Monday, July 28, 2008

The Cars and the Ballplayer

I lived in the Los Angeles area for more than 15 years and had only intermittent brushes with celebrities. (My favorite tale is that I became friends with, and once sang with, the Little Mermaid.) Just a few months removed from living in the celebrity laden SoCal, I have now already had dinner in the company of a major league baseball player.

One of the benefits of being a member of a club founded upon a hobby is that enthusiasts of that hobby generally fall across the social spectrum. When the hobby is enthusiasm for a certain semi-high-end sports car manufacturer, you end up rubbing shoulders with some pretty interesting people in these clubs.

C.J. Wilson, currently the closer for the Texas Rangers, is a Porsche enthusiast of the highest order. Although he has not yet signed his "big deal" yet in his young career, he has managed to entertain himself with a short but very impressive list of particularly choice examples of the breed. He is also a very active member in two of the online clubs in which I also take part. Despite his relatively high profile occupation, he has never been shy about attending get-togethers hosted by club members.

Taking the opportunity presented to us by the Rangers’ weekend series against the Oakland A's, a few of us put together a dinner Saturday evening in C.J.'s honor. Lest that sound too grand, the dinner was really simply an excuse for a bunch of gearheads to get together and yack about their cars among like-minded individuals who understand the obsession.

We went to the game that afternoon under warm blue skies, then went to the dinner in Half Moon Bay that evening in thick fog. There were about 20 of us in a back room at the restaurant, all enjoying good food and good company. C.J. got a break from the grind of the 162 game schedule to talk cars with fellow enthusiasts, and we got the opportunity to spend some time with a big leaguer. He turned out to be extremely nice and grateful for the opportunity to get together with everybody.

The restaurant probably didn't mind us being there, either. The parking lot was pretty spectacular -- and I count my contribution as the least of all. Notwithstanding the extensive multi-stage wash, polish and wax job I performed on the car before we left, mine was by far the most ordinary of all of the cars brought by our group at night.

One of the pleasant things I have learned in a few years of ownership is that there are an awful lot of nice, humble people who simply happened to be Porsche enthusiasts and owners. As in any part of society, self-important jerks are out there. Fortunately, the people I have been lucky enough to meet -- including the occasional professional athlete -- have been uniformly decent and fun to know.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Annoying Language Crutch Of The Day

It is hard to figure out how some verbal tics become commonplace. Nevertheless, every once in a while a useless new word or phrase enters the lexicon, usually without notice until it has infected all forms of written and spoken media. Or, as today's pick would have it, pretty much everything you read and hear.

I first became acutely aware of the overuse of "pretty much" when reading Leigh Montville's otherwise well-written biography of Ted Williams. The frequency with which that phrase was employed made me consciously wonder where his editor was the day the proofs for those pages came through. An empty meringue of a modifier, the term adds nothing to any sentence in which it is found. Once my radar was tuned to that frequency, though, I discovered that "pretty much" had pretty much taken over. I have seen the phrase used in news stories, feature stories, news broadcasts ... now, of course, it jumps off the page or the TV screen at me.

As it now will for you. You're welcome.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Home Sweet Home, Again

After months of searching, waiting and hoping, we will have progressed from seeing a house for the first time to being under-contract buyers in less than 48 hours. Lest that seem dangerously impulsive, we have been examining our neighborhood with a microscope for nearly a year, so we have a very strong sense of location and value. This house popped up at the right time for the right price (approximately), and after a quick offer and counter-proposal, we will sign the papers to go into escrow tonight.

Assuming that all inspections and financial details work out without drama, in less than six weeks we will be moving into this house. It is very typical of the houses in the area: mid-1960s ranch style home, four bedrooms, two baths, everything modestly sized. The house has some recessed lighting, updated windows and some new tile and appliances in the kitchen. The garage is somewhat wider than a typical two-car garage, so we will be able to have plenty of storage and work space. A key feature for us is a bonus room that will serve as a family/rumpus room and guest bedroom. The house is about two blocks from where we are now, so it is still close to shopping, and even closer to both schools. There are some changes we would like to make, but it is very livable immediately.

There are a lot of details to iron out between now and when it becomes ours, but it is amazing to us that we have finally come this far. We saw the house on Monday thinking it would be a backup possibility in case another house we had been looking at fell through. Little did we suspect that by Wednesday night, we would have an agreement to buy it ourselves.

