Dad and the Japanese Toilets


There is currently a work stoppage at the Port of Los Angeles, one of the busiest ports on the world. There is what seems like an endless line of cargo ships sitting out in the ocean with nothing to do since the union has some kind of bug up their butt about something.

But when don’t they, right?

Anyway, seeing this brought back a pleasant little memory of my dear old Dad. You see, he worked on that very port unloading ships similar to the ones that have dropped anchor due to the work stoppage. One day, I remember him taking my brother and I aboard one of the cargo ships docked on the port, a ship exporting goods from Japan.

I honestly don’t remember much of anything about that tour since I had to be no more than 5 years old. But there is one thing that sticks in my mind.

Thinking back, I can see Dad looking at us and smiling. He knew what he was up to. He led us down the hall and opened a door — to the restroom.

“Look at those! Look!” he said as he laughed.

I peeked in there and witnessed something that left me stupefied for years: the strangest toilets I had ever seen in my then-short time on this planet, a row of about 8 of them with no walls for privacy between them which made things even more awkward. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

Now before you think “So what’s the big deal?” I’ll save you the trouble of doing an image search or consulting Wikipedia.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present the traditional Japanese toilet, as witnessed by me on board that cargo ship (courtesy this blog):

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And if you think they look strange, just imagine the contortionist flexibility one must possess in order to use them. (If you must know, look up “how to use a Japanese toilet” and be…stupefied like I was for years.)

Thankfully, I hear that the toilets are no longer the norm in Japan where most places have switched to a more modern, sit-down type that would be honored to accept your waste.

This is good because when I vacation in Japan one of these days (or in my case, some lifetime), I want this simple creature comfort from home.

And if I would happen to come across a traditional one, I’m pretty sure I’ll hear Dad laughing hysterically as I stare at it, debating whether to use it or not.

I Want to Ride My Bicycle…


Those were some of the many words that the late, great Freddie Mercury sang about whilst prancing about the stage with that distinctive voice that nobody will ever come close to imitating.

At any rate, now that my cold is pretty much a thing of the past I decided that it would be a great time to take the ol’ bike for a spin down the trail and to the beach. And you know what? You’re going along for the ride!

That’s right. I mounted my HTC Re camera to the front of my bike and shot a time-lapse video of a portion of my ride, starting at the trail entrance and ending at the Seal Beach Pier.

Ready? Let’s roll! For best results, watch in HD since YouTube’s default standard definition really sucks.

A few notes about the video:

  • Images were taken every 4 seconds
  • The music is not mine; it’s some stock music I decided to throw in there
  • I used the highest resolution
  • This was about 8 miles of the 22 that I logged today

Also, I had the chance to ride because I was done with work early. They simply had no hours to give anyone and from what my experience has been, things are turning sour when there’s not enough in the payroll budget to pay everyone. I worked a total of 2.5 hours this morning (from 3:30am to 6am), which really wasn’t even worth waking up for. I’ve worked for companies where I had to rush to the bank to cash my check because the funds were always low and we had to ask if there was enough to cash it. Pretty sad, and I think it may happen again.

Oh well. At least I got to burn off some steam during my ride.

One more thing. I shot a video on the way back and captured something funny. About 2 miles from the beach – I made 2 stops today – I suddenly realized I wasn’t wearing my gloves. I stopped the bike, made sure they weren’t in my pouch (which they weren’t), then turned around and headed back to the beach to see if I could find them.

Oh yeah. I did. Here’s a screencap of me walking to pick them up.

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They were sitting on the sand where I parked my bike when I took a little break. I sat on the rocks and let the sounds of the ocean soothe my soul for a bit.

And with that, I put them on and went home.

What’s a few extra miles, right?

Only It’s Not Coffee


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That's Good Drinkin'!

That mug you see is not filled with coffee as the quote from The Big Lebowski might imply. In fact I’m not sure it was ever used for coffee since my drink of choice at my last job was green tea with jasmine, one packet of artificial sweetener and a squeeze of honey added to kill any semblance of tea (and dignity) it might have had.

And I really wouldn’t consider any coffee I concoct to still be coffee for the same reason as the tea: the additives, only twice as many.

In either case, the current contents of the mug are not meant to give me pleasure but instead provide relief. It is filled with warm TheraFlu Nighttime Formula as I have been fighting off a cold for the last few days with today being the worst yet. While I was able to completely clean then den and then go to work yesterday, the only thing I did today was go grocery shopping at WinCo in the morning and it wiped me out. After lunch, I donned my pajamas and robe and have been roaming the house in sickly comfort. The family, as a result, has been avoiding me and I can’t really blame them.

