Dog Days
Aug 16th, 2009 by Mike

August is probably my least favorite month of the year. It brings heat and humidity, and that’s hard for people who have MS. I’m feeling completely wiped out right now, and it takes a ton of energy to do simple tasks.

Most people become hermits in February when it’s cold and dismal. I do, too. But I do the same thing in August, keeping myself in the air conditioning. I’m almost ready to break down and buy an air conditioner for the kitchen, just so the whole condo can be kept cool. I haven’t done that just yet, though.

The worst part of this is emotional. Everybody else is off to the beach or enjoying the last bits of summer. It’s an effort for me to just walk Reggie around the block. I get out of the car and stumble, and I worry about people thinking I’m a drunk driver. Little do they know the ill effects the summer heat and humidity have on my system.

My oven hasn’t been touched in two months. If I can’t do it on the stove top, it happens on the grill. Yesterday, while craving meatloaf, I broke out a crock pot.

I’ve been talking about taking a vacation to the Caribbean. Oddly enough, when I’m near a pool, I’m okay. Just dipping myself in the water makes all the difference. I had a great time in PTown because I stayed poolside and cooled off when I needed. My only problems were when I got too much sun one day.

September is just around the corner. And I can’t wait. Oddly enough, my September is pretty much booked. My friend Josh is moving into his house in Pittsburgh Labor Day weekend, and I’ll be there. The following weekend, the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus will be headlining the Boston Arts Festival.  The next weekend is still up in the air. My mom may be planning my dad’s retirement party for that weekend. If not, I hope to be making the trip to Cleveland, but more on that later. And the last weekend in September is my friend Sam’s wedding.

Cleveland? My cousin Marilou and her husband Tom live there. Marilou and I have always been close, and I’ve never visited her in Cleveland. I’m also a HUGE fan of Iron Chef Michael Symon, and we’ll make a trip to one of his two restaurants while I’m there. She eats at Lolita frequently and loves it.

Miles and More
Aug 13th, 2009 by Mike


209-365: Mileage Plan
Originally uploaded by mikehillwig

I haven’t been blogging much. It’s been a busy summer at work. And life in general has been a bit insane. I still post a daily photo on Flickr.

I mentioned in my last blog post that I had switched banks. On top of that, I signed up for Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines debit card. I use my debit card for everything, so I’m earning miles. For example, when I pay my $120 cable bill every month, that earns me 60 miles on Alaska Airlines.

Some people have asked me why Alaska Airlines. First, I love the airline, even though I don’t get to fly them often. They’re based on the west coast and I live on the east coast. However, they serve Boston from both Seattle and Portland. That means if I have a need to fly to the west coast, I’ll have some miles built up.

It was a bit odd to book a flight on Southwest Airlines paying with my Alaska Airlines debit card. It’s a bit humorous to earn miles on Alaska by flying Southwest. But that’s the nature of a rewards card. Now if I use that card to book a flight on Alaska, I’ll earn double miles!

Flights on Southwest, you might ask. I actually have two trips booked with a third coming soon. I’ll be flying to Pittsburgh on Labor Day weekend to help my friend Josh move into his new house. Reggie won’t be making that trip with me. Thanksgiving is already booked, too. Southwest makes it much cheaper to fly with Reggie than JetBlue does. The trip that hasn’t been booked yet is my dad’s retirement party.

Travel plans for Christmas are still up in the air My tentative plans are to join the chorus in singing at Boston’s Arlington Street Church for Christmas Eve services and then head home on Christmas day. I’ve pretty publicly stated how much I loathe US Airways these days. If I fly home for Christmas, they have the best flight times for me. With a flight leaving Boston at 7:00 AM, it can have me at my parents’ house by 10.

Oh, I’m in a wedding in a few weeks and need to buy a new suit.

Switching Banks
Jul 21st, 2009 by Mike

I haven’t written a blog entry in over a month. Remember when I used to write every day? The good news is that I have plenty of content in my brain to write about. The bad news is that I don’t make the time to do said writing.

