Just a tease

You’re not just a number…well, yes, you are

Jeffrey’s stomach has been bothering him from time to time, and his doctor wanted him to have a UGI exam, which required us to spend the morning at the outpatient department of Good Samaritan Hospital. When we got there, we were handed a card saying “You’re more than a number here at Good Sam; you’re a patient, and we treat you with dignity. But to preserve your privacy, we will call you by number — you are number 3.” Yeah, right.

Better phone service through software. Yeah, right.

I’ve been unhappy with my wireless phone service for a while — it works well in many places, but it doesn’t work at all at my office and is very dubious at my house. For historical reasons, Diane uses AT&T Wireless; last week, she got a new phone (a Nokia 8260), which gets a very solid signal at home. So I borrowed it and took it to work and found that it worked there, too.

I called Sprint PCS to see if they had any plans to improve coverage, and they said that, if my phone hadn’t had a software upgrade for a while, it might not be using some of the new towers they’d installed. So this afternoon, I took it in to the shop and had the upgrade done; apparently I was six releases behind in the “PRL” database. But it didn’t make any difference when I tried to use the phone from my house.

I don’t really want to change carriers and phone numbers if I don’t have to; wireless number portability is a year away (and some carriers are asking the FCC for a further delay).

Maybe a new phone from Sprint PCS will work. I’ll have to check their policy on returns first, though.

Officially Old

I got to invite many of my friends and colleagues, some of whom I’d known for close to 20 years (none of my earliest colleagues from my years in Boca Raton are out here), and we had a pleasant lunch at the Fish Market in San Jose, which IBM paid for (that’s always a sign of a good meal!).

1227 after lunch:

[From left: John Patrick, Diane Goldman, me, Tony Rall, Jon Reinke, Glenn Deen, Brad Wade, Diane Reese]

I had considered holding the lunch on a trip to the East Coast, so that my immediate manager and more of my offical teammates could be there, but then I wouldn’t have been able to have my best friend and most important colleague present.

1225 at fish market: At my QCC celebration lunch

One of the customs at a QCC lunch is that the employee’s manager sends out notes to the employee’s friends asking for letters of congratulations which are then printed out and put into a binder which is presented at the lunch. My friend Sam sent me such a letter; Sam, this photo is just for you.

Missing and Weakest Links

Other than having my QCC lunch, things have been pretty quiet. Last night, though, I was unhappy; my Internet connectivity vanished for no apparent reason (I had all green lights on the DSL modem, but my router couldn’t talk to the Internet). I couldn’t reach my ISP by phone last night, so instead, we watched the special Star Trek episode of The Weakest Link. It was a lot more fun than the regular episodes I’d watched near the beginning of the show’s run; even the sniping and back-biting didn’t seem too serious. And I was glad to note that each star’s charity got a $10,000 donation even if the star was eliminated (a change from the usual game).

I finally reached my ISP today just before lunch; they didn’t see anything wrong, and by the time I got home, nothing was wrong. I hate trying to fix intermittent problems.

Three Turkeys for Thanksgiving

We’ve just finished having Thanksgiving dinner with our friends. And, like many other families across America, we watched a bunch of TV during the day.

We started the afternoon with the Battle Turkey episode of Iron Chef. It started out innocently enough, with Chairman Kaga talking about how Americans eat turkey for holidays, including the wonderful line, “People of Japan, it is not too late for turkey with gravy.” But then they unveiled the turkeys — 12 gutted, and 12 not gutted. And then the battle began. For those of you who aren’t Iron Chef fans, perhaps one of the Iron Chef’s dishes would be sufficient to consider: turkey sashimi. I guess they don’t have salmonella in Japan (though they do have campylobacter, as I can testify from personal experience).

Our turkey was in the oven while we were watching, so after the show ended, we (which mostly means Diane) made all the side dishes and I carved the turkey (well, I attacked it with a knife. Next year, I’ll sharpen the knife first!), and we all ate a lot of good food with nice wine, then some pie for dessert.

