Monday, June 24, 2013

Cleaning up

This weekend we got a message from our online backup that we have more files than our allotted quota.  At the same time my laptop has been running slowly. Time to clean up. So I dove in there.  Now, this is a computer that I bought from an employer I left in 2009, but it carried files on it from the one I left in 2007, as well as the one I most recently got the hell out of, back in 2012.  And each of them had a "domestic" folder, filled with my personal junk.

So this exercise has been much like going through shelves full of old books and papers, but with the benefit that I didn't have to get all dusty and at the end of it I don't have a bunch of heavy shit to carry out the door. Other than that, very similar, finding troves of old pictures, many of which were dupes, and so forcibly going down memory lane, looking at good old times in Princeton and elsewhere when the kids were younger.  Yes yes, not unlike the classic scene from Christmas Vacation, when our hero Clark W. Griswold gets locked in the attic wearing goofy clothes, gets carried away watching old family movies, and then puts his foot through the ceiling.  God how I love that movie.

At any rate, I dug through a bunch of crap and managed to throw away 6 gigs already, enough space to defrag my C drive, which should speed things up. This after deinstalling a bunch of software, including HP printer drivers and other nonsense like the Weather Channel desktop app which have been the bane of my existence.

And now, she's running light and sweet.  At least for a day or two.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Drop off plus

Dropped Graham off at summer camp at Camp Shelanu at the Levin Jewish Community Center off of Cornwallis Road this morning, and was impressed by the place, but impressed most by the intentional distance it seems from East Durham, where I work (admittedly, in a veritable fortress, but that's another story, kind of...).  It is fairyland for the affluent.

I noticed there was a charter school next door, the Maureen Joy Charter School, which turns out to serve kids from this neighborhood and is a high-performing one, and I thought "it's a shame they have to bus kids all the way over here, but it's cool that the kids aren't entirely locked out of this verdant, affluent area."

Then it turned out that the school was moving back in to a historic school building back over on this side of town as of August, which has been renovated with financing from the Self-Help Credit Union, and is being supported by the East Durham Children's Initiative, both good orgs where I know good people.

And so on and so on.  Shit ain't all fixed, but people are working on it.

The key thing here is that I took time to look it up and read and am pleased with what I saw, before I started writing.  But reading takes time away from writing. I often find that these days, if I go out on Facebook and just scroll down, I get all kinds of interesting stuff from friends all around the world, it is arguably more enriching to me than blogging is.

But the Grouse, alas, suffers.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Good service

An article in Bloomberg today about how people are spending silly money on weddings got me noodling.  As we've heard a lot recently, the jobs that the economy has been producing are low value-added service jobs, many of them in the hospitality industry.  These jobs don't pay much money or offer great futures, and people are generally pissed off to have them.

However, entry-level service jobs can teach you important things about service and focusing on the customer, which is the most important thing these days (ask any marketing person or, for that matter, CIO or even CEO, that's where their heads are).  I support businesses that give me good service (of late, the Tater Bread Cafe, JC's [at Fayetteville and Main here in Durham], and even the Subway in the basement of the Courthouse on Main Street), but am lukewarm on those that do not (the Blue Coffee Cafe), though I'll usually give a place another shot.

Recently, I was at the Med Deli in Chapel Hill and ordered Mukhamara, but they brought me Mujjadara. When I went back up to the counter, the guy working the line filled up a container with what I wanted and, without blinking, told me to take the other thing.  This was a young hispanic guy. Either he had great instinct or had great training. He had no fear of getting caught giving away something for free, he knew that the good feeling engendered by taking good care of the customer was worth infinitely more than the marginal cost of the rice and lentils (which were a little boring, but a free lunch for Mary).

The point is, people working hard in low-level jobs should often be able to make opportunities to do better for themselves if they focus on it.

Now, I don't want to romanticize this.  The NYTimes posted a piece yesterday with profiles of people working for minimum wage, and their lives are hard as hell.  And I am well aware that there are pathologies of managers in these jobs who enjoy their dominion and are protective of it, and that within massive corporate hierarchies that it may often be difficult if not impossible to get rewarded for focusing on being better at doing one's job or providing service.

