Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Bifocals, take two

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had some trouble adjusting to my new progressive bifocals, which I thought were just issues with getting used to something new. The in-focus reading area seemed too narrow, and if I tilted my head back at all while watching TV, it went out of focus and I had to push the glasses lower down on my nose, which changed the focus a little and made my eyes sore. I kept meaning to go in to the store and ask about these issues, but the terrible winter weather kept me indoors most of the time.

And being indoors so long meant that it took me a while to realize that the new glasses just weren’t focusing that well on anything more than about 6 feet away. I could watch TV okay from my couch, but when I tried watching a show on my computer monitor while doing the dishes in the kitchen (I can see the monitor from there if I open the doors on the double-sided cabinet in between), it was out of focus. Finally, this past Sunday, I went out to my car (where I was keeping my old glasses as a backup) and did a one-to-one comparison, and there was no doubt: I had better distance vision with my old glasses than the new ones. Something had gone wrong.

So I went back in to the store on Monday and had them double-check my prescription, since I’m still under warranty. They got me in for a second session with the optometrist, and she found that the distance prescription she calculated this time was different from what it had been before, about halfway between the old glasses and the first bifocals. I’m not sure why it was different, but I had been wondering if the problem with my sleep mask being too tight — which I only realized the morning of my initial visit to the optometrist — had caused some lingering aftereffect on my vision, throwing off the prescription.

Also, the clerk in the glasses store (to which the optometrist’s office is attached) helped me figure out that the bridge supports had been in too far, so the glasses were sitting too high on my nose and so I wasn’t getting the best use of the focal areas. Adjusting that seemed to help with my reading, and once I got the new distance prescription, it seemed to work for that as well.

Although I still had to wait a lot more than an hour for my new lenses. Last time, it was because they broke the frames and had to send out for a replacement. This time, it was because they happened to have just begun doing a lengthy process of maintenance on their lens-grinding gizmo. So once more, I had to go home and then come back the next day, and that’s a pretty long drive. (I started going to this optometrist/store back when I lived closer to the area.) But once I got them at last, they seemed to be a definite improvement. I could no longer discern any significant difference between my new and old (pre-bifocal) glasses where distance vision was concerned, and the reading part still seemed better now that the glasses were a bit lower on my face. And I had no trouble driving with them or grocery-shopping with them. I may still have some adjustment issues, but so far they seem to be working better than before. I still need to be careful not to tilt my head back too much when watching TV (and I should probably just raise my screens higher), but it’s better than it was. Hopefully this will be the last time I’ll need to go back there for a good while.

Categories: Uncategorized

Making a spectacle of myself

February 13, 2015 4 comments

It’s finally happened — my vision has deteriorated to the point that I can no longer read easily without glasses. So here’s a “selfie” of me with my new progressive bifocals:

Self portrait

And yes, I need a haircut. Shut up.

I’d been a little concerned about how rapidly my vision was blurring, so I went to the eye doctor associated with the store both to get a new prescription and to make sure there wasn’t anything serious causing the change. The doctor didn’t find any problems beyond normal aging and eye fatigue. Part of the problem was that I’d had my sleep mask too tight, which affected my eye pressure and made it temporarily hard to focus. Which may have contributed to eye fatigue later in the day, I suppose. And maybe it’s not so much that my vision was rapidly getting blurrier as that I was noticing it more and worrying about it more. But apparently all I needed was new glasses, and more care to avoid eye fatigue and dryness.

The progressive lenses cost a lot, but they give me three levels of focus — up close for reading, medium for my computer screen, and distant — and given how much I use my computer, I needed that. Evidently a lot of people who wear normal bifocals need a second pair of glasses just for the computer, and that would’ve been even more expensive. (At the moment, I’m managing well enough seeing the screen without glasses, but it comes and goes, depending on how tired my eyes are, I guess, as well as how fine the print is.)

You know how that one glasses place used to have a slogan promising glasses in an hour? Well, they don’t play that up anymore. I was told my glasses would be ready in an hour, so I went off to have lunch and pick up a few groceries, and when I got back 75 minutes later, they kept me waiting — then told me that they’d stripped a screw trying to remove it from the frames I’d picked out, thus ruining the frames, so they had to get a duplicate from another store, adding another 24 hours to the preparation time. So I had to go home and come back the next day — a pretty long drive, too. I asked if there was a discount or refund for the delay, but apparently the one-hour thing is no longer a guarantee, if it ever was; the best they could manage was to give me a free lens-cleaning kit.

