Black Watch Plaid

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Look at me … I’ve gone over a week without a post for the first time since making the great transition to California.  Long time Bear Feeders are probably saying “meh”, but I did want to push these out at a better clip in this new life.  I mean, the old excuse was “my life sucks so there is nothing to blog about”, and this life isn’t supposed to suck is it?

Well, it doesn’t suck.  It’s just busy.  Roller coaster is a more apt description.  That coming from two different areas — work and house hunting.

I finally kicked off the main part of my work duties, namely performing audits, but jumping in with both feet.  Without still getting my full and official ‘approved auditor status’ at JPL yet, I have been on four audits in the last few weeks, have three more to fit in before the end of April, and have at least four or five in May.  Most of them are ‘local’, meaning a day drive of not too painful proportion.  I did have to go to San Diego this past week, but that just meant that I hung in Temecula for a bit.  Travel is coming, thought, and my first big audit trip has more than irony attached to it – but that deserves a blog on itself.

 

But where the Bear Feed last left you, ‘Stuff’ just got real in my search for a permanent home.  It’s gotten so bad (and be ready for the most obscure reference of the week) that I think about it like the terror alert levels they used on Harvey Birdman Attorney at Law — where it started at red; but in the last few days I had no choice but to terrorize myself b by ratcheting thing up a couple notches to … BLACK WATCH PLAID!  (Don’t get it?  Click the link already)  It hasn’t hit the cover of Rush’s seminal album Moving Pictures, but there is still time.

I noted last time that I put an offer down on a place … I expected that to get beat, and it did … by a lot.  Like, I went in at asking on normal terms, and they accepted an offer for 15% over asking, cash, and immediate sale.  That’s went I went to a few house showings.  Found a place out there I thought would be great, but expensive.  After a pretty long story regarding failed expectations, emotional decision making, and a short burst of feeling let down by humanity – that fell through too.  A third house hit my radar just this past Thursday, and am working with an agent on giving a juicy offer there sometime next week.

Today is Saturday – so my usual Saturday fare of coffee and routing my open house route for the weekend is on.  I tagged 12 homes to look at today or tomorrow – so it’s going to busy weekend.

But busy is what my life has become.

Oh … and Hockey Playoffs.

 

 

 

 

Stuff Just Got Real

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Last night, I put an offer on a house.

Now, before you get all “good for you” and “congratulations” and all that mess going – it kinda is only a symbolic gesture, or more directly a practice run of sorts.  In other words, I am about as likely to get this house as my permanent residence as I am getting a B-List celebrity to be my permanent girlfriend.

But first … let’s get the newbies to the Bear Feed up to speed.  Since moving to California in December, I laid out what I called the Habitation Master Plan.  In a nutshell – it’s to rent for a bit, find where I want to live, then buy a house.  My current rental on Manhattan Ave in Montrose is scheduled to be renovated when my lease is over at the end of July, so the clock is ticking – just still having a lot of ticks left.  Seriously, putting an offer down now means I would have a mortgage and rent due monthly for at least couple months.  That doesn’t mean I haven’t been looking.  The Hunt has been Afoot for a couple months and I’ve joked my main hobby is attending open houses on weekends.  So what’s changed?

Well – I told myself that if the right property comes along, to put an offer in.  Make it the right offer, even if it isn’t the right time.  So that’s what I did.

It’s a single family house in Pasadena.  Small, but comfortable.  Needs some work, but you’d be hard pressed to see the work that’s needed until you dig into a bit.  Yard is Auggie ready.  Not too far from work, not to far from the fun parts of Pasadena.  There are two big downsides though.  First, it was priced at the top end of what I want to pay and with the work that is needed there will be a pinch.  Second, while it’s priced high for me, it’s not priced high its comprobables.  It’s about as hot of a property in Pasadena as they come.  In fact, when I submitted my offer in last night, I was the sixteenth (16th) offer submitted for the house.  Offers were due last night for review by the owners the next couple of days – and while a counter is likely, they will be countering to everyone to see who will bite.  I didn’t go after an impressive offer to them either — just gave them asking (which we all expect for it to go above asking), and gave them a standard escrow and terms.  The owners are looking for a quick sell, which means I could have given them a 15 day escrow but that would make my situation that much tougher.  My one area that have could have an advantage is this home lends it self well to first time buyers – and my conventional loan will look better on paper than FHAs (but not as good as someone with cash).

