Monday, March 28, 2016

Travel Travails

     There was a time when air travel was fun. Even booking hotel and air travel was fun—part of the anticipation. And affordable. I miss those days.
     All it used to take were few phone calls to the airlines, hotel, or travel agent, perhaps a trip to an agent or local airlines ticket counter to pick up tickets and all was set. Lots of human contact afforded easy assurances and clarifications—never had a problem with botched dates, times, amounts, flights, overbookings, or anything, really, just be careful, reconfirm, get everything in writing and all was fine.
     Now, as I've been attempting a trip to Asia these past several years, booking air tickets is all on-line (or get reamed exorbitant extra fees to do it over the phone) and expensive, expensive, expensive, which is mainly why we haven't gone in over eight years. A year ago we might have gone to visit Deanne's mom and brother, but it fell through when Mom nixed the idea for various reasons. Recently, ticket prices have dropped enough for reconsideration again but this time obtaining affordable hotels in Japan for a family of five has been the big hurdle to jump through, and we had to cancel a trip to Osaka when airfares rose before we could even find a room (one hostel only allowed reservations a month prior to arrival).
     Then fares dropped to Narita (Tokyo), but again, finding a room for five was a huge problem. One potential hotel required everything to be done on-line in a three step process: enter all your information to request a room. Wait for an e-mail reply that might take a day or two. Let the hotel know if you're still interested. Wait another day or two for an e-mail offering the room, which must be then reserved using a credit card. Wait a day or two for a confirmation that the room is reserved. By the time I reached step two, air fares had already risen too high, and I had to cancel our request. A month later airfares dropped and I requested the identical room, but then before I received a reply, airfares rose again for those dates, but remain low enough for slightly different dates, so I had to request those different dates with the hotel instead. Since then we got those dates, I reserved it via my credit card, got the confirmation of the reservation, and then when I was about to book the airfares, they'd gone up by a bunch, so we had to cancel those plans again—so complicated!
     Airlines and travel agents (who uses them anymore? I can't even find a telephone listing for the major airlines in the yellow pages...) used give courtesy holds of tickets for three business days—very reasonable. I only later realized on one airlines' website that ticket prices could be held for three days at fifty dollars or seven days at sixty-five dollars. Airlines are turning record profits due to rock bottom fuel prices and they want to gouge us more?
     And what's with these casino/stock-market type airfares postings? It's like gambling when's the best time to buy, on a day-to-day or even hour-to-hour basis. (Reminds me of futures investments in commodities—betting on the future price of oil, gold, or pork-bellies, etc.—very high risk.)
     Oh well, we can always choose not to go, which is what we've done for quite a long while. But then again, if we wait too long, we might not get to go at all.
     I felt it desirable to go now as Braden is sixteen and still willing to hang out with us. By next year, I'm not so sure, and by the time he's eighteen, he'll be too busy, if not away at school, military training, or working, so I don't expect that. The Japan trip may or may not happen. If not, an around-the-island tour with stays at the gold coast and Turtle Bay or Ihilani may be relaxing and fun—it's been over a decade since we made the north shore circuit. It's not worth fighting the ticketing/hotel reservation system or getting exasperated about, it's just tons of money we could better spend on more productive things anyway...

