27 February 2008

Jumpin' Jerk

The weirdest thing happened to me yesterday. As I was leaving work, I stopped in the restroom. Someone was using the urinal, so I went into the stall. When I came out, the person was still there, standing at the sink. He wasn't washing his hands or anything, just standing there, staring at himself in the mirror. I recognized him as one of the reference librarians.

I stood there, waiting to use the sink. And waiting. He did nothing, and didn't move. A full minute passed. I was getting a bit impatient to get on my way, so I looked into the mirror, hoping to catch his attention. After a few seconds he appeared to notice me, and started jumping up and down in place. I just stood there and looked at him, totally floored.

He continued pogoing up and down, but slowly started moving backward as he jumped, so that he gradually moved away from the sink. He never said a word. By now I didn't really want to wash my hands anymore, because I just wanted to get the hell away from the guy, but I did it anyway, as quickly as possible, and took off.

This isn't the first time I've experienced weirdness in the restroom on this floor. A few weeks ago I encountered a guy yapping away on his cell phone, and last week I walked in to find a woman standing in there, seemingly having just finished a cell phone conversation. But I haven't seen either of those weirdos again, whereas I passed Pogo once already this morning. And every time I see the guy, I know I'm going to think to myself, YOU FREAK! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?

26 February 2008

The Daily Grind

By now you all know I love my gadgets. In fact, I got a new gadget a few days ago that I'm very excited about. I've been messing with it every day, and when I'm not using it, I like to just admire it. But it's not a computer, not a TV, not a cell phone or GPS or iPod or other mobile device.

It's my new coffee maker. And believe me when I say this thing deserves to be called a gadget.

My previous coffee maker still worked, but it was somewhat past its prime in terms of making good coffee. It was seven years old, but when you use a thing like that every single day, it ages similarly to dog years, so by that measure it was almost 50. I remember when I got it because the one I had before that died very suddenly: one day it made me coffee, the next day it was dead. I'd had that one only two or three years, so it definitely died too young.

When I started thinking about replacing my coffee maker, I decided that I wanted the kind that grinds the beans and then makes the coffee all in one unit. It's been pretty well established and documented in these posts that I'm a very lazy person, and while I certainly appreciate the flavor difference gained by grinding your coffee beans just before brewing, I am far too slothful to make that happen every day, or even just on weekends. I generally grind it at the store when I buy it, or if I'm feeling particularly indolent, I buy it already ground. So one of the grind-and-brew units seemed like an excellent option for me.

I had mentioned to my siblings that this was something they could get us for Christmas, but either they didn't have enough time, or they didn't want to try to guess which one to get, because they gave us a gift card for Macy's. Macy's hasn't exactly been my favorite store for a while now, but they do still have a decent housewares department, so off I went in search of a snazzy new coffee machine. Somewhat to my surprise, they had only two grind-and-brew models, neither of which appealed to me. Hopefully we'll find something else to use the gift card for, eventually.

I started looking around online to see what was available and what I should expect it to cost. A Krups unit caught my eye, imposing and purposeful-looking, but it was $130. Somehow I ended up on Amazon reading users' comments, and one of the least expensive and best-reviewed units was a Melitta. Amazon was selling it for $50, so I bought it. It arrived just before we left for California, so I left it to deal with when I got back.

However, in addition to being lazy, I am frequently not satisfied. After using the Melitta for a few days, I concluded it wasn't really what I wanted. It's my own fault, because I didn't do enough research beforehand. I have always had coffee makers that use cone filters, because I feel they make better coffee than the ones that use basket-style filters. (All of you French-press fawners and percolator partisans can save yourselves the trouble of telling me how much better the coffee is--I believe you, but did you catch the part about me being lazy?) Also, I prefer paper filters; I never use those permanent mesh filters, because I can't stand having to clean the thing every day (again with the lazy).

As it turned out, not only did the Melitta come with a built-in mesh filter, but it was also basket-shaped. The grinding blades are attached to the bottom of the basket, so there is no way to bypass it or use anything different. Like I said, my own fault. I decided not to keep it, but since I had already used it several times I did not think it was appropriate to return it, so I opted to re-gift it. I cleaned everything thoroughly, packed it all back in its box, and gave it to someone who will enjoy it, and to whom we owed Christmas and birthday gifts.

As soon as I had decided the Melitta was not for me, my mind went back to the Krups. It was large, formidable. It had levers and buttons and was kind of complicated-looking and, well, masculine. Not that a woman couldn't or wouldn't use it, but it's a guy's coffee maker, if that makes any sense. Here, take a look for yourself. See what I mean?