If you can’t smell it in my words, I’ve basically talked myself out of wanting this offer to go through.  If you need more proof of that – I scheduled four house tours for this evening to look at other available property.

Still, this offer actually marks a new point in this plan.  This isn’t window shopping anymore, is it.  An offer is an offer.  It’s a suggested contractual commitment to buy.  It is paperwork, negotiations, earnest money, considered legal ramifications, and reviewing of property inspections / restrictions.  It is a big step towards laying down the foundation for what is the largest financial and lifestyle investment we can make.

In other words … Sh*t Just Got Real.

Honestly, there is more that I need to get going on – obtaining options on home loans from multiple sources, finding a proper homeowner insurance in this state that is ‘aggressive breed dog’ friendly, and searching out possible contractors in case work is needed before move-in of any location.  So it maybe better this falls through than doesn’t.

How Time Flies

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About ten years ago, a great show that died an early death about a dead girl working as a grim reaper called “Dead Like Me” was dead on with a dead pan quote (which I promise you, doesn’t include the words ‘dead’ or ‘death’):

They say time flies when you are having fun.  What is also true is that when you are not having fun, time still flies.  It just flies coach.

This blog marks the four month anniversary to my arrival in California, and I thought that deserves some time for me to collect things and see where we stand in the madness.  Taking a moment is a good thing in this situation because like the quote suggests, time has flown.  When I look at the calendar, I see that it really has been less than 10 weeks I’ve been in the house I am renting – which is still more time than I spent in my ‘temporary life’ hotel room.  Not only I somehow sold my Boston condo since vacating it, my credit rating already went all funhouse mirror in reaction to it already – and that stuff takes time.

It seems, however, like I have been at this for far longer than four months as well.  So much has occurred in a so little of time that the whole seems greater than the sum of the parts.  So often I try to describe my life as if there are ‘chapters’ in a book.  When I take a hard look at the last four months, there seem to be chapters here as well.  Mostly because my living conditions seemed to transition so sharply — from the Condo life of Boston — to Hotel life in Burbank — to a quiet house in quiet Montrose.  Even now, as I start ramping up my search for a new permanent home, I am looking outside of Montrose (due to lack of availability mostly) so it seems yet another chapter is closing.  Yet if I just focus on the living situations, it only seems to tell half the story.

Since getting here, I’ve made new friends.  Made new different friends.  Dumped away old new friends for new different friends.  And actual ones, not just Bartenders who pick up my name from looking at my credit card — and on that subject Starbucks baristas remember my name here (which never happened in Boston).  I can get around without GPS … mostly … at least more reliably than getting around Boston after 2 years there.  Work has blossomed for me as well; now that I have grown and learned some things, I am able to make a difference here – like really making a difference, after only a few months.  Also, I have hobbies.  Of course one of the big ones is house hunting & visiting open houses, but still … HOBBIES!  PLURAL HOBBIES!

Granted, if one was to follow me around and try to describe me in three words they would likely be ‘boring, drunk, pathetic’; but I should get some slack until I fully get myself into some kind of life here.  That’s kind of the point, though.  It seemed like most of 2016, especially much of the back half of it, my world didn’t seem right.  Changing jobs, moving to California, it first appeared as though it was the switch I needed to make things right — but truth be told, I found that it isn’t an on-off switch, but a dimmer that takes time going from dark to light.  Yet, I can’t help but to think that the changes that came did so at the right place for me.  If they came too fast, I don’t know if I could grasp or like them.  If they came any slower, trouble would have followed it.

