I listen to a podcasts quite a bit, typically when I am driving. I hook up the Bluetooth to the car audio system and read with my ears. I learn a lot. I laugh sometimes. I say things aloud like “No way!” or “Seriously?” This March is the month to share podcasts we love. You can join in by posting the ones you like with the hashtag #trypod.

I never listen to the radio. Well, I rarely listen to the radio. If I do, it is to catch the news on National Public Radio, on my local station. But in general I like to listen to what I want when I choose. Podcasts let me do that. I found the native podcast app on my phone to be a bit clumsy so I even researched other options to download. I settled on iCatcher and listen to my podcasts through that.

Here are some of my favorites:

Planet Money

This NPR program offers this: “Imagine you could call up a friend and say, ‘Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.’ Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening.” That’s what we’re going for at Planet Money.” And they nail it. They take sometimes obscure and sometimes everyday financial topics and make them interesting. One recent episode featured a professor who tried to make filing taxes easier, and came up with a system that everyone loved, but got stymied by politicians who valued businesses over people who actually file their taxes. Another featured the creation of a Blackberry manufacturing plant in Argentina.

Work in Progress

This is put out there by a for-profit company, Slack, which makes communication tools for businesses. I was slightly skeptical at first because of this but that skepticism vanished quickly. It is one of my favorites. They say it is about “the meaning and identity we find in work.” They tell stories about all kinds of work, from a professional cuddler to a prison warden who has to perform executions to a professional Santa Claus. It is always interesting with well-told stories.

Radio Diaries

This is one of the best audio story podcasts I have found. There is little narration. Radio Diaries takes audio content and lets the people who are part of the story tell the story.  Interviews and personal recordings are woven together to create an always riveting tale. I try to listen to this one only when I can hear the episode in its entirety; if I have a short drive I save it for later. Two recent episodes include the story of a man who lived in the United States since he was a small child but got permanently deported to Guatemala; and the recording of a Vietnam War soldier.


Gastropod takes a “look at the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food and/or farming-related topic.” It is funny and almost always offers a wow insight. Recent topics include honey, seltzer, chocolate and oysters. I can’t wait for each new episode and bi-weekly seems too infrequent. Plus the name is clever.

Brave Little State

This is a local podcast from Vermont Public Radio. They take suggestions from listeners, who also get to vote, on what topics to cover. The theme is “Vermont, our region or its people.” The latest episode was “Why is Vermont so Overwhelmingly White?” It offers a perspective on Vermont that is not just from postcards.

Do you listen to podcasts? I have more than I can handle, but still, I always am on the hunt for interesting stories.

Get in Touch, Old School

IMG_0214My wife busted out a sewing pattern yesterday. This image was in the corner. I have been trying to figure out who designed this and when. Without some research that is not something I am going to do. So I wonder a few things about this:

1. What is the deal with the rotary phone? If you were born in the 80’s or later you likely have never used a rotary dial telephone. I do remember using one when I was a kid but my own children have never even seen one. My son was asking me the other day how the dial knew when to stop. He just didn’t understand how a rotary dial telephone works. I explained it to him and he got it. That’s some good parenting right there.

2. That computer is not going to be happening in a typical household. OK, some people may have one still but you cannot buy one that looks anything like that these days, and if you have one hanging around it probably can’t do much with the internet as it is these days. I guess you could use dial-up, and I know many people in rural areas have little choice, even today, but that computer? Outdated baby.

3. That e-mail symbol/logo/design is so 90’s. Dude. Bill and Ted might even have a hard time understanding what the heck it is supposed to mean. It relies on the premise that one seeing it understands standard postal mail. I work with students who sometimes do not know the meaning of the term “postal address” and often don’t know what theirs is. I hate to break it to the US Postal Service, but mail is for packages these days. Many people I know never get personal mail. That is a shame in my opinion; getting mail is the best. In any case, showing a few letters with a superimposed “e” is going to make a few people scratch their heads, a few other chuckle and a some just say “Huh?”

I don’t know who uses sewing patterns these days. This one was brand new, not some vintage jobber. Maybe people of a certain age tend to use patterns like this and so this little arrangement at the top works for them. Maybe this is just something that no one has cared to look at for a while, let alone update. It made me smile, that is for sure. My guess is this was added to patterns in maybe 1990, maybe earlier, and just never changed. I might try to find out but I can’t find my rotary phone right now, and Netscape Navigator is no longer loaded onto my computer. Maybe I will try to send some electronic mail. But I’m not sure I can remember my AOL username and password. If I think to get around to it, I’ll just Google it. That, however, doesn’t seem to be an option here.

