Saturday, January 31, 2015

Narrowest set of stairs I've ever seen

I snapped this picture while I was waiting for the light to change at Lawrence and milwaukee on my way to work.  I'm happy to see that the Polonia Book Store has found a new location

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Winter Training Blues

So far it has been a relatively mild winter here in Chicagoland and apparently throughout much of the Midwest.  We had essentially had a snow-free December and what little snow did come early January is now mostly gone.  There are still 50+ days left of winter and beyond that mother nature has her own calendar.

That said, it is a better winter to train for a spring race than some of the ones I've trained in before.

If you are planning to run a spring marathon, you have to do a lion share of your mileage during the winter months.
Training for a marathon during the Winter is rough enough under ordinary circumstances.  It's dark when you wake up, dark when you get home from work and cold all throughout. If there is snow that toggles the difficulty setting up a notch.

So I've signed up for the March Madness Half Marathon in exotic Cary, Il.  This HM is special because it is a tough hilly course and hills are hard to come by in Illinois.  Rumor has it they actually reversed the course a few years ago because it was too tough.  I haven't found any concrete evidence of that.

Locals who are signed up to run Boston usually run it, even if they have to bandit, because usually aligns perfectly with the Boston Marathon training schedule. What that means is your 12-14 mile "cutback" run usually falls on the same weekend as the MM HM so why not.

Because of my diminished speed and endurance, along with having 4 month old twins to wrangle, I opted to use Runner's World Smart Coach to create a training program.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

March Madness Half Marathon training has begun

So I signed up for the March Madness Half Marathon which is in Cary Illinois on March 15 (aka the Ides of March).  I did this in spite or perhaps because of my recent decline in running.  I used the Runner's World SmartCoach tool (which use to be free to everyone, now you have to create an account) to create a very easy training program which I've already missed on LR because of BABIES!

This 9 week training program will log me 126 miles including the MH itself.

the March Madness Half Marathon is a tough course.  Locals who are signed up to run Boston usually run it, even if they have to bandit, because it is hilly and usually aligns perfectly with the Boston Marathon training schedule.  The last time I ran it, it kicked my ass.  This was of course 2009 when I didn't know I was running with a torn meniscus in my left knee.  I suppose if things go south with training, I can always give my bib to my cousin.  Otherwise my hope is to simply run this course without stopping and finish in under two hours. 

Look at my Athlinks account, this is what I've done the four times I've apparently run this race

March Madness Half MarathonPaceFinish PlaceFinal Time
March 15, 20098:46 Min/Mi613935741:54:55
March 16, 20087:30 Min/Mi461802021:38:25
March 19, 20067:36 Min/Mi381942181:39:34
March 20, 20057:49 Min/Mi392372871:42:35

I'm not in love with the idea of being married to a training schedule again but it is the best way I know to get in shape for a race and it gives me something to focus on.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

I spent last week in a soft skills class and whenever I take a course like that one, I think about how helpful these tools and tactics would have been at the law firm a lifetime ago.  My mind runs through all the conflicts and arguments and passive-aggressive people I encountered there and how I'd use these techniques to create meaningful resolutions to stupid problems.

Actually, for sanity purposes, I have to believe that because Big Bucks was so dysfunction and fucked up that these new skills would not have worked quite the way they are meant to and that they would only have lessened the intensity of some conflicts.

Part of the problem, of course, was my youth, inexperience in the workforce and my engineering mind thinking how things could and should be better, not realizing why they couldn't and wouldn't.

Another aspect is that Legal America has its own wacky way of doing things.  There were few defined processes and procedures.  Most things were done on an ad hoc basis and rarely if ever did anyone go back and try to figure out what worked, what didn't and how could we improve things for next time EVEN though we knew there would be a next time.

It didn't help either that the support staff was a mixture of Never_Went_to_College and Didn't Enjoy College so you are threatened by anyone who did. The other part was the majority of the attorneys had no reason to change things because it suited their needs.

There were two types of attorneys at Big Bucks Law Firm 1.0.  Well, there were many types but if I could only put them into two buckets there was the Don Reagan and the Lindsay Pillers type.  The DRs of the world knew they were the boss inside the firm but if they ran into you outside the firm, say in line at the grocery store or movie theatre, they realized you got there first and they waited their turn.  The LPs, however, felt that they were better than you in all facets, that their dominion extended beyond the office and expected you to let them cut in line.

Note: I'm using these as examples to illustrate my point.  the likelihood of bumping into either of them outside the office was extremely low.  Maybe at Marshall Field's during the holidays but otherwise we ran in completely separate circles.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Just another half baked theory

Have you ever met someone and they remind you of someone you use to know five, ten years ago in another time and place in your life?  You met someone at the office and they remind you of the person you had in your spring English Literature class.  Or someone from running club reminds you of the person you worked with one summer at the telemarketing agency.