Being sick sucks. I want to run, go for a 20-mile bike ride, anything to break a sweat. Instead I sit and do nothing. Blah.

So I just thought I’d post since they are so infrequent. My Facebook Vacation also continues but there’s more to it. It’s just not working for me with any browser and I can’t upload pictures from my devices via WiFi. I don’t know what’s going on but I don’t really miss it either. It’s an incredible time-waster.

I think that TheraFlu is starting to kick in. Goodnight.

Composed on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 with the WordPress app

2014: My Year In Review


I know it’s a few days late but I like to wait until the year is over because hey, you never know what can happen, right?

Anyhow I bid you a very Happy New Year. And in keeping with what seems to be a new tradition since I’m always taking pictures of even the most minor event in my life with my phone, I’m going to share with you my photographic year in review* as I did last year. I enjoy doing these posts because I throw in a lot of crazy little things that I saw along with the big things, plus add often sarcastic commentary to go along with all of it.

Will 2014 compare to 2013? Will it be better or worse? You be the judge. So grab your choice of beverage, sit back, and enjoy the (possibly bittersweet) ride.

January 2014

We were invited to go to Disneyland and took the first of what would be, quite honestly, too many trips to Walt’s Magic Kingdom. It’s a long story I’ll slightly cover later.

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I found a wallet and tried to return it, which turned into one clusterfuck of an ordeal. (Note that the term “clusterfuck” may appear many, many more times in this post – you’ve been warned!) The coins were found in the parking lot next to the wallet but I kept them. Half-dollars are cool.

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We made another trip to Disneyland a few weeks after the last one. It’s already too much.

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I had two of my photos posted in the local newspaper which recently shut down after only 20 months.

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February 2014

I discovered that the local church has parking dedicated to corpulent parishioners.

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In an effort to cut costs due to unemployment, we cut the cable cord and bought Roku boxes and digital antennae.

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Speaking of unemployment, I got a job the day after my birthday at a local grocery store where I tend to take selfies in the freezer.

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And speaking of birthdays, I turned 45 without much fanfare as don’t have my birthdate visible on Facebook. (Those who know, know.) I’m not a big birthday person and only posted this cryptic image on Instagram for people to figure out. I think only one person did.

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I celebrated Chinese New Year the way I did last year, by riding in the Chinatown Firecracker 30-Mile Bike Ride. It’s one of my favorite events but sadly, due to my part-time status, all of my events for 2015 have been put on the back burner. I may not do any if I can’t get the money together for them.

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March 2014

I participated in my second Coaster Run but only the 5k. It rained for most of it and was probably the most fun I’ve had doing an event.

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I witnessed one of the most amazing sunrises in recent memory.

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We switched from MetroPCS to AT&T using my new Corporate Discount through work. That, of course, required getting new phones.

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I decorated (read: wrote on) my first cake while working in the Bakery.

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After around a week of building, I completed constructing The Simpsons LEGO house.

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We celebrated Anthony’s 10th birthday at a local pizza place where his grandfather showed him how to score a bunch of tickets playing the Blackjack game.

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April 2014

While out for a run, I saw the Amityville Horror house being built in a local park.

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You know. Korean Doritos.

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We took one of two trips to the tide pools, one of our most favorite local spots.

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Sadly, on my Mom’s birthday, my Aunt Mary (seated) passed away. This was taken a year earlier at Mom’s surprise 75th birthday.

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May 2014

We were invited to go to Disneyland’s 24 Hour event and I was the only person in our group to make it to sunrise on Saturday (after arriving around 4pm Friday). I didn’t blog about it; I only posted my pictures on Instagram.

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June 2014

We discovered that there’s a Hello Kitty wine, but we don’t like Chardonnay. I’m more of a Merlot person now that I occasionally drink wine.

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We took our final trip to Disneyland. This was meant to be a mini-vacation that was paid for by Ann’s friend which it was, but it was cut short by Anthony becoming sick and Ann having to unexpectedly go to work. This didn’t set well with the friend who hasn’t uttered more than one word to Ann since (and also unfriended me on Facebook). What can I say? Shit happens and her hotel room money was refunded. I guess some people don’t realize that the world can’t be paid to spin in their direction and have everything go their way and when it doesn’t, it’s best to throw verbal tantrums on social networking sites and post condescending witticisms [in]directly aimed at you. We did get Annual Passports as well, still good until June 2015, but we haven’t used them since and probably won’t. We don’t want to be reminded of this clusterfuck of biblical proportions where we felt completely unwanted by our hosts the whole time.

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July 2014

I got this really creepy lenticular Jesus picture sent to me from a church that was begging for money. I was on their mailing list for a while and got all kinds of weird stuff sent to me, including a communion wafer.

