Friday, April 11, 2014

It's How You Say It

Today the State of Minnesota made a big deal of trying to prevent drivers from texting. It's OK to talk on the phone while driving, but not text. The law lumps it all under distracted driving, so they figured everybody was ignoring the law because they didn't exactly understand what qualified. Or at least that's my operating hypothesis.

The campaign included lots of publicity. I saw/heard coverage on TV and radio. I suspect younger folks are aware of coverage via social media. Cops were out in force issuing tickets as appropriate. And those big lighted freeway signs that inform us of amber alerts, traffic conditions, road closures, etc., were put to use in today's campaign as well.

Just, well, perhaps not quite as I would have chosen to do it.

TEXTING AND DRIVING ILLEGAL IN MINNESOTA.

Well, not exactly. Texting is perfectly legal here. Driving is too, though any given day I can point out many people on the road for whom it should be illegal to be behind the wheel. After all, there are not very  many questions of the written test covering the rules of the road, and you can pass if you only get 70% of the correct. Scary!

What is illegal here is texting while driving. I see it everywhere, people holding their smart phone up on top of the steering wheel with one hand while steering with the other. (I hope.) Used to be they were a little more subtle about it. Or perhaps they just lost that fascination with their pants while they drove by. But hey, that's distracted driving too, whatever they're looking at down there.

Now I'm not on my soapbox about distracted driving here. I admit I'm a distracted driver too. I'm distracted by hunting for the numbers or names on buildings while I'm looking for a place I've never been before. I'm distracted by many of my fellow idiots... er, fellow drivers acting like idiots out on the road. I'm distracted by changes in weather, or seasons, or wildlife along the road even if it's not the type likely to jump out in front of my car to justify the attention I give it. I get distracted by what's on the radio on occasion, or by whatever idea is percolating and building inside my own head. And let's not even begin to discuss the distractions that Dispatch throw at me frequently with every run or comment they send in text form via my Blackberry, stuff that needs to be paid attention to with no regard for whether or not I'm driving at the moment because it might mean a change in direction from where I thought I was going.

No, my soapbox is about those freeway signs and how they chose to word them. While already a bit of a grammar freak, my daughter sensitized me to even more word usage issues. (And yes, I thank her.)

There was a second sign that was all over the place this morning. Again I would have chosen to word it a little differently than they did. I would have phrased it much less ambiguously. For example, "70 people killed each year by distracted drivers." It makes the point, a tragic reminder of why the campaign is important, the consequences of ignoring the law. But the phrasing that was used is just a little more open to interpretation.

DISTRACTED DRIVERS KILL 70 PEOPLE EACH YEAR.

What? Each of them?

I'm way behind!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Going Wrong: Why the Load Time... This Time

These runs never make sense or go smoothly. The second I saw it, I tried to refuse it. Somehow dispatch managed to overlook my independent contractor status and left the run on me. Sigh...

They follow a general pattern. There are parts storage caches here and there throughout the metro. When I say parts, I refer to parts for repairing a certain type of machine commonly used in many businesses. It's one of those machines where if I told you which kind of machine, you'd instantly put a company name to it. It's the same as if I mentioned needing to wipe my nose and you thought "Kleenex" because the brand name has become synonymous with the product. The product and company are not going to be the one everybody first thinks of, but I'm still not giving you any more hints. I did sign a confidentiality agreement and you don't get the names of our customers.

These storage caches are, logically, in large storage units. What we are given is the address, the number of the unit, and a number for the specific box we are to pick up. They always give a couple "suggestions" for which shelf we are most likely to find the box on, such as 1D or 6A. The number matches a stack of shelves and the letter matches the shelf in that stack. They may not be on that exact shelf, however, but we are promised it will be near. Most reassuring, that.

What they do not give is the code for the gate into the storage unit. Nor the combination for the padlock securing the door. So we have to call dispatch, and they have to call the customer for the gate code. The padlock code they have, just don't bother to give it to us with the run. Ever.  We have to call. Write them both down. You may need them more than once. Oh, and if it's the dark half of the year, since these always come around suppertime, a strong, reliable flashlight is handy. The storage units are not lit. Headlights don't quite manage the job.

