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Tonight, I had my first ever karate class. It was a sampler for beginner adults at a new dojo which has opened in our neighbourhood.


I've been thinking about this for a long time. Mostly, my goals are easy: more cardio, flexibility, reflexes & balance in a structured program. Long time friends Beth Fournier and Stephan Mueller (now both of Seattle) have been blackbelts for the past couple of decades: it was their example which set my mind in motion on this years ago, but I never felt I had the time or opportunity until recently.

The class tonight was heavy on kicks and punches, as one might expect. What I didn't expect was how physically demanding it would be in a one hour session: I was sweating heavily in the last 20 minutes.

My form, needless to say, sucks. Our sensei and teaching assistant have been doing this for years so naturally they have better balance and joint flexibility than I do. But for a complete novice, I think I acquitted myself well. I did not embarrass my ancestors, although some might have been giggling at my expense. Given that it was only an hour --and they doubtlessly didn't want to scare off a newbie before he was fully hooked-- we didn't delve into things I know are critical for karate: foot positioning, balance, breathing, etc.. But I can practice that on my own so my next appearance won't be quite so pathetic.

In theory, I should be attending classes Mondays & Thursdays, but I've already warned them that I have a series of booking for the next while so I won't have regular attendance until we get past Labour Day. But I will make the effort. And being more than a little obsessive, I'll get through the initial stages with determination.

Their program could theoretically raise one to black belt level in three years. I suppose that is possible if one has great attendance and above average tenacity --and I usually have both. But rising through the ranks isn't really my goal. If graduation to a new belt happens, I'll take it, but it's just icing on the cake. Of course I say that now, but when my competitiveness and OCD kicks in...

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I noticed recently that I've stopped listening to most of the podcasts I was downloading. Part of this is simply lacking the time: life with a baby and other family activities has dramatically reduced my spare time. I suspect however the largest part is because I don't want to listen any longer: it's so depressing.

Most of the podcasts I was following were related to general news, economics and politics. All of them are now 100% Trump: how his administration is screwing up today, how his economic plans are non-existant (or how he intends to interfere with functioning institutions which are running just fine thankyouverymuch), how he's damaging international relations with allies, and generally how his grand plans are languishing due to his own incompetence. In short, wall-to-wall depression.

I miss the little extras, the general stories, the breakthroughs, the day-to-day minutiae of life. All of these are drowned out by coverage of the buffoon, and even when Trump coverage is slight, the taint is overwhelming. A drop of sewage plus 1,000 gallons of drinking water makes 1,000 gallons of sewage.

As I write this, we have 1,189 days left to the next presidential election. There is a piece of used dental floss in the garbage pail behind me which would do a better job, so next time I'm going to vote for the "Used Dental Floss" ticket, although I hope for better candidates when the time comes.
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We've been cleaning some stuff out of the basement this afternoon. It took a long time to overcome the resistance, but we decided to get rid of the exercise bike, a floor lamp, an exercise bench, an inversion table and a computer monitor.

I suppose we could get a few dollars for these items, but we just wanted to get them out of the house. Around 2pm, I posted these items with photos on our civic association mailing list. Within 30 minutes, the exercise bike was hauled out of our garage. I've taken down the ad for that, but I'm still getting queries.

There are many inquiring about the inversion table, but it's still here. The monitor walked away within two hours. Not a single person has expressed any interest in the exercise bench or the floor lamp.

My take-away is that people love free things, and there is an enormous unfilled demand for exercise bikes. Or possibly laundry drying racks.
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Elodie is about 25 months old. She's a fun toddler, fully of energy, running everywhere, relatively short attention span, a growing vocabulary, and frequent bouts of frustration at not being able to express herself fully or simply being told no, what she wants at that moment isn't possible/practical/feasible.

In short, a perfectly normal toddler.

I've spent a large portion of my life around babies & toddlers so I'm mentally tracking her progress and development. My ears perk up when she suddenly uses full sentences, or fully articulates 2-3 syllable words. She has solid recognition of colours, visually & verbally. She gets shapes and can name the simple ones. She can recognize & recite numbers and letters although she doesn't yet get that the digits symbolize a count of objects.

There are things which come with this toddler which are new to my experience. This kid comes with her favourite shows, movies, music and games. And watches them obsessively & repeatedly.

I swear to god, I am going to burn down Mickey Mouse's fucking clubhouse before this month is over.