I checked it out in person at a Crate & Barrel. The thing weighs over eight pounds. The grinder assembly sits on top, above the (cone) filter chamber. You can choose how finely you want the beans ground, plus there are three settings for brew strength. As the beans are ground, they come out a little chute on the front and drop into the filter. When it's done grinding, the cover of the filter compartment snaps shut rather dramatically and it starts brewing. Coffee and a show. You can see how this would appeal to someone like me.

As it happened, we had accrued a new chunk of those American Express rewards points that I love so much, so I used them to get a Crate & Barrel gift card and picked up the unit on Saturday. There I was on Sunday morning, standing in the kitchen staring at it as it put on its little routine. And yes, the coffee is quite good. I'm still experimenting to find the best combination of grind and brew strength, but to me that's part of the fun.

In fact, I think Krups is missing out on opportunities to market this thing to guys. Why not take out some ads in Sports Illustrated and Men's Journal? Better still, sell it at Home Depot and Lowe's. Not in the power tool section, necessarily, but nearby. Do demos on Saturdays. Guys see this thing in action, they're going to want it.

25 February 2008

He'll Be Remembered

I've told this story to a couple of you, but for those of you who have not heard it, it was one of the highlights of the memorial service for my father-in-law:

Bill was a science and environment reporter for the Nashville Tennessean newspaper for about eight years. Even though he was forced to crank out copy on deadline, he was always a stickler for good writing: proper sentences, grammar, and punctuation. For about a year, around 1970 we think, he had Al Gore working with/under him as a junior reporter, and he was allegedly a merciless editor of Gore's articles (and everyone else's).

Fast-forward to about six or seven years ago, after Clinton and Gore had left office. Gore comes to southern California to appear at a function or speaking engagement. So Bill goes with a local politician that he had worked with for a long time (the person telling the story at the memorial). They're waiting outside in some sort of line, Gore arrives, comes walking along the line with his Secret Service detail, smiling at people. He spots Bill and yells his name excitedly, and starts moving faster toward him. The Secret Service guys don't know what to make of it. He gets there and they say their hellos, and Bill says, "I wasn't sure if you'd remember me." Gore says, "Remember you? I used to have nightmares about you!"

23 February 2008

The Hours

Even though it was snowing yesterday, getting to work was a breeze because it was also school vacation week, so there's been less traffic on the roads all week, the buses came a little earlier than usual, the subways were less crowded, and everything just moved smoothly. Getting to work usually takes about an hour; yesterday I was there in 45 minutes. Too bad it won't last.

My job is not stressful, but I do have this one Big Important Deadline each month, and it was yesterday (which is the main reason you haven't heard much from me this week). A lot of people in my office chose to work from home rather than deal with the snow, but I don't have all the necessary software at home. My alternative would be to lug my laptop home from work whenever there was an impending storm, but then I wouldn't have anything to gripe about.

So I worked. I was an industrious little knowledge worker all day, stopping briefly to chat with a couple of others who had made it into the office. We got an email around 2 telling us we could leave at any time, but I wasn't finished yet. I did finally finish everything around 4:30, and there was one other person still in the office.

As I was gathering up my stuff and putting on my coat, I was thinking how nice it would have been to leave early, to have gone home and taken a nap and still be getting paid for it. No matter how old we get, we still want a snow day. We want to be relieved of our obligations and responsibilities, if only for a day or just a few hours, due to circumstances beyond our control.

Instead, I went home at essentially the same time I always do. The Mrs. had picked up a frozen pizza the night before, and some of that ready-to-bake frozen chocolate chip cookie dough that comes in pre-cut cookie portions. I decided the snow shoveling could wait until today.

18 February 2008

Suit Up

I'd almost forgotten about this:

Friday night, Diesel Cafe in Davis Square. Twentysomething dude, suit and tie, Red Sox cap, Bluetooth headset. Trying to look grown-up, but failing.

Take away any one of those three elements, and I probably wouldn't have noticed him. No, that's not true: it's never okay to wear a baseball cap with a suit. Never.

17 February 2008

Eyeglass Update #4: The Near-Sighted Eagle Has Landed

My redone glasses showed up on Thursday, but I've been busy. This time they got it right (which I figured they would after screwing up the first time, but you never know...).

