Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Amazing Trip To Alaska

Latest copy is always available at: Detailed Itinerary of Alaska Trip.
And Some Photos here.
It was less than a year ago that I had been on a cruise to Alaska with my family which still stands out as THE BEST family trip we all have ever had.  So much so that my mommy pledged that every family trip has to be Cruise to Alaska :)
So when we decided to take a trip, the expectation that we would love it there in Alaska, even without a cruise, was only natural.  We didn't have much time to plan and parts of Alaska you get to see at ports while taking a cruise ship are quite different than what you can/should see on a air/land trip.
So there was only one big problem ahead of us: Planning

Alaska is huge, incredibly beautiful and every place is worth visiting.  Which means we'll need well over few months if we want to do-it-all.  Not an option, at least not yet.  We had less than a week's worth of vacation to use for this trip, so there were compromises that we were going to make in terms of how much ground to cover without killing or overwhelming ourselves.  So we both started reading tons of websites, printed material, etc. almost to no end.
There weren't any reference itineraries we could build upon, as in nothing from reliable sources known to us.  But AAA's travel planning guide (which btw is excellent!) came to the rescue.  The attendant at the counter who handed me the book gladly told me what are a few "must see"'s.   That was a good starting point.  And so began our, more or less haphazard planning.

So after our successful trip, I thought of writing up my thoughts in the hope that it fills that gap for someone in my position: a first-hand reference itinerary to build and improve upon.  Besides, after coming back from the trip quite a few people asked me to share my itinerary.  So here it is... tips, tricks, hotel reviews, things to do, places to visit, clothes to wear and more.  Whether you follow it to the word, improve it, or experiment with it, feel free to share your thoughts so that I can keep this relevant. 
Alyeska Resort

Rescued Bald Eagle

  • Day 0: Anchorage, landed early AM, so had the whole day to explore Anchorage


    • Visit Alyeska Resort (in Girdwood): Tram ride, lunch at top of the resort
      • Info about resort link
      • Unless you want to stay in the hotel (at the base), no need for reservation in advance
      • There's lot of area to walk on around the resort at the top which is free of ice, you might get some nice scenic shots from here
      • Single tram ticket gives you multiple rides up and down, we did only once though due to time constraint
    • Portage Glacier
      • Drive to the Begich Boggs Visitor Center, link
      • About 45 mins drive form Anchorage downtown
      • You get a good view of the lake and a glimpse of Portage Glacier
      • Folks at the visitor center are good about providing information on what you can do around
      • You can choose to go on cruise form here (Whittier, I guess), but hold on until later, you might have seen enough glaciers later in the trip, esp. if you are visiting Kenai Fjords, which is a MUST.
    • Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
      • Very Close to Begich Boggs Visitor Center, < 10mi
      • Opportunity to view Alaskan wildlife up close, link
      • Bears, Bisons, Eagle, Moose, Caribou, Deer, Lynx, Porcupine
    • Lake Hood Seaplane Base
      • It is the busiest seaplane base in the world
      • We just drove around the lake admiring the beauty and getting of at a spot or two
    • Stay at Extended Stay, not recommended
      • Extended Stay, not a bad hotel, but a little far from airport. You can find better ones, Inlet Tower is a much better choice (see Day 5)
      • You will have to rent a car for this day to cover all of this
    • Clothing: Layered Warm, pretty chilly at a few places
    Days are pretty long, you will have sunlight upto 11pm to 1am in the night, depending on how up North you are.

