Open Letter to About Endorsements

You really want me to endorse her for WordPress? The woman, while wonderful and capable, readily admits she knows only the very basics about checking email and getting lost on the web, and isn’t at all interested in running a site of any kind.

I understand when you want me to endorse a fellow storyteller for his daytime skills. I don’t do it, because I don’t know a thing about him at work. It’s almost alright when you keep putting him first, using up one of the four slots which could be used by something I might actually endorse. But at least I understand it. He says he has that skill, and LinkedIn is kindly helping him prove it, which will increase the chances of him getting a job through LinkedIn.

But endorsing B for WordPress? That’s almost random. She would never in a million years ask to be endorsed for it. Maybe it’s there because she and I have endorsed each other for many things, and, since someone endorsed me for WordPress, I’m a good judge of who else should get that endorsement.

Well, I am a decent judge of it. And you suggesting that anyone should endorse B for a skill she has absolutely no interest in is garbage.

You know what? It used to be interesting to see what my friends wanted endorsements in. It’s not fun any more. I may continue to endorse a bit, but not nearly as often as I used to.

One user, on the verge of being lost.


Someone Doesn’t Want Me to Vote

This morning I received an automated phone call saying that my polling station had been moved.

They lied!!!

The polls at West End Rec Centre are still there. They have not been moved.

Elections Canada isn’t stupid. Most voters go from work to the polls. They wouldn’t get the message. The polls would be filled with frustrated voters.

The people who don’t want me to vote will be sadly disappointed.

My Kingdom (Sanity?) for a Stop Watch

More features is not necessarily better. Sometimes simple is best.

Last month the storytellers’ stopwatch died. I volunteered to get a new one, for tonight’s performance. Easy, right?

I bought one the next day. Cheap. Oops. But in the end it made little difference. That was Tempo brand.

The buttons had very little movement to them. You couldn’t tell by feel whether you’d pressed one. Arthritic hands and poor eyes, anyone? That describes several tellers, and many of the rest are valiantly fighting the day it will apply to them.

At first I ignored the manual. It will get lost in the bottom of the gig bag and the other readers won’t read it. As long as I didn’t touch the Mode button, things were good. It worked much like Dad’s old stopwatch and my Timex wristwatch. If I did touch it, things went wonky till I pressed it several more times.

Three days ago I read the manual. From left-to-right, the buttons were labeled C,B,A. The rest of the manual had maybe 100 words, and no way to tell, based on the current screen, where in a sequence of steps you were. After much trial and error, I set the time. Except I hadn’t, so I set it again. 8:30.

Last night at 8:30 I heard a soft beeping and tracked it down to the stopwatch. I was alert enough to realize, “I must have somehow set the alarm.” I poked at the buttons, then opened the manual. Nowhere in the 100 words were written, “If the screen looks like this, do that to get back to neutral mode.” It did say that, in at least one mode, pressing C and B together would turn off the alarm. Or it would turn on the hourly chime.

Canadian Tire accepted the return. I was willing to just tell them to send word up to their buyers, if they could, that this product shouldn’t be rebought, but they refunded my money. It helped that the buttons were so clearly flakey and the light button broken. (For all they know, we wanted a free stopwatch for the month.)

The only other stopwatch there was a fancier model of the same brand. Three rows of numbers.

The Source (formerly Radio Shack) was helpful. They’re used to dealing with seniors. After opening two different brands we found the same chips were used as the Tempo model. Three buttons, B and C to turn chimes on and off. Buttons didn’t say “set” or “move to next field” (or something to that effect). The manuals were written by the same person (buttons labeled B,C,A), but at least they described what the screen should look like at each step in the process. I suspect it was the same words, but with added pictures. The brands were Nextar and Walk&Run.

But, turning off the alarm or getting out of “set time/alarm/date” mode was still going to be a matter of luck rather than planning. Desparate, I bought the cheapest with a decent feel.

The only sports store on the route home also had nothing that fit the bill. (I started the conversation by saying I wanted just a timer, no alarm to go off and confuse the issue. They knew right away they had nothing.)

My Timex wristwatch, on the other hand, has four buttons and is easy to use. The buttons have three labels — one for each mode. If you get stuck in the wrong mode, just press Mode to get out of it. The manual goes through each mode. The screen tells you which mode you’re in. Maybe it’s easy because I got my first Timex back when my brain worked properly, but I never have a problem with it, and my second Timex, with more features, was equally easy to use. So’s my son’s, and it has even more features.

Today I can’t say, “If I can’t figure it out…” since I’m decidedly not at my best. I didn’t take the time to make a flowchart of the procedure or to put it through all its paces.

But I shouldn’t have to.

Stopwatches aren’t the only things that have almost random procedures. Some computer OS’s. Many cell phones. My MIL got a new oven for the cottage. I’m a Professional Engineer and still need to review the instructions every summer. My MIL no longer bakes while at the cottage.

