Saturday, November 25, 2017

The Cycle of Holiday Shopping

I like shopping from home. In looking back at the holiday shopping seasons throughout my life, I find that my 20s and early 30s were probably the real aberration in my shopping behaviors.

As a kid, I grew up in a borderline rural area. I say "borderline", because the town I grew up in was about 35,000 people ...but it was the single largest town in the county. The closest "city" was the next county over - separated from my town by a river and 30 miles of very busy interstate highway. I put quotes around city because by the time of my teen years, changing economic conditions meant that said city had shrunk below to 60,000 residents. To truly be a city, my recollection was that there needs to be 100,000 residents within an incorporated entity. Not really sure, at this point, though. I think the reason that said "city" was referred to as a city was because it happened to be the state capital. Can't have your capital not be a city!

I guess I try to say I grew up in a "borderline" rural area because I don't like to admit I grew up in BFE. However, the prevalence of Trump placards and bumper-stickers the past two Thanksgivings means that I really can't hide where I'm from. Also probably counts, in large part, why I never felt at "home" where I grew up. Mom says I chafed to get away from there from well before my teen years. I know I always felt out of place there.

Digression aside... Being in that type of area meant that, until the mall and big-box retail explosion of the 90s and early 2000s (after I'd graduated college and moved away from the region), there just wasn't a huge amount concentrated shopping. There were plenty of mom-and-pops and other little stores in each town's "down town" areas, just not the kinds of concentrated-retail that typifies the Black Friday meltdowns that seemed to become the norm in the 2000s. As a kid, Christmas season meant waiting for the Christmas catalogues to show up from Sears, JC Penny's and a couple of other, lesser outlets. When the catalogs showed up, it was always "ignore all the grown-up/practical stuff" and seek out the colorful toy-sections of the catalogues. Then dog-ear the pages containing the stuff I wanted (to make it easier for mom and dad to find) and very carefully circle the specific items desired. I place that emphasis there because there were some Christmas snafus that resulted from failure to be precise enough in marking desired items. Was mostly a grandparent problem. They meant well ...and, unlike a pair particularly harried parents, one season, never resulted in a complete "I thought you were buying the presents this year" gaff.

After college, I moved away from home to find work and, frankly, to finally escape the chafing confines of where I grew up. This seemed to coincide with the major rise in destination shopping (90s was when Mall of America became famous, after all). It meant slogging through traffic to get to malls whose parking lots were designed for the rest of the year. It meant dealing with crowds of people who didn't really seem to have any particular place to be, just "out". Lastly, it also meant waiting in line for registers that, like the parking structures, were mostly designed for the rest of the year.

I've been working in IT, to one degree or another, pretty much my entire adult life. I've worked for a couple of ISPs (one that was an early hosting-services provider for e-commerce) and companies that provided support services for them ...and for online retail companies. So, early on, I was aware of possibilities for avoiding malls. And, as they came more into my price-range and stocked more of the stuff I was interested in, I switched to shopping almost exclusively through them. I wasn't really concerned about contributing to the death of small businesses - as, by that time, Walmart and the big-box stores had already put most of them on the endangered species list, any way. I was mostly concerned about avoiding the cranky throngs ("merry fucking Christmas!"), the traffic and everything that makes the holiday run-up unpleasant.

With the backlash against Black Friday nonsense - and the realization that it's kind of silly to try to force shoppers into doing a year's worth of business in the waning hours of the Thanksgiving holiday - it's managing to become even less onerous. And, while I've usually waited until the "hmm... If I do the overnight option, will it still get here in time" or the "if I ship ahead, will it be there when we get there" was a real concern, this year I actually dispensed with things early. Everything I'm buying is bought, already, as of this writing (and, I have enough time that I may have actually paid it all off before 2017 turns to 2018).

Friday, September 29, 2017

No Place To Call Home

I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. Throughout my growing up, I chafed to get away. It never really felt like "home" to me.

To be fair, I don't know that any place has ever felt like "home" least not in the sense that I hear other people describe their feelings of "home". For me, places are mostly more or less alien. Some places have people that are important to me. Even a few places I've been lucky enough to travel to, I've felt almost immediately comfortable.

