Letters: Older Parents, Pack Rats

Listeners comment on the advantages and disadvantages of being and having older parents, and why pack rats care about the things they save. Also, a systems administrator explains the importance of keeping e-mail inboxes clean.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

It's Tuesday and time to read from your emails. Our show on older parents struck a chord with many listeners who are parents themselves, but it also struck a chord with the children of older parents. Carol in Charlotte wrote us this: My mother was 40 and my father nearly 50 when I was born. My eldest brother was married before I was born, and I have nieces who are older than I am. It was very odd to be called Aunt on the playground by somebody two grades ahead of me. It was a very lonely childhood. My parents were always too tired to play, and I missed out on most of the activities that my nieces and nephews enjoyed with my brothers. Sure, my mother could read to me, but I wanted somebody to play catch with. And worst of all, my father died when I was 12. I miscarried several times during my 30s and we stopped trying to have children when I turned 40, because I vowed I would never put a child through what I had gone through.

Taylor in Tallahassee had a very different experience. He wrote: My father was in his mid-50s when I was born. I was 21 when he died. I cannot imagine a better father. He was in law enforcement all his life and remained in fit physical condition until he died. He may not have roller bladed with me, but he was kind, creative and taught me his Depression-era work ethic. People at the store may have thought I was his granddaughter, but he always had a funny quip to answer. I was a surprise gift to him, and vice versa.

Our show on pack rats sparked an enormous response. Don't worry, we printed them all out and filed them in alphabetical order. Joan left a comment on our blog about how we tend to care - or not - for the things that we do save.

My partner and I have a business where we help senior citizens downsize from their family home. We are continually amazed at not how much people keep but how they value what they keep. For example, hundreds of meticulously washed used baggies neatly folded and taking up lots of space in the kitchen drawers and then finding grandma's wedding dress in a broken cardboard box in the back of the closet; the heirloom family photos covered with mold on the floor in the back of the basement; and a garage full of catalogued magazines. It seems like the more important the item, the less it is cared for.

We also talked about the new phenomenon of the digital pack rat and fielded complaints about that darned systems administrator - you know, the one who nags you to keep your email inbox clean. Well, we had some real-life system admins - yes, they are actual people - write in to ask us to set the record straight. Who better to do it than our own network systems administrator, Scott McCallum? He's with us here in Studio 3A. Normally he's busy nagging me to clean out my email inbox. Scott, good to have you on the program today.

SCOTT MCCALLUM: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: So I could fairly say that you're the man, and I don't mean that in a nice way.

MCCALLUM: Well, yeah. It seems that the more you give people, the more they want.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

MCCALLUM: It's all about managing your data.

CONAN: And managing your data is not so easy when you've got hundreds of people who want to manage their own data.

MCCALLUM: That's correct. Typically you're at the mercy of your company's storage and the money they want to spend on storage.

CONAN: And storage does cost money. We think this free somehow.

MCCALLUM: Right, and a lot of it has to do, too, with the architectural layout of your system and what you've planned for in capacity - you know, total capacity for the whole company's email. Typically, people just keep mail in their mailboxes forever, as you know, and then, you know, want more space available to them on demand. And we try to accommodate that best we can, but we work around the premise that how long will it take me to restore the system in the even of a disaster? And the more data you have on the back-end, the longer it takes to do that. And you know, we operate under that premise.

CONAN: So who's the worst? Is it Nina Totenberg? Is it Steve Inskeep? Who stacks up the most email?

MCCALLUM: Oh, wow. It's hard to say, really. VPs in the company who...

CONAN: Oh, the boring people.

MCCALLUM: ...get a lot of the mail. Their admins try and manage it. And you know, we do the best to accommodate anybody's needs with what we have.

CONAN: Blame it on the VPs upstairs. You're not naming names. We like that about you. But I do have to ask you. How come, as it turns out, I have to throw away my email twice? Merely deleting it doesn't get rid of it.

MCCALLUM: Well, that's a safety catch just for that reason, so that if you did inadvertently delete something, you have a method of retrieval on your own.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

MCCALLUM: And in which case, if they're both - if you empty your trash can twice, then you're calling, you know, IT support.

CONAN: Scott McCallum, NPR's system administrator, joined us here in Studio 3A.

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