Please Sign My Petition

I’m beginning to wonder if the ease with which people can share their cause du jour online doesn’t do more harm than good. In many cases, people are actually spamming your friends. Since “friends” is a relative term in the online universe (thank you, Facebook!), we all may just be annoying people we only tangentially know. We may also be inviting people to support causes they actually oppose. (If done on purpose, this is funny. If not, it’s really annoying.)

The main cause of angst in the Facebook world is Causes. Causes is a lovely application for non-profits to reach out to their donors and constituents to keep them updated on the activities of the organization. It’s also a way to fund-raise. As the president of two non-profits, I liked it. However, it’s a separate application, which can make it a pain to use. We’ve actually pretty much retired it, since we can do most of what it does from our own Facebook page, and then, we don’t have to update multiple sites.

As a casual user, I hate it. I am bombarded by requests to sign petitions and support causes, and most of the time, the requests come from people that won’t even send me a personal note. If I get a request from someone I know, someone that I interact with regularly, then I have some hope they actually sent me the request on purpose. Most of the time, Causes just helpfully sends a note to everyone in your address book if you don’t tell it not to do so. This is called a “spambot” when a program does it without the user knowing.

It gets even more dicey when you’re not really “friends” with someone – you’re a co-worker, or a distant relative (or worse, in-law), or friend of a friend, or met them at a conference. Causes doesn’t differentiate. It also assumes that if someone signs one petition, they will want to sign more.

Here’s my personal issue – I’m the President of Sparky’s Pals, which does humane education. It’s an outgrowth of the years my wife and I have spent in animal rescue. However, I am not a vegetarian. I think the “PETA – People Eating Tasty Animals” shirts are actually a bit funny. I’m still annoyed at HSUS for trying to make Michael Vick a poster child. Now, many people in rescue will think I’m a bad person. However, they’ll know why I’m not signing their petitions.

I’m also the President of a community radio station, KNON 89.3 – the Voice of the People. However, I am not a raging liberal Democrat. I didn’t vote Obama. Twice. The only useful thing Obama has done is create the petition system on the White House site, because it lets people annoy him. I do not believe he will ever take action on any of the petitions. However, I do sometimes think Texas should secede, and that petition made the limit for a White House response easily. Then, they raised the response quota. Well-played.

The difference between Causes and the White House petition swamp is that the White House owns their system. Somebody there actually reviews the ideas. For Causes, I’m not sure the targets ever find out there are people annoyed at them.

Here’s my request – the next time you sign an online petition, think “If I had to put a stamp on this, sign it, and mail it somewhere, would I still sign it?” Before you click to send it off to all your friends, think, “Does <whomever> think this way, too?” If you don’t know, uncheck the name. If you don’t know for the majority of your friends in the list, ask yourself if they should be your online friends at all.

If Facebook wanted to make life easy for people, it would force applications to use the groups people create. In my case, baseball players probably don’t care about animal rescue. Animal rescue people don’t care about gun rights, at least not the way I do. Very few people care about my thoughts on religion. I know this. I could just uncheck name after name when I’m signing a petition, or I can just not use the system. I’m thinking about just blocking the Causes application to end the madness.

For anyone still reading that wants to send me a petition, here are my rules:

  • If it’s something I don’t believe in, I don’t sign it. If you don’t know if I believe in it, why not ask me? If it seems really rude to ask me, are you really my friend? Maybe it’s best to just not send the petition.
  • If it’s not local to me (say Texas or closer), I don’t sign it. While I care deeply about the plight of the cockatoo in Namibia, I really don’t think anyone is going to help it. People are starving there – do you think they care about animals?
  • If it’s not written in clear, correct English, I don’t sign it. Take some time to edit, people! I don’t believe anyone in authority pays attention to something that is not well-written.

Feel free to use my guidelines.

I would start a petition about this, but the irony would be lost on most people.

Finally, could you like this post? My wife said if I can get one million people to like this post, I can buy a Mustang.

Better than new

Our kitchen is being remodeled. Remodel is from an ancient French word that means “probable insanity”.  We are using Ikea. Ikea is from a Swedish word that means “probable insanity.”

A kitchen remodel is the perfect project to prove the adage that the first 90% of the project takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% of the project takes the other 90% of the time.

