All I Smell is Smoke

For almost an entire week, my brain has been telling me that I smell strong cigarette smoke. Not the sexy waft of some fancy Turkish tobacco with a highball of whiskey or a cup of coffee. A room full of Marlboro reds and Pall Malls, half put out into a wet ashtray, still smoldering.

During the first few days, I thought this lingering scent may be from nearby construction workers or neighbors smoking on their back patio, somehow drifting into my home’s AC system. However, no one else smells it, just me. And it is everywhere.

After a quick search online, it appears that this may be a symptom of COVID recovery. A recent article in the Washington Post cites that 7% of over 4,000 respondents to an international questionnaire published in the June edition of Chemical Senses reported distortion to their sense of smell. Many reported that familiar foods and scents now smelled off, rotten, or foul. However, in my case, its simply that ambient air just reeks of cigarette smoke and ashtrays. The article also cites this Twitter thread in which the author, a young Pheonix-based funeral arranger, reports the same symptoms. This thread opens into a vibrant discussion of shared experiences, recovery windows, and short-term remedies.

While there isn’t an easy way to tell if these symptoms are related to COVID-19 in my case (or perhaps any other number of respiratory/sinus infections), they are real and they are at times overwhelming. From what I have read, a few possible treatments include using Flonase to subdue the effect (this hasn’t really worked for me), or Essential Oil treatments to retrain the senses by inhaling a number of unique familiar scents periodically.

As a former smoker, the silver lining of this experience is my renewed gratitude for quitting the habit a long time ago. As a smoker, I became nose blind to the awful odor that my habit caused and that I brought with me on all of my clothes. As cigarette smoking has fallen more out of popularity, it becomes striking when someone walks into a room after a quick smoke break. Imagine smelling this intensity all of the time–that’s what I’m going through right now, and I’m hopeful that within a few weeks my neurons will figure out “that’s not right” and plug the scent of ambient air back into the same pleasant socket it had before. Until then, it’s more Vick’s Vapor Rub for me!

Have you been experiencing these symptoms? Do you have any treatment that works? Leave your comments and experience below.

My First Adventures in Gardening

At age 36, the most experience I’ve had in gardening has been a pot of cilantro and a few other potted flowers that I grew on the back deck of an apartment. However, being a homeowner of over three years, I decided it was time to give the “builder basic” landscaping an upgrade–something with color, depth, and variety.

For our recent birthdays, my wife and I each received a little cash (thank you, Aunt Meghan!) and we wanted to make the most out of it that we could, so we thought investing it in our home would be the way to go.

With absolutely no idea of what I was getting into, I went to my front yard to take “Before” photographs and attempted to identify the existing plants. I was confident that the crepe myrtles in my flower bed were, in fact, crepe myrtles, but I was (and still am) less confident that I have positively identified the other shrubs. Laying dormant, I learned, were a nice collection of yellow daylilies.

Next, I used a Google Maps satellite image to draw out a map of the flower bed and mapped out my current assortment of vegetation, giving me an idea of the canvas I had to play with once we arrived to the nursery. Here’s a look at the before image:

Next, I piled the family into the car to head to home depot to select some flowers. There we found a beautiful array of choices. After a half hour of exploration, we decided on a bright and bold palette of white petunias, yellow miniature marigolds, vibrant pink cyclamen, and deep blue pericallis. These selections were modestly priced and helped us to stick to our budget of <$150 for flowers. Next, I’ll breakdown the cost and our haul.

Home Depot Haul Breakdown:

QtyItemUnitTotal
4x Flats of 12 (48)White Petunia$12.48$49.92
2x Flats of 12 (24)Yellow Marigold$12.48$24.96
5x 1.63 PtPink Cyclamen$4.98$24.90
3x 2.55qtBlue Pericallis$7.98$23.67
2x cu ftGarden Soil$3.97$7.94
1x Hand Trowl$4.97$4.97
1xGardening Gloves$5.98$5.98
TOTAL$142.34
Everything fit nicely into the cargo area of my Volvo XC40

After Returning home around 5PM, I began the task of planting. This involved digging large and deep holes for the Cyclamen and Pericallis, and a long and narrow trench for the pentunias and marigolds. As I removed some of the Texas clay, I filled holes with a layer of the garden soil, planted each flower, and then filled and covered with additional soil. During this process I found a good layer of top soil from years of decomposed mulch sitting atop a layer of clay that reminded me of my high school art class, almost the exact same color and viscosity.

Darkness fell as I was rounding out my planting, but I adjusted my floodlight so I could finish the task. As I was finishing, I realized my spacing had yielded a few extra pentunias and marigolds, so I used an empty flower pot sitting in the garage to add some color to our front porch. I filled the bottom with some of the clay I had unearthed, and filled it with the remaining garden soil. Once finished, I watered it all generously with a handheld watering can. The flower bed in which these flowers reside is equipped with a soaker line from our automated sprinkler system, so keeping them watered should be a breeze once I am able to dial in the appropriate watering pattern (if you have any pro tips, please get in touch or leave them in the comments below).

