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Frances Bea
This is the message I sent. Do you think I was being unreasonable?

Yesterday evening after work I went to my scheduled blood donation appointment, where an incident involving a disagreement with one of the drive staff caused me to leave without donating. I'm still uncertain whether what the staff member told me had any truth to it.

When I arrived and checked in, I began the standard ritual by looking through the educational materials, seeing if anything had changed in the last two months. I noticed that quite a few countries listed as five year cumulative deferrals were highlighted, though most were not. Though my own travel history wouldn't make this an issue, (I have been to only one of the listed countries and for the length of a two-hour layover,) I idly asked the volunteer at the check-in table whether the highlighting had any significance. The question was intercepted by a staff member who told me that this was because the rest were six months. This answer made very little sense, but I assumed that the question had been misunderstood and dropped the issue as she seemed irritated with the first question and probably would not appreciate a follow-up. (Later I overheard a suggestion that the list of countries had grown, so perhaps the highlighted countries were new. I'm still not certain, but that would make sense.)

When I was later called in to begin the interview portion of the donation process, this same staff member situated herself against a window well outside of the space where the interview was taking place, but in my direct line of sight. I decided that she was most likely on a break and had chosen not to take it outside or away from the drive. As the interview began, I noticed that she began to drift closer and was clearly at least partially listening to the interview. I decided she must be bored, and a bit nosy. As she continued to inch closer, so that she was no longer outside of the interview cubby, I became uncomfortable with this level of nosiness. Finally, when we got to the point where my interviewer was pricking my finger, she was standing behind the interviewer looking over her shoulder.

At this point I felt compelled to ask her whether she was present as an observer, or was just standing there. She told me that my interviewer was a trainee, so she was there to observe all of her interactions. I told her that while I had no problem with that, I was concerned that in a few minutes I would be asked to sign a statement saying that I had been asked before my interview was observed, while I had not been. She told me that those rules didn't apply to her because she was Red Cross Staff. Those rules only applied to outside observing agencies. She didn't need my permission to observe trainees. While I have read the statement many times, once for each past donation, I didn't remember exactly what it said, and was willing to suppose that as a staff member her knowledge of the rules might be better than my memory of the statement. And, while my interviews have been observed in the past and I was asked for permission, perhaps those staff members were simply more polite than this one. I told her that was good news, and asked if I could see a copy of the statement to double check. She responded that the statement was just for me to swear that my answers to all the questions had been true, and told me she wasn't sure she was comfortable with me donating if I was unwilling to sign the statement. I suppose that with the increasingly paperless process, it might have been hard for her to put her hand on a copy of the statement before the process gets to that point. I told her that I was willing to accept her assurances about what the statement said, though I didn't feel I needed to remind her that I would be reading the statement for myself soon enough. This seemed to be enough for her, and she stopped acting like she was going to throw me out, took a pace back, and allowed the process to continue.

When I finished answering the questions on the computer, the staff person who came in to complete the interview was new. This is quite common, so I have no idea whether it was affected by the earlier disagreement. We quickly got to the stage of signing the statement, and I had the opportunity to check it for myself. I found that far from being excluded from that particular rule, Red Cross Staff were explicitly included. I also found that I could have signed the statement honestly, as it read that in the event someone had asked to observe, I had been given an opportunity to decline. As I had not been asked, this didn't technically apply to the situation, though I think it should have in spirit if not in letter. But, as I sat there looking at the statement, I decided that not only was I extremely reluctant to sign the statement, I was at least as reluctant to lie down and bleed in a room with that particular individual present. I simply said, "I think I should leave," picked up my belongings and left the drive. I would have sent an email last night, but I was too on edge. I suppose it's just the fact that I'm unused to dealing with such disagreeable people that I am not very good at it. If she had asked my permission before the interview instead of sidling in the way she did, I would have granted it, donated, left, and still disliked her a bit, but not felt so uncomfortable as I did when I felt she was trying to browbeat me into signing a false statement. Or, if she had not been so difficult, I probably would have used the wording of the statement to justify signing and just let the issue go.

At this point, it's my intention to wait a few days before I make a new appointment at a different drive. I thought about sending an email that merely requested clarification of the rules so I will know how to react appropriately should something similar happen in the future. But, having slept on it, I find that I am still angry and I wanted to express that. Though, I would in fact appreciate a clarification on some of the rules.

