What 'cha Been Doing What 'cha Been Doing? ... rev 08.31.2008

Well, I finally figured out the quick answer to "What have you been doing?": "Anything I Want."

Another answer is one from a friend of a friend... "I have a friend that says he doesn't do anything ... and sometimes he doesn't even start that until noon."

Yep, that's the short of it. I try to be out of bed by "the crack of noon" and succeed on most days...

However, I can rarely answer a question that succinctly.... so.....

I've been wanting to compile a [fairly] brief account of my life since then so that I can update anyone who asks without delay, and in addition, remember some of those moments and replay them in my mind for me, too.

I retired from HP in mid-2002, after almost exactly 24 years. And that was after almost exactly 10 years at RCA Solid State Division in Somerville New Jersey. That kind of defines a guy who doesn't jump from company to company very often. By extrapolation, I should stay retired for [arithmetically,] the next 36 years, or [geometrically,] the next 57.6 years ! That might be interesting. There will be lots of interesting things to do and see and learn during that time, I'm sure. But I won't bet on either....

After the end of June, 2002, I adjusted to "retired life" pretty quickly. Whenever someone asked me in person, how quickly I adjusted, I just looked at my watch....

Even having been in "business" for 34 years, I unplugged fairly quickly into "home" life. My wonderful wife, Claudia, had taken a retirement package from HP in 2000, so she'd been enjoying being a "kept woman" for two years before I got to cut the HP cord. Now, neither one of us was "kept", other than by our own savings. With some skill and maybe a lot of luck, as I put it, we thought we had enough to live a comfortable life until Social Security kicked in for both of us, and then we'd re-figure our living expenses versus savings. That looked like it would be mid-'05, and things looked pretty good so far.

Guys who hit mid-life crisis 20 years ago go out and buy a Corvette. [I did...] Retirees start with a vacation.

So, we did.

With some friends and relatives around the East Coast, we made that our first trip. To North Carolina to visit Claudia's son Brian and his wife Yonit and their son Coby [Jacob]. A week or so, there, and then a short flight to Florida, to visit my brother and sister-in-law, meet some old friends from RCA who'd retired to nearby places in FL, and also meet and have dinner with the family of a guy I'd met through HP. The weather was hot and humid, but not too stormy, and we had good visits, all around. We expected to make that tour about once a year.

When we got back, the warm weather and memories of sweltering previous summers in Cupertino [and suffering from roof-leaks] led us to decide to re-roof the Cupertino house. I wanted some kind of spray-on foam to seal all of those mysterious tiny leaks once and for all, and you know, could we find some kind of central air-conditioning system that wasn't TOO expensive, and have it installed at the same time? With our kind of house, when the roof's ripped off, it's the right time to do ALL kinds of upgrades. The last time we had the roof off, we ran electric service to the kitchen, bringing it up to code and jumping about four decades in capacity, performance, etc.

What had been a tar and gravel roof over about 1-2 inches of squashed fiberglass insulation, became about an inch or two of sprayed foam over about three inches of foam slabs! In years gone by, in the summer the inside temperature of the house would overshoot the outside peak temperature by about 10-15 degrees! With the new roof in place, the inside temp never exceeded the outside temp, and for the first few months, the inside temp of the house never moved more than five degrees or so! Yea! Success. Goals attained!

But it was never hot enough to really test the air conditioning before the fall came! In 2003 we tried it, and it worked well, easily keeping the insides comfortable with temperatures around 100 outside. And the electric bill, despite Gray Davis' lousier-than-crap negotiations with the power companies the year or two before, never got out of sight.

I'd had a long list of projects in mind for myself and the house, so I tried to start into them during the winter of '02. But it was cold and dark and rainy, and it was so cozy to sleep in late after staying up late playing on my PC, doing web stuff, and general maintenance for it. I learned to hate Windows 98, but after some months, almost got it to a condition I'd call "stable".

So, naturally, I upgraded to Windows XP. Well, it was a slightly rocky start, but after a few hundred megabytes of downloads and upgrades, it stabilized, and GONE were the "out of system resources" complaints from the OS, even though it had tons of RAM, DISK, etc., to play with. Today, I am extremely happy with the stability of XP compared to ALL of Bill's operating systems which have gone before [and even the one that came after it...]. Eat your hearts out, Mac-ies!