The Results

This morning, after making coffee, I was able to inspect the fruits of my labor as I went to pick up the Sunday paper. Here are a few photographs as well as a before/after composite of my crude PowerPoint landscaping map.

Here’s a Before and After of the landscaping map and curbside view of the house:

With the planning and planting of these flowers complete, my gardening adventure has just begun. I’m excited to see what I learn through the spring and summer!

I quit.

I was about halfway through the book when my mind was drifting. As many times as I tried to read the passage again, the content just wasn’t resonating with me. So much of what I had been reading wasn’t anything new or interesting to me. While the book was one I hadn’t read before, the content was a bloated series of facsimiles of the same ideas over and over. The different names and situations were almost indistinguishable.

So there I was, halfway through the book with a critical decision: do I keep on dredging through in hopes of finding value? Or do I just quit? The indicators were obvious that I was unlikely to gain value worth my time if I invested in in suffering through the next 150 so odd pages, so I quit.

It’s okay to quit. In fact, it’s healthy to do it quickly. Too often, in life, and business, we fall pray to the sunk cost fallacy that we somehow owe it to ourselves, other, or the universe to finished whatever it is we’ve started. But, the truth of the matter is that while we can never have back the time or money that we’ve already invested, we can choose where every minute or dollar that follows goes.

When the going gets tough, keep on going. But when the going gets pointless, go somewhere else.

Put an End to Zillow Listing Spoofing

In recent years, Zillow has become one of the most ubiquitous platforms for homebuyers. When passing by a house with a for sale sign, we no longer get out to “grab a brochure” instead, we just look to our smartphones and “Zillow it” for quick information on pricing, taxes, and schools. Never before have buyers had so much information available at their fingertips.

For sellers, Zillow is a great platform to get out in front of millions of prospective buyers for little or no cost. Technology enables people to virtually tour your house from their smartphones without wasting any of your Sunday afternoon with unnecessary showings. It even gives you an early idea of what you can expect to receive for your home based on your “Zestimate,” which I gather is the floor of what you could expect on the open market, or the minimum price in which you should feel confident receiving for your home, in many cases.

Whenever an “open” platform offers so many benefits for little to no cost, there will always be people that take advantage of it, bending the rules to further their agenda. My wife and I call this “Zillow spoofing,” and it’s a real nuisance for homebuyers.

Spoofing is a nefarious act of creating communication to make it appear it came from a different source, hoaxing or tricking someone into believing they are receiving communication from someone else. This tactic is used often in social engineering, making you believe you have received an official communication from someone of importance. In phone networks, this can be called phreaking, and makes it appear that you are receiving a phone call from a disguised number.

In Zillow, I consider spoofing to occur when a builder or listing agent intentionally misrepresents the address or coordinates of a home or homesite in order to appear in the search results of popular or desirable areas in a metropolitan area. Today, I came across a listing for a new subdivision 30 minutes away from the area in which I was looking. This is a nuisance as homebuyers must sort through the listing to determine if it is “really” where the map says it is.

What’s tough about this grey area is that the listings are real–the houses or homesites are for sale/contract, and they could be easily corrected to show their “true” location. And, more often than not, they’re being posted by legitimate brokers and builders. Unlike other scams and fake listings, these are seemingly benign. However, in aggregate, they can really waste time homebuyers’ time “vetting” each listing to see if it is location accurate.

So what can we do about it? Unfortunately, there is no easy way to report spoofing on Zillow. Users are given a menu of options to report listings, although I don’t think that these categorically fall under spam. Perhaps that’s how I should report them. In either case, this behavior needs to stop and Zillow needs to create a system of accountability for builders and listing agents that abuse the privilege of using their platform.

Do you work for Zillow and have any positive assurance? Are you a homebuyer bothered by this? Leave a comment below and thanks for reading.

Adventures in modifying my child’s toys to lower their volume

For Christmas, my son received a number of toys that were manufactured in China. Many of these included batteries, lights, and very loud sounds. Some of the sounds though, were louder than expected, and I feared may damage his hearing. So, to preserve my sanity (and my son’s hearing) I decided to take them apart to bring peace to our household (or at least some gentler sound effects and songs).

To accomplish this, I purchased a small gauge wire stripper, a kit of resistors on Amazon as well as some shrink wrap tubing. Using a pair of sidecutters, I cut one of the wires connecting the speaker to the PCB, stripped both ends and soldered a 100 ohm resister (remembering to slide the heat shrink tubing before the second solder). This significantly lowered the volume of the toy and restored peace and peace of mind, knowing that my son’s toy is now less likely to damage his hearing and my attitude.

Rudolph the Blacked Out Reindeer

15.446 Million

That’s how many families weren’t able to watch Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer when it was blocked on CBS via streaming providers this evening, according to the latest subscriber counts for the six largest streaming providers (e.g. YouTubeTV and Hulu) and CBS All Access.