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Looking back at my last post (more than a year ago) where I expressed regret that I had been posting so infrequently, I can only say "Ha!"

Picture of UrsulaSo, whatever. My ancient cat is still going strong, though she's pretty skinny these days, and I really don't know how much time she has left. I drew a picture of her. I don't really draw, but I have an excellent drawing app on my Android tablet, and I've been inspired to try. As you can see, I spent most of my time on her face and didn't really finish the rest of her. It's probably not clear from the outlines, but that's both her left front and left back legs tucked under her chin. The green background is because I'm not really skilled enough for drawing white fur.

I've been loving my tablet. I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 back in February, so that's more recent than my last blog post, though still not terribly recent. I love the thing. I really do. If I could change one thing, it would be to have an option to move the system bar from the bottom of the screen to the top. That's not a huge thing, but it's one of those minor annoyances that keeps drawing attention to itself. Anyway, what I love about the tablet is that it has a stylus, and because it's actually designed to have one (as opposed to the iPad third-party styluses that trick the tablet into thinking that the stylus is a person's finger), the tablet can actually distinguish between my pen and my finger, and respond differently to both. The awesome result of this is that I can rest my hand on the screen as I'm writing. The app knows that I don't want to write with my hand, and disregards the fact that most of the side of my hand is draped across the writing area.

This is the one breakthrough that makes writing on an electronic device just as convenient as scribbling on a pad of paper. In fact, my desk at work has rarely been graced with a pad of paper since I've had it, and my notes are more organized and accessible as well. (It's quicker and easier to switch notebooks electronically than physically, so I'm better about separating notes on one project from notes on another.) This is all given the caveat of the system bar issue I mentioned above. That is, the system bar is always active, and doesn't care if the only reason you're touching its buttons is because you're draping your hand on the screen while you write. So, you can be interrupted randomly by items on the system bar getting activated. As a result, I try to scroll my notes so I'm writing higher on the device - so my hand is less likely to contact the bottom of the screen. This isn't a major annoyance, and is probably just the kind of oversight you can expect to see in a flagship device. When I need to replace my tablet, I hope I'll be able to replace it with a similar but more updated version that I doubt would have this same issue.

My top apps:

1. LectureNotes.

This really is my #1 app on my tablet, and it's the app that really convinced me I'd done the right thing investing in the tablet in the first place. The Note tablet came with a S-Note, an app for taking notes, but I was very unhappy with it. LectureNotes has the note-taking features I'll really use while lacking the one I wouldn't want anyway. It doesn't have handwriting recognition. Handwriting recognition is fine when you're writing an email or entering a URL - you can't easily do those just with handwriting. But when taking notes at my desk or in a meeting, or just scribbling to myself, handwriting recognition is an imposition. Sure, it would be great if I could do a full-text search to see any meeting notes where a particular term was used, but the truth is, I wouldn't use it. If I apply handwriting recognition I need to slow down what I'm doing and thinking long enough to proofread the text that has been derived from what I wrote, and correct it when it's wrong. Without handwriting recognition there's still the risk that I or someone else reading my notes will be unable to read my handwriting, but people are better at that than computers, so the risk is by definition lower than the risk that the computer will misinterpret my writing if it is doing the interpretation.

Anyway, the features that LectureNotes actually does have are awesome. I can get notebooks with blank, lined, grid or "custom" patterns. The paper color, line color, and line width are all adjustable, and that's without breaking into the "custom" paper options. I can write with any of the built-in pens, or design my own. I usually prefer yellow paper with black lines, but if you want dark red paper that'll work too - you will just want to get a light-colored pen for legibility. I like being able to drop snippets from web pages and emails into my notes both to keep a record in the notes and also to write on them.

2. Autodesk SketchBook Pro

This is actually #2 by a significant margin, at least for now, but I haven't had it nearly as long as LectureNotes. My opinion may change if I get seriously into art. I have never really considered myself an artist or done much drawing, and I've tried a few drawing apps on Android, but this is the one that really works for me. But it's a great app. A recent UI update added labels to a lot of the controls which had been just icons, really improving the usability. I have been reading tutorials and watching youtube instructional videos from a number of different artists to learn how to get the most out of it. The drawing I included above of my cat was my first, uniformed attempt. I had just bought the application, and found the cat "sleeping" on the bed and decided to try to sketch her. I put "sleeping" in quotes because she often seems to sleep with one eye partly open, and I am not sure she's really fully asleep.

