Category Archives: Musings

Blog posts by Peter DeHaan; the musings of Peter DeHaan.

Go Green By Stopping Unwanted Mailings

Ten years ago, I made an effort to cancel the delivery of a free weekly newspaper that I have been receiving for years—and never read. It turned out to be an easy thing to do and they happily took my cancellation.

GO GREEN

The delivery of that paper immediately stopped—until I installed my new mailbox!

I understand the confusion because my new mailbox sports a self-contained paper box. The week after I installed it, not only did I receive the newspaper that I want, plus the one that I don’t want, but also a third paper that I’d never seen before! The third paper never showed up again, while I called again to halt the second paper.  Now things are back as they should be.

After I canceled the free newspaper, I was inspired to tackle all the free magazines that I receive, but don’t want.

I’ve canceled about 10 of them, with more still to do. Some have been easy to cancel, be it a call center or via the Internet.  Others are a bit more challenging, but gladly I do so as my part to help the environment.Whenever they include a prepaid envelope, I take their offer, write 'not interested; please remove me from your mailing list'. Click To Tweet

Another technique that gives me gleeful pleasure is dealing with the unsolicited offers I receive, especially for credit cards. Whenever they include a prepaid envelope, I take their offer, write “not interested; please remove me from your mailing list” on it, and return it in their envelope, at their cost. Generally that quickly stops the unwanted mailings. (Plus, it provides additional revenue for the post office—which they desperately need.  As I recall, they’re projecting a $2.1 billion dollar loss for that year.)

Next was the catalogs.  There is a Website to make it an easy and painless task: catalogchoice.org.

I’ll let you know how did it work.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Beware the Survey Turned Sales Pitch

Several years ago, as I was mowing my lawn, a stranger pulled into my driveway. He approached with the determined look of a salesman. With no way to make myself scarce, I waited as he approached. He was taking a survey. Suspicious that it was really a guise for a sales pitch, I hesitated, contemplating the most effective way of returning to my lawn-mowing mission.Finally I consented out of a sense of expedience.Beware the Survey Turned Sales Pitch

Question 1: “Do you think that right here today there is air pollution?” Answer: “Yes.”

Question 2: “Do you think the air in your house is better, worse, or the same as the air outside?” Answer: “The same.” (Actually I recall hearing that it is usually worse, but I was taking a calculated middle ground.)

Question 3: “Do you and anyone in your family suffer from asthma or allergies?”  Answer: “No.”  (Real answer: “Some allergies,” but I didn’t want to give Kevin too much encouragement.)Although pizzas and movies are very high on my list of preferred things, I suspected that even after enduring a 35-minute sales spiel, there would still be a catch, so I declined. Click To Tweet

Kevin said he would enter me into a drawing, asking for my name, my bride’s name, and my phone number. Knowing that all three pieces of information are readily available, I supplied them, but determined to provide no more. Fortunately that was all he asked. I was now registered to be in a quarterly drawing for 1,000 gallons of gas and a daily drawing for two pizzas and eight movies passes.

Three hours later Meg called from “Southside” to tell me that my name had been drawn—imagine that. This was playing out as I suspected, so I went along. Kevin wanted to personally come out and give me my prize. A time was set and then Meg said that Kevin would get a bonus if I listened to a brief sales presentation about Rainbow products. (Brief, by the way, is “35 minutes—depending on how many questions you ask.”) Pretending to be unaware, I asked what Rainbow was and Meg hesitated, “Well it’s like cleaning the air with water.”

Unfortunately collecting my prize was contingent on spending 35 minutes will Kevin. Although pizzas and movies are very high on my list of preferred things, I suspected that even after enduring a 35-minute sales spiel, there would still be a catch, so I declined. “Do you want me to give your prize to someone else?” Meg implored with a feigned incredulity.

“Sure,” I responded, “go ahead.” I wasn’t any closer to my pizzas and movies—but at least I had enough info for my blog.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Time to Move the Sprinklers

Last week I shared my quandary about my lawn (“The Pursuit of the Perfect Lawn“). Although my goal is to find a balance between my lawn’s appearance and the corresponding work required, I am yet discover precisely how to achieve that. Part of the issue is watering.Time to Move the Sprinklers

The “use” of water is not a concern. Irrigating a lawn does not actually consume water (see “Save Water“). It merely takes water from the earth and redistributes it—mostly back to the ground, with a bit evaporating to join rain-producing clouds. There is some electricity required to extricate the water from the earth, but that’s not a huge concern either.

