Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Apps and Making a Murderer

Today feels like a Saturday. I stopped caring about what day of the week it is sometime in the last month as I continue to find my retirement stride. The day of the month has come to mean more to me because retirement bank deposits find their way into my account once each month on the 1st. I'm being more careful about my purchases than I used to be when I was employed and surprisingly, I don't mind the added discipline. It's not the hardship I imagined it would be.

I stumbled onto a new photo editing app the other day called Super Photo. (Android or iPhone download links) The "painting" filter renders some very cool images. Here's a collection of photos I've edited with the app. There's a free version and most of the photos in the collection I linked to were edited using it. The only drawback is that you're limited by the file size rendered. I purchased the app for $4.00 and in addition to getting larger file sizes, I also have access to all of the (over 1600) filters.

I was having some serious connectivity issues with my LG G4 phone I bought a couple months ago. It was continually dropping the wifi signal in our home whereas none of our other wifi-enabled devices were having a similar problem. It was frustrating to me so I went online looking for posts from others experiencing the same thing and to see if there was a fix from LG. Maybe all phones have a bevy of people with connectivity issues but I only did a search for LG G4.

I did some research and found that the "HappyGilmore guest network" I'd set up (only because I could) with our Belkin router had a dedicated amount of bandwidth set aside for it; bandwidth that was ultimately taking away from our "HappyGilmore" connection. I deleted the guest network and noticed a marked signal improvement all throughout our home, including the basement where I'm now getting a signal within the normal range where I was getting none before the fix. And best of all, my connectivity issues are no more.

I downloaded a free app called Wifi Analyzer and among its features is a signal strength indicator. Start the app on your smartphone and walk around your home to get a feel for where your strong and weak areas are. There are several other features of the app that are worth checking out. Sorry, iPhone users but the IOS counterpart app called WiFi Explorer will cost you $14.99. It comes with some glowing reviews if that helps.

Rachel texted us a few nights ago with a suggestion to watch Making a Murderer on Netflix. It's the true story of a Wisconsin man who spent 18 years in prison for a rape he didn't commit. There's much about his prosecution that points to a corrupt local sheriff's department for his imprisonment and he eventually files a lawsuit for damages. In the middle of the lawsuit, he's suspected of the murder of a woman whose body is found on his property. Is he actually guilty this time of a horrible crime or has he once again been set up?  It's compelling. Watch it.

I was out with a group of fat-bikers last Sunday along the Minnesota River bottoms. Lots of fun! (video below). 18 of us got together last night for Fat Tuesday at the same location to try and trudge our way through 6 inches (18 cm) of fresh snow. We did 5 miles but it felt like 20. I fell a number of times as the snow grabbed my front wheel and took it in a direction other than where I wanted to go. I wasn't going fast enough to hurt much and all of my falls had me laughing. The entire ride was a lot of work but it was fun!

A pub-crawl with other fat-bikers is in the works for New Year's day beginning in Hopkins and riding to Surly Brewing Co. From there we'll go to Steel Toe Brewing before returning to Hopkins and a stop at LTD Brewing. It promises to be a good time.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Quiet Christmas, 2015 Style

It's Christmas, 2015 and Tammy and I are quietly enjoying the day at home with her mother and our pups. Rachel is still in the Dominican Republic with Tony and some friends. I think she'll be back in Rochester on Sunday and we'll get together with her the following weekend. From the limited contact we've had with her, it sounds like they're all enjoying themselves.

This was our first Christmas without my mom and more than once I caught myself wanting to reach for the phone to call her. For years she would sometimes suggest that this would be her last Christmas or birthday or last whatever-the-occasion-may-be because she didn't expect to live much longer.

She was finally right.

Tammy and I have moved away from lavishing one another with Christmas gifts but we did exchange a few. I prefer it this way. She surprised me with a metal John Deere sign for our my garage because somewhere along the way I became a proud John Deere guy when it comes to my mowers.

I've been missing our trips to the Mall of America to kill a winter evening especially while they've got their holiday decorations out. Yeah, I know, I'm weird but then I'm happy to be different. I drove out there earlier in the week and strolled around but it wasn't the same without Tammy by my side. I put in two laps before leaving for home.

We took Elaine to Burnsville Center the next night, not quite sure how she'd respond to being out that late in her day. She did really well, watching all of the people and taking in all there was to see. Our time away satisfied the fix I was unable to achieve the previous night on my own.