All of these problems would be easy to fix if the designers bothered.

1) A button that sets it back to “default”, no matter what mode you managed to create.

2) No “within three seconds” or “press two buttons at once”. The only exception to this is “expert” mode. Even then, if anyone other than the repair person is to use it, label it on the device.

Karma would be for those designers to have to deal with their designs when they are tired and grumpy. Reality will be they’ve made their millions and hire a teenager.

A Proper Electronics Kit for Kids

My parents have this thing about science. They’re suckers for kits that promise to teach kids about science.

Not that my parents can’t do just fine on their own. Dad’s a professional engineer — a classic engineer, rather than what I learned. He fixed the car until the winters got too cold. He does load calculations for the cottage extension. He’s been an engineer-in-residence at local schools for years, spending hours making working locks and dams (desk-top size, which the kids put together), pinhole cameras, logic gates with switches and lightbulbs, winches, and a host of other projects. He’s the Robert Thomas of the Westport Outdoor Classroom.

However, when it comes to their grandkids, they got caught up with “kits”. You know the ones: Ten dollars and your kid can learn the mysteries of electricity and build an electronic motor boat, or an alarm system, or weave.

The electronic motor boat involved wrapping a fine (breakable) copper wire 50 times around each of three cores, then some trouble-shooting and soldering. Yep, every 10-year-old kid has a soldering iron lying around.

The alarm system was a black box (okay, yellow, but the technical description is “black box”), which you could connect in six different ways to shriek when a circuit broke.

The loom required a few hours with the milling machine in the basement, and more hours of sandpaper, because the grooves on the heddle weren’t deep enough, and the rough wood caught at the wool. I think it was the heddle; it moved the warp (long) threads. Really neat, actually. About 2 cm square. Each warp thread fed along a groove cut across one side, and around a corner. The grooves alternated — evens were deeper on one side, odds were deeper on the other. Rock it back and forth, and first one set lifted, then the other. Wikipedia doesn’t show anything like it.

But I digress.

The point of all this was that the kids learned that science required a kit designed by someone else, and often didn’t work. Even if you asked, “Why didn’t it work?” (as all great scientists do) you still learned next to nothing.

Until I remembered the 75-in-1 electronics kit I had as a kid. Mine was from what was then Radio Shack. Different lengths of wire, colour-coded by length. Various electronic bits on a board, connected underneath to terminals. Five or ten resistors, all lined up with the silver bands on the left (so you read the coloured bands left-to-right). Same with the capacitors. The board had the standard schematic symbols.

The manual started with a simple flashlight. You could follow the wiring instructions, and use a blue wire to connect terminals 32 and 20, or you could look at the schematic, and connect one end of the resistor to the positive side of the battery. Then it suggested enhancements, like adding a switch, or changing resistor size, or replacing the resistor with the variable resistor.

The great news is, we found a modern version by Maxitronix. Unfortunately, the manufacturer doesn’t seem to have a website — at least not according to Google.

Here’s the kit described by a store. It’s the perfect level for my 11-year-old son. My 8-year-old daughter, who can follow a cookie recipe, could follow it if she were interested. It wouldn’t be out of place in a first electronics class for 15-year-olds.

Google found several other Maxitronix kits. Some remind me of the old Heathkit kits, which are more about building and soldering than learning, but still fun. (I made an intercom set when I was 11.) The kits I checked include schematics.

My son’s doing this kit pretty much by himself. I try very hard to stay out of it, and let him discover things for himself. I’m not good at that. I usually suggest things to try, or explain things, and generally get in the way of him learning things for himself. So this kit is his!

Meanwhile, my parents have remembered something else: Kids don’t need science kits to learn to love science. Go for a walk and look at the animals. See if the berries in the shade ripened sooner than the ones in the sun. Design and build a shelf for the phone, so the phonebook can sit under it. Clean the lint trap from the washing machine. Make pinhole cameras from cereal boxes. In general — open your eyes and do things!

Spring Masters Saga

This is in husband’s words.

Early this year, Spring Masters did a core aeration. The person doing the aeration initially filled out the wrong form, manually adding in the core aeration charge, which I signed. A few minutes later he rang the doorbell, explained that he gave me the wrong form, took it back, and gave me the proper invoice.

Sometime around May 11, 2009, after several calls from Spring Masters, I spoke with them and explained to the woman on the phone what happened with the forms, and that I didn’t want the dethatching done. She thanked me for explaining, and said that no dethatching would be done.

May 14, 2009 Spring Masters came and did a “de-thatch” of the lawn, after being told not to, and left an invoice in the door. They also left three bags of yard waste at the curb (filled mostly with green grass, not the brown dead grass I would expect). The picnic table was not moved, and there are bare patches all over.

It’s not exactly something that I would have paid for. And from a bit of research, dethatching also damages the lawn, and several websites recommend either topdressing and seeding, or fertilizing after having it done. Neither of those were on my immediate to-do list.