Once you are in the facility, pulled up to the right door, and are entering the code into the lock, there is always the question of which of three positions visible the numbers line up in. Hold out your three middle fingers so they are parallel. Imagine you are writing the numbers on those fingers. Do you use the top finger? Middle? Bottom? That's what these locks look like, with those numbers on the bottom, and locked as they are, they line up at an angle distinctly unfriendly to necks. Just for fun, imagine it's January, you can't move those tiny numbers with gloves on, you can't really see the numbers because there's no light, and you have to hold this danged piece of sub-zero metal while you try to figure it all out.

Well, at least that didn't happen this time. But it has.

Are you starting to get the picture? We're not done yet. Once the lock is removed, you have to figure which piece of what moves where to enable the door to open. The colder the metal is, the less likely it is to cooperate. Even more fun is when somebody's gotten a little too close to the door and has bent it. Yeah, that close. And don't forget, you have to, eventually, put it all back together, no matter how bent, frozen, or whatever it is. In other words, you damned well better remember what goes where and in what order. And don't forget where you put that blasted lock, and hope to hell you haven't relocked it before it goes back on the door, or that you remember what the combination is and where it lines up.

The real fun, and I mean this most sincerely, is locating your box. Remember, it may or may not be where they said it was. You have no idea of size or shape. All you have is a 10-digit number to compare to all the long numbers on each box. And each box is covered with long numbers, in fonts ranging form a 4 to about a 10. Your number could be any one of these. You won't know until you find the one that's an exact match. Perhaps you find one where only the last four digits are wrong, and you think, "Ah-hah! That's the part number, just the wrong number this time. Now I know where on the boxes to look for the numbers!" The next box will cleverly have its numbers in different orders and different locations. And once again, if it's January, there will be less light, colder air while you are forced to search through more boxes on more shelves, smudged ink making some numbers unreadable, and the flashlight is sure to drop at least once as your now frostbittten fingers lose capability for motion. When it dies as a result, you can carry each individual box out in front of your headlights while you check numbers. It you have to resort to that, it can be useful to remember which shelf it came from. Regardless of where your give-a-shit level is by then.

Eventually you locate your box. You double check that they only wanted one of them delivered. That's not necessarily significant, as I found out last year when I was questioned the next day as to why I only brought one. Fortunately, the order was my alibi. They can ask a lot, but they can't force us to be psychic and know what they meant rather than what they typed in the form. It works with my kids just fine, but not so well at work.

The box is placed in the car and the locking back up process begins. That's the plan, anyway. Today it wasn't a dented door, warped cold metal, missing lock and any of the other "usual" issues. The door opened all the way up, and it was a very tall door. Unlike me, being not so much in the tall department. My rotator cuff injuries have healed enough that I can reach reasonably high over my head these days, like for closing the hatch on the car, or getting something on or off the closet shelf if it's not too heavy. But dang! that door was tall. Now, somebody in the past had thought of that, and attached a piece of rope to the door handle now sitting way over my head. Said piece of rope, however, was about 8" long, not quite enough had it been straight, but even more hopeless as it was curled back up to about 4" from the handle it was attached to.

So now I have to leave the open storage unit door, with all those presumably expensive components inside, and head over to the storage company office and ask for help. Lucky somebody was still there, close and in sight of the opening, and actually had a ladder available. It seems this particular problem happens a lot over there. Imagine that!

The drop can be almost as interesting as picking up the package. Today I had a very easy address, though a completely nonsensical name, and the notation "Suite 2". I figured at least that last would help. Once there, I reaffirmed to myself that the nonsensical name was indeed useless. There were several doors to the building, most with tiny unreadable faded-lettering company name signs. Perhaps if I walked up close to each one... Nope. Not gonna happen. How about a number? Nothing, nothing, 107, nothing... Wait, that wasn't going to be of any use. A 2 against 107? What kind of numbering system  is that? I did the only logical thing and picked the door to the business that had at least one person inside, since I'd just watched him walk up the steps and in. Maybe he knew the trick to finding Suite 2. Goodness knows none of the company names listed on the door remotely resembled what I had written down for a destination. He declared that they were indeed Suite 2, not offering to explain what the company name or whatever it was referred to except that it meant them.