As winter turned to spring, it was time to consider a BIG project that we'd been putting off since Claudia moved in: remodel the kitchen. Another retiree tradition. We chose a contractor and started shopping for appliances. We picked our contractor right after we met him in person. He and his brother have worked on our type of house ["Eichler", named after the builder/architect] for decades, and they had a wonderful reputation. They would not be the low-bidder, but "them that have had the experience" have learned that the low bidder is usually the wrong guy to hire.

He said the job, as we'd outlined it, would take about four weeks, but we were planning a cruise with friends we'd cruised with for the past ten years, so the kitchen project was scheduled to start a bit over a week after our return. [little did we know...]....

The cruise was delightful, with stops in the Western Caribbean, including Mexico, and of course our friend's wife came home pregnant again... [another tradition.]

We started to get the house ready for the remodel, and checked in with the contractor, assuming that he'd be late and that the four-week job would really mean "two months, plus." His reply was, "we'll be there Monday to demo your kitchen." "Demo" is the operative term, and it doesn't mean "demonstration", as it had for me for the past 34 years... in this context, it meant "demolish."

Yikes! We worked like crazy people for about three days to pack things out of cabinets, shelves and other hiding places around the kitchen and store them so that we'd be able to find the vital stuff for eating and living for the coming weeks. Now, where to put the refrigerator, microwave.... Ah, of course: the living room, naturally!

So, they arrived on Monday morning, hammers, pry-bars and other tools of destruction in hand, and asked, "where are the new appliances?"

Blank looks from us. "We were going to order them this week," we replied. "You'd better, because some of them might have long lead times, and that'll keep us from finishing in three or four weeks." Yikes, again! They really WERE planning to finish in four weeks!............. Out to make final selections and get our appliances on order. Needless to say, some came in quickly [typically, the last things that we'd need for installation,] and some we had to fight and beg and pray to get a faster delivery, due to "normal lead-times"!

Well, by the time the appliances all arrived, the contractor had...

Then it was over. We paid them off and they left, and we felt like part of our family had moved out.

But we now had so much storage cabinet and shelving in our kitchen, that I referred to it as "it's so spacious that there are some cabinets that may just stay empty!" Sure.....

I went back to catching up on projects around the house, volunteered to work with one of the HP Alumni Association groups on a web site for Alumni, and decided that I'd like a new car.

Sure, the Ford Taurus I bought from HP back in the fall of '77 was only nearing 30,000 miles, but was seven years old, and was showing a few signs of age. For example, the Sears technician pointed out that, thought the tread wasn't worn off the tires, the exposure to sunlight and ozone for seven years had started the rubber to crack near the wheels. Not Safe! Time for new tires. Yeah, and put a new battery in, too. I've NEVER had a battery last seven years in any car I've ever owned, and I didn't want to get stranded somewhere any more than you would, so in went a new battery.

And this fits with one of my traditions, that whenever I put new tires on a car, somehow it becomes time to sell it.

So, both the Taurus and my orange '69 Corvette went up for sale. I thought I could get about $16,000 for the pair, so that, with some other money I set aside, I could buy my current [no pun intended] "car of my dreams" with little cash outlay: a 2004 Prius. Really neat car, with all the techy stuff I'd love to have in a car, plus it's a Hybrid gas/electric drive, which I've been telling people for a decade or more is the ONLY WAY to go! Electrics may never be practical, and waiting for them and fuel cell cars will be like waiting for Godot for another 5-10 years or more.

So that occupied me, too.

Along with selling things on eBay for friends and relatives. And planning to remodel the garage, with more storage and less junk, so I can go back to making wine-cork-covered lazy-susans, serving trays, etc., etc. And gardening, and cleaning out weeds and overgrown Agapanthae, and installing LED night-lights throughout the house and on the deck, and sleeping late and staying up late and watching movies and reading science fiction, and, and............

rev 04.30.2004

Sold the Corvette and the Taurus in January. Put in an order for the Prius on January 12, 2004. Should have ordered it a month or three ago. Lead time turned out to be 4 months. Checking with the dealer for "news" was fruitless. They never got any clues from Headquarters as to what was coming to them... even "ordered" units.