I'm exhausted.

Monday, July 21, 2008

But The Cockroaches Survived Anyway

So a guy blew up his apartment while trying to exterminate bugs. A couple of thoughts:

If it took that much poison to deal with the critters, he's better off detonating the place.

And, doesn't anyone watch Mythbusters anymore?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Downsizing Everywhere

Amid news that Starbucks is closing 600 stores and Americans are using less gasoline comes word of another reduction that will affect your everyday life:


Or, more accurately, the space after punctuation.

It turns out that the holy writ of period usage -- two spaces after a period at the end of a sentence -- is no longer the standard. The spacing required for a clear demarcation between sentences typed in the monotype fonts of yesteryear has been obviated by computers and their ability to manipulate proportional fonts. Both the MLA style manual and the Chicago Manual of Style now allow for single spacing after a sentence-ending period.

To think of all the time I have wasted over the years making that extra hit on the space bar...

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A Little Semi-Obscure Baseball History

The name of my fantasy baseball teams is the Eefus Aficionados. The eefus (or eephus) pitch is a seldom-seen high lob that has appeared in major league baseball from time to time. I picked the name for its aura of self-deprecation, in that the pitch is usually used when the pitcher has no other conventional resources (also known as "talent") to survive, and because it works well with my name in the logo I created:

Here is an enjoyable article giving some of the colorful history of the pitch.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Comcast [Stinks]

Who knew that my comment about companies hearing about what they do wrong in a nanosecond would come home to roost so soon? If I had been paying attention to what everyone was telling me, I should have.

I was coy in my earlier post about the identity of our cable provider, since I felt no need to provoke the plodding giant with possibly unjustified criticism. I no longer feel such need to protect the good name of Comcast, since there is so little good that requires protecting.

From start to abrupt finish, our experience was a disaster. The website offered packages that did not reveal the channel lineups because the section of the website listed channel lineups did not use the same package names. The people on the phone couldn't help because I was ordering products and services through their Internet group. The Internet sign-up process culminated in a chat, which would have been a completely pointless and time wasting exercise except for the fact that it gave me the opportunity to order a box for a second television, which was impossible to do through the regular site.

The installation of Internet service (which essentially consists of screwing in a coaxial cable into the back of a modem) could be mine for the low, low price of $100, or $150 for two computers. As an alternative, I could order a do-it-yourself kit for $10, which of course I selected. Or I tried to, until I got to the gatekeeper questionnaire that would determine whether I was qualified to order the do-it-yourself kit. The first qualification is that I had to be an existing Comcast customer. I was not, of course. Cheryl's genius suggestion, as she peered deep into the heart of the byzantine beast, was to order cable TV first, then order the Internet service. Ah, requiring customers to do something in two steps that could have been done in one. Could it really be? As soon as I closed the chat window on my cable-TV order (thereby establishing me as an existing Comcast customer), I reopened the browser and ordered Internet service. Brilliant.

We had to wait a week for actual installation, of course. The installation technician did not appear during the 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. window, of course. When I called Comcast at 11, the person on the phone told me that our appointment had been rescheduled, of course. In fact, the appointment had been rescheduled at 7:50 a.m. that morning. Did we receive a telephone call alerting us to this important fact? Of course not.

When the technician finally arrived at 1 p.m., he spent the entire time he was in the house warning us that we probably would not get very good reception, and that our Internet connection would also probably be spotty at best. This, from the representative of the company that was delivering those very services. He said we should upgrade the cables in the house -- for a fee, naturally. However, he did not bother to stay to do the work he recommended (he said he was running late for his next appointment -- ha!) and that we might have been willing to pay for. Before leaving, he told us that it would probably take a couple of hours for all of the channels to come online. Uh, what? The last I checked, the cable box was not powered by vacuum tubes.

By the time I got home in the evening, perhaps a dozen channels were viewable on the family room television, and none came through in the bedroom television. The rest said they would be coming "soon." By hooking the cable directly into the television and bypassing the box -- on the technician's recommendation -- we could finally see several dozen of the basic cable channels. No high definition, though, and nothing with a channel number higher than 75. Outstanding.