We brought her with us to Hosanna and their Christmas Eve services yesterday afternoon. We seem to be having more success with her in public places lately and I think part of that is because she doesn't have as much anxiety being around strangers the way she did when she first came to live with us last spring. I think it's all part of the progression of her Alzheimer's.

We attended an early (1:30) service hoping to beat the crowds. So much for that idea. Hosanna was as crowded as I've ever seen it. It was nice to be back again as it's been more than 3 years since I was there apart from my mom's funeral and memorial service last month. The lead pastor I'd had a falling out with retired in November and I'm warming up to the idea of going back. I don't suppose their opposition toward same-sex couples has changed much but I'm happy to be that fish that swims in a different direction. Plus, at yesterday's service, I was seated next to one of the camera operators and it reminded me that that's still a desire of mine—to help out with the audiovisual staff.

I don't sense that I'll ever be all in again when it comes to organized religion and I'm more than fine with that.

Time to publish this and see if Tammy is up for some Mario Kart. We gave a Wii U to each other for Christmas and opened it last week. It's a lot of fun and just the sort of winter's night pastime we need. Plus, it's especially fun because I'm faster than she is. :)

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Has Anybody Seen December?

This is a December to remember as far as our weather goes. Our temps have been in the upper 30's to well into the 40s (2º - 9º C) most of the month which is quite a departure from normal. One of my neighbors was out doing yard work last week. Had our temps been cold enough for snow we'd be buried deep now because of all of the precipitation we've had. While the weather has been great for getting out and walking (50 miles in the past week), it's not so good for fat-biking. Our lakes haven't even iced over yet.

Because it's important to limit damage to mountain bike trails when they're wet, all of the trails have been closed for the past few weeks and I'm itching to be out there riding them. I wouldn't mind seeing some snow as well because it is winter after all and I've been looking forward to this—being retired, waking up and getting out on the snowy trails. There's still a lot of winter left so it's not quite time to panic.

I met up with a group of riders last Saturday for the Faturday group ride. They typically ride the Minnesota River bottoms but opted for the crushed limestone of the Lake Minnetonka LRT Regional Trail. This was my first time with the group so I wasn't sure what to expect. They're a fun crowd. We turned the ride into a pub crawl, stopping at 3 pubs along our 34-mile route. I intend to tag along with them again throughout the winter.

I only captured the first hour of our ride on video because I forgot my GoPro's batteries in my car but the video below will give you an idea of what a Faturday group ride looks like.

Rachel and Tony leave tomorrow for a friend's wedding in Georgia and she just came down with a head-cold yesterday. This is a trip they've been planning and looking forward to for several months so I hope she's able to get healthy again soon. From Georgia, their group will all leave for the Dominican Republic for (I think) a week. This will be our first Christmas without her. So, between my mom no longer being with us and Rachel being away it's not going to seem the same this holiday season. We only put up our small tree and opted for a minimalist approach to Christmas decorations. I prefer it this way.

At Rachel's suggestion, I bought a GoPro harness/mount for Charlie to wear to see if we could get some fun video from his point of view. He's not as excited about it as we are. See the "GoPro Fail" video below.

There's a small get-together this afternoon for John Otto and Barry Vig who will both be retiring at the end of the month. Yes, I'm a little melancholy about it because that would've been my retirement party as well. I need to get my butt moving because I've got a date with both the elliptical and rowing machine first.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Go Ahead. I'll Wait.

At least a few nights each week I'm back at work. In my dreams. Sometimes I'm at a sector working traffic but usually I'm visiting with friends in the hallway or saying my goodbyes on my last day of work. In my more than 33 years of being an air traffic controller, I only ever dreamt about the job a handful of times. It happened so seldom, so why now?

I occasionally think about where I'd be in my countdown to my last day had I not retired when I did. A part of me still would like very much to have gone the distance to January 2nd but it's a fleeting thought. Being home for Tammy to give her relief from caring for her mother is more important. Also, getting my hearing back as a tradeoff makes any other desires of mine pale in comparison.

