Monday, October 22, 2018

Cruise: Day 1 - Embarkation.

By the time you read this, I'll have returned from my cruise and gotten back to life as usual. And, as is my custom following a cruise, my after cruise posts will be compressed until I am back to my usual lead time between writing an entry and publishing it.

The above route is what my plans called for when the cruise started. Each of these ports are places I've visited before. So I plan on enjoying myself onboard the ship as if it is my ultimate destination.  And if I go on one of the shore excursions, it will not be because I'm interested. Instead, it will be to appease Lili, as she "doesn't want to miss anything".

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The first thing of note about the start of the cruise was that the weather was warmer than expected, and I didn't bring any clothing that would be comfortable in 80+ degree (and humid) weather.  So I suffered until I could reach our air conditioned cabin.  But it could have been worse - all my garments were appropriate for the season and I had more than enough to make it through the cruise.  Yet, I wish I had brought along another 2 summer weight dresses.  Unfortunately, Lili wasn't ready for the cruise, as she didn't plan ahead for her packing.  She tossed everything together at the last moment and didn't bring the most important thing she wanted to bring - another pair of black pants that she could wear with her new tops.

I ended up finding our room first, and I immediately became frustrated.  A feature of this ship is that one has to put a key card in a slot inside the room to keep the lights on.  One problem - one couldn't see this slot from the doorway. Unless you knew where the card slot was, you'd never find it.  To relieve my frustration, I slammed my door open and hit the exterior wall - and there is now a new, undocumented dent in the wall that records my presence on the ship.  Eventually, I found someone who could help me, and he found the slot.  He told me that the steward could get me a card to put in the slot so that the lights would act "normally" - going on (or off) when I hit the light switch.

Lili and I were initially unhappy with the room allocated for storage in the cabin.  Both of us felt that the other ship on this route had a better layout for storage. After a while, we got used to the nooks and crannies we could use for storage, and this became a non-issue for us.

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At dinner that night, we were seated with a couple from Texas (now in California).  You could tell that they likely had a different political stance than we had, but we knew to keep the chat away from politics.  (I made a joke that I never talk politics for any election less than 100 years ago, asking whether they'd have voted for Teddy Roosevelt's "Bull Moose" party.)  It's much easier to have a conversation with people when you are ready to listen. And the best way to do that is to steer away from topics which refer to a person's social identity unless you are sure that those people share your values.....

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Quickie: Looking back at thoughts I had entering summer.

When I started this entry, it was not even the middle of May, and we had already endured two 90 degree days.  One more, and it is officially a miniature heat wave.  Aargh!

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The thing most people don't understand about "Global Warming" is that we will suffer colder cold waves in winter and hotter heat waves in summer. So it is not unexpected for us to see more extreme weather than that we grew up with.  The one thing of note is that the average year round temperature is going to rise slowly over the next few decades.

What does this mean for me?

Well, I am currently forced to wear wigs during the summer.  Sometime in the next few years, I hope I will be able to get hair transplants and be able to grow my hair to a longer length than I can right now. Ideally, I'll be able to wear it in a way that I can present as a male when needed, and to wear it as a female at other times.  This may be an indulgence for me, but one I hope to be able to afford by the time I truly consider myself retired.

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As much as I've been trying to change what I'm eating to make it easier for me to lose weight, I have not been successful so far.  Some of the problems are related to my own lack of discipline.  Others are related to being a food addict.  Lili keeps telling me to get the gastric bypass, but I am not comfortable with this.  I really need to become much more active than I am, and it's not been easy for me to change my lifestyle.

Having this extra weight on me makes me very uncomfortable during the summer, as I am carrying around a lot of extra padding.  This in itself doesn't bother me as much as I have noticed that I no longer have the energy to move around as much as I used to do.  Given that I recently saw an ex-girlfriend my age put into the ground, this scares me a little. But GFJ rightly notes that I would likely find excuses not to go out walking because of the outside heat.

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When I look at myself in pictures taken 30 years ago, I see a person not bothered by much except for inconveniences. Now, I am bothered by more things, most of them related to getting older and more sedentary.  And I must find a way to become more active in uncomfortable weather, lest I fall prey to the same problems that took Ex-GF-M's life.

Saturday, October 20, 2018


Recently, I was with GFJ in a mall that was on life support.  The Hudson Valley Mall in Kingston, NY lost two of its four anchor stores (Macy's and JC Penney), leaving only Sears and Target behind.  With Sears likely to fail soon, I expect that this mall will cease being a marketplace by the end of the decade.

