Sunday, September 30, 2007

Almost all night long

Yesterday was a miserable day with snow, rain and roaring wind; for once, we stayed home read, had a good dinner and went to see “Ten Canoes” a delightful movie about early aborigine’s society in Australia. We went to bed a 10 pm and even though our bedroom sliding door was closed (because of the frigid night,) we heard a lot of thumping and noise outside. During the day, in spite of the dreary weather, one of our next door neighbors had erected a big, white tent in his backyard. We didn’t quite understand the move at this late stage of year and under such an inclement weather. At any rate, we quickly came to the conclusion that someone must have been celebrating his or her fortieth birthday or something of that sort. In spite of the heavy and sustained noise, we managed to fall asleep and when I woke up, thirty minutes after midnight, the party and its noise were still there, albeit a tad louder and rowdier. I rolled back and forth into my bed trying to make sense of the music and hoping it would now stop at any moment. When the music started playing “That's the way,” the 1975 disco hit by KC & the Sunshine Band, my patience had run out. I went downstairs to my office, picked up the phone, called our friendly police and told them that “I didn’t like it.” A few songs later, at about 1 am, the party stopped and I went back to sleep.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Offset away our guilt

This is actually the title of a USA Today editorial by Peter Schweizer, in which he proposed that if we can buy ‘carbon offsets’ for our environmental missteps, why not for our other sins? Humorously, the author is proposing a list of other offsets, such as for adultery, tofu, or pilates. This article was picked up as discussion topic on NPR’s Talk of the Nation this past Thursday, and was quite entertaining. All the hypocrisy and grand standing behind the thought of offsetting surfaced very quickly. The show produced a great amount of quality feedback from the audience; one was saying “…how is this any different than the catholic church selling indulgences?”, more to the point, another said “…the first thing you have to do is reduce your carbon footprint. Once you have reduced it, you can think about offsetting.” Others were making suggestions about other offsets, like for reading “People Magazine” or indulging in chocolate. While I didn’t quite dare to air my comment on the show, I thought of another offset to add to the list and the absurdity of the whole concept by proposing a “homicide offset” in which you’d be free to kill anyone as long as you donate a few of your own sperms or eggs…

Friday, September 28, 2007

The "Do It Yourself" era

Now that I’ve time on my side, I’ve done a growing number of projects around the house and plan to do more in the future. A few years ago, it used to be work, work, work, and when something needed to be fixed or remodeled I would hire a skilled person. Today, with a much smaller home and much more time available, I do every small project that I believe I can handle. Often, I go on the internet and, without a fail, will find answers to my questions, series of helpful hints and complete sets of procedures. When I’m ready, I just have to purchase the right supplies and conduct the operation as directed. Not only do these little jobs end up costing me almost nothing, but I control their time frame and have a much better handle on their quality, not to mention cleaning up the mess when everything is done. I think I love it too!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Is stress useful?

When I used to work for a paycheck, I had a lot of stress. Like many, I was expected to pull rabbits out of a hat and be a rainmaker. Mondays were hideous; they made me sweat bullets. I wasn’t saying “TGIF,” that a new week, full of impossible challenges was lurking through the weekend. Today, there’s far less stress in my life. A few challenging jobs around the house and my investment work are the only elements that bring some tension to my daily world. Practicing sports demands sometime a very high level of concentration, but you can’t call that stress; it’s in fact the opposite, a dumping ground for all that neurotic energy. Can I imagine a life without stress? I don’t think so. For me, some state of upheaval is a life necessity like love, food, water and wine. Oh yes, if you want a stress-free life, try going to heaven. Personally that’s not my thing; I am absolutely in no hurry to go. I like action and up there, boredom would kill me for good!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hot & cold

I find it cruel to transition from wearing t-shirts and shorts to sweatshirts and corduroy pants. Days ago, summer still was around and after the first snow of the season, each morning brings the ice age back! As we have in previous years, I’m sure we’ll get used to it, but it’s going to be hard (it’s already painful.) I guess it’s time we stocked up on body fat; this smart move probably has what it takes to make the change easier.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