I recently made the decision to change banks. I’ve been with Citizens Bank since I started working in Boston in January 2005. They were okay as a bank, but I wasn’t thrilled. Their technology was hardly impressive, and their network of branches never worked for me when I traveled domestically. What I hated most is that every time I used another bank’s ATM, they’d charge me a foreign ATM fee. I wouldn’t object too much if they had ATMs everywhere. Even lately, I noticed that I was standing in line at the branches forever if I actually had to use one.

I’m now a customer of Bank of America. They have a presence that’s much better for my needs. They have branches and ATMs in New York and San Francisco. Their online banking is outstanding. That alone puts Citizens to shame. On top of that, they have a partnership with two different airlines that allow me to earn miles by using my debit card. I use my debit card for everything, so earning miles at the same time is a good thing. There is one drawback here. The two airlines are US Airways and Alaska Airlines. As I’ve stated recently, I won’t fly US Airways. I LOVE LOVE LOVE Alaska Airlines, but I don’t get the opportunity to fly them much. I’m thinking I’ll sign up for the Alaska Airlines Debit Card, though, earning the miles i need to get me to the west coast, or at least enough to score some upgrades.

Things That Go Beep in the Night
Jun 29th, 2009 by Mike

About 3:00 this morning, Reggie sat right up and let out a little “oof.” He NEVER does that, so I knew something was going on in the house. It wasn’t too long before I heard it, too. Something was making noise in the house. About 90 seconds later, I figured out that one of the smoke detectors was chirping. Thinking it was the one in the back stairwell, I went out there, only to hear it coming from inside the unit. This madness went on for close to ten minutes until I figured out it was the one in the hallway outside the bathroom. Oh, and it was also the one in the second bedroom, too. They were both beeping.

All of the smoke detectors in my building are hard-wired into the house power, so I’ve never had the need to pull them down and change batteries. I just assumed they didn’t have batteries. Thinking I’d have to get my landlord to call an electrician in the morning, I put a pillow over my head and tried to fall back asleep. That was an exercise in futility. Finally, I got up got a ladder and looked at the smoke detectors, hoping there was a way to disconnect them. Nope. They are hard wired right into the house power. What I did notice is that there was a compartment door for a battery. I opened the little door and found a 9v battery. I guessed these needed to be replaced. Do you think I have any 9v batteries in the house? Of course not.

Here I am at 4:00 AM, and I’m driving around Salem, looking for batteries. Two convenience stores and $20 later, I have three batteries. Seriously, $20. At 4:15 in the morning, I’m not going to argue about the price. Next, I’m back up on the ladder, replacing batteries. By this time, it’s 4:30, Reggie has had an accident on the floor (despite having just been outside), and I’m wide awake. I tossed and turned for over an hour, trying to fall asleep. No such luck. I got up to get my work laptop and check my calendar (and my boss’ calendar), knowing we have auditors coming in this week. Fortunately, our calendars were clear. What I did notice is that I was a little woozy on my feet and that I had chills. These are MS symptoms, and my body was telling me to rest. I e-mailed my boss, telling him I was taking a sick day, took something to help me sleep, and went to bed. I also fed Reggie so that he wouldn’t be waking me up at 6:00.

I got another five hours of blissful sleep, waking up about 10:30. I got myself up, and headed into work.

I really hate to take sick time because of my MS symptoms. This was one of those cases where I really didn’t have a choice. My body was telling me it was time rest, and that’s what I had to do. If I had pushed myself, I would have been a mess and risk crashing. That’s the last thing I want when I’m supposed to go on vacation in less than two weeks.

I’m feeling better and back in the game. And you’d better believe I’ll be changing those batteries on a regular basis now. I hate it when these things go beep in the night.

How to Lose a Customer
Jun 24th, 2009 by Mike

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve been a long-time supporter of US Airways. I lived in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, meaning they were the hometown airline. They were almost the most convenient airline most of the time. In the last half of 1999 and first half of 2000, I flew close to 50,000 miles on that airline. Every time I’ve crossed the Atlantic Ocean, it was on US Airways. I was incredibly faithful. When I worked for IBM, I used the travel policies in my favor to make sure I flew US Airways, even though we got better deals on other airlines. Those days are long over.

Two years ago, I had a bad experience with US Airways in Nashville and Delta rescued me. History is about to repeat itself.

