know is unacceptable. So I do another rinse (I’m going to read about conserving water next) and put them in the appropriate box.

When the box started getting full I realized I needed to do something with the type 3-7 plastics. Again, I got on the Internet and found a recycling/waste management site about 25 miles away that said they took all types of plastic. With the gas prices like they have been, I already know about conserving fuel so I called them first to make sure I was not going to make a wasted trip.

The lady I talked to said they were a state-of-the-art recycling location and did what she called “single stream” recycling. She explained that all items go down the same path and they have the technology and machinery to sort the recyclables out like they need to be. In fact, she volunteered, most of their customers are trash haulers that just unload their trucks there and their process sorts all the recyclables from the unusable garbage. My mind was already ahead of her when she asked the next question. “What company collects your garbage?” I hesitated, but when I finally told her, she said “Yeah, they are one of our biggest suppliers. All you have to do is just throw everything in the garbage can. They will pick it up, bring it out here to us and we will get all the recyclable stuff out of it.”

I haven’t had the heart to tell the kids about this yet. We are still sorting out paper and plastics. Except now, when the “Paper” and “Plastics” boxes get full, I just wait for the kids to go to school and I go out and empty them in the garbage can.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

New Technology...

This technology stuff is getting out of hand. Let me just say up front that any cutting edge software I may develop or brilliant technology ideas I may come up with are exempted from that statement. However, if the recent past is any indication, it does not seem like any cutting-edge software or other brilliant technology ideas from me are imminent, but should they occur, they are to be exempted.

New technology is not always bad, but the pace needs to slow down a little bit. It seems like when you buy a new computer, phone, camera or any other hardware item, you don’t even get out of the store before the new model comes out. As you are walking out the front door, very proud of how you have the latest and greatest gizmo, they are unloading the new stuff off the truck at the back door. Sometimes I think they wait for me to buy something to clear the shelf space for the new model. I’ve learned not to look back as I leave the store. It only makes it hurt worse.

Being in the technology industry, the items I buy are more tools than toys. One of the things I have learned is that when I buy a new toy…uh, I mean tool, is to just figure out what the basics are that I need it to do and don’t try to keep up with all the bells and whistles. I say that, but I’ve been intending to buy a digital camera for about three years and every time I think I decide on the one I want to buy, I hear about some other new or better feature that is about to be released and I decide to wait for it. So... three years later, I still have not bought a digital camera. But I have one on my phone. I don’t know why. But I do. I couldn’t find one without it.

When I bought my last phone, I went to the store and they tried to sell me one that did all the stuff that a technologically savvy person would expect. Of course, those were also the most expensive. Coincidence I’m sure. I finally told them I just wanted a phone that had an address book (because I can’t remember anything), speaker phone (because I can’t hear anything) and blue tooth (because I had just gone through the headache of buying a new headset and did not want to be unable to use it). The girl just looked at me like some hillbilly that had just come off the mountain and tried to explain all of the other, more advanced features I should want. I told her I understood the technology she was explaining, I just did not need all that stuff on a phone. Finally, I just walked out the door, went home and bought one over the Internet like I guess all the other hillbillies fresh from the mountain have to do.

The Internet is an amazing invention, but it too has caused our lives to be much more complicated than they really need to be. Yahoo, MySpace, Facebook and all the other social networking websites allow us to communicate and be friends with people all over the world. We can be friends with people we don’t even know. Explain that one to me.

And now there’s Twitter. Twitter let’s you post quick, short and frequent answers to the question “What are you doing?” Other people can subscribe and “follow” you so they are updated with each post you make. These posts are through the Internet from a computer or from a mobile device like a cell phone. Isn’t that one of the silliest things you have ever heard? Why in the world would anyone want to do that? I sometimes go to a lot of trouble to make sure people don’t know what I am doing. And now, with just a few keystrokes people can post what they are doing for the whole world to see.

What is it about people that makes them want to be so “connected”? Why do people think anyone else would really care about what they are doing? Are these people so pitiful that they need the reassurance to their self esteem that someone cares enough to follow them? Do they really need to know that much that someone cares? Or are these people so self-centered and egotistical that they think they are so important that someone would want to keep up with them? It's just crazy. Some of these people may need some professional help to get these issues in check.

If you want to follow me on Twitter you can do so at It would mean a lot to me if you did.

Monday, April 13, 2009

I Think I Might Get A Dog

I think I might get a dog. No definite decision has been made yet, but that’s what I think I might do.

Of course, several questions will have to be resolved before this actually happens. Some of these are fairly complicated, at least in my mind they are. Questions like- How do I explain getting a dog now when I have been adamantly opposed to having a dog for so many years? How do I explain getting a dog when I want one and not allowing my kids to have one when they wanted one? Will I get tired of taking care of it after I have had it for a while? Will I still be nice to it when I step in dog poop left in my back yard? If so, what if I am wearing my good shoes when I do?

Also, there are some simple questions that are holding me back. Like what kind of dog will I get? Will it be male or female? What will its name be? What will I have to do to ‘dog-proof’ my back yard? Will I get one when it is a cute little puppy or when it is already grown. Will I buy a ‘brand new’ dog from the pet store or adopt a ‘used’ dog from an animal shelter. If I buy a ‘brand new’ dog, will I feel guilty when they show those pictures of the poor little 'used' dogs waiting to be adopted at the animal shelter?

I have some other questions I am working through but they really don’t fall into the complicated or simple categories listed above. I am not sure what category to put these in. These questions involve things such as- Will I take it for a walk? If I do, will I get a normal leash or one of those that winds and unwinds itself? Will I let it ride in the truck with me and stick its head out the window as I go down the road? Will I make it wear one of those bandanas around its neck? If so, why would I do that? Will I take it with me when I go to other people’s houses and expect them to like it being there as much as I do? Seems like other dog owners do.

If it growls and shows its teeth at someone, will I say “It’s ok, he don’t bite”? What if he does bite? Is it ok if I still say that to certain people?
Will I teach it to do tricks like rollover and play dead? What would be the purpose of that if I did? Would I make other people watch my dog and me perform these stupid tricks? Seems like other dog owners do.

Would I feed the dog the scraps left over from dinner? If so, would I be required to get a doggy bag and bring the leftovers from a restaurant? Would I feed the dog dry or canned dog food? If it’s canned, would I buy a few cans at a time or a whole bunch of cans on one of those little flat cardboard trays? If so, what would I do with all those little flat cardboard trays when I got through with them? What about all those empty cans? If it’s dry, what size bag would I buy? Would I buy a big bag and push it around in the shopping cart while I continue my grocery shopping? Seems like other dog owners do.

Will I let the dog come in the house sometimes? What if it is really cold and raining? If I do, will I let it sleep in the bed with me? Never mind, I think I know the answer to that one.

I didn’t realize I had so many questions until I started listing them. Maybe I will not get a dog. Maybe I’ll just get a fish.

But if I did, what kind of fish would I get?