All posts by dividingbyzero

Books for Trade

Back in August, I found about PaperBackSwap from a post on Marauder’s blog. So far, I’ve only managed to send out 17 books, so it’s not done a great deal to help in my efforts to disenclutter, but at the same time, I’ve also received 8 books I’d never read before. So in that regard, it’s at least helping me save a little money as part of my personal economic stimulus plan.
A couple days ago, The Washington Post ran an article about PaperbackSwap. My only fear is that as Spider Robinson pointed out some years ago, being “discovered” is the worst thing that can happen to local bars and restaurants. What I’m hoping though is that more publicity perhaps means more people requesting books and thereby helping with my efforts to disenclutter.
Can I interest you in a book? 🙂

Summer’s Dark Ending

Although I disagree with his conclusion that it’s all meaningless, I thought Dave did a nice summary of some of what’s been going on. My experience over that time frame is a little different; not better, not worse, just different. I’ve been trying for the past couple weeks to find the right way to express it, but what I’ve concluded is that either the right words don’t exist, or else I’m not clever enough to find them.

The past 18 months have been a bit of a roller coaster. There were definitely some high points, but when you’re heading into a valley, it can be difficult to remember the peaks.

Last March, an aunt passed away. It was somewhat expected, and in many ways, I’ve no doubt it was also a blessing. But when the end came, it was astonishing how quick it was.

We’d no sooner laid my aunt to rest then another relative passed away. This time an uncle on the other side of the family. His health had been declining in recent years, but this time it took me completely by surprise.
Right about the same time, a close friend was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Cancer. Thankfully, AJ beat the cancer and recently celebrated her first full year in remission. (This peak I remember. I’m looking forward to AJ celebrating many, many more such anniversaries.)

August of 2007 ended with news that another aunt had been hospitalized as a result of a stroke and for a brief time it appeared that I’d be ending the summer with another funeral. Happily, this was not the case and the rest of 2007 went by on a relatively high note. Along with news of AJ’s remission, friends Sue & Steve announced that they were expecting their first child, I threw my first-ever party for Talk Like a Pirate Day, took a creative writing class, and in November, took my first-ever swing dance lesson.

For me personally, the first half of 2008 was fantastic. I dove into swing dance, eventually taking three months of lessons and although I can no longer be a regular member of the Jaycees, I’ve managed to at least stay involved to the extent the organization is willing to make use of the skills and knowledge I’ve acquired.

The first crack in the patina of joy came in early July when Hodo’s brother passed away after a lengthy battle with colon cancer. I’d never met Chris, but I’ve known Hodo for four or five years, so AJ and I attended the viewing together to pay our respects and make sure Hodo knew that her friends were there for her.

Another shadow crept across the summer sky in mid-August. I’d like to think I could point out Robbie in a crowd, but the truth is that he was only 20 and the generational gap between us was such that I only really knew him as one of the kids who’d been growing up attending the local science fiction conventions. I know his father, Bob, well enough that we’ve occasionally chatted at the same conventions. I can’t claim to be a friend of the family, but I’m definitely part of their community.

In January, Robbie was diagnosed with Leukemia. I’ve known other people with Leukemia and they beat it. Between that and AJ’s successful treatment, I was certain Robbie would beat his cancer too. I was proud to be one of the people who contributed to the more than $2,000 that was raised at Shore Leave to help cancer patients and I was horrified when a month later, Robbie lost his battle.

It’s been raining off and on for the past day and a half. Not a downpour, but enough of a soaking to make the ground soggy and the skies gloomy. It fits my mood.

Last summer my aunt suffered a stroke. She made a partial recovery, but it’s not been going well lately. This past weekend she was accepted into hospice. There are a few potential wild cards that could change everything, but the prognosis at this point is somewhere between two weeks and two months.

I like Dave’s summary of the stages of life, but I disagree with his ending.

The sun rises in the East and sets in the West, and as the day ends, all slips into darkness. This too is meaningless.

