Saturday, March 31, 2007

Someone Was Not Thinking

Emp. Peng. qualified for the sales convention in Clearwater, Florida, and we just got the activity agenda for the weekend. The activity coordinator obviously does not know anyone prone to motion sickness. On Saturday, we have our choice of going to Busch Gardens or going deep-sea fishing. Either way, I'm pretty much guaranteed to barf; it's just a matter of whether I want to barf into the Gulf of Mexico over the rail of something that looks like the S.S. Minnow, or barf into a trash can next to the Budweiser Clydesdales. I'm leaning toward the Clydesdales.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Putting the "service" back in "customer service"

I have found an island of reprieve in this era of manufacturers who live by the phrase, "No user serviceable parts inside," and back it up with torx screws just to make sure we won't try to fix something when it breaks. This island is the Genie Company, who unfortunately only seem to manufacture garage door openers, giving me scant opportunity to support them by buying many things from them.

Two days ago, my garage door opener crapped out, and after an unsuccessful attempt at removing the outer casing with a pair of needlenose pliers, I called Genie's customer service line to find out what sort of implement they might recommend for the task. The very helpful lady on the other end apologized for not being able to tell me exactly what size nut driver I needed to procure, and proceeded to explain that, once I got the outer casing off, there would be three more identical fasteners that remove the gear box, and if I looked in there, odds were I would find a gear that had cracked. She explained that it was about a $5 part, and even gave me contact information for a local purveyor of the necessary part, adding that, if for some reason they did not have it, I could order the part directly from Genie.

This in itself would have been above and beyond what I have come to expect from customer service, but she went through all that after I told her not to bother looking in the customer database, as I had never purchased anything from them; the garage door opener came with the house. It's one thing for a company to do that for a customer, and quite another to do it for someone who just sort of fell into possessing one of their products.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

In The Mailbag

My SASE came back from Analog today, containing the following note, along with a copy of the submission guidelines:
Thank you for giving us the opportunity of looking at this manuscript, but I have found it not quite suitable to our present needs.

I rather like your style of writing and suggest that you try us again.

Sincerely, Stanley Schmidt
To some, this may seem like bad news, but I have graduated to getting rejected on a full sheet of 8.5x11 paper, signed personally by the same person I addressed the original submission to, not one of his assistant editors, and containing sentiment that might possibly be construed as "you don't totally suck as a writer." The only way I could be happier about this is if I could progress to someone actually buying the thing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Not Fried

I passed the Smoke Test. It has been three hours since I installed the last of six replacement electrical outlets, and nothing has caught fire yet. I am also not electrocuted. More importantly, I have electricity in my office again, two days after we first noticed that none of the outlets worked.

Replacing the outlets marks my first foray into the wide world of home wiring. Until now, all the home repairs I have had to do involved the plumbing. An argument could be made that the house's record is still intact, since the circuit that went kerblooey, prompting me to replace the receptacles on it, includes the socket that the water softener is plugged into.

A phone consultation with PengDad, who has some experience with home repairs, convinced me that the most likely causes of my problem were all things I could handle myself, even though until recently my toolbox was a corrugated cardboard box. I decided to skip the first solution and went straight for replacing the outlets. There were a couple around the house that were broken and needed replaced (none, of course, in that room), and if I was going to have to do two, what's the difference doing six? Two hours, for those keeping track.

As it turns out, no matter how justifiable replacing the outlets was, that was probably not the cause of the problem. Seems the GFCI outlet behind the utility room sink--and, critically, at the head of the circuit that powers my office outlets--had tripped. Nothing like spending an afternoon fixing a problem that could have been solved by pushing one button.

Note to PengDad: the sockets ended up being 33 cents apiece, after I convinced the sales clerk that there was absolutely no way that a box of 10 outlets cost $17. Perhaps, sometime, you can explain to me why the outlets cost 33 cents and the cover plates cost 48 cents apiece.

Penguin Image of the Day

Just thought I would share my new desktop background

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Murphy's Law of Ordering Trees Online

As soon as the trees leave the nursery, your area will get socked with a sudden cold snap.

Last month, we ordered a Honeycrisp apple and a Rainier cherry to add to our orchard. As is the standard policy for mail order nurseries, "Plants will be shipped at the proper planting time for your area of the country." According to the shipping confirmation, that was Wednesday, when it was 70 degrees and sunny. I pre-dug the planting holes in anticipation. By Friday, when the plants checked into the Grove City, Ohio distribution center, it was snowing. Today, when the trees arrived, it topped out at 32 degrees.

This leads me to the corollary: if you pre-dig the planting holes, the pile of dirt you remove will be frozen when the trees arrive.

Today's Political Thought

Satan is having a snowball fight with his minions. The proof that Hell has frozen over: a politician running for President of the United States uttered the following words to a reporter: "I'm not informed enough on that."

I find it refreshing (and almost unheard of) when politicians on the campaign trail admit that they do not have all the facts on an issue, and will have to educate themselves before taking a formal position. Political discourse in this country could only improve if people took some time to learn about the pros and cons of something and gave a thoughtful, considered answer rather than feeling pressured to respond to every question immediately, regardless of their level of ignorance.