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The door of the baler at work came down and smashed my fingertips. They were numb for about a month or so but are fine now.

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In an effort to earn a few bucks since I was (and still am) only working part-time, we sold our extra refrigerator. And you know what? That turned out to be a big clusterfuck as well!

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Only 17 months into our lease, we had to say goodbye to the Kia Optima. Working a minimum-wage, part-time job just wasn’t enough to make the payments anymore. It felt like a kick in the gut but it has turned out to be fine in the end. It also gives me yet another opportunity to say that Kia financing is the worst on the planet. Read this post for more information.

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The day we got rid of the Optima also ushered in a new day of motoring for me: I bought my Yamaha Zuma scooter which I still love. Payments are 1/4 that of the Optima and it is ridiculous on gas (between 65-80 MPG), meaning I’ve never put more than $3 in it since I’ve owned it.

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I applied for a job at Disneyland. I had the interview and was shortlisted then later offered a position. I turned it down for many a good reason.

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I got a second job someplace near and dear to my heart, which I quit after only one day of training. I’ve never seen the paycheck. I quit for many reasons, the main one being their ultra-strict policy on personal items and phones. It pretty much granted them the right to search my locker, backpack, and phone any time they wanted with no reason or cause. I’m an honest guy but their policy was way overboard for me, so I left.

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After a month of studying, I took the written exam for my motorcycle license and got my permit.

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August 2014

Anthony got his parakeets.

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I hit 100 miles on the scooter.

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We took a trip to Mattel, across the street from where I used to work.

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We paid a visit to the Queen

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…and her neighbor, a Russian submarine.

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My friend commissioned us to refurbish the sign for his restaurant. Here is the Before shot.

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September 2014

My “promotion” at work became official. But I still take selfies in the freezer.

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I was reunited with some friends from my old Catholic school whom I hadn’t seen in over 30 years.

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Remember the sign we were working on? Here’s the finished project.

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How YOU doin’?

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October 2014

The job allowed us to root for our favorite local team in the MLB playoffs, so naturally I did.

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My mad art skillz came in handy at work once again when I was asked to conjure up a sign for a our seasonal caramel apples.

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Catastrophe. Just a few days before participating in another event, I dropped my phone and rendered it useless.

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That same day, my scooter was vandalized by local school kids who don’t understand what it’s like to have their property willingly broken.

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Anthony ran in his second Aquarium of the Pacific Kids Run

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..and I did my second duathlon the following day. I did it last year and rode the bike tour the previous four years.

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I replaced my broken phone with this, the Samsung Galaxy Skyrocket II. It was such a horrible phone that I returned it the next day.

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It was replaced with the HTC one M7, an absolutely amazing phone.

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November 2014

I got a new camera and started shooting quality photos again. My first trip was a Dia de los Muertos event.

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A few days later, we made another trip to the tide pools where I messed with the different settings on the camera.

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Anthony and I took the train to the L.A. Auto Show where the camera performed well in every lighting condition.

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December 2014

Well, outside of Christmas, there wasn’t much to speak of in December so I don’t have many pictures for that month. It looks like 2014 had its share of highs and lows but naturally, I took the good with the bad and moved on.

By the way, I’m still on Facebook Vacation and enjoying it. It’s amazing how much you can do with your time when you don’t give it so much attention.

Anyhow, there’s my second annual Year In Review post and I hoped you enjoyed it. Here’s hoping my 2015 is less phone-breaky, scooter-pushy, and wallet-findy and that yours is everything you wish it make it to be.

*Selected events, of course. You don’t need to know about my doctor’s visits.

Review: Pebble Smartwatch


As I do on occasion, today’s post is a review about a recently acquired item. But first, let me tell you of the story behind it.

My lovely wife Ann thought it would be nice to buy me a nifty gadget – she knows I love technology – for Christmas in the form of a Metawatch Strata. While I did like it, there were a few things that I couldn’t really get used to, namely the difficult-to-read silver (?) display and its failure to control music on my phone. This would have been a great feature when I was out running. But no matter how I tried, it just wouldn’t read the music on my phone which was pretty disappointing.

After two days, I reluctantly returned it to Best Buy for an exchange. I say “reluctantly” because I am the guy who never, ever returns gifts no matter what. I just don’t do that. But in this case, with a smartwatch that wasn’t all that smart, I didn’t have much choice.