    Train ride to Denali Princess Lodge

  • Day 1 & Day 2: Denali National Forest


    • Alaska Train Tour: Not only is this scenic, but immensely informative
      • You can choose from multiple source-destination city combinations and also multiple nights option, Princess Lodges is what we had choosen
      • Find the one that fits your needs. We spent just a night there, I recommend spending two nights, so you can do more, esp. the tour to innards of the Denali National Forest
    • We did the Princess Lodge Jet Boat Safari
      • 3 hrs excursion in jet boat for a fun-filled ride on the Nenana River, more info here
      • We spotted a Moose crossing the river, Beavers and saw a few beaver dams upclose
      • After the ride, learn to pan for gold and keep your findings and feed the reindeer
      • This was much better than we expected it to be
    • More TODO
    • We would have loved to do one of these, which would require more time than we had
      • Denali Park Tundra Wilderness Tour
      • Probably the only tour that goes deepest into Denali Forest, 53mi. Private vehicles are not allowed beyond 13mi or so the park.
        More info about this tour here
      • Bus Natural History Tour
      • Slightly smaller tour, compared to above, but is good enough and recommended by our tour guide.
        More info about the tour here
    • Stayed at Denali Princess Lodge (first night), Highly Recommended
      • Nice lodge by the edge of Nenana River and lot of nice views
      • Our lodge reservation was part of the whole train ride package
      • Food at the lodge and on train is NOT included in the package
    • Train ride back to Anchorage
      • The train compartments (both, to and fro) are really nice, two storied, with glass top. One level for general sitting and one level for dining. There are also open areas on compartments from where you can see (and feel) the nature :)
    • Scenic drive to Seward
      • Ride along the Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm (link) was really awesome. Super windy. There's a Beluga point where Beluga Whales are often spotted. We couldn't spot one. But we did spot a bear in the wild, trying to find food on snow covered mountain slope. Even if it is late in the evening, you can enjoy the beauty as the sun is still shinning!
    • Stayed at Breeze Inn, Seward (second night).
    • Mixed feeling about the hotel
    • For the price we paid hotel itself wasn't that good. But it is right in the downtown and super close (literally a hop away!) from the Seward Port. Booking the hotels early might give you option of better hotels.
    • Clothing: Layered Warm, pretty chilly at few places
    Bear Glacier

    Orca and her Calf

    Calving: Huge chunk of ice falling off a glacier
    Sea Lions

    Matrix Bullet-Time with Harbor Seal :)

    Jelly Fish

  • Day 3: Seward, Cruise to Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park

  • Most cruises will start early in the morning, around 8am, so it is good to drive to Seward the night before to avoid traffic delays. Anchorage-Seward is 2.5hrs - 3hrs drive.
    • Day long Cruise to Northwestern Glacier, 9-10 hrs, starting at 8am
    • One of the MOST important excursions is a cruise that takes you up close to the glacier. The ship captain will narrate all the information relevant about glaciers, wildlife, marine life, sea, etc. Very well organized.
    • We took the Northwestern Glacier in Kenai Fjords cruise, check this out.
    • Food is served on board, but if you are a vegetarian, I recommend you get your stuff to eat.
    • But don't stuff yourself, the ride up through Gulf of Alaska is quite bumpy
    • We saw Humpback Whales, Porpoises, Orcas, Sea Otters, Stellar Sealions and lots of birds.
    • But the MOST breathtaking view was that of the glacier standing hundreds feet wide and tall, a stone's throw away, where you see icebergs calving out at the lip of the glacier.
    • More Cruises
      • There are a few other day-long cruises to choose from, but not all will visit the glacier, so choose carefully, link
    • Alaska Sealife Center
      • Very close to the Seward port where you take the cruise from, totally worth visiting. Just takes about an hour or so to take the tour of the whole center, don't miss it
      • Sometimes they are open through late evenings, so better to check it off your list the same day you do the cruise. It is not so tiring, check info here
    • Clothing: Dress in really warm layers, inner thermals are highly recommended, it gets very cold out in the sea
    Drive to Seward: Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm


  • Day 4: Seward: Downtown and Huskies


    • Meet the Huskies
      • Take a ride on sled pulled by huskies, take a tour of their kennel and most fun part, play with the little husky puppies!
      • You can choose to skip the sled ride (because it is NOT on the snow) and just take the tour of the kennel, meet some dogs (there are about about a 100!) and meet the puppies.
    • Exit Glacier
      • Short of landing on one, this is as close as you can get to a mammoth glacier. Take a short 1mile hike up to the Edge of Exit Glacier. The rangers have free hour-long guided tours, I suggest take that. It is better than walking clueless about surroundings. You can check if there are any ranger guided walks, here on the NPS website
    • More TODO
      • Harding Icefield Trail
      • If prepared, gear-wise (and fitness wise!), we would have loved to do this. This strenuous 8+mi hike with about 1000ft elevation gain per mile offers most spectacular view of the glacier. Takes anywhere between 6 to 8 hrs to complete. Trail info here.
    • Stayed at Inlet Tower, Anchorage.
    • Nice hotel, close to airport and in the downtown.
    • Drive in the evening back to Anchorage, and stay at Inlet Tower
    • Clothing: Not too warm, we had nice warm sunny weather, check weather beforehand
    The Exit Glacier

    Exit Glacier

    Exit Glacier

  • Day 5: Anchorage Tour


    • Earthquake Park
      • Park explaining the wrath of 1964 earthquake that changed Alaska forever
      • Do the 5mi loop that offers more opportunity to explore the park, we couldn't due to timing constraint
    • Decision Time!!!
    • Time to decide... if you choose not to stay back in Alaska, you have to fly back home!
    • Clothing: Light, can get very hot on a sunny day 


  • More Information & Tips:
    • Hotel Shuttles
      • Most hotels have shuttle service to-from airport. They will even pick up and drop you around important points, like railway station. So don't be shy to ask them whether they have one you can ride on.

  • Bookings

    • Of all the things, you need advance booking for the train ride to Denali National Park and the one day cruise to Kenai Fjord. Or at the least I recommend that you do it, so that you have important activities covered. Also felt that the hotels in Seward were out of rooms pretty fast, so good to take a lead on booking them sooner than later. Rest you can manage on the fly. If you take train ride, you will have a rep walk around and offer to book you on some excursions for Denali National Forest. If you don't have time to research in advance, they also give an informative pamphlet you can look through and quiz them about the tour, they generally are quite knowledgeable. Used kayak.com and expedia.com for all flight and hotel bookings. Costco Travel for car rentals.

  • Camera

    • On the cruise, get a raincoat for your cam if you can. This is important if you have an expensive camera or are carrying a DSLR or are just not sure if your cam fares well in light drizzle of water. I personally didn't take one, but would have if I knew it in advance. I saw a few people have plain plastic like covers slapped on their cams, I guess you should get those for pretty cheap. Goes without saying, have a raincoat on yourself too :) But come what may, DO NOT forget to get camera on cruise (with batteries well charged and ample space on memory card). If you have a DSLR, choose a fast lens, helpful for continuous shooting. Don't be afraid to carry a change of lens, I shot with 50mm f/1.8 (landscapes) and 70-200 IS f/4 with 1.4x extender (wildlife) Come to think of it, it won't be that bad an idea to rent a telephoto lens or an extender for your trip. Don't have info on lens rental in Alaska, but know a few places here in Seattle.

  • Mosquito Repellent

    • On open marshlands or wetlands you come face-to-face (quite literally!) with a lot of mosquitoes, and flies, so be prepared with some arsenal to combat them, repellent would work best.

  • Transportation

    • If you want to go places, you will need your own transportation. Other than at Denali National Forest, it is recommended you have your means of transportation most other days, that way you can cover more of Alaska.

    The version on my website is going to be most up-to-date, so head there if you want the latest information.  And More Photos here.

