Tag Archives: Books

I Shall Return… Honest!

Well, after a pretty decent start to the blog, the posts dried up pretty quick. No doubt that is the way of about 99% of all blogs started since the blogging concept began, but it will not be happening here, at least, not just yet.

I will be getting back to daily posting this week, even if I’m not sure if anyone will be listening :).

The only excuse for my silence is a rather unfortunate run of health since I got back from the UK–a fever, bronchitis, the resulting lingering cough from said bronchitis, the resulting sleepless nights from said lingering cough, cold sores up my nostrils (I kid you not!) and, to cap it all, a scratched cornea after pursuing an errant golf ball into the undergrowth. (Note to self, better golf == less bodily harm.)

So now that I am finally in reasonably rude health, if I survive tomorrow’s marathon session of volleyball at our annual Sand Cow tournament you shall be hearing a good deal more from me on this blog, including movie reviews, progress reports on the book, and other sundry items of interest to me, and possibly one or two other people… maybe.

Spam Ahoy!

When I first put up this weblog I decided to leave it completely open to commenters (you don’t even have to type in a valid email address) and see how long it would take for the first comment spam to arrive.

Well the answer is a lot quicker than I thought. When I logged in today there were two spam comments, one caught by WordPress, the other getting through. So it seems that even blogs that are read by barely a handful of people are worthy targets for the spambots these days.

Ah well, if it gets any worse I’ll start putting up more defenses. But for now, a few spams here and there won’t hurt too much.

Automated Customer Service: Satan Rides Again

Following on from my little set-to with United Airline’s automated non-service line last week, the flight attendant on the much delayed flight from Austin to Chicago suggested at one point (while we were waiting in the refueling area in Indianapolis) that we should contact the United 1-800 number to check on later flights and to help resolve our missed connections.

Like a fool, I listened to that advice, called the number, and selected the option to query flight departure times thinking I could find out when my London flight was leaving and perhaps reserve a seat on a later flight, if necessary.

“Please speak or type the flight number you are inquiring about.”

(Not being a complete fool, I typed the flight number)

“Your flight appears to have multiple stops, please say the name of the city you want the departure time for.”

(Uh-oh). “Chicago.”

“I do not understand. Which of these cities do you mean? Portland–” (a flight attendant walks by muttering, the voice recognition system picks it up and stops talking)

“Did you mean Detroit?”


“My mistake. Your flight appears to have multiple stops, please say the name of the city you want the departure time for.”


“I do not understand. Which of these cities do you mean? Portland–” (my neighbor coughs)

“Did you mea–” (a baby cries out nearby)

“My mista–” (a passenger walks by)


“Are you inquiring about a domestic or international flight?”


I hang up. Yelling down the phone in private is one thing. Doing in front of a planeload of tired and irritable people is quite another. Then about a minute afterwards, someone just in front of me (one of those going to Kiev) by some miracle got through to a live operator only to be told that nothing could be done about remaking connections until we all got to Chicago anyway!


Blowing Through the Windy City

Monday, for me, was all about getting into, and then getting out of Chicago. I won’t bore you with all the details, but when the airline captain comes on the intercom to announce there is a line of storms between the plane and landing at Chicago O’Hare, you know you’re going to be in for a very long day.

Our cozy little plane didn’t have enough fuel to wait in a holding pattern for the storm clouds to clear, so we made an unscheduled stop in Indianapolis to refuel. After a couple of false alarms they finally let us on our way and we arrived in Chicago over three hours late–and too late , by 15 minutes, to catch my flight to London.

While I have been involved in the Chicago O’Hare evening rush hour before, I have never seen it after everyone’s been delayed for two hours or more. The sense of collective suffering was palpable, as people compared notes on how long their had been waiting for their flights and how much their connections and travel plans had been messed up.