There comes a time when you decide to go with the flow. He offered to sign, and I let him. It was time to head home. Somewhere in the world there had to be some sanity, and by then it was much more likely found at home than anywhere else. Especially work.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

That Dreaded, Long-Awaited Letter

I refer, of course, to the one from the IRS.

I just knew it had to be about last year's tax filing, not the least because I haven't even filed for this year yet. I just don't every year, as a matter of principle, until April 15th. I will sit down and figure them early in the year. I need to know what I owe, if anything, so I can budget. But file? Nope. The principle involved? Avoiding an audit. Statistically, random audits happen by selecting a certain number of returns received each filing day, and that number goes sky high as the returned postmarked by midnight April 15th pour in. My odds of being selected for random audit go down.

Then too, I plan to hold on to that $140 still owed as long as possible.

There are other audits as well, like the ones triggered by an unusual return. I had one of those last year. It was a rough year. No, it was great in so many ways, but not financially. I claimed a business loss. Everybody knows the IRS hates those. It's a red flag waving in front of the tax-collecting bulls.

I could do it nearly every year. My legal deductions are more than my income. Two things have changed. The mileage rate has gone way up, and I drive an inexpensive, fuel-efficient car as these things go, and I put a hell of a lot of business miles on it. Plus a few years back the company I contract with had decreased the percentage commission it's willing to pay us, so the income has dropped, even though I have increased my working hours to 12-14 per day. (Good thing I don't drive a big truck, or that would be illegal!)

When I figure my taxes, first I figure out the real numbers. That usually brings my taxable income down to near or below zero. Then I go back and change it, moving miles from "work" to "commute" to bring my paper income back into the plus side of zero. Now, not only do I pay income taxes on it, I also pay FICA. After all, I do plan on retiring just as soon as I can afford to. That means age 70 where I can get maximum payout, still quite modest, or win the lottery, whichever comes first. Yeah, I know: 70.

Sigh.

Frankly, I'm getting tired.

Last year I actually claimed the loss. I paid plenty of taxes anyway, having pulled tens of thousands out of my IRAs to pay for the Arizona house, making them taxable. (Still a good deal on the short-sale house.)  Then pulled more out to pay for a couple major repairs on the house. I couldn't afford to bump up my tax debt. As it was, I figured a refund from my estimated payments of $78 and change.

It never came.

I checked my bank statements on line, waiting for that  unique number to show in the deposits column. Nada. I went on line to the "Where's My Refund?" site. All it said was they were still working on it. I tried to be patient. After all, there was that stupid sequester and even more stupid government shut-down to slow things down. But still, it never came. I quit checking often and started worrying that the delay meant that most dreaded of results: getting called in for an audit. Now, I've got the paper to back up everything, usually in a 4-6" thick folder, with the most pertinent things in labeled envelopes. But still, and audit....

This winter I checked the "Where's My Refund?" site again, but it wouldn't allow me to ask about 2012. Everything was set up for 2013. I debated asking if I could credit that $78 against the $140 I still owe this year, but decided that by now, drawing attention to the previous year couldn't be a good thing. Anyway, it had been set up for direct deposit, and changing that seemed just another way to draw their attention and raise questions.

Yesterday the letter arrived. You know that "oh-oh, now I'm in trouble!" feeling in the gut? I sat there and stared at the envelope for a full couple minutes, then decided I had to know what the news was anyway. It didn't make sense to me at first, so I read it again, and re-read parts a third time. I had made a mistake on my 2012 return. No audit, just a math error. OK, I can deal. It isn't the first time. In about four weeks, they would be sending me over $1,100!

OK, breathe again!