All that I can really say is that looking at my life these past four months – time has flown.  If it is true that when you aren’t having fun that time flies coach, I’d have to admit that time must be flying first class these days.

 

 

 

Big Thinking through Thinking Small

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Getting my nerd on here by sharing a group of projects I am supporting that has me fired up following some meetings this week.  One of the biggest developments in unmanned space flight in recent years is the development and deployment of CubeSats.  A CubeSat can be considered a miniature satellite.  They mark a circular movement of technology not much different than you see in other forms of technology – that first starts small, grows massively as we expand what we want that technology to do, then miniaturizing to accomplish the same objectives.  But for the sake of getting boring let me explain it more like this:

Open your freezer  – grab a pint of ice cream – open it up – eat it – now consider that yummy nom nom goodness.  Now image your freezer is attached to a rocket, your hand is a low earth orbit, and the nom nom goodness you feel to be ‘advancing scientific knowledge’.  That’s a CubeSat.

CubeSats mainly are no bigger than 10 centimeters cubed, or 4 inches by 4 inches by 4 inches … and they weigh no more than a few pounds.  It used to be these things were designed as almost like toys for universities who would build them as a proof of concept; but these days the amount of technology they can pack into these little buggers is extraordinary.   Sometimes they are built just a bit larger but the same cubic like design, sometimes they are fired out in ‘flocks’ or ‘constallations’ so they can work in tandem with a bunch of other CubeSats; but basically these satellites are intended to draw in the data from experimentation like most other satellites going up.  One engineer pointed out that they are developing a solar flare detection system using tens of CubeSats as the current method of using one or two big satellites would be the same as measuring something in the ocean using only one or two bouys.

Probably the cool thing about them to the non-nerd is their deployment.  You don’t just put a block of electronics on the top of a rocket and shoot it up.  No … you have it hitch a ride.  Many CubeSats are attached onto rockets used for other purposes – like other satellites or manned flights.  One of the first tests of the next generation of manned flight rockets planned in the near future will carry a bunch of the little guys deployed at different stages.  The International Space Station has had a couple of groups of deployments from attached units as well.  The record is held by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) who earlier this year sent up a rocket and deployed 104 satellites.

Also, they aren’t as much shot out into space, but packed into spring loaded boxes – and when it comes time “pop goes the weasel”.  Like, video from ISRO deployment looks like a rocket with a whole bunch of little pieces of junk spiraling out from it like bread crumbs.   CubeSats typically don’t have much for propulsion.  Most are deployed in whatever orbit they need to be in, but if they have to move they are pushed around by pressurized gas in tiny tanks.  Sometimes they will have reaction wheels or gyroscopes to keep them from tumbling, but many CubeSats are designed to work when they are tumbling.

The big payoff of these guys is the actual ‘payoff’.  Estimates are a CubeSat can be designed, built, launched, and run to end of mission for under $250,000.  Launching alone has dropped to as little as $50k.  NASA has committed to multiple missions a year just to shoot up a bunch of those little guys in what they literally called a “Ride Share” program.  Yes that’s right, think Uber but in space.

In a meeting today, an engineer showed a picture of a circuit assembly used on a CubeSat program.  This unit had the computing capability of the entire Voyager-1, which had electrical components that were so big that they were actually used to help give mechanical support to the probe during takeoff.  As technology continues to evolve, the cost of discovery gets cheaper.  And within the boundaries of my role, I get to help us head that way.

SIDEBAR — 
Something that has come up a couple of times recently are questions about the new federal budget and the impact on what is going on here at work.  Specifically, I’ve been asked if I am getting laid off based on the budget proposals.  Usually that leads to political questions that lead to stupid memes & blogs with titles like “BlahBlah Just BlahBlahed To BlahBlah”.  Since there is no room on the Bear Feed for political hate (only self-hatred, sometimes replaced with self-loathing, sometimes replaced with alcohol) – let me just say this:  “JPL has so much work right now & so many projects coming our way that we can’t hire fast enough”.  So the only reason I would get fired is your standard incompetence or being a jackass – which lets face it was a much greater risk in any political climate.  There, done.