All the names have been changed to protect the innocent. Since there are no innocents in a remodeling project, none of the names were changed.

Why do women swoon so over their kitchens? They have spent most of the past few millenia finding other things to do, specifically so they would no longer be spending time in the kitchen.

Here’s an interesting side-effect of completely removing a room from the house even for a short time – all of the house is affected, and not in a good way. Crap that was in the kitchen pretty much filled the spare room, which used to be where my grandson took his naps when he was over. So, last visit, he was driven around the block for a while to sleep. You can’t get to the bathroom off the kitchen any more, and the toilet is gone, anyway, since the floor is being redone (another side effect).  The dogs can’t be loose because the contractors tend to leave doors open, so they’re spending a lot of quality crate time (yes, they’re annoyed). You can’t use the garage because the driveway is blocked with a dumpster. I’m making coffee in the guest bathroom. The only advantage was that for a while, the refrigerator and a (new) microwave were in the family room, which made beer and snacks more accessible while watching TV.

On the bright side, I’m actually looking forward to the hour-long commute to the office every morning because it means I’m leaving the construction zone.

This project started because our kitchen floor was buckling. So, there was a leak somewhere. However, after the leak was fixed, there was still a ripple in the floor. Male solution: Fix the floor. Female solution: Fix the floor and while you’re at it, replace vinyl flooring with tiles, put in new cabinets, replace the counter-top, paint the walls a different color, and because it’s adjoining, maybe replace the carpet in the dining room. Oh, and maybe paint the hallway. The only thing that stopped the kitchen remodeling from progressing through the whole house (and an entire retirement account) was a hailstorm. Now, we need a new roof which is limiting the kitchen budget. Sometimes, an act of God is actually a good thing. Thank you for the hail, God.

Spousal Unit: “Don’t you love this tile? It reminds me of my Mom’s kitchen in her home long ago.” Me: “That looks like the tile in my grade school cafeteria.” So, who wins? I will now be having supper in my grade school cafeteria. This reminds me, I have to get the Spousal Unit a hairnet. Actually, considering it will be food I didn’t order prepared by a cranky Italian lady, it will be supper in my grade school cafeteria. All I need now are some spitwads. And detention.

Any time a woman finds something that reminds her of “long ago”, it will be in a section of the store called “retro”. Retro is from an Indonesian word meaning “grossly over-priced.”

Spousal Unit: “Should the walls be red or black?” This is an unwinnable situation, unless one really prefers red or black (Me? Notsomuch.) So, I don’t care. However, you cannot say you don’t care in a project of this magnitude – not because you know your opinion is going to be ignored anyway, but because then it looks like you don’t care. (Think about that for a moment.) However, I really don’t care – I just want Bubba, Joe-Bob and their tools out of my house and their monster truck and mini-dumpster out of my driveway. I don’t really care what color the walls are. The only time I’m in the kitchen is to make coffee, and that means I’m asleep, so my eyes are closed. Just put the coffee pot back in the same place it was before the remodel and nobody gets hurt.

We first priced a couple of professional remodeling services. Spousal Unit’s estimate: $15,000. My estimate: $30,000. Actual estimate: $37,000. I can’t give that much blood in a year, so it was off to Ikea. (Spousal Unit’s estimate: $10,000. My estimate: $25,000. Still open. Let’s just say hers was low.)

Ikea is a Scandinavian firm that produces functional furniture. Saying furniture is “functional” is like saying a girl has a good personality.

Ikea is inexpensive, mainly because they don’t produce products, they produce kits. You get a flat box of parts and an instruction sheet, whether you’re buying a kitchen cabinet or a child’s set of toy blocks. Actually, I’m not sure the kitchen cabinets aren’t made from the child’s set of toy blocks. Many of their products are just assemblies of smaller products, so the instructions are “get two of these boxes, and one of those boxes. Assemble as shown on diagram.”

I am not a handyman. I cannot use tools. So, the mechanically inept hire someone to do the job for them. Ikea has suggestions for companies to assist you. Well, a company. If you pay them a slight extra charge, they will act as a general contractor.

