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!

Northern Lights?

[Update, 10:21pm PST…it doesn’t look like auroral activity is likely this far south, and it’s somewhat foggy outside anyway.]

Flu shots?

Al’s on a crusade to encourage all of us to go get
our flu shots. I became a believer two years ago, when Diane got a flu shot and I didn’t; sure enough, I spent a miserable week or so down with the flu, and she wasn’t affected at all. I’m just waiting for the vaccine to be available at work; they’ve postponed the immunization campaign to let high-risk people get it first.

It’s so easy to find useless information department

Jeffrey asked me when Rex Morgan, M. D. started, and thanks to the Web and Google, it took me less than a minute to answer his question (if I hadn’t had to wake up the computer, it would’ve been even faster). I’m still amazed how much trivia is available on the Web.

Second Thanksgiving

But once a year, the Havurah (group of friends) to which we belong flies in the face of this feature; instead, we add a day to our Thanksgiving celebration. That day, of course, is today, and so we’ll be working on our leftover supply, while playing games and chatting. It’s a far better way to celebrate than fighting the crowds at the mall!

Then later this evening, we’ll go to shul for brief Shabbat services followed by a musical evening with the New Orleans Klezmer AllStars, who will be playing at Klezmer Mania tomorrow at Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley. Apparently, there’s a family connection between one of the AllStars and a member of Shir Hadash, so we get a free concert.

I am thankful….

…for friends and family, near and far.

…for good health.

…that I enjoy my work.

…that people find what I write interesting enough to visit here more
than once.

…that the Web is a two-way street, so I can read your interesting

…I don’t have a bet on the election.

…that I’m not travelling over the holiday.

…that I don’t have to put up Christmas lights!

Gopher was a turkey

Today, Al points out the Gopher Manifesto, which calls for people to move away from the advertisement- and graphic-laden Web and back to the pure text simplicity of Gopher.

I remember Gopher; Gopher was very good to me, in fact. When I decided I needed to learn C programming on OS/2, I thought that a Gopher client for OS/2 would be an interesting project. That was probably the best single career decision I ever made, since it put me on the leading edge of the Internet community inside IBM, and that’s been an excellent place to be.

But the Web flattened Gopher — and it wasn’t just because of ads and eye candy. The Gopher Manifesto itself shows the basic problem with Gopher — namely, you can’t link from one Gopher document to another; only menus can have links. So the Gopher Manifesto has a long list of other pages to visit — but they’re not live links; instead, you have to manually enter them into your browser (or use cut and paste), and that, my friends, is too much work.

Gopher had some other problems (the University of Minnesota got greedy, for one thing), but basically, once people saw the value of hyperlinking within documents, it was doomed.


We just finished Thanksgiving dinner; it was a simple affair, with turkey (the carving lessons on Tuesday helped), squash, carrots, rice, bread, stuffing, Coke salad, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and made-on-the-spot whipped cream. This year, I used the pecan pie recipe from the Karo Syrup label (some years, I go with a recipe from one of the Joy of Cooking editions I have), and it came out pretty well; the Nancy’s frozen pie crust was far better than the ones I’ve used in the past, though the crust is not the main attraction in pecan pie.

After eating, we watched some edited videos of Thanksgiving 1992 (boy, the kids looked small then!), and played a few rounds of Before I Kill You, Mr. Bond. And now it’s time to finish the cleanup and put the garbage out for tomorrow’s pickup.

Dave strikes again!

I can always tell when Scripting News links to me in the text of Dave’s log — my Site Meter referrals report is suddenly filled with visitors from Scripting News.

Report from the Probability Seminar

Last night, I went to the Shir Hadash Men’s Club meeting. The main topic was a demonstration of the right way to carve a turkey (Diane’s comment when she saw that in the temple e-mail: “At last, a useful program at Men’s Club!”), but after that, we had an informal seminar in applied probability. I almost left the seminar with a failing grade, but the last hand made up for the rest of the evening, and I finished with a 13% profit on my admission fee — or to put it differently, I won a full forty cents. If only the stock market were as kind!

Food Safety Department

The pecan pie is done; I think I want to refrigerate it overnight, but I’m not sure — I usually make it on Thanksgiving proper, but this year, we planned ahead for a change, and now I don’t know what to do!

So I asked the oracle for advice. Actually, I asked Google (using the new Google Toolbar that Joel recommended today) this question: What pies should be refrigerated? Google replied with pointers to dozens of pages, including the USDA and the Ohio State University Food Safety pages, and the consensus was clear: refrigerate pies containing eggs. And I did. I’ve had food poisoning once; I don’t want to repeat the experience.

Half a clue, half a clue, half a clue onward!

I got a response of sorts to my letter to Hilton Hotels complaining about being awakened at 7:15am on a Sunday to take a “customer satisfaction survey”. The response came from the survey firm, not Hilton:

Dear Mr. Singer:

We are very sorry for the inconvenience of our call at 7am on a Sunday
morning. Unfortunately, the call to you was supposed to be dialed at
9:15am and was instead programmed for dialing at 9:15am Central Time.
It is never our intent to wake someone up to conduct a customer
satisfaction study … especially not at 7am! We have followed up with
the interviewer who miscoded the call time and informed him of the
ramifications of the error.

Again, we sincerely apologize for this. Because of this issue, we will
remove you from any future dialing on the Hilton customer satisfaction


Gwen Amador
M/A/R/C Research
Account Manager

c: Linda Immer
Hilton Hotels Corporation

I wonder if I’ll also get a response from Hilton. Probably not; that would require someone at Hilton being awake. But I’ll wait a few days to give them a chance before answering this letter. Politely, of course.

Working for the [long] weekend

Congratulations on homeownership, Garrett. Your wallet will never be the same.

And it’s great to see that Kaycee is doing better — it doesn’t look like she’s on the keyboard in person yet, but that can’t be far away.

Things I Learned Today

I’ve been a moderately happy IE user since moving to Win98; today, Joel‘s
review of Netscape 6 taught me two very useful IE features — features which are especially useful to reduce my mousing and keying:

  • Hit Alt-D to jump to the
    “Address” line with the whole address pre-selected (makes it easy to type a new URI).

  • Hit Ctrl-Enter to enclose whatever you’ve typed on the “Address” line between
    "http&58;//www&46;"; and
    “.com” (so
    “cnn” becomes
    http://www.cnn.com“), avoiding any conflict with locally-defined names.

Thanks, Joel!

And I also learned that Manila is very eager to turn things which look like URIs into links — I tried many tricks to avoid having it make “http://www.” into a link and finally gave up. Sorry for any confusion. And thanks to Al and Andrea for hacking at the problem — I never would have considered putting a backslash inside the “http://www.” string, which was the trick — I guess that breaks it up enough to get Manila to stop special-casing it.

I can stop watching CNN….

I subscribed my pager to their President-Elect alert, which will send out a one-time e-mail when the next president has been determined. So I guess I can expect my pager to go off at noon EST on 20 January.