Hey, wait a minute: after all this time, are you going to pay me any interest on that?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

From Pet-Free to Pet-Full

The house was just too quiet. Too empty.

I started by hitting the local Humane Society shelter. Lots of cats (tell Paul they have a sale until the end of the month) and large dogs, several too-small dogs, not much in-between. And just as I was heading in their driveway they switched the sign from open to closed. They talked to me, but that's all.

I hit the Ramsey County shelter as well. I've gotten wonderful pets from them over the years. Nothing appealed.

Finally I hit the internet, hunting for shih tzus and blends. The shih tzu rescue organization made it sound like there was more red tape than a baby adoption. There was one puppy seller way out in Eden Valley which had some, including shih poos and other interestingly named combinations, but the prices were high and the drive would be 2 1/2 hours each way. Plus... a puppy? A whole lot of work I wasn't particularly looking forward to, not to mention having time for.

Still, they had one that caught my eye as a possible. I filed it away in my mind, and talked to Paul about taking a trip Saturday, starting at the local shelter again, where he should at least be able to get a cat to suit, and I'd see what was new in dogs. Then we'd head out to Eden Valley if there was nothing local.

When I said "small dog", they showed me two chihuahuas and a yorkie. I declined, figuring if the chain link fence lets rabbits in, any dog that small would just as easily get out.  The main dog room had the usual amount of labs and huge unidentifiable mixes, though its population was reduced by two great danes who were being walked out by their new owners as we drove up. But a papillon looked possible, though I know nothing about their temperament. Before I reached the end of the row, however, my attention was caught by a shis tzu mix! Exactly what I was looking for!

She's mostly honey colored, with dark brown near and on her tail. A very short trim right now reveals a couple odd grey spots on each flank. A bit of darker fur on her face gives it more expression, along with the slightly longer fur on her perky/floppy ears .

But would she be THE dog? Her name is Ellie, 8 years old, surrendered by folks who stated her living conditions were an outside crate and while "whole", they also claimed she'd also never had puppies.They had resorted to using a no-bark collar on her. I put that all together in my mind and translated it to "breeders" and "liars". I added "cruel" as well. But she was the only dog who didn't bark at me while I walked down the rows, and I decided she needed a chance at a better home. They were her 3rd set of owners. Stability would count. And on the form where it asked if she had any nicknames, they stated "none that we can print here."

It was time to get acquainted.

The two rooms set aside for that purpose were busy. Paul was in one getting acquainted with a white cat which had caught his eye, Yuki. She'd been previously adopted and returned to the shelter due to her inability to get along with other cats. She was also supposed to not be a lap cat. She was 8 and fairly mellow, though hating to be picked up. She stayed in the corner of the room while Paul got acquainted with her. He informed me later that she purred a lot and rubbed against his legs while he was alone with her.

I was in the hallway with Ellie, who was much more interested in everybody passing by and all the activity in the cat room than she was with whoever was on the other end of her leash, i.e., me. I petted her whenever she came within reach, and eventually she closed in on me while still maintaining her complete distraction by all the activity. I was glad to see that, as I had wondered if we might not bond.

It was time to limit her distractions, as well as seeing if the cat and dog would get along. Keeping tight hold on her leash, we allowed the two to "meet", which actually meant only getting close but not touching. The cat didn't seem too alarmed, and the dog was tail-wagging rather than trying to pounce or growl. At any rate, the shelter helper said these were good signs, and these two animals were cleared to go home together.

Paul stopped at WalMart and picked up a few things for Yuki, including a whole new cat box. Since she didn't get along with other cats, removing that much of Midnight's smell seemed a good idea. This time the box was one designed for clumping litter, with a grid insert and two trays. I had always wondered how they worked. The cleanlitter falls through the holes, waste gets dumped out, and the now empty grid goes in the bottom of the clean tray with the remaining clean litter plus whatever more is needed poured in. Once he was done with her set-up, she was left in the basement to get comfortable with her hew home and locations of her stuff. He visited her a few times, and the next morning the door was left open. We have a tie on it that fastens to the handrail and doorknob, just wide enough for a cat but not a dog. It keeps the basement a cat sanctuary.