I’d made a mistake last week and hadn’t recorded Iron Chef USA, but Sam had gotten it, so he brought the tape over, and we watched it after dinner. It was definitely the biggest turkey of the day; I’d been forewarned by the reviews in the paper and on the net, and so I wasn’t expecting much. But no amount of warning prepared me for just how over-the-top the show was, nor how silly the chefs would be while cooking, nor how little they’d take advantage of Shatner’s unique style. And I could definitely have done with less crowd noise and fewer crowd shots. On the bright side, though, the Playboy Playmate they had filling the actress slot on the judging panel had a voice and lines very reminiscent of the dubbed Japanese episodes — but she didn’t giggle enough.

So that was our Thanksgiving; I hope yours was as enjoyable. Tomorrow, I think I’m going to the Y.

Customer service

I’ve spent part of this morning buying a replacement cellphone from AT&T Wireless. I get a special deal from them because I work for IBM, so I had to call their toll-free number to buy the phone. And, as they were doing the paperwork, they discovered that something was slightly weird about my account and that the “Foundation Account Number” would have to be changed.

The person I was talking to couldn’t make that change (of course). So she put me on hold and called the department there which could fix it. Five minutes later, she came back and said that there was a long wait — and then she offered to take care of it and call me back. I was amazed; I expected to be told to call that department myself and then come back and place the order.

So I accepted her offer and went on about my business. Later, I got a voicemail telling me that she was still trying; and just before lunch, she called back again, apologizing that she’d spent a long time on hold and couldn’t wait any longer (because the time she spends on hold is charged against her productivity).

But then she said she could sell me the new phone anyway, since the cost was the same whether the account number got changed or not. So I bought the phone.

I’m irritated at AT&T Wireless that their internal procedures are so bad that they affect paying customers — but I am quite pleased that this agent actually took ownership of the problem and figured out how to make me happy, and I’ll be sending a letter to AT&T Wireless to praise her. I just wish that having an agent actually fix the problem wasn’t so rare.

Not all uses of Flash are evil

I didn’t think I’d ever find a Flash site I could recommend, but I like this one.

Happy Thanksgiving!

If I’m smart, I won’t turn on the computer much, if at all, over the weekend. We’re having another family over for dinner tomorrow, so we’ll be busy cooking and eating; then we have our traditional Second Thanksgiving with friends from the Temple on Friday. And then I’m sure I’ll find something to do on Saturday and Sunday.

Speaking of free time, congratulations Andrea!

See ya!

Dial 1-888-817-2970, then 1, then * (star)

I don’t know about you, but Diane and I each get several offers per week for credit cards from Capital One. I’ve got enough credit cards already, and I’ve got better things to do than shred mail, so I decided to find out how to get off their mailing list.

There is, of course, no phone number listed anywhere on the offer I got today (and no legal disclosure of the terms and conditions, either). They want you to apply via their website (which I will not link to!); that site doesn’t have much information, either, but there is a privacy link, and by looking carefully through the privacy page, I found the phone number to call to opt-out. It is 1-888-817-2970, then 1 (for English) and then “*” because I don’t have an account. A few seconds later, I was talking to a human being (blowing their profit margin away, what a shame!), and if I’m lucky, I’ll be off their damn list in two more days.

Spam, Scam, Spam, Scam

I just got a piece of e-mail claiming to be a e-card from “Cardwish”. When I tried to fetch it, their server said that there was a problem and it wasn’t available — then I noticed that the page they were displaying had an interestingly-misformed URL. Apparently, not only are they a scam operation, but they’re trying to take advantage of vulnerabilities in various levels of IE to do Bad Things to your computer.

Lessons learned:

1) Not all e-cards are legitimate. I still trust cards from Blue Mountain, American Greetings, and Yahoo.

2) An e-card note that just says that you have a card without at least giving a subject or sender is probably a scam.

3) Keep your browser patches up to date!

