Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Bad Memory (That I Can't Forget)

Does anyone else have a brain that you can trick into misremembering something?

I told my wife some of the answers I gave a doctor today about our son Alex, which included some facts about his gestation and birth. My wife interrupted me, "Wrong kid. That was Cassie." I tried to explain, "I know your pregnancy with Cassie was like that, but wasn't it--?" "No. Not at all."

I'm giving Annette the benefit of the doubt because:

  • She seems so confident about it.
  • I mean, yeah--I was there, but she was really there.
  • One carved-in-stone fact about our marriage is that if I remember something one way and she remembers it another, she's right.

That last point is not any kind of a passivey-aggressivey whine; I truly believe that she has a better memory than I.

But even though I believe she knows what she's talking about in this case, I can still "remember" images, conversations, and other corroborating evidence that backs up my story.

Even though I know it has all been fabricated. By me.

Monday, July 1, 2013

My Grainy Head

I get headaches with what I would consider a fairly average frequency. A lot of times, they're simply because I'm cutting back on soda for the three thousandth time. And they're not debilitating; they're simply annoying.

I've had what I guess are migraine headaches only a handful of times in my life. I can remember three such occasions, and I think that's pretty much it. Last night makes four.

I got up at around 2 AM with a really bad headache--bad enough that I was nauseous. After 20 minutes of trying to fight it and go back to sleep, I went downstairs so I wouldn't wake anyone else up. 10 minutes later, I lost my battle of willpower over physiology and also lost the contents of my stomach.

I don't think it's a coincidence that this happened the night after I took my bicycle out of the garage for the first time since last fall. Exercise kills, people. Tell your friends.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Taking a Stand

A few months ago, I decided to try a standing workstation at my job. I'm a computer programmer; I know I slump and slouch throughout the day. I also know that's not the healthiest position for me.

Because I don't currently have a medical problem with my back, my employer won't provide me with one of those nifty electric adjustable desks that go from sitting height to standing height with the press of a button.

I decided it was important enough to me to consider paying for a standing workstation out of my own wallet. I poked around on-line and found a few candidates, but those started at around $400 and went up from there. I might even have considered that kind of investment, but none of the stores around me had anything like those models for me to examine, and I certainly wasn't going to mail-order something that pricey without physically seeing it first. Your loss, Staples and Office Depot.

So one day during my lunch hour I went to Menard's to see if there was some kind of bookshelf or other shelving unit I could easily adapt to my purposes. Nothing I saw there really struck a chord with me, so I headed for the exit. I was about to consider the entire idea a wash until I saw some stackable shelving crates on an endcap near the front of the store.

They're called "Stackubes" (I'm pretty sure they threw an umlaut over the U to make one think of Ikea), and they're fairly basic: a plain, white wooden box, open on the top with handles in two sides. Turn it on its side, and it's a component that can be added to other Stackubes for an entire shelving unit. I spent a few minutes trying both the small and the large boxes on their sides and upside down, and thought they were close enough to what I was looking for that I bought two large boxes and a small one.

Back at work, I put the boxes together and put my two monitors on the large ones, turned upright. Because the monitors are adjustable within a range of a few inches, I was able to get them to just the correct height for my eye level. I put the keyboard on the overturned small box; it was close, but not quite to where I could hold my arms at the ergonomically correct position.

I pulled down one monitor and tried the keyboard on the large box. Put on its side, the box positioned the keyboard pretty much exactly where it needed to be. So that same day after work, I went back to Menard's to buy one more of both the large and the small Stackubes.

It even adds storage space
The next day, I finished my desktop by adding the new large box for the keyboard, turning the small box on its end for the mouse (it matches the height of the large box in that position), and using the new small box (also on its end) for my phone. Strictly speaking, I'm not on the phone nearly enough to really need the phone elevated like everything else, but I felt it completed the setup.

I've been standing with my computer like this for about 3 months, now. The adjustment took only a couple of weeks. I brought in a stool so I could lean/sit for a bit when my legs got tired, but I've pretty much stopped using the stool at all.

The only problem that persisted after those first few weeks was that my feet were a little sore by the end of the day. Not having to consider shoes for being on my feet all day since my stint at Best Buy, my shoes weren't the kindest to me in that respect. A co-worker who also assembled her own version of a standing desk mentioned that she had a simple mat on the floor, and that helped her a lot. Since our floor is a thin institutional carpet on concrete or something just as unforgiving, I thought that was a good idea.

Memory Foam bath mat on top
I went to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to see what they could offer me, and I selected a bath mat with Memory Foam. It seemed pretty soft, so I gave it a try. After a few days of realizing that it was good but not great, I returned to Bed, Bath, and Beyond for an upgrade.