I had been researching the Pebble Smartwatch before I went to the store and ended up getting it for the same price as the Metawatch Strata (on sale for $79.99). Ann still seemed disappointed in my choice but she’s since learned that it was the right one, and here’s where the review begins. Note that I am currently using an HTC one M7, probably the best phone I’ve had, to connect to the Pebble.

unnamedWhat Is Pebble?
For starters, I should go over what exactly Pebble is. It’s a simple, functional smartwatch with a black-and-white backlit LCD display that does only what it needs to do. It’s not fancy like Samsung’s Gear smartwatches and doesn’t promise to do all the ridiculous things that Apple is saying its Apple Watch will eventually do when it’s finally released – whenever that will be. Pebble is indeed the Bauhaus of smartwatches in a market currently ruled by Warhols, and that’s a good thing.

Pebble is designed to be an extension of your smartphone by displaying notifications for incoming phone calls, emails, and texts. (Additionally, you can set the Pebble to vibrate for any and all alerts.) It also lets you control smartphone apps and functions such as music and fitness apps such as Endomondo, my preferred fitness app. You can also load apps like Yelp and onto the watch although some of them may need the full-size accompanying app (like Endomondo) on your phone in order for them to run.

Design
The Pebble is what it is: simple. You won’t be overwhelmed by its looks but if you feel that making a fashion statement is part of owning a smartwatch, then you definitely have other more expensive choices out there. It’s available in white, black, or red and if your feeling really GQ, you can go for the Pebble Steel, twice the cost of the standard model and with a few more features. As for me, I opted for black as I know it will be getting banged up and dirty between running, cycling, and the daily rigors of work.

(Speaking of getting banged up, I bought a Zagg InvisibleShield protector to cover the screen. The only image on this post without it is the one showing how to control music.)

There are a total of four buttons on the Pebble: the three right-side buttons are for navigation and the left-side button is for the backlight, although there are settings in the app to activate the light when you shake your wrist. Your choice.

Connectivity
Pebble connects to your phone via Bluetooth, which means that you should expect a shorter battery life from your phone as it is talking to the Pebble constantly. Through the use of the Pebble app, you can designate which smartphone apps you would like to receive notifications from, in my case I only have it set up for text alerts, emails, calls, and a few select apps. That’s about all I really need. When you get a notification, it will show up on the Pebble’s screen. Note that in order to receive email notifications, you must be connected to your data network. I only state this because I always have my data off. Text messages, however, will always show up but MMS messages will not send an alert to Pebble as it cannot display images.

One of the downsides I immediately noticed was that when I got a text, I still had to use my phone in order to reply. This was remedied when I discovered the Awear app which lets you reply with, not compose, short messages. You can select from a predetermined list of replies (Positive, Negative, etc.) or make your own list of personal Shortcut messages within the app to reply with (e.g. “Stupid cats!”) Despite a few bugs, Awear is exactly what I needed.

Speaking of Bluetooth, Pebble had a few problems while I was running with Bluetooth earbuds, namely freezing, resets, and songs playback being really choppy. I’ve since learned to stick with wired earbuds which isn’t a big deal since they sound better and playback is not hindered. I’ve never run more than one thing on Bluetooth before so I’m not sure if it was my phone or Pebble acting funny and not being able to handle everything.

Battery Life
The Pebble comes with one of the strangest proprietary USB charging cables I’ve ever seen: magnetized. The charger has a few small prongs extruding from it along with some small magnets. Line them up and the watch charges, but the trick is getting the charger to stick. The magnets don’t stay in place very well and the watch has to sit just right or the charger will not connect – and the watch won’t charge. The good thing is that a single charge will last you a few days if you are just using it for basic functions. Here’s a shot of the Pebble with the weird charger attached.

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However, if you plan to run other apps on top of that, then expect considerably less life from the battery. After a nearly 9-mile run the other day, it was down to 40% but being it charges quickly, it wasn’t an issue once I was home. That said, you can’t just plug any USB cable into it to charge. You’ll need to buy another proprietary one from Pebble.

Functions
I’m trying to figure out the last time I was out for a run and had this much fun. As stated earlier, Pebble can control a variety of apps including Endomondo. Before I had Pebble, it was a real pain to stop said app on my phone while standing at a crosswalk or taking a quick hydration break. Now it’s as easy as pressing a button.

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These are my stats after my run a few days ago. As you can see, the middle-right button is the start/pause button and that’s a freaking godsend when compared to reaching for my armband, waking up my phone, then hoping that it can register my tap over the armband’s thick, plastic window. With Pebble, hit that middle button and the app stops. Amazing. (While Endomondo does feature an automatic start/stop function based on your movement, I prefer doing it manually.) The three stats you see here can be changed within the Endomondo app, and Pebble requires installing their Endmondo app in order for this to work.

Then there’s the music.