In the Battlestar Galactica (BSG) world there are 12 Cylon models:
The humanoid Cylon is the quintessential form.[4] They quietly and effectively infiltrated the Colonial defense forces, with humanoid models such as Caprica-Six gaining access to secret military technology, and sleeper agents such as Sharon "Boomer" Valerii being planted within the Colonial Fleet itself. Only slight chemical and physiological differences reveal human from Cylon. One of their greatest advantages is the ability to "download" into identical bodies if killed, allowing them to haunt the Colonials in ways never before imagined.
 -- Source    ( )

What if people could be lumped into 10, 12 or some finite number of model buckets?  Over the years I've met people who remind me of other people to the point where I can almost predict what they will say or do next.

Maybe the reason we keep running into these same models...or perceive them as the same model is because our subconscious has learned something from the previous encounter and this is a chance to get right whatever got screwed up or wasn't realized the first time.

So maybe Nannette in Contracts reminds you of Jessica from your first post-college job at the accounting firm.  They are two different people but there are some striking similarities.  You remember that Jessica could be a bit of a two face.  She would laugh at your off color jokes and smile at your dark humor but then she would mention it to your supervisor.

In my real world example, we have a guy at  TopFive that reminds me a lot of Director Palpatine of the No-Name Software Company -- shiny on the outside, empty and hollow on the inside.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

In which my ADD takes over

Random Picture
I'm downtown in a training class this week. The course -- Influence Skills: Getting Results without Direct Authority -- is considered a soft skill but definitely one I can use, especially at my current gig. 

The usual format of IT training courses factor in a lot of fluff time.  A typical First Day goes like this:

Morning:  Introductions, Instructor background, break, chapter 1-2, lunch, review, Chapter 3, break, Chapter 4, class dismissed often earlier than anticipated.  

The next day starts with a review of the previous day, break, new stuff, lunch, repeat.

These soft skills course don't have as much, so I cannot do all my reading and email checking and social media connecting.  But my ADD is still beckoning me to do something with my idle time.

The instructor is in Canada as are the other six students.  One of those six is taking the course from his house because he lives in some remote part of Canada.  [Everyone shouted out cities and provinces but they went too quickly for me to catch them.]

The class was actually scheduled for the second week of December but my former boss made me reschedule it because one of my applications was being upgraded the following weekend and even though there was nothing for me to do that week, he felt it was necessary for me to be in the office.  Spoiler Alert:  No one asked me anything and there was nothing for me to do. 

This is illustrative of just how clueless the guy was about what it is I do.  I think it was really more that he realized I would be gone the entire month of December because I was also going to use my last week of paternity leave in conjunction with the holidays and extra Appreciation Days the company gave us so that we wouldn't have to raid our PTO time to fill in the days between weekends and Christmas or NYE.

Of course then he gave his notice two days later and I'm like WTF!  If you were going to quit anyway, why do you care if I'm in the office or not?  In some ways it worked out because there isn't much to do at the office right now and not driving out to OBT in this weather is a good thing. 

And I'm not trying to knock my old boss.  He's a relatively good guy as far as middle managers go.  In Corporate America the Perfect Boss is a unicorn and if you have one that isn't a micro-manager, doesn't have any apparent dysfunctions or limitations and generally leaves you alone, you have a good thing.

Monday, January 12, 2015

16th Week Update on Moose and Squirrel

We have switched from weeks to months so that every 22nd of a month marks a month milestone instead of counting in increments of 4 weeks, though I still like to think of every Monday as one more week closer to them being able to shovel the snow for me.

Even before having children was on the horizon, I promised myself I would never be one of those parents who, when you ask them how old their infant was, responded with an ├╝ber precise down to the month/week answer.  When the time comes, a simple 6 months or year and a half, respectively, will do.  Indeed, I've had some mothers answer the question with: 8 months 2 weeks, 3 days and 4 hours.  Okay that's a slight embellishment, but not by much.
It is rough being parents of twins.  When it is just Nightingale and me, the default is one kid per adult.  You have to do man-to-man, zone just won't do.  And babies want to be held.  You cannot just put them in a bouncy chair or their crib and let them hang out. They might agree to do that once time a day for 20 minutes.  Then they want to be held.  And sometimes holding them isn't enough.  They want to be held while you are standing up or walking because you sitting just won't do.  It's like they have some GPS that tells them they are at the wrong altitude or something.