Honestly, I don’t even like these frames that much — I prefer something rounder, but apparently angular is fashionable this year, so this was about the closest I could find. But they look okay in the above picture, I guess. The last time I got new lenses, I was able to save money by reusing my old frames. That wouldn’t have worked this time, since I needed to wear my old glasses to drive home — both times, since the store clerk told me I shouldn’t drive in my bifocals until I’d had time to get used to the shifting focus and distortions they create. (The drawback of no-line, progressive-focus lenses is that there are out-of-focus wedges on the sides of the lower half, a consequence of the construction process, evidently.) So he advised me to wait until the next morning before starting to wear them.

So that’s what I did, although I wore them a bit that night to read in bed. It was kind of weird having different areas of focus in my field of view, but over the day, I learned how to direct my gaze/tilt my head to bring things into focus. But it didn’t really come together until I braved the cold to walk to the local drugstore for a new watch battery. Bad timing that my watch happened to die just when I wasn’t supposed to go driving. I suppose I could’ve driven in my old glasses, but it might confuse my brain to go back and forth, I guess. But I think going for a walk helped me adjust; before long, I seemed to be perceiving the world around me pretty normally and not noticing the distortions, as if my brain were learning to compensate. And the glasses definitely helped me see the tiny screws on the back of my watch; I don’t know if I could’ve changed the battery successfully without them.

The biggest problem I experienced yesterday was that the temples weren’t quite adjusted right; the ends of them were digging into the sides of my head, and the nose pieces were uncomfortable too. But this morning I carefully, delicately bent the temples to a configuration closer to those on my old glasses, and so far they seem more comfortable, with the weight/pressure distributed across more of my head rather than just digging into those two points — and I think it’s shifted some of the weight away from the nose pieces, so hopefully those will be more comfortable too.

Which is good, since it seems I’m going to need to wear glasses most of the time now. I wish there were a better way to restore vision, like some kind of eye drops that would reverse the age-related stiffening of the lenses, make them pliable again and easier to refocus. I know there’s lasik surgery, but that’s probably a lot more expensive than glasses, and it would probably just give you one particular focal length rather than letting you shift focus as needed.

Although the real problem, ultimately, is all this “getting older” nonsense. I still think of myself as 20-something, but my body persists in seeing it differently. I wish I could win it over to my way of thinking.

Categories: Uncategorized

You’d think an odometer would be easy to fix…

Last month, I posted about my discovery that my car’s odometer had broken down, and my decision to leave it unrepaired for the nonce rather than go through the hassle of leaving my car in the shop for a few days. In the interim, though, I realized that accurate odometer readings are important for things like insurance and resale value, so I decided to go ahead and see about getting the repair done. The dealer told me they’d have to send the part out to a specialist, meaning I’d have to leave my car with them for at least a couple of days, meaning I’d have to take a long bus ride home. So I checked with my local garage to find out if they could do it, then called the dealer to compare price estimates. Turns out the local place would’ve charged considerably more — but in the process of talking to both places, I learned they had both consulted with the same speedometer specialty shop, the one the dealer would’ve sent the part to. So I decided to talk to the specialists directly and see what they could tell me. It sounded like they had the best handle on the problem, and they offered me the lowest estimate, but the problem was transportation. The shop is about a mile from the nearest bus stop, mostly without sidewalks, and then I’d have to ride the entire length of the bus route just to get downtown and transfer to a bus back home — and then reverse it when the car was ready.

So I’d just about decided to go to the dealer, which is much closer to several bus routes, and let them send the part out to the specialty shop. But they suggested that if I got the shop to order in the part, then I could bring my car in when it was ready and save a few days. Which gave me time to rethink my plan, because it turned out the dealer would’ve charged an extra 90 bucks in labor for the part removal, and I realized that it wasn’t worth 90 bucks just to avoid a mile of walking either way. So I decided I’d take the car directly to the specialists and hopefully get it back within a few days. Once I learned they had the part in, I dropped the car off in the morning, got to the bus stop with plenty of time to spare, and actually rather enjoyed the bus ride because it went places I’ve never been before, including a fair stretch right alongside the Ohio River. I returned home with the hope that I’d be making the reverse trip a day or two later.

But it turned out the bus only went out there a few times a day, so if I got the call later than about 2:45 in the afternoon, I’d have to wait until the next day. And then I discovered it didn’t go out there at all on weekends, so I was disappointed when they were still working on the problem come Friday afternoon. It ended up taking until Monday, five days in all. It turns out that the part they needed to replace was the body control module, the actual computer “brain” of the car. Yup, that’s modern technology — one little function breaks down and the entire computer needs to be replaced. And apparently the car wasn’t designed to permit that kind of replacement, so they had to do some kind of workarounds to get the car and the new brain to recognize each other. They actually had to e-mail the part’s manufacturer over in Europe somewhere to get instructions. (They told me that cars are designed that way since the dealers want you to rely on them for repairs and replacements — but it was the dealer who sent me to these guys!)

