Things that just occurred to me, in no particular order

Archive for the ‘Life’ Category

Life in 19 minute chunks

I tend to be the newsroom’s  guinea pig. When the IT guys want to try out a new system, bit of hardware or whatever, I usually find them hovering over my right shoulder.

For the past month, I’ve been the tester for a new multiple OS system, a desktop using a remote hard drives or something. It’s been a smooth process, with few hiccups — until Monday. That’s when the temporary license on the software they were trying to fold into our delicate infrastructure finally expired.

The result for me was that my system reset itself every 20 minutes — 20 minutes, on the dot, with no sympathy, no warning and no respect at all for the journalistic thought process.

Now,  it took me a few resets before I figured out what was happening. I complained to IT and they said they were working on it. All that was left for me to do was cope.

Eventually, I figured out the reset interval and began timing. I’d start counting down when the computer rebooted and learned to sum up my projects as the 20 minute mark approached. My timer would ding at 19 minutes, I’d save, close my files, step back and the computer would reboot. A minute later and I’d be back in and working.

It’s been an interesting laboratory for me to study my work habits. I think of myself as a hard worker and I get a lot accomplished. But there are so many distractions today — emails, Google Reader updates, Tweets and Facebook posts — it’s real easy to let something interfere with your focus.

But when you have 19 minutes and the clock is ticking, it’s easier to put those distractions aside. I found myself focusing on the task at hand, knowing that the quick email would steal precious seconds from my current thought process. I began grouping my work intervals, delaying Twitter, email and even phone calls until the next 20 minute cycle.

Now, I’ve tried lots of organizing schemes. I have a copy of Allen’s “Getting things Done” on my bookshelf and a drawer down to my right with 43 folders in a tickler. I’ve read on Lifehacker and other places that eight minutes is the ideal amount of time to devote to a particular task, but I never tested it.

Now I know.

IT finally replaced my system Wednesday afternoon, so my enforced breaks are over. But I’m thinking about buying an egg timer or something.


Whistle pigs and Media Play

There was a this patch of open space in Westminster, between where we lived 10 years ago and Stanley Lake. I have no idea if it’s still there, but it’s one of the reasons we left the Denver area and moved to Maine.

I used to ride my bike along a path through there.  I never really stopped because there was not much to it. It was a dirt patch, all owned by the city and kept as open space. Just some scrubby trees, creek beds and lots of Prairie Dogs. They’d whistle to each other as I pedaled past, popping out of their dens briefly. That’s why my Dad always called them Whistle Pigs.

I saw hawks and the occasional coyote there, too.

That little patch was bordered on either side by homes,  city streets and retail developments. Not exactly virgin wilderness.

But it was, I was told, prime develop-able space and that was to be its fate. The City Council was in talks to sell that patch to a developer for a corner shoppette.

But right around the corner, there was a ghost shoppette just a few years old. It was home to a vacant Media Play (remember Media Play?) and a bunch of smaller shops, all equally empty. They’d all gone out of business about the same time and no other retail outlets were interested in moving in.

It was too much for me. You could stand on the asphalt corner of the vacant Media Play lot and throw a pop bottle into the open space patch, if you had a good arm.

I could not figure why someone would sacrifice the last bit of wild in that neighborhood for another sterile, utilitarian retail destination. It was enough to overcome my last bit of resistance and bail on Colorado for good. I don’t even know how it turned out, if they paved over the prairie dogs or ever found someone to rent Media Play’s old home.

I thought of that patch the other day, driving past a Turner Street retail development. When we moved here, it was vacant land, full of whatever passes for Whistle Pigs in Maine. Now  it’s developed, but it’s never been fully occupied.

There’s a gym nearby, a restaurant and some offices. But much of it is empty, just like that old Media Play on Wadsworth Boulevard.

The neighbors say they have to open the door every once in a while to let out any wildlife that slipped under the plywood front door and got trapped.

So, at least there’s still a way to see urban wildlife.

The leprechaun theory

I have a pet theory that I’ve shared with everyone that’s willing to listen. To me, it explains a lot about Mainer’s attitudes about business, taxes and life in general. Maybe the attitude is similar elsewhere, but I can’t be sure of that.