In the USA, a general contractor manages a project and assigns specific tasks to other contractors. I know this, because I spent a week on jury duty when a general contractor was the defendant in a lawsuit. In Scandinavia or Ethiopia or wherever Ikea is located, a general contractor apparently only does the odd jobs that nobody else does. They also listen patiently to the woman of the house railing about the ineptitude of the other contractors. You get to actually do project management yourself, therefore saving money. This is why their general contractor service is relatively cheap – he doesn’t actually do anything to manage the project. I suppose I should be grateful we didn’t get a general contractor kit in a flat box with an odd Scandinavian name on the side. I would still be assembling him.

Our cabinet installer is a company named Traemand. They specialize in cabinet installations – their website says so. Unfortunately, they are installing European style cabinets in a US kitchen, which apparently is hard (their website says so). I assume this means they use metric measurements, since their first floor plan had one cabinet blocking half a doorway. This measurement (ironically) was done by a subcontractor who was actually working for the same company that is our general contractor. So, why not just have the general contractor do everything? Ikea split the jobs up, so it is not allowed. What happens if you just buy all the boxes of parts and hire someone else to assemble them? It’s not warranted. This makes no sense to me, but I’m not Swedish.

After the cabinet into the doorway design was corrected (strangely, we didn’t want a doorway blocked), the second set of measurements didn’t seem to match the actual kitchen measurements. So, we finally had the general contractor re-measure. He must have used an American tape measure, because this time, the plan actually made some sense and fit the kitchen.

It occurred to me that there is an old adage “Measure twice, cut once.” I guess nobody told Traemand that “measure twice” implied getting the same number both times.

Of course, the actual installation didn’t allow the existing refrigerator to fit under an installed cabinet. After the installers “made” it fit by lowering the feet on the refrigerator, the cabinet doors above the refrigerator won’t open. Apparently, this is a strange model of refrigerator that has hinges on the doors and they are on the top. Who knew? So, we’re waiting for a new cabinet to be delivered. Yes, Traemand, the cabinet technically fits. However, it’s useless if it doesn’t open, so it needs to be fixed. Finally, they installed the existing double oven at Munchkin-level, so the lower oven will be at the proper height when the Spousal Unit has her scoliosis kick in. In the meantime, if the lower oven is used where it is, the dogs are going to learn the hard way not to sniff things, and grandchildren will learn “don’t touch” on their own. Other than that, it’s perfect. Oh, except we need a new kitchen table because the new cabinet takes up more space than the one it replaced, so the table won’t fit. Well, the table will fit, but people can’t actually sit around it.

An aside on the double oven – many women lust after a double oven. Women love their double ovens. They use them one day a year on Thanksgiving and the rest of the time, they just lovingly gaze at them while re-heating leftovers in the microwave or toaster oven, because using the oven heats the entire kitchen. You know, a guy gets a lot of grief for wanting a 70″ TV to watch the Super Bowl, but at least you can watch other shows on it during the year. How often do you really need two ovens? Sheesh.

So, Traemand may be installers, but they are certainly not designers or measurers. Actually, I will be happy to say that they are installers if the cabinets are all still on the walls in a week or so.

Dear Ikea, it is staggering to me that any company could certify another company to do product installations when their employees can’t use a tape measure successfully. I would have thought that would have been question one on the installation certification test, or at least in the first five, after “What’s a cabinet?” or “Which end of the screwdriver do you hold?” I may be mechanically inept, but I know how to measure how tall something is. 

So, we have a general contractor that’s not managing the project, an installer that can’t measure, and a different company for each piece of the rest of the puzzle, all assembling items purchased from random companies throughout the Metroplex. How can this not go smoothly?

Needless to say, the Spousal Unit is approaching a level of cranky not seen since I managed to miss her birthday, our anniversary and Valentine’s Day all with the same business trip. (They’re all within two weeks, so it really wasn’t that difficult. Come to think of it, I was gone less time on that trip than this kitchen project has taken.)

Also, it is taking so freaking long to get the project done, that we’re pretty much used to eating out every night. So, I’m not sure the new kitchen will get that much use, although I’ve been promised it will. (The male version of this is a riding mower sitting in the garage while the neighbor’s kid is doing the lawn.)

A lesson to anyone wanting to outsource a room remodel – get a general contractor and a designer. Write a much larger check than Ikea requests. Pick cabinets out of their catalog. Don’t special-order anything. Go to France for a month.

