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At Miscon 2013, around Memorial Day, Missoula MT, At SoonerCon, in OKC, around June 15, also Spokon in Spokane, in July/August, Beyond that, we aren't sure.
April 2014
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A day for strangeness….

Started it off by getting the blood test I’m required to get quarterly (thyroid doc) a month late because of the crud…
That went pretty well. I’ve only had this car since July and I’m finally learning how to work the lights…(getting there early assures a shorter wait)…

Then we had the where-is-its…

And then an Oklahoma country clerk’s office called needing 17.00 to file a paper that I’d had to file (technicalities) and that meant they needed to talk to my brother, who understands the terms involved, and when I tried to call him…guess what? AT&T has screwed my cell phone again…

And my cousin called with some real interesting genealogy info on a difficult-to-track relative…

Getting off that, I was so annoyed with AT&T I decided to go for another no-contract phone plan, and I thought Consumer Cellular, recommended by AARP, might be a good thing—wrong. They want to charge you 9.99 a month with zero minutes, and you get to buy minutes at need for a quarter a minute. Well, if we got into one of our rare emergencies, that could be a lot of minutes. So I looked up tracphone, which offers 50 minutes that roll over for 9.99 a month. This seems like a better idea…

And then…power blew. That was one thing. But then the fish tank (freshwater) overflowed when it shouldn’t and we couldn’t figure why: I kept trying to analyze and it kept coming up siphon, but the rig is in most particulars no different than when it was a salt water tank…then Jane realized that the outflow had been changed to two hoses and they had ‘sunk’ somewhat.

That meant a flooded living room floor, at least in that area…so many towels and a fan later we’re trying to figure out what to do about that 10 gallon sump that is just forever too small. And brilliant me finally lit on a plan that doesn’t involve major fabrication (wedge-shaped tank, ergo difficult stand to fit a sump under) —and decided to go with a cannister filter, which is about as big as that 10 gallon tank, but vertical, and which will give us the means to operate without floods…

But meanwhile we have fans on; and we shut down the freshwater pump, so we had to install bubblers: I found a filter for a sale price, but it’s going to be five days before we get it, and the fish hasve to breathe in the meanwhile…

Decorating continues.

I picked out a new phone from Tracfone, one with a 16 day battery life, and minimal functions, which I like…not to mention a large, legible display…if I’m at a store, forgot my glasses (not uncommon) and need to use the phone, I sorta like the numbers to look like numbers, not a white blur.

So…a productive but crazy-making day.

We discovered a nice buttered pecan ice cream which is actually within our Atkins diet parameters…

We have an appointment tomorrow crack of dawn to go to a clinic where we can ask technical questions about how to fill out the new health plan enrollment for Jane—it’s not straightforward for us, because we land on the cusp of age etc. There are, in WA, places you can go and have live people help you figure out what goes in the blanks.

30 comments to A day for strangeness….

  • ready4more

    If TracFone doesn’t work out for you try SmartTalk, available at WalMart. They have several levels, you buy the phone, decide whether to keep your old phone number or not, and pay for the plan you want. I’m impressed that they can offer a full unlimited talk, text, and internet plan for $45/month, but you probably only need a phone plan, so I’ll just stop the commercial.

  • Walt

    Good phone info! Thank you. I notice they have a family (household, I presume) plan where additional phones are only $6. And quite a few of the phones give you double minutes, though I presume that’s added minutes, not base minutes. I looked at the AARP phone, too, having seen it in the news; this seems much better.

    Since you brought up the diets many of us are on, I had given up milk and sugar with my morning tea when I realized I was going over target calories. Then I hit a plateau. As you’ll recall, I’m doing the alternate day version of the 5:2 feed/”fast” (500-600 kcal) diet. So, it was easy on feed days to experiment with weaning myself down to less milk and sugar in my tea, and I also hunted down some higher protein, lower calorie meals for “fast” evenings.

    Of course everyone is different, but this is working for me. I mitigated Thanksgiving by spreading the goodies out Wednesday to Sunday, and actually lost weight over the period.

