May 31, 2011

Up a Ladder

I live in a small condo complex - four units. More of an expanded duplex, really. So each of the four owners is an officer of the condo association, and we tend to handle some of the upkeep and maintenance ourselves. My condo fees are quite low - less than 1/2 the norm for these parts.

Since I've moved in, we've had no parking lot lights. There were two spotlights on the front of the building - one empty, the other with a floodlight bulb and apparent photoelectric sensor that was not working. The folks in the front units could put their porch lamps on (mines on a timer) but choose not to, so the parking lot is generally dark.

This past winter, the one front spotlight decided to turn on - and it stayed on for several months, 24 hours a day. It was kind of nice to have the light on, but it did add a bit to the condo electric bill. And then, a month or so ago, it stopped working again.

Last week, my neighbor Carol, an older retired woman, stopped by and noted how dark it was, lobbying (I think) to get someone in to look at the lights. I went out with her, and decided that was a nice project for me. So this weekend, I purchased and installed two motion lights in front of the building.

I've been the "go-to" girl for electrical projects for years. When I owned a home in Waterbury, I installed three sets of motion lights after we were burgled; those I had to actually run the wire, pipe it in, everything. I also replaced the old small fuse box with a 100 Amp breaker panel, and ran 240 VAC to the upstairs for heat. I've installed ceiling fans, track lighting, power for hot tubs, etc. and replaced countless receptacles, dimmers and switches. But it's been a while since I've tackled a big electrical project.

So I spent a few hours this weekend 16' up a ladder. The electrical install was not too hard - I needed to put in one box, take out the old fixtures, hook up a few wires, and adjust the motion detectors. My legs are kind of cranky from that ladder death grip required when one has both hands into a project, and I got a bit too much sun on my shoulders - but otherwise I'm good....

I was a little surprised / disappointed by the code violations I found in the fixtures. The box with the photocell sensor had both the hot and neutral junctions just twisted - with no sign of electrical tape, a screw cap, or anything. No wonder the light was intermittent. I have no idea how anyone walks away from a box light that.

The second light had no box whatsoever - the outdoor romex simply stubbed out of the wall / siding and an electrical cover was screwed to the side of the building. At least there were caps on the junctions. Needless to say I left everything a lot better than I found it, with screw caps, taped up, and a new box for the second fixture.

It was reassuring to come in last night and have both light come on as I pulled into the parking lot, and see them switch off 5 minutes later. We've never had problems with car vandalism or break-ins, but this will make us all feel a little safer. I might want to get up the ladder again and readjust the lamps (they might be pointed a bit high, flooding the house across the street as well as our lot)

Mostly though, it's nice to know that as I round the bend at 50, I still got it!

May 29, 2011

Ticket to Ride

I do not often bring my work life over to my blog, but thought I'd blow my own horn this morning.

One of my clients is the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat. I've been web-wenching for them since 2001; I'm not really a graphics person so their in house person comes up with the "look" and I write the code. They recently had someone in trying to upsell them on social media and webwork, and were told "your website looks and works great, no need to do anything different" which is nice to hear.

Anyway, this year, we've been implementing a new web based ticketing system. They found a shopping cart kind of company that they wanted to work with, messed around with it for a year, and finally turned it over to me. It's up and running now, and two weekends into the season, is working great.

It's been a big, complicated project. It's not simply selling tickets - each ride consists of several segments, each of which needs to be inventory controlled. So an 11:00 am Steam Train ride consists of a northbound ride on the train, and a southbound ride on the same train. But an 11:00 am Steam Train & Riverboat ride consists of the 11:00 am Northbound, a Riverboat ride, and a southbound trip on the next (12:30 pm) train. Each of those segments has a fixed number of seats, and if any one segment sells out, the top level ticket cannot be sold.

In addition, there are seat upgrades - a First Class car, an Open car, a Caboose - each with limited seating. There is a special package including a hike to Gillette Castle (limited by the number of passengers who can disembark at a small platform). It's all quite complex.

I've put together this ticketing system from square one - from setting up useful and meaningful product ID codes and names, creating the linked segments to force top level tickets to sell out when individual segements are gone, setting up a menu of categories to help find tickets, and implementing some novel workarounds to make a standard shopping cart system work for ticketing. For instance:

a) Set up a fake "warehouse" system so that each day of the year has a spearate "warehouse" - this makes sorting tickets (for customer use as well as client use) easier.

b) Forcing products to become hidden at the end of each operating day, as well as when the ticket becomes sold out.

c) Creating special option trees to manage passenger types (child / adult / infant / senior, each with a different price) and also to permit double senior discounts on Mondays.

It's been a fun project, with a liberal use of advanced spreadsheets (filters, text functions, macros) to automatically propogate data - it would be impossible to build and maintain a 10,000+ item inventory control system by hand. Now that the seaon is underway and ticketing is going smoothly, I'm working on spreadsheets and processes to export data (daily ordering information, dinner train passenger manifests, etc.).

I'm not really a programmer or IT person; I'm mostly just an advanced user. But I guess I've got those genes (Dad worked in IT back in the data processing / Univac / punch card days)

Dirty Birds

I've been feeding the birds all winter. Have had one of those little suet feeders on a hook installed on my porch railing, and I've been entertained by black-capped chickadees, several woodpecker species, cardinals, etc.

A week or so ago, my local Ocean State Job Lot was out of suet cakes; I thought perhaps they were a seasonal (winter) thing. So I decided to step it up a bit - purchasing an inexpensive feeder and a bag of bird food.

Unfortunately, the bird feeder became highly popular quickly, and the birds made a big mess, spraying seed husks across the deck. So after the bag was gone, I found a new source for suet cakes (Loew's) and went back to the old reliable.