As luck had it, my wife saw an ad in mid-April from a not-very local dealer, but within reasonable driving distance for this homebody, so I called and asked if they really had any. "Yes," the girl replied. "What kind are you looking for?" she asked. "Silver, full option package," I replied. "Got one?"

"Yes," she answered. "Is it sold?" I asked. "No."

"Be right there."

We drove over, asked to see it. It was "out on a test drive". As we waited and chatted with a salesman, the car came back from its test drive. We got in. It had leather interior, which is an aftermarket package at a wonderfully high price, but was one of the options I'd complained wasn't available directly from Toyota. "Buy it," my wife said, from the passenger's seat, though I hadn't started the engine yet. "Are you serious?" "Yes." "OK."

At that moment a woman walked up to the car and rapped on the driver's window. "Hey, we're next in line for the test drive! Wait your turn!" "Sure! Yes, Ma'am," I answered as we got out of the car. I grabbed the salesman by the elbow, pulled him a safe distance away and asked if the car was still for sale. He said yes. I said, "No it's not, any more. We're buying it." That made him reasonably happy.

No, I haven't spent all of my time since then inside the car or driving it, either. I did spend some quality time trying to understand the touch-screen navigation-and-everything-else-display, and still need some more time with it.... and as of 04.30.2004, have barely used half of the first tankful of gas, with 290 miles or so on the odometer. Calculated average mpg is a bit over 42, right now, and I haven't done anything to stretch or kill the gas mileage... just drove it like a car. It is a treat, and will be my toy for quite a while to come. Many happy miles, we hope.

We are considering driving it cross-country next year to visit friends and relatives, and spend a month in North Carolina with friends and relatives before driving back. I may try to put a trailer hitch on it and rent or buy a small trailer for luggage and other junk, since we're also planning to bring our two dogs with us. That should be a hoot, all things considered! .... pictures here.

Cleaned out the garage to make sure the Prius would fit, and it does. It's a few feet shorter than the Camry, [but a bit taller.] Now, I've moved junk back into the garage section of our garage [the second bay is what I call "workshop", though it's been mostly junk storage.... I'm taking out some ugly metal and wood shelves and replacing them with nice white cabinets which will make the place neater, and hide stuff better from the sawdust I create when I'm mutilating wood for my cork boards.

And some weeding, outside, too.

rev 02.01.2006

Sorry... lots happened. Check the Cross-Country trip pages for our adventures of Y2005. We're now in our Raleigh, NC house for about four months-plus, and still loving it. I've got a whole-house generator on order; it should be installed in a month or two. Awaiting delivery of the generator from the vendor.

Had a dozen or so large trees taken out from the back yard so they wouldn't be at risk of falling on the house in a bad storm. Next week should start the pruning and trimming of ALL of the plants on the property, too.

I'm designing a woodworking shop for myself under the house in the walk-in "crawl-space." Crawl-space --- right. About nine-foot ceiling at the entrance door, tapering to about four feet at the uphill edges of the foundation. I've talked to several contractors, and although I don't have any idea what the price will be, it looks like there's nothing unfeasible about the project, although several items will need to be attended to before the real excavation begins. To wit: reroute the house's downspouts' outflow through new piping to keep the water out of the "basement." Bug-proof and water-proof the outside of the foundation, too. After that, the workshop can be built.

Other projects, some in parallel, some in series with the workshop, include widening and lengthening the driveway a little, expanding the deck and converting it to composite/plastic materials so we don't need to ever stain or paint it again, nor worry about cracks or termites. The new deck will have a stairway down to the workshop and a cement-stepped path from the driveway to a new landing at the foot of the stairs from the deck. Electric for lighting and the new barbecue's rotisserie, of course, too, and garden hose hookups for watering plants on the deck or putting out barbecue fires...

Oh, and a doggie door so we don't have to let the dogs out to pee and poo every couple of hours, and replace the gas-insert fireplace with a wood-burner, which will require the addition of a chimney to the southeast side of the house! Fun and games!

That should take us into the spring or summer.... and, by the way, the workshop will have a heating-and-a/c unit, too.