My disquiet is the act of watering itself. For most people this is not an issue. Just program the irrigation system and forget it. Not so with me. I rely on the old-fashion method of dragging hoses around and carefully pointing sprinklers in order that my lawn may receive its requisite hydration.When I am in 'watering mode' I work more effectively because work occurs with greater intentionally between trips to the yard. Click To Tweet

Sometimes this is a major hassle and I wonder why I do it. However, by hand moving sprinklers I can direct water to where it is most needed: extra attention to the dry spots and a quicker pass on the shaded areas. You can’t do that with an in-ground system. Part of the lawn will always be over watered, while a few areas will inevitably be stressed.

However, I generally enjoy this task of watering. It gives me a short break from work, allows me to go outside, and provides satisfaction.  I often find that when I am in “watering mode” I work more effectively because work occurs with greater intentionally between trips to the yard.

The process is quite simple. I program a reminder using the calendar function in Outlook. When it alerts, I tell it to “snooze” for an hour and head outside to reposition the sprinklers.

Well it just chimed, telling me it’s “time to move the sprinklers.”  Gotta go, bye!

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

In Pursuit of the Perfect Lawn

Over the years my attitude towards lawns has changed.In Pursuit of the Perfect Lawn

I must have spent too many hours mowing lawn as a teen because when we bought our first house I was ambivalent about the condition and appearance of our grass. As long as it was mowed, I was fine. It could be weedy and brown, but as long as no anomalous growth showed from the road it was all good.Over the years my attitude towards lawns has changed. Click To Tweet

After a while my attitude changed, perhaps because brown grass isn’t much fun to view or walk on. So my goal then became to have a yard that was mowed and green. I didn’t care if it was full of weeds, as long as they were green weeds. This required watering during dry spells, but that was okay if the result was a nice shade of green.

That phase also ran it course as I became dissatisfied with neatly mowed green weeds. I then sought to be weed-free as well. This required fertilizer and weed killer—five times a year. But then to get the most out the product I was applying, more water was required.

Overall, I am pleased with the results—and it looks great from the road, as evidenced by the many positive comments I receive. Alas, with fertilizer and more watering, comes more frequent mowing. As it is turning out, the pursuit of a well-trimmed, green-colored, weed-free lawn is taking more time than I want to give it.

It seems that I know how to have a lousy looking lawn, and I’ve figured out what it takes to have a great looking lawn, but I’m thinking that the perfect lawn is part way in between—it looks okay, but doesn’t take much time. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to do that.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Spring Has Sprung

Whenever I see a robin, I become gleefully excited—really, I do! No, I am not particularly a bird lover, but I am quite affectionate for a new season, when spring has sprung.spring has sprung

The connection is that returning robins (which are a migratory fowl) mark that spring is right around the corner and warmer weather will soon be upon us. The males return first to stake out a territory and the females follow later when the temperatures climb a bit higher.Spring is an almost spiritual time for me, signaling reinvigorated life and a fresh start. Click To Tweet

Spring is my favorite season. Yes, summer is grand and fall is enjoyable (while I view winter as something to be survived).  However, spring is the most splendid time of the year. Springtime is when the cold dreariness of the winter fades, the dirty snow melts, and plants that were seemingly dead push forth green and are revived. Spring is an almost spiritual time for me, signaling reinvigorated life and a fresh start, a new birth of sorts.

Already I am starting to see which plants have survived the harshness of the winter months: the tulips and daffodils are just poking through.  Soon the grass will green and with it a slew of yard work will follow.  But that’s okay, because it’s spring and I want to get outside and do something other than shiver.

I can firmly cheer that “spring has sprung!”