See, it’s a tough economy. Unemployment in Maine is not as bad right now as it is in other parts of the nation, but times are difficult. Groceries, gas, heating oil: they’re all getting more expensive. Raises are less frequent. People want the economy to perk up, especially here at home. They want people to bring money to Maine that’s going to be spread around, raising the standard of living.

At the same time, folks don’t want to be bothered with the stuff that comes with economic development. They don’t want increased traffic on the streets, new bodies at the local schools and lines at the grocery store. They’re pretty wary of newcomers and their annoying ideas about how things should done and frankly want to be left alone.

It manifests like this: Someone comes to town, saying they’re going to bring their business with them. It’s going to mean X many millions of dollars of investment and Y more jobs to the community that pay a living wage. They’re going to pay taxes and they want to be part of the community.

Most folks, I figure, yawn at the news. Sure, they say, that’s a fine idea. More power to them.

But a good-sized minority get all up in arms: it’s going to generate traffic, it’s going to bring the wrong sort of person to town, it’s going to have impacts we can’t imagine and it basically going to change our cozy little community.

I’ve seen several plans march  through Maine communities, and half of them get chased away by these folks. They wind up locating their plant, or store or whatever some place else.

It’s a cousin to the “Not In My Backyard” syndrome and it’s confusing for the community, and especially the economic development folks. Mainers are picky folks: they want economic development, but not that economic development.

It’s a rather tough code to break, but I think I’ve figured it out. We want a leprechaun to wander in to the town, drop his little pot of gold and leave. We’ll divvy it up as we see fit and he can move his little green ass right out of town.

Unfortunately, there has been dearth of leprechauns sighted in these parts lately and even fewer pots of gold.

Just so folks don’t think I go around picking up the wildlife

So I’m on the phone with the insurance adjuster Thursday morning, looking out the window over my sink to my back yard, when I something catches my eye.

Be sure to wash up after handling a Jay

Look what I found in my garage!

Actually, it was pretty hard to miss. There was this angry male blue jay hopping around on my back patio and  staring intently at me, like he was trying to get my attention. I didn’t move, because I didn’t want to scare him. He didn’t leave, just kept hopping around  for a few long moments.

Then, he jumps off my deck, aiming right toward my little dilapidated garage/shed, like he’s going to smack right into the window. He doesn’t, but pulls up right before he hits it, then lands on the ground in front of it and starts strutting around.

Of course, my gaze follows him and that’s when I see his friend or his mate on the other side of the glass, flapping, pecking and trying like heck to get out and fly off with the other one.

I hung up the phone, ran out to the garage and scooped it up and set it free, but not before snapping a quick picture with my cell phone. He/she/it was serious mad at me and screamed bloody murder once I’d let go.

Anyway, just seemed like an odd way to begin a day.

Dog O Lantern?

As far as great mysteries go, this one isn’t.

It’s more of a conundrum, an odd puzzle. Still, it’s driving me crazy just the same. I have theories, but none make any sense. I’d love to hear more.

So, my wife and I bought a nice fat, round and warty pumpkin Monday. We put it, uncarved, on our front steps Monday night and went about our business. We planned to carve it up closer to Halloween but in the mean time, it looked nice and cheery and orange.

Anyway, I woke up Tuesday morning and went out to walk the dog and it was gone, all but the tip of the stem. That was left, discarded, on my front step to taunt me. That’s what I thought.

Now, I recalled the days of my misspent youth and figured that the fat little pumpkin was smooshed into the road somewhere around us. Some youthful miscreant had taken it, and smashed it with his giggling buddies and that was that. I cursed the evil doer and moved on.

No big deal.

Thing is, my neighbors have pumpkins, fat and orange, all over their front steps — and not smooshed in the slightest bit. They are still there, entirely unmolested.

What’s more, I haven’t noticed any pumpkin guts on the surrounding streets. Odd, but not a big deal.

But this afternoon, it reappeared. I walked out into my backyard to check on my dog and his rollicking best friend and they were chewing on my pumpkin. Somehow, it had migrated from the front of the house to the back over the course of five days.

I examined it. Yes, it was the same warty skin and in pretty good shape except for a single abrasion across the top where the dogs got a hold of it.

