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Sunday, January 3, 2010

Back From Vacation - Unfortunately!

Oh well, vacation never lasts long enough, does it?

A two-week break from work and a one-week flying-driving vacation on the west coast was just what the doctor ordered to finish 2009 off and start 2010 off on the right foot. I was going to use up all the rest of my vacation allowance for 2009 by taking all the working days from the 23rd through the 31st of December off.

Our vacation took us to California. We flew into San Francisco, then drove down to Southern California for 3 days in a vacation rental. We were joined on the vacation by my wife's brother and his family. A wonderful time was had by all, especially the kids who sometimes drove us crazy! But, it was the best vacation I have had in a while. We visited various places I had never visited before even though I had lived in Southern California for almost 6 years as a graduate student.

The highlight of the vacation was a visit to Hearst Castle on the California coast at San Simeon. It was an amazing place that would take several visits to cover fully. The scenery outside was beautiful, and it was outdone by the rich furnishings and antiques on the inside of the house. We took the experience tour which is recommended for first-time visitors. But they offer several other tours that would probably be well worth it to go on in future visits.

Because of the availability of tickets, we started our vacation a day earlier than planned. Because of this, I had to go to work one day after coming back from vacation. I made a strategic calculation and decided to show up at work on the 31st rather than the 29 or 30th (even though I was in town those days).

As I expected, 31st was the most peaceful day I could have picked to show up at work. Most people were off on that day, and the few who had shown up for work were allowed to go home by about 2:30 PM, so, as expected, I got credit for a full day of work for just checking and taking care of all the email I had received during my vacation. In addition, I had used the 29th and 30th to unpack, take care of accumulated laundry, replenish the refrigerator with groceries, etc., etc. All the usual stuff that needs to get done when you return from vacation, unfortunately!

Before we had school-age kids, my wife and I always arranged our vacations in the first week of December or the first to second week of January rather than the weeks around Christmas and New Years. We found that crowds were much lower, prices were much lower, and the vacation experience overall was much more enjoyable and stress-free. That plan also allowed me to come into work during the weeks of Christmas and New Year. This was like an extension of my vacation since these are the slowest weeks at work with most of my colleagues gone on vacation. I always told my colleagues there was no point in taking vacation the last two weeks of the year since it was like vacation at work anyways!

After my kids started going to school, we could not stick to this plan anymore since my vacation from work had to coincide with their breaks from school if we wanted to travel on vacation. This has usually meant more crowded flights and more expensive cruises, hotel and car-rental prices in the past few years, but such is the sacrifices one has to make when one has kids!

Anyways, during the vacation, my blog continued to grow slowly with pre-scheduled posts dribbling out during my vacation. I did not publish anything on Microsoft Access, but I did put together and publish two posts on Vedic Mathematics and a couple of other posts. The nice weather in Southern California compared to the mess I had to deal with on my return home prompted me to put together a post on whether people in the midwest actually like the weather here (as they so often claim), and if so, why.

I also wrote up a couple of blog posts for the upcoming week, but have more work to do to make sure they are ready to be published. I am restarting my posts on Microsoft Access, and continuing my posts on Vedic Mathematics. I realize that my review of the last of the 4 GPS units I bought on black friday is overdue, so I will make every effort to complete that review.

My country flag widget continued gaining flags in the past few weeks and now stands at 93 flags total. The last flag is from the Republic of Moldova. By the time you read this, there may be a few more flags in the widget. As I suspected, I have added a little more than a dozen flags from when the widget had 80 flags. The pace of additions has slowed significantly and I am actually surprised it is still growing. As for my state flag widget, it has 51 flags, and has no more growth left in it. The 51 represents all 50 states of the US and the District of Columbia. The last flag added to it was that of Delaware.

And speaking of widgets, I found this wonderful site called PollDaddy that enables you to embed polls in your blogs and other websites. They have some paid memberships also, but a free membership is good for an unlimited number of polls and upto 100 surveys per month (the difference between polls and surveys is that polls have a single question while surveys have multiple questions).

After you sign up with PollDaddy, you can create new polls with various options that enable you to control the answers respondents can respond with, whether they can respond with multiple choices, whether the poll has a close date, etc., etc. PollDaddy gives you the ability to customize the look and feel of your poll using CSS or you can choose from one of about 20 pre-made choices. Once you are satisfied with the looks and content of your poll, you are provided javascript code that you can take and embed in your blog, either as part of a gadget on the sidebar or even as part of a blog post. You can see an example of a blog-post-embedded poll at the bottom of this post.

In addition to individual polls, PollDaddy also provides a Poll Widget that you can make part of your blog sidebar. The advantage of this widget is that you can then create new polls and associate them with this widget seamlessly. The poll in your sidebar then changes automatically without you having to take the code of the new poll and making it part of your blog by editing the layout of your blog. I think it is a wonderful idea to put something in your blog sidelines that invites the reader to interact, and there is no better or easier way to do this than through a simple poll widget like this. You can see what a poll widget in the sidebar looks by looking for the currently running poll in my blog, just above the "About Me" section of the left sidebar.

I am going to try and come up with a new poll once every couple of days for my blog. Having the ability to create an unlimited number of them gets over the problem of being able to do it without any financial outlay. The only problem now is to come up with good, interesting poll questions and/or answers! Maybe you can suggest some using the comments to this post!!

Now it is time to prime and prepare myself for going back to work tomorrow. Time to forget about vacations for another few months and keep my eye on the ball at work. It would help if I had an interesting project to go back to, but in the absence of that, I have to keep work interesting by finding ways to make sure nobody can pin the blame for the inevitable failure of my current project on me! The tricky part is to make sure that the credit comes to me in the remote event that the project is considered a success!! Is it any wonder many people find work exhausting?!!

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