I should also take some of my own advice. I remind people of this on aviation forums when they complain about how the service on US Airways has gone downhill. Several years ago, US Airways filed for its second bankruptcy. They were bought by America West who kept the US Airways name and the America West product. One shouldn’t expect the same service one got on the old US Airways. Today, I proved that.  US Airways lost my business. Worse yet, they lost my love.

As someone who follows commercial aviation as a hobby and who spent a decent chunk of his career being a professional business traveler, I’ve learned a few things. I know how to navigate the system, and friends come to me for advice. I’ll now be steering my friends and family to Delta and jetBlue instead of US Airways.

What did they do to deserve my anger? They were inflexible and uncaring.

I guess I should back up. Last July, I booked a frequent flyer reward ticket on US Airways from Boston to Portland, OR for my birthday weekend in October. All of the sudden, I found myself joining the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, and my birthday weekend was the chorus’ retreat. I had to cancel my trip. This was no big deal. I called US Airways, and they told me that as long as I rebooked it within a year, I could reuse the ticket, provided I paid a $150 rebooking fee. I wasn’t thrilled, but I could live with this.

Today, I called US Airways, trying to rebook my trip for mid-August. I was told that if I didn’t travel by July, I’d lose the entire ticket. Even though my travel was in October and I cancelled it in October, they base everything on the date the ticket was issued. In my head, I booked it in July for October Travel. I should be able to rebook before July for travel before October. Nope. If I don’t travel before July 6, I lose my miles. I do have the option of spending $150 to redeposit my miles for future use. Of course, I’ll have to pay yet another fee to redeem those miles. I asked to speak to a supervisor who gave me the same story. In their defense, I didn’t get conflicting stories.

So I have the choice of spending somewhere between $200 and $300 to rebook a ticket with more blackout dates on an airline who left a bad taste in my mouth or a new ticket on Delta, which will cost me about $300. I thanked the US Airways supervisor for her time and told her that I was cutting my losses and taking my business elsewhere. Hello, Delta!

Maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I’m being unreasonable. Either is possible, but I don’t think so. The old US Airways would have taken care of me. The new US Airways did not.

I’ll be spending a long weekend in Portland visiting friends, and I won’t be flying US Airways to get there.

1950 German Pfennig
Jun 23rd, 2009 by Mike


1950 German Pfennig
Originally uploaded by mikehillwig

I like to think I’m a pretty good uncle. Since Sarah was a baby, I’ve been on the lookout for things to give her that are unique or memorable. About a year ago, I gave her an autographed copy of The Princess Diaries. That’s a whole story in itself.

Tonight, I was going through my fireproof box and came across this. I had completely forgotten I had it. It’s a 1950 German Pfennig. One of these days, I’m going to give it to her.

Not only is this thing almost 60 years old (which is older than my dad) but Germany doesn’t have its own currency anymore. All you can use there is the Euro.

I want Sarah to someday be able to tell her kids that her Uncle Mike gave this to her when she was a girl. By then it’ll be REALLY old. It won’t be as cool as the photo we take in front of the Eiffel Tower in a few years, but it’ll be close.

An Update
May 18th, 2009 by Mike

I know I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’d like to say that it’s because I’ve been busy, and that would be partially true. But mostly, I’ve not had the energy. If you’re desperate to know what’s going on in my life, I’d suggest you follow my 365 Days stream on Flickr. (http rss) I’m pretty good at keeping that updated.

A few weeks ago, my company acquired a competitor. I’ve been working on that quite a bit. Right now, I’m involved in moving their Maynard data center into our Burlington facility. They have about 20 “servers” that are running on desktop hardware. I’m in the process of moving that all to virtual machines. VMWare has become my friend. If you’ve ever been involved in a data center move, you’ll understand when I say that data center moves are close to Dante’s third circle of hell.

Star Trek was fantastic. My only regret is not seeing it in IMAX. I think the IMAX closes this week, and I doubt I’ll have time to see it before it closes.