And what's the deal with this so-called Doc McStuffins? She's supposed to be a cute kid with a gig a toy doctor, but she's more like a capricious demon, bringing toys to life on her whims to perform for her entertainment, and she then silences them with a gesture, cruelly snatching away the life she once granted. With musical dance numbers. This is childrens' entertainment?!

Elodie has this particular game on her tablet. For each round, a series of cut-out coloured shapes appear on the left half of the screen, and holes which match the shapes & colours appear on the right. The child then uses her finger to drag each shape to the correct hole, matching shape & colour. There is a small caterpillar which obsessively crawls towards the place on the board where she last touched the screen, sometimes obscuring a shape or hole. For every correctly placed piece, the caterpillar acquires a balloon, and when all pieces are in place, the caterpillar floats up to the top of the screen and fades away as the board is removed and a new one is presented.

I've explained to Elodie that the caterpillar is actually a zombie which is pursuing her to consume her brain. When she completes the board, the caterpillar is released from his curse and his ghost floats up to heaven, aided by the balloons she earned for him. Otherwise, he's doomed to traverse the mortal plane, terrorizing toddlers like her forever. I didn't tell her about killing it with a head shot, but she has enough to think about now. She still plays but she seems more serious about it...

So that's my home life right now. Between diaper changes, anyway.
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Our home life has become a little weird lately. Well, weirder.

[profile] cuyahogarvr's youngest daughter & her husband are expecting a baby boy, due Oct 5. Elodie, currently two years old, will be promoted to big sister, but I'm sure she's not going to enjoy having to share the spotlight with a younger brother. That's all good news and not that weird.

Maurita is experiencing something of a high-risk pregnancy, as she did with Elodie in 2015. And we're taking the same steps as before: she & Elodie have moved in with us so that she stay rested, have some help with Elodie, and so that she has constant company in case of any emergency. The husband, Lucas, is visiting & staying with us as long as he can, but they still have four dogs at their house which need attention & care, as well as his fulltime job.

We expect as well that the baby may arrive somewhat earlier than Oct 5: Elodie was a month early. In any case, Maurita will need some post-partum recovery time, and there will be a newborn and a toddler to care for, so they will be with us for probably a month following delivery.

So yeah, weird. We're once again up to our eyeballs in diapers, kids toys and other such family fun. For another three months, give or take.

So let's throw another layer of weird on top of that.

We had initially be working on a plan for Maurita & Lucas to buy the house next door to us. Our neighbourhood is much closer to Lucas' work so it would reduce his commute by an hour each way; we're near the Metro; our county's schools are much better than the ones in their county, on average; they would have a built-in daycare & babysitting service next door (ie. us).

Unfortunately, we haven't been able to come to terms with our neighbour. He wants to move to Florida, he's looking to sell, and he had a golden opportunity to sell without real estate commissions, but while he agreed to a particular selling price, he kept moving the goal posts in terms of the closing costs, post-sale access to the garage to remove his stuff at leisure, the closing date, etc.. After fairly intense negotiations through June, we collectively gave up on that plan. Tim has since admitted he was going a little far, and has approached us twice since to see if we would be willing to re-open negotiations but the kids have already found another larger place ten minutes' drive from here for the same base price. It's not as convenient a location as next door, but it's pretty good.

We don't have a closing date for their new house yet as we're still going through the motions of inspections and remediations, but there are no show-stoppers on the horizon and since the owner only used the house as a summer home a couple of months per year, there's no occupying family needing time to coordiante their exit. I expect a settlement date in early August. No renovations are needed, just some paint here & there to relieve the monotony of the existing beige interior.

The sale of their current house is taking more effort. We helped move much of their furnishings & possessions into a storage pod over the past few weekends, and it has been staged for sale. A buyer appeared at the first open house at the asking price, but there was a long (and rather unreasonable) list of contingencies the buyer wants. Yes, we expected some requests as fixing a stair bannister and unsticking a window, but asking the house be entirely rewired and the kitchen renovated is beyond reason. I presume it's just a bargaining tactic: they can drop 50% of their laundry list for a small decrease in the price of the house and appear to be reasonable, even when the list itself was utterly unreasonable.

The kids are taking care of some of the sensible items currently. Even if this current deal falls apart, they would still be needed for some future buyer. Since we helped pay off their existing mortgage, we have disconnected the purchase of their new home from the sale of the old, so they could walk away from this current buyer if needed, and perhaps rent out the house for a couple of years before eventually selling it. There are many options.