Nice Juxtaposition


I am a big fan of the Zite app for the iPad. It searches the web for articles categorized by topics you select. In addition to general national and international news I have feeds for gardening, Vermont, brewing and social media. You can get stories about things that interest you quickly and from sources you might not know about. I opened the app today and two articles at the top, side by side, gave me a chuckle. That particular planet gets too much of a ribbing for the unfortunate double entendre of its name.

Both articles, by the way, were interesting.

Now That’s a Good Price

For a while I sold lots of stuff on eBay. It was fun to see what I could get for things I no longer wanted. Some of them I found to be useless and they sold anyway. One man’s junk is another’s treasure and all that. I had fun trying to figure out just how to sell stuff. What starting bid price made sense? Should I offer free shipping? How many pictures did I need to include? What was important to include in the description?

I learned that two things sell items the most often: offer a puny staring bid and offer free shipping. This is not always easy to do. I sometimes didn’t care what something sold for; I wanted to get rid of it and get something for it. But other times I couldn’t bear to get a couple bucks for something that was worth much more. Even so, that low price seems too much to resist for some people, or so it seems. If the bid price is too high, it may not sell at all. If the shipping price is too high, it may not sell. So even though it seems crazy to offer something for a low price, it typically pays off.

I had one bad experience where I actually lost money by selling something on eBay. I don’t remember what it was–some item of baby clothing or a cassette tape or who knows what. It sold for $1.99 and I had offered a flat rate for shipping, another couple bucks. The buyer, however, had an APO box. I had never mailed anything to an APO box before and I did not realize that, because of the razor wire and guard dogs that secure them or something, it costs way more to mail to an APO box than your standard address. I think I paid $14 to mail some small item. That hurt.

Today, after a gap of over a year, I decided to sell a printer we got a while ago but never opened. We got a free one by accident–they shipped us two when we only ordered one and then told us just to keep it. I did a few minutes of research and then posted it for sale with a 10-day auction. When you sell an item on eBay, if you are not familiar with the process, they try to be helpful. They offered a stock photo of the printer so I didn’t have to take one myself. And they also offered this tip about choosing a starting bid, copied and pasted verbatim:

Items like yours that sold successfully have an average starting price of $1,217.00 and an average sold price of $4,943.00.

Now I can’t say I know that much about computer printers. I mean, I hear they may have rare earth elements in them, maybe even some gold. But $1,217? Is eBay trying to waste my time here or what? I can’t deny that getting close to $5,000 for an item I got for free would be a grand thing, but my guess is that this fantasy is going to hang out with Alice down the rabbit hole for, well, forever.  I’m hoping I can get 50 bucks for this thing. I probably couldn’t get 100 times that price if I tried to sell it to the military.

Here is the listing if you are looking for a good printer (seriously, we use the same one and it is a gem). Feel free to offer the low price of $1,217. Do that and I will ship it overnight at no extra charge.


Scrapping Paper

Here is what I can’t figure out: why does my bank allow me to make electronic payments for free? I have all my account information with them and I can just log on, enter amount for the account I want to pay, and BOOM, done.  I don’t have to write checks and payments both get there and get processed sooner.  It saves me time, saves me money, and is way easier and faster.  I just made two payments this afternoon. It took me all of two minutes.

OK, I do get why they make it free. It saves them time and money as well. I worked at an organization that processed payments and we encouraged people to take advantage of electronic billing and payments.  Handling a paper bill and a paper check once it arrived too way more time and effort than having it enter the system on its own. Still, I keep waiting for the catch. Heck, we used to pay the day care center electronically through the bank. Since the center did not accept electronic payments, the bank mailed a check. I guess that worked better for the bank. It certainly worked better for me.

I do get a few statements in the mail still. The bill for one credit card we hardly use comes in the mail, for example. And I still make charitable contributions mostly by paper check. I buy many fewer checks these days. I am always surprised when I run out. I order those online.

In fact, I get most things by ordering online–clothes, Christmas gifts, bandages, seeds, flavored syrups, books, music, whatever. A while back I subscribed to a service called YourMusic, which sent CD’s once each month for 7 bucks each. Add CD’s to your queue and they get sent automatically. It is a good deal, except I had to get those CD’s in the mail. Now I just use iTunes. I rarely read a paper newspaper, either. I read it online.

I have been reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peal Pie Society. It consists of a collection of letters. I am fully engaged in the story. I want to be reading it right now, in fact. I have not yet given up paper books altogether (although I have enjoyed a few on my iPod Touch). I have realized by reading this book, however, that I never write letters anymore. I used to write scads of them. It used to be the thing to do when I was in my teens and twenties. Now text messaging has become the norm. Letters, however, have a tangible and emotional substance to them. They can be held. They last. I have stopped writing them, as have most people in the 21st century. This has its convenience and certainly saves resources. We do miss something by giving them up, however.