Monday, March 21, 2016

Noisy Gutter and Refrigerator

     When we first moved into our current rental unit, the one complaint we had of a neighbor was that he had a loose or improperly installed rain gutter that vibrated with a loud rattling groan every time high winds blew. This neighbor has been very considerate in every other way—friendly, generous—so we never said anything, assuming he just never got around to it or perhaps didn't realize it was buzzing because he lived in a back house whereas the front house with the noisy gutter was a rental unit, often unoccupied.
     But after six years, Deanne and I had had enough. It wasn't that he couldn't afford to have it fixed as he was constantly making additions and improvements to his property, including paint jobs, new awning and window frames, and roof repairs. So one morning when I awoke after an especially noisy night (this had been going on for several days straight due to high winds), I called 9-1-1, explained that it wasn't an emergency, and after describing the problem, asked to tell the officer to see the owner in the back house because the front house had only tenants, and also, no, I didn't want to talk to the officer. The dispatcher said she'd send someone over—no name or phone number at my request.
     About a half-hour later as I was preparing for work and it was still dark, I heard the sound of footsteps, police radio-band chat, and an authoritative-sounding female talking just outside our unit to a tenant next door. The rain gutter was still buzzing away, so I was glad that the officer must be able to empathize with what we lived through for so long.  Heavy footsteps then retreated toward the street along with the police radio-band chat. I was concerned that the officer hadn't talked to the landlord and if and when the tenant told the landlord of the officer's message, he might disregard it.
     Two days later, Deanne said she heard banging on the roof of the front house next door that afternoon and asked Pene to take a look and she said workers were doing something to the rain gutter.
     Two days later the winds picked up and silence—no rain gutter rattle! It's easy to take such blessed silence for granted, but whenever the winds pick up now and the only sounds I hear are natural whooshing, it is a relief, and I'm glad I did what I finally did.
     Speaking of which, our landlord replaced our refrigerator when the last one we had since moving in broke for the second time due to a power surge that also knocked out our stereo receiver, TV, and washing machine. We replaced the former two on our own because they were so old, and the landlord replaced the latter with an upgrade. The refrigerator replacement was equivalent, but we soon discovered every time we opened or closed its door, it squeaked and creaked—very annoying after a time—and could be heard clear across the house from our bedroom. I tried lubricating the hinges but that didn't work. Then I realized the squeaks came not from the hinges but from the right front wheel—one of four upon which the appliance stood or rode when pulled out of or pushed into its slot between the kitchen cabinets and wall. In essence, the weight shifts from opening and closing the door caused the wheel to squeak, as I was able to replicate the sound by shaking the refrigerator with the door closed. So I lubricated that wheel, trying to spray the oil up by where the axle is, but that didn't work well either.
     Weeks later (okay, I'm slow), I realized if I could just jack up the frame with a wood block near the offending wheel, then it would no longer rest on the floor and that should solve the problem. I got a shim-like wood wedge out of Jaren's toy box and shoved and pounded it in right beside the offending wheel. That helped a lot, but not quite. I got another wood shim and pounded that behind the same wheel. Perfect silence from that wheel ever after! Now, no more noisy refrigerator or rain gutter. Hallelujah!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Light Pollution

     We have considerate neighbors—as a rule. They're quiet with no blaring TVs or stereos, or noisy cars, etc. and they generally keep their conversations at moderate levels. But one area where they're deficient is in their use of outdoor lights at night.
     Ample studies suggest that a good night's rest depends in part on quality of darkness, in general the darker the better. Our neighborhood was dark when we first moved in about six years ago. We had to stumble around when we awoke in the middle of nights to use the restroom. Then one house after another added or turned on outdoor lights, whether in the garage, porch, or driveway—I take it for security reasons because rumors spread of nearby break-ins and a book I read long ago said that if you don't mind the cost of electricity, keep outdoor floodlights on all night because that deters potential prowlers who don't want to be seen.
     I understand the concern of owners not wanting their cars or unsecured outdoor belongings stolen or even possible break-ins at night. But they should be considerate about it. They shouldn't use omnidirectional lights that shine in all directions or unidirectional floodlamps directed outward from their premises and leave it to neighbors to somehow block light from their bedrooms at night the best they can because realistically, it's impossible to do a thorough job of it without also blocking out ventilation. For whatever allows fresh air in also allows light to seep in, through, or around curtains, blinds, or even black-out drapes (like those found in hotels). And no one should be forced to suffer stuffy rooms (in essence rooms with boarded up windows) to create a nice lightless bedroom environment. (For the simplest demonstration of how difficult it is to seal out light, turn on the overhead light in a room. Step outside the house at night and if the room is not utterly dark, then light from the outside can just as easily seep in.)
     For security-conscious owners, the solution's simple: use motion detectors that turn on lights only when someone approaches and turns off automatically in a couple minutes or so. My landlord has one of these floodlamps right outside our bedroom. It has worked perfectly and the light has never been a problem for us, only triggering inappropriately on rare occasion due to a lizard or large insect on or by the sensor or high winds that cause it to vibrate.
     Or, shield all omnidirectional lights from casting direct light toward neighbors' premises. A simple sheet of cardboard, tin, or sturdy aluminum would do. I saw this done at a parking garage attached to our old apartment. The garage's pay-booth was located next to a bright hanging light bulb and a 6 inch square piece of cardboard was taped onto the hanging fixture a few inches from the bulb to shield the bulb's light from casting directly into the booth—it must have been bothering at least one of the attendants, its glare was so harsh.
     Or, point all unidirectional lights such as floodlamps directly toward the owner's house/property. This could be done by mounting on poles or a wall at the owner's property line and pointing inward. Many commercial businesses in industrial areas utilize this or similar types of strategic lighting techniques.
     In short, neighbors (or on-premises tenants) shouldn't have to suffer for the apprehensions of owners. It's like the old car alarm syndrome when those things used to go off all-too-often due to sensors set too sensitively that you'd hear them blaring whenever the wind picked up or a truck rumbled by. (Thank God we don't have that problem in our neighborhood.)
     I feel for my kids in particular since their bedrooms are far from dark as there's now a street light on all night on that side of the house. On the plus side, their side gets the best ventilation.  On the minus side, the drapes we put up (just bedsheets and beach towels) just don't seal out the light very well. The drapes they had did a slightly better job, but they got old, torn, and ratty, so we took them down. Since we rent, I don't feel like redoing the drapes on our own, or complain to the landlord who might raise rent even higher next contract year. Of course the kids don't seem to mind, but having grown up in Hilo, I know the beauty of pure darkness and still enjoy it and feel so well rested whenever we go back for visits. Shouldn't anyone who desires such darkness be allowed the option by considerate neighbors?

