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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Second Day of Spring.... SNOW DAY!

We awoke unexpectedly to several inches of snow that had fallen silently and stealthily overnight, and indeed was still falling.



My car was outside, and was going to need clearing before I could attempt to drive anywhere.


The trees all around were carrying a great weight of snow, so though they looked pretty the branches were sagging badly. The snow was almost vertical, and with no wind to shake the branches it was all piling on.


Pretty view down across the cul-de-sac, the trash cans left out overnight wearing caps of snow. Aaah.


Around 7:20am Beth headed off for work. Her car having been in the garage overnight needed no clearing, and the snow crunched gaily undertire.


Ugh. I cleared my car wiondows and hood and then tried to put it in the garage so I wouldn't have to clear it a second time, with the snow still falling. In fact I couldn't go forwards up the driveway slope at all until I'd cleared the snow in front of the wheels, and these skidmarks show how my front wheels were dancing around trying to get a grip. Hmmm.


Three inches at 7am had turned to four by eight, measured on our patio table, which is near enough to the house to be slightly shaded from driving snow.

Just before I measured this Beth came back home. She'd spent about 40 minutes slipping about on the roads at 20mph top speed, but with no snow cleared off even the major NW Expressway (the city owns just one snowplow), she wisely turned back as soon as she safely could. I decided to call in as well, as it was just too treacherous to risk a smash. The Manager I spoke to was still stuck at work from the overnight shift, as it was too dangerous to drive home!

Then it was time to check our trees and garden, and shake a few branches to to to ease their snow burden. As I looked out back I noticed our gazebo seemed a but shorter than usual.


Something wrong there. I put up the ladder to discover that the roof had caved in under the weight of snow. I had hoped I might brush it clear, but with the roof girders bent down like an inverted umbrella, that was going to be difficult.


Further investigation showed that the canvas roof had ripped at some of the seams and part of the roof had caved in. I shook down some snow, but the damage was done. We'll have to decide if we can repair this, or if we want to replace the Gazebo.

With the gazebo beyond help, I went round the cul-de-sac knocking snow off the trees to try to save their branches. Our neighbor Darren came out to head off to work, but he has a big 4x4 pickup and a different route, so we watched him slush off and had a chat with another neighbor before taking a turn round the block.


Too late for this tree, this big branch had broken off under the weight of snow. We heard a crack a couple of minutes before we saw this, but we think that was a different tree. Just to the bottom left of the basketball hoop you can see the light patch were the branch broke off.


On Lynbrook, our nearest bigger road, the snow was churned into tracks, but still very treacherous if taken too fast.


To prove our point, a large 4x4 pickup came past at speed and started fishtailing. We didn't get it on video, and luckily there were no other vehicles for him to hit, but he left these tracks.


This tree was split in two by the snow.



At least the children can enjoy snowdays, with most schools closed. These two had a superb snowfort going, and a wheelbarrow full of snowballs. Now all they needed was a target. Time to be elsewhere.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Death of a Cellphone

I've only owned four cellphones in my life, up until Saturday. The first one I bought (a Philips) I bought I passed onto my parents. The second that replaced it I lost (but found some years later packed in a boardgame box, but sadly now useless). The third I still have, but as it's tied to a UK net I had to replace it when I arrived in the USA. Those first three phones were all on the Orange network.

On Beth's advice I got a 1-year prepaid plan with T-Mobile, and a cheap (<$20) phone. The plan got me 1,000 minutes for $100 a 1 year's airtime, which may seem expensive per minute, but as I used only 300 minutes in 2010 and 600 in 2011, I'm still using that original $100 today, after adding a few more dollars once every year to keep the plan active for another 12 months.

As a comparison, there are several unlimited plans for prepaid phones around the $45-55 a month mark, a 2-year contract with any of the main companies typically runs at $60-80 a month, and the cheapest prepaid offering we have at Walmart is a Tracphone for $10, for which you'd need to buy a $20 card every 3 months to have 120 minutes airtime to use in those 3 months. As I average less than 40 minutes a month, even that is more than I currently need. 


Old phone left, new phone right

The phone served me well for a couple of years, with the occasional misbehaviour when the alarm would sound at the wrong time. I use my phone more as a watch and alarm clock than an actual phone, so that alarm malfunction was always a niggle.

On Saturday beth and I went shopping, and the phone failed to ring when she called me. It had been acting up a bit for a few weeks, and I think the circuits fried themselves inadvertantly. The profiles would reset without prompting, and the speaker got very quiet.

Time for a new phone then. Luckily we were already headed near a T-mobile outlet in the Valley River Mall, so I popped in, chose a similar Nokia phone from a selection of four cheap phones (under $50), and the staff were able to port all my details from the old sim card to the new one, so I was able to walk out of the store within ten minutes with a new working phone for under $25.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Car re-Licensing in the US

Having had my car almost two years, the time has come to relicense it. In the UK it would currently cost £245 to get a 1 year tax disk for my 2007 Mazda 3, though actually my engine size (2 litres) appears to be a 1.6L in the UK. In the US it cost $86 for 2 years, so $ for £ about 1/6 of the cost.

The process is simple. The DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) sends me a letter reminder that my registration is due (the vehicle registration is equivalent to a UK tax disk), I go online to renew it (takes 5 minutes), and a few days later my new stickers arrive in the mail. All I do is put the 2014 stickers over the 2012 stickers in the bottom right corner of the license plate, and it's done, for the next two years. There is no MOT (for US readers, that's a test that your vehicle is roadworthy, and non-polluting) in our City, and only Portland in all or Oregon requires an emissions test. In case you're wondering about pollution, the air here is the cleanest I've ever known in a city, with mosses and lichens growing on rocks and trees even at the busiest intersections.