    Sunday, August 26, 2012

    Stop Writing Crappy Software

    My diatribe today is aimed at recent (unpleasant) experiences with:
    • HP Printer Deskjet F4400 series
    • Yahoo! Mail
    I know that ranting is NOT the best'est way to resume blogging, but hey, I'm surprisingly disgusted!  Appalled! Sad! Furious! Irritated!  And yes, you have every right to ask how can you feel so many things at one time!  What happened?
    Well, rest assured, I (miraculously) still have my all of my mental faculties ~~touchwood~~
    Let me lay it down upon you...
    I had returned after a long day's work, went on house hunt right away, picked up a few groceries on the way home for dinner, helped prep up the dinner and had just finished dinning.  So far so good.
    It was right then that we got an email asking us to send out a few documents urgently.  It was a race against time, literally, come to think of it.  I printed them, we filled them up and then came (what I could only recall, in retrospect, as the SCARY) part: Scanning them!  No biggie, I said we have that all-in-one copier I just printed these on, don't we!  Having unsuccessfully tried scanning a document last time, I was not too hopeful.  But I was (hopelessly) optimistic.  You know, it is not uncommon for software to have failed you the first time and it works the next time you try it out again.  It is as if software has healing powers and miraculously fix themselves over time or something.
    So, I set out to scan.  I put the first paper on the glass, flipped the cover... Tick-Tick, and the copier starts grunting, sucks in a blank paper and makes an exact hard copy for me.  Tcch... entirely my fault, I hit "copy" button and that is NOT what I wanted.  It turns out, in that incomprehensible maze of buttons, there isn't a "just scan and don't damn print it!" button.  So I fire up "Print and Fax" from my OSX, it connects to my printer promptly (relatively speaking).  And lights up the "Scan" button on the software, which I promptly hit. Poof!  After grunting for good part of few minutes, the scanner was making multiple pass over the document (am guessing once for each of the 3-4 primary colors it can deal with).  Each time pretending to be enhancing the preview on my macbook's screen.  And then it just stuck there, scan completed at 100% but "scanning..." dialog still showed it was working on something.  I let it set for a while but then after too long I killed it.  I checked the destination folder...  No scanned images.  I repeat the process, only this time I don't hit the copy button but the correct "scan" button.  Exact same behavior, but this time I did see a scanned copy of my document.  Got me a bit excited there for a minute.  +1 for optimism!
    One down, 4 more to go!  I swap out for the next page.  Repeat, no luck. Patiently I do it again, no luck.  And try it again!  Still no luck.
    Every time I had to kill the darn program because it would finish a 100% and then never budge from there.  But this time I didn't get any scanned copies as a byproduct.  As it turns, there are multiple ways to scan a doc on OSX, so I fired up "Preview" this time.  No luck with that either.  But I noticed Dropbox stopped sync'ing, the icon turned red.  It complained my disk was full.  Scanning also stopped throwing a "Disk is full" error.  "#@~! Yes right! That is all I needed at this time!" I was starting to loose my cool by now.  I could swear I had plenty of disk space to go around.  So I hit terminal and indeed the good'ol trusted "du" told me I was out of disk space.
    I deleted a few large files and paused Dropbox syncing to free up some disk space.  I restarted scanning and pooff!  The darn scanning window complained I was out of disk space eff'ing yet again.  There's no denying this time I had few MBs worth of free space to begin with because I had deleted the files with my own bare hands (metaphorically) and checked free space with my own eyes (indeed tired and strained by now), but unfailingly I had noticed I had made some space available before restarting the whole scanning ordeal.  What is going on, by this time I was adorning my sentences a few verbal niceties!
    All I needed was a few MBs.  I have noticed that sometimes rebooting OSX gets me back some disk space, I think that comes from reclaiming the filesystem log space, am not sure though.  But it was worth a try.  Plus it would kill any unwanted lingering programs potentially interfering with the scanning.  In parallel, I was trying to snap photos of the document with our phones in the hopes we could get decent photos rather than fight with the copier.  But that wasn't panning out well either.  After reboot, I back up 3 GBs worth of data and delete it off my macbook.  Ahh hhaa!  Now lets try this again.  This time I fire up "Image Capture" to rule out any software issues.  Maybe they all use the same backend to talk to the printer, implying same hung behavior, but it was worth a shot.
    I hit "Scan" and lo-and-behold!  Still the same "hung" behavior after reaching 100% completion.  But... out of curiosity, I check disk space... And ~~~horror in my eyes~~~ Holy Spiderman's mad-cow crap!  It's depleting.  And depleting real fast.  Within few moments of Image Capture being hung, it had consumed nearly 2GB of disk space.  At this time I was more furious than I was frustrated or even tired and started turning red (I'm sure if I looked at myself in the mirror, my eyes were already bloodshot!).  I shot a few more verbal projectiles in the scanner's direction, cursed the software developers under my breath who made this crap and abandoned the idea of scanning altogether.  Two hours into it and it was getting on my nerves.
    I can understand sloppy UI design, hard-to-navigate menus, unintuitive user controls, etc. even an occasional crash (though I would ask why, but say I gave it so much lee way) and I have seen a healthy share of those... but a scanner hogging on my disk space by GBs within seconds... that is taking sucking to totally new heights altogether!  Totally unacceptable. 
    Something that was once a scanner, in my eyes was now an array of dysfunctional mechanical parts clubbed with even crappier software.
    I were all so set to unleash the full wrath of my bottled up verbal abuses on that lowly inanimate object.  But just then Zen took over me: Atul, nothing good has ever come out of violence, you know.  I resisted that stupid inner voice of mine, "Sure as hell it has, you want to try (I almost got into my alert fighting stance)? Look around in the real world, one with the most fire power, rules everyone.  You really want to try it! Huuh!", I felt myself repeatedly muttering it under my fiery breath!  The only thing (thankfully!) missing was a visible flame coming out of my nostrils.  Long story short, cooler mind prevailed, but probably only because there were larger issues to take be taken care of later that night than fighting with the lowly copier.