I don’t feel that way about bills. Send me an email notice and let me look it up through the magic of the internet. I get far more unsolicited crap in the mail these days than anything of use or worth. Thanks for your good work, I want to tell all these organizations looking for donations. I would love to help but I give to others and you don’t make the cut, so stop sending me mail. I tell them that often–I either send an email or just stuff the contents back in the return envelope with a note. Still, I’d rather they did not send me something I did not ask to receive. They would save a lot of money by not mailing me all that junk. They should talk to my bank.

I have plenty of paper files hanging in file folders, but I am trying to cut down. Do I really need those bank statements from the past seven years? I doubt it. Tax returns I’ll save, although it is unlikely I will need those either. One of my summer projects is to clean out the closet. I will pull out the recycling bin and drop it next to the closet and transfer contents from one to the other. And when I  am done I will leave the dust on my journal and get online right here to tell about that exciting adventure. As if that is a good idea.

Dude at the Post Office

I had a package to mail this morning and I stopped at a post office in South Burlington where I rarely go.  I had been there once before and it was a standard transaction.  I figured today would be the same, but it colored my day in a way I had not anticipated.  It wasn’t a big thing, just something that made me think, pretty much all day.

I had to wait in line for a bit.  An older couple were in line ahead of me with two packages, one that was in a box that must have held several pounds of Splenda, the other in an old slide carousel box–the kind that had once housed a round tray for photographic slides.  The woman was looking through all the literature she cold fine there and it turns out she was seeking a change of address form.  She couldn’t find one and her husband kept pointing to a large bin, insisting that they were right there.

“No,” she said. “That is just instructions for doing it online.”

His response:  “For-GET it!”

I thought that exchange was interesting in itself, and it made me think about technology and how we adapt or don’t, how we sometimes stick to ways that seem to work for us and then one day find that those ways don’t work so well anymore.  Those were the kinds of ideas zipping about my little cranium while I waited in line.

When it was my turn, I greeted the man at the counter and placed my package on it.  I have mailed things many times and I always feel bad for the mail clerk who has to ask the same questions every time a customer comes to the counter.  “Is there anything fragile, liquid, perishable or potentially hazardous…” and all that, with the added requests for my additional postal needs.  That would pretty much drive me batty if I had to ask those same questions in the same way every time.  So I tried to be helpful.  I wanted to save time for many people who were now in line behind me and save the effort for my helpful postal worker.  He was not, however, pleased.

I tried to offer that there was nothing fragile, liquid, perish…but he cut me off.  “I have to ask so let me do my job.  It’s like a cop stopping you.  You let them do the talking.”  He was curt.  He was grumpy.  I noted that I was just trying to be helpful but he merely returned to his list of questions, all of which I could have answered before he asked them.

I left feeling upset.  Why would someone get so upset when someone else was trying to be helpful?  It was uncalled for.  If he had merely told me that he was required to ask the questions, even if I offered the answers first, I would have been informed enough to accept those questions.  He was rude, however.  As I drove off, I recognized that his emotions had transferred right to me.  Now I was upset.  Because I recognized that, however, I stopped. Take a lesson, I told myself:  People feel like they do and I can’t necessarily understand why and I certainly can’t change it, so accept that and remember to try not to react like he did.

I felt as though I was not treated with respect.  Note to self:  try hard to be aware so that you treat others as we all would like to be treated.  Thinking that made me feel better.  My day was still off, and I thought about that interaction more than a few times, but I now thought about it in a more positive way.

My wife later pointed out that perhaps he assumed I was making fun of him.  “People make fun of postal workers all the time,” she noted.  “Why would you be any different.”  She had a point.  He perhaps made an assumption about me, regardless of my true intentions.  While I was trying to do something that most people don’t do, he may have assumed that I was doing something that too many people do.  It is too bad.  I hope he was feeling less than stellar just today.  I wish him more happiness in his work tomorrow.  And every other day, while we’re at it.

A Little Contrast

Perry Schmidt, 1918

Perry Schmidt, 1918

This is a photo of my grandfather when he was three years old.  My grandmother gave this to me a while back when she moved out of her place into an assisted living facility.  He would have been 94 this year, were he still alive.  This photograph was taken in Connecticut.  It is a great photograph in terms of composition, especially considering how expensive such pictures were at the time, and how few might have been taken to get this shot.

