I’m glad they only have the new stuff

I got sucked into joining Amazon Prime while we were ordering textbooks for Jeff this summer, and ever since, I’ve been checking Amazon whenever I needed anything, because, after all, two-day shipping is free!

For no particular reason, I decided to see what their pricing was for Charmin, and was happy to not see any prices quoted for “used” goods. I think it’s still cheaper to buy on sale in the store, too.

But I have to give bad marks to ToiletPaperWorld.com, who runs an ad on the results page for this particular search — if you click through to them with Safari or Firefox, you get a page telling you that they don’t support anything but IE. That, my friends, is a crappy attitude.

Remembering the Internet Division

Yesterday, Irving Wladawsky-Berger wrote an interesting piece about the IBM Internet Division.

I wasn’t at quite the same level as Irving and John, but I was there for the whole process, and my days in the Internet Division were some of my happiest at IBM. My team, the Internet Technology Team, was composed of great people who knew that they were doing important work. We didn’t have to worry (much) about funding; we didn’t have to worry (much) about making the quarter’s numbers; we just had to transform IBM.

My main role during that period was to be IBM’s lead representative to the W3C. This involved a lot of politics, coordination, and tracking, which weren’t my strong suits then (and still aren’t), but I also got to do technical work.

In particular, I served on the HTML Editorial Review Board (later renamed the HTML Working Group) and the Document Object Model WG. This was in the days of the Tag Wars, and although IBM had its own web browser, Web Explorer, with its own proprietary tags, it was clear to me that IBM’s best interests would be served by getting agreement on a real standard for HTML and discouraging vendors (including us) from implementing their own tags. And that’s what happened, though not easily.

I also had the joy of becoming IBM’s porn expert for a time. That didn’t mean that I got to look for porn at work, but rather that I was asked to come up with a strategy to keep the proliferation of porn from slowing the growth of legitimate e-commerce on the Web. (Well, it was that or work on banking security solutions.) So I wrote up a quick proposal for a rating system which could be used by providers or third-party raters, and circulated it around. Eventually, IBM convinced Microsoft and Netscape to work under the auspices of the W3C to create a standard for creating rating systems, and I was heavily involved in the process, most notably as co-author of the PICS Rating Services and Rating Systems Recommendation.

The Internet Division didn’t have a long life, though — we had a perpetual “going out of business” strategy. As projects became successful, they moved into the more traditional development areas, such as Software Group. Eventually, we had colonized enough of the rest of the company that there was no need for a separate Internet Division, and it vanished from the orgcharts.

My team moved with Irving to the Linux strategy area, and I eventually left the team and returned to the Research Division.

Slow Monday

I have tons to get done this week at work (next week is a travel week for me, so I’ll get my mandatory dose of Westchester County December), but I had a hard time getting any focus today. I did manage to accomplish a few simple tasks early in the day, but I found it enormously difficult to start reading the two documents I have to digest and recommend which one should be chosen as the approach to a project — and I have to do it by the end of the week, preferably by Wednesday afternoon.

So I temporized and wrote comments on yet another document; one which was clearly lower priority, even though the authors were friends and so I wanted to help them. But at least it was easy reading and commenting, so I was able to get that obligation off my plate.

And I did finally start on one of the two key documents for the week; I should be able to finish a first pass on both documents tomorrow, even though I’ll have to leave work early for Parent/Teacher conferences at Kehillah.

A catch in my referer log

One advantage of having a low-volume blog is that I check out my referer log fairly often. To be more accurate, I use the digested version provided by SiteMeter, which makes it easy for me to find out information about my hits, including search terms.

This morning, I noticed that someone had read more than one page on the blog and that they’d found it by doing a UK Google search for “parking lower slaughter”. Since I was curious, I re-ran the search and found that the top hit was on a site with the intriguing name of BeenThere-DoneThat. I clicked through, and liked what I saw (“the Unofficial Guide to Great Britain”), so I’m blogging it here so I have a chance of remembering it. I’ll also dogear it, but that’s only helpful when I have a connection behind the IBM firewall, something I try to avoid when on vacation.

Trying to keep my string going

After having been inactive for so long, I feel that it’s a good idea to post something every day — that way inertia will work for me, rather than against me.

The problem with this, of course, is that there are days like today when I have nothing in particular to say, and did nothing worth noting.

That’s not in the Lincoln sense of “the world will little note, nor long remember” — it’s more that today was a rather quiet Shabbat.

We started the day with Torah Study and services; then we had lunch at Pasand, which I seem to remember as having been better a few years ago (there wasn’t anything wrong with what we ate, but there wasn’t anything outstandingly wonderful, either). After that, it was home for a bit of a rest, then a walk to Starbucks in the biting cold (57 degrees, 16 mph wind, which means that the windchill was undefined), then some more resting, then dinner at Armadillo Willy’s, then home to fight Quicken, and finally Jeff and I watched the 10th episode of Rome. As I said, nothing really worth writing about.