United’s Customer Service desk had a line that must have been at least 250 people long. I was fortunate that I was sent directly to the gate of the next flight to London where I managed to get a seat (with no elbow room) otherwise I would have been stuck in line until all the transatlantic flights had gone for the night. I eventually landed in the UK five hours late and minus my checked bag, which turned up on the doorstep 22 hours later.

So in the end, I was one of the luckier ones. I was chatting to people who were traveling to Kiev, flying to China, meeting up with a cruise liner, and so on. I have no idea if they got to where they needed to go, but I am sure the airport hotels were full Monday night. Maybe connecting through Chicago is a risky business at the best of times, but when you have further connections or tight travel schedules in your itinerary, well, you’re just asking for trouble.

Movie Review: Pottering About – Part Five (spoiler-free)

I detest spoilers. I hate them so much that I will do just about anything to avoid being spoiled for a movie, book, or TV show. There’s nothing more thrilling when watching or reading a work of fiction than not know what is going to happen next. People who avidly watch every trailer, spend hours on the Internet looking for spoilers, or who turn to the last page of a book to find out the ending (yes, you know who you are) should be rounded up and forcibly re-educated in the art of storytelling.

So how did I react to going to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix last night? Not only have I read the book, I know how the whole Harry Potter saga ends–who dies, who lives, who gets the girl, and so on. Well, given that the first six books follow the same basic plot–summer shenanigans at Privet Drive, arriving at Hogwarts, a new Defense of the Dark Arts teacher, Potter persecution, mysterious magical objects to find, a climactic battle, all with a little teenaged angst (though not too much) thrown in–I must admit that I was spent much of the movie wondering which version of those events was coming up in the Order of the Phoenix. Was it the Quidditch World Cup this time? No. Does the flying car make an appearance? No. Hmm, I thought that character had already died… Not being able to remember which events were in which book did help alleviate the spoiler aspect of seeing the movie somewhat. Sometimes having a bad memory can be a good thing.

As for the movie, it is well plotted and paced, has excellent special effects and the acting was competent. I thought our heroic trio did a very good job, especially Daniel Radcliffe who is obviously going to have a long and successful career in acting once he has finish with Harry. The supporting cast is stellar once again, but that is only to be excepted. One of the most remarkable aspects of the Hatty Potter series is that half of British acting royalty will turn out over and over again for barely five minutes’ screen time, if they’re lucky. Julie Waters, Maggie Smith, Emma Thompson, and many others are barely even on-screen and yet they are happy just to be part of the Potter phenomenon. Alan Rickman (Snape) is as wonderfully slimy as ever and Helena Bonham Carter plays the mad witch Bellatrix with gusto but she’s another who barely gets any screen time.

Of the younger supporting cast, Malfoy has nothing to do, and despite much pre-movie hype, Harry’s love interest, Cho Chang with a Scottish twang (Katie Leung), shows up in time of Harry’s first kiss and then promptly disappears again. The only new youngster with a lot to do is the actress who plays Luna Lovegood. Evanna Lynch plays her part competently enough, but very little of the strangeness and nuttiness of the character is on show in the movie. For that I blame the script adaptation and director, not the young actress herself.

I think the main problem with Order of the Phoenix is that it is not a movie event in itself, it is simply just another installment of the greater Harry Potter whole. There is little of the awe and wonder that accompanied the first on-screen imagining of the world of Harry Potter, when we got to see Harry, Hagrid, Hogwarts, and Diagon Alley for the very first time. It gets us from A to B, with B being one year closer to the inevitable climax of the Potter saga. It is a tale competently told, and it is an enjoyable movie, but the magic is fading. I fear the penultimate chapter will suffer the same fate, but here’s hoping the Hollywood magic-makers can bring the tale of Harry Potter to a satisfying close.

Tinker, Tailor

Just been tinkering with the look of the blog. Hope you like the new theme.

There’s a ton of wild and wonderful WordPress themes out there, but there are only so many hours in the day when I should be writing…

Comments and suggestions on the design of the blog are, of course, welcome.