 

 

Drying Out the Pollen

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The running joke I had for most of the last month comes down to following statement:

“Based on the sample of the last few months, it always rains in Southern California.”

If you don’t find that funny … then you probably aren’t from this area.  Rain in SoCal is rare.  Like, this kind of rainfall just doesn’t happen in people’s lives.  Not that it’s been biblical, just continual.  Some days just light drizzle, some days torrential downpours.  But it seemed we never went a week without some precipitation.  Finally, the long-term forecast shows a return to dryer weather.  Weather Channel is saying that between now and April 12th there is only two days forecasted for any chance of precipitation, and then only a 10% chance.  Temps will be in the mid 70s for highs, and lows staying above 50.  So finally the ongoing joke about rain maybe literally drying up.

Contrary to another running joke I have with people from LA, there haven’t been many complaints about the rain.  Nearly all of them comment with “We Needed it”. There’s been an ongoing drought for most of the last three years.  Lawns have died.  Reservoirs drained.  Water bills have joined lofty numbers along with tax bills.  Now, the rains have become so good that the drought conditions have been rolled back to nearly pre-panic conditions.  So we definitely needed it.

What we get, also, is green.  Lots of Green.  All that rain triggered record blooms of plants coming out for springtime.  Grasses have grown thick and lush.  Mountainsides are covered with leafy sprouts.  Anything growing from the ground with a chance of colors other than “dead” or “wilted” are winning the battle this spring.  An area of the country that is more typically the color of deserts, is now turning green.

Of course, anyone with allergies would know this brings all that lovely pollen.  And there is LOADS of pollen.  Much of my car is covered in it every morning.  With windows open, the stuff blows in and gets everywhere.  Some nights its hard to breath.  In fact, this past Saturday I swear everything tasted like pine trees, that pollen was on everything.

But this all means that spring is here, and with the chance to dry out and warm up – I think its time to stop complaining about it.

And maybe come up with a new running joke.

Mingo & The Ninjas

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Today marks the 5 year anniversary of a secret act, that is one of those moments I can’t help to be a little proud about still.  In the five years that have passed, the ‘secret’ has not become so much of a secret anymore.  Plus, I have shifted away from that whole community in practice, if not also in actual physical location.  Which to me, gives me all the reason in the world to break the silence (whatever silence is left that is) and tell the story of Mingo & The Ninjas.

Back in the early 20-teens, I was living in Wichita and heavily involved in Geocaching (a GPS based scavenger hunt game, akin to Pokemon Go but with Tupperware).  In short, you would use GPS devices to find ‘caches’ hidden by other users.  Once found, you would sign a long that you were there, and occasional trade out swag – but mostly it is about finding the find than what you find on the inside.  The hobby has grown to include millions of these caches worldwide with nearly as many people playing along.  But like all hobbies, it has to start somewhere.  Shortly after GPS technology was made  in 2001 available to a consumer level, geocaching begin with just a limited few hobbyists.  One of those was a gentleman who lived in the far northwestern part of Kansas.  To  do his part, he found a capped well that sat at a corner of a frontage road right off of I-70.  Because every cache has a name, he named it for the little town (and little I mean, 5 people, a grain elevator, and a co-op fuel pump) that sat just up the road.  That town, and the cache was named Mingo.

The hard truth of caches is that they don’t stick around long.  Many are exposed to the elements, and deteriorate quickly.  Some are found by non-geocachers (aka Muggles) and are moved, kept, or thrown out like trash (aka muggled).  Others just have random events that happen to them.  The first ever cache was destroyed by the blade of a snow plow.  It could be rare that a cache last more than a couple of years, and by 2010 it was rare that any cache hidden before 2005 still existed.  Mingo as it so happened not only still existed, it was in the same location in the original container – and by doing so was the oldest geocache in existence in the world.