So that's my home life at the moment. Never a dull moment, although one would be very nice right now.
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The past few months, I've been working on a major project for work: building out a new cage in our data center near Sterling, VA. Our current two cages are working reasonably well, but the equipment has aged, enough that much of it is no longer viable under Paycard Industry 3.2 standards (PCI). Even on the hardware we could keep using, we desperately need operating system upgrades and extra capacity.

The new cage has 9 racks, compared to the 27 racks in the old cage. Nearly everything is virtualized and clustered, all of it has the latest patches of whatever OS they're running, and we have RAM, storage & CPU cycles to spare.

And this past weekend, we went live.

It was a bit rocky in parts. One of the first tasks I had in the migration plan was to fix some issues in our Sun Microsystems/Oracle database servers, and our Veritas Cluster System. It took more hours than I was hoping/expecting, but I did get through it all. I think I spent more time delving into the depths of VCS that one night than I did the previous ten years.

By midday Saturday, everything had been migrated and we were starting running test traffic through it. We found some issues in routing, permissions, ownerships and such, but not many. Most effort was focused on getting the F5 traffic managers fully tuned for our requirements.

Today was our first regular business day since the cutover, and although we've had some problems getting our new IP ranges white-listed with a couple of our larger customers and had some performance problems with our hotel search databases, the day has been a success. We're getting great comments about the vastly improved speed & performance of our systems as well.

The road ahead is still a long one. While the travel portion of our systems have migrated, our Purchase and Car Service divisions have not yet. The Sun servers moved to the new cage, but their data still resides on a storage array in the old cage. At this moment, I'm still waiting for the license codes to built out a new monitoring system.

Once all of that has finished, there's a tonne of dismantling & disposal to do with the old cages & equipment. Some will be redeployed in our non-production environments, but 80% will be trashed completely. The most intensive part of the project is over, but I have work for the rest of the summer.

Gym Update

May. 25th, 2017 11:07 am
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As somewhat expected, the renovations at my regular LA Fitness in downtown Silver Spring are taking longer than they had planned. Instead of being shut down for three weeks ending May 22, they will be offline for five weeks in total, to June 5.

Since my membership expires today (May 25), I renewed yesterday at the Dulles Town Center location, after my regular workout and before heading to work at the data center. I've re-upped for one year at $179. While I'd rather renew for 3 years at a time to save money, I don't want to make a longer term commitment until I know the renovated Silver Spring location is worth my money: I definitely know the Wheaton location is not. I haven't yet checked out the Aspen Hill facility but may do so next week when life is calmer.

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This morning, a fruit basket & candy package arrived, sent by my COO, CTO & head of HR, addressed to the "Jarvis Family." The note attached thanked my clan for supporting me as I worked extra hours on the latest set of office projects. Nice touch --although I'd rather have a small bonus rather than $50 gift package. Thoughtful, though.

I've been working extra hours (extra extra hours?) this week as we run down the clock to our big data center migration. Today, two people who now report to me (one is my former boss, on contract!) are flying from San Francisco to Sterling, VA. Tomorrow morning, I also head to Virginia to meet with them, ensure their badges & keys work at the data center, and generally show them the cages, servers & tools we have on-site for this migration. I also hope we can discuss in person the sequence of steps we're taking once the site goes offline Friday night, filling in any details I may have overlooked.

I'm staying at a hotel in Virginia Friday through Sunday so I can be as close as possible to the data center. I'm also expecting that after many extended hours of battle, I'd be in no shape for a 40 minute drive home and return the following day.

Friday night, about 10pm Easter time, our site will go down and the fun begins. In our preliminary testing, we were getting speed improvements of 5x or so, but I think that's just a happy dream of what we'll be able to do in another two months: even after the apps move from the old cage to the new, the databases will largely be reaching back to the storage arrays in the old cage over a 4Gbps fibre link until we can migrate the data. I do intend to start migrating the data after we go live this weekend, but it will take weeks of effort to finish that (I'm hoping to have the bulk of it done by July 1).

I cannot say how relieved I am to get the new cage online. It's not just that we've been working on it constantly the past several months, but we've been letting maintenance of the old cage slide a bit, and it had inherent issues we couldn't easily fix anyway. Killing the old cage removes a lot of legacy equipment & unfortunate architecture decisions: the slate gets swept clean.