You have your dream house; we have ours.

rev 01.02.2008

Starting our second winter in Raleigh. Roller-coaster temperatures from 70s or 80s to 30s and back again all fall. Down to 18 in the next morning or two and back to the 50s after that. It gives me time to put things together in the wood shop and then install them outdoors during the warm spells.

2007 saw the completion of the conversion of the "walk-in crawl space" under the southeast corner of the house into my woodworking shop. I collected a lot of tools and supplies and actually began to get back to my avocation of "mutilating wood."

A few minor setbacks... I was moving a ceiling fan from the pool-table room to the guest bedroom when I got tired and lost my balance while standing on the guest bed, trying to hook the fan to the ceiling fixture. Off the bed we both went. The fan lost a blade or two, smashed the glass globe and a fluorescent lamp, and my head followed it, along with the rest of my body, into a small area next to the wall. Looking down, after my sight returned after a second or two, I saw a steady stream of dark red liquid pouring from my forehead onto the wall-to-wall. Applying pressure and making my way into the guest bathroom, I yelled for Claudia to call 911. She was in the shower downstairs, but came out to figure out what that loud "thump" had been. It had been me, hitting the floor. She called 911 and we awaited the EMS truck.

Discretion is the better part of asking two guys to carry 280 pounds of ME down a flight of stairs, so I made my way to the front foyer mostly under my own power, and the EMS guys expressed gratitude for that. Off to the ER for almost two dozen stitches [the most I think I ever had in my life up 'til then], followed by a week or so of wearing a wool cap over the large bandage on my forehead. As of this update, that wound is hardly visible, although my graying hair and receding hairline will make it more visible in the future.

I managed to install another lamp a few months later, even though Claudia kept insisting we should "outsource" that task to someone else who might better withstand damage to their body... and then a few months later, I discovered a safety defect in my bench grinder. Don't buy a Ryobi 6" bench grinder. The safety shields on the sides leave WAY too large an opening between the shields and the grinding wheels. Searching for the source of what I considered excessive vibration, I touched my fingertip to the side of the wheel and the friction sucked my finger into the gaping slot. [some of you may skip this next part....] It took off a small chunk of my fingertip, which, by the way, grew back as if nothing had happened! But at first glance, even before the blood started to flow, I took one look at my fingertip and thought, "gee, that looks like the cross-section drawings of the insides of planets that they had in Astronomy Magazine..." Not good at all, but I got to see what exoderm, mesoderm AND endoderm all looked like... at once. Then I wrapped my finger in a nearby cloth, raised it above my head and asked Claudia to DRIVE me to the ER this time. They looked at it in triage, wrapped it and taped it and sent me home. All better in a month or so.

Until a week or two ago when I got my index finger... yes, the same one... too close to the brand, spanking-new table saw blade I'd just installed. Much more blood than last time, but this time I was going to be darned if I'd even GO to the ER... So, I made my way to the bathroom upstairs of the workshop, cleaned off the fingertip as best I could and wrapped it in band-aids and tape and figured that it would be nice and stop bleeding in the usual ten or fifteen minutes I usually take to clot... [I've got it timed, now, from experience.]

The bleeding let up, and a week later I got up the nerve to take a look under the bandages. Bad idea. Re-wrapped it and I'm leaving it alone for another few days, even though the bandage sometimes messes up my typing... But unless I catch the fingertip in a door as I'm closing it [did that more than once..] or between my leg and the chair I'm sitting on AS I GET UP [did that once, too..] it doesn't hurt.

But it hasn't stopped me from getting back on that horse/motorcycle/bicycle/power-tool and riding around some more.

I have been blogging about some local issues, and one of the local Raleigh News & Observer writer/editors and I got to talking about me as an "early adopter of technologies" ... LED lighting, in particular.... recall that I'd been doing stuff like that for five or ten years already, pushing the price-performance envelopes of compact fluorescents and LED bulbs for years and years...

So he sent a photographer out to shoot about 150 or more digital frames, two of which, including my mug, got onto page one of the business section of the N&O a few weeks ago. Way cool and Way fun and nice folks all around.