September snow

When we got up yesterday morning, the next door neighbor’s roof was all white. This is our first snowfall of the season... Just a reminder that I need new skis and boots; better hurry up!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Going global with a mouthful

Yesterday my iPod froze and I had to call tech support to bring it back to life. So here I go, calling the Apple store in Salt Lake City. After going to a voice-recognition prompt that didn’t work too well, I got on the tech support queue somewhere in India. After a few minutes wait, I finally reached a rep who started by asking (in a strong Indian accent) for the serial number of my machine. I had seen this information on i-Tunes, but never on the device, so I assumed it was in the back, which it was, but in a font size that was so tiny I couldn’t read anything. I asked Evelyne to come to the rescue. After putting on her reading glasses, she could only distinguish the first character, an “8” and that was it. I then took my right contact lens off (the one I use to read with), stuck it in my mouth and tried to read while the gal who picked up the call was still waiting for the right answer. I gave her a string of characters, trying to spell intelligibly while not swallowing the lens still floating in my mouth; unfortunately, the serial number was wrong and I flunked her test. The lens still in my mouth, I lit up my halogen desk lamp and proceeded to spell the alphanumerical serial number. Bingo! I was now good to go and ushered to a support technician who greeted me in heavy, accented English, very hard to understand. I too have an accented English, not to mention a contact lens migrating from both sides of my mouth in a sea of saliva. While I asked the tech person to repeat most of his questions, I finally managed to explain my technical predicament with my “Accuvue-French-tainted accent”, made sense of the procedure, managed not to swallow the lens, focused hard to apply his instructions and got my iPod back to life. Now, I can multitask!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Hooked on mountain biking!

When we purchased our new mountain bikes three years ago, we thought we’d take them mostly on local roads or on bike paths; that is on the asphalt. That’s actually what we first did, but very quickly, we found these roadways rather crowded and a bit boring. Also, one day, I almost got hit by a car driver who failed to see me as I was crossing in front of him. This is pretty much how we graduated to single-track riding. At first, we found it difficult as it called for a great deal of concentration and coordination, very similar to what skiing requires. Now we love it; except for the weekends, there are hardly any other users on these trails and besides feeling safe, we’re in the middle of nature with few reminders of civilization. In addition to these winding, single-tracks, we’ve also experienced slick-rock riding down in Moab, Utah. Finally, the greatest bonus is that we feel totally rejuvenated because the few riders we see are generally well under 40 years old!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Still Palming…

As an early Palm Pilot adopter, my addiction to the PDA device has been hard to shake over all these years. So when my M130 failed to hot-synch, instead of trying to download some new USB drivers, I decided to shop for a replacement. I had always thought of going with a Treo, that jack of all trades, but didn’t feel like paying for all the recurring costs that come with these so-called “smart phones.” In addition, I loved “graffiti” the Palm’s hand writing feature and didn’t see my big fingers hunt and peck on a minuscule keyboard. Besides, I hardly ever use my cell phone except when I go out of the house as a “just in case" convenience. Of course, when we go out of town, we generally forward our land line onto our cell phones. At the end, I was ready to go with a T-Mobile Blackberry with internet and email access when I stumbled on the Palm T/X that does everything my old Palm did and then some, plus lets me now surf the web whenever I find myself in a wireless hotspot. Skeptical at first, I have been positively overwhelmed by the device as soon as I set it up, the same way I was ten years ago when I was introduced to my first PDA!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Thinking of Thule boxes

“Kilometre Zero”is a movie about the ethnic conflict between Kurds and Iraqis in the context of the war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s. Funny at times, the movie shows, among others themes, the return of Iraqis “martyr” bodies to their family via a fleet of Toyota taxicabs, each carrying one casket on its roof. That image made me wonder about the effectiveness the delivery system and I couldn’t help but draw a parallel between these many caskets and the Thule boxes that we see atop of cars driven by active folks. Does that mean that when I pass away I'd like to be buried in my Thule box? Probably not as I'm considering cremation, but when you compare the cost of a roof box to the cheapest Costco product, a Thule box is both a cheaper and classier alternative that ought to be considered by die-hard sportsmen…

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Hard to say hi!

