A perfect storm

When I got to Boston Tuesday night, the TV weather folks were talking about a probable snowstorm on Thursday. Fortunately, they were wrong; instead, today opened with light rain and above-freezing temperatures, and now they’re predicting a mixture of rain and snow (more snow outside the immediate Boston area) and then clear and cold. At this time of year, that’s not a bad deal.

Restaurant Recommendation

We had dinner at Helmand, an Afghani restaurant in Cambridge. Yummy. Highly recommended! They had traditional and non-traditional dishes (at least, I don’t think swordfish is a traditional Afghani dish), but we all stuck with traditional choices. I went for Murgh Kabob, which was a nicely spiced and marninated chicken dish (but not in bite-sized pieces).

I also enjoyed the wine — a 1998 Pouilly-Fusee (I know I spelled that wrong) White Burgundy.

Greetings from Cambridge, Massachusetts

I’m in Cambridge at the W3C Advisory Committee meeting (imagine a couple of hundred process/policy/standards weenies in one room, most of whom are taking advantage of the good Internet connectivity to do their e-mail or web browsing instead of focusing on the meeting). It’s at the Royal Sonesta hotel, which rose considerably in my estimation yesterday when they had the right kind of room waiting for me when I got here at 10pm, unlike a previous trip, when all they could offer me was an interesting variety of “nonstandard” (that is, horrible) rooms. I did help my odds this time, though, by phoning the hotel before I left home and verifying my reservation and room requirements with the front desk manager!

After unpacking, I wanted a small nosh; the nearby shops were closed, so I was at the hotel’s mercy — which translated to using the minibar for a packet of pretzels. I was appalled but not surprised at the cost ($2.50 for a 25-cent package), but I was offended by the 15% “restocking fee” that the hotel tacked on! Have they no shame?

On the other hand, I was amused by the interesting variety of stuff available in the minibar. Besides the obvious snacks and drinks, they offered a headache kit (aspirins, I guess), an “adult intimacy” kit, and an Ethernet cable. I can’t imagine that they sell all three of those to many visitors!

So far, the weather here has been just gorgeous — I took a brief walk by the river this morning before breakfast, and another one after lunch, and on a day like today, I almost make me wish I lived here. On the other hand, the weather is supposed to change significantly in a few hours and then I’ll remember why I don’t want to live here!

Click for Cambridge, Massachusetts Forecast

Televisions and Telephones — when do we get Teleportation?

I guess I have to admit it — even though we don’t watch much TV, I’m addicted to the idea of having a TV around. So, even though I had to pack last night for a trip today, I decided I wanted to make sure I didn’t leave the rest of the family TV-less while I was gone.

First step: take the old TV in to the service place offering the slow but free estimate so that we can get it fixed if possible. Other than letting me see how much working out at the Y has increased my strength, this wasn’t a problem — but next time, I will accept the proprietor’s offer to help get the TV in from the car!

Second step: do some research on the Web to figure out what to buy as an interim set. This didn’t take too long, either, and I quickly narrowed my choice to the JVC AV20120 and the Sony KV20FV12. The Sony had better reviews and more features, but it cost $150 more, and Diane reminded me that this was an interim set, which we might even donate to charity when we’re done with it, so I reluctantly agreed on the JVC.

Third step: figure out where to buy it. None of the local shops were answering their phones (one claimed they were closed; the other one’s automated attendant worked, but no one on the store floor would pick up the phone), so I couldn’t get prices directly, but I thought I’d comparison-shop the Web and then go out. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Circuit City would let me buy on the Web and pick the set up at the store the same day — this seemed to be a good mix of on-line and off-line technology, since I wouldn’t have to waste time with a salesdroid and I could still install the TV before leaving.

Fourth step: register for the Circuit City site, give them my credit card data, and make the purchase. All easy, until I got to the screen saying “we are finalizing your purchase; this may take 30 seconds or so”. 20 minutes later, I decided to go to the store anyway, figuring that I could always just buy the set as if the Web hadn’t existed.

Fifth step: check at the pickup counter at the store; they did have my order, and the TV was ready. And it was $30 less than the price on the Web site.

When I got home, my session with Circuit City had timed out; I checked my e-mail, and there was a confirmation note about the purchase, dated roughly 30 seconds after I’d pushed the “Buy” button. I guess I should’ve checked e-mail while I was waiting, but I’d call this a successful hybrid e-commerce experience anyway.

So I installed the TV, finished packing, and went to bed, since I had to get up at 5am to make my flight.

At 3:40am, the phone rings. It’s American Airlines. They’ve cancelled my flight due to a mechanical problem (I guess it was the same plane that had to make an emergency landing in San Jose yesterday), and want to know if I can take an earlier flight via Chicago. Or a flight out of San Francisco. I can’t do either of those, so they rebook me on the 1pm nonstop to Boston, and I try to go back to sleep, with limited success.

Eventually, I get up so I can tell the taxi driver not to pick me up early, and while I’m up, I look at American’s web site. They had a flight via Dallas which left only a few minutes later than the one I was originally going to take, and which would have gotten me to Boston two hours earlier than the one I’m now taking. But I was so tired I didn’t call American to get them to put me on that connection; I figured there was some reason they didn’t offer it.

This morning, after I got up again, I took another look at the site; it was too late to take the Dallas connection, but it was, indeed, operating. So I called American customer service (not toll-free, of course) and asked what had happened. They couldn’t explain it, but after talking with several agents, they eventually offered to give me a couple of thousand miles as an apology. This was better than nothing, but I was hoping that they’d give me a gratis upgrade. I may still follow up with a letter and see what happens.

Repairing things — an interesting concept

First, I called the Panasonic help line, who told me that their factory service center in South San Francisco (50 miles away) would be delighted to help me if I brought the set to them. That didn’t seem like a winning strategy, so I called the factory-authorized service shop in San Jose, who said there was a 3- or 4-week wait for an in-home service call — but I could bring it in, pay $40 for an estimate, and they could probably fix it in four to ten days.

That was better, but still not what I was looking for, so I tried a local non-authorized shop I’d used for stereo gear. The answering machine says that they’re still in business, but their hours are “by appointment only”. I left my name, e-mail address, and phone number; I’m still waiting. [Update, 4:35pm: They called back. Their free estimate has a 3-week wait. Hmmm…perhaps a 19-inch set would be a useful addition to the household electronics collection anyway; I can probably donate it to some charity if I find I don’t need it in a month or so.]

So it was off to the Yellow Pages; I picked a relatively close place that’d been in business since we moved to the area. They answered the phone, and said they could have someone out to look at the set (and haul it into the shop, if necessary) tomorrow, or I could save a few bucks and bring it in myself. But they don’t know how long it’ll take to repair the set, and I don’t know what kind of reputation they have (other than being willing to answer the phone!)

I’m not sure what I’m going to do, but it’s good to know that I don’t have to throw away the old set yet.

Pop! Click, Click, Click…sniff…smoke?

This evening, we were watching The Naked Gun — suddenly, there was a pop, and the picture vanished from the TV. Then it started making a clicking noise, which I couldn’t stop with the TV’s power button. I made a joke about the smoke coming out of the set, and then we realized that it wasn’t a joke — we could smell smoke. So I did what I should’ve done right away and unplugged the TV — that stopped the clicking, and the smoke stopped, too.

I guess we really are in the market for a new TV after all. Remind me not to joke about cars or houses!