As a point of note for years from now when I revisit this page or when my future grandchildren discover my blog long after I'm gone: Gas prices have been steadily declining for the last 6 months to somewhere well under $2.00 per gallon as OPEC continues to flood the world oil market with cheap crude in an effort to put the hurt on the North American fracking industry. Historically, fracking is only profitable when crude is selling for around $60-70 per barrel because of the expense of extraction. Crude oil is currently selling for $37 a barrel. From what I'm reading, the fracking industry is becoming more efficient and in some cases cutting the normal cost of extraction in half. It will be interesting to see what happens as OPEC continues to put the squeeze on the frackers. Enjoy the low prices while they last.

I went in for my biannual CT scan of my Common Iliac arteries yesterday morning to check for any changes. Most of the focus was on the aneurysms they discovered in those arteries when I was in the hospital last January for blood clots. Everything looks good. I'll go back again in 6 months for another scan.

I'm so blessed to have the health care coverage I have. It's doubtful that I'd be alive today without it. I think about the cluster headaches I get and wonder how I'd manage if I couldn't receive the help for them that I get. How awful that would be. Watching the refugee crisis has me mentally trading places with one of them and wondering how I'd ever manage to press on? All I can say is there but by the grace of God go I. Imagine being on the run as they are with no earthly possessions but what you can carry and best of luck if a serious illness afflicts you along the way.

As I was driving home from my doctor's appointment I tuned into Rush Limbaugh's program. He was speaking with a woman from Mississippi who was talking about how Donald Trump should've been Time Magazine's Person of the Year and that it was wrong to give it to Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany. According to the caller, all Merkel did was allow a bunch of refugees into her country against the people's wishes and that they're only going to destroy it. The way she and Limbaugh spoke of the Syrian refugees was so calloused and uncaring. There's a disconnect with Limbaugh and it worries me that so many people are listening to his reassuring words and finding themselves agreeing with his warped sense of what is right.

And I was one of them once.

I've talked about my road to Damascus here before so I won't go into that now but I do understand the spell one can fall under and the lack of feeling a need to do any critical thinking for oneself when you've got the huge megaphone of right-wing media doing that thinking for you. I know my words fall pathetically short and will never convince anyone who believes otherwise but please read on.

Humans of New York is my favorite site on the net. Brandon has been doing some incredible work bringing the stories of so many (from not only New York but around the globe) to life for the rest of us to see and maybe begin to understand what life is like outside of our own little spheres. He just finished a series of interviews with Syrian refugees who were recently granted admission into the US. Their stories are so incredibly sad and at times difficult to read. I was reading some for Tammy this morning and she was in tears. You owe it to yourself to ignore the voices of fear for just long enough to hear what it is that some would rather ignore.

Click on the photos. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Would any of us want to trade places with them? I'll take my chances that a minuscule amount of those making it into our country will turn to terrorism. Helping them is the right thing to do in my opinion.

On a lighter note, check out the video below. It was buried at the end of the 10-minute video of Elaine's 90th birthday party from a couple weeks ago. Unless you're family you probably didn't see this. It's quite cute...

Monday, December 7, 2015

Will Caribou off 175th & Hwy 50 at 10:00 work?

I went to several stores over the past few days to check out the 3 game consoles I've been considering and after much thought, Wii U is the one. PlayStation 4 wasn't going to work because one of the things we enjoy most about video games is being able to compete at the same time. The only racing games for PS4 were single-player. Xbox has two-player racing games but after trying the demo at BestBuy I walked away a little disappointed with the feel of it because (get this) it was almost too serious/realistic looking. We both like the Mario Kart cartoon look and feel. Plus, Wii is cheaper. I'll be going back to the Target store in Apple Valley in the next few days to make the purchase. There was a young guy there who spent at least 20 minutes with me, helping me to understand the pluses and minuses of each console. I left the electronics department so impressed with him that I dialed the store from my car on the way home to tell the manager of my experience.

I had a friend from work (can I still say that?) contact me last week to see if I'd be interested in meeting him at a coffee shop to chat for a while. We had been discussing things in private messages on Facebook, things both political and religious in nature and he felt it would be best if we sat across from one another to continue our discussion. I could not have agreed more.

We met last Friday morning for 2.5 hours at a Caribou Coffee shop 5 minutes from home. We covered a lot of territory beginning with some small talk about work but eventually got around to some of what we'd been discussing in our PMs. He expressed to me his concern about the things I'd been posting both here in my blog and on Facebook. I pressed him for specifics but he couldn't come up with any. I was sort of putting him on the spot and I didn't really mean to but I was curious about what it was I was sharing that had him so frustrated with me. The last thing I want to do is contribute in any way to the heap of bogus and misleading information. There's so much of that out there as it is. (See the image to the left that a friend posted this morning.)