And even when we shut down the old cage, there is still much to do. We could only make this deadline by physically moving the Sun T4-1 servers with their Oracle databases to the new cage. We were originally planning to let that equipment be retired, but that aspect is a huge project in itself. In the next three month work sprint, we're going to: identify the data we need to retain, convert the data from SPARC data word format into Intel data word format, and restructure the database & LUN layout. All on live systems. The database team has 80% of this workload, but I'm still in the mix, doing the storage allocations and helping where I can with optimizing the process.

At this moment, here and now, I'm feeling rather serene. I've just ticked off the last of my pre-migration tasks, and finished scripting a lot of Veritas cluster stuff I need to do the moment the site is offline Friday night. In all, I'm now in wait mode. There is nothing left to do but wait for the dawn.

Gymming

May. 13th, 2017 10:51 am
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My regular gym, not-so-affectionately known as the slum gym, is still under renovations and won't re-open until May 22. (Side note: my 3yr membership expires May 25, so their renovations will largely determine if I renew. Make it good, guys!) This week, I had a couple of visits to the data center so I was able to use the excellent gym in Sterling, VA, close to work. This morning, however, I had to go to nearest LA Fitness, AKA the shanty town gym.

It's serviceable but it's just so low, low, low class. The gym itself has a long history of not keeping up with repairs on equipment: at least 15% of the treadmills & ellipticals are offline at any given time, sometimes more, and the staff have reached a point of complacence that they don't even bother posting "out of order" signs any longer. The sauna & pool are offline again, as they seem to spend most of their existence.

My biggest complaint is always about the weight & strength equipment as that's my primary area of interest. All of the equipment is in a relatively small space so one has to take extreme care not to accidentally step into someone else's workout, or even have to coordinate your own lifts with theirs to ensure you don't collide.

There are only two bench press stations, so I worked very hard to get in precisely at 8am when they opened today and get to the floor ahead of the crowd. I did well, I was the third person to arrive. Sadly, both one & two both went directly to the bench press stations and kept them for a half-hour each. Two spent most of that time typing on his mobile phone while sitting on the bench, but refused to let anyone else tag in. (At least One was using his bench extensively and on high weights so it was impractical to tag in with him: it would take more time to offload & reload weights than we would have gained by alternating, and since he was making good use of the equipment, I can't begrudge him that.)

I'm used to gyms piping in dance music interspersed with commercials & promotional announcements about their services. I'm also accustomed to people wearing their own iPod & earphones. I'm not at all familiar with the practice of people bringing their own portable stereos to play. Nothing quite like having 2-3 different people bringing their own clashing styles of music for all to (ahem) enjoy!

My gut instinct is to say that bringing & playing a stereo in public like that is a trashy move. In my experience, I think it's a rude, inconsiderate and frankly, low class move. Since my experience doesn't cover the entire planet, I have to wonder: is this acceptable behavior somewhere? Am I being culturally insensitive on this point, or could I "accidentally" drop a 75lb dumbbell on his stereo?

Discuss.
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Credit card companies are heavily into "big data," or what the rest of the planet has been calling statistics for generations: they analyze commercial activity to devise more ways of selling products, extracting more fees, getting rid of unprofitable customers, and spotting fraud.

And sometimes they spot fraud where there isn't any, and things go bad quickly.

Earlier today, the gov't of Canada attempted to charge my Citibank Amex card for my Canadian passport renewal. Citibank flagged it as potentially a fraudulent activity. The reasoning engine which scores transactions along the scale of legit to illegit is a black box and proprietary secret, but I'm hoping they simply presumed that I was unlikely to be in Canada at this moment and therefore this charge was probably incorrect. I'm hoping they didn't just decide somehow that the Government of Canada isn't a legitimate entity.

I contacted Amex to tell them this was indeed a legit transaction, but it's too late. I expect the passport office has already dropped my paperwork into an envelope and shipped it back to me with a form letter saying that they couldn't complete the transaction. And I'm going to have to mail back the entire package yet again --using a different credit card because I can't trust Amex not to screw it up again.

This evening, that same Amex card was blocked at our local service station. In anger & disgust, I went to a different service station, reasoning that perhaps it was just a telecom issue, but no, the next service station rejected the same card. Apparently, the black box reasons that not only could I not legitimately be in Canada, but I clearly can't also be in my own neighbourhood.

