The Devil's Customer Service Line

There was once a widespread belief that you could summon the devil by speaking his name. This is the basis for people exclaiming "speak of the devil!" upon seeing someone they were just talking about. Recently, I was midway through writing an email to an acquaintance when my phone rang. You guessed it. Marc denies spying on me, but I can’t help thinking that the devil may have email these days too.
When I mentioned this theory to Z., her reaction was simply, "Devil, thy name is Comcast."
Now I’m not exactly in love with Comcast, but to be fair, that seemed a little harsh. My suggestion was that perhaps Comcast is more of a minor demon.
Z.’s response was, "Well, think about it next time you have to talk to Customer Service."
Now that’s a different matter altogether. That would be, "Devil, thy name is Customer Service." And I had one of those experiences just a couple nights ago.
Two months in a row, I’ve gone over my limit for "anytime minutes" on the cellular plan. The first time, I figured it was a fluke, after all, I’d been on vacation for most of December and hadn’t really been paying attention to the day or time when calling people.
But then it happened again for the January bill.
So I started looking into VOIP service. The one company I’m looking into has a deal that works out to around $17 a month for unlimited calling within the US. (I don’t actually know anyone outside the US, but if I did, that would be 3 cents per minute with the first 100 minutes included.)
The overage for January was more than a single month of the VOIP and the December one would have covered nearly three months. Plus there’s the issue of dropped calls and echoes on the line. So I’m giving it some thought.
Problem is, although the web site is amazingly clear and informative, there’s still a question or two for which I just can’t find the answers. So I called their "customer care" number.
On the first go round I gave up after 20 minutes so I could go make dinner.
Later, I decided to curl up and take a light nap while waiting on hold. Not actually sleeping, but pretty darn close to it. It took them around 35 minutes to pick up the phone, at which point it turned out the automated voice response system had put me in the wrong queue!!!!
Happily, I didn’t get disconnected and when I got put into the right queue it only took about 30 seconds before I got another live person. I asked my three questions. One was "Yes" (just what I’d been hoping for). One was, "You’d have to call the customer service number to make that sort of change." (Yikes! If I want to change the service I have to go through the same half-hour long queue??!!!!) And the final question turned out to be just way beyond anything on the poor guy’s script.
So, I’m going to be trying out a new phone service over the next month, just to see what happens. The good news is that I’m not planning to get rid of the cell phone as my primary way of getting calls anytime soon. (So no need to worry if you just recently had that numbered tattooed anywhere.)
But I’m gonna read the terms of that service contract quite closely and make darn sure it doesn’t have to be signed in blood.


Some of the people who think they know me the best may be surprised by this next bit: I was once a suspect in a bombing. Nope, I’m not kidding. At the time I was quite surprised and if I’d had any sense, probably should have been horrified at the implication.
Back in my sophomore of year of college, the campus Security Chief tracked me down and asked me to come to his office about an incident that had occurred over the weekend. That Saturday, someone had flushed an M-80 firecracker down one of the toilets on my floor in the dorm. I’d seen the pieces of porcelain all over the hall the following morning and by late-morning there was a rent-a-cop standing guard over whatever evidence may have remained. At some point the campus authorities decided to treat the incident as a full-fledged bombing.
So what made them suspect me? Right after the explosion, most of the people living on that floor rushed out into the hallway and during the investigation, somebody realized that I wasn’t one of them. So where was I? Off at a party? Laughing maniacally at the destruction? Planning more mayhem? None of the above! I was sound asleep!
My ability to sleep through things is pretty much the stuff of legend. According to Mom, somewhere around the start of my freshman year of High School, it was like someone flipped a switch and suddenly I just wouldn’t wake up*. And one roommate reported the time I jumped down from my loft bed, turned off the alarm clock, and jumped back up, all in one motion, and all without waking up. Alarm clocks, fire trucks, etc. I slept through it all.
I don’t know whether they believed me about sleeping through the explosion, but I never heard any more of it. Seven years later, while living in Nevada, it wasn’t until I asked a pair of coworkers what they were talking about one afternoon that I found out I’d slept through an earthquake.
*For the record, although Mom did have trouble waking me for school, I wasn’t the absolute most difficult. That honor goes to Steve who once had a glass of cold water poured over his head.

Tanks roll on Washington!