My life has been a lot of chorus lately. Last weekend was Crescendo!, our annual fundraising gala, and we did well. If you were a supporter, thank you.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODBpnhedsNY

This weekend was our annual retreat/all-day rehearsal. The 80s show is only a few weeks away, and you should buy your tickets here, and you should buy them now.  Seriously, this show falls during Boston’s Pride festival, so it’s going to sell out quickly. And with a concert that’s so much fun, you won’t want to miss this one.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with my camera, and I think I’m getting better. This is one of my best photos to date.

N530VA

Bad Boarding
Apr 17th, 2009 by Mike


IMG_0440
Originally uploaded by mikehillwig

Every once in the while, the MBTA will get things right. More often than not, they get things wrong. This time, it’s not just wrong, it’s very wrong.

In an effort to satisfy some problem or another, the MBTA is “piloting” a new boarding method on the Newburyport/Rockport commuter rail line during off-peak hours. Most commuters deal with peak travel times. I have the misfortune of being one of the people who frequently ride during off-peak times.

The idea here is that during off-peak inbound trips, passengers will be herded into one or two cars instead of keeping several cars open. In theory, this is a great idea, and it’s nothing new. They’ve been doing this on outbound trains for years. In theory, conductors will have fewer cars to walk through and will be able to collect all of the tickets in a timely manner. There will also be fewer cars to manage, meaning fewer doors to open and close. Again, this all sounds great in theory.

If the conductors collected tickets at the door before passengers even sat down, this would work brilliantly. Instead, conductors still have to walk through the train to collect tickets. Here is where it fails: No conductor walked through my car, meaning I got yet another free ride on the commuter rail. I’m happy to pay for my trip, provided the conductors actually collect tickets.

The worst part of this whole thing is that these are pretty small signs, and there is only one of them at Salem Station. It’s halfway down the platform. So as the train pulled into the station, all of the people scattered along the platform looking for an open door for boarding had to run to the high-level platform in order to board the train. By the time we got to North Station, my train was running about ten minutes late because every station stop took longer.

When you live in the metro Boston area, you do end up loving to hate the MBTA.

Bad Blogger
Apr 14th, 2009 by Mike

I haven’t been writing on my blog lately. The reason falls somewhere between being incredibly busy at work and just being lazy when I get home. I do post a photo and paragraph every day on my Flickr 365 photo set.

In two weeks, I’m heading to NYC with my friends Andy and Jay. It’s Jay’s 30th birthday, and we’re going to celebrate it in the Big Apple. On top of that, I’m finally getting a tattoo covered after about six years of saying that I’m going to do it.

74-365: No Heroes

Jay and Andy came to my house last night to watch Heroes. Normally, I make the trek down to Andy’s because it’s easier for me to get into the city than it is for them to make it to the suburbs. It was nice to have people visit, and do our weekly routine at my house. Jay and Reggie hit it off instantly.

I’ve been saying for the past year that Reggie and I have fantastic neighbors. Well, that’s about to change. My two fantastic upstairs neighbors, along with their fantastic dogs, will be moving out the end of this month. This makes me really sad because we’ve all become spoiled by having someone to take care of each other’s dog when the need arises.  And we just got Reggie and Wyle playing nice. I’m REALLY going to miss having the ferocious German Shepherd living upstairs and having the whole neighborhood know that the house is protected.

Play Time

And if you can’t tell, I’m loving the new camera.

Clamoring for More Kibble

Bear Week
Mar 24th, 2009 by Mike

I’m spending a week this summer in Provincetown, better known as PTown. It’s a gay vacation mecca on the tip of Cape Cod. You might recall that I was in PTown in December for Holly Folly. That was just a weekend. This will be a full week. Imagine that. I’m taking an honest-to-Pete vacation. That hasn’t happened in a long time.

I’m going with my friends Andy and Jay in July, and the week we’re going is Bear Week.

Let me stop right there and do some explaining. In the gay universe, just like in the wild, bears tend to be large, furry creatures. That’s where the term bear came from. Obviously, I’m not a bear. My German heritage doesn’t give me a whole lot of body fur, and I can’t grow a decent beard to save my soul.

Going for Bear Week is going to be a lot of fun. While I’m not part of the bear community, they are a lot of fun. And I won’t have to worry about shaving my chest to be on the beach.

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