They are a bit tight on my head, but it is a different frame style, and they are new, and the old ones had become so loose that these may seem too tight by comparison. I'm sure they'll loosen up a bit over time, but this is where you notice the difference in service: if I had bought the glasses from a brick-and-mortar optometrist, I would have been able to have them adjusted when I picked them up. But considering the difference in cost, I can make do without a bit of adjusting.

The frames I chose are made by Ray-Ban. Yes, they make other things besides just sunglasses--who knew? But the important thing is that Ray-Ban is owned by the Luxotica Group, which is one of the largest manufacturers of eyeglass frames and sunglasses in the world, and they do this manufacturing in Italy. I happen to be of Italian heritage, but this is not merely a sort of nationalism. It's just one of those facts of life that sometimes certain things are made better in one place than in others, and this is one of those things. Life is full of compromises, but there are some things you just don't compromise on.

The frames are very solid and sturdy, which should help me because I have a tendency to knock them around when they are not on my face (even though I'm so near-sighted, I take off my glasses to use the computer or read). They don't look all that different from my previous glasses, but at least they aren't scratched and missing their finish. Was it worth the time it took to save 50%? Probably. Obviously, if this had been any kind of emergency, I would not have been able to buy glasses online. But now I have a backup pair, so if there is any kind of emergency, I'm covered.

13 February 2008

Manners on the T, or How I Will Eventually Be Arrested for Assault

Ready for some full-contact commuting?

This morning I happened to see a coworker at the T station. She lives in my town, but tends to go into work earlier and stay later (drag), so I don't see her on the subway that often. She took off her headphones and we started talking.

When the train came, it was fairly full, but it looked like there would be enough room for both of us to board. We had just made it inside the doors when I was pushed deeper into the train from behind, causing me to bump into several people. I regained my balance and turned around to see a man and a woman who appeared to be a couple squeezing in behind me. There was quite a bit of twisting and shuffling as the other riders tried to accommodate me and the pushers.

I was directly in the middle of the train, equidistant from all the grab bars. I was able to shift a couple of inches and get close enough to a bar to get hold of it (If I had shorter arms, I would have been out of luck). The train doors were still open, and there was still a good bit of rearranging of bodies going on. Mrs. Fuckface said, "I don't think there's enough room." Mr. Fuckface said, "It's okay." I tilted my head toward him so he would hear me and said, "Not really."

He looked at me and made a face. I glared back. He was a little shrimp of a guy (aren't they always?), and it occurred to me that I could have shoved him back off the train pretty easily, but I've already been sued once in my life (for something I totally didn't do) and believe me, once is enough.

I turned to my coworker and said, "If you want to put your headphones back on, I don't mind." She said, "There's not enough room to move my arms." We switched to the Green Line at North Station, and as it happened, a nearly empty E line train was coming in just as we crossed the platform. We looked at each other. "This is more like it," she said. When we boarded, we were able to sit down, a rare thing indeed.

On the flip side, when I was waiting to pay for my lunch, the person in front of me got to the cashier and started fumbling in her wallet (a pet peeve, but a subject we'll save for another day). After we had passed the fifteen-second mark with no resolution, the cashier gestured for me to put my salad on the scale. She actually rang me up first because the person in front of me wasn't ready. How often does that happen? Ultimately the woman discovered that she had no money on her, and had to leave her food.

12 February 2008

In & Out

Generally speaking, I don't eat fast food. Burger King makes me ill, as does Taco Bell. McDonald's? If it's absolutely my only choice, I'll get one of their salads. I do kind of like Wendy's, but I try not to make it a habit.

So why was I so excited to go to In & Out Burger in California? Mostly because I've been hearing for years how good it is, how it's a cut above fast food, how everything is made fresh. I went to LA a couple of times in the '80s, but even though it's been around since 1948, I wasn't aware of In & Out at the time (though I did try Fatburger, several years before it was mentioned in that old Beastie Boys song).

In 2003 we went to the Mrs.' hometown to attend a wedding. I said then that I wanted to go to In & Out, but we were only there for a couple of days and just didn't manage to fit it in. So this time I was determined to get there, no matter what. The Mrs. was willing to accommodate me. When we landed in Long Beach she was quite hungry, so the first thing we did was find a place that suited her. The first place we came across was a Panera, and by then I was pretty hungry myself, so I had a sandwich and some potato chips.

The Mrs. said we could go to In & Out as soon as we got to San Bernardino, but I figured I wouldn't be hungry again that soon. By the time we'd finished the day's errands and tasks it was around 7, and there was a Mexican restaurant much closer to where we were than the In & Out, so I suggested we wait until the next day. (I think I was sort of doing this on purpose, prolonging it a bit more.)