Now, if I were feeling curmudgeonly, I might rant about Quicken. As far as I’m concerned, the UI has gotten worse every time I’ve been forced to upgrade since about 1998, but yesterday’s rant about Fry’s was sufficient for one weekend. But I must admit that I’m getting intrigued about trying GNUCash next year — it would be convenient if it ran under Windows, but now I have a Mac Mini, so the OS X implementation should be OK. I’m actually irritated enough by Quicken that I might even try Microsoft Money — and the idea of voluntarily trusting Microsoft with my financial data is scary.

But Intuit is no better. I’m not happy with the way they’ve lobbied both the California Legislature and Congress to prevent the FTB and IRS from offering free e-filing services — and I notice that for the 2005 tax year, there’s no longer an e-file rebate. Or, as Intuit puts it, “Because of customer feedback, Intuit made the business decision to discontinue several TurboTax rebates after October 13, 2005.” Yeah, I really wanted to pay an extra $15.

Maybe tomorrow will be more interesting.

Open Letter to Randy Fry

Dear Mr. Fry,

Fry’s had a chance to delight a customer today, but you blew it.

I probably should know better than to go shopping on Black Friday, but your ad in today’s Mercury News had one offer which was too good to pass up — Season 4 of Enterprise for $60. So my son and I drove to the Campbell location, found parking, and went to the video section, where we found what we were looking for. And if we’d stopped there, we’d have left happy.

But we also knew that Fry’s, like all large merchants, price-matches other ads, and we had an ad from Circuit City for Season 6 of The Simpsons for $16 instead of your price of $38. So, rather than drive over to Circuit City, we grabbed a copy of that DVD and got into line.

The cashier said that he was only authorized to price-match a difference of $5 and told us to go over to the returns line to get the ad price. So we did.

We were lucky; there were only three people ahead of us in the returns line, so we only had to wait about five minutes. But the person who was helping us said we’d have to go back to the cashier, buy the DVD, then come back to the returns line and get a refund. I was not happy, and said so.

A manager (Tom) heard me, and came over to help. He said that this multistep process was Fry’s policy, which he couldn’t override, but he’d make sure we didn’t have to stand in line again, so I was mollified. Off we went to the cashier.

We got a different cashier this time — one who wanted to help us. So before I could explain anything, he went off to ask his supervisor for help in giving us the correct price. Five minutes later, he returned, saying that he’d called Circuit City, and the location they’d called was out of the disks, so we’d have to pay full price. Fortunately, the original manager also walked over and said that he’d honor the ad price “because he wanted to”. So we paid for the DVDs, then went directly to the return line and got a refund processed. I hope — the cashier there told me that it might take two or three business days for the refund to be credited to my son’s account.

If the original cashier had had the authority to follow your policy of price-matching, I would have left the store a delighted customer. If there had been signs telling me the procedure, I probably would have left happy. But by the time I finished going through the full runaround, I was quite unhappy — even though I got the DVDs at good prices.

Next time I’m ready to buy something, I’ll remember this experience. And I’ll remember that price-matching works both ways — and last time I had a price matched at Circuit City, it only took them two minutes to help me.

(I’m also mailing this letter to Fry’s corporate office. I was going to post it through Fry’s website’s Contact Fry’s form, but the form doesn’t actually allow you to enter your comments!)

Want some pie?

Every year, I make a pecan pie for Thanksgiving. Until recently, I just followed the standard recipe from the Karo® Syrup label, but I got bored with it, so I started experimenting.

The first year, I added some semi-sweet chocolate chips. That went over well, but it wasn’t quite what I wanted. So the last few years, I’ve been experimenting with mint, too, and now I’ve come up with what I think is the right balance:

Chocolate Peppermint Pecan Pie


  • 3 eggs, slightly beaten
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup light Karo Syrup
  • 2 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 cup pecans
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 9-inch frozen pie crust (I use Mrs. Smith’s)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. Remove pie crust from freezer
  3. Mix first five ingredients in medium bowl and stir until blended
  4. Stir in pecans, chocolate chips, and peppermint extract
  5. Pour into pie crust
  6. Bake at 350 degrees about 50-55 minutes, until a knife inserted halfway between center and edge comes out clean
  7. Cool on wire rack

The chocolate chips do not melt, so some bites will be more chocolaty than others, but with a half-cup of chips, you won’t be deprived. (This year, I only used 1/3 cup, which wasn’t quite enough.)

This recipe is healthier than a normal pecan pie, because you get the flavonoids in semi-sweet chocolate. So eat hearty!

(It would probably make more sense to include the peppermint extract along with the vanilla extract, but I first added the peppermint as a last-second addition to a pie in progress, so I’ve always done it at the end.)

The trouble with retroblogging is that you’re always behind

As the few of you who haven’t given up on me may have noticed, I haven’t blogged anything for months. I made a good start at catching up on our UK trip, and I planned to get that done before resuming normal blogging.

So much for planning.

I still want to write more about the trip to the UK, and even post a few more pictures, but it’s clear that I’ve let myself get stalled (something which happens far too easily to me).

It’s time to move on.

We now rejoin this blog, which is already in progress.