The other day, I didn't locate Natasha's pacifier quickly enough -- in fact I could not find the damn thing without turning on the lights and locating it inside her sleeper -- and she woke up for the day.  Nightingale assures me she would probably have gotten up anyway and we only would have scored another 20 minutes of sleep anyway but since I had been more or less up since the middle of the night feeding, those 20 minutes sounded wonderful.
I HATE shopping!

There are only so many things you can do with one hand and of those, the subset you can do well is even smaller.  Ergo it's hard to get posts together here and over at ChicagoNow.

Before anyone launches any cliches at me, yes they are wonderful bundles of joy.  Yes it is/will all be worth it.  yes God's creation and unicorns farting rainbows. yadda yadda yadda.

But I'm not a cliche kinda person and the reality is I'm dealing with the dark side of raising babies right now.  The 3am feedings and the diapers and the reflux.  Oh and the cost.  Diapers, formula and child care are expensive in this country, especially in Chicago.  Daycare for infants is high because it requires so much personal attention (see always wanting to be held) and because they can charge whatever they want.

Babies don't know how to tell you what is wrong with them.  You check the obvious things like their diapers, if they are hungry or try to put them down for a nap.  But if all that fails, it's hard to tell if something is wrong with the little germy barfy poopsack or if they are just being difficult.

Then I read something like this:

I unfortunately miscarried in November.  When I found out I was pregnant, I was terrified and felt like I wasn’t ready.  I look back on that with regret and wish I had appreciated it.  I hope that none of you ever have to go through a miscarriage because the emotional roller coaster it puts you through…I’m still suffering from it.  I’m a lot better, really I am, but November and most of December was full of crying, anger, guilt, and fear.  I’m still scared and unsure if I want to try again because of the constant fear I know I will feel if I do get pregnant.  --  The Highs, The Lows, and The Books I Read In Between (2014)

and I think well sleep is over rated anyway.  I certainly don't want to sound like I'm complaining, I just need a little venting.  One of the ways I use to relieve stress was to go for a run.  That has been taken away from me of course because my knees are achy and because I haven't been running as much my endurance has gone away.  And so I blog.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Daycare, Cats and Football

I am NOT babysitting!
So we started the twins in daycare this week.  We had a nanny but it didn't work out for various reasons.  I don't want to go into the reasons now I'm just writing this for posterity.  In a perfect world, we would have had the nanny for the winter to avoid taking the kids out in the cold and then switched to daycare when the cost reduces from Infant Ransom to simply Small Child Cost.

Ironically, our nanny worked for us during the relatively warm and unusually snow-free December and on the day when we had to start daycare, we get temperatures in the single digits.

The good news is that the twins are now sleeping through the night!  It's only been four days but three of the last four nights have resulted in them sleeping through the night with Monday night just having one sleep feeding.

This was starting to manifest already but we suspect that daycare is doing a much better job of wearing them out during the day than our nanny-grandma tandem was doing.  Not entirely sure what the weekend will bring but I'm hoping we can keep this going.

It just seems like I can never get to zero on the credit cards.  Before the flood, I effectively had a $2k balance on my card (for various reasons I don't want to get into) and now that I've paid the flood off, I'm back to that $2k balance.

Daycare has, of course, put us in an emergency budget lockdown.  In that same perfect world, we would have had one or two more months before we had to do this and I could get my bills under wraps better.  In December two big costs came up.  1) $500 for brakes for the (E)Lement* and 2) $300 to get the thermostat repaired.

* the E has fallen off the Element so we jokingly refer to it as the one-of-a-kind Honda Lement.

Update on our Cat

Austin still outweighs her
As you know we had to put our cat Maggie to sleep last June.  Her brother Austin developed diabetes and we have been treating him for it, along with his other health issues.  Austin is doing as well as can be expected from a cat of his age (14 years).  He does tend to pee outside his box which makes hosting a SuperBowl party problematic this year.  He is also struggling with weight though my informal weigh-in yesterday (where I weigh myself then immediately step back on the scale holding Austin) showed him at 14.5 lbs, which is a few pounds lighter than his high.

 Sadly, we don't know how much of 2015 Austin will see.  It's possible he'll make it another year or two but more likely that he will pass before Boris and Natasha really get to know him.

Football Talk

Watching football hasn't been as enjoyable for me in recent years as is was in the late 90s and early 00s.  Probably because of all the mediocre Bears teams but also because I've learned to enjoy other things with my time.  Still, I do enjoy a good game and this weekend would be a good one to stay in, start a fire and watch the game on the big screen assuming Moose and Squirrel co-operate.

For more reasons than one, I would personally love it if the Carolina Panthers upset the Seattle Seahawks and make it to the NFC Championship game.  It would be the first time a team with a losing record advanced so far.  And if they were playing Dallas or GreenBay they might have a better chance.