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Most malls have tended to leave their empty storefronts looking like this.  But at the Hudson Valley Mall, the owners have sheetrocked over the glass and empty entrances to hide the fact that there once were stores in the hallway.  (I do not have current pictures of this phenomenon.)  Yes, it's much nicer to see long uninterrupted stretches of walls between the few operating stores. But its sad to see so much empty space, as it anticipates worse times to come.

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Some malls have been able to successfully navigate to new uses. Others have failed and have been torn down.  While an interesting few have been able to survive as malls geared to the modern age.  For example, the Cross County Shopping center in Yonkers has been able to attract more restaurants and a supermarket into its mix, and is able to operate with one big department store (Macy's) at one end, and another (Sears) off to the side, separated by a parking lot.  The owners of Roosevelt Field and Garden State Plaza have both taken the attitude of "Go Big or Go Home!" and have expanded their malls to be destinations in their own right.  If you can't find it at either of these places, you didn't look hard enough. But this leaves the owners of many smaller malls searching for ways for their malls to survive.

There is a rumor that Target may sell itself to Amazon.  It's interesting that Amazon is gradually entering the "Brick and Mortar" business while Walmart is developing an online presence.  Both companies are dealing with their own "last mile" problems.  In the case of Amazon, it can lose sales to people who want to examine a product before buying it, who want to try on a piece of clothing and know it both fits and looks good, or who simply can not deal with the problems of having goods shipped to one's residence.  In the case of Walmart, it needs to convince people that its portals have all the goods a customer could want, at the prices they want to pay, and delivered without need to deal with crowded stores. The end of "Retail" as we know it will be an interesting corporate battle.

Smaller stores, like the women's clothing stores I like to shop at will be caught in the middle of this war. For example, The Avenue, Catherine's, Lane Bryant and others all must have online order and delivery systems, and maintain storefronts for in-person purchases. They often have different prices for store and online purchases. And this is a problem for people like me, as I hate paying more money than I need to for anything.  Over time, I expect to see price rationalization between online and in-person shopping. But stores still have to deal with inventory management. Online purchasing with in-store pickup may be the wave of the future.  One might be able to order a dress, try it on in the local store, and actually buy it if it fits and looks as expected by the customer.

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One thing I can say for certain.  I don't expect shopping a decade from now to be anything like what it is today.  

Friday, October 19, 2018

It was the middle of Summer, and I wished it was already over.

This entry was started during a heat wave.  But it is still valid....

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Fun, Fun, Fun.  That's all I thought of as a child when I thought of Summer.  Living on the East Coast, there was no way I could even consider becoming part of the "Surfer Culture" if I wanted to do that.  Instead, Summer involved a lot of things which included "long distance" (by my then standards) bicycle riding.  I was in good shape then, and identifying as a cisgender male, could say that I looked like any one of these fellows with (maybe) 5-10 extra pounds on me.  The Summer sun did not bother me, nor did the heat.  In many ways, I am the exact opposite of what I was way back when, and I think I'm better for the changes in my life.

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There are many things about Summer that I enjoy, now that I go out in female mode.  For example, there is something about wearing a light, airy dress that feels so liberating. There is no fabric between one's legs, and that lack of fabric helps a woman feel more comfortable in hot weather.

However, Summer is not all fun and games for me.  For example, not being able to wear my natural hair when presenting as female, I can not go out and about my wig.  This means that I feel a minimum of 10 degrees warmer than a cisgender female would in the same weather. And in 100 degree weather, prolonged exposure to "outside air" can be dangerous for me while out as Marian.

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The other day, I went over to a friend's house.  She has central air conditioning, and yet, I still felt warm for the first half hour I was in the house.  Luckily, I was going from air conditioned apartment to air conditioned car to air conditioned store to air conditioned house.  The exposure to even a little bit of hot air causes the body to prepare to cool itself off.

I know that if I were to lose as much weight that Lili has, I would be resetting my body to feel colder in the same temperatures in which I now feel warm. This would be a good thing. And it would be an expensive pleasure to build a new female wardrobe in a smaller size.  Until then, I'll have to keep myself as comfortable as possible until the summer ends, and I can wear a comfortable wardrobe again.

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Summer's over now.  And about the only thing I wish I could do is wear some of those summer dresses again.  At least I have them in my closet for when summer comes back....

Thursday, October 18, 2018

My Impressions of Amtrak Travel

If anyone wonders why I love long distance travel by train, all one has to do is think of how great the scenery would look from the train's dome car.  I have taken this route from the SF Bay area to Los Angeles, and the view is fantastic!