Other apps:

* 10000000

This is a cute, fun game, and because it was designed to work on an Android phone, the buttons are big and accessible when run on a tablet. I had a run through, and my brother's elementary-age boys really liked it too. The challenge is a timed match-3 slider puzzle, and the format is run-till-you-die, then invest the proceeds to improve your chances on the next run. So the better you are at match-3 the more you make each time, the more you invest and the faster you win the game, but unless you're spectacularly unable to play the game you will continue to progress.

* Reduce Photo Size

This is just a utility app, but it really helps to have a quick way to compress and rotate images. The gallery app will do some but not all of that, and the Photoshop Touch app is entertaining but pretty limited.

* Aldiko

Nice reader app. There are other nice reader apps and I haven't tried most of them, so I'm not even sure this stands out of the bunch, but it's very comfortable. There are options for night/day mode (light text on dark screen/dark text on light screen), you can adjust screen brightness separately from the system controls (you may want it dimmer if you're reading for hours), very flexible font size, and some features I've never been that concerned about... margin and line spacing adjustments, different fonts and text alignment etc... It remembers my place, but still allows separate bookmarking.

* Pleco Chinese/English Dictionary

I've talked about this app before, though it has had some nice updates and improvements. It's only gotten better, and if this is something you're interested in I recommend installing at least the free version. It's now very a la carte with features, so the free version has only a shadow of what you can do with it, but you should explore on your own.

Other games: The Bard's Tale, Zen Bound 2
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Wow. Looking back at the last few posts I've made, it's clear that blogging isn't one of my strong points. Not with posts coming less than once every six months on average. Oh, well. I'm struck by how much things haven't changed since my "recent" posts about them. My elderly cat is still stable, still spending most of her time napping, still incontinent (yeah, eww, I know), and still pretty much the same. After some experience, the only difference the incontinence makes in my life is that I change my bedding twice a week and add Biokleen Bac-Out to almost every load of laundry I do. (I add it where the bleach goes, rather than where the detergent goes, but the bottle gives no advice.) My volunteer work at the SPCA continues, with the only difference being that I've been there long enough to now be authorized to work with the more challenging dogs, which is great because I get on better with the big dogs than the small ones. The big dogs are more likely to be restricted to experienced volunteers just because behavior problems are more likely to be considered risky. Tink, the dog I posted about in May took a very long time to get adopted because he started to have behavior problems as he reacted badly to the shelter environment. (We try, but the shelter is still traumatic for a lot of dogs.) He finally found a home with a couple in the country who I hope will be able to work through some of his issues because he is a great dog.

So, new things. The biggest thing is that I have a new niece. I think her parents have some reservations about posting her baby photos online, though, so I won't. My brother and his wife now have a family of six (three boys and a girl), and I have undying respect for their fortitude in getting themselves into such a level of responsibility. My brother is six years younger than I am, so it's hard for me to think of him as old enough to be a dad at all. I am starting to get to a point where I'm able to think of him as an adult - some of the time.

I have been working on a new work project for the last few months that has been occupying a great deal of my attention. It's been a lot of fun, but I don't know how easily I can express why. The short version is that we are building a new system for searching the library catalog. That probably doesn't sound like fun, but the main reason I enjoy it so much is because of the huge potential for creating something that works much better than what we have now. I spend a great deal of my time working with systems over which we have limited control and therefore limited ability add functionality even when we have the resources to build the new pieces. When we're able to build things in house the potential is comparatively boundless.

Other than that, I've been watching a fair amount of television for someone who doesn't have cable. What I do have is a high-speed internet connection at home, an unlimited mobile data plan, a Netflix subscription, and a willingness to occasionally buy DVDs. Between these, there are still some specific things I can't access, but what I can get to is more than enough to while away all the hours there are. Season six of Futurama has been added to Netflix streaming, so I've been catching up with it on the bus home from work. (Is it psychologically significant that I never want to watch TV on the way into work? If I read during the ride, it'll be non-fiction.)