I spent the weekend getting bonded to Ellie. She is a cuddler, but has definite quirks. I have to remember to take her - not send her - outside, as she shown no obvious signs of needing to go. There have been accidents. Due to her history, she has strong abandonment issues. I have to go out with her or she won't leave the top step. I think she needs to know I haven't abandoned her.

Once comfortable, she starts exploring the yard. That's a bit of a challenge for an 18-lb. dog. Saturday there was still over a foot of snow covering everything. While starting to melt away, it just made footing trickier. Each foot would sink a couple inches, sometimes breading through the snow completely, leaving her on her belly struggling to climb out. She hasn't wandered far. Yesterday morning the 8" of remaining snow after the big weekend melt had refrozen, giving her the first firm footing she's had in the yard. Once she trusted her footing, she went dashing around.

With her issues, we don't trust leaving her alone in the house for a workday. Monday I tried her in her portable kennel in the back seat. That was a disaster. She hates the confinement. Barking was constant except for a few too-short naps and letting her out on leash for exercise and potty/food/water stops when I had a few minutes. I could bribe her to return to the kennel by showing her a MilkBone and tossing it in, but she instantly wanted out again. Eventually she tried digging her way out to the point where I saw a spot of blood on one toe. As soon as the work part of the day was over, I gave her free run of the back of the car. She was content with that, though tried a couple times to join me up front.

We were both happy to be home.

Yesterday I tried leaving her home and having a friend let her out in the middle of the day. There were no accidents, but she has become so bonded to me that Jessica was afraid at first Ellie was going to bite her. Luckily Jessica has two dogs at home so she both smells like them and knows how to handle them. Still, not the ideal situation.

Did I mention bonded? If I sit, Ellie is on my lap. Makes using the laptop interesting. At night she's down on the corner of my bed. And now that Yuki is wandering the house freely, she joins Ellie both on my lap and on the bed. She's the heavier one. She loves to snuggle close, so I can tell which critter is her even if I can't hear her little jingle bell. Once the night owls have come back to the house, i.e., Rich and Steve, I will be more free to shut my door and sleep critter-free. Meanwhile the allergies are not bugging me, fingers crossed.

But with them still gone, the workday still needs a solution. Yesterday I hit the local pet supply chain and picked up a harness and new leash for Ellie. The leash will function as her seat belt - I have a plan how to fix it up - allowing and restricting her access to the front passenger seat. She can stand, look out the window, get petted by me, and snooze on a blanket. No kennel to dig out of, no wires to cut her toes. She'll still bark when I leave the car, but tough. Freight will stay in the back, out of her reach. MilkBones will be secured in the glove box. This car has a nice deep one with plenty of room.

Friday Paul takes both pets to the vet for their post-adoption checkups. I'll get Ellie chipped and her rabies shop updated. The shelter has no one who can do that, though they do have someone for neutering and taking care of other issues. but my vet gets to do the rabies shot. I'm not sure about the logic of that, but....

At any rate, we are pet-full again. For the moment, just a bit over-full. We'll all adapt and things will settle down.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Octopus Love

Wednesday I had an EKG. Part of the check-in process was a discussion of my allergies. Pertinent to the occasion is my allergy to medical adhesive. If you haven't had an EKG, the electrodes clip on to adhesive pads which are stuck on to the upper and lower chest and belly, and on each shin.

The question was raised as to whether paper medical tape  produces the same reaction. It's supposed to be hypoallergenic. Maybe the paper is, but it still has adhesive or it wouldn't work. Duh! At any rate, EKGs come with their own set kind pf stick-on patches, so the discussion was pretty pointless.

When it was over, the nurse assisting me produced, at my request, alcohol wipes to help remove the adhesive remaining on my skin. At this point it is invisible, other than from two patches which leave behind a gooey rubber cement-like residue. I might note that one site of this goo was found that evening after I was undressing, begging the question of how is it possible to miss the stuff?