    Now I don't know if it is Apple's OSX who is at fault or HP, I would guess the driver comes from HP, but I could be wrong.  I would give Apple some benefit of doubt, just because everything else on my MacBook (including bootcamp'ed Windows) works flawlessly and drivers typically come from device manufacturers, so I say it must be HP.  Trying to scan and reproduce the experience on Windows would have definitely narrowed down the culprit, but I dare not scan from that piece of crappy copier again!  As a printer it is not too bad, but as a scanner, God save you.
    Thank you very much however-is-at-fault here, for teaching a lesson (see morals below) here the hard way, I will never forget it!  If it was any consolation, I was reminded that I got the all-in-one crapper printer free with the laptop.  Wonder why, I laughed?  All the more reason to trash it to pulp with a baseball bat.
    Well, that by itself wasn't enough to prompt this post... that last nail-in-the-coffin came in the form of online experience the next morning.
    I have a yahoo mail account that had been attracting nothing but spams for the longest of time.  So I thought of salvaging it for sending craigslist queries.  So I went in and tried to edit my profile.  First off, it was an effort to find "WHERE" should I look for my profile and change it.  There were too many options: Should I look under "Hi, Atul" or should I look under the "Options" or should I look under the most promising "My Y!"??? 
    Confusing Multitude of options
    Well as it turns out "My Y!" is THE LAST place you should go to.  The thing I wanted is under "Hi, Atul", it gave me a drop-down menu with few a options, one of them being "Profile". Gotcha! Wait, not yet! That page throws an annoying 404 Page Not Found Error.
    The annoying 404-Error
    I try to keep it cool.  Moving on. I trace back my steps and then follow other lead, "Account Info".  That looked promising, shows my profile and besides my profile it had an "Edit Profile Details" link.
    Jackpot???
    But guess what, that link too takes me to the same 404 error!  What is even more @!#$'ed up is that all the links on that page are invalid links!  They all land you in the same "404-Page Not Found" world.  Even the f___ing Help link!  Seriously, are you eff'ing kidding me!  Does anybody ever test this crap?  All the links on that page were crapped out.  And this is NOT a transient error, I have been giving it a try for a week now, every single day of the week.  It is permanently damaged.
    http://profile.yahoo.com/404/*http://www.yahoo.com
    http://profile.yahoo.com/404/*http://help.yahoo.com
    http://profile.yahoo.com/404/*http://search.yahoo.com/search/options?p=
    So after that, I give up hopes and dig out the REAL Yahoo help page.  That is even more eff'ed up.  After selecting categories and sub-categories of my issue, Yahoo throws an error saying something to the effect of "We are too busy with other issues, try seeking help in  online forums".  Damn right you are busy, I said, with this kind of crappy web designing you better be busy either helping people or fixing up your shit.  I gave up.  With renewed energy I have been trying it day after day.  One fine day, night actually, it let me type the question after selecting categories.  But THE only thing it showed me were some pretty useless "Quick Answers".  None of them relevant for my problem. I can't actually contact the damn Yahoo engineers who wrote this crap!  Seriously, are you kidding me now? So there is virtually NO way for me to resolve this issue :( If I'm expected to post this on some forum and then wait eternally while some God-sent messiah answers the question, then sorry, I neither have the energy nor hope to do that.  Sorry Yahoo, you are off my list too :(  I can't say I will miss you, but I sure liked using your services in the past.
    While I have some expectations from Yahoo now that the reigns are in the (seemingly able) hands of Marissa Mayer, (esp. after introducing that free food and now new iPhones for every employee), I'm not too hopeful of their online services improving anytime soon despite improved morale.
    I intend to serve multiple purposes by writing and sharing this... 
    First, of course is to vent out the anger and frustration, so that the crap gets out of my system ~~~phew~~~ feels sooooo good now.  Next is to show how rampant the distribution of crappy software/hardware/services is, even from well repudiated companies who are (or rather, once were) industry leaders (wonder why they slipped into irrelevance).  Third is a lesson to myself and other software developers is to understand how important it is to focus on the end-user experience and the quality of whatever we produce.  On which front, Apple is really a role model to follow.  No I'm not Apple fanboy and I hate iPhone, but there is no denying their uber attention to detail and uncanny polish in their products, that was once only afforded by Sony.