Finally on Thursday evening we made it to In & Out. It's certainly nothing to look at: a small white building with two drive-up lanes on either side and a walk-up window in the middle. We opted for the walk-up. There were several people waiting ahead of us, so it took a few minutes. We soon realized that some of these people had already ordered and were only waiting for their food to come out. This is one of the reasons people are so crazy about In & Out: everything is made when you order it, so it takes a little longer, and all the ingredients are fresh, never frozen.

I figured if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right. When we got to the window, I ordered a "double-double" (two patties, two slices of cheese, lettuce and tomato), "animal style" (grilled onions and pickles are added, and the meat patties are cooked in mustard on the grill), with fries and a vanilla shake. The fries were just so-so (I'm not a big fry eater anyway), but the rest of it was awesome. Even the Mrs. was impressed with her burger and shake, and she is notoriously fussy about food. While we were waiting she looked inside and said, with some surprise, "They're cutting potatoes!"

Isn't it great when something actually lives up to your expectations? I had plenty of other good food on the trip, but I'll probably remember that meal long after I've forgotten about everything else.

11 February 2008


I'm back from my latest cross-country adventure, and was welcomed home this morning by the rudeness of this frigid air. Just yesterday I was walking around in the sun, wearing shorts.

We flew into and out of Long Beach on this trip. It's pretty close to downtown Los Angeles, but somewhat more distant from San Bernardino, our destination, than the Ontario airport, which JetBlue also serves. But while Ontario is medium-sized, Long Beach is puny, and puny airports have one thing going for them: they're easy. I think there are ten gates, total. The baggage carousels are outside, which I found quite amusing. Security, while still tight, is a relative breeze.

The five car rental agencies all share one small metal building that looks like it was made out of aluminum foil and held together with chewing gum. You pick up your bags, cross the roadway, go into the building and check in, go outside and find the row with your car in it, and drive away. Total elapsed time: about seven minutes. Try that at Logan or O'Hare. Plus our rental had built-in satellite radio: bonus.

One strange thing did happen during our arrival. When the bags started to come out, I spotted the Mrs.' bag, grabbed it, and parked it in front of her. A few moments later I saw my own bag, coming toward me from my left. Then a guy down to my left leaned over and picked it up. He set it down and extended the handle. I thought it might be a good idea if I did something to stop him, so I drifted over and got in his path, and said, "Would you mind checking the name tag on that? Because it looks just like mine." He leaned down and looked at the tag and said, "Oh, you're right." He was genuinely surprised that this was not his bag. I thought to myself, one of the reasons I bought a red suitcase is so it would stand out and not look like everyone else's black rolling suitcase, so I could spot it easily. But even so, I always check the tag, just in case. Silly me.

Tomorrow: adventures in southern California fast food, and more.

04 February 2008

Adventures in Technology

Recently I mentioned that I have been working to bring my mother into a somewhat more modern era of computing. She has been slogging away with dial-up internet access while my brother, who lives in the same house, has high-speed cable internet. As far as I can determine, the only reason they did not extend this to my mother's computer is because it would have involved additional wiring. It may also have been because my mother's computer is circa 2000 and runs an older version of Windows, doesn't have much memory, and is painfully slow in general.

The main reason this came up is because my mother has been looking for a job, and she has come across places that will only accept emailed resumes, and various other technological hurdles. I was about to buy her an inexpensive computer, but when I mentioned this to a friend, he said he had just bought a new one and offered me his old one. It already had a wireless card installed, which meant that all I needed to do was add a router to my brother's computer, no extra wiring needed.

I decided I wanted to get an LCD monitor to go with it, because they use less energy, take up less space, and are easier on the eyes. A couple of days of searching on craigslist resulted in a 17" LCD for $100, and the seller even came to met me about 95% of the way between his house and mine. I test-connected everything and it all worked fine.

The next step was purchasing a router. Normally I am fairly competent in the area of technology and consumer electronics, and am comfortable making such purchases. But in this case I was a bit in the dark, because I have been a Macophile for more than 15 years and I am (somewhat intentionally) ignorant in the ways of the dark side.

(I tried to convince my mother to get a Mac back when she purchased the ill-fated HP that I was endeavoring to replace, but at the time she said that already knew her way around Windows and didn't want to have to learn the differences. This time I again considered trying to get her to switch, but decided that a free computer, even a Windows one, was worth making the best of, and having had jobs where I used Windows, I knew that XP was somewhat friendlier than the older versions of the operating system.)