Things changed, though, in early 2012.  Sometime in the winter, someone took objection to Mingo.  While it was placed on public land (officially owned by the DOT) an unknown person removed the cache from its spot, then proceeded to not only fill in the hole it was hidden in but cover the hole with cement.  The decade of log books and the original container were missing.  Additionally, the original owner had given up much of his interest in the cache, and hadn’t commented on the fate of the cache itself.  Usually when a normal cache goes missing, it isn’t out of the question that another cacher comes along and just replaces it with another container – which happened in this case, but immediately it was noticeable that the replacement was ‘no replacement for Mingo’.

While Mingo was a four hour drive from Wichita, many of us in Wichita looked upon Mingo as almost a piece of history, and kept a good eye on it’s log posts.  At first, some of us tried to reach out to the original owner, offer up suggestions and things we can do to help.  We reached out to the administrators of Geocaching to get guidance or leniency from potential archiving of the lost cache.  All the signs were pointing to the end of the old stalwart. That was a difficult pill to swallow for many of us.  Most the hobbies we may come across aren’t really harkening back to something historical (I mean, you don’t play ping pong on the original table).  But as a player in the game of geocaching, it was special to say that you went to the oldest geocache, and you signed your name.  It was it’s own history, it’s own way to respect the people who may not have envisioned what the hobby had become but helped but took the first steps down that path.  Now, this piece of Geoacahcing history was threatened, and we were about to lose it completely.

Not unless someone did something.

Three of us had a conversation, and a plan formed.  The plan’s foundation came from two key things – we wanted the integrity of the original cache to be honored as much as possible, we wanted to respect the original owner & those who administered it. What this really meant was that we were going to reach out to as many of the key owners and let them know about our plan — but not tell another person.  Ultimately, our goal was to restore the cache to it’s original look & feel – and do so as if nothing ever happened.  We had to do it without being noticed by the general community.  In other words …

We had to be ninjas!!  From that point on, that’s what we called ourselves.

The original plan was to do a evaluation run.  Assuming the hole was filled with concrete, we knew we had some work to do – so we sent the first ninja up to assess what tools we would need.  He took along a pry bar just in case, and after a couple of hits noticed the concrete was pretty thin … thin enough he had it cleared and cleaned on that visit.  The other two of us ninjas made the replacement run.  An early morning departure from Wichita on a clear & warm March day, and we were on our way to Mingo.  Arriving by late morning we collected the remnants from whoever first cleared the site, placed the cache, took pictures, and made a log under a pseudonym to alert people that “someone” had replaced it for real.

The thing was, we did all of this with just some blind hope – that this venerable piece of geocaching history will be kept alive because we did something.  Even with making those trips, doing all that work to create replicas, and clearing out the hole, there was no guarantee the owner & administrators will revive the cache.  But no sooner did we place the replacement, upload logs, and sent pictures we forwarded on what we did to those powers and crossed our fingers — like, we literally sent that information out from the road, at the first spot we could get cell coverage in Western Kansas.  From that point on, we drove home with our fingers crossed.  With all the discussions, the planning, and the work to make the replacement – the best moment in this whole adventure happened just outside of Salina, about 2-1/2 hours into the ride home.  The cache owner replied with a quick thanks and a brief acknowledgement that the cache is replaced – and an administer returned Mingo to an active state.  I remember that moment because I said to my fellow ninja, “We just saved Mingo.”

 

Honestly, I can see how some of you may not see this as that big of a deal, and I can tell you it is really hard to give the perspective we saw ourselves in at the time.  I mean, what I am really saying is that a bunch of guys dropped a metal can in a hole.  But like I said before, there are millions of these geocaches worldwide, and millions of people have gone in search for them.  Nearly six thousand people have logged that they found this cache; and when you read those logs most made the trip to this nowhere place to find that metal can and say they have been there.  It is a like a pilgrimage to a relic.  The weight of the meaning to those who chase after that cache landed on my lap that moment I said “We just saved Mingo.”  We did something special.  We did something very very special.