I finally purchased gasoline at the second station using a different credit card. And I had a few words with Citibank customer service when I got home.

I've had this credit card for 17 years, but at this moment, I have to honestly question whether I should keep this card. Citibank's fraud prevention has prevented a stack of transactions over the years. It works perfectly as long as I hold it in my hand and keep within a limited range of home. Once I get away from the Baltimore-Washington zone or the area around our campsite in West Virginia, it starts breaking down quickly. I've learned not to trust it for web purchases or telephone orders, but it didn't occur to me that it would also fail in mail order situations, especially when dealing with a government agency.

I'll have to think about this more in the morning when I'm a bit less pissed off.
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Folks are storing their data in the cloud, things are happening in the cloud, our businesses are becoming more cloud-based, etc..

Great buzzwords. Still a lot of hype.

There is no cloud, just other peoples' computers. There are still servers and hard drives out there, stuffed into data centers: you just get to rent a little part of it to store your files. The "cloud" nomenclature was created to demonstrate directly that you, the customer, have absolutely no idea where those servers, drives, and your data actually are. The sales pitch is that you don't need to know, the reality is that you can't know.

As one who has worked in major data centers for decades, trust me: I know where the cloud actually is. I've had a direct hand in building small portions of it. Indeed, since each machine has a number of sharp corners & edges, I've had more than a few injuries getting the equipment assembled & racked, and I'm of course not the only one.

It's an interesting thought: the 'cloud' contains not just your data, but an awful lot of very real blood, my own included.
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We survived the weekend in Rehoboth Beach, DE. Travel to Rehoboth is always a dodgy thing and it's not a place I enjoy, so I'm relieved we're done for another year.

My boss flew into town late last night to work in the data center. We'll be doing some long hours Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday; he flies back to California Friday morning. I'm going to help on some of the network stuff, but my major tasks are:
- moving four Sun servers from the old cage to the new one;
- configure said servers;
- install 20 new servers (due to arrive any day now);
- install 4.8TB of RAM in the form of 16GB DIMMs. Half are replacements for 8GB DIMMs in 35 machines, the rest are upgrades to existing servers, taking them to 128GB of RAM each. It's overkill for what we need today but will give us serious room to grow for the next couple of years.

Come Thursday, Bill Eyler will be coming to stay chez nous as we shuttle him around to various square dance gigs in the greater DC area. The recent minivan engine trouble was worrisome but we're back on schedule now that the PrincessMobile is fully repaired.

Speaking of square dancing, I've submitted my availability for the Zig Zagger's calling schedule for 2017-18. I've also sent my preferences for slots at the upcoming IAGSDC event in Palm Springs, CA, although I don't expect to hear back on that for another month or so.
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The trip home from Rehoboth Beach, DE, Sunday evening was a bit too eventful for my tastes.

While zipping along I95 southbound north of Aberdeen, MD, the battery light came on. A minute later, the engine light, oil light and others came on too, and the dash began beeping. As we pulled over onto an exit ramp, we lost power steering. As quickly as possible, we stopped on the shoulder of the ramp and killed the engine.

It's a 2006 Grand Caravan with 175,000 miles on it, so we were prepared for the worst, but after some consideration, we came to our own conclusion that the tensioner for the serpentine belt had broken. With such slackness in the belt, the alternator and other devices weren't functioning as they should.

AAA summoned us a tow truck and we were able to rent a Pacifica to get us and our equipment & luggage home while the PrincessMobile stayed at the garage.

Monday morning, our suspicions about the tensioner were confirmed. And this morning, Kent drove to Aberdeen to return the Pacifica and collect the PrincessMobile. The car repairs were about $320, the car rental $290. In all, it was better than going shopping for a new minivan.

Bleh

Apr. 29th, 2017 09:43 pm
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In all, I'm not having a great weekend.

At this moment, I'm in the business center area of the Sands Hotel of Rehoboth Beach, DE. This weekend is the 31st annual "Pass the Ocean, Hon!" square dance festival hosted by the Chesapeake Squares.

Most of my bad mood is due to external factors which I admit shouldn't bother me overmuch, but since I'm feeling a bit trapped so I have little else to dwell on, which in turn generates an ugly feedback loop.

I'd rather not have attended this weekend, but we have all the sound equipment stored in our basement so they really need us to come. I'm no longer a club caller and have withdrawn from all other activities & management rolls with the host club, but I still come in support of Kent who is still a club caller for them, and Michael likes visiting Rehoboth.