My next purchase was a GelPro chef's mat. This was more expensive, but I was all in at this point. It's a nice, thick, cushiony mat that has some give to it, but it still keeps a layer of gel between my feet and the floor.

GelPro chef's mat underneath
I considered using only the chef's mat, but since I already had the bath mat at work, I wondered what they would be like together. It actually works really well. The texture of the chef's mat along with the bottom of the bath mat keeps them from sliding against each other at all. Together, I get the softness of the bath mat with the cushioning of the gel mat.

I do take my shoes off when standing on my floor mats. The gel mat says it can resist breaking even when shoes are worn, although it does advise against wearing high heels on it. (Probably good advice for me in any situation.) But slipping off my shoes makes the mats that much more comfortable, and I don't have to worry about cleaning the bath mat as often. That is, unless my co-workers continue to not observe cubicle etiquette and tramp all over my rugs even when I'm standing there in sock feet. How rude!

So now I have my own standing workstation, and it's pretty much exactly what I want. It's comfortable to stand and do my work for the entire day, and I feel like I'm being a little more friendly to my own back. Unfortunately, I don't have the easy option of sitting down that those with the adjustable desks do. I have worked out that if I absolutely have to sit down and even the stool doesn't cut it, I only need to pull down one monitor and my keyboard/mouse. So I won't have to rearrange my entire desktop if I need some chair time.

Of course, nothing can stay perfect for long. Shortly after putting the finishing touches on my arrangement, my department was informed that it was time for our cubicles to be rearranged and condensed (translated: shrunk from 8x9 to 6x9 sq. ft.) so we would be moving into a temporary space, one cubicle row at a time.

This past Thursday was my move-out day. I considered storing my crates in my car for the week, but then I decided that I wouldn't allow them to shake up my new standing regimen.

Temporarily in cramped quarters
Even though we were supposed to let a PC Tech move our computers, I moved all of my own stuff the night before. It's simply easier to set up the computer at the same time as the crates, rather than letting them move the computer first and then try to work the crates in under everything.

My temporary desk is more shallow than my previous one, so it took a half-hour of tweaking the setup. I eventually got everything to fit--well enough, at least, for my week's stay. When I move back to my smartsized cubicle I'll still have the same desktop area I had before, minus one section, and I've already determined my original arrangement will fit there just fine. (I honestly think one thing they're counting on is that a week exiled to the "study carrels" will make us pine for the smaller cubicles.)

Some co-workers have asked how much I spent on this or that item, and they usually seem a bit shocked when I tell them. I haven't added up the total for anyone here for fear of completely blowing their minds:

Stackubes (large): 3 @ $19.99
Stackubes (small): 2 @ $14.99
Memory Foam bath mat:  $24.99
GelPro chef's mat:     $69.99
Total with tax:       $196.93

Now don't get me wrong: I would love to not have had to spend that two hundred dollars. I can find many more enjoyable ways to spend $200, even if it's only to give it to the credit card company to cover some other purchase I've already made. But I'm at my desk for 7-8 hours a day, 40 hours a week; I don't want to cheap out on my own physical well-being. I consider that $200 well-spent.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flooding in Coralville

Since the flood of 2008 is still fairly fresh in everyone's memory here in eastern Iowa, people have been a little anxious about the amount of rainfall we've been getting this month and whether it means we'll have a (diminished) repeat of that summer.

It turns out we've been keeping an eye on the wrong body of water. Today's dramatic flood event took place in my bathroom.

Nearing the end of my morning routine, I stepped out of the shower. On my way past the toilet, I flushed it (liquids only). At the sink, I started the final sink-related grooming activities. I had just finished putting on whatever hair product I use (I think it's wax) when I noticed a cold, wet sensation on my foot.

While random drips are not out of the ordinary, I'm usually fairly drip-free by the time I get to the sink. I looked down, expecting to see a slightly-larger-than-usual wet spot on the rug. It took a second to realize, "That's a lot of water for--OH, NO." The toilet was not just overflowing; water was practically gushing over the top of the bowl.

I grabbed the only thing on the floor that might be irreparably damaged by water, the electronic scale, and chucked it out the door. Then I took the lid off the tank to stop the immediate flow of water. I held up the floater, stopping the flow of water into the tank. For your own future reference, the preferred move at this point would have actually been to manually close the valve at the bottom of the tank, in order to stop water flowing from the tank into the bowl. In my defense, I was still naked. I never think very clearly when I'm naked.

I knew I needed help at this point. Because I couldn't let go of the floater without more water flowing into the tank and then into the bowl and therefore onto the floor (again, I know NOW), I needed to call for one of my kids. But I'm naked. Just to help add to the mental picture you're getting, remember I had just applied sculpting wax to my hair and hadn't had time to sculpt it. So I'm buck naked with my hair standing straight up; I can't call my kids in. I still need them to sort of respect me for the next 3 or 4 years.