More techno-follies

When I set up the TiVo to record Iron Chef USA, I didn’t realize that it was on at the same time as 24; even worse, I didn’t realize that 24 had a higher priority. So it recorded 24 instead of Iron Chef USA. So I missed the show I wanted and got the one I’d decided not to watch. I’ve since deleted 24 from TiVo’s list, but that still leaves this question open:

Anybody got a spare tape of Iron Chef USA?

Some successes

Last night’s Scholar-in-Residence dinner and services were excellent.

We all liked Harry Potter, too, though I guess I have to say that the best thing about the movie was that it was pretty faithful to the book and to my visualizations of the book. I really liked the Monsters, Inc. trailer, too.

Fun, Fun, Fun

I definitely made the right decision on Monday when I chose not to go to Austin with a broken computer. Many things happened at work this week which I needed to tend to fairly quickly, and I wouldn’t have been able to do them without a computer. Here, I had the option of using my other office computer or my home computer; in Austin, I would have been SOL. True, I would have been a lot more effective in my meeting if I’d been there in person instead of on the phone, but there were several others calling in, so it wasn’t too bad — it’s a different story when I’m the only one on the phone and there are ten people in the room.

On Tuesday, I turned my machine over to deskside support here. They weren’t able to get Win2K to be stable, but they were able to reinstall it on top of itself and then back up all of my data to the LAN (something I’d been derelict in doing — fortunately, most everything valuable was replicated elsewhere anyway). Then they blew away the system and did a complete reinstall.

The bad news, though, was that the reinstall they did wasn’t of a clean system; it was of our customized, locked-down, and modified system. For a lot of people, having that pre-customized system is a Good Thing; it saves a lot of time if you can live within its limits. I can’t (though it might be more honest to say, “I won’t”).

So I went back to the recovery CD that came with my computer in the first place and loaded up a vanilla Win2K system. And now I’m going through Windows Update to bring it up to current service levels. I’m on my fourth reboot so far, with at least one or two yet to come.

And then I have to install my applications. And recover my data from the LAN. And convert the filesystem from FAT32 to NTFS. And probably about the time I get all of that finished, I’ll either get a copy of XP or a new computer and can start the process again.

Ahh, productivity….

But enough about work

Tomorrow, we’ll be getting up early to go see Harry Potter; the IBM Club arranged a 9am showing at a theatre at the Great Mall in Milpitas, and we grabbed tickets. I’m looking forward to seeing the movie, and we might even do some shopping afterwards before the malls become entirely intolerable.

It’s also Shir Hadash‘s annual Scholar-in-Residence weekend; this year, we have Cantor Peri Smilow, who will be delivering a sermon in song at tonight’s services.

And sometime this weekend, we’ll watch Iron Chef USA. The Merc’s reviewer didn’t particularly like it, but we’re gonna watch anyway.

Shabbat Shalom!

Grounded

Right about now, I should be on an airplane on its way to Austin. But I’m not; I’m at home.

The first thing I heard this morning when the clock radio turned itself on was a sentence something like this: “and we’ll have more about the crash of American Flight 587 soon”. I’d already turned off the radio by the time my brain processed the sentence, and I didn’t want to turn it on again.

I had to be at home today; it was supposed to have been a vacation day, since Jeffrey didn’t have school, but that was before I got scheduled to travel. And before the skies opened, making it feel like a good day to stay home. So I spent the day looking at news web sites (I didn’t want to turn on the TV) and trying to decide whether or not to go on the trip.

I finally decided that, yes, I would go — all of the news reports indicated that the crash was “just” a mechanical, not terrorism, and so it shouldn’t affect me. So Diane took me to the airport, and ten minutes after arriving, I was through security and in the Admirals’ Club.

That was probably a mistake. They had CNN on the big-screen TVs, and, even though I wasn’t sitting at that end of the club, any time I went to get some water, I saw the screen, which, of course, was always showing footage from this morning’s crash. I started to feel uneasy again.

Then I tried to load the route from Austin Airport to the hotel from my computer into my GPS. But I couldn’t — the program complained that COM1 wasn’t working. So I decided to reboot the computer, and got a bluescreen early in the bootup process. A 100%-reproducable bluescreen. Trying to boot the “last known good” configuration didn’t help. I couldn’t even get into Safe Mode.