But I am most proud that we did it is as ninjas.  The main reason was that to draw attention to what we did would diminish what was done.  We wanted to make it look like the original owner did all the work but he suggested right away that it wasn’t him.  Granted, we left clues, like one of the things left in the new container included a cryptic message that when deciphered told the story of what we did.  Within a couple weeks, enough people figured it out in Wichita that they openly asked us about it, and we didn’t deny things.  Not too long after that, I got my job in Alaska, and with that slowly gave up geocaching as a hobby.  Turns out, a couple more ninja missions were needed to maintain the cache, and the circle of ninjas have grown.  But those early days, we kept silent.  To us, it wasn’t important to know who saved Mingo – it was important to know Mingo was saved, and Mingo would be worth saving.

It was five years ago that the Ninjas saved Mingo, and it still sits in that same hole today.  While I haven’t been around to help out since then, and telling the story now gives me a chance to thank those Ninjas (old and new) who do the right thing for all the right reasons.

Chapter Closes With a Whimper

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It makes absolutely no sense to me why license plate screws installed in vehicles aren’t made from hardened steel.  Sure, it’s probably a low grade steel that has been treated to some point, but the idea that you would put a soft fastener in corrosive conditions like exposed to road elements, knowing that auto shops would most like use an air gun to bolt those things into place.  After two and a half years of snow, salt, and miles one of the two bolts holding my back license plate froze pretty hard onto the thread, and since time and poor quality happened – watching my screwdriver work on that bolt was like watching someone work chewing gum through their teeth.  It only took a couple tries to strip the head.  Of course, since it is a Japanese car, the hex was metric, something my cheap Walgreens socket set doesn’t cover.  So the next best thing was to just drill out the bolt.  At least that way I can take the old plate off.  This was only a problem with one bolt of the four because, well, the front plate set-up was a jerryrig I did when Alaska required a front (after Kansas does not).  And the other back bolt was replaced the Boston.  Of course, I didn’t have a spare bolt, and as I was trying to replace the plates shortly before meeting some work friends that had to wait until the next day.  So after driving with the plate hanging half off, I found the hardware I needed …

… and in some random parking lot, a chapter was closed.

By finally bolting my new California license plates to my car, I no longer carry anything that suggests I am anything but here now.  In the eyes of the State of California, I am now a full fledged resident – and no longer have any ties to Massachusetts, Boston, or the life prior to this.

Of course, Boston and Mass probably thought that way the day I stopped paying taxes to them, but not the point.  Since I closed on the condo in February, I had no bills to pay there and no property taxes owed.

Of course, like everything in this process it took some time getting from Point A to Point B.  I couldn’t get a drivers license until I had an address (that wasn’t a hotel).  I couldn’t apply for a vehicle registration until I had applied for a license.  I couldn’t do either until I scheduled an appointment or chose to spend 10 hours sitting at a California DMV.  Then again, it took me three trips from finding out I grabbed the wrong stuff to learning the Mass Smog test didn’t fly for California.

If you ever gone through a move like this, typically you don’t get everything done in one big swoosh.  I tried, the first trip to the DMV happened as the closing was happening on my condo.  More commonly, it’s a process.  Even someone like me who’s become an expert at moving knows that it is a step after step after step.  There’s no “THE MOMENT” moment.  I mean, even after I cleared everything for my license, it took two weeks for it to arrive in the mail.  After I closed on the house, it took a few days for all the paperwork to wrap up.  And as the story started, even though I had plates in hand, it took work to actually attach it permanently to my car.

T.S. Elliot once wrote:  “This is the way the world ends – Not with a bang but a whimper.”  So like I kind of blogged about last week, how it seems you don’t realize when a new chapter begins until it is well started — sometimes that last page of the chapter ends without much of anything.

That being said, my Boston chapter is now over.  While I can get a little squirrley on how it ended & can say the new chapter is pretty much in full swing, I am more satisfied that it is over.  Even if it ended more with a whimper than a bang.