I heard a loud crash as I was writing this. Luckily, it was one of my grandson’s toys falling off the table in the family room. So, all cabinets are still attached to the walls. So far. I hope it doesn’t turn out that they only hold European-style dishes, pots and pans.

Near-Death Vacation

Nine levels of switchback. Nine Circles of Hell. Coincedence?

Entrevaux Citadel

Yesterday, I thought I was going to die, all alone, while slowly approaching a French Citadel. Isn’t that what a vacation day on a business trip is all about?

Years ago, the Spousal Unit and I went to Southern France for a couple of weeks – I was on business, she was on vacation. Part of the time, we were both on vacation. On one of those days, we took the train to from Nice to Entrevaux, a Medieval city about two hours north of Nice. (Nice is a seaside town that is at the edge of the Mediterranean on one side and the edge of the Alps on the other.) So, Entrevaux is in the mountains.

Apparently, many years ago, somebody thought it would be a good idea to fortify the town by building a citadel (which means a fort way the hell up in the sky.)

“Monsieur, some evil people are attacking the town!”

“We need a citadel. How about putting it way up there out of sight?”

So, Entrevaux has a Citadel. The Spousal Unit and I shot some photos of it last time. From the ground. However, this time, I was not with my wife, I was with two of my co-workers. Co-workers desperately afraid they will miss something interesting while on a business trip with an open weekend in France. So, we climbed up to the Citadel. On foot.

So, the rest of this is a remembrance and tirade about taking a walk. Those of you in good shape who exercise regularly can roll your eyes and stop reading now. Those who know me and are already giggling or enjoy seeing me in pain (hello, family!) can continue on.

There was a helpful French guide at the foot of the climb who sold us our tokens to enter the passageway up. Three euros. Each. She said there were seven switchbacks along the way. She lied. The brochure says there are nine, as in the number of circles of Hell.

So, David from Austin, Sakamoto-san from Tokyo and I started the ascent. In retrospect, it is very clever to charge people for the opportunity to walk straight up into the sky. If you didn’t charge them, many would get to the foot of the walkway and decide against such a foolish escapade. With a charge, the thought is – “Hey, I don’t want to waste three euros!”

This is the same theory as joining a gym. At least you can skip going to the gym more easily than skipping the walk.

Quote: “How to get to the Citadel: Go through toll-gate [Editor: with the 3 euro token] and walk straight up for about 20 minutes. Easy walk on recently restored cobbled path (difference in height: 156 meters.)” Some key points, for those who don’t easily read between the lines:

  • Straight up. This is not an exaggeration, even though the path has seven to nine switchbacks.
  • Recently restored. France is in Europe. “Recently restored” could be sometime in the 1800s.
  • 156 meters. For Americans, that’s actually 511 feet which sounds a lot higher than 156 meters. However, you don’t actually walk straight up, you walk fifty-seven miles through the “seven” switchbacks. Rappelling would be 156 meters.

    Warning Sign

    This is not information. It is a warning.

David and Sakamoto-san are a lot like me, except for age, weight and general disposition. As they sprinted up the recently restored pathway, chatting happily, I got through the first switchback just barely before my heart began to pound.

Maybe I’ll just stop here and take a couple of photos. I’m not out of breath or anything, this is just a good vantage point, since it’s so close to the ground and all.

My colleagues are now out of sight. As well as out of earshot. So, at least now I can whimper in peace.

So, I’ll guess I’ll just stop here in the middle of the second switchback to {huff, puff} take some more photos. Wow. It’s already a long way down. I’m making progress! Wow. It’s an even further way up. I’m going to die.

Continue climbing.

Horrible realization – I don’t have a pen with me. I can’t leave a note for David and Sakamoto-san to find on the way down, asking them to deliver the camera back to the Spousal Unit. I also don’t have a safety pin to attach the note to my clothes before I breathe my last. Should I be concerned I’m already planning my last minutes on earth?

I’m only concerned about the camera because the Spousal Unit lent it to me before I left and asked me to re-shoot the town of Entrevaux, especially the Citadel. Hey! That means this is all her fault! Feel slightly better. Still out of breath.

Realize if I die on this walk, the Spousal Unit will just buy a truly expensive camera with her inheritance money. If I die, I’m throwing this camera off the mountain.

Continue climbing.