I am sure they did not have many photographs.  Some may be hanging around somewhere and some may have been lost over time but, nonetheless, the family’s collection was likely small.  When I managed to migrate all the photographs from our old computer to this new one, there were over 8,000 to move.  I knew we had a lot, but I was still mighty surprised to see that number.  We have hundreds of photographs of our children.

There is a great contrast here in terms of what the world was like for my grandfather and what it is like for my children. I give my daughter the camera and she takes 50 photos.  Half of those might be good enough to consider keeping, and maybe ten we might call good.  There is little extra cost to taking all those pics.  Even when I was a kid one had to load film and then develop it just to see what came out.  That could happen the same day but not instantly, and it cost.  I am sure no one would have given my young grandfather the camera to take pictures of the chickens.

Moreover, I pulled out this photo from its clear envelope, scanned it, and now can send it around the world to thousands of people if I want.  I can print copies at home.  It really is such a different world than the world of that three year old boy.

The other thing to note is the chickens.  When this photograph was taken, if a family wanted to eat chicken, someone went outside and caught one, then killed it, plucked it, took out its innards and cleaned it before cooking it.  I think of how connected my grandfather’s family was to their food.  That many people are choosing to have gardens these days, or to raise chickens, is news, but then it was how people ate.

The interesting thing here, or I should say the really interesting thing, is that we are much more connected our photographs than our food.  We take photographs with our telephones but have no idea where our food comes from.  We can manipulate colors and edit out the goofy guy in the background, right at home after dinner, but most of us have no idea how to pluck a chicken, or even what it ate when it lived its confined life, or that it had a confined life, and most of us don’t want to know.  We seem to want to be distanced from our food.

Imagine this brief conversation:

Hey where’d that photo of Sam in Pete’s Mustang come from?

Oh, Jill sent it to me from her Blackberry.

Hey, where did those blackberries come from?  I mean really come from?

I don’t know.  Argentina?  Chile?  Somewhere far away.

My grandfather and his family would have been a tad confused back when those chickens were prancing about.

Another New Toy

Our new Mac arrived today.  We finally have moved from the world of the laptop to the world of the desktop.  This puppy is pretty sweet I tell you.  Everything seems to work and work quickly.  We can watch videos!  We can download things zip zip!  We can…  Well, I haven’t played with it all that much.  

I can tell you that this blogger will have some fun playing, however.  Once we get the right cable to transfer everything from our old to our new computer, we will be golden.  I am looking forward to playing but also to use this new machine as a tool.  We use our computer as our newspaper, as a means of communication, to purchase things (like a computer, for example), to write and create, to manage photos.  It will be nice to have a better tool than we have had, kind like upgrading to a powerful cordless drill after using only screwdrivers for a while.

So I will get back at it.  Play time awaits.

Free Stuff, Pretty Much

Recently we ordered a new computer, a Mac.  We also ordered an iPod Touch and a printer.  We are getting a pretty good deal, if you ask me.  If you don’t ask me I still think it is a good deal.  It is all sort of free.

How might you get a computer and an iPod and a printer for free, you ask?  Like this:  Apple has a deal right now for educators–if you order a new Mac you can get an iPod Touch for free.  Well not exactly free, but you can get a rebate for the cost of the thing, so it counts as free in my book.  So that was an incentive (aside from our aging computer showing some hints of age).  When you order a Mac you also can get a rebate on a printer.  The rebate is the same as the cost of the printer.  We did spring the extra 30 bucks so the printer will be wireless (and host a copier and a scanner) so we are out of pocket a Hamilton and a Jackson at this point.

The computer wasn’t directly free.  We have been saving points from our credit card for a while now.  We wanted to just use those to get a computer but that wasn’t an option.  You can use your points for a lot, but not that.  You can, however, use your points for a mortgage payment.  They make the check out to your mortgage holder and send it to you to send in as a payment.  You can get it for whatever amount, so we got one for the cost of the computer.  We pay for the computer instead of the mortgage and it’s a wash.

All three of the items on our order were shipped separately, from different places.  The printer was shipped first and arrived yesterday.  It came late, at 8:30, right when the children were falling asleep, of course.  I met the FedEx driver on the porch and he had three packages.  One was some unlrelated clothing my spouse had ordered.  Then there were two printers.  I asked if he was sure they were all for us.  “Yup, the two printers and this smaller package,” was his response.  Sure enough, both printers had the right name and address.

