Press 1 for this, 2 for that

I wanted to share a rather humerous automated phone survey I participated in (reluctantly). Our Chevy Tahoe (the one below that reached 200K miles in September) broke down on Barb last week on her way to work after voting. So we called AAA and had it towed to our mechanic. It needed a new fuel pump, which went once before and left us stranded years back at 97,000 miles. It appears 100K is the life span for this fuel pump.

Anyway, the automated phone survey was regarding their service. One of the questions was something like “How satisfied were you with the promptness of the driver? Press 1 for Very Satisfied, 2 for Satisfied, 3 for Neutral, 4 for Dissatisfied, and 5 for Very Dissatisfied.” Since we waited over 30 minutes (they had estimated 45 minutes) I chose #2 for Satisfied. The system came back with:

“You pressed the number 2. If this is correct, press 1. Otherwise press 2.”

In other words, I had to press a number to confirm that I had pressed a certain number. Talk about introducing confusion and opportunity for error! I used to work at a company (Voicetek) that developed and sold IVR systems capable of applications like this, but it was essentially a tool kit. With it a customer can write a good application or a poor one. So I always tell people not to blame the system. Blame the application designer!


On our trip back home on Labor Day from having dropped Matt off at UMass Amherst for the start of his second year, I noticed that our Chevy Tahoe was going to turn over to 200,000 miles! I had a camera with us, so I had to get a picture of it which required some coordination to turn off at the appropriate exit (the former Fort Devens) and drive a couple miles on side roads until it was time. Then I pulled over and took the following shots.

When I was growing up, it used to be a big deal if your car lasted to 100,000 miles, let alone 200,000. The latter was reserved for Volvos and perhaps other exotic non-US cars, or it required a lot of repair work to change the engine, transmission, differential, and so on. They just weren’t made to last that long. I remember my neighbor/friend Jimmy Nowak who had an old Chevy something-or-other in High School that when it approached 100K miles, a group of us bought a bottle of champagne and drove around in it until it turned over (on East Road). We stopped the car right there to pop the cork and celebrate the milestone!

Almost turned

Made it!

Family picnic

Every year for a long time now (since 1988), we have been gathering once a year the first Sunday in August at Pittsfield State Forest for a (Dabrowski) family reunion and cookout. It is the only time many of us see each other all year. People tend to eat with their own immediate family but mingle before and after. There is also a community table to share food.

My contribution each year is a 3 gallon keg of homebrew made with hops I grow in my garden. We just picked this year’s harvest last Sunday, btw.

Towards the end, we all gather for a group picture. Here is this year’s crowd taken with our new Nikon D300 on a tripod with fill-in flash. Click on the picture for a full (very large 6 Mb) view. From there, you can save a copy for yourself on your local computer.

Pitts picnic group photo small 2008

Bike to work is complete

My bike-to-work experiment is complete, and I lived to blog about it! It did seem like there were more “incidents” later on, but nobody ever yelled at me or beeped their horn. Almost everyone went way wide of me in their car and played it safe. The problem is the roads and lack of room for bikes. And the hazards of course.

I ended up with 2050 minutes in 18 sessions. Best of all, they declared that all 85 participants at Sun who put in the required 2000 minutes will be receiving Sun biking shirts! Truthfully, I would have been really bummed if they didn’t do that and I missed out, because it was a lot of effort to get the time in and I am not talking about the biking (physical) part!

Overall, looking back I guess it was worth it but I am not sure I would do it again. At least not for a while.


It was back to work for two weeks before going out again on vacation which happened to coincide (by choice) with our anniversary. Barb and I visited the North fork area of Long Island, where there are a lot of vineyards and wine making facilities. We stayed at a bed and breakfast place on one of the vineyards – the only one on Long Island located on a vineyard.




It is called Shinn Estate Vineyards and run by Barbara Shinn and husband David Page who were renowned in NYC for several high quality restaurants they operated before giving it up to purchase a former potato farm and create a vineyard. If you have time, here is an 8 minute You Tube video of Barbara Shinn talking about her organic and sustainable farming methods.



We drove down to New London, CT and took the ferry across Long Island Sound to Orient Point.

Here I am waiting with the car to drive it onto the ferry.

It was a one hour 20 minute boat trip, and a 30 minute ride after to get to the B&B. After checking in, we took in the afternoon wine and cheese provided and went for our complimentary wine tasting.




We thought the Brut was excellent, as well as several other varieties. As we went to various other vineyards also for tastings, we bought a few bottles of whatever we liked. Overall we came back with several mixed cases. We also took in the beach one day. Lots of small round smooth rocks.