I didn’t think being without my computer for this trip was a good idea. Instead, I decided that this was A Sign, and walked over to the desk and had them cancel my tickets. Then I called the travel agent and cancelled my hotel room, just a couple of minutes before I would have had to pay for a night anyway.

And then I came home.

I feel a little guilty about not going to my meeting, and I’m not looking forward to doing two full-day conference calls. But I just didn’t feel comfortable getting on that plane, and when my computer died, I was glad to have a somewhat logical reason to stay home.

Robot Fightin' Time!

I’ll start with the bad parts, just to get them out of the way: I-880 was slow, we had a hard time finding a parking place, the weather was rainy, and the porta-potties were down to expectations.

But those were minor inconveniences. The actual competition was great — five hours filled with flying sparks, flying parts, flying bots, smoke, noise, cheers, jeers, and the odd camera in the way. We got free hammers, too. The food was better than I would have expected and reasonably priced (unlike, say, the SF Giants); the giftshop was loaded with fun toys, too. They even had a long-sleeve T-shirt which was perfect for Jeffrey!

Don’t believe me? Check out another unbiased observer, MootMom.
Like her, I am bound by the release I signed not to reveal any details, but I can say that Lexan is good stuff.

I’d be willing to go back if they hold another competition in this area; I don’t think any of us are likely to build our own bots, though.

Today, we went to see Monsters, Inc., which we all enjoyed greatly. I want to get it on DVD so I can look carefully for all of the little jokes hidden in the newspapers and signage throughout the movie.

And tomorrow, I’m off to Austin for a few days. Sadly, we’re probably going to be too busy for me to take advantage of Austin’s fine restaurants — there’s even a rumor we’re ordering in pizza so we can continue our meeting late into the night on Tuesday. *sigh*

Gearing down

It’s been a busy week. Nothing much blog-worthy, though.

But I do have a question, and maybe you can help. I have some audio cassettes which I want to convert to CD; that’s pretty easy to do, but I wind up with one track per side, which is not so good. So I’m looking for a (Windows) program which can break a .WAV file up into pieces based on detecting silent intervals. Ideally, the program would make its best guesses, then let me override it easily. Free would be a good price, but that’s not a strict requirement. Thanks.

Today’s Science Colloquium at work was very interesting and enjoyable — Paul Doherty, Senior Staff Scientist at the Exploratorium talked about “Exploratorium Exhibits from Birth to Death”, complete with slides and live demos. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to the Exploratorium — it’s time for another visit! December 14th would be a good day, I think.

Tomorrow, we’re off to see Battlebots live. Rumor has it that we’ll be asked to sign an NDA for the results, so don’t even ask.

Shabbat Shalom!

Side Impact

It’s been a day of trips to the repair shop.

This morning, I had to take my Saab in to the dealership for a regular service (as well as some accumulated complaints, and getting the rear emblem replaced after some idiot stole it a week ago). No problem, except that I had a conference call at 9am. So I zipped through the morning routine and left the house at 7:30, in what should have been plenty of time.

Traffic, of course, was slow. Then I had to wait for a service advisor. But despite that, I was done with the dealer at 8:20 and walked the 100 feet to Avis to pick up my loaner, with plenty of time to get home for my call.

Except that there was a problem with the computer, and so it took a few tries for the clerk to get my contract printed. So I didn’t leave until 8:40, which meant I’d be cutting it close.

A few minutes later, my cellphone rang — which almost never happens. It was Diane; Avis had just called home to let me know that I’d left my driver’s license behind. I decided retrieving it was more important than making my call and turned around.

I left Avis the second time at 8:58. I’d dialed into my call before leaving the lot, figuring I could listen and still drive safely. By the time I got home twenty minutes later, we’d barely finished a rollcall and the beginnings of an introduction to the call, so I wasn’t distracted from the road. But I do wish I had a speakerphone on my cellphone.