When AJ was diagnosed with Cancer last year, her friends immediately closed ranks around her and Mike to make sure they had everything they needed. When Hodo’s brother passed away, her friends closed ranks to take care of her too. And when news came of Robbie’s illness, that community came together as well.

And that’s what I think it all means: Hold on tight to the people you care about. Let them know you care.

So if I seem a bit “out of sorts” or a bit “clingy” in days to come, it’s because that’s what I’m struggling with. I’m trying to figure out how to let my friends to know I care.

And perhaps those are the right words after all.

Clean-up Efforts Continue

After a bit of procrastination, my efforts to Disenclutter™ the place are getting back into gear. I’ve been using Freecycle for a year or two, but that’s sometimes a little hit or miss, so it’s time to get creative.
Some of the stuff I’m getting rid of is a bit fannish, so for those items I’m trying a more focused effort. I’ve had one reply already from that effort, which is pretty good when you consider that particular section of the site generally gets just one or two visits per week.
The newest effort is an attempt to thin out some of the books I no longer read. Borrowing an idea from Marauder, I’ve signed up with the Paperback Swap site on the theory that I’ll be able to trade books I no longer read for books that someone else no longer reads. The first book goes out tomorrow, but I think I’ll wait until the clutter level has been reduced a bit more before adding anything new.

Vocabulary Builder

I’ve created a new word recently. The word is “Disenclutter.” You can prove that it’s a word, because it shows up on Google. Granted, the only site it currently shows up on is my own, but that sort of nitpicking detail isn’t worth worrying about. Gene Weingarten used a similar technique when he coined the term “Googlenope” (a phrase which has no hits on Google). If it’s good enough for Gene, then by golly, it’s good enough for me. (Unfortunately, I don’t have the same audience size as Gene, so any and all help in expanding the usage of “Disenclutter” is most welcome.)
In order that the word might propagate with a minimum of confusion, it is necessary to understand the word’s origins
The root word is, of course, “clutter” which the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines as: “to fill or cover with scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness.” The past tense form is “cluttered” which, quite accurately, describes the current state of my guest room and possibly one or two other areas of my house (e.g. the upstairs and the downstairs).
Likewise, the prefix dis- is defined as meaning “do the opposite of.” and “en-” means “cause to be.”
Therefore, the verb “Disenclutter” can be understood to mean “causing all the disordered things impeding movement in my house to impede movement in someone else’s house instead.”
Feel free to spread the word! 🙂
(Need any CD boxes? Any 3-ring binders?)

Old Computers

Technology is one of those things where for the most part, things don’t improve with age. The main exception to this rule seems to be the old-fashioned division by hand versus trusting certain bits of silicon. (Thus leading to the expression/warning, “Don’t Divide, Intel Inside.”)
A couple years ago, an acquaintance gave me a notebook PC. It was in working condition, it just didn’t have a hard drive. (The original drive had failed and he’d decided to replace the entire thing with an Apple Power Book.) I tried to get a new drive from Dell, but eventually discovered they were no longer available. So the computer sat in my guest room, just gathering dust.
I think the correct term here might be “pack rat.”
A friend gave me a talking-to the other day and I resolved to do a bit more follow-through on my plans to Disenclutter™ the place.
So this morning I sat down and typed up a description of the notebook computer, making it clear that there was no hard drive.

This is an older (6 years?) Dell Inspiron 3000 notebook.
The specs are:

  • 233MHz Pentium MMX
  • 143 MB RAM
  • Swappable CD and Floppy drives (plus a cable allowing whichever isn’t plugged in to be connected to the parallel port)
  • PCMCIA Network and modem cards
  • Power supply

There is one catch: This computer has no hard drive. The original drive (3.2 GB, 2.5″ form factor) is no longer available from Dell and I haven’t had the time/energy/need to track one down elsewhere. The computer is otherwise in working order; you probably won’t be running Vista on it, but it should be fine for most word-processing or email tasks.

