December 30, 2003

The Time of Great Stink is at hand

I see that CTA will be increasing their fare from $1.50 to $1.75 this week, taking from many of us another precious laundry quarter. The result of this will be of course more stink on the bus, as less laundry is done.

The net effect on bus 66 alone may surpass tolerance. God help us.

Posted by Chris on 12/30/03

December 29, 2003

The Thank-You Notes of Damocles...

... now hang over my head, until about February when the guilt fades to a manageable level.

People buy me presents, why can't I write them a little note? Why am I such a bad seed?

Posted by Chris on 12/29/03

Yearly Updates Inserted into Holiday Cards?

I know some people groan when they get the "Family Update" inserted in the Christmas card. And yes, sometimes they can be cheesy. But me, I'm for 'em, cheesy or not. I prefer them to letting Hallmark express your feelings generically (as I do). Next year maybe I'll start as well.

Posted by Chris on 12/29/03

December 24, 2003


I think I have mentioned before that I am not a sports fan. I've never been one. I don't enjoy any of the games in person or on T.V., I don't really have much to say about them afterwards - BUT:

I am not blind to how thrilling they can be. To be rooting for a competitor along with thousands and thousands of people? Everybody yelling at once? And sometimes the whole game can ride on one point at the last possible second, AND THEN THEY MAKE IT AND EVERYONE GOES NUTS AT THE SAME TIME? You'd have to be dead not to jump to your feet. YOU, SIR, WOULD BE A DEAD MAN.

And then there's the fact that complete strangers can come together and connect with one another over these arbitrary games. Fantastic. Sons and fathers who have no other connection may be able to have a conversation about baseball. Southside and Northside put down their guns and agree that Sammy Sosa is the best. Great! The crowd was so pumped up over the victory they turned over your car and set fire to the dumpster - BUT WHO CARES, YOU WON THE CHAMPIONSHIP! All bad feelings are temporarily set aside.

It's not that undeniable thrill or connection with people that turns me off, of course. Religious ecstacy always scares me, but frankly I wish I COULD get into it. What makes me roll my eyes is the lack of proportion on the part of some of the fans and "experts." It's when some of them lose sight of how the games are - really, come on, let's admit it - arbitrary contests. Instead they become religious, mythic struggles.

Which brings me to the Chuck Klosterman article in the December issue of Esquire. (Will Ferrell as Einstein is on the cover.) In his first article, Klosterman talks about Kobe Bryant's legal struggles. Klosterman posits that he will be able to deduce whether Bryant is guilty of rape or not by watching him play basketball.

He puts forth the notion that, because the act of playing this sport is, I suppose, so pure and primal and basic, that by watching arguably the best player in the NBA engaged in it, he will know in his "soul" what the truth is.

"...I will be able to figure out if Kobe deserves to go to prison for four years of his life, even if I never see a second of Court TV: When Bryant strokes the rock, I will glimpse his soul."

Oh my. To be fair, Klosterman points out that he knows this is ridiculous. He knows that it is absurd and "insulting and reductive" and "morally wrong." But he also then says he knows that it is "totally right." This is one of those Truths that goes BEYOND the facts.

Klosterman says that there has "never been a collision of sports and society that is remotely comparable to this one," making comparisons to O.J.'s trial, as well as Mike Tyson's problems and Ray Lewis', and right away we see in his language how he views this: in grand, mythic terms. This is not just a celebrity accused of rape, who has not been tried yet, and incidentally he plays basketball, this is a COLLISION! Between those titans SPORTS! and SOCIETY! Why, it's like a game in itself! As if sports somehow stands outside of society; as if it is somehow a separate institution on par with "society."

Klosterman quickly reduces me and my ilk halfway through: "People who don't give a damn about sports can never understand why some of us care so much." So right away I am recused from entering the fray. I have been disqualified for reasons of ignorance: I could never understand any of this anyway! I could never see the truth about Kobe because I have not accepted sports into my heart in the first place.

Let me posit something back at him: Kobe Bryants' performance on the basketball court reveals nothing more than how good a player he is. His actions in a hotel room with a girl one night have nothing to do with it. The fact that Klosterman thinks there IS more is the result of his imagination, and nothing else.

If Klosterman and people like him can look at sports and see more than just a game, then that is probably because they are, at heart, poets. They can watch a bunch of millionaires kick or dribble or bat a ball around and be inspired by it? Well, fantastic for them! Again, I wish I could as well. But let's stop short of using the NBA as a sort of magic lasso.

Klosterman's mental shortcuts are something you see a lot, and not just in all the teary-eyed sportstalk. (But God knows that's a good place to start if you want to find it.) Good, otherwise very intelligent people that are willing to make judgements based on little more than an uninformed, gut emotional reaction. Revealingly, he also explores the reasons behind his sports interest:

"The reason I need sports in my life is that it's the only aspect of my life that I understand completely. It's the only subject that fills me with confidence, and it's the only subject that gives me any sense of control. I mean, I have no idea what we should do about North Korea and I don't really understand the subtext of Moby Dick."

I also do not know what to do about North Korea (Although kudos to him for paying attention enough to say North Korea and not Iraq), and was not even able to FINISH Moby Dick. But although I am confused by those topics, I am not GLEEFULLY DISENGAGED from them. They are not unworthy of my attention because they fall outside the sphere of that which is easily comprehended.

In fact, in the case of the North Korea issue, I feel responsible for at least a passing familiarity with facts and players, because that subject is not an ARBITRARY CONTEST - it has very important and immediate ramifications for ME, and all of us.

Klosterman, though, has merely thrown his arms up and dismissed all other topics; he has an emotional connection to sports, so that is what he will stick with. And now, ironically, on a topic of purely SPORTS interest he has done the same thing. The actual facts of Bryant's case may reveal one thing, but he will stick with the part that gives him a good feeling in his tummy - watching Kobe play - and make a judgement based on that.

Posted by Chris on 12/24/03

My Stagnant Music Collection

Nothing makes me realize how stagnant my music collection has become more than random play on the iPod. The odds are not bad that it will be one of four artists whenever the new track comes up, and I have around 2000 songs on there.

My music collection methodology has always been one of complete vertical expansion before budging horizontally. I utterly completely exhaust the catalog of someone I like before moving on, and it takes me around ten or fifteen years to work through one Greatest Hit-caliber artist.

I tend to enjoy music that goes directly to my feet, with minimal detours to my brain. But ALL new music must first check in with my brain, at the New Arrivals desk, so I tend to resist it. It's silly.

But the advent of the Apple music store with its Jesus-sent ability to get just one track if I want has changed that somewhat. I'm more inclined to try things out if it's just 99 cents and a download, as opposed to $15 and a CD that may sit forever on my shelf. I'm also unashamedly intrigued with the celebrity playlist, and I downloaded the AV Club's recent Best Albums of 2003 feature to check out what the kids are listening to these days, with their loud rock and roll and their disrespectful haircuts and their daddy-o slang.

Right away I noticed "Death Cab For Cutie" popping up on someone's list, and recognized them from those Sundance 2003 movie intros that I thought were so hip. They're not on the Apple Store, though. I downloaded "Welcome Interstate Managers" by "Fountains of Wayne," though, and am enjoying it a lot. I'll probably buy Outkast's album. My finger continues to hover over the "Kings of Leon" purchase button without making contact.

Posted by Chris on 12/24/03

December 22, 2003

Be my Paypal

Why are we not using Paypal to transfer funds between one another? I have looked and I can't see their service charges or the downside.

Why all this analog toil, ie., the writing of checks that must be carried - by hand! - to your place of banking, or worse a stack of germy cash, placed in an envelope, things written down with the pen chained to the desk that may or may not have ink, the waiting in line, why, people, WHY?

Let's agree that any process which involves me licking an envelope which has been out in a public place is SO twentieth-century and should be discouraged.

Posted by Chris on 12/22/03

A Hat Uneaten

True to expectations, I did NOT have to eat my hat last week, as my service providers failed to do what they said they would.

Honestly, I wasn't too worried that I would be eating the hat.

To recap:

1) SBC said I'd have long distance by the 18th. I didn't.

2) DirecTV was sending out someone to wire my dish in order to add a second input into my precious TIVO. Oh, the contractors arrived - and early! I was suddenly afraid I'd be tasting hat-felt! - but they had never heard nothin' about wiring no dish. THEY were there to upgrade my dish so that I could receive the international channels. I stopped them before they went about getting a fix on el pájaro.

I called DirecTV and had a replay of every Customer Service conversation I've had for the past four weeks. I see the order here, sir, I don't understand what went wrong, well let me set you up again from square one. How is two weeks from today?

Afterwards wife Ami speaks very softly to me and asks if she can do anything to help. She is being very quiet, as if I am one tick away from having a full-blown explosion. I thought I was masking my feelings from her, but last week she unfortunately witnessed the destruction of an innocent handset at my hands after an SBC call.

I don't want to be so hung up on bad customer service. Above all I don't want to become unmanageably enraged afterwards, to the point that someone feels they must tiptoe around me. This is simply the way it is, and no one else seems anything but mildly exasperated. I have to remind myself that these are services not central to my existence. I don't need them.

But I have trouble letting go when service is this bad. When something that should be so easy becomes so very hard, when a company can be so completely horrible at what seems like their main thing, I just can't let it go. If they say it works, I WANT IT TO WORK.

Ami asks me if I'd consider sending the record of the calls and all their details to the company. We should get a discount for this, she says. I know she's right but that's not enough. They have offended me on some strange level that I can't seem to easily overcome. I don't want a form letter and a coupon for a free pay-per-view, I want Cousin Eddie to bring me the goddam president of the company in the middle of the night and I want him to admit to me that his customer service FUCKING SUCKS, and not only is he fixing it in my case, he is fixing it IN ALL CASES.

It always, ALWAYS seems like I have asked for something totally outside their realm. Dear DirecTV: Please to come over Saturday and install the Monolith on our lawn, my wife and I would like to begin receiving your evolutionary programming. Signed, Chris.

They advertise specials but don't seem to have the slightest way to process requests. They want you to be intimately familiar with the technical details and internal codes of their service. What should be one request from one person ends up being multiple calls to multiple people in multiple departments on multiple continents.


Saturday call #1: As the contractors stood over me Saturday morning waiting, I made the afore-mentioned call to DirecTV to find out What Up. She saw the order, didn't know what possibly could have gone wrong, blah blah blah, let's start again. I verify from the contractors that they can't just go out to their truck, run the co-axial cable that surely must be there around my house, but no, they cannot budge without there is a Workorder. So I let them go. Meanwhile, DirecTV lady schedules me for my next available appointment - unless I want to take off work or skip Christmas, that's two weeks. So she makes her apologetic noises, we get off the phone.

Saturday call #2: A few minutes later someone else calls me back. She has noted that I have sent the contractors away, and is verifying that I indeed want to cancel the appointment. Yes, I do. I spare her the details of why, not that she cares, and mainly because it seems like the longer you talk to these people, the greater chance that they'll somehow submit the wrong work order and then you have no heat to your house in winter.

Saturday call #3: A few minutes later the first DirecTV lady calls me back. Why did I cancel the appointment we just made? Did I mean to do that? So what happened was Call #2 canceled the new appointment I'd made in Call #1. I REstated what I wanted to happen, but now Caller #1 had #2 on the phone. #2 wanted to know how I wanted to be billed for the service call. Because since they would have to run wire around the house, that was not covered in the $49 upgrade fee. I could go with a per feet charge, or a flat $100 charge that would cover everything. And did I want the Dual-LNB attachment or the multisplitter?

Where to start? I REstated my original goal, "Add one more input to the TIVO receiver," hoping that she can sort it out. She can't. Since I don't know how much the contractors (Whom DirecTV emphatically deny as Not A Part of Their Company at every chance) charge per foot, not do I frankly know how many feet are in the circumference of my house, I opt with the $100 option.

I also do not know which is better in my case, the Dual-LNB attachment (what I originally thought would work), or the "multisplitter." "Multisplitter" sounds like one of those devices from Radio Shack that theoretically should work by some loose interpretation of several laws of nature - but never does.

But Lady #2 is leaning towards it. So I go with that, feeling I am somehow sealing my own doom. Sigh. I feel I will have more to say in two weeks' time.

Frankly, if this works in two weeks, I will eat my hat.

Posted by Chris on 12/22/03

In Praise of Homeland Security

I'm so glad we set up a whole new branch of the government just to issue terror alerts that the public can do nothing about.

We're at ORANGE, people, and intelligence points to the fact that airplanes-as-missiles are still considered a GREAT IDEA for today's busy terrorist. All they need do is put aside that religious rage long enough to muster a smile to fool those guards, and they'll be as good as Slim Pickens at the end of "Dr. Strangelove," ridin' that rocket home to Allah.

I'm told that as we head towards the airport on the busy travel day of Christmas Eve, the chances that I'll die are greatly increased, but that I should NOT change my plans.

In response, I have chosen to spin in place right here in my chair as I process these two conflicting directives.

How about we just call it the Department of Governmental Ass-Covering. Here's my idea, Mr. Ridge. Why don't you take some of the billions they gave you to set up shop, and start, oh, patroling around outside the airports for anyone, say, deploying a shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft weapon? And stop trying to keep the public frightened, panicked, and therefore easily-manipulated by any agency that may, for instance, feel they can benefit by exploiting the public's fears about terrorism?

Not that I'd DARE suggest any governmental branch has done that in the past year.

Posted by Chris on 12/22/03

December 18, 2003

Review: Return of the King


WHERE WAS THE DAMN SCOURING OF THE SHIRE AT THE END? HellOOOO, Peter Jackson, maybe you didn't get a complete copy of the final book, but in MY edition, there's the SCOURING OF THE SHIRE epilogue at the end! I paid $9.50 to see a Shire scoured, and DAMMIT I WANT IT GOOD AND SCOURED.

Just kidding.

I said I was kidding!

HEY! Easy there! I'M KIDDING! EASY THERE! I loved it! HONESTLY! I did! Look, I'm giving it as many stars as I have slots for! Will that calm you down? It's a four-star movie! Hey, I'll even throw in an extra star that will have to sit on top of the other stars because I don't have a slot for it! It's a five-star film! I swear, it's been so long since I've read the books I'm not even sure I remembered that the Shire was scoured, or what it means to be scoured. This film was the best thing I've ever seen, I want to MARRY this film.

(You have to be careful when you let people know your opinion of this movie, because with some, any deviation from This Was The Best Ever means that you didn't get it. This movie is a special case with a lot of factors. It's hard to separate your opinion purely of the movie's content from 1) your expectations, 2) Your opinions about the other two movies, 3) your experience and opinions of the books, 4) What you heard about how they made the movie, and if you're a big fan like I am, 5a) your potential irritation with people that Just Don't Get It and therefore you're apt to like it a bit more to compensate for those idiots, or if you're NOT a big fan to start with, 5b) your potential irritation with the rabid fanbase that overlooks obvious flaws.)

What I really think is, the movie was an extravaganza, a jubilee, a gala, a festen, a celebration, a triumph. Laden with special effects and visuals that literally made me gasp at points, yet I honestly cared about all the characters throughout - something that cannot be said for other recent big-effects sagas.

It's an A+ effort, and surely will be considered a classic saga for many many years. Shelob the Hungry Spider? The Shrinking Seizure Death of the RingWraith? The whole battle of Minas Tirith, with the Army of the Dead Conscripts and the Shrieking Dragons and the Pointy Oliphants and the Dumb Ol' Trolls loading up the big rocks on to the Catapults? It was a long, sustained adrenaline rush! It started out MAYBE a little uneven, but immediately started getting better and better, and then better, and better some more.

An extra bit of kudofication should be given to Jackson and to cast members Andy Sirkis, Elijah Wood, and especially Sean Astin for making all of their scenes for the last two films interesting and unique and good - despite the fact that they were performing essentially the same scene again and again with minor variations:

Somewhere along the trail, FRODO collapses under the weight of the Ring and the awesome responsibility. SAM rushes to his side.

Mr Frodo! Mr Frodo!

I... can't go on, Sam.

No! You can make it, come on! I'll carry
you if I have to! Where you go, I follow!

You see, the fat hobbitses wants the Precious!
Smeagol told you! Yeeeees!

SAM attacks GOLLUM.

NO, Sam! We need his help!

They could have been the most tiresome parts, but ended up being the most moving. And "Gollum" is the pinnacle of CGI character animation so far. Sirkus, Jackson and God knows how many WETA artists have created the most expressive and real animated character we've seen yet at the movies. I wasn't so crazy about the Smeagol / Deagol origin story tacked on at the beginning, but whatever.

The lack of Christopher Lee in the movie illustrates why I try never to read anything about the movie going in. At the end of the movie I was thinking, would it have killed Peter Jackson to give Saruman thirty seconds of screen time? I'm not sure I would have minded so much if I hadn't been aware that Lee had expressed his disappointment.

The Arwen scenes were the most laborious to me, as I never understood what she was doing to move the plot along. You may now write to let me know how I have missed the whole point and if I had read the books maybe I wouldn't be such a schlub.

On a related note: of all the criticisms aimed at the movie, and there have not been many, the category I understand the least are those that like to point out the lack of women in the movie or the lack of consequence of the women that ARE present. It seems in what is ostensibly a period movie with sword battles and the like, that criticism might be out of place. And anyway, did not Miranda Otto have a prize scene with the RingWraith?

Overall, I'd get the t-shirts, the action figures, the comic books, and the extended DVDs.

Posted by Chris on 12/18/03


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Posted by: webcam at March 3, 2005 6:44 AM

December 17, 2003

Schroedinger's Hat

There are two possible futures branching out before me - one in which I eat my hat, and one in which my hat remains uneaten.

Not only will tomorrow tell whether I have long distance service, but I have also ordered the Xtra-Large DirecTV dish that will feed two glorious outputs of digital satellite goodness into my TIVO.

And I have opted to have the Mulletted Subcontractor install the dish this Saturday between 1 and 5 PM, so the probability that the dish will materialize is low.

However - until I am ACTUALLY disappointed, my hat remains in a quasi-state of being; one in which it is both eaten and uneaten at the same time. Only when the man wearing the wife-beater T-shirt does NOT arrive on Saturday, and only when Pamela the SBC girl actually fails to hook up my long distance tomorrow - as probability dictates will happen - will the quantum wave collapse, resulting in a hat that has been either eaten by me, or uneaten.

Me, I feel confident that the hat shall be uneaten.

Posted by Chris on 12/17/03

The Insomnia Button

Here's my idea for a new button that should be on T.V. remotes - an Insomnia button. This button would turn the T.V. on and automatically set it to a very low volume.


Why an Insomnia button? Because it's not enough to turn the T.V. on and quickly mute it - you know the minute you try to adjust that volume it's going to be VERY LOUD at least for a few seconds.

Posted by Chris on 12/17/03

December 16, 2003

My Illicit Affair with the Third Party Verifier pt. 2

My only explanation for why this continues is that I must be having an affair with the Third Party Verifier.

I have been thoroughly verified by the Third Party during Customer Experience #5, ladies and gentlemen. At the end of every call, regardless of my rage, I am bounced back from India so that I can be Verified. I have taken to sneaking out of the office at lunch time so that the Third Party and I can meet at a cheap motel for a little Verification. I pretend to run out for some ice cream at midnight just so that the Third Party and I can meet up to hurriedly Verify. I make excuses to my wife that I have to stay late at work - But I'm not catching up on paperwork, I'm calling the Third Party and we can Verify over the phone.

Did I say that long-distance would be restored? FOOLISH HUMAN! Hera punishes you for your hubris! If you think you can steal the secret of Long Distance from Olympus and give it to humanity, Zeus shall tie you to this stone where a vulture will make unsolicited calls to you during mealtime for all eternity!

We have no long distance. I call AT&T, and if I were seething before, I'm in full Daffy Duck steam-out-of-the-ears mode now. AT&T man comes on the line, and instead of simply having no memory of the transaction, IT LOOKS LIKE IT SHOULD BE WORKING TO HIM.

I used to think being called "pissy" was the magic word to make me go insane, but it turns out being told that everything looks OK from their end when I know that it isn't does the trick just as well.

He says it's SBC's fault. I tell him that if he can't call SBC on my behalf RIGHT NOW and solve the problem RIGHT NOW without me having to make another phone call, then I want him to cancel my account, put me on their Do Not Call List, erase my name from their databanks, pour salt around my home, get a priest to exorcise all memory of me. The first syllables out of his mouth did not match up with "Yessirrightawaysir," so I was forced to cut him off. CANCEL IT, I say.

AT&T? They are dead to me.

So I call SBC, and sign up with long distance with them. I apologize for ever straying. I ask how long it will be, and they say, right away! Tomorrow at the latest! We hang up, both glowing at the prospect of serving one another, and speaking of serving one another she sends me off to the Third Party boudoir, where we have a quick session of Verification that leaves us both gasping.

Two days later: No Long Distance.

In fact, there is a recording telling me to call AT&T to troubleshoot when I try to make a call.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Isn't this GREAT?!?

So now we're to the present again. I call SBC, and -


- they have no memory of me or that I have ever called before.

Ha! Ha! Ha! Ladies and gentlemen, it JUST.... KEEPS... COMING!

And I thought I had instructed the last SBC person to take a quick polaroid shot of their screen and write in the margins, "THIS MAN ORDERED LONG DISTANCE FROM US" to re-orient them after their next blackout! Silly me! I should have requested the reverse tattoo on their stomach so they could read it in the mirror!

So now the new SBC person apologizes, but she will put the order through again. And when she is done, before I am sent off for my tryst with Third Party, she reads her script, listing other things I might like to buy from them, and would I indicate on a scale of 1 to 5 my experience with SBC?

Amazing! They anally violate you and then when they are done they ask you to rate the experience!

Posted by Chris on 12/16/03

My Illicit Affair with the Third Party Verifier pt. 1

That Fifth Customer experience! It just keeps going on like a story that won't quit! It rolls on like an unstoppable juggernaut! It won't stop! It's like a bad party guest, or a sitcom that's jumped the shark! IT JUST.... WON'T... STOP!

As you recall, when we left off, I had just been notified by SBC that I was about to be cut off because of my unpaid bill. This after logging some 1700 man-hours on the phone with them to straighten it out.

I constantly fantasize about just not having any home phone at all, since it only causes me pain. In my home the phone is the telemarketer's direct interface to my Last Nerve, so I often wonder: why not just have the cell phone? The one that gets no service in your apartemnt? But when presented with the possibility that someone else cut me off, I fly into a rage and set off to do battle again. I have my homemade lance, my garbage can lid shield, my sauce pot helmet, and I'm ready to kick some windmill ass.

So I get on the phone again from work. I call SBC, and true to form, there is absolutely no memory of my previous calls. No entry in the database. No record of the entire trauma. We're at Square One, people. It's like dealing with the guy from "Memento" when you call SBC. EVERY DAY IS A BRAND NEW DAY!

So I'm talking to Pamela from SBC, and through clenched teeth I relate the saga to her. Imagine the scene in "Return of the Jedi" when C-3P0 tells the Ewoks the story of the first two movies, but imagine instead of C3P0 it's Sam Kinison.

Now, getting SBC to talk to AT&T - or vice versa - is slightly more complicated than getting Israel to recognize Palestine. They both officially deny the existence of the other one. Their method is to refer you to the customer service of the Other Company. But Pamela picks up on the seething right away, and it takes only a minor bit of cajoling to get her to make the call to AT&T.

This time when we connect to AT&T, Patel (I assume that was his name), perhaps being a trainee, does not insist that SBC drop off. So I get the rare treat of sitting back and letting the two titans go at one another.

Friends, it was like a tale out of mythology. I was Jason, and I had somehow tricked the Kraken into fighting the Cyclops. They spotted one another, and proceeded to make war on one another in jerky stop-motion.

And it was an epic battle to behold. I was grinning from ear to ear the whole time. I had done it. I deserved a medal! I had been the Human Ping Pong ball in their game of Provider Table Tennis for weeks, I had been forced to destroy the handset on one of my phones out of pure rage, but now someone was going to get their ass chewed off, and not by me. I turned on the speaker phone and enjoyed myself.

Sweet victory: The moment when SBC Lady Pamela said to AT&T Man Patel "Well, the charge didn't come from US - and YOU don't even know what it's about?" It was like a well-timed joke at the end of a very long and tense film. That was the moment when it was official: It was Their Fault.

So AT&T put SBC and I on hold. Amusingly, after five minutes Pamela the SBC Lady has had ENOUGH, and she hangs up on him. She says they will "recourse" the amount back to AT&T. Which means that if they want the money, they can come after it themselves. Fine with me! Jason can handle one Titan at a time!

Now everything will be fixed, long distance restored, and this will all be just a humorus blog anecdote!


Posted by Chris on 12/16/03

December 15, 2003

Online comics

These are the ones that I go to every day:

And these are the ones I go to every week to catch up:

And this one is on a trial basis until I decide if I like it:

Posted by Chris on 12/15/03

December 14, 2003

Best Cat... EVER

A few months ago, our pet cat Eartha got very sick and we had to have her put to sleep. It started when I was in London, and when I got back we went straight to the animal hospital. We thought she was getting better for a few weeks, and then she wasn't, and then she really wasn't, so we made the hard choice.

I wrote something very long about it, decided this wasn't the place for it, rewrote it some more, and still decided it wasn't the place.

Suffice to say: She was the best cat... EVER.

Posted by Chris on 12/14/03

Reviews: A movie, and some TV shows

24, Seasons 1 & 2:

We've just finished Season 2 on DVD. I'm very glad that we discovered these on DVD, not on broadcast, for the reason that we got to watch them when we wanted to, without commercial interruption. I'm also not sure if Fox is as bad as NBC about showing reruns early in a "season" to spread it out, but I didn't want to find out with such a suspenseful show.

Both seasons were great - we were consistently on the edge of our seat, and sometimes had to watch two in a row. Standouts were not just Sutherland but Penny Johnson Jerald as First Lady Macbeth. TIVO was introduced to my home too late to start grabbing Season 3, but I'm not sure I would have anyway. DVDS are the way to go with this series. God bless Netflix.

I see now what my friends were talking about when they said Kimberly Bauer was a useless character in pointless plotlines in this season. But come on - the show clearly knows that some people are tuning in to see Elisha Cuthbert.

Battlestar Galactica

At least the first episode. Sorry, I've missed the other ones. I had low expectations of this show and initially felt I was justified when there was so much kiss-kiss in the first hour and very little bang-bang. They were clearly very influenced by "Species" and "Terminator 3," using "Number 6" Tricia Helfer for all they were worth. But I felt it quickly picked up in the second half hour, and I was very impressed with the effects. Great new Cylons! Great Cylon ships! Great space battles!

Sidenote: The new thing in sci-fi space battles seems to be the quick-zoom-in to some bit of action that gives the impression that the footage was shot under the stress of battle - perhaps handheld. I've seen it in "Episode II" and now here. If it goes no farther, I'll be happy,

Posted by Chris on 12/14/03

December 12, 2003

A Version Control Database for Sagas

I heard a rumor that George Lucas may take another pass at Star Wars (the original 3) after Episode III is finished. I hear Han Solo may get to shoot Greedo first again, yay, and in particular, he may insert Hayden Christiansen in the Return of the Jedi scene where Vader is unmasked.

They're his movies, so he can do what he wants, I just wish someone would create a versioning control system for the movies, for those of us who want to see the movies and remember them the way they were before Lucas went insane with revisionism.

Everything he does points to the fact that he sees this story not as six individual movies but as one long saga. Maybe his filmmaker friends should point out to him that there's already an established method for working in the long form - it's called a MINI SERIES.

Posted by Chris on 12/12/03

Blame for everyone

"The Republicans are hijacking elections and redistricting the country and looting the Treasury and ignoring the Constitution and embittering our allies, while the Democrats are — let's see, fumbling their way through an incoherent primary season and freaking out over Al Gore's endorsement of Howard Dean."


Thanks to FattyFat for the story.

Posted by Chris on 12/12/03

December 11, 2003

Not interested

I was talking to my friend last night, and I asked her what she thought about the topic below, the Iraq contracts. I mentioned all my salient points, i.e., what our mission should be as opposed to what it was, Halliburton, etc. She was quiet. Then:

FRIEND: Yeah, I'm not really interested in that. Nope. No interest.

I'd heard this before. It's not that she was offended, or vehemently disagreed. She was just honestly... not interested. I think we agreed that in theory this was something of import, but... she had no interest.

To say my friend is unengaged would be putting it mildly. If you stray outside her realm of knowledge, then she puts up her mental WE'RE CLOSED sign, and won't even attempt to listen. And she's absurdly proud of it.

For someone who I think is basically smart, she has less intellectual curiosity than I have ever seen.

She especially likes that when it comes to voting, her opinion matters just as much as mine, even though on most issues she is Not Interested.

On election day she will vote for whoever gives her a warm feeling in her tummy - and that will be it.

Posted by Chris on 12/11/03

How things work

I'm reading the story about our government excluding any nation that was not amongst the Willing from bidding on contracts for reconstruction of Iraq, and I'm thinking:

How can it be that even in the face of the glaring inpropriety of HALLIBURTON being awarded rebuilding contracts, or for that matter having ANYTHING to do with it, when our administration could at least put forth the APPEARANCE of fairness by inviting the world in - even just to the bidding process! - they then push ahead with this?

And then turn around ON THE SAME DAY and ask those SAME excluded countries for donations and debt-forgiveness for Iraq?

Do they not care that their greed and arrogance is THIS GLARINGLY OBVIOUS and GALLING and PETTY and did I mention ARROGANT*?

The only reason to exclude Russia, France, Germany, Canada, and others from sharing the responsibility - and inevitable rewards - of rebuilding that country is because our administration never saw it as a responsibility anyway. They only saw the profit to be made. The fact that they are now hovering over the country like a pile of loot is because that is how they see it - the spoils of war.

Perhaps it would be more convenient if the country of Iraq were round, like a pie-chart? That way it could more easily be divided up into portions for those that were smart enough to get in on the ground floor of this investment.

CODA: Can I point out that one very good reason to let the WHOLE WORLD help in rebuilding this hell-hole, is that then it will not be EXCLUSIVELY OUR FAULT when it turns into the venue for the next Eternal Battle? I mean, give it a few years, and we've got everything set up for another Israel v. Palestine!

*What frightens me more than the idea that our leaders are profoundly arrogant is the idea that they're NOT. That these are not the acts of people shameless about their greed, but the acts of people who have a Grand Black and White Vision of the world that includes Us and Them. Our Way, and the Highway. The Willing, and the Excluded. With no gray area in between.

Posted by Chris on 12/11/03

A VBscript black hole

I wrote a VBscript to save some time on my daily tasks awhile back. It takes dozens of server logs in the form of text files, parses through the gobbledy and spits out just the lines I want in just the way I want them. Then I cut and and paste into an Excel sheet, and then I copy and paste that into emails to send people.

But it still takes a while, so the other day I decided to try to also script the part from text file to Excel sheet.

But instead of writing a script to do this, I must have written one to dilate time, because when I looked up it was seven hours later. The same thing happened the next day.

Posted by Chris on 12/11/03

I broke my website

... in order to make it stronger.

I'm still doing things by hand, and I for some reason like the mindless effort of changing the precious directory structure to something more to my liking, and only then dealing with all the broken links. I consolidated some stuff yesterday, and added some movie stills, and then spent the rest of the day playing the Human Spider, crawling through and fixing what I'd broken.

But I see my method of featuring different sections on the front page depending on what's new does not agree with Safari over on Mac. And IE over on Mac can't find my logo. Something about relative links.

Yep, I've broken everything.

Posted by Chris on 12/11/03

December 8, 2003

Five Customer Experiences: 5 (continued)

SBC vs. AT&T

When I left off last time, the phone people were playing Customer Hot Potato with me, and SBC had just handed me off, steaming, to AT&T. So now I'm in the hands of the man I come to know as Dinesh, and he has some trouble at first calling up the record I'm talking about. Once I make it clear that I see a charge for $235.17, he immediately begins apologizing for it, but I realize later - in Part II of this - that he never actually spotted the charge. Dinesh only knows that I am an irate American, and he should begin apologizing. He sees that I am signed up for their 7 cents / minute thing, and there is no way that I should have been charged such an amount. This is an OUTRAGE, he actually says, and you should never EVER have been charged such an amount!

What I don't tell Dinesh, because A) it really will only confuse him and add hours to the call, and B) it really shouldn't matter, is that at the time of the Big Call I was NOT signed up with their 7 cents / minute plan. I was in fact with NO plan at the time of the call. I was planless. Sans Plan. A Man Without a Plan.

Perhaps I should have told him, but it seemed to make little difference; I mean, just because I'm not with the 7 cents / minute thing, it doesn't mean I'm with the $1.10 / minute plan by default, does it?

So Dinesh proceeds to correct the problem, and in order to do so, he is going to forward me through to an automated system to verify some things. Right? LIES. What I find out later is that Dinesh did not see the charge at all, and didn't so much correct the problem as put me through to the application process for the 7 cent / minute plan again.

I guess it's the India Help Desk equivalent of "just reboot your computer."

So now I'm with a fully automated voice system, and we're through the looking glass. This is the Third Party Verification stage, where an impartial other entity verifies that I am not being slammed. (At least not in the way they know the term.)

It's a female American voice that pauses in its questions to let Dinesh's male Indian voice fill in my name. Only it's not my name, it's my FIRST name and my wife's SURNAME, because remember the phone is in her name, and I corrected this once, but... oh, who cares. The automated system wants me to SPEAK my responses, not use the keypad. And Dinesh had warned me in a VERY serious tone from his script: Do NOT ask any questions of the autmoated machine, it is not going to answer any of your questions. So ultimately I feel like an automated robot as well. Sigh.

So I drop out of the end of this thing, and am suddenly onto... Bill! And apparently square one. Because Bill is just as confused as I am about how I got to him and why. I'm not only confused, I've been on for an hour, and I'm considering just paying the charge if that will set me free from customer service. I give him the Brief History of Customer Experience Five.

But Bill is an American, and like Americans, asks TOO MANY QUESTIONS. He's not satisfied that this thing has been fixed. No, it's fine! I assure him, perhaps too cheerily. He pokes around in my account and sees a charge for $68 or so that nothing has been done about. Me, I'm all to aware that I may have gotten this whole thing wrapped up only because I left out certain details, and only want to end the call. $68 sounds fair to me! I say. I mean, that's down from $235! Brilliant! I just want to go.

But Bill is having none of it. And right away he picks up on the fact that I wasn't with 7 cents / minute at the time of the Big Call. As I mentioned earlier, this shouldn't have really been an issue, but Bill didn't like it. He also sort of chastised me for the length of the call!

But I extricate myself from Bill, saying, I'm sure you guys have solved it, thank you, goodbye, thanks for your help, thank you.

And then a week later I get the disconnection notice from SBC. More later.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 8/03

Limbaugh / Starr Deep Sea Fishing Charters

Investigators raid the offices of Rush Limbaugh's doctors - and Limbaugh denies wrongdoing and accuses prosecutors of going on a "fishing expedition."

Yes, he said "fishing expedition." And we should believe him, because Limbaugh KNOWS fishing expeditions. How could he not, having been invited along for YEARS on Ken Starr's uber-super-deluxe-mega $70 million fishing expedition, with the yacht and the assistants there to hold your reel, and the press corps there to chum the waters and above all throwing out sticks of dynamite to bring up the big fish.

I am sometimes of two minds when I hear comments like this. On one hand I have the obvious reaction, but on the other hand I marvel at someone being able to be completely oblivious to irony.

I admire him in the same way that I admire the cockroach. Its ability to ignore its own loathesomeness in order to survive is incredible.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 8/03

December 5, 2003

Five Customer Experiences: 5

SBC vs. AT&T

I mentioned below that in dealing with the telecom companies, I start off pretty much steamed before I even get to the human voice. Partly that's because they make you work so hard to get to the human, but mainly it's that I feel good and well screwed whenever I'm dealing with them, no matter what it is. I need their service; and they don't much need me. They can pretty much do whatever they want, and have the shittiest customer service around, and there's not much I can do about it. So I start out anxious and irritated and pissed.

A while back, during the period when I had no long distance provider, we were using long distance cards. Invariably I was stuck wanting to make a call without one of those cards, so I used a 10-10 number. It was a call to a friend I rarely talk to, and when we DO talk, it's always a three-hour conversation catching up and talking about how we'll run things when WE'RE making the movies and why "Batman" sucked but only we seem to realize it.

So I made one of these three hour calls using a 10-10 number, and a month or so later I get the bill. $235.17!

At first I thought, CRAP! I really shouldn't have talked that long using 10-10. I was on for around 212 minutes! What was I thinking? And then I realized. Hey - that's over a dollar a minute. That can't be right.

So I call SBC from work the next day, so I can catch them during business hours. It's an AT&T charge, but it's on the SBC bill, so I started with them, I don't know why. I enter the voice mail forest that protects their customer service people. I always jot down the sequence of numbers I have to put in to weave through the branching options, like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs. Not that it ever does any good for the next call. But right away there's confusion, because the phone is in Ami's name (so that she can get all the junk mail), and they want her social security number, which I do not know. So I hit zero to get to a human, which I should have done to start with.

Now I'm with Tameka. Tameka sees the charge but can't help me because it's from AT&T. She wants me to call THEM, but to my credit, I persist. Because I sense that a game of Customer Ping Pong is about to start between SBC and AT&T, with each of the disavowing knowledge of one another, and batting me back and forth between each other. Oh how right I am.

To my surprise Tameka agrees to call AT&T on my behalf. We wait on hold together for twenty minutes, her checking in every five minutes. And then Dinesh comes on. (I only assume that was his name.) Dinesh knows the language but not which syllables to place the emphasis on. He also won't tolerate a conference call, not sure why, so Tameka has to drop off. Farewell, Tameka, my unlikely ally.

Wait - I have to go. Finish this later.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 5/03

December 3, 2003


The Missing

Scary cowboy fun, and the creepiest villain for a long time. Again with Blanchett being brutalized! Cut it out, people! We came home and watched "Open Range," so it was a day of Westerns. I could never have made it in this period because of the toilet paper issue alone. I thought Ebert was unfair to this one.

Matrix: Revolutions

On second thought this gets a B-. I think I was grading on a curve just to show I wasn't a crab. Great effects but if you can't finish the conversation, don't start it.

Lies & The Lying Liars Who Tell Them

What can you say? It feels like being vindicated when you read what's in here. It feels like you aligned yourself with the smarter, righter, of the factions in the country right now. It feels like sharp stuff that will completely go over the heads of those that are targeted in the book, because they are so greedy and evil that their sense of humor has been stunted.

The Things They Carried

Scary Vietnam fun, and the creepiest villains for a long time. Just kidding. I enjoyed it, and would recommend it along with Roger Hayes' On Point as a good look at what they went through on the ground.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 3/03

Removed for noncompliance:

My Links of Interest:

This Modern World Blog
It's Not Your Fault
Fatty Fatty Fat Fat

Because they cramped my left frame. And I'm doing the tiniest of refreshes here, and I'm still stuck on the frame thing.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 3/03

Five Customer Experiences: 4

Speakeasy - my DSL provider

There's a strange block I have with troubleshooting my own computer problems at home. I do it so much at work, you'd think I could have everything in ship-shape. But still XP refuses to talk to OS X.1 or even W2K, and there's this weird period of internet slow-down to stop at around 10PM.

So I called Speakeasy. On the first call I chose to hide the fact that I had a router, because I have this theory that if you provide a lazy troubleshooter with a patsy, they'll take it. It's what my doctor does when I have allergy complaints. If I tell them there's a cat in the picture, then that's the end of the matter as far as they are concerned, and they will hear no more. I'm not saying that the cat didn't aggravate the condition, God rest her soul, but I've had this all my life and dammit, there's more to it. Anyway, I wanted to troubleshoot this thing component by component myself, and I was casting a stern glance at that DSL modem. So I spoke only of it on the call.

And all I accomplished was reaffirming my IP settings, because the LAN light was not lit on the modem when I bypassed the router. OK, check, the IP settings are fine, now I bet I have a problem with my NIC. But wait - that doesn't make sense. Because I usually have a connection!

So since I'm too embarassed to admit to the tech that I lied and DO have a router, I called again to get a new guy. I speak only the truth to him, that I am honestly trying to troubleshoot my own LAN before pointing the Finger of Blame at the provider. This tech finds this to be sound and points out that I may not be using a crossover cable when bypassing my router. Dammit, I wasn't.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 3/03

Five Customer Experiences: 3


I bought the box, I hooked it up, talked on the phone for a bit to the DirecTV lady, and it was working before I hung up. It couldn't have been easier.

It's not only a cool product, it was just super easy to deal with. They even were able to backtrack from a mistake I'd made (Your access card is tied not to your account, but your box - I think - and I'd assumed otherwise.)

And even now, as I type this, TIVO is at home, thinking about things I might like to watch, and recording them for me. It's a FANTASTIC PRODUCT. I don't think I'm a big TV person - there's really only a few shows I like to keep up with - but it's changed my habits at home: I don't surf endlessly, I just enjoy the stockpile of Futurama and Brak and Sealab 2021.

Of course, I've chosen to have someone come by to add the additional line from disk to receiver into my home, rather than me do it myself - and I suspect that will tarnish this experience somewhat.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 3/03

Five Customer Experiences: 2


A while back, we decided to just do away with our long-distance provider, since we are mainly cell phone people now. We figured we'd just have a $10 long distance card* near the phone for those rare calls.

After a while, this became lame, so we decided to get back with the long distance people. I went with AT&T's 7 cents a minute plan. I loathe dealing with AT&T, as they are second only to the government in Cumbersome Decentralized Bureacracy. No one knows anyone else inside these organizations, and they get bonuses for bouncing you around their internal systems. I have to admit that I start one of these transactions with my teeth actually clenched. And by the time I get to a human I'm punching the buttons on the phone a bit too hard, and speaking clearly and slowly, trying not to let my anger show. I just can't believe it has to be that hard and that bad. But if you want the long distance, what are you going to do?

I wanted to sign up online, so I started at their page one, found the subdirectory, and started in on the form. They asked me to fill in the email contact address, and I reluctantly gave them my primary, not my junk email address.

Then on the very next page it said that this could not be done online, that I had to call an 800 number and set it up. What the...?

My irritation at finding out this was not a transaction that could be handled online (after being assured that it was), was exceeded only by my irritation at being told this only AFTER I had entered in a bunch of information. I HATE repeating myself in a customer service situation.

So then I get online, and the voice mail computer asks me to enter my phone number. I do this, and then when I finally get to a human (Rajesh, I believe), he asks for it again. AGAIN WITH THE REPEATING! I hate that!

And then I find out it will take weeks and weeks for this to take effect!

Someone needs to do for telecom customer service what Saturn did for car-buying. It just does NOT have to be this hard. I know a big company has many departments, but if I could deal with ONE SOMEONE who had access to all the information and would take responsibility for the transaction, leaving off the scripts they have to read, I'd pay extra.

*And that reminds me, that's ANOTHER customer experience I forgot about. The last time I got a long distance card, I brought it to the 7-11 counter, and she looked at me as if I'd asked to buy a piece of 11-dimensional Superstring. Once more, I'd struck someone dumb. She'd never handled activating one of the cards. I don't mind waiting while a trainee gets something right, but don't give ME the blank stare. Sometimes the only thing that makes it a good day is if I have not inspired a blank stare from someone.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 3/03

Five Customer Experiences: 1


Two of my biggest vices are NEW SHINY DISKS and NEW BOOKS. When I get in the car to go shopping, Barnes & Noble and Borders high-five each other because they know how it will turn out. When I go online, Amazon puffs on its cigar, because it knows where I'll end up.

So I try to go to the library to just borrow books, rather than buy them and bring more and more into my already stuffed house. But the Harold Washington library defies me.

I'm not taking a stand against the Dewey Decimal System here. I'm just suggesting to the Harold Washington Library that maybe I shouldn't be responsible for every internal code and acronym they can throw my way. You go into the library, you go up the sixteen or so escalators to get somewhere, all the time choking on the bumstench, and you try to wind up near a terminal because that's where it's at.

So my taste is for Studs Terkel's Working, because I just saw him in person a several weeks ago, and how great was that, so I key it in.

Now, I got no problem with the online catalog. It's no Google, but the fact that I can use it online is nice. But when I get my printout, it says things like:

HD8072.T4 - Not Checked Out

HD8072.T4 - Not Checked Out

OK - I'm a college graduate, so I get that HWLC is the Harold Washington. But how do I get from my personal position next to the terminal on floor 4 to these strange coordinates BSTREF / HD8072.T4?

Well, you probably do the Harold all the time, and know that BSTREF basically means Business Science Technology. Now all I have to do is check a map somewhere, or Ask the Librarian (the unsmiling moth-people behind the desks that have emerged from the larval stage of Myopic Books employee) for directions to the Business Science Technology floor. Great. They love knowing and you not knowing.

So now I'm on that floor. And which way do I turn off the escalator to get to HD8072.T4 country?

People, I'm not breakin' bad on Dewey here. I'm pointing the finger at Harold. I'm just saying, rather than telling me

HD8072.T4 - Not Checked Out

why not at least something like

HWLC - BSTOPN - (5th Floor)
HD8072.T4 - Not Checked Out

so that I don't have to remember your internal section codes, HWLC? And then when I get to the fifth floor, how about some signage giving me the ranges of call numbers with big friendly arrows? And where the hell is the OPN book section in relation to the REFs? And why are you telling me the REF is Not Checked Out if it's indeed a reference book? REF probably means I don't get to take it away, but can instead peruse the pages right there while gagging on bumstink.

By the way - I never found "Working" by Studs Terkel, a book you would think would almost be thrust in your hands the minute you came into the main branch of the Chicago library system. The book was officially Not Checked Out, but was actually in limbo between Shelf and Cart somewhere.

It feels like in the year 2003 we might be able to lay our hands on a book in a library; it feels like it might be time for libraries to recognize that there are more states of being for a book besides Checked Out and Not Checked Out.

Posted by Chris on 12/ 3/03