Heel, Heal Thyself

I hurt my achilles playing volleyball at Aussies last Friday. I’m not sure how if happened since I was only a little sore during the game, but when I stood up after the obligatory margarita afterwards, I could barely walk to the car.

Monday night was indoor volleyball night, but I was still gimpy so was unable to play. I went down to the ARC anyway, just to say “Hi” and watch my team play against by far the worst team in the league (all GOP workers… go figure!). It was a good thing I did, since another team member was late and we would have forfeited the first game if I had not been there to stand in the corner of the court.

But I digress. During warm-ups, a member of another team (our arch-rivals) staying to referee our match, saw me limping around and asked me what was wrong. When I explained he asked me, quite politely, if he could pray over my heel. To be honest, that was the last thing I was expecting to hear, so I automatically said “Okay” and he bent down, took hold of my heel, and uttered a quick prayer (I couldn’t hear what he said). And that was it. I continued to limp around, played a couple of points and sat down when our latecomer arrived.

Now he had no idea that I don’t believe in the power of prayer (save as a placebo) and he didn’t ask me about my opinion on the subject afterwards. If he had done, I’d have probably explained my position to him, but I’m not going to go out of my way to get into an argument about something like that. It was a nice gesture, even if a bit misguided. And given the way he blushed bright red the couple of times we spoke afterwards, I suspect he felt a little embarrassed about having done it.

Needless to say, the heel is still sore, though getting a little better through the hours of RICE treatment (rest, ice, compression, elevation). It would be nice to believe that an injury could be healed with a touch and a prayer (why the touching anyway, what difference is that supposed to make?) but the fact that our bodies can heal themselves from such injuries is miracle enough for me, and there’s always the human touch, in the form of doctors, when all else fails.

Automated Customer Service from Hell

I’m off to the UK next week to exchange the flooding rains of Texas for the flooding rains of middle England. (Sigh). After I booked my flights a couple of weeks ago, I never received an itinerary via email, so I decided to call today to get one. I first called Delta Airlines, believing it to be the airline I had booked on, and was immediately flung into their voice response system.

After the usual “press 2 to…” dive through the menu system, I was asked to read my confirmation number: “SPWCLA”. No problem, the system understood me at the first attempt. Cool. I was quickly connected to a live operator and, guess what? I was immediately asked for the confirmation number again.

“But I just gave it to you!” (snarl)

Why does this always happen? Do they do it just to annoy their customers that little bit more, so they will never have the temerity to call customer service again?

Anyway, after they could not find the reservation, I told them I remembered I was going through Chicago on the way to London.

“Chicago?? This is Delta Airlines.” (as in, are you kidding me?)


So, moving swiftly on, I then called the correct airline, United Airlines. I get “press 2 to …” about five times before we’re back to: “tell me your confirmation number, use common names if you want…”.

(Good idea, I thought, foolishly.) “Sam, Peter, Walt, Chris, (uh-oh, er) Larry, Andrew”

“Was that D-P-W-R-P-A”


“I’m sorry, my mistake.” (coo) “Please try again”

(Forget the names) “S-P-W-C-L-A”

“was that S-P-Z-C-L-A”


“I’m sorry, my mistake.” (coo, purr) “Please try again”


“was that F-D-C—”


“I’m sorry, I assure you that it is my fault.” (coo, purr, soothe) “Please try again”

“S!! P!! W!! C!! L!! A!!”

“was that F—”


“I’m sorry, my mistake, please wait while I connect you to a live operator…” (cue the music)

The live operator I was eventually connected to was very lucky that over 10 minutes had passed since I had yelled down the phone at their machine. Word to the wise, shouting letters at a voice response unit doesn’t make it any more accurate.

I am a pretty calm person most of the time, but I could feel the blood pressure rising to dangerous levels. And to think that my last five working years at IBM were dedicated to creating software to help make these vile automated voice response units possible. I don’t believe in karma… really, I don’t…