I then posted that description to the local Freecycle group.
The item was posted at 8:03 AM. Given the age of the computer, I didn’t expect there would be too many takers. In fact, I was a little worried some might accuse of me using the list as a means of getting rid of trash.
How’s that saying go? “One person’s trash is another’s treasure”? By 8:13 AM there were already seven people asking for the computer. Thinking that perhaps some had seen the word “computer” without reading the part about “no hard drive” I wrote back to the first one (for this stuff I figure it’s first come, first served) to make sure she understood that part. Yep, she’d understood that all along.
Evidently that computer still has some life ahead of it.

A Phrase in Search of an Occasion

“You talk about insanity as though it were something bad.”
I’m certain that somewhere out there, a situation exists where that’s exactly the right thing to say. I’m also equally certain of two other things: A) I have no idea what that situation is, and B) If I should happen to encounter it, I won’t remember what to say.


I’d been sick for a few days, so when I first heard the noise on Tuesday night, I puzzled over it for about five seconds and then fell asleep. But on Wednesday morning as I came out of the bedroom on my way to take Wylie out for his morning walk, I heard it again.


Strange, I wonder what that was? It definitely wasn’t Terry. For starters, she’s downstairs and more to the point, this sound had an “electronic” quality to it. Needing to get my day started, I decided to solve the mystery later and took Wylie out for his walk.

A bit more than a mile later, I started getting ready for work. And as I was coming out of the bedroom, there it was again.


Aha! It must be the smoke detector letting me know the battery’s running low! So I took the smoke detector down so I wouldn’t forget about it, removed the dead battery, and threw it out with the plan of stopping sometime during the day to buy a new one. I never did get away from the office at lunch and ended up working late as well (this, I’m sad to say, is pretty much the norm these days). So I didn’t get a chance to buy a new battery.

As I was getting ready to go to bed that evening, I was in the upstairs hallway and heard it again.


I thought that was pretty cool. Apparently the smoke detector holds a charge so it can still warn you, even if you have to take the battery out for a few days while you try to find time to replace it. How many other products have that much thought put into them? Not many I can think of!

Thursday morning, it was still going and I was quite impressed at how much the manufacturer cared about its customers.


That afternoon I got away from the office long enough to buy a package of batteries. Just the generic store brand, but they’ll last a long time. I got home that evening and once I’d taken Wylie out for his “Home from Work” walk, I went upstairs and put the new battery in.


I thought that was strange. Maybe it needed a little more time before whatever internal system came up to the proper voltage and then the chirper would turn itself off. So I had dinner, watched a movie, read some emails and took Wylie out for his evening walk.

I was headed up the stairs, giving some thought to calling it a night when it happened again.


Well now, this was starting to get annoying. A few years ago, the downstairs smoke detector started chirping for no apparent reason. Even with fresh batteries, it wouldn’t stop chirping. You do have to replace them every so often, so I’d taken it down and put up a new one. Perhaps the upstairs one was starting to go bad as well. Standing at the top of the stairs, I began weighing my options.


Hey, that wasn’t coming from the right direction to be the upstairs smoke detector! Son of a gun! Maybe it was the downstairs smoke detector that needed new batteries! That one uses AA cells and I have a good-sized stash of those that I use with the camera.

So I took the downstairs smoke detector off the ceiling, and replaced the batteries in that one too. Hah! Now I wouldn’t have to worry about changing the batteries in either detector for a while. Satisfied, I started to go upstairs.


At this point, I was starting to really wonder what was going on. Perhaps there was some thing beginning to smolder somewhere? More confusing, the sound didn’t seem to be coming from the right place to be the downstairs smoke detector either.
So I spent about five minutes downstairs, listening for the telltale chirp.


I was still confused, but at this point I’d pretty much ruled out the downstairs smoke detector as the culprit. Perhaps there was a robotic cricket that been programmed to add some confusion to my life? With thoughts like that going through my head, I went upstairs and as I passed beneath the upstairs smoke detector…


I stood there for a few minutes trying to decide where the sound was coming from. Maddeningly, the chirp was only a fraction of a second long and only happened once every 60 to 90 seconds.



I finally went back downstairs to the kitchen, got the step stool, and stood in the upstairs hallway with my head a foot from the smoke detector.