At least we could reengage with the rest of the world through the Internet. My wireless router worked immediately and well. Upon hooking up our modem, however, I discovered that we were not receiving any signal. When I called Comcast yet again, I was flabbergasted to learn that they had no record of me ordering Internet service at all. When I asked what it would take to start that service, I was told that I could not do it over the phone because I had ordered the cable TV/Internet service bundle over the Internet. Just to be sure that we were on the same page, I verified with the person on the phone that they expected me to go online to correct the problem with my nonexistent online service. I don't think he grasped the irony of the situation as profoundly as I did.

With Cheryl urgently making throat slashing gestures in the next room (to her credit, she had foreseen nothing but disaster), I advised my friendly Comcast representative that our next step would be to cancel the television and (nonexistent) Internet service immediately.

"I'm sorry, Dave, I can't do that."

"Why not, HAL?"

"Because that group closed for the day half an hour ago."

The level of failure at that point was comprehensively breathtaking. Our television service, which required guesswork at the time of ordering, was providing about a dozen stations through one television and none through the other (with a horribly clunky on-screen interface to boot). Our Internet service, for which I had endured a lengthy and ultimately pointless Internet chat session, simply did not exist. I could not rectify the situation on the phone because I had ordered through the Internet, and I could not rectify the situation through the Internet because, apparently, I had not ordered Internet service, my confirmation number for the order notwithstanding. I could not even cancel service because those elite, specially trained people had gone home for the day.

Suffice it to say, twelve hours later, we have now unsubscribed from Comcast's "services." At my insistence, I have been told by the person on the phone (no doubt one of the highly trained cancellation shock troops I'd just missed the night before) that my service would be backdated so that I would not be charged. It should go without saying that I no longer have any expectation of this actually being the case.

AT&T, you own me now. Landline, DSL, Dish Network (maybe even an iPhone)... it's all yours.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More Southwest Goodness

Sometimes it pays to be nice. I recently sent a letter to the President of Southwest Airlines expressing my gratitude that the airline, by its mere existence but also by its efficient operations, allowed us to pull off our recently-concluded nine month odyssey of separation. I felt a little sheepish doing it, like a kid writing to his baseball hero. However, businesses everywhere hear from their customers nanoseconds after something goes wrong (especially the airline industry), so I felt it was fair for them to hear nice things from a genuinely satisfied and grateful customer.

I was surprised today by a message that I had received a companion pass, entitling me to designate someone to fly with me for free for the next twelve months. As I examined it a little more, I realized that I didn't meet the normal qualifications (100 flights in a year). My last flight was also a couple of weeks ago, so I had not just taken a flight within the last few days that would have generated the reward as a response. I can only conclude that someone appreciated my kind words and threw a little extra reward my way. That's the way to handle customers and build goodwill.

It's just a love-fest all around, I guess.

To anyone from Southwest reading this: Thank you, sincerely.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Economical Hands Free Device

There has been a mild amount of angst over the recent inception of a new law in California that requires drivers to use a hands-free device for all cell phone usage. Wireless headsets can get pretty pricey. Thankfully, low cost alternatives are readily available:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Danger, Will Robinson!

We have become quite daring in our spacefaring adventures. Today, two residents of the International Space Station removed a potentially defective explosive bolt (which packs the power of a large M80 firecracker) from the Soyuz reentry capsule, putting it in a stainless steel explosion-proof container. To perform the operation, insulation had to be cut with a serrated knife. Sharp objects are generally shunned in space, especially on spacewalks, because any breach of a spacesuit would mean quick death for its occupant. The task was necessary because the last two Soyuz returns were well short of optimal, plunging at ballistic trajectory and speed, thought to be caused by the failure of some components that were not jettisoned as planned due to malfunctioning explosive bolts.

It should be noted that the American astronaut stayed inside with a laptop, some books and music while his Russian roommates performed the potentially deadly operation. After all, it was Russian explosive bolts that malfunctioned. You boys messed it up, y'all get to go fix it. We'll just wait here in case something goes horribly wrong and you die keeping everything in order until you get back.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Almost Home

We spent all last week preparing for our move. We have now relocated ourselves to Northern California, and the truck with half of our lives in it will arrive tomorrow morning.

There are many stories and pictures to share, but we will not have internet access at the house until next week. The related thought for the day: when literally everyone you ask curses the name, nay, the very existence of the local cable company, do not be surprised when your installation process is clumsy, confusing, exasperating and expensive. I hope that the actual service we receive will be better than our initial experience.

I lapse into irrationality that way sometimes.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Escrow closed yesterday, right on time, with no complications. We are now quite literally living here on borrowed time. Disconcerting.