On FB, I have connections to several people I grew up with. I guess the biggest thing that the POTUS Trump era has really done is shown me part of why I never really felt at home in the town I grew up. The people I grew up with who all sought lives elsewhere - typically cities - and the people who never left exhibit quite the dichotomy. It feels like I have far more in common with those who left (and the ones who left but came back for various reasons) than the ones who stayed behind.

I don't post on FB much any more - mostly comments on things people have posted on their walls. When reading through others' comments, I pretty much never have to click on people's profiles to see if they are a "one who left" or a "never left". It's pretty much immediately evident in the tone of their commentary ...and it reminds me of why I left. It reminds me of why, when I reach an age where I'm no longer working and no longer able to afford to live where I do, I won't move back "home" but, instead, try to find a more affordable place that isn't quite so alien as places like where I grew up.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Impacts of Loss

Found this link...

Every time I've lost a dog, it's been a complete gut-punch. More than when grandparents died. More, even, than when my dad died.

For me, I think it comes down to the responsibility component combined with the "they can't talk" problem. I wasn't responsible for the lives of my relatives. Even if I had been, that responsibility would likely have come in the context of caring for someone in decline - that the trajectory was known and the responsibility was simply to help them to the best end that medicine, society and finances allow. With dogs... There's so many places you can feel guilty. Did I put them down too soon? Did I do enough for them? Did I wait too long to put them down. Did trying to help them just put them through more pain? Did I do enough to help them through what has to be a frightening process?

Dogs can't talk. You can try to read them, but it's still, in the end, just a guess. When people talk about "wouldn't it be great if pets could talk?" I always answer, "no, I don't really want to try to have a conversation with my dog. What I _would_ like, though, is to know what their state of wellbeing was - how best I could help them feel better or have them ask me for comfort or help letting them go."

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Daig Noise

Interesting progression in dog ownership.

Our first two dogs were, from a barking standpoint, very quiet. Lana earned the nicknames "Lana-moo", "Moo-cow" and just "Moo" because she liked to conversationally-vocalize in a manner that was somewhat bovine (obviously). Puckett was generally too goofy to bark or even growl. Only very rarely would he alert-bark or warn-bark - basically, just when he thought there was a threat I hadn't seen or that I had reacted to but that he thought needed further discouragement. Otherwise, his vocalizations mostly came when he saw other dogs that he wanted to play ...and then his low-pitched voice became an embarrassing mewl.

After Lana passed (euthanasia b/c of a combination of cancer and a degenerative spinal-condition), we got Cira. Cira was generally a very low-key dog. There were things that _did_ excite her to the point of actual exuberance, but it was a _very_ quiet exuberance. Her expressiveness was far more physical than audible. Her most-audible expressions were her expressions of gustatory delight - a very hearty belch after wolfing down breakfast. Her entire bearing before eating in the morning was one of, "OH MY GOD: _BREAKFAST TIME". The daily-BRACK would only come after she would come flying back into the living room and launching herself onto my couch. Usually, the belch would be followed by a bullie-grin ...framed by specks of errant rice stuck to her snout.

After Pucket passed (euthenasia b/c of very aggressive cutaneous lymphoma that spread to his lungs), we got Lady.  Lady... is the first dog that we had tendencies towards barkiness. She can be conversationally vocal in a manner similar to Lana. However, a lot of her vocalization comes as excited barking: get her spun up through playing and playful growling becomes playful barking. She will also bark when we leave the house and don't leave the TV on (at least the conversational audio) for her. If someone knocks on the front door or rings the doorbell, she also barks. Other than that, though — and if you don't count her snoring and brachycephalic snorting — she's fairly quiet.

After Cira passed (euthanasia b/c of severe, suddenly-manifesting end-stage renal-failure), we got Kaiya. Unlike the previous dogs who were all bullie/bullie mixes (Cira being the only "pure" bullie - a staffy), Kaiya is a bullie-mix that isn't all bullie. She's a bullie/lab mix. She's also considerably barkier than any of our other dogs had been. If she hears a noise, she's gonna bark at it. If it's a noise from out-of-sight, even if she's hearing the same noise multiple times in a given timespan, she'll bark each time she hears it. For example, my wife was just out in the front-foyer's closet, organizing it to store some new stuff in it. Each time Donna's activities made bumping-sound, Kaiya would bark. I love our nubby-dog (recently had to have her tail docked due to "happy-tail" related infection) to death, but the frequent alerting is maddening - especially the re-alerting.