During our morning run or whenever we hike or mountain bike, we encounter a wide variety of folks, from school kids, to moms walking their babies, adults of all ages and a few seniors. What’s remarkable is how younger individuals in general, and kids in particular, don’t know how to say “hello.” Perhaps, greeting someone has become old fashion or is just no longer part of the home education curriculum. It could also be that normal communication has fallen hostage to cell phone chat, email or instant messages. Another reason could be that from the time they start walking and speaking, kids are admonished “not to talk to stangers.” Whatever the reason, it’s become quite clear to us that the Beatles’ song “Hello, Goodbye” is definitely passé!

Monday, September 17, 2007

More red...

Over the past two or three days, red spots have started to invade the mountain. These are the mountain maple leaves (Acer spicatum) turning bright red just ahead of the aspen trees, which with the pine trees constitute the bulk of the forest show their golden yellow colors. For the moment, there’s only red to announce the Fall season, although in certain spots some shades of yellow are starting to form in the aspen groves. The timing of fall colors varies vastly from year to year. I have seen fall colors appear on the third week of August. This year is rather late for Park City. I’ve never been quite able to understand how photosynthesis really works and how a dry and sunny season (this summer) impacts the speed at which leaves turn. I’ve built up theories but not seem to really work. Does anyone know?

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A simple coat of red…

As we were repainting our living room after some of the changes we just made into our living space, we decided to create some contrast by painting a wall panel in a striking “autumn maple” red. The original wall was beige and even though the paint salesman told us that applying this color would be challenging (long drying time, among other issues) he failed to tell us to first apply a dark (red) primer. So I went applying one, then two coats with not much good to show for it; after the third coat, things were not getting significantly better, so I called the company and was told that without that dark primer I was looking at about… five coats! Next time, I’ll know; isn’t it great how we learn something new everyday?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Just in time

After Charlotte left for California, we had to refurnish her bedroom and recently went to RC Willey, a major western furniture store owned by Warren Buffet, to get a new bed. After getting over the sticker shock (bedding has become quite expensive these days), we arranged for delivery that was scheduled for this past Thursday afternoon. Late morning that day, the driver called us and said that we should expect delivery between 1 and 3 pm. Around 4 pm, we were still waiting, so I called the store’s customer service department and spoke to Cami. She tried to contact the delivery guys on their cell phone, but to no avail. I asked her what she thought of the way they had not called to tell us about their delay, but she only could make excuses for them. At about 4:45 pm, I called her again and received the same muddled answer. I then escalated my call to Alex, her supervisor. I asked him if he thought my time was valuable and if these guys were behaving in ways consistent with their company’s goal, and after a false start, a light came up and he started to agree with me; finally, he apologized profusely on the delivery crew’s behalf. I made him understand that I needed a redress of some sort and promised to call me back with a solution. As the delivery truck pulled by our house, Alex was on the phone and said he’d send me a store gift card. Better than nothing, but what a piece of work!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The value of our time

How do we value our time ? How do we even begin pricing it?
When there’s an annual income to start with, all seem easy; we take the whole amount, divide it by 2,080 hours and obtain our hourly rate. How do we proceed when we’re self-employed or retired? Not easy indeed. One way is to take the total number of hours during which we're awake. If we agree that we rest (read sleep) one-third of the time, a full year of activity represents some 5,840 “billable” hours. If, for sake of simplicity, our total annual revenue is $58,400.00, the hourly value of our time is $10. This further means that if we decide to play a round of golf and be gone for six hours, it actually costs us our green fee, transportation costs, plus $60. Along the same lines of thought, if we want to repaint a room in our home and spend 20 hours doing it ourself, our cost will be $200 plus supplies (a bargain compared to what a professional painter would charge.) A two-week vacation would add $2,240 to our transportation, lodging, food and sundry expenses. All of this assumes that we carry-out these activities outside of our working hours. When we look at things this way, we might think twice before we allocate any second of our precious time, unless we really can't resist repainting that old bedroom!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A new day