    At this moment, Oatmeal's comic on Printers is spot on: Printers Are From Hell.  No, seriously, some really ARE made by Satan himself!

    Moral 0: I have said this before and saying this again...
    Writing good software is anything but a trivial task, it takes tremendous skill, practice, patience and time to write a functional and elegant piece of code.  As usual, my role-model has always been the ubiquitous all-round best-in-the-class editor: vi[m].  Oh God, there is so much to learn from vi, at least from a user's perspective.  More than a decade of using it on all possible platforms (Linux, Windows, MacOSX, HP-UX, Solaris, AIX) and it is yet to hang or crash on me!  That is something. You can err on the side that vi might not be as complex as, say a scanning software, but the sheer functionality it gives without breaking fundamentals of usability and stability stand unrivaled.
    Moral 1: Never, ever, ever, ever in my life am I going to get another crappy HP printer. 
    My request, an earnest'est request (if such an adjective doesn't exist then let's invent it!) my earnest'est request to the world is PLEASE PLEASE STOP writing crappy software and services.  It is crime against humanity and seriously it won't be long before it will be unlawful to write crappy software and shove it down users' unsuspecting throats.
    I'm no Richard Stallman, nor can I call myself an avid RMS fan, but I do love open source software. And holy bajeesus apesh!t, today I swear I totally understand how frustration drove RMS to start the whole Open Source movement: inability to add code to improve printer functionality in the 1980s.
    Moral 2: Either you sit and crib about your problems or fix what is broken.
    Wait, why can't I do both, sure I can :)
    So, now that I have cribbed about it, I will make sure the work I produce shall meet at least certain quality standards.

    Friday, August 17, 2012

    Anybody there?