    So, we all know the dieticians who say to eat every few hours to burn more calories are right that it does kick your metabolism going, but in a sense wrong because that diet requires impossible amounts of willpower. I’m finding tea with milk and sugar is enough to get my body to break-fast and start burning more calories, but it doesn’t kick in to full fledged eating. And my calorie intake (with the tea) is under what I’m burning, which I’m figuring at 100 kcal/hour.

    I guess I’ll see if my body figures out I’m playing tricks, and I have to go to some other strategy before I hit target weight.

    • tulrose

      I quit the sugar in my tea a long time ago. I just use skim milk for it now.

      • Walt

        It depends on the tea, for me. But my experience was eliminating sugar in my morning tea coincided with plateauing. I resumed the sugar (and the 0% milk) and I started losing again. Of course, if that’s a wedge that puts a lot more calories into your diet–different story.

        • tulrose

          I’ve been drinking it that way for so long that I’m used to it. I just drink regular black tea, nothing special, not flavoured, and not any specific type. I was brought up drinking it the English way, strong enough to stand a spoon up in, with milk and sugar. And the milk should go in the cup first.

  • CJ

    45 a month is still steep. I’m aiming at paying 10.00 a month, for the privilege of locating Jane in Safeway or reporting I’m going to be a shade late. Jane’s still stuck with AT&T for another year or thereabouts, but if this works well for me, we’ll get her a nice phone with capabilities, and me — I’m happy with a phone that’s a glorified intercom: alas, my eyesight requires the larger letters, and most of the whiz-bang an Android could do is lost on someone who requires glasses and a chance to focus down to interpret the screen.

    • paul

      IIRC the Tracfone rates I saw ran something like $8/mo. My initial buy was for 60min/90days for about $20, and they doubled the minutes. I’ve made one phone call, to my sister just to see if it worked.

  • CJ

    And congrats on the weight loss, Walt!

  • mrgawe

    I love my Tracfone. I’ve had it for years and years. Add time and minutes when I want to, no fancy doodaddles that I don’t need. I think I figured it out and it was less than a quarter a day to have it, which was considerably cheaper than the landline. Of course, that presuppposes one isn’t gabbing like a teenager all the time…

    Green with envy, Walt. Gained four lbs over the holidays and have started the xmas baking, so no real hope of losing it. Not exactly loaded with willpower, alas. On the plus side, I had lost six lbs prior to the holiday, so I’m sorta still 2 lbs to the good… don’t know how long that’ll last, now that there’s springerle and gingerbread in the house.

    • Walt

      Thank you, CJ and mrgawe.

      Honestly, it’s not taking much willpower at this point. I think I have a feeling for anorexia. If I stay away from (processed?) grains, I don’t feel hungry. I’m not doing Atkins, or really anything in particular except high protein. I’ve lost my taste for fat, so I’m not missing it. It’s hard to imagine not getting enough fat just incidentally; I don’t avoid it on feed days, though I’ll go for lower fat products, as much for taste and mouth feel–fat seems slimy now.

      And I do get every other day off, even dieting about twice as hard as 5:2. This week, for social reasons, I couldn’t alternate. I had fully intended to feed yesterday (4:3 for the week), and spent the evening before planning just how I was going to be “bad”. But when I came to the day itself, after my routine tea, I just didn’t feel like it. So, I’ve dealt with my social day by dieting two days in succession (3:4). And here I am at 190 (started at 220). Ten to go.

      But I do have to keep junk food out of the house. I have no willpower if the temptation isn’t at least a few miles away.

  • smartcat

    Tracfone is the only cell phone I have ever used. On the whole the service has been excellent. However, I bought my new phone last fall on line which was a BIG MISTAKE! After many conversations (getting through to real people is complicated but possible) it was decided that I had the wrong SIM card. They were supposed to send me a new a new one which seemed to get lost in some strange limboas it never did arrive! I ended up returning the phone (now I am having problems getting them to give me my refund). I bought the same model at my local Radio Shack for ten dollars less. I transferred my old phone number in about five minutes. If I had taken my old phone with me they would have done the whole thing right at Radio Shack.
    My advice is to buy locally from a place you know has good service.
    I have always used the one year plan which costs about $100.00. I bought a phone with a triple minute plan, so every time I buy minutes I get triple……and they roll over automatically from year to year.