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Not all of my trips via Amtrak have been noteworthy. For example, I have had to take a business trip to Wilmington, Delaware - and there was nothing worth seeing on the trip. Yet, it was a much more comfortable trip than had I used any other form of transportation to get there.  There isn't much to see on Amtrak's route along the Eastern Seaboard between Boston and Washington. So I use the trains solely for transit on these routes. But when I travel away from the Northeast US, I've found that a relaxing train ride is always worth the time spent in transit.

So far, I have traveled on 4 of Amtrak's major long distance routes:
  1. Between New York and Chicago on the Lake Shore Limited.
  2. Between the SF Bay area and Chicago on the California Zephyr
  3. Between the SF Bay area and Los Angeles on the Coast Starlight
  4. Between Los Angeles and Chicago on the Southwest Chief
All of these trips are worth taking. And if you can afford a sleeper between either coast and Chicago, pay the price and enjoy the ride.

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East Coast sleepers going into cities north of Washington, DC are single level. This means that the designer of the roomettes either had a stroke of genius or a moment of insanity when the room was designed. (Click here to see room layout.) Did you notice the "in-room toilet?"  Yes, you read that right - "In-Room Toilet!"  The two people who share this roomette must either be very comfortable with each other, or someone will have to leave the room each time one needs to take a bio-break. Sleepers not going to cities on the Eastern Seaboard are bi-level.  This means that more people can travel on the train. But it means that people in the roomettes have to use shared toilet facilities.  (Click here to see room layout.) Given a choice between having a toilet in my room and having to share a toilet, I'll share the toilet because I don't want to sleep in the same room where I take my bio-breaks.

There are two routes where I would skip the expenses of sleeping compartments:
  1. The Lake Shore Limited from Chicago to New York.
    (To achieve false savings, Amtrak has discontinued the dining car.  Why bother paying for extra service that you won't get?)
  2. The Coast Starlight between the SF Bay area and Los Angeles
    (I'd take a sleeper if I were traveling longer distances/overnight on this route.)
Paying for the sleeper compartment usually means that one gets the use of Amtrak's first class lounges in cities where they have them, and it means that one's meals are free.  If one is traveling long distance as I have done, this helps a great deal.  But most important about riding in a sleeper car is that one does not have to stay in his/her same clothes for more than one day at a time. There is nothing I hate more than not being able to stay fresh by showering and changing clothes at least once per day.

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Although the railroads were not built for scenic travels, the original providers of passenger service often advertised the scenery along their routes.

I'd have loved to take this train when the railroads were in their prime.  Wouldn't you be interested in doing so too?  And I have found that the scenery along the routes I've taken defy my ability to capture it in my photos.

As you can see, there is only a hint of what I saw out my window that you can see in the above photos.  But if the other transcontinental routes have scenery as nice as this, you can bet that I'll be scheduling another trip once the money is available to me.

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There is one problem with transcontinental train travel in the USA these days. On many routes, traffic is once per day in each direction. (Some shorter routes have even less frequent service.) This means that there will be some regions of the USA that the train travels through at night. Amtrak does its best to make sure its trains travel through the most scenic of areas in the day time. But there are large areas of the country which only have night time service. And this is a disappointment to rail fans.

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Gone are the days that the train was the preferred way to cross the country. Air travel has almost destroyed long distance passenger rail. And what airlines haven't killed is under attack from a miserly congress, a congress which would rather spend money to destroy wealth by bulking up the Military-Industrial complex instead of investing it in America's infrastructure.

I have traveled by rail both en-homme and en-femme, and have always had gracious, friendly service. Can one say that about air travel? We will lose something very important to this country is we ever kill transcontinental passenger rail travel, and most people are blissfully unaware of it. There are still many communities which are no longer served by any other form of mass transportation which will be cut off from the larger community if these routes are cut. Yes, many people can travel by car.  But what about those who can't do so?  

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Quickie: Some more thoughts about "Spam" and Scams.

If only all Spam was this tasty.  Most of us deal with "Spam" on a regular basis, and none of it is tasty. It is the bane of the internet as well as the bane of our telephone networks. It is estimated that 90% of all the email being sent is Spam, and it is a major problem.

How many of us have received emails for the following?

  • Male Enhancement
  • Cannabis Oil
  • Low Cost Insurance
  • Stock Tips
  • Low Skill / High Pay Job Offers
There are so many things that people want to sell us.  Some of them are real offers from people who don't know or care that they are spamming millions of people with "zero cost" emails.  Others are scammers who are looking to extract money from fools. And there are enough fools out there that make these scams profitable.