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Pebble has a built-in Music app that lets you control whichever music app you choose via the Pebble app on your phone. Again, this beats the hassle of reaching for my phone all the time while running. All it takes is a few presses of a button and the music is paused. Once I’m ready to go, I start it up again. It works flawlessly.

Along with those two functions, you can install apps to give you updates on weather, sports, stocks, etc. The downside here is that Pebble limits you to a combined eight apps and watchfaces so you’d better choose wisely.

Watchfaces
Pebble comes with a few watchfaces preinstalled and you can download more via the Pebble app. More are designed by other users and some are really amazing (Mario Bros. and retro Casio faces) while others are equally crappy. Once you download them, you use the app to send them to the watch. The problem with almost all of these watchfaces is that they are more aesthetically pleasing and less functional, meaning they don’t give you stats on missed calls, texts, battery and phone life, etc. And while the Awear app has its own watchface that displays all of those things, it cannot be customized.

Enter Pebble Canvas, a third-party smartphone app that allows users to create their own custom watchfaces. Not only that, you can also customize watchfaces created by others once you download them to the app. The possibilities are practically endless. Here are the watchfaces I’ve created so far, with Basic being the most popular of the three with over 20 downloads.

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Since creating Basic, I’ve added the Bluetooth icon, unread Gmail and Weather features to it (see image under Battery Life above). While watchfaces created in Pebble Canvas won’t be nearly as clean or fancy as those available in the Pebble app’s store, they serve a better purpose and give the freedom of complete customization.

Summary
I’ve had my Pebble a few weeks and I admit that I really enjoy it. The Pebble watch is uncomplicated. Its e-reader display won’t win over a lot of people and neither will its limited functionality. However, there were plenty of people who believed that Pebble’s limited functionality was worth the $10.3 million it raised via Kickstarter. While I didn’t contribute, I’m a believer in this little smartwatch and all it has to offer despite the few hiccups I’ve encountered along the way. It’s a great running mate, a functional smartphone notification system, a fine music controller and oh yeah, it tells the time as well. I couldn’t expect it to do more and while not for everybody, I’ve been very happy with it so far.

The Safety Dance


Okay. First, I know it’s been a long time between posts. There are reasons for that, the most prominent one being my really goofy work schedule as of late which has been all over the place. I’ve worked overnight shifts, early morning shifts, and everything in between. As a result I’ve been spending a lot of my downtime doing what I need to do most: sleep, and sleeping during the day (and not really having much time to spend with your family) sucks donkey parts.

Also, my sciatic nerve has been acting up and that’s been taking me down for the count. What a drag it is getting old.

Second, this is a head’s up to my loyal readers – all three of them – that my domain mapping will expire at the end of the month. I must scrape up a whopping $13 before then in order to keep things in order or else my domain won’t redirect to the blog. I’m sure I’ll get it together but it’s a warning nonetheless.

So onto the post.

Safety is of the utmost importance at work for both customers and employees, and part of our job is to fill out these little survey cards whenever we see a coworker do something that resembles an act of safety. The card layout is as follows:

In (department), I observed (employee name) (behavior).

As a result of my quality observation, I (my name) Coached or Recognized (employee name) by (explain my actions).

Once we fill out three of these cards, we are to turn them into the supervisor at the end of our shift.

Yeah. They’re pretty boring, wouldn’t you say? Most just fill them out with a few words and leave them at that.

Well, I refuse to have it that way. I’ve made it a point to use the smallest print I can muster in order to make my replies more of a proclamation, something so noteworthy so as to spread peace within the Kingdom of [Company Name Withheld].

So dig it. Here’s a sample of the cards I’ve been turning in.

It would help to read this with the best British/Shakespearian accent you can do. Ahem.

Be it known to all in the Kingdom of [Company Name] that on this (day and date), mine eyes bore witness to (employee name) engaging in (action, in this case a sweep) the hourly cleansing of the castle floor and performing said action in the Kingdom’s mandated and appropriate zig-zag manner – a most noble act of heroism, selflessness, and might. 

As the result of my quality observation, I, Dave, recognized (employee name) with endless verbal praise over a pint of the most aromatic beverage of their choice, the likes of which our palates have never tasted before or shall ever taste again. Victory is sweet, and the Kingdom of [Company Name] shall remain safe forevermore due the swift and valiant actions shown by (employee name).

EXCELSIOR!

Aaaand with that, I turn them in to the boss at the end of the day. I haven’t gotten any feedback from anyone just yet which leads me to believe they either a) don’t read them or b) read mine and simply mumble “Smartass” and throw them away.

No matter what they do, it’s just a way to make the mundane job of working a grocery store that much more tolerable.