I’m curious what led to the decision to block this programming from streaming by CBS. In 2020, media companies should be prepared and equipped to distribute content equally across multiple platforms while maximizing revenue through channel optimization. So what really happened? Are antiquated rights agreements to blame or just corporate greed? In either case, bah humbug, I say!

(source: https://lnkd.in/e9MPbZ8 and https://lnkd.in/endsJv3) #rudolph #christmas #advertising #streaming #TV

Leaving Facebook Behind

Today marks seven years since I deleted my Facebook account. Since then, I’ve also deleted my Twitter account, leaving me merely with an Instagram and LinkedIn presence. While I don’t miss Facebook, I’m sometimes frustrated by the over reliance by organizations and businesses on its use as a community platform. This creates a barrier to communication with neighborhood groups and the like, a small price to pay, but nonetheless a sad note for those not using a specific product.

In my mind, a sound digital community should be established on a platform-agnostic framework, welcoming everyone regardless of their social network preferences. Sometime along the lines of WordPress, which is freely available to all would be a great solution to this problem. Unfortunately, many don’t see it as a problem at all.

A Case of the Mondays

When I first started at Marriott International, my leader would have a fun time leaving me voicemails. Often they’d sound something like this: “uhhhh hi yeah, Peter? What’s happening…Um, I’m gonna need you go ahead and come in tomorrow. So if you could be here around six, that would be great. Mmmkay? Oh, and one more thing, I’m going to need you to work a double, too.” #officespace #humor #hotellife #operations

Is this thing still on?

It’s been a while since I’ve posted here and a lot has happened. We’re now over 6 months into a global pandemic that has cost the lives of over 200,000 Americans. Several industries have been decimated by the economic consequences of suspended travel. I’ve watched too many of my friends and colleagues lose their jobs, and some of them are even starting to lose hope about finding a job in this new reality. It’s horrible.

As we wait for a vaccine, it’s becoming more clear that it may not be the panacea we need to overcome this. If COVID-19 becomes endemic, we’ll need to rethink much of how we travel, meet, and gather as tribes and societies. Regardless of the near-term outlook, we will all be better served by trusting science. Hope and optimism are great tools to catalyze our recovery, but only if our actions are grounded in science.

One thing that has really bothered me lately is seeing people making their defiance of risks clear by not wearing face coverings when serving others–I’m talking to you, small restaurant owners and workers.

Wearing a mask doesn’t infringe on your freedom. In fact, it enables the freedom of others.

The point of wearing masks isn’t to protect ourselves, it’s to protect our neighbors. So, won’t you be my neighbor?

The Universe Winked at Me

We all have different beliefs about coincidences, divine messages, friendly spirits, simulation theory, and other ways to rationalize the coincidences that happen in our lives. But, despite the rationalizations, sometimes you’re forced to smile when they continue to pile on.

In my last blog post, I wrote about a sample that appeared in a song from one of my favorite albums, Kids by The Midnight. A sample from a an interview young computer enthusiast is featured in the opening song, and the source video of that sample recently appeared in my YouTube queue. Pretty cool, right?

Well, it went a step further yesterday. For some reason, I had delayed watching Street Light Stories: Chapter II, based on characters from the “Pittsburgh Dad” show written and produced by Chris Preksta & Curt Wootton. In the Pittsburgh Dad series, Curt plays an all-too-familiar and relatable blue collar father from Pittsburgh.

Street Light Stories, which was originally released in July of 2019 pulled at my heart strings. It was set in a suburban Pittsburgh neighborhood in the summer of 1987. The film included a stunning soundtrack, opening with Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday by Stevie Wonder whilst neighborhood kids were playing “ocka bocka soda poppa” and running around having fun.

The first film goes into the “Pittsburgh Dad” household and gives you an all-too-familiar glimpse of their home and family dynamic, filled with lots of “Pittsburghisms” and Pittsburghese that will resound with anyone from Western Pennsylvania.

In the end of the film, the kids are in the yard catching fireflies as the closing number, Just the Way You Are, by Billy Joel fades in. It really pulled at my heart strings as I remembered my childhood growing up in Pittsburgh.

Fast forward more than two later, and I finally decide to watch Chapter II, which also fast forwards to the summer of 1989 where Pittsburgh Dad’s kids host their first sleepovers. This episode took all of the funny nostalgia of the first short film and merged it with heartwarming portraits of adolescence from the perspectives of a young boy, his teenage sister, and two parents learning to adapt to their growing kids.

As if the episode wasn’t great enough, it ended a perfectly wistful, but uplifting and aptly named anthem, Memories, by who else, but The Midnight from their 2016 album (also appropriately named), Endless Summer.

Just maybe, as the song says, “All of this was planned when the world was started.”

When is the last time the universe winked at you in a big or little way?