    Back Form Hiatus!!!
    I'm not sure if you guys still come here anymore (I know some still do, just don't know which ones of you)... but hey, it is not like I will stop writing if nobody reads, I write because I love to write.

    Lot of (good) changes have happened in my life in around last few months, some at a pace I could not easily comprehend, so I was busily absorbed into my own little world, taking it in, one bit at a time.  Slowly, at a glacial pace, I'm coming out of that hiding and planning on resuming blogging, amongst few other important things that got put on hold.  Top on the list being replying to emails!  Facebook'ing, if you are wondering, didn't make it to the list.

    As usual, I have a huge cache of posts to make, so there is no dearth of stuff to write about, it is time that's the gating factor, always has been time, darn time ~~~sigh~~~ I don't know what I will post first, but if it is any consolation, let it be a pleasant surprise :)

    Say "hello" (or "Hello World", for the nerdy audience) if you are eager to read my next post(s).

    Friday, January 06, 2012

    Keep Marketing Advertisements Out of Your Mailbox

    For the people who don't want to entertain themselves with my stories, here's the crux of the matter: How to stop getting all the crap into your snail-mailboxes.  But before you get all Uncle-Skeptical, I want to add that it works! Yes! It effing works.  I was highly surprised when, after a week of registration, my mailbox was going very lean and mean!
    Note: This is for US only, I'm not sure if this is a serious problem in India yet.
    Quick Steps:
    1. Go to DMA Choice page and create a login, click here.
      DMA is the most comprehensive do not mail list that most large list owners, compilers and mailers will bump their lists against.
    2. You have 4 sub-categories to opt-out from. I recommend opting-out of everything: Catalogs, Magazine Offers, Other Mail Offers and the most annoying of all, Credit Offers (cards, loans, etc.).
    3. The first three are simple click-and-be-done-with-it types.
    4. To opt out of Credit Offers the website redirects you to OptOutPreScreen (link).
      This is a centralized service to process requests from consumers to
      "Opt-In" or "Opt-Out" of the firms that offer credit or insurance.  Fill out your information, and get rid of all the mail-crap that would have otherwise found its way to your garbage anyway.
    Now, time for the long drawn story... (No matter what you say, I know all of you secretly love maal-masala, the spice! :D )

    I was appalled seeing the wastage of paper (and a lot of other natural resource!) when I first came to this country. But nothing struck me harder than seeing pamphlets/offers/brochures after pamphlets finding its way into my snail-mailbox. I was like "who the heck even goes through all this crap". And indeed, EVERYBODY I know immediately throws it away into a dustbin conveniently placed just beside the mailboxes, without even as much of a second thought!  The dustbin is eternally full, esp. in the evenings when people empty their mailboxes (putting away more than 79% of it) directly into that bin.  I sincerely wish they consider this bin for recycling, for all you know since it is NOT labelled one it might end up in the garbage dump :(

    Before I put an end to the misery, I progressed through a few stages and learned that there is a very easy way to put stop to this crap, and in the process also save precious paper, few bits at a time.

    Phase 0. WTF!
    Really, the first time I got keys to my mailbox it was already beaming with a lot of papers. Seriously, if you don't clear them every other day, you WILL get a notice from your postmaster saying to clear your box otherwise he won't deliver any mails! Because there is no place to stuff any more.  (I'm *not* making this up, this has indeed happened to me! On more than one occasion).  I was joyous when I felt so many people are writing to me, but then I was like, "Wait a minute, I just got here and none of my friends know my postal, soo..." ~~creep'ed out expression~~ My joy was short lived ~~sigh~~, but I diligently ripped open every single envelope, only to discard it.  After a few weeks, I was like, what the 'eff is this? I didn't even subscribe to it and I'm not even interested in any of them, why do companies like to waste so much of paper?