Monday, March 7, 2016

Realistic Expectations

     Braden, for the first time ever, is considering the possibility of entering the military straight after high school, not just as a last ditch option—praise God! Prior to this, whenever I'd asked him what his hopes or plans were, he always said “Probably college”—meaning a four year university, at which point I'd remind him of the expense and extreme difficulty of graduating unless he studies really, really hard as it is very competitive and demanding and if he thinks high school is hard, think again, college is way, way harder and slacker attitudes don't cut it, and if he thinks we're going to pay all that money for him to fool around and not put his best effort in and not graduate, then he's got to think again. Or something to that effect.
     I wasn't trying to discourage him, really, I was trying to motivate him—to prove that's he's worthy now, by making straight A's, and by putting in hours of study effort every night, meeting with teachers, or whatever it takes to do it, effort that would show he's worthy of attending college despite less than stellar grades and struggles time and again in his chief academic subjects of math, English, science, and history. But it's never, ever sank in sufficiently and he's always put in minimal effort to get by (in my eyes) because whenever I'd ask him what he'd learned or what he'd studied, or asked him follow-up questions, he'd all-too-often struggle to explain himself as if he weren't quite sure. Or when I'd ask him to look up a word he'd mispronounced, he'd fume and vent as if he hated having to do it. And he'd get mediocre grades and not follow-up on them by redoing the work to make sure he'd finally “gotten it.” And on and on and on. 
     I think I have a fairly realistic view of academics and for Braden to thrive in the university environment would take a love of learning and studying and knowing stuff and excelling that he just doesn't possess at this time and with time running out (he's a sophomore), I've made clear time and again that he's got to start now if he's serious about college. But he never has shown such change.
     So it was a blessed relief when I recently asked him and he said, “Maybe the military.” Our family has a history with the military: though my parents and grandparents were excused for medical reasons, uncles and granduncles have served honorably and a few are already interred at Punchbowl National Cemetery. I've told him about the G.I. bill-type benefits that would pay for his college if he served for an agreed number of years.
     But I mentioned his medical condition (a mild genetic disorder) that might (though not very likely) prevent him from passing the physical. What's your backup option, then? I asked.
     He said maybe a trade school such as construction or electrical.
     I said that's viable—you could go to a two-year community college for that, though construction is very hard, physical work (and dangerous—a wall could fall on you, you could fall off a ladder or ledge, you could step on a nail) and guys who get into it love working out and tend to be competitive and don't like slacker coworkers or those unable to keep up and I don't see those traits in you (as he hates to exercise, never does workouts on his own, and when forced to, only does the minimum at that.) But I did say, You could be an honest handyman or other skilled worker and make a good living that way as those are always in demand.
     What about cooking? I later asked. 
     “I haven't ruled it out,” he said.
     I said that if you're interested in it, the route is not directly to KCC's (Kapiolani Community College's) prestigious culinary school that is super-competitive, but going straight to work in a kitchen. Learn there for two, three, or four years everything about the job—it's hard, stressful work, hot, uncomfortable, and demanding. Some people, after they get a degree, work in a commercial kitchen and discover they hate it, then switch careers to something else. Find out first if you like that pressure-cooker environment and if you do, after a few years, then enter culinary school. By then you should have ideas of how to make things better—that's what a chef does, creates new things.
     Later it occurred to me that perhaps more practical and likely is his doing what my mom did all her working life and what so many of my coworkers in the state do: administrative clerical work. I explained to him that a two year degree at a community college would prepare him and he'd work with mostly women and just do what he's told. The pay isn't great but he could work his way up as certain did in my state department and are now division heads. 
     So he's no longer just thinking about entering a four-year college straight out of high school. I told him this wouldn't preclude such a degree. Even if you don't go the military route, you could save and finance college on your own after you start working. People who pay their own ways through college take studying very, very seriously, knowing how expensive it is and how long it takes to save enough money. They don't take their educations for granted.
     I don't mind investing in his future. I just can't stand the thought of flushing money down the drain on slacker play-around attitudes. Especially not at the out-of-this world college tuition and room and boards rates these days. (They were cheap during my college days by comparison!)