I find it less refreshing when the issue that they are uneducated in and will have to research is their own prior stance on a controversial issue.

Here's the scene, as reported on the New York Times website: John McCain (R-Arizona and R-Candidate for President) was fielding questions from reporters on "The Straight Talk Express." The topic turned to AIDS prevention in Africa. Here's the transcript of what followed:

Reporter: “Should U.S. taxpayer money go to places like Africa to fund contraception to prevent AIDS?”

Mr. McCain: “Well I think it’s a combination. The guy I really respect on this is Dr. Coburn [Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who is also a physician]. He believes – and I was just reading the thing he wrote– that you should do what you can to encourage abstinence where there is going to be sexual activity. Where that doesn’t succeed, than he thinks that we should employ contraceptives as well. But I agree with him that the first priority is on abstinence. I look to people like Dr. Coburn. I’m not very wise on it.”

(Mr. McCain turns to take a question on Iraq, but a moment later looks back to the reporter who asked him about AIDS.)

Mr. McCain: “I haven’t thought about it. Before I give you an answer, let me think about. Let me think about it a little bit because I never got a question about it before. I don’t know if I would use taxpayers’ money for it.”

Q: “What about grants for sex education in the United States? Should they include instructions about using contraceptives? Or should it be Bush’s policy, which is just abstinence?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “Ahhh. I think I support the president’s policy.”

Q: “So no contraception, no counseling on contraception. Just abstinence. Do you think contraceptives help stop the spread of HIV?”

Mr. McCain: (Long pause) “You’ve stumped me.”

Q: “I mean, I think you’d probably agree it probably does help stop it?”

Mr. McCain: (Laughs) “Are we on the Straight Talk express? I’m not informed enough on it. Let me find out. You know, I’m sure I’ve taken a position on it on the past. I have to find out what my position was. Brian, would you find out what my position is on contraception – I’m sure I’m opposed to government spending on it, I’m sure I support the president’s policies on it.”

Q: “But you would agree that condoms do stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Would you say: ‘No, we’re not going to distribute them,’ knowing that?”

Mr. McCain: (Twelve-second pause) “Get me Coburn’s thing, ask Weaver to get me Coburn’s paper that he just gave me in the last couple of days. I’ve never gotten into these issues before.”

Now, this is not a question like trade agreements with Latvia, that one could reasonably expect a politician to forget how he might have voted in the past. This is a position on a matter of medical fact--do condoms prevent AIDS or not--and one that underpins the party's platform on several other issues, like the sorts of sex education programs the government funds domestically and abroad for combating a world epidemic. More to the point, they're talking about sex, and the ability for people to have it without dying. Sex is important to us as a species. Without it, we sort of stop existing after a while. People don't (or rather, shouldn't) just forget what their position is on making sex less fatal.

The other thing that gets me about this exchange is his reliance on "supporting the president's policy," and the reporter's insistence on pegging him to whether or not he supports the current administration's policy. McCain is running for president himself; if he's elected, he'll be the one getting to make "the president's policy." I, for one, am far more interested in the policy he would institute himself, rather than his loyalty to the one currently in place.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Constant Joy of Cat Ownership

She just walked straight over to a DVD case left open on the floor and yakked into it. Fortunately, it was empty.

Check the date

Happy Pi Day.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


It was an absolutely gorgeous day today--sunny with the temperature nudging 70. Of course, this means the upstairs segment of the Rookery is now warm enough to grow orchids. I have opened those windows that will open, and am now facing an internal debate. We have a small fan that I am using to help the ventilation process in the bedroom. Would it be better to face it so it sucks the cool air in from the outside, or so it blows the warm air out? The suggestion box is open.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Groundhog Run

Gotta love YouTube. Around 1:40 in this video, there is a brief flash of running groundhog footage. For the record, I have never seen Woodrow eat anything other than fruit and grass. He has certainly never gnawed leavings off my barbecue grill. Of course, that might be because I don't have a barbecue grill.

Marmota Watch '07

It's ON! Marmota Watch '07 officially kicked off yesterday with the year's first sighting of Woodrow, the Rookery's woodchuck-in-residence. He was sighted scampering toward his den from somewhere south of the apple trees. I think the neighbor dog barked and spooked him. If you have never seen a woodchuck run, it is an amusing sight. Here's a link to a still shot of one (not Woodrow), but it doesn't quite do justice to the waddle-scamper these guys pull off when they are trying to get to their den fast.

Welcome Back

Thanks for everyone who stuck around during my impromptu hiatus. Nothing bad happened or anything. Unless you count a minor bout with a cold and a not-so-minor bout with sore muscles from pruning the orchard, I've been as healthy as ever, just a little sucked dry in the brain, which has a lot to do with why I haven't written anything to post (and frankly, not much to not post). I promise that, in the future, if I take some time off, I'll make sure to post a notice of when I'll be back, so as not to disappoint.

Much blogworthy has happened over the last couple of weeks, so I'll be playing catchup.