Horrible realization deux – I now know why I don’t remember the climb being this difficult the last time I was in Entrevaux. It’s not just because that was eight years and probably fifty pounds ago – it’s because we didn’t actually make the climb. So much for age and experience. I would yell at David for dragging me up this mountain, but he’s already at the top, and I’m here on the third switchback, out of breath. I mean, taking photos.

Well, {choke, wheeze}, at least I’m almost half-way there.

Continue climbing.

If Lance freakin’ Armstrong goes by on his bike, I’m putting a stick through his spokes.

Well, {sneeze, cough, whimper}, at least I’m almost half-way there.

Another Fort

Hey, that fort over there looks a lot lower.

Continue climbing.

Why am I not making any progress? I wonder what David and Sakamoto-san are doing at the top? I wonder if they will pass me on their way down? I wonder if they will recover my body?

Continue climbing.

Stop to catch my breath, uh, I mean, take some photos.

Meet a couple on the way down. Try to be polite without heaving too much. “Bonjour!”

Why do they look so damn happy? Oh, maybe it’s because they’re going down. Bastards. Wonder what “bastards” is in French? If I could get a WiFi signal, I could use Google Translate. Who am I kidding? If I had a WiFi signal, I would call for help.

Continue climbing.

Well, at least I’m almost half-way there.

I wonder if David and Sakamoto-san remember me?

Hey, I made it all the way through that switchback without stopping. I wonder why my heart is beating so far out of my chest?

I think that was switchback 27. If I ever make it down to safety, I’m kicking that cute tour guide in the butt, as soon as I catch my breath. And can move my legs.

Damn. More people coming down. Look pleased to be here. “Bonjour!” Well, at least a little old couple hasn’t passed me on their way up.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Hmm. What kind of message does dying on Father’s Day send? I’d better get moving. I’ll just take a couple of photos, since this is a nice vantage point.

Dear Lord, if You could just give me one more chance and let me survive this easy climb on a restored cobbled path, I’ll build You a freakin’ chapel at the top, next to the Citadel.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Looking down at Entrevaux

If I puke, will I hit the houses?

 

Holy Crap! (Sorry, Lord.) Another couple is heading down. How many old people think climbing a mountain to see an old fort is a rational idea? Were these guys stationed here at one time?

If this freakin’ Citadel is closed for lunch when I get up there, someone’s going to die. Unless I die first.

Bonjour. That man looked pleased to be descending. I’m pretty sure the woman said “Almost” in a slight whisper as she passed me. Almost to the top? Almost dead? Almost is some French word for “look at the fat guy dying on his easy walk”? I’m pretty sure that was a pity smile she gave me.

I wonder if it’s time to start saying “Bon soir”? I’ve been climbing for about fourteen hours (twenty minutes my ass) and it was late morning when we started.

Hey, at least my pants are getting looser. It’s either the altitude or the 37 1/2 pounds of sweat I’ve produced so far. It’s a bit warm in Southern France today.

If one of these couples calls the authorities, and I get med-evac’ed off this stupid easy climb, the first thing the Spousal Unit will say when the US Embassy calls is “Was he wearing sunblock?” What is wrong with her?

At least I’m almost half-way there.

Hey! That’s David up ahead! Hmm. I don’t remember him wearing a white robe. Why is there so much light behind him? Why is he telling me to come into it? Why are my grandparents behind him?

I think I have enough time to shoot some more photos.

At least I’m almost half-way there.

As I turned another corner in the 42 switchbacks, I wondered how the French architects and builders managed to make the switchbacks at the top longer than the ones at the bottom. I wonder if the French army lost any wars just because their soldiers couldn’t make it up to the fort in time. I wonder if the enemy soldiers could just dodge any arrows shot from the Citadel since it would take a half-hour for them to reach the ground?

Man, I thought that can of olive oil the Spousal Unit requested I purchase in Nice was going to be overweight luggage. Wait until IBM has to ship my corpse home. That is going to be one big-ass internal mail envelope.

Wait! This time, it really is David. I’m at the top. That was easy.

Where’s the welcoming party? The snack bar? The oxygen tents? The snack bar?

We’re at the damn top at last, let’s take some photos. Hey! A bench! Let’s rest, then take photos.

Well, that was fun. Let’s go down. Does France have a Care-Flite service?

Going down wasn’t nearly as bad as going up, and I did take a few more photos.