Monday, August 21, 2017

The Happiness Penalty

Our most recent canine addition to our family - Kaiya - suffers from happy tail. If you've never heard of it, it's what happens when you have a dog who's so emphatically waggy that they injure themselves whacking their tail into things. The first time we came home to a blood-covered wall, the vet advised us to get her tail docked.

She's a lab/pitbull mix and loves to go swimming. She loves to play fetch in the local river with her floaty toys. We were reticent to get the procedure done during river season, so we kept her tail wrapped to protect it.

Unfortunately, Kaiya developed a tendency to pull the wrapping off - exposing her to re-injury. We had been addressing this with a comfy-cone. Unfortunately, because she's still quite young, she's also quite flexible. Sometime Friday night, she'd managed to pull the protective bandage off - in spite of the cone - and had chewed the end of her tail. Sometime between Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, where she'd chewed got infected and painful. Took her to visit the vet for an emergency visit. The wound was irrigated and she was given pain meds and antibiotics ...and put on today's schedule for tail-docking.

Just got back from dropping her off at the vet for surgery sometime, today. I know she needs the procedure done - especially since it got infected. But it still feels like I'm penalizing her for being a very happy dog. Of course, the fact that it's now an urgent procedure and she was in pain from the infection compounds the "I'm a bad dog-parent" feeling because I wasn't able to protect her from herself well enough.

Yeah... I would have been a mess each time my kid hurt themselves had we actually been able to have kids.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Silver Linings

As I sit here, watching Fight Club for the nine millionth time, a thought rings through my head. For whatever reason, Fight Club has always had a resonance for me that I never really understood. Very little about it has any direct connection to my life. But, I sit a little longer, and eventually the movie gets to the scene about Tyler's job as a projectionist. As the scene concludes, it occurs to me, "it's probably a good thing that I have the kind of epilepsy that's controllable by medicine."

I expressed this thought to my wife. Initially, she didn't see where I was going with the thought until I explained it to her.

Let me preface by saying: I've never particularly considered myself to be a nice person. Indeed, when a co-worker recently told me that one of the new hires was talking shit about my particularness for writing, I responded back to him that I'm not trying to win a popularity-contest. When it comes to work, I'm there to get shit done, and get it done well. If my standards annoy some people, so be it. Again, not seeing myself as being nice, I feel free to do things that don't align with being a "nice guy".

At any rate, the explanation. I point out to her that having medicinally-manageable epilepsy meant that I always sort of had to worry about retaining (financial) access to medicine and the specialists that prescribe them. Epilepsy medications can be ridiculously expensive (one medication I was on, at one point, was $1500/month). The easiest way to do so being to have the kind of employment that typically includes health insurance. Being hirable to those types of jobs generally means not being able to engage in the more anti-social thoughts that randomly enter my brain and rattle around.

Hearing that explanation, my wife laughed. But, she also agreed with the line of reasoning.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

It's a Racket, I Tells Ya

Even when the whole IT certifications thing started, it felt like a scam. But then the certification-sellers (and, not to be unduly uncharitable, but all that the vast majority are doing is selling false assurances) did away with "forever" certifications and replaced them with expiring ones. While you can argue that there's validity to skills being "perishable", most of what's certified is "you either know and have internalized the principles or you havent". While specific symptoms and scenarios may evolve, the underlying principles are generally fairly static. That said, a 3-5 year validity window isn't awful, just inconvenient. You drop down to 2 years (the guilty certification-players know who they are) and you've gotten uncomfortably close to doing to certification what has happened with password-expiration policies.

To illustrate, one set of certifications I have has a two year lifetime. Six months before they're due to expire, the certifying authority starts sending out, "you need to re-test to stay certified - do it early and we'll cut you a break on pricing". Here's the thing, though: if I do the early re-test thing, the next chunk of 24 months' validity isn't tacked on to the end of the soon-to-end 24 months. No, it starts the day you're tests are verified as having been passed. So, if I retest early, I've sacrificed up six months of that 24-month validity (i.e., up to 1/3 of that already short validity is pissed away). So, yeah, "I saved money by re-testing early".

It's like, "dear certification sellers: when my logins start getting that 'you've got 14 days till your password expires' thing, my response is generally, 'good to know: I'll change it in 14 days'. Not having stackable re-certification creates the same kind of outcome."