I asked a few people for suggestions, including the friend who had given me the computer, the IT guy in our office, and a couple of others. Every one of them said the same thing: get a Linksys router. That amounted to a convincing endorsement. Normally I would buy this sort of product online, but there are times when it seems like it would be easier to just go to a nearby store and get it, and this was one of those times. Or so I thought.

A quick check on PriceGrabber and a glance through the flyers in the Sunday paper showed that most places sell the Linksys WRT54G for about $50, which seemed fine to me. So a week ago Saturday we headed out to get one, intending to drive down to my mother's house in Rhode Island the next day to set everything up. I had seen the router in the OfficeMax flyer for $50, so I told the Mrs. I wanted to go to OfficeMax. To her all office-supply stores are the same, and she thought I meant I wanted to go to Staples, so she drove in a different direction.

I decided it wasn't worth our time to try to go back the other way, figuring it would not make any difference which office superstore I bought the thing from. But when I got to Staples, I found that they were selling the router for $70, $20 more than most other places. I did not have the OfficeMax flyer with me, and generally that's the sort of proof required in order to get a store to price-match, so I decided to buy a different router instead of taking the time to go to a different store. (I'm pretty sure that stores count on this sort of behavior.)

The next day was a Sunday, and the Mrs. wasn't feeling well, so we postponed our trip to RI. While looking through the Sunday paper, I found that Staples had the Linksys router on sale for $50 for the week. I decided not to think about it, lest I become angry about it all over again.

During the course of the week I happened to be discussing the project with a couple of other people, and I was told that the router I had bought was bad news, and I should return it and get the Linksys. We had to go right past Staples to get on the highway, so on Saturday I went back. Of course, they were out of what I wanted. We had decided to make a slight detour to get some pastry at Lyndell's in Ball Square, which took us near a second Staples. Guess what was also out of stock there? I was ready to return my original purchase out of sheer disgust and annoyance, but the line was too long, so I decided to suck it up.

When we got to my mother's house, my brother opened the router box and found that the ethernet cable that was supposed to be included was missing. That was pretty much the final straw. Fortunately there is a Staples about a mile from my mother's house, and fortunately they had the Linksys in stock. It turned out to be very easy to set up, and the "new" computer recognized the newly created wireless network immediately. In fact, the connection seemed faster than my own cable internet service at home (which could be due to the number of users in my neighborhood, but I have no way to know for sure).

So the story had a happy ending, and I think we all learned a valuable lesson: don't buy anything at Staples, ever.

02 February 2008

Goin' Back to Cali

(Yes, I know. But I couldn't resist.)

The Mrs. and I are heading to southern California next Wednesday to honor her father's memory at an event she and her sister have planned on Saturday the 9th in San Bernardino, where he lived. Not exactly a pleasure trip, as there is still bureaucratic stuff to be taken care of regarding his last hospital stay, disposition of assets, and so on. And truthfully, there isn't anything to do in San Bernardino anyway.

But it won't be all depressing either. Bill had a lot of friends, and so the Mrs. has been fielding phone calls for the past couple of weeks from a lot of people who knew her dad and are planning on attending the event: people who, like him, were involved in local government; at least one of the Mrs.' high school teachers; their family physician and his wife; even his tai chi instructor called to say she was organizing a group of students from his class to come. At the moment it looks like somewhere between sixty and eighty people will be there, which is great.

Will we have a chance to get to LA for any amusement? I don't know. Everything is being kept kind of loose right now, because the Mrs. doesn't know how much time is going to be taken up by the mundane stuff that needs to be done. But it's possible. And I am finally, finally going to get to go to In & Out Burger. I've heard about it for years, and we were supposed to go there in 2003, when we went out to attend a wedding, but for whatever reason it didn't happen.

Also, there is a possibility that I may be able to post to the blog while I'm away, because I decided I could no longer survive without mobile internet access and I recently bought a BlackBerry Curve. It's a pretty nifty little device, very compact with a well thought-out design. Google makes dedicated Gmail and Google Maps applications for the BlackBerry OS, and both of those are pretty sweet (the map app uses the cell network's towers to show you your approximate position). I'm not making any promises, but at least I have the capability to write and post, so we'll see how things go.

Oh yeah, almost forgot: GO PATRIOTS!!!!