  • CJ, since it appears that the living room floor, not to mention the basement at times, is prone to water making its way out of some container or another, you might invest in a small-to-medium size wet-dry vac that will vacuum up the water from the carpet. While it won’t get it all, it will get a significant portion, and you won’t need to use as many towels, nor will it take as long to dry.

    • Walt

      Smartcat, $100/year sounds pretty good–I always figure costs by year–but Joe, what about amateur radio for emergency communication? I took what purported to be the lowest level license exam and passed just from dribs and drabs of electronics from my childhood. (Not so well on the more advanced exams: I remember V=IR, but Yagi, I’d have to study.) I especially note the experience of that family lost in the snow in Nevada. An amateur radio doesn’t need a cell phone tower near it to function.

      How much would a set good for mobile emergency comm cost? What are good brands? Can you do digital comm and at what speed?

      I’m sure I could study up to any class needed, though I’m shy of joining organizations like ARRL since you just never get off their mailing lists. Thanks in advance!

      • Well, depending on how much range you want out of your system. Recall that VHF/UHF are pretty much line-of-sight, although if you’re close enough to a repeater, that extends your range quite a bit, plus gives you some other capabilities, such as autopatch if available (you can tie into the phone system with an autopatch). Those usually run between $200 – $500 depending on the “bells and whistles”. An HF set, which is a longer range radio, would cost probably around $900 – $4,000 and higher, but those high-end radios are for rich people, not me.
        There are several more brands on the market than used to be. Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu are the top 3. Alinco, Ten-tec, Wouxon, are also in the mix, although Wouxon, being from China, is relatively new and I don’t have any experience with their equipment. I personally own a Yaesu HF transceiver, two Kenwood mobile VHF/UHF transceivers, a Yaesu VHF/UHF hand-held transceiver, and a very old Icom VHF transceiver.
        Antennas of course, are another factor. A Yagi is a good design, the most basic being of 2 elements, a driven element and a director or a reflector element. The more elements in the construction, the better the forward gain (efficiency) of the antenna. So, a 4 element Yagi is more efficient than a 3 element, etc. A decent Yagi for HF (10, 15, 20 meters) might run about $500 or so, depending on brand, seller, etc. I usually compare between AES (www.aesham.com) or Ham Radio Outlet (www.hamradio.com) for pricing, availability, etc. With some ingenuity, you can build your own antennas that are quite serviceable, easy to use, and have a very good radiation pattern. These are usually long wire antennas, which can be dipoles (center-fed), end-fed wires, inverted V antennas, as well as other designs. If you have a tuner, you can match the impedance of the antenna to the radio, which makes the radio happy because there is less reflected power coming back in. You could also use a vertical antenna, like a Cushcraft R-8 or a Gap, and I think Hustler makes some vertical HF antennas, too. (I used to have an R-7 and had contacts as far from Virginia Beach as Sao Tome & Principe off the west coast of Equatorial Africa.) Right now, my only HF antenna is in the basement because I don’t have a tower. Which reminds me – if you’ve got trees on your property, you can use them to support wire antennas as well as hide them if you have antenna restrictions on your property. Once I get enough money together for a tower, I’m putting one up and getting a really decent HF Yagi. All I have up right now for any communications is a tri-band VHF/UHF vertical for local communications, mainly SKYWARN reporting.
        As for digital, oh yes!!!! There are several digital systems out there, some of them are reminiscent of the old AX.25 packet radio, where you can connect your computer to your radio through a terminal node controller (TNC), and communicate that way. Data rates are slow, limited to 300 baud in the HF range, and 1200 baud in VHF, but 9600 baud in UHF/SHF. Equipment for that varies in price, you can get some that use open-source software for under $200, whereas the higher-end equipment usually has proprietary software – those units cost upwards of $400. Kamtronics, AEA/Timewave are a couple I’m familiar with. One of the newer HF digital modes is PSK-31, which uses a very narrow bandwidth on a particular frequency to effect communications. You do need a computer and a TNC for that, but I’ve used it a couple of times in the past (not set up for it right now) and it’s very nice.
        The tests have gotten to the point where no Morse code is required. There are three levels. Technician, General, and Amateur Extra, each has its own operating privileges and with the Tech and General, they are restricted in allowed frequencies and modes, but not like it used to be for Novices. As a VE myself, I help out with testing in our area, we go through Laurel VEC, and we don’t charge for testing. Most VE testing sites will let you test after you pay the fee, and then let you keep testing until you fail. It’s conceivable to walk in with no license, and walk out as an Amateur Extra holder, all for paying just one price. I forget what the fees are, it’s set by the FCC, I think. But the nice thing is, you get your privileges much more quickly. A new licensee can check on the FCC website to see if they’ve been issued a callsign. Once they see their callsign on the FCC website, they are immediately granted all of the privileges for that class of license. I had to wait a month for mine, my ex-wife had to wait two months for hers……back in the day of having to mail the packages to Gettysburg.
        I don’t know if the ARRL gives out mailing lists, I get correspondence from HRO (Ham Radio Outlet) and AES, but because you can get the names, callsigns, and station addresses for any ham operator through the central database, or going to http://www.qrz.com, or at the ARRL website, I don’t think the lists come from the ARRL.
        Let me know if I can answer any more questions!