Now, as I said in the earlier post, the dealer told me that the car’s onboard computer would still be registering the actual mileage even if it didn’t show on the display — but that was a misdiagnosis, since the problem was with the central module rather than just a sensor. With a whole new control module, the mileage would have to be programmed in from scratch. Fortunately, I don’t drive that often, and I keep pretty good records. So I was able to reconstruct all my driving since the odometer broke down. As I said last time, I knew that had occurred exactly 49 miles after the last time I filled the tank, and I knew the date of that fill-up. So I went through my financial records and receipts to remind myself where I’d spent money since that date, checked my calendar to fill in anywhere else I’d gone, used Google Maps to calculate travel distances, then subtracted 49 miles. That gave me my approximate mileage since the breakdown, to within a few miles’ margin of error. But as it turned out, the reprogramming could only get it within 30 or 40 miles anyway. But that’s like a twentieth of a percent of the car’s total mileage, so I guess it doesn’t matter much, statistically.

So anyway, I finally got the call on Monday afternoon, in time for me to catch the last available bus of the day. I’d told them not to rush it, since I wouldn’t want to come out there and find that it still didn’t work. But the repairman assured me it was ready. What’s more, he even volunteered to pick me up at the bus stop and drive me back to the shop, which I really appreciated given the frigid weather. I wasn’t quite sure what to watch for when I got off the bus, but he soon showed up in my own car; the pickup served two functions, since it was proof that the car was working and the odometer registering again.

So I drove us back to the shop and paid my bill, which was exactly equal to his estimate (well, plus tax). It seemed we were all done — but then I found that the car wouldn’t respond to my key-fob remote anymore. So the repairman had me follow his car over to a nearby GM dealership whose repair guy had helped him with some of the programming, and got the guy to do some sort of handshake or reset to fix the problem in a couple of minutes, for no extra charge. Then I went and got some much-needed groceries (I’d picked up a few essentials on foot over the weekend, but I needed more), filled the tank again, and drove home, with the car performing fine. I wanted to fill up right after so I could reset the trip odometer and resume my gas-mileage calculations fresh.

I had been wondering why the shop had such a remote, pedestrian-unfriendly location, given that people would occasionally need to drop their cars off and find alternate transport home. But now that I’ve gotten a sense of the collaboration among different mechanics, the way they consult with each other and help each other out, I guess it makes sense that you’d want to locate an auto-repair business close to other auto specialists and dealers.

All in all, I spent a fair amount of money on this, but I’m confident that I chose both the least expensive and the best option available (two things that don’t often go together). If I’d taken it anywhere else, I would’ve spent more and might’ve been without my car even longer, given the evident trickiness of the repair. And really, if the problem was with the central computer, maybe it’s a good thing I went ahead and did this. If that function of the control chip had broken down, who knows what else might’ve failed soon?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,

But how can I measure Odo now?

December 5, 2014 6 comments

I have an automotive habit that I learned from my father: When I fill up the gas tank, I write down the mileage on the trip odometer and divide it by the number of gallons I buy in order to keep track of the car’s fuel efficiency. When I did so yesterday, I was rather shocked to see that the odometer read only 49 miles and I bought slightly over 7 gallons, giving an apparent fuel efficiency of just under 7 MPG. My first thought was that something was seriously wrong with my engine, or something else that affects fuel efficiency. My second thought was that something was seriously wrong with my odometer. A bit more driving confirmed that the odometer was broken — I’d no doubt driven significantly more than 49 miles since the last fill-up, but they hadn’t been registering. Either way, I needed maintenance, so I made an appointment. (Ironically, the dealer is directly across the street from the gas station I used yesterday — I was in the neighborhood after a dentist appointment — but I didn’t think I could just drop in, and I wasn’t sure what the problem was until I drove home and confirmed it was the odometer. So I had to make a second trip halfway across town in as many days. Just as well my fuel efficiency wasn’t the problem.)