Now, I was in the yard earlier in the morning and it was not there. I’ve been out all week and it wasn’t there.

And I can’t figure out what happened. Did my dog see me leave out on the front and run around just before bed time and stash it? Did ad overzealous squirrel try and snatch it away then get tired of lugging it around? Or did the youthful miscreant steal it and then have a change of heart five days later and gift it to my dog and his buddy?

Or did something more sinister happen, a rip in the fabric of time and space pull the pumpkin from Monday night and leave it close by on Sunday afternoon?

My dog was the only witness and he’s not talking.

Lucy or Nancy?

I covered a press conference Thursday, the ribbon cutting for a new senior housing complex, and chief among the speakers was one of the tenants, a little 74-year-old lady they all called Lucy.

She spoke warmly about the building and how nice it was to have a new, clean, safe place to call home. She shook hands with Gov. Baldacci and helped cut the ribbon. I double-checked her name and moved on.

Afterwards, Photographer Jose Leiva and I talked with her about the building, and she invited us up to see her new apartment. She was very proud and very thankful that she had this new home.

Anyway, she was showing us around her new kitchen and I saw this black-laquered sign: “Welcome to Nancy’s kitchen.”

“Who’s Nancy?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s me,” she said. “It’s my middle name, but it’s the name I go by. It’s the name I prefer, actually.”

She’d been named after an Aunt Lucy she wasn’t all that fond of and her mother called her Nancy.  I asked how she wanted to appear in the paper. Nancy please, she said, relieved that someone had actually asked.

Up to that point, I guess, nobody had asked. They’d relied on the names on written on legal forms at first and then it went on from there.  And she too polite to correct anyone.

Later on, the public relations folks sent out their release, identifying her as Lucy. And a local TV station showed footage of her, and there was Lucy.  After the event, people walked by, shaking hands and thanking her and calling her the wrong name.

All along, she was too sweet, too courteous to correct them. She’d be in the paper now as Lucy if I didn’t see that sign, and those clips would always remind her of an aunt she didn’t like very much.

No moral here, no big story. I’m just glad I asked her name.


Someone tucked a note into my car door this week, a little typewritten glimpse into their paranoid world.

Judging by the style of writing, it could have been any number of people I have frequent contact with —  Ranting in the first paragraph about the cadres of elites marching across the world and trampling the rights of the common man. How the governments, the courts, the police, the press — me too, I guess — are all in league with them.

The second paragraph, could have narrowed it down a bit. If he blamed the churches, it would have been a left wing ranter. Darn few of them nowadays, but I do know a couple.

But this one went straight the other direction, telling me that conspirators are trying to keep God and man separate. He ended it with a prayer, and a warning: A hard rain was coming, to wash all the scum of the sidewalks. Better be sure I was safely inside.

Finally, a signature.

Ahh, I thought. Him. Haven’t heard from him in a while. Nice to see he’s keeping busy.

And I filed it away in my whackadoo file, safe there for a day when things are just making too much sense.

I don’t get these kinds of notes as often as I once did, and they can be kind of alarming when they show up just out of the blue. Was this person watching me? Did he single out my car specifically? Nope , a woman I work with found the same note, tucked under a windshield wiper. He was just guessing,  like a message in a bottle, hoping his note would find a friendly reader.

His opinions, though they’re not uncommon. I read a lot of writing from people worried about what THEY are doing, what THEY are up to and how THEY have a plot and a plan to undo everyone else. His opinions really only differ in his inability to articulate his fears well. Others do a magnificent job and almost have you  ready to believe in a power elite with a plan and financing, whoever they are.

My only problem is that I know many of the people they’re really afraid of, and I see how they get their work done. And they tend to be just like the rest, poor schlubs trying to do a job, fix a problem and get home in time to watch part of the game. Leaders, bankers, lawyers — even the ones that think they’re really smart — get just as confused and lost and foul things up just as mightily as the rest.

I’ve told some the more ardent whackadoos exactly that, and they just scowl at me. After all, I must be one of those power elites.

But they ought to be  able to figure that out just by looking at my dirty, rusty,  beat up car.  A power elite would have a much shinier ride.

Maybe I should just start locking  my car door.

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