We had the place to ourselves, which continued to amaze me since it was peak vacation time and we were less than 2 hours away from 6 million people in NYC. We were told that mid-week Tuesday through Thursday is light and the weekends plus Friday and Monday are much more busy. So as it turns out we picked the perfect time and perfect weather for a perfect vacation!

Father’s Day in Adams

Since my last post detailing the problems with biking to work, I have had a string of good luck with the weather and lack of problems. Maybe I am starting to make an impact after all? But then I took a week off starting on Father’s day weekend. Every year for a while now on that day we go back to Adams to visit my father/parents and to run in a 1/2 marathon trail race up Mount Greylock with my brother Will. Here I am coming in after 2.5 hours.


After a cookout at my parent’s home, Barb and I camped out on our land in Windsor for a couple days. Here is a picture of the river which cuts through the land.

This is the same river which runs through the Windsor Jambs scenic area which is part of Windsor State Forest. The last couple years we have worked to clear brush growing in around the old pine (Xmas) trees and in the wooded areas. We are slowly getting it under control. Here is a nice picture of some cows in one of the fields overlooking Mt. Greylock on the way back to Adams.

Just doing my part

to help the environment. I think. Maybe not.

Sun announced a ‘Bike to work’ campaign last month, with a promotion that if you spent at least 1600 minutes commuting to/from work on a bike from mid-May to early August, you would be entered into a drawing with various prizes. There is a web site for tracking one’s time. So given that I have been bored with my running lately, and have had a sore foot for a while, I thought this would be a great opportunity to cross-train, still get my exercise in, and help the environment. While I think the first two are clearly true, I am not so sure about the third even though I want it to be true. Here is my story.

As you may know, New England is not very bike-friendly with their roads. In fact, it is downright inhospitable! There are NO bike lanes anywhere, the edges of the road are very narrow and dissolve into dirt and broken up tar and holes. There is trash and broken glass, mailboxes sticking out, high curbs that your pedal can catch on, and so forth. I knew all this. Still, I had good luck in the past by never having a breakdown on the roads. Until now that is.

My very first day of trying this, on the ride in I hit a nail about a mile from work. This was no ordinary nail. I could tell right away from the “pop” sounds and the click-click-click it made as I continued on to try to get as far as I could before going flat. And flat it went!

Check this one out:

Bike tire nail

I somehow forgot my patch kit but as it turned out it did not matter. There was no patching this puppy. There were multiple stab wounds as the nail went in one end and out the other – several times. Fortunately I was close enough to just walk it to work. Then I needed a ride home later so someone had to drive to/from work anyway. In our SUV since it needed to fit the bike. then I had to drive to the bike shop, wasting more gas and polluting the air. Then I bought two inner tubes, wasting even more natural resources. So that event was a definite negative impact.

The next two trips were uneventful, which mostly made up for the earlier gaff. The third time it was drizzly in the morning but expected to clear. I waited as long as I could, but it did not get better so I went. There was enough water on the roads to kick up a steady stream of dirty water both going in and coming home. My shirt and backpack were loaded with mud and greasy black scum. It even soaked through to my underwear! Everything was a mess. This meant I had to soak and scrub my clothes and accessories when I got home using hot water (+ gas to heat it), OxiClean, soap, and other environmentally impacting activities and resources. Another negative impact.

So far I think I am barely breaking even when it comes to helping the environment. I can see that it will not be the big win it is cracked up to be. I expect to come out ahead, but not by much. Too many things can go wrong.

Time heals all wounds

I was reading about the Red Sox – Dodgers charity exhibition game yesterday (March 29) at the Los Angeles Coliseum honoring 50 years since the Dodgers moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. There were over 115,000 tickets sold. Joe Torre spoke to the crowd beforehand and said:

“There’s not a better way to do this than against the Boston Red Sox … excuse me, the World Champion Boston Red Sox. For some reason, it doesn’t bother me to say that anymore.”

I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon …

The last time there was a lunar eclipse we could view in our area was October 28, 2004 and it holds a special place in Red Sox lore. For that was the night the Boston Red Sox shed 86 years of frustration and won THE WORLD SERIES in four game straight. The heavens were smiling on the Sox that night, and they showed it by turning the moon red.

From the article at:

In the finale, a game played under a full moon/lunar eclipse on the date of Boston’s Game 7 loss in the excruciating 1986 World Series, Johnny Damon led off with a home run and the Sox were never threatened. Trot Nixon added a pair of runs with a bases-loaded double in the third. Lowe mowed down the Cardinals for seven innings, then let relievers Bronson Arroyo, Alan Embree, and Foulke finish the job.