So I went to the dealership and told the guy there about the odometer problem. He advised me that fixing it would probably entail removing the whole speedometer assembly and sending it out to someplace that could repair it, which would be cheaper than replacing the whole schmeer, but would leave me carless for a couple of days. But he said he’d check first during the inspection to see if there was just a blown fuse or something. So I occupied myself with my phone (listening to music to drown out the TV, browsing the web, and playing backgammon) while I waited, and hoped that it would turn out to be just a blown fuse. No such luck — he would have to send the part in for repair, and I’d be without a ride forĀ  couple of days if I agreed to do that.

But then it occurred to me… do I really need a working odometer that badly? It’s handy for tracking my fuel efficiency, but I don’t really use it for anything else. I tend to ignore it except when I’m at the gas station. I suppose it could be useful if you know that a given destination is X miles from a certain intersection, say, but that’s kind of superfluous now that I have a smartphone with GPS navigation. And if the dealership or another garage needs to know how many miles are on the car, they can get that info from its onboard computer (it’s still registering the correct mileage, it’s just not getting to the dashboard display). So I decided that, for now, I’d just make do without an odometer.

Still, it may be a minor inconvenience, but it’s a sign of the car’s age (it’s 13 years old now). And it’s my second minor breakdown this year; last winter, the trunk release button on the dashboard stopped working because a cable came loose. Maybe it’s time I started to think about trading it in. I’m just not sure I could afford the expense of buying a car. But maybe if I get one or two of the extra writing gigs I’m hoping to get in the near future, it’ll be worth further consideration.

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Remember to vote!

Even though I’ve been busy with other stuff, I took time out over the weekend to research the candidates and issues in tomorrow’s election so that I could make a responsible decision at the polls tomorrow. After all, even though the midterm elections aren’t glamorous, every election is important — and those overlooked local races for “little” things like the board of education and the court of common pleas can be very important to people’s everyday lives.

I know there’s a lot of cynicism over the political process leading to low voter turnout. But low turnout is the root of the problem. As CJ Cregg said once in The West Wing (probably quoting somebody else), “Decisions are made by those who show up.” If most of us choose not to vote, then we surrender the decision-making process to the political machines and the lobbyists. Injustice thrives on the passivity of the electorate. So the only way to fight the things that make us cynical about the process is to vote more, not less. Even if we feel there’s no point, that the outcome is already decided or the candidates are all lousy, voting is still a good habit to get into, because if more of us vote regularly, then we can start having more influence in future elections.

So it’s important, not only to vote on election day, but to make the effort to vote responsibly, to research the candidates and the issues and try to make our choices on objective, non-partisan sources of information rather than campaign ads. Those can be hard to find, sadly, since news outlets are generally more concerned with reporting on the horse race and the conflicting claims of the candidates than with checking them against the evidence. But that’s why it’s important to be active rather than passive, to seek out better sources of information. The League of Women Voters offers a website for nonpartisan voter information (although I don’t have a good link to offer, since they’ve been rearranging things this year, and the link I found was local only), and there’s also a Ballotpedia for political races and a Judgepedia for judicial elections. Unfortunately, Ballotpedia is lacking information on some of the smaller local races, but I found it helpful. It also has a good list of voter education resources.

I suppose posting this the day before Election Day is too little, too late to convince many people to change their minds about going to the polls or researching the issues. But then, not a lot of people read my blog anyway. It’s still something that should be said.

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Browser update

Well, thanks in part to the suggestions made by the commenters to my earlier post, I’ve managed to get Firefox set up to work almost like Opera, and in some ways even better. I’ve only had to make a few minor adjustments to my habits, like using Ctrl-click to open a new tab rather than Shift-click; and there are a few things I have yet to get used to, like the tabs being on top instead of on bottom, or the Find in Page box being in the lower left and opened by Ctrl-F. One drawback I’ve just discovered, though, is that I can’t seem to reduce the tabs in size within the window; if I want to have two half-size pages side-by-side, I need to open them in separate windows. But that’s a minor adjustment and might actually be slightly easier.

As for the Thunderbird mail client, it seems to work after all. I’ve realized that the main reason it didn’t seem to be getting new messages consistently is that I often mark them as read or delete them on my smartphone before Thunderbird gets around to checking for them. I didn’t realize until yesterday that when I do that on the phone, it changes the messages’ status on the mail server itself. I’m used to my old Eudora client program that used POP (locally downloading and working with mail) rather than IMAP (interfacing directly with the server). But Thunderbird’s already notified me of two incoming e-mails this morning, so I know it works. I’ve now got it set up to interact with both my mail accounts, and I discovered that I could use it as an RSS feed reader as well, which lets it take over the one last Opera 12 function that Firefox didn’t seem equipped for. (Yes, FF has Live Bookmarks, which does something similar, but Thunderbird’s format is closer to what I’m used to from Opera.) I preferred Opera’s arrangement of three parallel vertical columns, since Thunderbird puts the pages in a fairly short window underneath the list of entries; but it’s easy enough to click on the link and read the message on its original page in my browser. So it’s a minor adjustment.
So I’m finally back to a place where I only need to have one browser open as a matter of course rather than two — and just a few days ago, I was afraid I’d have to get used to switching among three browsers to do different things. So I’m definitely glad I managed to sort this out. And thanks to the commenters for the helpful suggestions.