We talked calmly about those things we disagree on and I did my best to give him some insight into why I'm where I am with my beliefs; that I'm not some knee-jerk liberal who doesn't think before speaking. I stressed that I choose my words carefully and that I don't write things to infuriate people although I realize that that's going to occasionally happen. If I really want to reach people I need to be less abrasive but as I've always maintained: I do this blog for me. If others like what I write here, great—if not, that's okay, too.

My friend also has some beliefs that I don't consider mainstream conservative Christian beliefs that impressed me.

I much prefer meeting as we did rather than battling it out with our keyboards. There's a human quality that becomes a victim to our need to make a point without being able to look one another in the eye and that's never good. I hope we can meet again and continue our discussion.

I took the pups to the vet today for their way overdue annual checkup. Toby and Allie were 12 years old last August and they're beginning to show their age. They both have cloudy eyes and Toby is nearly deaf. They also struggle with joint pain, especially in the morning. That was my main concern today along with finding them some relief. The doctor gave me a month's supply of 25 mg of Carprofen pills for them. I gave them their first dose a couple hours ago and noticed when I just let them outside that Allie didn't hesitate as she usually does at the top of the steps leading off our front porch. She bolted down the way she used to without hesitation or the nagging pain. It was nice to see.

I'll close this blog post with a video that seems very appropriate for the times and for those who are so quick to discount the Qu'ran as a book of hate and lump all or lots of Muslims in with that warped belief. When I hear people criticize the Qu'ran for its passages about killing the infidels or whatever, I have to wonder if they've ever read the Old Testament of the bible that many of them claim to follow. I'm pretty sure they haven't and the video below illustrates so clearly why I feel that way.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The End Of A Tradition and A Party To Remember

Our fall weather has come to an abrupt end. It was nice while it lasted. But wait! Do my eyes deceive me? Are those 40º temps in the long-range forecast?

After looking at the Weatherbug app on my phone last week and seeing that snow and blustery conditions were in our near future, I decided to take to the walking paths for one of few remaining chances at a longish walk in the still mild temps. I did a 12-mile loop (a little less than 2 of those miles were spent walking with the pups) that has become one of my preferred routes. For as much as I enjoy my time on my bikes, I look forward to my walks every bit as much.

Tammy did an amazing job with Thanksgiving! Cindy came into town and Rachel was also with us. There was so much to prepare so rather than getting in the way I simply told her to tell me what she needed. I carved the turkey and helped with the cleanup—that was about all. Trying to fit all of the leftovers in our refrigerator was a puzzle but we like puzzles.

I got into trouble with Tammy a few weeks ago when I went up on the roof to string our outdoor holiday/Christmas lights. She had made it clear to me not long before that she didn't want me putting them up anymore out of concern for me being injured. (I've put her through enough worries with my health already.) I explained to her that it's only ever one spot toward the peak of our roofline that worries me but I promised her I wouldn't do them this year or ever again. I suppose I either lied then or I went back on my promise because when she went to her aunt's house a few Saturdays ago to make Lefse, I took the opportunity to get the lights hung. What is it they say about it being easier to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission? I had another friend ask me if suffering a severe injury was worth having lights on our house? She's right, too. It's not worth it.

Anyway, this will in all likelihood be the last year I put up our outdoor lights to the extent I've done them this year and in years past. I sorta feel like I'm the last one in the neighborhood making much of an effort anyway so maybe it's just as well. I will miss this tradition.

Not only was Tammy busy with Thanksgiving last week but she also managed to put together a 90th birthday party for her mother. I think Elaine was at times a little overwhelmed by it all but at other times she maybe didn't even realize that this was all for her. She continues to steadily slip away from us. It was a very nice party. Here are some photos from the day. See the video below.

She's typically up a few times each night to use the bathroom and that requires Tammy to get out of bed to help her. A couple nights ago it was 6 trips to the bathroom. It's becoming too much. We've decided that we're going to find a long-term care facility or possibly a group home for her in the spring. We've got a couple of nearby facilities in mind where we'll be able to visit her daily. Nothing is for certain except the fact that she's going to require more and more hands-on care as the disease progresses and we'd rather have a plan in place ahead of time rather than finding ourselves in-over-our-heads and scrambling to keep up.