Right away I checked to make sure I had not ordered two printers by mistake.  I had, indeed, only ordered one.  The tracking number was only attached to one.  Our order status only reflected one.  Apple had made a mistake.  So we called.  Maybe you would not have called but we felt it would be the right thing to do.  Good karma and all that.  My wife asked “What if you made a mistake but we are happy with the mistake?”  The rep at Apple asked if we would use a second printer.  Then, with the answer affirmative, said we could just keep it.

So we had to pay an extra 30 bucks but then we got an extra printer.  We may actually be ahead after all this.  We aren’t sure what we will do with the extra printer yet.  Use it at home?  Sell it?  Give it to someone who could really use it?  Like a nonprofit agency?  We will have to decide at some point.  That thing is taking up space.  And it is a good printer.

The Touch came today and I am taking precious time away from exploring its features to write this.  But it is a good story, no?  The computer is scheduled to arrive on Saturday.  I can’t imagine they would make the same mistake twice.  But one can hope, no?

Too Much Getting Sent All Over

We have had our current computer, an iBook, since 2003 or so.  It still runs fine.  We have updated the operating system.  We can send email and write documents and watch videos and all the other computer stuff one might do these days.  But we are starting to have a few issues.  For one, the R key is off.  It popped off, literally, once (snagged on a sleeve, I believe) and we couldn’t get it back on quote right.  It still works but requires a small extra effort to type that important letter (22 of them so far, including the ones in these parentheses).  The screen also has some issues, turning half blue if it is tilted at the wrong angle.  Oh, and the battery is dead, so essentially it is a desktop on the counter.

So we decided to get a new computer.  Here is our strategy:  cash in all the points we have accumulated from our credit card for a mortgage payment (who knew you could get that?) and use what would have been our mortgage payment to buy a new computer.  We want to get another Mac (I mean, duh) and right now they have a deal that we would be prudent to accept.  We can get a free iPod Touch with the purchase of a new computer.  Done.  At least, I tried to make it so.  Then I pulled the plug.

A couple of days ago I went to the Apple web site and put in an order.  I even got the free engraving on the iPod Touch.  I was excited and eager to get the goods.  I splurged on the $19 remote for the desktop (the laptop just seemed more than we needed after using our current one in stationary mode for so long).  Then my wife pointed out that you can download a 99 cent app and turn your Touch into a remote.  When I tried to go back to the order online (now a mere hour old) I couldn’t separate the remote from the order.  It looked like I would have to cancel the whole thing.  So I called.

The good news came first.  “We won’t make you cancel the order,” the rep told me.  “We’ll just leave the remote in there and credit you $19.”  What a deal!  Then she mentioned the tax holiday.  Vermont has a tax holiday on August 22nd so no one has to pay state sales tax on anything under $2,000.  We would save close to $100.  That seemed stupid to pass up.  But it would mean I would have to cancel the order and start over, ordering on August 22nd.  So I told her to cancel it.  That meant no free remote.

The problem was that the iPod Touch was already being processed and it was too late to stop that being sent.  They are quick with those puppies apparently.  No big deal, I thought, I can wait for the computer.  The catch, however, is that to get the free iPod Touch you have to order it at the same time as the computer.  So now I would have to pay for the Touch or send it back when it arrived.  Free sounds a lot better than $229 to me.  They would email some labels so I could mail it back without having to pay postage.  Easy.  Done.  I hung up.

But then I remembered that if you get engraving on an iPod you can’t return it.  So I called back.  This time I talked to Sheryl, and she was patient with me.  She told me that typically they would not accept an engraved iPod as a return, but they would make an exception for me.  What a deal!  Great customer service, I’m thinking.  Then I asked her what would happen to it when it got sent back.  She said they would remove the back, where it is engraved, put on a new back, and sell it as refurbished.  So they would pay the postage to get it to me, pay the postage to get it returned, then make less of a profit on top of that.  That seems, well, kind of dumb, considering I really do want the thing.  If they would simply let me keep it and use the rebate (and it is a rebate after all, meaning I have to pay for it and get the cash back) then everyone would be better off.  They would have less work to do, make more money, and I would get what I wanted faster, all saving green house gases and fuel and whatever else would be saved.

So I will get my new toy in the mail, send it back, and then re-order the whole kit and kaboodle in a couple of weeks.  I hate to wait, but I also hate to pay an extra hundred bucks.  I loved Apple’s customer service, but it does make me a tad concerned for the company’s future.  They were willing to give me a free remote, take back something they wouldn’t normally take back, at a loss perhaps, and mail me something twice that I am sure would be perfectly good the first time.  I will end up with what I want in the end, I suppose, although I will have to wait longer than I wanted.  Apple takes the hit.  That is too bad.  I am sure it could have been better for both of us but hey, not all relationships can’t be perfect, now can they?