Inside Track

A Trashy Tale

A Trashy Tale

By Eric P. Harding

We get a lot of packages here at the Harding household. More during the pandemic. Even more during the holiday season in the middle of the pandemic.

All those packages mean lots of boxes to break down and recycle. That’s my job. I like it; choosing the One-Box-to-Hold-Them-All and neatly fitting all the other rectangles into it, snugging the packaging materials into any available cranny—this chore appeals to my spatial reasoning knack and my desire for done-ness with a task. (I despise doing laundry for the opposite reason—one is never, ever “done” with the laundry.)

Our recycling truck comes on Tuesday … at least, it’s supposed to. About a month ago, it failed to show up. I left the bin and accompanying boxes out front for another day, hoping against hope that they would come the next day, but no luck. “Ah well,” I thought, “there’s always next week.”

In the meantime, we accumulated a veritable corrugated fortress in the back yard; we knocked out our holiday shopping for friends and family, we upgraded our vacuum cleaner (the better to sweep up the pine needles from our Christmas tree), and an early New Year’s resolution in the form of a stationary bike proffered an enormous container. 

Next Tuesday came and went, and no recycling truck.

Faced with the prospect of living in the literal shadow of Cardboard Village for another week, I loaded all the boxes into our van and took the lot of it to the county dump. For $7.40, I was freed from the tyranny of Too Much Trash.

After I got home, I called the recycling company and gave them the business about their dereliction of duty. Imagine my surprise when they checked the GPS record of their trucks and confirmed that they had indeed been at my house … at 6:07 a.m. I had gotten into the habit of having my morning coffee, letting the dogs out, and only then taking the recycling around. See, the truck always came around 11 a.m. It seems we’re not the only ones who’ve switched up our routines with the holiday season. I stammered an apology and hung up.

Oops. I guess I’ll take the bin around the night before from now on. 

This issue’s features all touch on the refuse in our lives.

In “My Career as a Garbage Collector,” author Mark Kinzer recalls his days as a pricing actuary working at Berkshire Hathaway. As he dives into a deal from years ago—variable annuities and cash flow and capital market risk, oh my—you’ll learn how he turned trash into treasure … and had a grand time along the way.

Our second feature, “Is Data the Rx for Good Health Outcomes?” considers whether the deluge of health data can be sifted to become a useful trove that drives better downstream medical decisions. The authors—both affiliated with the Academy’s Health Practice International Committee—provide a thorough perspective on health data collection and usage.

Our final feature, “Digital Decluttering,” offers a practical guide toward cleaning up your computer’s file storage system—a helpful nudge that may become my other New Year’s resolution this year. Author Matt Testa, an archivist by trade, knows the ins-and-outs of how to keep a collection orderly, and his strategies can help wrangle any untidiness you may find in your system.

As ever, thank you for reading. I hope 2021 brings you and yours much happiness.

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