I finally managed to pull on my boxers with one hand, and then I yelled, "CAN ANYBODY HEAR ME?" Both kids came running to my rescue. Cassie tried to help at first, but she couldn't stand on the (rapidly shrinking) dry area of the bathroom rug and reach the floater. So Alex came in to hold it for me. I ran to the laundry room to get a plunger and started to work on the clog. The plunger I grabbed seemed fairly ineffective, so I ran back for the other plunger. I got the waters to recede a bit, but still wasn't getting the whoosh of water that signals the blockage has been cleared.

I think by this time I figured out I could close the tank valve and relieve Alex from his post. I helped him wash off his feet and ushered the kids out the door so they could catch the school bus. I got back to work on the clog, which took a lot longer than it usually does. Finally, that reassuring whoosh, and the bowl emptied.

With the situation at a precarious holding point, I went to put a call in to the plumber to get someone here as soon as possible. (I like the company we've used since we moved to this city; they can usually get someone out to us within a few hours.) On my way past the laundry room--which shares a wall with the bathroom--I noticed that floor was full of water as well. I realized my day was pretty much shot at this point.

I got most of the movable stuff out of the laundry room and cleaned up most of the standing water from both rooms. When the plumber arrived at 11 AM and I--now dressed--described the situation, he pointed out that the water probably backed up from the laundry room drain rather than under the wall as I suspected. Guessing it was tree roots or baby wipes, he asked if we flush wipes down the toilet. I admitted that we do, making sure to only flush one at a time as advised on the container. He replied, "Yeah, those things say they're flushable, but they're not; they never are."

He set to work with his auger on the main sewer line and then the laundry line. He finished up a couple of hours later, and I gave him a check for $173. Ouch. Because of supposedly flushable bathroom wipes that really aren't. But then he said, "It was a tree root. But once I punched through that, it was pretty easy." My guess is that it was probably the root and the wipes together that caused the problem, or at least made it happen sooner rather than later.

I asked him if this meant we had to have some outside pipes replaced, and he said no. I'm a little surprised that a tree root working its way into an underground pipe isn't a sign something needs to be dug up, but my wallet is okay with that. I asked if the past week of rains made the problem worse, saturating the ground. The plumber said that it was probably more likely that last summer's drought had more to do with it. Because the ground was so dry, tree roots were drawn to the one source of water they could sense; underground pipes. Nature: 1, Man: 0.

After all this, I really didn't feel like going in to work for just a few afternoon hours, so I mowed the lawn instead. Maybe that was a mistake, because the shower I took afterwards was one of the most anxious showers I've had in a long time; I kept checking the toilet for more signs of flooding. So far, everything's still dry.

I can tell you one thing: I'm going to put a ban on flushing toilets in the mornings. Ruined my whole day.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Back In Touch

October, huh?  That's my last blog entry: October?

To tell the truth, that's not a surprise. With my blog on the home page to which my browser opens, and that BLT chip post staring at me for so long, I sense the accusing finger waggle of time every day. I feel like I'm the King of Broken Blog Promises. The King of Broken Blogmises. The Broken Kingblog. Whatever.

At least I've been keeping a few notes here and there about potential blog entries. So there's a bit of material; now I just need to commit to writing at least a little bit, a few times a week.

Another area I need to work on is the world of social media. A while back, I pretty much wiped out my Facebook account. I kept only a few ties to my immediate family and cut everyone else loose. I think I'm going to try to reconnect with some old friends and maybe some extended family members and be a little more engaged.

Don't get me wrong: I still hate Facebook with a passion. It's a poorly designed piece of dren, and I'm certain it will still frustrate me by hiding posts and refusing to learn just what chronological order is. But I'm going to try to push that frustration way down deep where the bile lives and pretend I'm a happy Facebooker just like the rest of you. Caveat: I will burn your farm to the ground and salt the earth so that naught may ever grow there again if you invite me to see it. (Is the farm game still even a thing?)

I don't know in how much depth I'm going to actually post on Facebook. Usually, what I put there now are links I want to share with specific family members. The bulk of interesting links I find, photos I take, and blog entries I write are going to be over in Google+ land. I realize nobody else in the world other than myself and 7 other people actually uses Google+, but I like it a whole lot more than Facebook. I also realize most people aren't going to go the extra step of clicking to a completely different site, but it will be there if anybody feels like poking around.

Unless this is the entirety of my renewed commitment to maintaining an on-line presence, and all of a sudden it's Thanksgiving and this post is still at the top of my home page. But even if that's the case, I'm still pretty active on Twitter, where I crack myself up on a daily basis and give businesses that have wronged me a piece of my mind to a degree that would put Grampa Simpson to shame.

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