When I was picking up some freshly-sharpened table saw blades from Raleigh Saw, one of the guys there asked if "I was the guy in the paper?" He'd recognized my name from the article. Several neighbors who'd seen the article mentioned it, too, and we had some fun laughs about it. [and the obligatory lecture and proselytizing on LEDs from me... ]

So, each year so far, this one included, I've bought more and more LED Holiday Lights and hooked them up around the front of the house. I bought some more for next year, too. I installed several photocell controllers on the northeast corner of the house to control the porch decorations, and will hook another one back into a DC power supply bank for some LED lights I'm adding to the back of the house, too. I'll have small LED lamps along the short and long stairs from the deck to ground and some more under the deck over the slate path down the hill to the entrance to my woodworking shop. Total draw of power: maybe 2-3 watts, and only at night.

Then will come some built-in night lights for the stairs and hallways on the first floor, because it's fairly easy to draw a small wire up from the basement to do that. They'll all be on the photocells, too, and Look Ma, No Hands Automatic. I love that stuff.

Oh, and on our '07 cross-country trip this summer, I drove the Prius into a light pole base and effectively removed most of the front driver's side bumper and suspension. Another story, maybe some other time. Anyway, when the suspension work was done, we continued our trip, planning to have the bodywork done back here when we got home.

Back in NC again, a great body shop not too far from our home did the work, and they agreed to add some side-marker lights to the Prius, as part of the job. I always wanted side-markers like the expensive cars, but once Toyota, in their infinite wisdom, disagreed, I coughed up the ten or twenty [retail] dollars for the lamps and the body shop arranged for the six holes I described, and even donated the maybe 15 cents' worth of wiring that I hooked into the front lamp system. More LEDs = good fun for me. I put a few short videos of them in operation on YouTube, too, just to see how that system worked, too. More Way Fun...

Enough for now... We still love it here, we're NOT going cross-country in '08, but will be taking another cruise with our Houston friends in January and maybe dropping in on my brother and his wife in Florida when it gets colder here... maybe February or early March. Maybe also some drives of shorter distance to the northeast, where many ol' friends and relatives still haven't moved out of the snowy north.


I finally finished replacing the ceiling fan in the guest bedroom. Really. Without outsourcing; with more care and less fatigue. Put a nice trio of lamps over the pool table. Finally finished the LED lighting for both stairs off the deck. Redesigned "my room" where I am now, typing this. Swapped all of the furniture from one side to the other and built two lamps: one as a reading lamp above the trundle bed and another lamp built over a custom cork-board bulletin board for my desk. I got to practice some routing and design on both, and while far from perfect, are very nice and attractive.

It's our third spring here, now, and everything outside is enjoying a respite from the last drought. Plants and weeds are growing like crazy, and I'm trying to get up the gumption to pick or kill some of them. Very annoying, since some poison ivy pops up occasionally and looks too much like the volunteer blackberry plants when they're young. Oh, and if I don't rip out some of the pine tree volunteers, too, we're going to have one smack up against the eaves of the front porch. Ever try to hire someone to do weeding? Good luck.

We had some landscaping done to put a slate steps and walkway from the driveway down to the workshop entrance, as well as a small terrace-like thingie to stop erosion around the A/C units. Fair, but not a great installation. Claudia tripped on an edge of one of the steps and split her lip during the face-plant. She got HER trip to the ER that day, and she's all healed up again, too. Ah, but that was months ago.

I bought three wood cabinets for my workshop and took down two wire shelves and moved them to the garage as a sort of "Costco Storage" for paper goods and the like. With more storage volume now in the workshop, I should be able to clear off my desk there so that I can re-fill it with MORE stuff. The desk in my upstairs room is still keeping way ahead of me in terms of putting things on it rather than filing or tossing things off it. It's horrible when ADD collides with OCD...


Got the workshop cabinets up, replacing the wire shelves in my workshop. Moved the shelves to the garage and now there's even more room in the cabinets there! More boxes are gone from the garage, and I finally sold the 500-bottle wine storage cabinet that we'd replaced with "only" a 250-bottle unit inside the house. MUCH more garage space now. And Claudia can have a dog-shearing bench in the corner of the garage where the old wine chiller was.