It definitely wasn’t the smoke detector. That was something of a relief, but that did leave me with the mystery: If it wasn’t the smoke detector, what was chirping? My home office is on the upstairs, and there’s plenty of stuff in there that could chirp (although none of it should be chirping). Maybe the computer’s battery backup needed to be replaced? That would be annoying since it hasn’t been terribly long since the last replacement, but still, better to find out now, before it failed. So I went into the office to listen.


It was still audible, but it didn’t seem to be coming from anything in the office. The source of the chirping was still a mystery, but at least I wouldn’t have to replace the battery back up right away. So I stood in the hallway again.


Maybe it was coming from the bedroom? Again, there were a few things in there that could chirp, but nothing that should. Maybe my cell phone was going nuts? Maybe there really was a robotic cricket? So I stood just inside the bedroom door and waited.


It wasn’t coming from the bedroom. That didn’t leave much. I kind of doubted it was my razor (for starters, since the only outlet is on top of the mirror, I don’t leave it plugged in when it’s not in use). Maybe there was something radically weird happening with the compact fluorescent bulbs in the bathroom? Yes, I actually stood in the bathroom to listen.


That eliminated both the light bulbs and the razor as sources of the chirp. All that was left was the guest bedroom.

A few of my friends have occasionally made comments in which they referred to me as being some sort of practical joker. I can’t really speak to the accuracy of those claims, but if they are true, then it’s also true that I come by it honestly. My parents are both known to play jokes on their children and it’s well known throughout the family that the best way to tell whether Dad’s pulling your leg is to look to see whether his lips are moving.

Mom and Dad came down to visit in late January. They’re good people and I love them dearly; but I think it’s safe to say that anyone who’s known them for more than three minutes (which is to say, long enough for Dad to start telling one of his tall tales) will certainly understand that at this point, I was beginning to seriously consider the possibility that they were playing a practical joke on me. On a previous visit, Mom left a foot-long plastic lizard buried halfway down through my sock drawer. It therefore wasn’t hard to imagine the possibility that she was an accomplice to Dad leaving some sort of diabolical electronic chirping device hidden in the guest bedroom.

So I stood in the middle of the guest bedroom and I waited. It wasn’t long before my patience was rewarded.


It was definitely louder. No wonder I hadn’t noticed the chirping before, I keep the guest room door closed when it’s not in use. Trying to narrow down the location of the noisemaker, I went and stood by the closet.


It was still loud, but it wasn’t coming from the closet. Perhaps it was over by the window?


Not quite as loud as the closet, it must be closer to the foot of the bed.


The desk! It was coming from my old desk! I moved a few things off the top of the desk and I listened.


Definitely the desk, but it wasn’t anything on the top. Maybe one of the side shelves?


No. Nothing on the shelves was making that sound. Could it be something under the desk?


Yes! It was definitely something under the desk! I moved an old shirt and listened again.


A few years ago, the downstairs smoke detector started chirping for no apparent reason. Even with fresh batteries, it wouldn’t stop chirping. You do have to replace them every so often, so I’d taken it down and put up a new one. The problem is, some smoke detectors contain a small amount of radioactive material. Not enough to pose a health risk, even in your house, but they still don’t want you to chuck it into the landfill where it’ll end up in the groundwater.

I’d put the old smoke detector aside until I could figure out the correct way to dispose of it. Amazingly, several years later, the batteries still had enough juice in them that it was still making the periodic chirping sound that had convinced me to replace it in the first place.
This leaves one final mystery: Why the heck didn’t I take the batteries out in the first place?

Addendum: The new smoke detector in the downstairs portion of the house also has a carbon monoxide detector. On top of that, instead of just making a shrieking sound that’ll scare you to death, the new detector features a recording of a woman’s voice which in the event of a fire or carbon monoxide build up will calmly tell you to evacuate the premises immediately.

Dad predicts that I’m going to end up like a friend of his who awoke in the middle of the night to hear a strange woman talking to him about replacing batteries.

Image via Wikipedia by user Tumi-1983 under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license