        • Walt

          Wow! Thank you very much. This is going to take some thinking on.

          The only intelligent question I think I can ask at this point is whether a handheld transceiver is useful for communications non-line-of-sight–in mountainous, forested terrain–and what would be the license/frequency most useful.

          Oh, and I think I know that amateur and cell communications are pretty much oil and water, but would an amateur transceiver be able to communicate with FRS, CB, and marine radios?

          • You can receive those bands, but no, you can’t talk with them. In fact, we are strictly forbidden to use our radios outside the normal ham bands. Exceptions being MARS, (Military Auxiliary Radio Service) which connects deployed troops to their families via ham radio and telephone. Now, if there’s an emergency, and you can’t communicate with anyone on any frequency except one of those other services, then yes, you can. Emergency communications takes precedence over Part 97 of the FCC Regulations. Note too, that on the FRS, Channels 14 – 22 are for licensed GMRS users only, as is high power on channels 1 – 7.
            Your first question, a handheld normally has a maximum power output of 5 watts, it’s FM, so if you have no repeater towers in your range, then you probably won’t be able to communicate in mountainous, forested terrain. In that case, you’d want a portable HF transceiver, and Yaesu makes one, it’s 5 watts output, too, but it’s SSB, and you could use a Near Vertical Incidence Sky Wave to communicate in rough terrain. NVIS means that the transmitted signal goes nearly straight up, and is refracted from the ionosphere nearly straight back down, so you could communicate with the other side of the mountain range if you had everything just so. That takes experimentation and the atmospheric conditions have to be just right, too. Power isn’t much of a consideration with NVIS, as much as the frequency. I think the lower frequencies, such as from 3.5MHz – 7.5MHz would be more readily used for NVIS since they are more likely to be refracted by the ionosphere than the higher frequencies. That’s why higher frequencies often equate to longer ranges, because the ionosphere doesn’t refract them as greatly.

            If you want to carry this discussion over through email, let me know, I’ll send you my address and we won’t tie up the thread with hamspeak. ;)

          • Walt

            I think I have enough info for now. Thank you very much.

  • paul

    So what do we think about AARP? I remain unconvinced. When I looked at it on turning 50-something it seemed like another marketing arm of an insurance company. I haven’t been favorable to insurance companies since the Prudential, small policy (now) for the last half century (now self-supporting), converted from a “mutual” company to a public company. I favor mutual insurance.

    I too have a TracFone. (I think; can’t find where the docs went to at the moment.) I have minimal minutes because it’s just for emergencies. I’ll run out of days before minutes, I’m sure.

  • CJ

    AARP is valuable if you travel. It is a very large organization that a)lobbies on behalf of retirees, and b) cuts deals with companies to get discounts for its very large membership. This is win-win: the company that gets the AARP blessing gets business they might not have gotten, and still makes a profit, and also knows that blessing can be yanked if the AARP membership is not pleased and complains to the organization. If AARP recommends something, the recommended company has to provide that discount or services as-agreed, and it generally is a good deal if you fit the parameters of the sweet spot of the deal.