Oh, yeah... for the second time, I accidentally let the garage chest-type freezer thaw a bunch of money's worth of nice food. The first time it was because there's some electrical problem in the house that trips one particular breaker... naturally, the one the freezer had been plugged in to. THEN I decided to do some rewiring on the deck, and very cleverly used a nice little electronic tool to figure out which breaker controlled that particular circuit. Flipped the breaker off and went to work. Didn't have enough parts, so I put away my tools, leaving the breaker off.... yes, the one that the freezer was NOW plugged in to. DAMN!

Well, you say, why didn't we [I] notice the freezer was off? Well picture what it would be like if the pilot light on some piece of your equipment was recessed about half an inch into the lower back of the SIDE of the unit, about eight feet from your eyes, and around the corner, from where you'd walk by... Yep, that's where Sears/Kelvinator put it. SO, while waiting for the guy to pick up the wine cooler, I ripped the pilot light out of the refrigerator and ran wires from the old location to the TOP, FRONT edge of the freezer and attached the lamp there. Ta-Daaaa! What a moronic design, now fixed.

Except for one thing... I tipped the unit on its side when wiring in the lamp to the front of the box. Just for curiosity, I plugged it in to see if it still worked... Bad Idea... Nasty grinding sound from compressor. Ruined the compressor. Never noticed caution note that said something like, "if you EVER tip this unit on its side, let it SIT FOR AT LEAST 24 HOURS before plugging it in." Found a nice, smaller replacement, brought it home, LET IT SIT FOR A DAY, and it's still working just fine, thank you...

08.31.2008 Since early 2008 or so, I've been active on several commentary/blog sites, such as Yahoo! Answers and Current.com and a local one, Share.Triangle.com, which serves the Raleigh, NC, region.

At first, I had a ball on Yahoo! Answers. I was awarded "Best Answer" by the people who posed the questions quite a few times, and across a very wide range of subjects. I wasn't surprised all that much, since I've been called a sort of "Renaissance Man" for the breadth of subjects I've been interested in and have gathered a fairly deep understanding of.

Then, Share.Triangle.com let me expound on my ideas, opinions and theories about local issues, such as the recent droughts in NC and what might be done to ameliorate their impact on all of us living in this area. I've written many letters to the editors of the Raleigh News & Observer, too.

My first letter to the N&O, sent some time in the fall of 2005, asked why Falls Lake, Raleigh's water supply, was not being dredged to increase its capacity to help out during the next drought. The letter wasn't published.

A few years later, the next drought arrived, and people everywhere I turned were asking the same question: "Why aren't they dredging the Lake?!"

My thinking led to ideas like this one.

Then I discovered Current.com. What a place! Inspired by "my hero" Al Gore [NOT], it is a hotbed of liberal ideas, ranging from ... well, go there and see. Many of the comments "pushed many of my buttons" on my favorite subjects, such as Man-Made Global Warming, Creationism [see also Yahoo! Answers], economics and politics. I've argued strongly on those subjects and more, there, and have had a blast doing it. "The most indoor fun i've had since sex at college," I once described it.

When i get people there to question their beliefs and open their minds to alternative explanations to those they've had injected into their minds for ten or twenty or thirty or forty years, and maybe a few come to realize that the logic they've been following for so long isn't infallible, I'm very happy.

If nobody believes me or ever changes their mind, it doesn't bother me. I've worked in industry for some large companies, and probably hundreds of people there, too, didn't listen to my views or "see things my way." and while I can't prove we would have been more successful following some of my ideas, none of them can prove we were better off by not trying them, either.

And, along the way, I've found maybe a few dozen... who think that my logic is "spot on" and encourage me to tell even more people my views.

So, if you'd like, check out my writings at current.com. Search for "plusaf".

I love the debate and the challenge... And the name-calling.

And maybe some day, a very nice monument will be put up for me, and it will say, "Damn! He WAS right, after all!"

Hell, if I pre-pay it, my tombstone could say exactly that!

For some more about this, see this page...

of course, more to come....

First rev: 12.28.2003 © Copyright 2003-2008 by plusaf. All Rights Reserved
Email: ; Subject= "What 'cha Been Doing?"
Back to plusaf's Home Page