    Phase 1. Wow! Credit Card Offers!
    Over time I got a tad smarter (really?). As a student I had no credit history and the only bank willing to give me a no-annual-fee credit card was the PNC Bank who had a branch in my University (No! It was not out of bank's altruism, it was only because I deposited my tuition monies in their bank that they felt secure that I won't run away without paying off the card).  The limit was very low, but good enough to get started on building the credit. Only enough to buy month's worth of groceries and some misc expenses.  So I used to be all excited whenever I got credit card offers in the mail. I would discard all other marketing stuff and rip open only the ones with credit card offers. Invariably, every one of them had some annual fees associated with it. Disheartened, but still hopeful, I kept doing that for a while.
    Phase 2. Meh!
    Soon I discovered that credit card companies aren't interested in you if you pay off your dues regularly.  You are actually robbing them of the opportunity to charge you obscene interest rates on your balance and huge fines.  I then went into a phase of total ignorance. 'Whatever' is the word I muttered under my breath whenever I saw all this crap in the mail. By this time _every_ mail, other than the ones I knew I need to open (which were no more than 1 in 10s of them) found its way to recycle can.

    Phase 3. Aggrrhhh !@#$!
    Then came the sate of total frustration when the envelopes weren't a clear indicator of what lies within. I would either open then right away, but increasingly they started finding their way into a stack of 'to be attended later' bin on my table.  It was often weeks before I got to them while they kept piling up on my desk.  Half way through these various phases, I had read somewhere that there exists an option to disable all these mails. Half skeptical, half hopeful and half praying I wished the system was "Default Opt-Out".  Imagine opening a new email account only to find that 99% of emails what look legitimate are actually spam!  And you have to individually unsubscribe out from each one of them
    Every time I ripped open an envelope and tossed them into recycle can, my heart ached. I can't go out there and plant a tree every month, but I can 'effing help reduce their falling.

    Phase 4. Get up and be a man!
    Then one fine day I had it enough. United Airways (in relation to some frequent flyer miles program I had signed up for) kept sending me a letter every freakin' week, it bugged me the most. Discover Credit Card offer came second with the same frequency. Then there was Chase 'Open new account and get $100 credit' nonsense, Clear internet service. Followed by car insurance offers, loan offers, etc.  I said I have to be a man and stand up to this. And the encouragement came to me in the form of a nice article in Reader's Digest I was skimming through just before my bedtime.  Voila! I said to myself, "Let's try this now!" I got up, spent no more than 9 minutes and I crossed my fingers before going to bed that night.  I will never forget that night, because in just about over a week I was GLAD that all the unnecessary mail I didn't want went down. It has been a solid year now since then and my mailbox is going very lean!  Much leaner than most VS models!  Now, 90% of mails I get are the ones that need my attention. A good jump from < 1% before!

    I generally don't give out unsolicited advices (but heck, this is my blog, eerr... what I meant was) but I will still give out this once. Because wasting paper hurts me a lot (maybe second only to wasting food, water and time),
    I urge you to...
    0. Stop all the marketing, banking, etc. flyers by following steps on DMA website
    1. Stop paper statements for all your bank statements, credit card statements, utility bills and use internet instead.

    The only ones I have not been able to put a stop to are "ValPak" and some thick bundle of newspaper'ly blob that I have NEVER gone through to understand what it is.  ValPak is less annoying because its frequency is very low, but the newspaper'y thing is ANNOYING, a bundle every week!  I am thinking of confronting my postmaster one of the days and figure if there's a way out.

    But all in all, this (do-not-distrubt like) registry indeed works like a charm.

    I did my bit of going green, did you?
    A quick recap...
    1. Go to DMA Choice page and create your login
    2. You have 4 sub-categories to opt-out from. Opt-out of everything:
      Catalogs, Magazine Offers, Other Mail Offers and most annoying of all, Credit Offers.
      The first three are simple click-and-be-done-with-it types.
    3. To opt out of Credit Offers the website redirects you to OptOutPreScreen (link).  Fill out your information and save paper!
    I promise it won't take more than 9 mins of your precoious time!

    Save Paper, Save Trees, Save Your Time... Go Green!