I could, if I chose, pay for a new pair of plates and get a new number, background picture, or even make up my own registration plate, but all these options cost extra, so I didn't. Maybe one year I'll get my own special plates, but for now the dollars are more use elsewhere.

For people wondering about gas prices, we are currently paying around $4 per US Gallon here in Eugene, prices varying between $3.88 and $4.19 depending on where you go. We usually fill up at our local Fred Meyer because it's close and we get 3c per gallon off just by having a Fred Meyer loyalty card (which is free). If we spend enough in a month (on anything they sell, not just gas) we get 10c off per gallon. The average UK price in February was £5.11 per US Gallon, though gas (petrol) is sold in litres there, at £1.35 per litre.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Dark and Cold

The clocks went forward this weekend, in the middle of my 3-day 7am shift run. The consequence was that, while on Saturday I drove to work in blazing sunshine, on Sunday and Monday it was still pitch black. Did I get to enjoy the extra hour of daylight in the evenings? Of course not, I was so tired that last night I was in bed by 8pm and fast asleep by 8:30pm. By 8am it's light again though, so I guess anyone not driving to work before 7am is fine, which will include me as I have no more 7am starts scheduled.

 It snowed last night to add to the fun. Here in the valley (about 350ft elevation) we just got a smattering, enough to require scraping the car windows and being careful driving, but up in the mountains there was up to 4 feet of snow in one go. Many schools are closed, or delaying their starts, which makes great fun for working parents. In the US a few snow days are expected every year, and built into the education schedule. In London this amount of snow would cause transport chaos. Odd to remember that on Friday I was sitting out on the patio at lunchtime eating a salad.

I finally get a 2-day weekend, albeit on a Tuesday/Wednesday, my first in over a month, unless you count the time I spent off work with the 'flu on 21st-23rd February. Split weekends have the advantage that you don't have to work so many days straight, but a proper 2-day break is really required to recharge the batteries. I booked off the coming weekend anyway so my boss couldn't schedule me for 7am starts, so Beth and I can enjoy some weekend time together, and maybe have a mutual shopping trip.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Has Spring Sprung?

Only a few days ago we had some snow flurries, and there's more possible this week, with possible settling on the valley floor. Meantime narcissi, crocuses and primroses springing up in our garden and around the neighbourhood, with the daffodils just behind, and the trees are putting out buds. The clocks go forward next Saturday night.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Annual Inventory

On 29th February my WaMart store undertook its annual inventory, and for the first time I was present for much of the day. We'd been building up to this for weeks, counting and recounting stock on the shelves and in the backroom, rearranging the backroom bins, and trying to keep things as neat as possible.

The day itself was very dull. Most of the Electronics staff were in for a full shift, but we were very restricted on what we could. The actual counting is done by an external company, so for the day of the count we were allowed only to serve customers - no zoning (tidying up and returning misplaced stock to the shelves), no working of freight, no picking fresh stock from the backroom, no module setting or anything else. Just customer service. As the count was daytime on a Wednesday, there weren't that many customers to serve, especially with so many staff in.

The count went slowly but smoothly enough, but by the time I left at 10pm it was still in the post-editing stage. I was at work again at 8am the next day, and we were still not allowed to do much, as some wildly variant counts were being re-checked. Initial reports are that our shrink (missing stock, usually stolen) was up slightly on last year, but not terrible. I heard that the Cell Phone center alone had lost about $10,000 of stock, remarkable as the phones are all locked away in cupboards until a customer asks for one, but possibly explained by the sacking late last year of a member of the cell phone department who hadn't been bothering to count the stock properly (which is supposed to occur every day).  Actually with the price of some cellphones exceeding $750 (at shelf value), that loss could be fewer then 20 contract phones.

If fact I'm surprised the loss wasn't bigger. A couple of weeks ago our door greeters were removed, or at least relocated to spots about 50 yards inside the store, rather than in the atriums where they have been since long before I started. Apparently this is a nationwide initiative enacted from on high, and it is supposed to show the customers, well, something about being valued that makes no sense to me or anyone else I've talked to about the change.

The immediate result is that the greeters are not greeting people anymore. They're also not checking any receipts to ensure stuff in people's carts has been paid for. They're not lining up carts ready for customers' use, or wiping them dry if they've been out in the rain (a likely contingency here in Oregon in the Winter), or collecting and charging the electric shopping carts that are there for people of limited mobility.

Customers are now confused as they come into the store, annoyed there are no dry carts lined up and ready for their use, and confused all over again as they leave the store and try to show their receipt to someone who isn't there. Signage has been added to direct customers to the Customer Service desk for various issues, but it's a rare customer who actually reads the signs, probably because they're too busy trying to control their dripping cart and an armload of children, while not running into other customers who are dawdling in the entryway. The electric carts are now running flat more frequently, as customers who use them and then return them to the atrium rarely bother to plug them in for the next user.

Hopefully the policy will be re-thought and reversed before shrink spirals out of control, and customers get so annoyed by the perceived unfriendliness that they stop shopping at WalMart. Meantime, if you're shopping at WalMart and wondering where the door greeter is, don't worry, they're still there, they're just not able to help you with anything much now.

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