    For instance, Motel 6 is frequently 5-10 dollars a night cheaper with an AARP card; United Healthcare has a pretty good package negotiated for Medicare folk in AARP; and they also have a good deal on car insurance with the Hartford. You do have to apply due diligence and find out whether the discounted ‘deal’ serves you well—or not. You certainly don’t have to take it. If you do, you just flash your AARP card and the discount happens. In the case of Consumer Cellular, their deal for some people is going to be good, especially in data, but Tracfone happens to be better for our situation. So we use their motel discounts and two of their insurance discounts, but choose otherwise on cell phones. They also have ‘advisors’ for members, who will explain some of these plans for people who don’t see well enough, or who just don’t understand Medicare or Social Security…when you enroll, where to call, what to do, how to get your Medicare deducted out of SS rather than spend postage every month, etc. It’s worth it to us.

    • Walt

      Can you or anyone compare AARP discounts with AAA discounts?

      (This is definitely a non-diet day! I’m having a luscious 2010 Sonoma Chardonnay with brunch, Earthstone by Rodney Strong. Not innocent at 13.5%, though. Light green swirly disk on the white label, but just ask any Trader Joe’s person. Just arrived here, but it’s about the same distance to WA from Sonoma. My trust in Trader Joe’s wine buyers has again been rewarded, and only $4 in California. A very nice Christmas spirit–pun intended, though not technically correct.

      (One of the fruits–no pun intended–of my trips to Oz was drinking fifteen year old Chardonnay. It does age, and very well, too. The vintner dug it out and opened it to impress the ‘Murrican, and he did so!)

  • CJ

    Yum. ;)
    We have AAA as well, which we also value. But AAA is 89.00 a year in our area, and AARP is 16.00. The discount is similar re, say, Motel 6, as I recall. But the dues are cheaper. You get them back pretty well in one trip. AARP: “Motel 6 is proud to offer AARP Members a 10% discount off our Standard Rates and you’ll receive free Wi-Fi and late checkout until 2pm* upon request.” AAA is up to a 20% discount, but at places like Best Western, Starwood, Hyatt, etc, which are pricier ‘destination’ hotels. So a bigger cash savings, but also a bigger hotel bill: when we’re on the road, we tend to stay at Motel 6, pet-friendly [the cats] and far, far cheaper. Plus we can park the [loaded] car outside our window and be aware if there’s anybody car-prowling.

  • Silverglass

    Whoa, there’s Tracfone battery that lasts that long?? Mine sure doesn’t! Might be time to look for a newer model… I have one that gives you double minutes for every minute you buy. The only thing bad is that it doesn’t extend the time of service, which means every 90 days I have to buy more minutes, and I don’t talk or text that often.

    • CJ

      The one I ordered is the Alcatel ‘Big Easy’, which has plainer buttons and larger font on the screen display: the battery life when unused means charging it about twice a month, as opposed to ‘my life now’ which is a dead phone every time I really need it.

    • smartcat

      You might want to look into a one year card. It’s $100.00 for one year and 400 minutes which double or triple according to your plan. You also usually get an offer to renew for a second year at a cheaper price.
      Like you I don’t use mine a lot since I retired…..however RI is so weird with its long distance calling on land lines that I use my cell phone for most in-state calls.

  • ryanrick

    I use Verizon’s pay as you go plan. $100 keeps it active for a year; some companies are only active for a month. I can remember never going thru the minutes and constantly having to buy more each month or I would be deactivated. So Verizon worked tor me – I get something between 10 and 15 hours with that, which really is enough for me, and any minutes left at the end of the year roll over. No contracts, no fuss and if i do need more minutes i can do it online or call in. Bern using this for the last 3years. Being rural, Verizon has the best coverage for our area. But I’ve heard a lot of people in the area like SmartTalk.

  • ready4more

    SmartTalk uses Verizon’s network I think, so coverage would be the same.

  • chondrite

    I’m covered under DH’s business plan, where all the guys who work for the business get their cellphone bills covered as a business expense. With probably about 5 min a month on my cheapo old phone, I make up for everyone else who is constantly calling clients, the business, and each other.

  • Walt

    I noticed looking into Tracfone that you tie into one of two networks, depending on which phone you buy. I don’t know whose networks they are, but it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.

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