Entrevaux Citadel

French soldiers were stationed here, waiting for attack. I’m waiting for a heart attack.

I even kept David and Sakamoto-san in sight most of the time. Most of the time.

I only stumbled once, but I didn’t even fall, since I’m an experienced climber now. I did, however,  have a flash of rolling down a recently renovated cobblestone path, wiping out co-workers and tourists as I fell. Bowling for Tourists.

At the bottom, we saw a young couple with two bouncing sons in tow, approaching the entrance. I thought “That hike should calm those kids down.” Then, I thought, “This is going to be the vacation those kids discuss with their therapist.”

Once safely at the bottom, I realized that I had forgotten to build the Lord His chapel. Considering what He’s overlooked in my life so far, he may let that one slide. Come to think of it, it may not be the first chapel I’ve shorted Him.

Lord, I would go back and build Your chapel as promised, but I think that climb was a once-in-a-lifetime event. Mainly, because the next time would kill me, and I know how You feel about suicide.

I’m still alive. Next time, I’m buying posst cards at the gift shop and just telling people I made the climb.

David said he signed the guest book as “IBMers from Texas and Japan”. So, the next time you’re at the top of the Citadel, you can see my name in the book. Implied.


A Strange and Disturbing Relationship

Full disclosure – I’m divorced and have alienated any number of people over the years, so I’m certainly not an expert at relationships (even though my second marriage has lasted four times longer than my first so far – although it may end when someone special reads this post.)

That said, there is one relationship I simply don’t understand at all – that of a woman and her cleaning lady. First of all, I hope “cleaning lady” is PC, I think they used to be called maids and before that, they were servants.

First, cleaning ladies strike fear in women’s hearts. Ask yourself this – do men snake all the pipes and replace washers before the plumber arrives? Do men replace fuses and make sure all the wiring is straight before the electrician arrives? Of course not – that’s why you hire a professional. So, why is it mandatory to pre-clean the house before the cleaning lady arrives?

Contrary to their ability to strike fear, cleaning ladies also seem to be confidantes. I do not know any male who has invited their plumber or electrician to their wedding, but I can think of at least one woman who invited her cleaning lady, and I know one woman who hosted her cleaning lady’s wedding.

Every time I hear about the relationship between a woman and her cleaning lady, I flash back to an old Seinfeld episode, where Jerry starts sleeping with his maid, and it turns out she’s really a hooker. She also starts doing less and less work, which may be a more critical point from the male perspective. Sex is fine, but those curtain rods aren’t going to dust themselves.

When men complain about the costs of a cleaning lady, the counter argument is usually that the current one is worth the money and a cleaning service (e.g. an anonymous cleaning lady with no connection to the woman of the house) would be much more expensive. The secondary argument is that if someone were paid to actually clean the entire house, then the woman of the house would have to pre-clean properly in advance. (“I admit it. The house is cluttered. How could someone possibly clean it?”) What?

My one theory is that a man should just cancel the cleaning lady and then tell his Spousal Unit that the cleaning lady has been rescheduled to the next day. Then, the Spousal Unit will frantically pre-clean the house in preparation.

The other issue – where I am not alone – is that the cleaning lady puts things where she thinks they belong, even if it should be intuitively obvious where they belong. “Let’s see, I have a clean glass. Here is a cabinet with 337 glasses in it. So, I guess this glass belongs in the cabinet on the other side of the kitchen with the plates. Also, all the husband’s shaving equipment is lined up neatly by the bathroom sink. It must belong in the drawer under the other side of the sink beneath the tampons, or perhaps in the closet in the other bathroom.”

As a man wiser than I once said, “The cleaning lady comes every two weeks and it takes me two weeks to find the stuff she put away.” (I would quote him directly, but I’m protecting the innocent.)

I am not friends with my plumber or my mechanic. There is a part of me that would like to discuss my Spousal Unit’s failure to get excited about my new blog (and my inability to tell her why this really hurts) while my mechanic is watching the oil drain from my car, but I don’t think he  likes being distracted. Also, I have no idea what his name is, which makes it harder to confide my true feelings in him.

If I had one of my friends helping me with work around the house, I would be paying in beer and pizza, not cash. They probably wouldn’t expect a clean area to work in, either. Mainly because they live alone, and they don’t have cleaning ladies.