Anyway, I'm rambling like some doddering Republican aren't I?  The other inference one can easily draw from the increase in mad weddings and luxury spending and private equity funds buying up single family homes to rent out is that rich people can't find enough ways to spend money, because they/we've basically already got more stuff than we need.  Given that the market hasn't been great at allocating money to things we really need (infrastructure, R&D, improvements to healthcare and education delivery), it would be great if the government had the money, wherewithal, and political will to do these things, by raising taxes, for instance. That would create better jobs all up and down our ecosystem.

Father's Day

I intended to do little, and to some extent succeeded, yet I did a little more than I planned to and some of it was things I didn't want to do but went ahead and did anyway.  Whoops. More focus on ignoring the extraneous next year.

But I read a fair amount, which was good, and I swam a reasonable distance, also good.

And, at least, I didn't study for my freaking CFP, and thereby saved my forehead from intense bruising, for a day longer if nothing else.

Sunday, June 16, 2013


Reading Ha Jin's 1999 novel Waiting was extremely gratifying, inasmuch as it seemed to have been conceived and executed entirely in the image of my dissertation.  I don't really have time to go into a great deal of detail, suffice it to say that the love triangle described in the novel really springs pretty much full-grown on the model of the Russian novel of the 1840s-50s, only with the genders reversed. Imagine my glee when, at the end, the protagonist actually says that he feels himself to be a "superfluous man," a direct reference to Turgenev.  I gotta ping the author at Boston University and see if he'll have a gander at my diss, I think he'll dig it.

Meanwhile, time to order Thai food and watch Masterpiece Mystery.

I mean, hell, it's Father's Day.

Sunday, June 09, 2013


Graham came into our bedroom this morning at 7:42 am to tell us that it was time to get up and make pancakes.  This is fairly typical for him, though more often he waits until 7:43.

Because, you see, Sundays are pancake days, or, in any case, the day when maple syrup is a part of breakfast. French toast is entirely acceptable, in times of great slackness, even frozen waffles may be substituted.

And Graham has most often been up since 6:15 or so, eagerly awaiting the breakfast treats which he regards rightly as his due.  I think it takes considerable discipline on his part to wait until the time he considers it meet and right to interrupt our parental slumber.

Seeing that he is effective and consistent in this role, Natalie has fully outsourced it to him.

This morning Graham came in bouncing a balloon left over from Natalie's birthday party last week, playing the old "keep the balloon in the air" game.  He was killing it.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Carpooling to Durham

By chance I stopped in to see Toby at Flying Circus in South Durham the other day, reminded me I need to get more organized about carpooling occasionally.  There are others who live near me (Ben, Dan, Alex, etc.) who, I know, like me, drive to Durham every day.  It ain't that far, and I've got a Prius, but still...

Then I started to think about what Larry had been telling me about commuting in the Bay Area, where they have a system where you basically stand in one place near one of the bridges and if somebody comes by, they'll pick you up, and there are agreed upon rules of conduct concerning talking, radio station and volume, $, etc.

And I thought, why couldn't we do that?  And why couldn't you use something like the parking lot at the defunct Crown Honda/Volvo space as a park and ride lot.  I know the answer to the latter is that somebody owns it and there might be liability concerns that need to be addressed, but still...

Just sayin.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

At the library

I had been wondering of late why we never seem to see very low-income children at the library.  Then, last week, there was an older black woman in there with a couple of kids and a big stack of books.  At the check-out, she was told that she couldn't check any more out because she had $29.70 in fines outstanding. So she said to the kids "we'll have to come back another day" and they walked away.

That's a tough one.  Part of me wanted to slap down 30 bucks and get her kids the books. Part of me wondered if they would have hassled me over the same thing.  I know they don't always force me to pay fines then and there, but maybe there's a break point in terms of dollars or time where they do. But part of me thought, here's something the state makes available for free, one should be able to manage that. I know it's likely she doesn't get email reminders, she might even have been going on her daughter's card (she looked like the grandmother).  I dunno.