How to lose a sale and win a customer

While cutting firewood this weekend, the chain slipped off the bar on my chainsaw. In the process of re-

tightening the chain, a small clip and, I later learned, a bearing fell out of the sprocket assembly and into the underbrush. I took it as an omen to stop work for the day. I put the chainsaw into the back of my car.
I went back to Holden the next day to tend to a few other errands and brought the chainsaw to the repair place near our house, Parker Power Equipment. They have worked on other saws before as well as our lawn mower and snowblower.
The young man behind the desk looked at the saw and said that they don’t always have the right Stihl parts in stock, that I might do better to go a Stihl dealer such as the one in Worcester. I had errands in Worcester, so I went to the dealer. They had the parts and installed them at the counter.
Both places did well, but Parker did better. They said that losing this sale was better for me, the customer. They were right. My chainsaw could have been with them for several days while they tried to get the right parts for this simple repair. They earned my loyalty as a customer.

Plans for the weekend? The weather says, “Ha!”

What’s been weirdest among the many weird aspects of this weekend’s weather has been nearly two days of precipitation with a strong northwest wind.
In typical patterns, systems move up the east coast, dragging a cold front behind them. The cold front shifts the wind to the northwest and brings in colder and drier air. In this case, the wind started to shift on Friday. The rain continued, hard, through Friday and Saturday. Lighter on Saturday night, we saw or thought we saw some snow mixed in.
Three months earlier, we would have called the a three-day Nor’easter.It’s not uncommon for winter storms to strengthen as they get into the Gulf of Maine. Bombing out, they call it. The weather charts don’t show that this happened, only that the systems moved slowly.
There are breaks in the clouds now. There are whitecaps on the lake.
The fireplace, even if we had good, dry wood, doesn’t put out enough heat to fight against the wind and cold. The porch of the camp has single-pane windows with broad exposure to the northwest wind coming across the lake. When I was a kid, we had a pocket door and a pocket window on the wall that separated the porch from the main room. My father removed those during a renovation in the 70s. We could have used them this weekend.
We’re burning wood that’s long past its prime, stuff that was cut five or more years ago. My plan had been to cut and split the fallen hemlock that’s in the front yard. There was still plenty of good meat on much of the tree. Split, it’ll be good for both the fireplace and sauna. It was too cold and rainy on yesterday and on Friday, though, for me to spend very long outdoors.
The rain will stop. The winds will calm and shift again. By the end of the coming week, it’ll be 90.

When cool is too cool

As states, cities, and towns replaced their traffic signals with energy-efficient LED lights, they discovered an underappreciated feature of the old systems : the heat melted snow and ice.
You can read more in my blog post on All LED lighting: Of Light, Snow & Ice

Reading by Kindle light

For the second time this week, we lost power. It was earlier in the evening this time, about 5:30. We listened for our neighbor’s generator. Sure enough, the low hum was rolling across the cove.
Ours is such an exciting life. Friday evenings are anchored by several PBS shows (Newshour, Beat the Press, This Old House) plus a couple of items on DVR. As a half hour became an hour, we set ourselves up for a different time.
We heard the sounds of the Northern toads in the swamp, a long, low call offered to potential mates. We had a round of checkers. Sandra won two of three. We had our supper on the deck by the sauna and lingered until the black flies and early mosquitoes drove us away.
The dark filled the house and eventually the outdoors. We could see our neighbor’s flag, waving in an easterly breeze. The hour became two. We read for a while, Sandra on her iPad, me on the Kindle. At nine, we went to bed.
I’m usually awake a couple of times during the night, for an hour or two each time. I woke at midnight, read for a while, went back to sleep, and got up again shortly before three.
National Grid, our electric company, has a website that let’s you check on the status of outages in an area. Cell phone coverage at the camp is faint, barely 1 bar.

(National Grid uses Amazon Web Services, AWS, to handle its outage map.)
Sitting by the window and with the phone high, I waited and eventually collected enough bits from the sky to get to the website and learn about the state of things.

As I was reviewing the information, the WiFi signal icon came on. Odd. I looked at the floor and noticed that the lights on one of the power strips was on. The power was restored an hour earlier than estimated.
Dunno what happened. My guess is that a transformer blew out, affecting a small part of a small town. I stayed up for a while longer, drifting off at first light.