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Time Lag

We’ve all heard about jet lag, that messed up, disconcerted thing that happens to our bodies after flying across time zones. It’s been said that each time zone crossed equates to one day of recovery.  For my constitution, that may be a bit generous. Though thinking back to when I frequently flew, I suspect that the more regularly one travels, the less the effect. Interestingly, flying west (“gaining” time) doesn’t faze me as much; but the return trip (“losing” time) really sets me back.Time lag from daylight-savings time (DST)

A similar disturbance happens to me each time we switch from “normal” time to daylight-savings time (DST) and visa versa. I call this phenomenon “time lag.”'Time Lag'—happens to me each time we switch from 'normal' time to daylight-savings time (DST) and visa versa. Click To Tweet

Just as in flying west, the fall DST switch causes a relatively minor disruption to my sleep equilibrium. However, the “spring forward” time change throws me off for several days, just as does a flight east that crosses several time zones.

When we lived in Wisconsin (which is on the eastern part of the Central time zone), DST made sense—it was an appropriate shift of the clock to better match the rising and setting of the sun.

However, Michigan is on the far western part of the Eastern Time Zone, and it’s never made sense. For the majority of the year, my reasonable 6 am rising is in the dark. On the summer solstice, dusk doesn’t occur until after 10:30 pm. And a scant two weeks later, we have to wait well after 11 pm just to watch fireworks. What nonsense!

I’d just as soon forget the whole daylight-savings time thing and lose the time lag along with it.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Gadgets to Go

On a business trip a few years ago, my otherwise spartan packing took up a bit more room than usual. That’s because I packed a bit more electronic gear than usual.Gadgets to Go

Packing My Gadgets

First, I had my camera and the associated paraphernalia—spare battery, charger, data cable, and extra memory card. Since I was attending as a photojournalist, my camera was a requisite tool.

Next was the computer with all its accouterments. I needed it as a functional viewing tool—it’s amazing how perfect a shot can appear on the camera’s tiny screen only to later find it is unusable. The computer also serves as a backup device. Normally, I would have my thumb drive for a third backup, but I forgot it. I’ve never lost any files going through airport security, but why take unnecessary risks?Traveling with all that electronics gear made me feel a bit like a techno geek. Click To Tweet

The third item was my digital recorder, which I used to record three podcasts. It’s a slick device, holding up to 100 hours of recordings.  When I transfer the files to my computer, they automatically convert to MP3 files, ready for playing or posting. The fourth item was my iPod, which I used to pass the time in the airport and the plane (when allowed) listening to other people’s podcasts.

Last was my cell phone. Of course, there were a myriad of associated items that accompanied each device.

Keeping Track of My Gadgets

In the end, I had more pieces of technical gear than items of clothing—seriously.

I was concerned about keeping track of them all, especially smaller items, such as the iPod. Once I was so focused caring for my digital recorder, that I left my camera on a table.  Fortunately it was still there when I returned in a panic a few minutes later.

Later, I misplaced my digital recorder, eventually discovering that the breast pocket in my sports coat had a small hole and the sly device had worked its way into the garment’s lining. It was quite a challenge to extricate it from its little burrow.

Anyway traveling with all that electronics gear made me feel a bit like a techno geek—wait a minute, I am.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

Don’t Wash Your Hands at the Airport

Once, as I made my way through airport security on a trip, I was randomly selected for a chemical scan. After passing a gauze-like material over my hands, the female TSA worker popped it in a machine for analysis. To my shock and her dismay, the machine beeped and turned red.Airport Security: Don't Wash Your Hands at the Airport

This development earned me the special attention of more airport security and receiving a pat down. As she guided me past a long line of fellow travelers, I wondered if this unexpected development might actually end up saving me time going through security. I was wrong.If soap is setting off the airport sensor then either the machine is too sensitive or they need to buy different soap. Click To Tweet

While we waited for a male TSA worker to conduct the pat down, I wondered aloud how I managed to set off the sensor. “I just washed my hands,” I mused.

“That does seem to catch a lot of people,” she replied.

If soap is setting off the airport security sensor then either the machine is too sensitive or they need to buy different soap.

I was quite apprehensive about the pat down, but the male TSA agent carefully explained the process and conducted it with great gentleness. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. Frankly I think it bothered him more than me.

More Airport Security

I passed the pat down and assumed I was good to go. Not so. He then did a chemical check of his gloves and the sensor again beeped and turned red. A supervisor arrived quickly, and he ushered me into a private room in airport security. I began to wonder if I was going to make it home.