Now my idea of the removal procedure was apparently much different from my nurse's idea. I figure you remove one pad and wipe with alcohol while you still know where it was, then do the next, wipe, do the next, etc. Perhaps she has never had to deal with allergies, as her idea was to pull them all off and then wipe here and there where they may or may not have been, but reasonably close, I'm sure.

I wasn't feeling particularly confrontational at the time, so I didn't do more than observe her with mild - very mild - amusement. So far at least this one is a very mild allergy, so long as the adhesive is only left on for a short time. Several days of the stuff produces skin blisters which pull off with the tape which produced them. She managed not to find the patches on my shins, so when I was dressing I pulled them off and wiped them down my way. They left no marks.

When I was getting ready for bed, I checked myself out in the mirror. There they were, pretty red patches all over my chest and belly from the adhesive that was not removed from my skin. They got treated right away, now that I knew where to find them, but the red marks are still there, and experience tells me they will be for a few days yet, leaving me looking like I've been well loved by an octopus.

It's just a bit odd, not the least because this octopus has square suckers.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Garcinia Cambogia Fraud

You may recall my Feb. 28 post "Internet Shopper". I told you I was going to order some thing and give it a try. I did, and 3 weeks was enough to not only end the trial but report back on it as a fraud.

Garcinia Cambogia is advertised as a plant product that makes - not just helps - you lose weight. It changes how your liver metabolizes fats and sugars, and does come with warnings about possible side effects to the liver.

Sounds like strong stuff, eh?

As I previously stated, I read the literature, and ordered the brand that was tested to be the most pure and the best formulation to produce results. I took it exactly as ordered. As this was a test, I also weighed in before taking the first pill, just out of the shower in the morning. My weight has been stable for months, but higher than desired. But note the stable part of that sentence.

I was immediately flooded with information on line about dieting, food choices, stopping eating after 8PM, etc. Guys, I already know all that stuff. On top of that, I exercise strict carb counting and measure portions when I pack my cooler for work each morning. Besides, if the stuff works as advertised, I should be able to continue eating as normal and still see weight loss.

I followed all the instructions. After two weeks, I weighed in again, and again, just out of the shower. The difference was 5 pounds.

GAIN!

I went on another week. Maybe there was an aberration. Now the difference was 10 pounds, and again a GAIN in weight.

I stopped taking it Saturday. What I find most interesting is that Saturday night the auction boss took us all to a buffet where I was unable to resist seconds, though trying to keep it veggie-heavy and avoid anything battered. Sunday was the baptism, food provided afterwards, and there were a few choices which didn't include carbs, but I still went for the (smallest) brownie I could find for dessert.

When I weighed in this morning, I'd lost two pounds.

I can only conclude it works exactly the opposite as claimed, and claim it to be a fraud. I'll be applying for my refund as soon as I get a few minutes to drop off the remainder at a post office.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Meanwhile...

So...

The new mirror is on. I hadn't realized how much I depended on it. We're told in our defensive driving classes to keep looking at all your mirrors to be aware of traffic around you, but I didn't know how thoroughly I'd internalized that until I kept bumping up against seeing a black thing instead of a view of approaching traffic.

It's lack brought me awareness of another lack. The need to keep looking way back over my shoulder brought awareness that all signs of my neck sprain from the December accident are gone. Not an inkling. And without any twinges, all but forgotten.

There's another lack: the dealership washed my car before returning it to me, so there's a wonderful lack of dirt plus lack of a bill for the carwash I planned on before this weekend for going to Serenity's baptism and trying to keep my clothes clean.

But there's still no lack of stupid out there. On the way in to the metro yesterday, on Hwy. 8 where there are just two lanes total, I noticed the oncoming car flashing its lights at me. Or so I thought. I had my lights on, and not high beams, so I wondered what the other driver's issue was.  Had I had my mirror already, I'd have known that an impatient driver behind me, not content with the speed limit, had decided to pass me and some others, since it wasn't the car in my rear-view mirror, putting (him?) right down the center of the highway between both our cars.

Sigh.