My picks for this weekend are New England, Dallas, Denver and Seattle.  With Indianapolis Colts possibly upsetting the Broncos.

I fully expect the NFL playoffs to be expanded not because the powers-that-be think they are broken but because they know there is more money to be made.  Football markets aren't quite as regional as baseball but I'm guessing more money is made off a Chicago-New York game than a Minnesota-St Louis game.

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Sunday, January 4, 2015

Step One in the Laundry Room Upgrade

One of the things I want to tackle this year is updating and improving the laundry room, aka my real mancave.  The space is cramped and not optimally utilized.  With ChildCare costs now in the picture, I'm on a very tight budget however so I don't know how much I'll be able to do.

We will likely have to upgrade the dryer and washer so that expenses isn't so much unavoidable as it is hold off as long as we can. What I really want is a better sink and something for the floor, I'm thinking Proslat Protiles though that is very cost prohibitive right now.

For some strange reason, we have this pipe that cuts off the section under the stairs.  I have no idea why anyone would run pipes this way unless they didn't have a choice.  I'm no plumber and in fact I'll have to consult with and likely hire one to move this pipe if it can be moved.  If it can, it opens up more possibilities.  If it cannot, well then we will have to make do.

The rest is just rearranging some of the shelves for better storage.  One thing that I might try to do, if I can do it myself or at minimal cost, is build some type of LAN closet down there.  This ties in with my dream of having security cameras outside and a strong, stable internet connection throughout the house.  You may recall that when we fixed the giant hole in the backyard, I had the landscaper run a PVC pipe to the garage from underneath the deck.  In theory I can run a network cable to the garage and set up a switch which can provided wired access to some much desired security cameras -- which I cannot afford at the moment.

 I found this Utilatwin laundry tub in the alley a while back.  I could go buy a single tub or even just try to get the legs but building my own frame for it allowed me to play with power tools, especially my new drill press.

I went with a tripod design because I only had one piece of scrap 2X4 that I was willing to sacrifice.  I did make a mistake in the height measurement, had I googled this item first I would have discovered that it should be much lower and I could have gone with a quad-leg design.  So I decided to unscrew the legs, cut them down and then re-attach.  Since this is just a sink that will live in the basement, as long as it is stable and secure I don't really care.  I can always build another frame if the mood suits me.

As it happens, a house down the street is being prepped for sale and they have a pile of junk in the backyard, including another one of these tubs with legs.  If they toss that in the alley and I am able to acquire it, one of these will live in our basement and the other will go live in my mom's basement, replacing the cement one that was discarded decades ago for no apparent reason.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

2015 Projects to consider

So I've been having a little trouble with my home network.  The WiFi works fantastic until I connect my work laptop to it.  Then the internet goes bye-bye and all other devices that previously could connect no longer can connect to the WiFi.  In fact they get prompted for the WiFi password and when you enter it, you get some type of message implying that you typed it incorrectly.

If I connect my laptop to one of the WiFi extenders via Network cable, the laptop can connect to the internet and I can reboot the appropriate hardware to get the WiFi working again.  But as soon as I disconnect the LAN cable and use the WiFi, it goes kaput again.  This is not sustainable.

New House Projects

Last year we worked on the outdoor space, filing up the hole that was the swimming pool and the side of the house. This year I want to makeover the Laundry Room and the Garage.

Not sure how it will all come together especially since we have daycare costs essentially eating up what I am now saving from my condo.  I need to get some professional help,with moving the water lines and maybe the electrical.  That is because we need a new dryer and while I have managed to fix the dryer temporarily, it is only a matter of time before it gets to a point where my DIY effort will be futile.  I would like to replace the dryer (and washer) on my own timetable instead of being forced to do so at a moment's notice. 

I'm gonna park some items I'm thinking of getting like this workbench

I'm thinking this would work in the corner of the laundry room for when it's too cold to be in the garage but I need to work on something like a toy that needs batteries added or removed.  It might be too big though depending on what else I end up putting down there.  If I end up reconfiguring the garage, my Craftsman Corner Shelf might end up coming inside instead.

I have the red one

For the garage I'm thinking of installing some Proslat Slatwall across the barren south wall that is on the opposite side of my work area.  The height is 8 ft and the length is 21 feet so there are some options but I think I will just get a 10 pc kit that also includes many of the hooks.

I might also get a 6 X 8 piece for the another smaller wall that is under utilized.  That would mean reconfiguring the garage though so I really have to think it through.

I wanted to epoxy the floor but an easier, cheaper solution might be to just install some ProTile.  I still need a lot of it for the garage but I can order extra for the laundry room.

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