I was driving to work on Thursday when I spotted something most unexpected in the main lanes. Military hardware isn’t one of my areas of expertise, but I’m pretty sure I know a tank when one passes me in rush hour traffic!
Sure looks like a tank to me!
My best guess is that Dick Cheney’s going hunting again.
(A moment of silence please for the passing of the Florida election joke.)


A couple weeks ago, I came out of the office at the end of the day and found a flyer stuck under my car’s windshield wiper. In the eight years I’ve been working there, this is the sixth or seventh time that’s happened. That works out to less than once a year, so I suppose it’s not a bad average. But it’s still annoying.
In some jurisdictions, the penalty for this sort of advertising is kind of creative. Instead of a flat fine per incident, they fine you a couple dollars per flyer. Hit a parking lot with a few hundred cars in it and the fines can quickly dwarf any boost in sales.
Those fines exist for one a simple reason: People don’t like it when businesses put advertising on their windshields. A great many people take the flier off their windshields and throw it away when they get home. But a great many more take the flier off the windshield and throw it on the ground before driving away. When I came out of the office that evening, the parking lot was strewn with fliers. I chose a third option for getting rid of my copy: I mailed it back to the offending merchant.
The flier came from Kardo, a Mediterranean restaurant over in the Kings Farm development. I’ve had lunch there a couple times and the food’s not bad. But I really don’t care for that advertising technique. So I mailed a letter off to Kardo explaining my objection and also explaining that I would no longer patronize their establishment. I figured that would pretty much be the end of it.
Some folks just don’t like being told you disagree with what they’re doing. When I got home on Tuesday, my mailbox contained a reply from the owner of Kardo. It was about a page long, but it really boiled down to just two points:
1) Lots of other businesses put out fliers like that, do I boycott them too?
As a matter of fact, yes. I do ignore offers from businesses that leave fliers on my car. I also discard the menus the Chinese delivery places leave on my front door.
One interesting comparison he made was that The Gazette is delivered to people’s houses every week and if it’s a house where the owner doesn’t want the paper, sometimes it will sit there for a week or two until it gets wet and disintegrates. Nobody complains about that. I have to admit, that particular example does have merit, but there’s a crucial difference: most people do want the free newspaper. Every time I’ve seen a business try that, most of the fliers wind up scattered on the ground. It’s not so much an advertising technique as it is a way to litter.
2) They’re a small, family-owned business.
My response to that one is just two words long: So what? Truth be told, I have come to prefer the small restaurants versus the national chains. (Note to California Tortilla: we’re good as long as you don’t put stuff on my windshield.) But a few years ago, another restaurant I liked did the same thing; I didn’t go back to Theo’s for a year and a half.
I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to Kardo.

There ain't no dust on me!

"You wouldn’t be Blair if you didn’t have a thousand things going on."
– Sethiya

Wow have the past couple weeks been busy. An all-nighter for work, a meeting for the Germantown Oktoberfest, getting together with Laura for both our birthdays (as well as just getting together on general principles), and getting ready to spend the weekend at Farpoint, well, it just hasn’t left a whole lot of free time. So as busy as last year was, the new one is shaping up to be busy too.
I’m no longer on the local Jaycees Board of Directors. This is the last year when I’m eligible to be a member of the organization, so I decided to do it as a regular member instead.
Having freed up some of my time by not being on the Jaycee board, I’ve stepped up my involvement with the Germantown Oktoberfest. In addition to continuing the publicity duties I took on in 2005, I’ve taken on the job of being committee chair for the entire festival. This should be an interesting experience, though I find myself wondering from time to time, "Good Lord! What have I got myself into now?" (I’m blaming this on Foo Foo and Sue. They know who they are.)
I’m still involved with organizing two Science Fiction conventions. For Farpoint (where I’m writing this), I coordinate with the various fan groups who want to set up a publicity table at the event. And then, during the event itself, I fill in wherever people need me. And then, for Shore Leave, I’m the web master with a few people planning for me to take over the job of committee chair for next year.
Somewhere in there I still have my paying job (It’s always nice to have a paycheck!), plus trying to put in some time with Terry and Wylie.
About the only thing I’m not doing is letting any dust settle on me.