The supervisor and agent both put on new gloves, and this time the supervisor gave me the pat down. If the scan of his gloves came back testing positive for chemicals, I was hosed. Fortunately it did not. I was free to go.

While the first scan may have come up positive because soap residue on my hands, that didn’t explain the positive match on the second test. Then I realized that neither the first or second scan was done by an agent wearing new gloves. They likely had chemical residual on their gloves from other passengers, fellow travelers who passed through security undetected and would be getting on a plane with the residue of potential bomb-making chemicals on them.

Although I would be boarding a plane after a rigorous airport security ordeal, I didn’t feel any safer.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

My Reaction to Reading Past Posts

A few years ago I read some of my past posts on this blog, not for any nostalgic reason, but to see if I coupd merge some of them into a book, codenamed Woodpecker Wars. My Reaction to Reading Past PostsHere’s what I found:

Though some posts are dated and others are not good, I generally like what I’m reading. Some posts are entertaining and others are insightful. Many are interesting—at least to me. Occasionally I’ll read a post I forgot about and be impressed.

However, when it comes to the details, I’m mostly dismayed. My past work contains errors and typos. The perfectionist in me wants to go back and fix them, but that would be too time-consuming. The impulse to edit my past work reminds me of the book Flowers for Algernon. A mentally challenged man who keeps a journal. He seeks permission to edit his past entries but is told to leave them as is—they are part of his history. Click To Tweet

That impulse to edit my past work reminds me of the book Flowers for Algernon. It’s about a mentally challenged man who undergoes an experimental process that catapults him to the genius level. Along the way, he’s encouraged to keep a journal. At first it’s hand-written and a mess but gets better over time. He learns to type and seeks permission to edit and type his past entries but is told to leave them as is—they are part of his history and shouldn’t be altered.

While I am neither mentally challenged or a genius, I’ll also leave my old posts as is—or maybe I’m just lazy. Regardless, the content that does end up in Woodpecker Wars—along with some new writing—will undergo careful editing and scrutiny. After all, I don’t want to make the same mistakes twice.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.

How Secure Are Those Security Questions?

In general, I appreciate the lengths financial institutions go to in keeping my account—and the information behind it—safe from hackers. These steps include multi-page sign-in procedures, displaying a personal phrase, and requiring that a random security code be entered. Yes, it’s a hassle, but it’s a hassle I endure to reasonably protect my information.

What perplexes me, however, are the security questions—they are either too simple or too hard.How Secure Are Those Security Questions?

Some security questions are in the category of too easy, such as what high school I went to. This and other basic facts can be reasonably uncovered online.  Similarly would be my favorite food. Anyone who reasonably knows me, would be aware that the answer is pizza. Plus, I am sure that this fact has been mentioned in public, appeared in an article, and written in a blog on more than one occasion.

My mother’s maiden name is another such question that is not all that secret. If I have the choice I skip those security questions, as I question their security.Security questions are either too simple or too hard. Click To Tweet

The other category is the impossibly hard questions. First, are the ones with multiple answers. For example, what street did you grow up on? What was your favorite pet’s name? Or what color was your first car?

For each of these, I have two equally valid answers. I moved while growing up; among scores of pets, two dogs tie as my favorite; and as far as my first car—I had it painted. Should I note the starting color or the ending color?

Other hard questions are those that change over time. Examples include my favorite color, my best teacher, my preferred type of ice cream, my all time favorite movie, or my favorite TV show. Then to compound the whole issue, I need to spell the answer correctly (challenging for my dogs’ names) and remember if I capitalized any of the letters (“School” or “school”) or used abbreviations (such as “W” or “West;” “Ave” or “Avenue”).

However, I think I have a reasonable solution for all this. I will simply make up an answer, random and completely secret, that I will use for every security question.  For example, I might pick “ArgyleSocks45” as my answer.  Then:

Q: What’s your favorite food?  A: ArgyleSocks45
Q: What color was your first car?  A: ArgyleSocks45
Q: On what street did you grow up?   A: ArgyleSocks45
Q: Is your security question really secure?   A: ArgyleSocks45

By the way, ArgyleSocks45 is not the right answer to my security question.

However, some places won’t let you give the same answer to multiple security questions. I’m still working on a solution for that problem.

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.