Anyway, Barb and I used the opportunity to again play with our camera. We tried several manual shots, then attempted a multiple exposure shot. Here are three pictures leading up to the multi-exposure:

Lunar 1

Moon and two stars:
Lunar 2

Lunar 3

For this next photo, the plan was to use the multi-exposure feature of the camera and take four shots on the same frame every 15 minutes for one hour. That was the plan, anyway. In practice, it is amazing how much the moon travels in 15 minutes, as in right out of the viewfinder. The problem was we had it at full zoom which would have never fit all four images because the moon moves too much. We would have had to zoom way out for that, which we should have done. Didn’t think of it at the time. Plus we are still getting used to the camera and it didn’t work exactly the way we thought for automating the intervals and using the multi-exposure setting together. Fortunately we did get two images. Click on the picture below for a larger view.

Lunar 4 small

Big Chief

Barb and I were in Adams back in February for a day of skiing/riding at Jiminy Peak back in the Berkshires of Western Mass. We stayed at my parent’s house and helped do a few home repairs mostly having to do with a leaking basement foundation wall.

Anyway, we went for a walk and took some pictures to try out the new camera. We had the zoom lens on and we took this photo of the landslide on Mount Greylock which I just learned has it’s own wikipedia entry now. Unfortunately there were a lot of clouds so the photo did not come out that great. However, when we downloaded it off the camera at home, it was surprising to see how much the area looked like the face of an Indian chief looking sideways to the right. What do you all think?

Indian Chief on Greylock

Red Sox – Yankees tickets

The Yanks are coming to town this summer, and we are going to see them! Matt won a chance to purchase tickets to a Red Sox vs. Yankees game. Each year the Red Sox have a drawing to give people a CHANCE to purchase up to four tickets for one of three different experiences, if your name is selected. One is to a Yankees game. Another is Green Monster Wall seats. The third is right field roof box seats. Matt and I entered this year and he was selected for the Yankees drawing. That meant he could go on-line and wait in a “virtual waiting room” while the system randomly selected people to proceed further and buy some tickets.

Matt went on-line one Saturday at the 12:00 noon start, and waited. And waited. About six or seven hours later, he was finally selected to buy something. By that time, most of the better selections were gone, but he did snag four tickets to a July game in the grandstands. Check them out below.

Since then, they held a green monster drawing which we did not get picked, and they have coming up the drawing for right field roof seats. We don’t expect to get picked again.

Red Sox - Yankees tickets

PBR and SLRs

Hey – sorry to be so quiet on the blog over the holidays. Enjoying some down time, I guess. However, Barb and I have a new toy courtesy of Sun Microsystems profit sharing bonus money. It is a Nikon D300 digital SLR camera. This is a new model that was in such high demand that we were wait-listed for four month waiting for it to come in at a camera store in Nashua, NH. It is a beauty! 12 megapixels, loads of features, and excellent construction. Not to mention the great pictures it takes.
Here is one of the first ones we took – to experiment of course with the auto-focus and difficult exposure setting against a white background in the sun 🙂

Rocket Man

This poem appeared on the Boston Dirt Dogs web site the day after the George Mitchell report was released on steroid use in Major League Baseball:

After Struggling to Win Only 40 Games in His Last 4 Years with the Sox,
Roger Decided He Wanted to Be a Rocket Man Again…

Rocket Man
by: Paul Paliotta (with apologies to Bernie Taupin)

As performed by Roger Clemens in the winter of 1996/1997

I packed my bags last night pre-flight
My pitching days, were near an end
And they said it was the twilight of my career by then
I miss my curve so much, I miss my strikes
I’m loading on some weight
So I think the time is right

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
Till Mitchell comes around and then they’ll find
I’m not the man they think I am at all
Oh no, no, no
I’m a Rocket Man
Rocket Man, striking out my foes on anadrol
But I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

This ain’t a young man’s face, I’m not a kid
In fact I’m old as hell
But I got a plan to change that, and I think I will
And all the science, I don’t understand
It’s just a shot into my cheek
And I’m a Rocket Man, a Rocket Man!

And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
Till Mitchell comes around and then they’ll find
I’m not the man they think I am at all
Oh no, no, no
I’m a Rocket Man
Rocket Man, striking out my foes on anadrol
But I think it’s gonna be a long, long time

Oh Christmas Tree …

Did you know that Barb and Dan own a Christmas Tree farm?

Sort of. At least it used to be one. It still could be if a town wanted one for their main street 🙂
Notice our picnic table and camping area in the second photo. You can click on the pictures for a bigger view.

Pinetrees1thumb Pinetrees2thumb

The land is located on Windigo Road in Windsor, MA out in the Berkshires of Western Mass. We were able to harvest a few trees over the years, but even cutting just the top half no longer works. We still tried this year, however. We snagged two of them. Here is Barb helping secure them to the trailer for the long ride back to Tewksbury: