31 July 2008

The Torture Never Stops

This update's title shamelessly grabbed from a good (if NWS) FZ tune.
I called about TV delivery this morning. Of course, they can't deliver it today, even though it's in Baltimore - all of their trucks are out for the day. The woman at, uhm, Chesapeake Logistics? tells me that she can do tomorrow, and if not tomorrow afternoon, then NEXT SATURDAY.
I'm picking up Francesca tomorrow morning, and hopefully we'll be back in time for these guys to make the swap, but if not, yet another week until I have my television back.
God must really want me to appreciate this television.
Call me Tele-Job 2008, I suppose.

29 July 2008

Feel My Antici ... pation (A Television Update!)

Even glaciers eventually break off into the sea, and the metaphorical iceberg I've been tracking gets closer to me every day. My replacement TV is in the hands of Pilot Air, in the process of being transferred to a local delivery company to complete the last mile haul to my house. Supposedly they will call me tomorrow to discuss delivery options.
Right, call me tomorrow. I've heard that one plenty during this whole ordeal.
I've seen mountains rise and erode faster than this issue has slowly worn itself down to the bedrock of resolution, and instead of FedExing me a TV with instructions to re-pack the broken model for return, they work through this song and dance with hitherto unknown to me Pilot Air, and a "local" delivery company, whoever that turns out to be. Do they dump the thing at WashCo Regional and call a Turner's Taxi to come pick it up?
I've handled my share of broken monitors in my days in IT, and this is nothing more than a large monitor with some extra guts for TV tuning inside, so my frustration is like salt dissolved in the waters of effort crashing against the slowly eroding mountain/cliffs of my broken television. Bitter, bitter salt of frustration.
This metaphor is working particularly well.
I mailed my letter posted here previously to Phillips / Magnavox a few days ago. If it is read at all, I hope they realize what a cock-up their support and replacement groups are. I'm still baffled that the online support is a fancy AI bot that intelligently tells you to try unplugging the thing, and that there is no option to e-mail a support rep. Really? It's so 1997.
I read recently where Comcast (I think I read this on slashdot) is reading "blogs" (their word) to find user complaints, and then acting on them. In my dreams Phillips Magnavox would find this series of posts.
Of course, that would require them to have some sort of savvy when it comes to the Internet. and much like rocks that in their stubbornness are worn down to sand (oh yeah), Phillips Magnavox doesn't have so much as an e-mail address for support.

Anyone Out There Do What I Do?

I recently realized that more people are reading than I realized (sweet). So, all you lurkers out there, if you're in the Web business like I am, or know someone who is, have them complete this survey:
I took it. Plus, if you don't know about this site and you do Web, check it out. It's a good resource, and has helped me out more than once.
That's it for now. Thanks for reading!

Oh! p.s. Francesca comes home this week. Thank God.

28 July 2008

Saturday Night Rappaport: Everything Klicked

Anyone who knows me well knows that I'm a bad Marylander: I've never been a fan of crab. Old Bay, yes. Mr. Boh, yes. our crustacean friends from the bay? Not so much (this is important later).
Saturday evening brought the promise of a sumptuous feast bracketed with competition both physical and strategic. Like mighty Ulysses himself I first had to best winding travels and powerful storms to arrive at my destination (it stormed so hard on my way to Chateau Rappaport that I had to stop on the road and wait for the hail/rain/wind to subside). Ol' Sol had returned by the time I pulled into the long and winding drive way, descending into cellular no-man's-land (this is not important later).
The dozen or so of us now assembled in the house soon migrated out of doors to the volleyball court, where Jason had expertly painted lines. So, we knew if the ball was in or not, but we didn't really bother keeping score, though I know my team won.
After maybe an hour of that fun Brian and Caroline, team Klick, manned the kitchen to put together the promised feast. I helped by remembering the number "3". I have no idea why I was meant to remember it, but I did make sure to remind Brian of "3" repeatedly. When the flurry of activity ceased and the dust cleared, we found ourselves at table with an amazing array of cuisine arrayed before us: marinated tuna steak, crab cakes (wait for it), sweet potato surprise, green bean casserole, mixed greens salad with dressing, and of course, rolls.
The tuna steak was fantastic. Brian's opinion was that it was too marinated, but I often find my taste buds weary of tuna by the time I finish a whole steak. Not so - just enough tuna goodness made it through the marinade to make this a delicious anchor for the plate.
Contrasting the marinade was the sweet potato surprise, a/k/a Sienna Sugar Shock. This would have easily served as the dessert for the evening (a role filled quite expertly by carrot cake), as it was sweet and buttery and delicious. The expected walnuts on top rounded out this dish. I usually prefer sweet for my final course, but again, this contrast was delicious and helpful in framing the other savory flavors offered.
The green bean casserole was standard fare, but that does not mean it was sub-par. Cream of mushroom, onions, cheese, and of course green beans are a tangy taste treat that tantalizes taste buds, truly. Yin to the sweet potato surprise yang, this veggie dish made mouths happy.
Oft given a passing glance when such rich fare is beheld, the mixed greens tossed salad is still worth a sentence or two in this, uhm, review. I couldn't quite nail down the dressing, but to be honest my taste buds were working overtime. It was delicious. The greens were crisp and colorful, and even though I normally prefer some more vegetables mixed in to my salad, this eclectic arrangement was a fine addition to the meal.
The bread was good, too, though in fairness I wisely held it to last to make sure I had room for everything else on my plate. At the end of the meal I was riding a wave a satiety and sugar.
I think that just about covers the meal.
What? I forgot somethi...? Oh, right.
Every few years I make it a point to try crab, at least in cake or dip form. As a lifelong resident of the Old Line State, I consider it my duty. Something about the flavor just never appealed to me. I mean, I could eat some crab dip and enjoy it if I were really hungry, but it was never something I desired. I want more of those crab cakes. They were delicious! Consider this recipe a gateway to full enjoyment of the noble crab, those of you who are like I am (was).
Jason and Nikki, thank you for hosting another fine evening. Brian and Caroline, thank you for preparing a regal feast.
Closing the evening was a rousing match of Texas Hold'em. I found myself grasping the game a bit more firmly than previous occasions, but after midnight I found my critical judgment impaired by the hour and the far side of some earlier captains & coke. There is a certain thrill to running up a pot knowing that your hand is no good. Next time, maybe I'll break even, though given the amount of fun, food, and (hello McDonald's) friends I experienced, I'm fairly certain I came out ahead.

22 July 2008

Magnavox - Right Below Shipley's on my S-List

This is getting ridiculous. Anyone who's been following this with me knows most of this, but the fine folks at Magnavox's Complaints Department (which I imagine, much like Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, covers the major land masses of several planets) don't, so I'm sending them this letter:

Sir or Madam,

As of this writing, my Magnavox 37" LCD television has been non-functioning for 57 days. The unit ceased functioning Monday, May 26, 2008 - 2 days after the 90-day Manufacturer's Warranty had expired. While my initial phone call was met with indifference, a second phone call wherein I requested that the warranty be honored was more fruitful, and I took the set to Shipley's Television Sales and Repair of 45 Waverly Drive, Frederick, MD 21703, on June 9, 2008.
Shipley's spent two weeks ignoring my television, insisting that since their parts supplier's website was down, they were unable to work on my television. When they finally did examine the television and determined what part was needed, they erroneously informed me that the part would arrive on Monday, July 7, 2008. When I called them on July 8, they informed me of the error, blaming the supplier for supplying false information, and apologizing. This would be the only apology I received from a repair shop who, in the course of losing my custom, informed me that I should not have purchased a Magnavox brand set, that they were of sub-standard quality. This is not a direct quote. Please note when examining my case that Shipley's, though they did not actually effect repairs on my set, but you are still paying them for their time, part of which was spent deriding your brand.
On July 8 Shipley's informed me that the part was back ordered and that I should expect to hear back from them in the next week. In following up myself (Shipley's perhaps returned one phone call of a promised many), I was informed that this mystery part was now on back order until mid-August, and that I needed to contact you, Magnavox, if this was unsatisfactory. Of course it is unsatisfactory. It has been almost 2 full months that I have been without my television!
I contacted your support, you may review my case on your end for these details. It suffices to point out that your support resolution moves on a time table that can only be described as geologic. What should have been resolved in a single phone call instead required a week's time and 3 phone calls with 3 different departments!
And now, now that my replacement set has been approved, I am informed as of last evening that it will still be another 10 to 15 days from Thursday, July 24 (a fourth phone call to obtain a tracking number for the shipped television, and for the phone number of the shipper) before I receive my replacement television.
Can you see the fundamental flaw in this situation? Not only is Shipley's to blame for failing to take ownership of the issue and even act with necessary speed to repair my television, but once they overcame their laziness and made their half-hearted attempt at repairing my television to no success, I find that your support procedures - with which I had been quite pleased in the agreement to repair my television under warranty - have instead been an obstacle and a source of very unnecessary frustration and indignation on my part, never mind the time wasted on the phone with representatives who were willing to only go so far as the letter of the rules, crying that their hands were bound and they were unable to take any action to resolve my issue with any greater speed.
Sir, or madam, I find this to be unacceptable practice in our society. I had been (and hope to be when I have a working unit) pleased with the quality of my television, and the value of the purchase. However, if this is how customers who do experience issues are treated when they come to you seeking assistance with their malfunctioning products, then I am forced to wonder how you are able to stay in business. This insane inability to resolve my single issue with anything less than glacial speed has forced me to reconsider my opinion of the value of my purchase. Short of a miracle of customer care on your part, I shall never purchase another product of either the Magnavox brand again, and I shall have to think long and hard before considering the purchase of a Phillips product as well. I would much rather spend the extra hundreds of dollars for a more expensive set, secure in the knowledge that if my thousand-plus dollars of television breaks three months after my purchase, I will receive prompt resolution to my issue.
I shall be forced to return home to a 57th evening without a functioning primary conduit for news and entertainment in my home, for the next 12-17 days a rather large and inconvenient paperweight.


Sincerely,


Robert C. Murray

19 July 2008

Where is the Batman?

The movie hasn't even been over for an hour. I'm still searching for the proper words to express the raw "wow" I'm feeling presently. Maybe it's the Coca-cola, or the Sour Patch kids, or the fact that it's almost 1:30 am, but I'd like to think it's because the movie was just that damned good.
This isn't a movie for kids, let's just get that out of the way right now. A mature 14 year old could handle it, but a childish 18 year old is going to have nightmares. Yeah, it's that good.
All the reviewers are right, though with due deference to one NPR reviewer who lamented the unending depression woven into the film, all of us in the theater chuckled more than once, though some of those were likely the laughter of the uncomfortable. Heather Ledger lived up to his hype, more than that, even. I was originally worried that he would disappoint, but now I wonder who could step in a follow that performance if Nolan wanted to re-visit the Joker character.
This film had more tension than all the cables on the Bay Bridge. This is not a movie for unwinding and relaxing - it is a movie for up-keying. It had the overall tone of a more depressing The Empire Strikes Back, in that it definitely ended on a down yet hopeful note.
Go see it. It's good for you.

15 July 2008

I Grew a Pickle!

At least, that's what my caffeine-deprived brain thought this morning as I stole a moment on my way to the car to check on the vegetables in the yard. It is, in fact, a small cucumber of a size seeming perfect for pickling. alas, one cucumber does not a jar of kosher dills make.
So the cucumbers, long thought to be lost, are enjoying a resurgence as my sqush plant does this weird trailing thing along the ground. I have eaten of my squash, and shared of my gourdian bounty, and still more grow. The yellow squash are definitely on my grow list for next year.
A pair of green bean harvests and a pair of pea harvests have seen these plants largely vegged-out, though that is not to say that I might not wring one more plate of beans from my weary plants. For the peas I hold out small hope for more picking. Those little guys will get much better direction from me next time.
The black beans, planted from the seeds in the bag bought at the grocery store for eating, are also growing phenomenally. I can almost taste how good they are going to be when I pick them and boil them fresh. I think it might be time for me to figure out how to make tamales.
Peppers are another surprising survivor! All 4 pepper plants have surged above the squash and bean mayhem to spread their leaves in the sun - my Hungarian wax plant has even already produced a delicious pepper!
The bad seeds, e.g. carrots, even bore me some fruit. I have enjoyed a carrot or 2 of my own, and shared the remainder with my parents.
Corn has produced silk and ears and tassels. Thar be corn in them thar stalks! I wonder what popcorn tastes like on the cob?
Flowers slowly peek out from their plants, as I realize I will either have to start seeds myself, or buy them started from elsewhere if I want flowers before July next year.
I presently have 4 species of the mint family growing in the herb garden: peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, and lemon balm.
Chocolate mint has delicious leaves for simply chewing on.

Homo Sinister Temporarily Suspend Plans for World Domination

Cite lack of left-handed scissors

Bangalore - The group of left-handed mutant supermen recently classified by taxonomists as Homo Sinister are temporarily suspending their plans for world domination. The announcement was made from the sub-species global headquarters in one of the less densely populated sections of Bangalore by Lefty Perez, the group's leader.

"We realized that we are suffering from a severe shortage of left-handed scissors, can openers, bolt-action rifles, and -strung guitars. Until we can heal the crushed orbital bones and amass the appropriate office, kitchen and entertainment supplies, we are leaving the world in the incapable hands of the, uhm, wrong-handed dexterous majority," Perez stated. He further indicated that "once we have the ability to cut paper and open cans in sufficient numbers, the world will undergo a new renaissance of right-minded enlightenment."

Homo Sinister will be acquiring the needed goods through traditional purchasing channels, petty theft, and donations from relatives still trying to figure out just how Uncle Roger worked 'that damned thing'.

"We need those 'damned things' in great numbers," Perez indicated. "How are we to rule if our papers are all cut with rough edges?"

11 July 2008

Jared isn't the only one who gets to have fun with his Macs!

A few months back I had this Mac Mini I wasn't doing anything with, and mom needed a new computer. So I spruced up the Mini and set her up. Ultimately she decided it wasn't for her - she's just TOO ingrained in the PC way to give it a shot. So I got the Mini back.
Whenever I get my TV back (still fighting that battle, readers), we're going to use the Mini for our Media PC. In the mean time, I've been making sure my little box of G4-love (Tiger w/ 500mb RAM) gets used to its full potential.
I had thought to buy an external USB/Print server (wireless) to hook all my external goodies into so I could print and file-manage from the kitchen table if I wanted to, but after checking the prices for that stuff, I started thinking, and remembered that the Mini was already in place, and well suited to the task! I've attached both external USB hard drives to it, and both printers. Time was we had to plug out laptops in to the "master" USB cable I'd set up in the library to gain access to printing/external drives. Well no more, Sally!
The printers are now fully accessible over the LAN, as are the USB drives - that took a little bit of SMB magic on the command line. There's something very zen about working from the command line. Makes you think a little more, because it's not all laid out in front of you like windowed operations. It also gives the poor little mouse a rest.
I almost, -almost- bought a wireless apple keyboard last night at Best Buy when I was pricing out the print servers. Almost. My wallet was already aching from shipping a certain someone's laptop adapter and camera to Hawaii, so I was able to step away from the aluminum goodness.

The Mini is well on its way to being a great little media PC - if I have the guts I might even scrounge up a 1-GB memory chip to stick in it, though getting that little guy open is not for the feint of heart. I might have to seek out an Apple "genius" to do that, mostly because I have no desire to destroy the tough little bugger.
I have to buy an IR receiver for the Apple remote that came with my macbook, to use with the mini, because my first-run mini doesn't have one on the face. Ah well. That will only be $30 or so.

09 July 2008

Fires of Babylon, Part II

Well, no one told me NOT to keep working on this piece, so here's a second installment. I found a few free moments and some caffeine inspiration:

The air hung around him like a damp curtain. With nowhere else to go, the sweat beads on his forehead joined forces and slalomed down between his eyebrows and into his eyes. He blinked, but did not flinch. He couldn't flinch - if he took his eyes off the target for just one moment he'd miss the crucial timing and then the whole thing would go down in flames. When the moment was just right, he clicked his wrist, setting a chain of events into action that would either create victory or humiliating defeat. He saw it in the air for the briefest moment, and only exhaled when the projectile found its target with a sizzle. Sunny side up was for sissies.
Determined that his son would grow up to be a better man than his father, but still a man, Thompson made sure the boy had a good breakfast of eggs over-easy as often as he could. Working as a security consultant meant that he made his own hours, and therefore could make time for a proper breakfast - yolks unbroken.
Ralphie Thompson, 5 years old and still fully worshiping his father, applauded and cheered as Ron slid the buttery perfect egg onto his son's plate. The boy attacked the egg with fork in one hand and toast in the other with the delight of a kid who hasn't had a bite since dinner the night before.
The flame on the gas stove went out with a fip when Ron cut the flow of fuel. He dropped the frying pan into the sink and poured water into it, which steamed up from the still hot metal, adding another layer to the already oppresive humidity in the air.
Pennsylvania, he thought to himself. For some reason, I figured Pennsylvania was a good idea. If I'd remembered the jungle-like Summers around here, we'd have settled down in Arizona. Wiping his brow with the back of his hand, Thompson turned back to his hungry child.
As Ralphie finished his egg, Thompson advised him, "eat your crusts, son. It'll make you into a man."
"Yes, sir," the younger Thompson responded with a 5 year old's precision. Ron smiled to himself, something he still only rarely did, and usually because of his children.
"Daddy?" said a smaller voice closer to the floor.
"Yes, Delia?"
"Hungry," came the reply.
"Use your words, honey," he said.
"Daddy, I hungry," the 3 year old said with startling clarity. Well into his eighth kid-year, Ron Thompson was still startled at the clarity with which his children spoke.
"What would you like, Deely?"
"Daddy, I want eggs."
"Of course you do, honey. Have a seat at the table," he told her as he pulled the frying pan back out of the sink. He stifled a curse when he burned himself wiping the thing off, and the water droplets crackled when the foom of the lit burner boiled them from the outer surface of the frying pan.
Butter sizzled as he cracked an egg into the pan; an egg to be scrambled. He doted over his daughter and knew that she had loved scrambled eggs since she had been able to eat solid food, just like she loved the color blue and hung on every word her father said - which is why she sat there trying to work out the word her father had muttered when wiping out the pan.
"Daddy, what 'goddrrnnn argh' mean?" Again with an unfortunate clarity.
"It means that daddy burned himself; it's something daddys say when they burn themselves," he smiled again, this time pleased with himself for his cleverness. Black Ops had required a certain level of quick thinking, but that was nothing compared to protecting the linguistic innocence of your little girl.
"Okay, daddy. You need me kiss-it-make-it-better?"
"Sure, Deely," he said as she crawled down out of her chair and toddled purposefully over to her father. She kissed his right index finger, smiled, and turned around. He forgot the eggs for the moment and reached down and hoisted her up into the air and gave her a great hug, kissign her on top of her head.
"Thank you, sweetheart."
"Welcome, daddy."
The air smelled of cooked eggs.
"Breakfast is ready," he announced.
Ralphie burped, and the kids giggled.
Ron scraped scrambled eggs onto Delia's little plate and blew on them for her. She did the same with each bite, usually managing to blow on the eggs, sometimes sending them onto the table. She'd pick them up and stuff them into her mouth all the same.
"Ron, honey, you mind making one more plate?" came a sleepy voice from the coffee maker in the corner.
"Good morning, darling," he replied. "Sleep well?"
"mmm, yeah. I love Saturday mornings. Speaking of, you going to tackle that shed project this afternoon?"
"Maybe. I have a meeting with a client at 11 in the city. If I get back in time I'll put some time in on that."
CJ Thompson ground her teeth for a moment. She knew that when her husband had said he'd be able to keep his own hours that it was going to be like this. At least he slept normal hours now.
"Well, that's better than nothing, I suppose," she finally said as she sloshed water into the coffee maker.
Thompson crossed the steamy kitchen in a few quick steps and gathered his wife into his arms, making his morning kiss into a production.
"Ewwwwww!" offered the children.
Their parents laughed.
Ron Thompson felt happy, but a small part of him hummed like an F-1 engine. His life was never this peaceful for long. He only hoped this time that it was something small like a broken AC unit or bad lumber for the shed.

That night, when the phone rang, Ron Thompson knew that the AC unit would last another year, the contract he'd negotiated that morning would be iron-clad, and that the shed would be around for his grandchildren. A phone call at 2 a.m. only meant one thing.

08 July 2008

The 4th on the 5th with the Rapps

This should have been written sooner, but we shifted gears so quickly into "getting Francesca to the airport" mode, that the full extent of just how much fun we had (e.g., enough to write about) has struck me only this morning.
Saturday evening we went to the Rappaport's house way out in the county (Washington) to enjoy food, fun, and uhm, friends...only no McDonald's. Jason and Nikki have a gorgeous house on a downright picturesque spot of land in the northern part of WashCo. It backs up onto the Conococheague (no spell check needed - WashCo represent), and even though it's on the approach to the Airport, it's still quiet and secluded.
The food! Standard (and delicious) burgers and dogs and chips and pasta salads and Francesca's Famous guacamole (made with real guacas) - Jason steamed clams and corn and potatoes in a ground-oven. It smelled like the ocean when he lifted the tarp to haul out the sacks of food. Desserts were equally delicious. Thank God for the volley ball game later that evening, I know I burned some calories chasing and diving for the ball in my bare feet.
So a big "thanks!" to the Rappaports for a great time Saturday evening. You might say we had an 'explosively' good time!

06 July 2008

I'm putting in for a Suspension Reimbursement

What the hell, New Jersey? It's like they want you to be damned sure you have business in the garden state if you're going to be traveling here. The first 10 miles of I-78 we worse than Route 1 in College Park, or what I imagine certain roads in Afghanistan were like in December of 2001. Or, you know, the SURFACE OF THE MOON. Cratered, I think, is the motif I'm looking for here.
Then we were deceived by some nice asphalt for about 200 yards, and then lowest-bidder mentality took over. I think the contractors must be from PA, because there were seams in the asphalt.
Let that sink in.
That's right, dear readers, instead of the noisy but adaptable PA-familiar "WHIR-THUNK-WHIR-THUNK-WHIR-THUNK", you get "hum-THUNK-hum-THUNK-hum-THUNK".
Disconcerting as hell. I knew PA roads sucked, but I don't remember the Jersey highways being this bad the last few times I was here, not that I spend a lot of time in my Ancestral state.
My other Ancestral state, that is.
So I'm going to petition the governor of NJ to hand over a check for a new suspension and any related damage that might have occurred (thank God I don't have any fillings, or else I'd be making a dental appointment). Or maybe not, because that would require a lot of work, and I'm going to save up my discontent for the fine folks at Shipley's TV Repair of 45 Waverly Drive in Frederick, MD. They aren't expecting to have the part for my poor TV shipped until tomorrow. They likely won't have the part until Friday, because they don't care enough for my custom to request that the part be shipped air, and it takes 5 days to ship ground from CA, where the (back-ordered, did I mention that?) part is coming from.
Today's lesson:
never do business with Shipley's TV Repair of 45 Waverly Drive in Frederick, MD, and if you come to New Jersey, make sure you have your suspension in good working order.

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