Think Pink

To celebrate her birthday on Tuesday, I took Laura out for dinner at the Barley and Hops restaurant up in Frederick. It’s a nice little place with friendly staff, reasonable prices, and good food. It’s a nice place.
Not having any fixed plans, we decided to see what was playing at the movies and after giving it some thought decided to see the new version of The Pink Panther.
It’s been a while since I last saw the original Pink Panther films, but this re-imagining seemed dead on. The owner of the Pink Panther diamond has been murdered and the diamond is murdered and the authorities are under pressure to find it. In order to further his career, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Kevin Kline) promotes an incompetent bungler from the outer reaches. Dreyfus’plan is to put the bungler, Inspector Jacques Clouseau, in charge of the investigation and once he’s failed, Dreyfus will solve the case himself and take the credit and glory for himself.
Clouseau’s investigation takes a number of unexpected turns, but perhaps the most unexpected comes after he’s been sent home in disgrace.
Steve Martin portrays the bumbling Inspector Clouseau with well-executed slapstick sharp delivery, and a faux French accent that can only be described as "outrageous" and Kevin Kline brings to life Chief Inspector Dreyfus’ contempt and hatred for Clouseau.
My only disappointment was that the movie didn’t end with the animated Pink Panther returning in the credits. All in all, I think Peter Sellers’ legacy is in good hands.

Happy Birthday Sweetie!

Yep! Today, February 14, is Laura’s birthday. I know which one it is, but no, I won’t be posting it here. In part I won’t do that because it just wouldn’t be the gentlemanly thing to do (For those of you who are wondering, "Since when is Blair a gentleman?" my answer is, "Oh, hush."). But another important reason for not posting which birthday is because I’d probably screw up the math (I recently got my own age wrong for gosh sake).
There’s also a minor holiday today. It used to be an important one, but never to the point where you got the day off from work or anything. These days, any celebrations of that holiday are mainly held for the benefit of the greeting card, floral, candy and restaurant industries. Laura’s birthday is much more important!
P.S. Don’t worry sweetie, you’re the only person who reads this part of my site.

Winter Wonderland

It was rather late by the time Wylie and I went out for our walk last night, past 11:00 (Wylie’s become quite the night owl since moving here) and the snow had been falling for hours.
One of the neat things about being outside at night while it’s snowing is that even at 11:00, the ground seems as bright as day. I’m sure the reason behind it has to do with the snow, both on the ground and in the air, reflecting light from the nearby houses, street lights, and even from sources some distance away.
But it also seems quite magical, and that’s a good explanation too.

Stamp Quest

I guess everyone knows by now that postage rates went up on January 8. From various news reports, there was evidently a run on one and two cent stamps during the days leading up to the new rate going into effect.
As luck would have it, the rate change caught me with a half roll of 37 cent stamps and several pre-stamped postcards. A day or two after the rate increase went into effect, I managed to buy a dozen two cents stamps, but the post office didn’t have any penny stamps. No big deal, or so I thought.
Two weeks later, I found myself at the post office in the evening and decided to at least get a few postcard stamps from the machine. Even two weeks into the new rates, the only stamps the machine had – for letters or postcards – were the old demoninations. The displays in the machine had notes next to them saying that the stamps required additional postage and even listed how much. But there was no way to buy the additional postage!
Finally, in a stroke of what I briefly mistook for genius, I visited the Post Office web site and learned that I could buy the stamps online, and for the same price you’d pay at the post office. Only thing is, if you buy stamps online, they charge you for postage!
I’ve been buying stamps by mail for the past several years – just fill out a form, write a check, and stick it in the outgoing mail, the stamps are delivered a few days later. No waiting in line and no extra charge. Not even postage.
So I got clever again. I sent in a Stamps by Mail form, but instead of ordering any of the stamps listed (all at the old rates), I wrote in an order for the stamps I needed. While I was at it, I also ordered ten 24 cent stamps for my next batch of postcards.
The stamps arrived today. But instead of my 24 cent stamps, they sent 23 cent stamps and an equal number of 1 cent stamps.
Evidently the Post Office can’t find the new stamps either!

How to Live Longer

I discovered today that a recent issue of National Geographic had a cover story titled “The Secrets of Living Longer.”
As a community service, I’m going to reveal how you too can live longer. What’s more, I’m not going to make you buy anything. That’s just the kind of guy I am.
So what’s the secret to a long life? It’s quite simple really: Don’t Die!
That’s it! There’s nothing else you have to do!
Aren’t you glad I didn’t make you buy a magazine?