The traffic getting here Friday was, as usual, pure hell. Rehoboth Beach is the weekend getaway destination for most of the Washington-Baltimore corridore, and the Chesapeake Bay forces traffic into a handful of choke points which make comfortable travel very difficult. This year it's worse because of road construction in the same bottlenecks. In all, I was in a fairly bad mood before I even arrived in Rehoboth.

Checking into the hotel was a bit of a nightmare: there was a long line and only two people staffing the front. It was a long wait, then a wait again as they demanded Michael be present to show his ID as one of the co-occupants whose names were on the room reservation (they didn't care about Kent because his name wasn't on the reservation, although they knew a third person would be in the room).

Once we were checked in, I then realized there is no desk or work table in our room. I have no plans to dance at this square dance convention, but there was also no place where I could work on my own projects. Dammit.

Fortunately, I discovered there was a side room off the lobby which is technically described as their lounge bar where there are some work desks. It takes an enormous stretch to envision this as a lounge, especially since there is no bar in sight. That said, I'm sitting in a fishbowl: windows on three sides and a walkway behind me, so everything on my screen is visible to the planet. Yeah, definitely not doing anything NSFW, but also nothing which might be thought of as work-sensitive, proprietary or confidential. PITA.

So in all, I'm somewhere I don't want to be, not being able to do things I'd hope to accomplish.

What I really need right at this moment is a back & shoulder rub. I'm still tense from yesterday's chest workout at the gym, as well as the stress of driving here.

And so since I'm doing little more than whining here, I'm going to sign off for tonight and consider just reading the rest of the evening away.
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I had an unusual experience yesterday at the doctor's office.

While waiting for my appointment, a nurse came into the waiting area and called for Charles Harvess. No one stood up, but there were only four patients waiting, three of which were women. Not hearing my name called, I returned to reading Twitter on my mobile.

A few minutes later, the nurse came back and addressed me specifically. "Are you Charles Harvess?"

"No, I'm Brian Jarvis," i replied.

"Yeah, that's what I asked. Charles Harvess."

"I'm not Charles, I'm Brian. And I've never heard of anyone named Harvess before."

She showed me the papers. "Is this your name?"

And yes, it was indeed my name. So how does one read 'Brian Jarvis' and come out with 'Charles Harvess'? Seriously, how did my name become so difficult to pronounce to a native english speaker? More horrifying, do I want to deal with medical personnel who can't communicate a person's name effectively?
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I'm not planning to die any time soon, or at all. While I'm assured that my death is inevitable in perhaps 40-50 years' time, I'm personally against it. I am by nature a cautious person so it seemed prudent to ensure I'm prepared for my theoretical demise.

We already have wills in place to dispose of my earthly assets. And while I'd prefer to be buried body intact and in a nicely appointed coffin (dark wood finish, brass fixtures, free wifi), getting my hydrocarbons across an international border would require significant effort by my executor, not to mention a great deal of money. It would be vastly easier to cremate me and carry my ashes in one's carry-on bags.

While we were in the Charlton area, I stopped by the township hall to talk with the clerk, Gisele Belanger, to enquire how one goes about being placed in the Brentha Cemetary near my childhood farm.

My parents (also still alive) have a plot there, I-16. Gisele informed us that a plot may contain a coffin & three cremains, or a total of five cremains. My parents are planning to be cremated so as long as my parents stop by the office to officially RSVP me into their plot, my position is guaranteed. There is an administrative fee of $265 if it were to happen today, but otherwise all expenses are covered.

The cemetary contains a lot of childhood memories for me. Rather, it contains a lot of people I knew. I went to school with several occupants. Some I knew through church. Some we shared a telephone party line with, while others were merely neighbours we sometimes saw. There were parents or grandparents of my childhood friends. There was my bus driver for my first & second grade, as well as the fellow who was the janitor of my elementary school, buried with his late wife. There was the couple who owned sold us our farm, and their extended family. There was the local telephone switchboard operator until the systems went digital in the early 1970s. And so on. I could give a mini-biography on nearly 2/3 of the people at rest there. And I'm intrigued by the ones I didn't recognize: there are no more families named Goldstein, Schultz or Kiehna in the area, and I'm curious what brought them, and why happened to their descendants.