VZW giveth, taketh away

When we watch British detective shows on TV, I regularly marvel at the quality of cell phone coverage available to all. They can be in the catacombs of some office building, out in the barrens and moors, or on the North Sea coast. The cell phone rings. They talk.
Around here, and certainly at the cove, an unaided phone struggles to gain one bar of 1G service. Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint all have the same reception. Other folks in the lake may fare better, given the variability of terrain and the amount of granite between their locations and their carrier’s towers.
With a MiFi gadget from Verizon, we could get passable Internet connections, provided that the receiver was set in the proper location, high on a north-facing wall.
Last year, we tried something different, a network extender from Verizon. The device sits on a window sill and fetches the faint signal from the tower over the hill, just enough to make the connection. The rest of the call is routed through our cable Internet service (Comcast).

It works well. All calls are clear and steady. Occasionally, we’ll miss a call and it will go straight to voicemail.   Sometimes, the GPS setting is way off. My phone may report that I’m in  Gloucester. (When we use it in Holden, the location can show up as Cambridge.) Overall, though, we’ve been pleased with the performance. It’s more than paid for itself.
That we need it at all is a point left for another discussion, having to do with the way that our national telecommunications policies have built an expensive, inefficient, and unreliable wireless system. (Imagine if you could drive your car only on certain highways; to drive on others, you’d have to change cars.)
Mark Gibbs writes in Forbes about several dubious features in the way that Verizon has implemented this much-needed product:

  • Even though calls are routed through my Internet service from Comcast, Verizon charges me for the minutes and/or data that I use over the extender. The data shouldn’t be an issue (I hope), because I use WiFi connections on my phone. 
  • Any Verizon Wireless customer can connect to the network extender.It would be more of a concern if we lived in a more densely-populated area. The nearest neighbor is more than 150m away.  In theory, someone fishing just offshore might be able to connect and make calls.
    It’s possible to give priority to selected numbers, but there’s no way to whitelist just the phones in the household. 
AT&T. and Sprint have network extenders You can restrict access to certain phones to use them. Verizon has delivered a product that makes their bad coverage better, but manages to dent that outcome with bad policies. 

Light by sound

We lost power this evening for nearly an hour and half. To confirm that it wasn’t just us, we stepped outside and heard the sound of our neighbors’ generator. It kicks on automatically and can run for a long time on propane.
A rain shower had come through, but no thunder. I called the electric company and learned that it wasn’t a widespread outage. A crew was on the way, but they weren’t sure how long it would take to get us back online.
There was enough light for a brief walk around the cove. In case you’re wondering, the mosquitoes are here and hungry. In the damp air as the darkness filled the woods, they found us delicious. We made our way along the dirt roads and paths. At each turn, we could hear the low hum of the generator and knew the power was still off.
Our neighbor, a retired dentist who served in the Korean War, has a flag in front of his house. He keeps a light on the flag all the time, even on generator power. Now at twilight, the flag stood bright and strong.
We returned from our walk and settled in to whatever it is that people do when there’s no electricity. Sandra lit the hurricane lamp and we talked. In time, the lights came back. Outside, across the cove, our neighbor’s flag waves gently in the quiet light.

One spring morning at the cove

There was no wind last night, so the cold fell straight from the clear sky onto our fair settlement.

It was in the low 50s inside the camp when Dame Judi decided that it was time for the household to rise and shine and give her her breakfast.
We had one of our earliest first saunas last night. We have a lot of spruce pieces left over from the construction project two years ago. Spruce burns hot and fast and pops loudly. The aches of the day’s work softened and soon were gone. 
A month ago, the ice was still thick in the cove. Our first dip was tentative and brief. The second lasted a minute or two. There were a couple of guys fishing nearby.
“You got a sauna in there?” one of them asked.
“Yep,” I replied, neck deep in the water. “We’d be even crazier otherwise.”

The camp came through the winter in good shape. We lost one tree, a hemlock, just a week ago. It snapped about eight feet from the ground and fell sideways in the front yard.
It had been dead for awhile, likely because of the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, and should have been culled when we had the tree guys here last year.

All the other trees look ok, but it’s still early. The maples, birches, and oaks are still two or more weeks away from full foliage. 
Our neighbors visited yesterday afternoon, reporting on their winter and plans for the summer. At their shore, they’d been scolded by a male duck that had been protecting his mate. We later saw both ducks touring the cove.
In the evening, after sauna and supper, Sandra went outside and identified the sound of the Northern spring peeper in the vernal stream nearby. Our project this season, among others, is to listen to and catalog peepers and then frogs
It’s that transition time, when something of what you need is at the other place. We have a list of things that we forgot to bring yesterday. Let’s hope that we remember the list when we go into town today.
We’ve had our breakfast and our second cup of coffee. It’s time to split wood for this evening’s fire.