May 23, 2011

Rapture Redux

My favorite post-rapture quip: "Oh, the rapture happened. It's just that nobody qualified."

But seriously folks, last night's horrific tornado in Joplin, MO, piled atop the Mississippi River flooding and the spate of tornadoes in Alabama and across the south last month have an end-times feel to them, no? But alas, no divine explanation needed. Fairly well predicted side-effects of global warming.

May 22, 2011

The Big Uneasy

Went to see The Big Uneasy last night at Real Art Ways. It's a documentary by Harry Shearer, about the post-Katrina flooding of New Orleans and the impact of levee / flood control design by the Army Corps of Engineers on that. It's a story of whistle-blowers, Don Quixote-like professors, and "are they really dumb enough to let themselves be on camera spouting this stuff?" representatives of the Army Corps.

Harry Shearer is mining the same sort of ground that Michael Moore has carved out with his documentaries. But Shearer is calmly earnest, and brings none of the bombast, hyperbole, or cinematic stunts to bear that Moore's later works have come to rely on. I'm recalling that scene in Bowling for Columbine where Moore confronts an aging Charleston Heston, kind of left me feeling a bit dirty. There is none of that here. Perhaps Moore's first big work, Roger & Me, brought the same level of personal involvement that Shearer brings as he documents the issues with his hometown.

I really liked the graphic overview (via map) of how the levee failures flooded New Orleans; was the first time I understood both the geography of the city as well as the pernicious nature of the failures (my mainstream media advised understanding was that there was one or two levee failures. And I've never really understood how the Mississippi River - Gulf Outlet canal, or MR-GO, contributed to both the flooding of the city or to the loss of wetlands / habitat.

The "Ask a New Orleanian" segments, hosted by John Goodman, were good, although I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth / diversity (it seems to have been filmed at a single sit-down with five fairly well-off residents, would have liked a few roving crew interview bits)

Mostly, I was left shaking my head, and a little pissed. I've had my own brushes with the Army Corps (a long time ago in a galaxy far far away) and I'd have to agree with one of the comments in the film that the Army Corps have stopped engineering in favor of project management. There does not seem to be a big picture design concept at work here.

The interview segments with the three protaganists: Ivor van Heerden, director of a hurricane research center at LSU, Robert Bea, a civil engineer at U. Cal Berkeley, and Maria Garzino, an engineer from the Army Corps of Engineers - were the most powerful. All three have paid a heavy toll for simply wanting to get at the truth and butting heads with the federal juggernaut that seems equal parts stupid, bull-headed, and evil.

The Army Corps representatives were conversely pretty frustrating - sprouting the company line, looking at the narrow scope of their particular project or issue, and not really wanting, able, or permitted to step back to see the larger picture.

Great documentary - go see it!

P.S. - Also, the film website's Resources page has some incredible reports and documents supporting the film. Engineering Pron.

May 03, 2011

Therapeutic Yoga

Today is day 5 of Therapeutic Yoga Teacher Training, with Cheri Clampett and Arturo Peal, down at the studio. It's been really good training, but I am wiped out, and looking forward to getting my life back!

In some ways, the training is a bit of a refresher. As a teacher, I tend to pick things up as they have been taught to me, as I internalize them in my body. I've practiced with Cheri several times here in Connecticut, spent a week with her in Montana, and several of the studio teachers have done this training. I also picked up a bolster and her Therapeutic Yoga Kit (book / flashcards / CD) last time she was in town and have done some work with it. So in a lot of ways, this is not a lot of new information, but rather clarification, deepening, technical tweaks, and background. It certainly is good to get the information directly.

One of my friends and regular students is in the training; yesterday we sat near each other, and as Cheri introduced a posture or gentle yoga stretch, she'd mouth "Jude Yoga". Because I've incorporated a lot of this stuff into my teaching over the years, mostly unconsciously. Interesting to note how much of my teaching is rooted in Cheri's practice.

I came into the training without a lot of expectations - my own teaching seems (to me) to be more rooted in my own body; I demonstrate postures, I move through the room, I shut my eyes and feel the posture and then speak from that place. I am not so much teaching yoga as I am coaxing yoga out of my student's bodies. So Therapeutic Yoga, with more of a therapist / client positioning, and a need to be more attentive, and less opportunity to resonate with the client's posture and body, feels challenging and less natural to me. So if I had to guess I'd say "I won't be doing much of this, going forward". But I also walked into teacher training with no expectation of teaching - and look what happened.

Cheri and Arturo make a great teaching pair - a good balance of energies and information. Arturo in particular brings a lot of really useful visualizations about breath, connective tissue, muscles, etc. - it's rare that a teacher delights me and makes me smile in the way that he does as he uses three students to simulate a human rib cage and demonstrates twists and spinal bends.

And it's been a little odd with Cheri - having spent a week with her and Heather Tiddens in Montana, I feel a certain closeness and intimacy. But we're in a different mode here - she's available for 25 or so students, she has her own needs in terms of food, rest, alone time, and I'm a bit shy to intrude. It's part of who I am that I sit back and listen, pick up what I can, and try not to intrude or take up too much space. It's a weird combination of shyness, of respect, of confidence in my own ability to do this without needing a lot of attention, of being "in between" on several levels.

So, last day in, a relatively short one. I have to leave a little early today (to teach my 5:30 class in Bristol). It's been a long week, and I'm pretty wiped out. Been running back at lunch break to give Elo some love and air, so I've been a bit negligent in terms of my own relaxation and healthy eating. And I've let go of my yang practice this week. So it will be good to get back to a more stable schedule and a regular practice.