Like any good story, I'm left with a lot of answers, but a few extra questions too.
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I currently live in Maryland in the US, but I was raised in northern Ontario, on a dairy farm in Dack Township, near the towns of Charlton and Englehart. My parents still live in the area and since we were coming to Canada this week anyway for my grandmother's birthday, I thought it was a good opportunity to travel the full distance north to visit the homestead.

It's been a bit of an adventure overall. My parents are still living on the farm, but they've had their share of health problems and even they are conceding they can't stay on the farm for many more years before the maintenance simply overwhelms their ability to manage.

Much of the farm itself has changed over the years. There is currently the house and the barn with its attached milk house left. When I was a very young child (pre-school), there was the car garage, tractor garage (the original 1920s homestead), a grainery, a log garage for farm equipment, and the old barn. The house I grew up in burned in 1984; the parents' current house then is the third home on that farm.

The old buildings were mostly cleared away years ago. The old barn was collapsing under its own weight when I was a kid, and we were strictly warned never to go in there. Which we of course then did. There were some ancient farm implements, a couple old horse collars for the plow and little else, but it was fun to explore. It was torn down in 1976 as unsafe, along with the log barn.

My dad built the milk house in 1970 or so. While we haven't had dairy cattle since the 1970s, it has been a comfortable workshop for him since then and as held up pretty well.

The barn was built some time in the 1950s, I think, well before my family bought the property in 1969. It's been remodeled several times over the decades, but dad recently returned it to its original form: slide doors on either side to allow a pass-through for tractors & wagons of hay, and an open loft for unloading the delivered hay. The stalls are more modern but haven't seen cows in years.

The fences are all gone. We had maintained a distinct north field & south field, separated by a fenced cow pasture, and a path to the pond at the edge of the forested area to the back of the property. All traces of that are now gone: it is now one continuous field from the northern edge to the southern edge of the property lines, and it is currently leased to other farms in the area for their use.

Sadly, the ground has been too wet for us to hike back to the uncleared portions of the property along the eastern edge. The underlying rock of the Canadian shield rises above soil level in these spots, over 40 feet in some places. They were fun places to go when I was a kid and I had hoped for clear views of the full farm from there with the absence of leaf cover. The exposed and barely-covered rock surfaces however mean there is little drainage for heavy rains, not to mention melting spring runoff. I'll try again in a dryer season.

Many other surrounding properties have changed too. I noticed some houses where there were none before, older or abandoned structures have been cleared away, some houses & barns have simply vanished entirely.

The Mennonite community has been buying up a number of properties in the area, priced out of the southern Ontario market. Driving at night, it's easy to spot the houses lit by kerosene lamps, and we passed more than a few horses & buggies on the roads. On Monday, we passed several groups of children walking home from their school, the girls in long dresses and white bonnets, the boys in dark trousers & coats with wide-brimmed black hats. Other than their dress, they were perfectly ordinary kids doing perfectly ordinary kid things.

On the advice of Gesile Belanger, the town clerk for Charlton & Dack Township, we went to what is now known at the Heritage Center in Charlton. That building was the town hall when I lived there, built in 1909. It now has a room for community meetings (an artists' group meets there weekly), and houses archives of the area. Looking randomly through official voter lists of the 1950s, I found the names of many people I knew, including the people who owned our farm before us. Sadly, I wasn't able to determine who owned our farm before them, but I didn't have the time to dig as deeply as I wanted. Perhaps the next time.

Overall, the region is recognizable but very different from the place I knew. Charlton is very similar, but Englehart has unquestionably gone downhill over the past two decades. New Liskeard seems a mixed bag, a downtown a bit past its prime but not too far gone, and a burgeoning suburban shopping area, although at the expense of the mall next door.

I could wish to spend more time there, but I think I've had enough for this trip. The next visit should be in the fall, when the local tourist attractions are open, perhaps late enough to see the leaves changing colour.
bjarvis: (Default)
Last April, I had outpatient surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my left knee. Recovery was quick and I've had no problem since.

A few weeks ago, however, I received a letter from United Health about my appeal. Huh? What appeal?

Then last week, I received a letter from United Health turning down my appeal as I had waited past the 180 day term limit. I still have no clue what this is about.

Finally, yesterday, I received a package of correspondence from United Health, a stack of paper an inch thick. Each letter was accompanied by ten pages of statements about how one can obtain services in a variety of languages, how they adhere to HIPPA regulations, etc., but the actual correspondence was revealing.