As time goes by, I gain more appreciation for simple things ; like waking up in the morning and anticipating the day’s projects. There’s never a dull moment if you look at things that way. A new day is a blank page, a blank canvass where you can write or draw whatever you want. Life is precious and each new day is the same. No matter how bad things are, or how bleak the future appears, a new day is always a chance to somehow affect things for the best. Even in the worst situation there’s always a way to tweak things and make them a little bit better. A new beginning is a malleable blank that is ours to shape the best we can. This is why I guess I love mornings. They don’t have to be sunny either to be grand. They can be rainy, snowy or the wind may blow hard; it doesn’t matter, it’s still a new day carrying a bounty of promises and opportunities.

Monday, September 10, 2007

My buddy Denys...

I met Denys Liboz when we both worked for Look ski bindings. He was a tech rep for the U.S. Ski Team and was taking care, among others, of the Mahre twin brothers. Denys is a great athlete who’s also very competitive; I remember running with him in the morning near San Francisco and race him down Ajax, in Aspen, Colorado. A well-rounded sportsman, he more recently went into cross-country skiing and road biking. Through time, we’ve always stayed in contact, and a few years ago Denys was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare sickness that’s also very difficult to treat. Thanks to his grit and combative spirit he was able to beat it and continues today the struggle for regaining a decent quality of life. Another remarkable trait of my friend is to have remained positive and to have kept his sense of humor in spite of all the blows that live has served him. Keep on fighting Denys!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Back in the saddle

Now that my Achilles’ tendon injury is already a distant memory, we’re back on our mountain bikes. After a refresher outing last week, we started yesterday to return to our favorite “single track” trails. The weather was just perfect, a bit breezy and cool. If these great conditions hold, September and October are the perfect months for mountain biking on Park City’s 500 miles trail network…

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Under the influence?

In spite of a summer as dry as a bone, we’ve never had geraniums that look so good as this year. They’re big, colorful and super-healthy. On countless occasions Evelyne has pointed to her flowers as her very special pride and joy; she was so insistent on it, that one day I asked, “so what so special about them?” She said, "These guys are doing so well because I only fertilize them with coffee grounds." So that’s the secret to our geranium health in a high-desert environment; getting high on caffeine! I must say that we drink LOTS of coffee; glad there’s no anti-doping control yet…

Friday, September 7, 2007

Sundance documentary series

Robert Redford Sundance Institute's programs include the annual Sundance Film Festival held in Park City each January and widely regarded as the premier U.S. showcase for American and international independent film. Through the year, the Institute also sponsors free public screenings, like outdoor shows in the summer and starting last night a free documentary series. Last night we went to see (for the second time), “Manda Bala” a film documenting Brazil’s crime and corruption. A definite “must-see!”

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Like Michelangelo...

This week we started repainting some of the rooms in our house. We’ve started with our guestroom, used more recently by our daughter Charlotte before she moved to California. I have been commissioned to do the work, just like Michelangelo who was once asked to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The job is about the same except that we decided not to paint any religious scenes on the ceiling and that my wife Evelyne also asked me to paint the walls. Anyone likes to paint ceilings? Yuck!
In spite of all this I’m almost done with that first room and now feel like a true renaissance man.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Full, half-full, empty

What’s your attitude when it comes to checking your fuel gauge and doing something about its level? For me, it’s pretty easy; I love to play chicken and go as low as I possibly can before re-fueling. Sometimes this gets me into trouble. My wife is the polar opposite; she can hardly wait for the needle to reach ¼ before she fills up her tank… How do you judge your fuel gauge?