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Recently, the Cat Lady was telling me about a scam that was pulled on one of her acquaintances. The woman involved had a grudge against her husband, as she thought he was doing everything for grandchildren on his side of the family, but nothing for her grandchildren. And this was he perfect setup for the "Grandparent Scam", where the scammer makes a false claim that a grandchild is in trouble and fleeces the grandparent before validating that the grandchild is safe or not.

If you think that you're immune from scammers, you'd be mistaken.  The US Government publishes a list of the important scams and what you should do if one of these scammers reaches out to fleece you.

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Some spam is tolerably benign, as most of us know not to buy anything from non-reputable sales people. But what does it do to our internet/email providers?  I can only imagine what is going on behind the scenes.  For example, take the phrase "Cannabis Oil".  How would you filter out all ads for this substance?  If you just test for "Cannabis Oil", you will miss texts where it is misspelled, or there are spaces between the letters.  Let's say you write a more complex test in computer code to account for this, then there is always the use of a non-Latin alphabet (Cyrillic characters) that can be used to beat the programmer's logic. There is a lot going on behind the scenes that none of us hear about.

There is a lot of spam that is dangerous and opens us up to be scammed.  Once one even responds and tries to unsubscribe from the spammer, your email address is marked as active and is often sold to scammers. From there, if you open a poison email or click on its contents, you could be opening the door to malware infecting your computer.  Many a time, I've gotten a false "ad" which claims that my computer has just been infected and is instructing me to contact the scammer to unlock my machine.  (This scam ad mimics a legitimate malware infection, so it was safe to close the browser window in my case.) But how many of us don't know how to remove the potential threat if possible?

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Lately, scammers have used the internet to replicate Spam/Scam messages on the phone networks. I'll bet that you have received scam phone messages reportedly from Apple or Microsoft saying that your computer has been infected, and to work with them to remove the malware from your system. Given how few calls I receive on the land line these days, I'd have to say that at least two thirds of these calls are Spam/Scam calls.  Half are Spam, people trying to see me carpet cleaning services, new siding or roofing, or some other services I don't need. The other half are Scammers trying to wrongfully extract money from my pockets.

It doesn't matter whether you put your name onto the "Do Not Call" registry or not. Spam/Scam phone callers don't bother with this list, as they are often outside this country and effectively immune from its laws.  So what does one do?  I use Nomorobo on my land line, and it filters out known spam/scam phone calls after the first ring. And on my cell phone, I use Mr.Number to filter out most unwanted calls. And this has helped me a lot.

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Sadly, there will be no end to this problem.  So we must learn to deal with it as best as possible....

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

I'm not always happy as I seem to be.

Being a transwoman isn't easy. There is only so much I can do to my body without surgery, and I have to assume that I will get pegged as being a "Man in a Dress" at one time or another.  Living near the "Big City" has helped me a bit, as people tend to look the other way when they see an anomaly like me. Yet, if I lived in a much smaller community, then I'd have a lot to worry about, as transwomen have lost their lives because of the hatred often found in Small Town America.

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Today, I had a short email conversation with the Cat Lady (TCL), and she asked me about my friends.  Specifically, she asked what percentage of my friends are female?  I have no problems saying that 90% of my friends are female these days, as I do not participate in activities which would give me a high chance of developing male friendships. I have very little interest in sports, and this makes it much harder for me to bond with the males of our species. (Mario has nothing he can talk about much of the time.) Yet, I have a social style, that as Marian, makes me much more approachable to the female of our species. As Marian, I am a curiosity, and someone who might be worth getting to know well.

Yet, I am often alone. This isn't always easy for me, as I have to keep my mind occupied. Part of me enjoys watching the political talking heads on TV, as it is a more intelligent form of gossip than that made on the women's talk shows.  Even this leaves a lot to be desired, as the two political tribes no longer share a common set of facts, and this leads to people too ill informed to have a rational discussion of current affairs.

Being alone with time on my hands, I could always go back to my painting.  But this doesn't interest me that much these days.  I took up painting as my art class needed for me to enter my Masters Degree program. And I didn't continue with it after I had carpet installed in my apartment.  What I think I'll do in the fall will be to go back to school at night. It might be fun to be out in the world as Marian, even though I'll have to use Mario's id to get the appropriate school ID card.

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Boredom is the one thing that tend to depress me. And as such, I am always in a constant fight against it.  At least, I know the enemy - and that's half the battle....