I have become devoted to two different BBC entertainment shows.

"Sherlock" portrays Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in a manner that is amazingly true to the original stories given that it's set in modern-day London. The very first episode "A Study in Pink" is based on the first Holmes novel, "A Study in Scarlet". In it, we meet Doctor Watson first, a doctor retired from military service after being wounded in Afghanistan. In the original novel, we met Doctor Watson first, a doctor retired from military service after being wounded in Afghanistan. In both, he is looking for a roommate because his military pension doesn't cover rent on a decent room in London. In both, he meets an old friend who happens to know Sherlock Holmes is also looking for someone to split rent with. While a lot of things are timeless, like attempts to tame Afghanistan, high costs of living in large cities, and insufficient military compensation, obviously a lot of things are different. The addition of a smartphone to Holmes' basic arsenal is a natural, and some of the stories have been juggled around in ways that really improve them. Sticking to the first episode, the novel "A Study in Scarlet" devoted about half of the entire book to a fable about how evil the Mormons are in the form of the killer's confession about his motives. I don't have any warm feelings about Mormonism, but the original novel was ridiculous and hateful in the amount of copy it devoted to Anti-Mormon diatribe. "A Study in Pink" took some of the elements of the original mystery, but reshuffled them and ended up with what I felt was a much more satisfactory story which did a great job of introducing the characters of Holmes and Watson, also managed in a small way to introduce both Sherlock's brother Mycroft and his nemesis Moriarty, and never even mentioned Mormonism. Overall, I feel like the show is brilliantly conceived, tightly scripted, and well acted. My only complaint is that the Moriarty character has a tendency to use silly voices for no apparent reason, which I suspect the actor may be doing as a way of avoiding sounding old fashioned.

"Merlin" is brilliantly acted, but would be a better show with more solid writing. It is an Arthurian storytelling that shows Merlin and Arthur as about the same age as young men before Arthur becomes king. Arthur's father, Uther, is king and has laws dictating the death penalty for the use of magic, so when Merlin learns of his destiny to serve and support the great future King Arthur and to help usher in the golden age of Camelot, he finds that he has to protect and nurture the future king without allowing anyone, including Arthur, to realize that he's using magic to do so. The actor playing the title character is Colin Morgan, who I am seriously impressed by. He expresses very complex emotions with his facial expressions, and in the really emotional scenes he can break your heart with a glance. The rest of the actors are very good too, and you can see that once they get a good sense of their characters are really able to supply the emotional resonance that isn't always explicit in the script. So... my problem with the writing staff. The scripts are individually well-written for the most part, and very entertaining, though in quite a few places they seem to unnecessarily have Merlin sneaking around stealing things, apparently just to create the French-Farce-style comedy of him getting caught in compromising situations and having to work his way out. They having him stealing keys WAY too often - usually from Arthur. Apparently the hi-jinks are more fun than just allowing him to learn a lock-opening spell. He needs to steal clothing, and money, and even food off of Arthur's plate while Arthur is eating as though he had no legitimate or easier way to get food. (The food stealing wasn't to feed himself but to feed a fugitive that he's sheltering, but the episode seems to avoid recognizing that Merlin himself does eat and has access to food that hasn't already been served to Arthur - and that as the person who's serving Arthur most meals in the first place, he could probably just acquire a larger serving and not give all of it to the prince.) My biggest issue with the writing on the show is in the broader consistency sense. Different writers seem to have different ideas about the personalities of the characters, and write them differently, and the characters often change to fit the convenience of the storytelling, rather than the other way around. When a character being an idiot aids the story, then he's an idiot. Merlin has a single book of magic that we see from time to time he needs to keep hidden because it could get him executed, but when he needs to research magic, a pile of magic books is always handy for exploration and then forgotten the next time there's a risk of exposure. There are also some major gaps in exposition with respect to character development. One character has a well-explained falling out with Uther, but simultaneously starts hating several other previous friends without explanation. I can say so much about the flaws in the show's plotting, that it may seem disingenuous when I say I've become a devoted fan. I really enjoy the show, and in the end that is probably mostly due to the character of Merlin, his brilliant portrayal by Colin Morgan, and the completely adorable onscreen chemistry of the Arthur/Merlin friendship.
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