The 7th page from the bottom of the stack held the secret. Why was there an appeal, for what, and by whom? It was the surgical center where I had my knee surgery. They had billed United Health $9,532, although with a co-pay from me for $364. But United Health had decided the procedures were worth vastly less and were only willing to pay $790.31. Cue the sad trombone, and the appeal.

I could understand their surprise and wanting to appeal the reimbursement from United Health, but it took them nearly a year to decide that, and United is within its rights to reject the appeal because of the 180 day rule. That said, I'm a bit worried about the future.

Will the surgical center simply eat the balance as business transaction gone bad? Yeah, UHG pissed them off, and I could understand if they never wanted to accept UHG patients again. The center really blew it though on the appeal period: missing that deadline was a dumb mistake and they have no one to blame but themselves. But they could also decide that since my insurance provider failed them, they are entitled to extract their extra fees from me as the patient and payer of last resort, even though it has been a year and they've blown their own bookkeeping.

So, I sit and wonder. Will I get a bill for $9k or not? I have no idea.
bjarvis: (Default)
For me, the love of LiveJournal began to fade when it was sold to Russian business interests. It became, well, something else. Maintenance wasn't great before but it became much worse during the transition. Stability suffered. It was no longer "our" long-form conversational space, but became "theirs," and while that isn't a bad thing in itself, it felt like the welcome mat was gone. Still, while I had migrated everything of consequence over to Dreamwidth, I didn't have a compelling reason to shut down my business with LJ.

In recent years and months, however, the Russian government has become more autocratic & paranoid, less tolerant of politically acceptable speech, and more aggressive against people who didn't offer proper deference to government wishes. I wish I could say the US government was better in that regard, but since last November, it's fared little better. While the US' executive branch has lost its mind and the legislative branch is flailing like a drunken chimp, the institutions of gov't haven't completely fallen yet.

And then there's this.

I'm done with LiveJournal. It's been a good run, but its operation & government oversight have become too dodgy for my tastes. There is a good chance I'm just being paranoid, but there are plenty of good alternatives out there so there's little reason to embed myself in a sketchy system.

If you're looking for me, I'll be at bjarvis.dreamwidth.org.

Thanks, and good night.
bjarvis: (Default)
This evening, I had an interesting pair of phone calls.

The first one was a man who immediately asked if I was Brian, then launched into a question asking about a network issue he was having. I was a bit flummoxed as I had no idea who he was, but attempted to answer the question (I theorized it was port blocking by the firewall). He asked me to confirm I worked for Deem; I then ask him his name and it was one I didn't recognize. But OK, no harm done, and we said goodbye.

A few minutes later, a woman called for me. She explained that the prior caller was her son, calling to see if I actually exist.

Yeah, that raised my eyebrows too.

Apparently, someone used my name, photos & bio to create a fake account on "Plenty of Fish," some sort of dating website, and she had been exchanging messages & txt messages with him. The fake Brian had been evasive on some question so she was a bit suspicious and started doing some checking with her son's assistance. They found my Instagram profile, which lead them to the red flag: Fake Brian mentioned he was in Belgium on business but my Instagram showed I was in Florida. She then called the hotel where he was staying and learned that they had never heard of him, and the room number he has sent her was invalid.

After she confronted him with this information, he vanished and the profile was deleted from the website. She then called me to warn me there was a copy of me floating around. And we actually had a pleasant conversation, and her son said he thought my resume was very impressive. Nice.

Anyway, I'm now googling my name to see what else pops up. So far, I've only found a fake profile in FaceBook (now reported & closed). My pic has been used in a couple of places as clickbait, one for a learn-anything-about-anyone site with dozens of different people named Brian Jarvis, and another which uses my image from Twitter to lure me into a pr0n website.

I have checked my credit reports and those came up clean. The information which I've found laying about has all come from public spaces: FaceBook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, or generally visible public gov't documents. None of it has been especially personal.

I'm still a bit baffled that someone would have the need to create a fake profile, as well as a little flattered they decided I was a worthy person to imitate. I would like to ask the Fake Brian from Plenty of Fish why he felt the need, and what he thought he would accomplish.

If you know of any other means I should take to seek out more fakes of me, let me know. There are many valid Brian Jarvises out there than I had suspected, but I would like to track down anyone else using images of me or other such details.

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