I called Spring Masters and spoke with Nicole. I explained about the confusion with the documents, and the phone call where I said I don’t want this done. She assured me that we would not be billed for this service.

Cricket here again.

They attempted to repair one part. The put down fresh dirt (any guesses whether it was from our big bag?) and grass seed over top. The birds are very happy.

Husband’s company values his time, way more than Spring Masters values their employees’ time. We now have to reseed, fertilize, and throw dirt over the lawn, and water it daily for two weeks. $50 for materials. Several hours time. We aren’t the type to sue, but they ruined our lawn, so if they try to collect for the dethatching, we may learn the ins and outs of counter-suits.

For next year? After six calls from one company, I let them go on long enough to get info to lodge a complaint. We’re on the national do not call list. Turns out I made the mistake of letting them give me a free quote last month, so we have a business relationship and it’s not cold calling. I took her name, and told her “No!” and that she was harassing me. Then send in the complaint.

Pictures of the de-thatching:

Donating — A Rant

Every so often we donate things. Time, money, objects — the usual.

We’re typical in that we want the government to pay part of it. Where we’re atypical is we really, really go for the official charitable donation tax receipts.

I’ve been told by other storytellers that, once you’ve been paid a few times for telling and established the value of your time, you can claim free or discounted concerts as a donation. I like that!

What bugs me, though, is how hard it is for a branch of a major charity to give a tax receipt.

When the school sells chocolate bars, I ask how much profit they make per carton, and hand them a cheque. They get the same money, we avoid the calories, and it’s not my problem if the fundraising company is short a few young slaves. You’d expect the principal to be able to write me a receipt, right? Nope. Only the board can write charitable receipts. So, I have to get a form from the board website, fill it out, attach my cheque, and make very sure that the fundraising committee knows they should get the money. The form was new two years ago, and for the first year you couldn’t specify a specific school or fundraising event. Now you can, although the principal has to formally ask for the board to give it back to them.

The Tai Chi group was the same. All money was sent to head office, which paid our rent, and the we got our accounting statements several months later.

Girl Guides did it, too. The unit leader could reimburse you for the hot dogs you bought for the camp, and for your milage, but couldn’t do a thing if you donated money. That was dealt with at the city level.

The school librarian told me today that, yes, she’d be delighted to take some old primary readers off our hands, but she hoped we wouldn’t expect to see them in the actual library. She’d have to send them to central processing, where they would spend a few months being catalogued, and they often reject books that have evidence of being enjoyed. She’ll give them directly to the primary teachers instead, which I’m just as happy with. Adding them to the book sale would also make me happy. I can see them being rejected if they were unsuitable material for a school library, or if there were already enough similar books. But it really irks me that the board, which is yelling for more money, might refuse them simply because my family actually read them!

My theory is that they don’t want to admit the library is so desperate they’ll take used books. No, they’d rather have books they bought themselves decades ago, that are falling apart, or no books at all.

They Don’t Want Groups

First MSN decides to close their group service, and recommends a site using the new, user-centric model. User is central, has own website, and messages are sent between him and groups of friends. Groups added as after though. (They may have done a good job of it by now, but the growing pains were rough.)

Now I learn Yahoo has had a problem for two weeks with new members who have Broadband. Actually, even old members. Near as I can tell (from other things that came up when I searched "new profile", they changed the profile system. All the info on your old profile will soon be toast. Group managers are up in arms that new profiles show nothing.

I’m not sure if Yahoo warned us about this or not. I don’t mind my profile being empty, so may have ignored it.

They als changed what they call things. There are now aliases and identities. No clue how yahoo 360 fits with the new model

I’ve been unhappy with the local storytellers using the mailing list based on my private server, even though I recommended it. Several members are happy, but a few would like to share photos and such.

So, I recommended Yahoo groups. I really like(d) Yahoo groups. I opened the group today and told people to sign up and try it out, and official change in two weeks.

Ten minutes later, I get a call. She’s a good reader, not one of the many seniors. It turns out that last month she tried to join Yahoo for another group, and had the same problem. (I think she even mentioned it when I suggested Yahoo, but I didn’t quite register it.)

More research.

There is a work-around. You have to go to another link separately to break a cycle. You also have to read the entire official post. The first link they give doesn’t work. The one listed way down in the update does.

There’s a difference between removing historical informarion, and correcting things. If they didn’t want to totally erase evidence of their typo, they should have stroked it out and said "correction". As is, I (and I assume everyone else) followed the first link and got even more frustrated. (Personally, I’d have corrected it in the text, said "corrected on", and removed the wrong one.)

The day started well. Son’s special dental Xrays showed 3/4 of the suspected problems will be fine, but one will need a quick bit of help in a bit. Much better than we feared. Errands for rest of the morning. Then Twitter. Then opened the new group and wrote a letter dealing with the usual concerns when moving to Yahoo groups. Then this problem sucked up the rest of the day.


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