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Browser brouhaha

October 27, 2014 4 comments

For years now, I’ve been using Opera 12 as my main Internet browser, but more and more sites are upgrading their tech to be incompatible with it, and apparently the current versions of Opera lack much of its functionality. For a while now, I’ve had to rely on Firefox for certain sites that Opera couldn’t handle well, like Facebook and Netflix. But I had trouble figuring out how to import my Opera bookmarks into Firefox, so I kept on using Opera for most things.

Lately I’ve been thinking I should go ahead and try Google’s Chrome browser — in part because I have it on my smartphone, and since it stores bookmarks in the “cloud,” importing my Opera bookmarks to Chrome would automatically put them on my phone too. Also, I found out this week that Chrome would let me use a bookmark bar like the one I so rely on in Opera, with my favorite sites all listed without the need to open menus. So I decided to try Chrome, and it works fairly well, except for some annoyances, like how there’s no way to open a link in a new foreground tab (which is shift-click in Opera and, as I’ve just discovered, control-click in Firefox), and no RSS reader. Also, for some reason, Chrome doesn’t get along with Netflix streaming at all. Even with the most current update of the streaming software, the image was low-resolution and posterized. So clearly I couldn’t switch to Chrome as my exclusive browser.

But here’s the thing: Once I imported my Opera bookmarks to Chrome, I was able to import them from Chrome into Firefox — and yesterday I figured out how to create the kind of bookmark bar I wanted in Firefox! So I finally have all my bookmarks organized and available in Firefox as conveniently as they are in Opera. Which gives me a strong incentive to keep using Firefox as my primary browser (and I’m using it now as I write this post). And there are other minor ways in which using Firefox is closer to the Opera experience I’m used to, like the ability to open new foreground tabs. It still has a couple of drawbacks, though. Opera has a function I really, really appreciate, which is the ability to disable animated GIF images. I’m very easily distracted and annoyed by such things, so I love having a browser that I can set to disable the animations by default unless I choose to turn them on. I gather there are things you can download that let you temporarily freeze them by hitting the Escape key, but that’s not the same thing. It’s mainly an issue for me on the TrekBBS, whose edit window has a bunch of animated smileys adjacent to it, and that can be very distracting. I may try to see if I can just get used to it, since there are so many advantages to Firefox over Opera 12. (For one thing, when I copy and paste a text in Firefox, it retains formatting like italics and bold.)

So it looks like the main benefit of getting Chrome on my desktop is that it’s helped me make better use of Firefox and my phone. So it’s been more a transitional aid than anything else. It’s a good thing these downloads are free.

The other issue I have to consider is peripheral to that. I’ve recently tried upgrading from my email client, an old version of Eudora (the original program, rather than the modern namesake that’s basically a modification of Mozilla Thunderbird). I pretty much had to, because for some reason my main email service has suddenly stopped letting me send outgoing mail through a client program (i.e. I can’t access its SMTP server, and I’ve gotten no useful response from the provider’s tech support) and I couldn’t get that version of Eudora to connect to my Gmail account. I tried Thunderbird itself, which works okay except for one thing: It doesn’t seem to check mail automatically, even though I have that option turned on in its setting menu. So I’ve been relying on the mail client in Opera lately — although that’s a bit annoying because I have it downloading mail from both accounts, and my Gmail account automatically picks up mail from my main account, so I get most of my mails twice in Opera. I may have to test out another client or two before I find one that works for me. I could just keep using Opera, but it feels wasteful somehow to have a whole browser program open to serve only as a mail program.

Progress is annoying sometimes. Sure, it’s great when new things come along with new abilities, but it’s frustrating when progress takes away things you were happy with.

EDIT: How about that? Just minutes after I posted this, I suddenly got the test e-mail I tried sending to my Gmail account from my mail client weeks ago. I tried again with a new test message, and it worked too. So the problem has spontaneously fixed itself, immediately after I complained about it publicly. Thank you, universe! I approve of this new, more responsive approach. Keep up the good work!

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