Once home, I was able to pay attention to the call, and the day was looking up again. It got even more cheerful when I got a piece of e-mail telling me that my meeting this week in Austin was postponed. And my lunchtime walk was pleasant, as usual.

During the afternoon, I thought I’d make a backup copy of my old MapSource CD before sending it in to be upgraded to the current level, just in case it got lost in transit. While the computer was writing the backup, I went to the kitchen. The backup finished while I was gone, so the CD ejected itself — I didn’t realize this, and accidentally bumped the tray with my knee when I sat down.

This was not a good thing to do. I couldn’t get the tray to retract automatically, and pushing it manually didn’t help, either — it closed but then wouldn’t open, even when I tried using the emergency eject stick in the emergency eject hole. So I called Plextor, who agreed that I could return the drive and who gave me an RMA number.

Then I called Pixel USA, since the drive was less than a month old, and they agreed to handle the return for me and swap the drive on the spot. So I unplugged the computer and drove it over to the store.

I’d bought the 16x drive less than a month ago, but it was now permanently out of stock; they had a 24x, but it was a few dollars more expensive. I didn’t really need a faster drive, but I didn’t want to have to wait a few weeks for the Plextor RMA process, so I agreed to pay the difference and they installed the new drive; I was on my way within 20 minutes.

Then it was back home to set up the computer again and backup the second CD. I need to find a different place to put the computer so I don’t hit it with my knee again, but for the time being, I’m being very careful when I sit down.

And then back to Avis to return their car and to the Saab dealer to pick up mine.

I had high hopes of accomplishing things today, too.

There’s always tomorrow.

Weekend Update

I tried to do as little as possible this weekend. And what I have done has mostly been Quicken-related.

I got the pieces together for my annual Quicken rebate, but I haven’t yet gotten around to finding an envelope in which to mail it.

I was all ready to be pissed at Roxio for not offering an XP upgrade to EasyCD Creator Basic, which came along with my Plextor CD writer, but so far, the base support in XP seems sufficient. I would like DirectCD, though, so that I can have Quicken back itself up to CD instead of having to go drag the Quicken data directory to the CD by hand, but I don’t feel like paying good money for that little convenience — and if I do decide to pay someone, it’ll probably be Ahead for Nero instead. Plextor claims that there will be an upgrade from Roxio, but I’m not holding my breath.

Jeffrey’s been hosting the boy who’ll be sharing his Bar Mitzvah — they’ve been having a good time, watching Mystery Science Theatre 3000, playing with Legos, and watching Battlebots. I think they’re actually twins.

I had hoped to go see Monsters, Inc. this weekend, but that doesn’t seem to have happened. It’ll be around next weekend, too, I bet.

There are days I just *love* the Web!

I’ve been using the Web since the early ’90s, but I am sometimes still amazed at what’s out there and how easy it can be to find.

Tonight, we were watching last night’s Enterprise and heard Captain Archer telling the Andorians that the famous astronomer Tycho Brahe had lost his nose in a duel about an equation. I’d never known that and wondered if the writers had just made that up (certainly I never read anything like that in any of Isaac Asimov’s books, which is probably where I learned how to spell Tycho’s last name). So after the show, I sat down at my trusty browser and typed three words into the Google search bar:


Tycho Brahe duel

The first result from Google was one of Cecil Adams’s The Straight Dope columns, titled Did astronomer Tycho Brahe really have a silver nose?, which answered the question in the affirmative (though I don’t think Cecil got the equation quite right). Elapsed time from sitting down to having the answer: maybe 10 seconds.

What part of “Off” doesn’t Microsoft understand?

I’m still fairly happy with XP, but there are some truly weird things in the UI. I was ready to turn off my computer for the evening, so I clicked the “Start” bar, selected “Turn Off Computer”, waited for the popup asking me what I really wanted to do to appear, and hit Enter. The computer went into “Suspend” mode.

Silly me. I would have thought that the default action when you ask to “Turn Off Computer” would be to turn the computer off, but it isn’t.

At least Clippy doesn’t pop up to help.