Monday, January 26, 2009

Dumbest. Company. Ever.

I've been meaning to switch from DSL to cable internet for a while. My DSL service is too expensive for what it gives me, and my former local ISP has been sold to some larger entity, which is never a good thing. So the things that bound me to my existing service no longer apply.

And after ignoring AT&T's entreaties for some time about their services, I finally realized that they weren't, in fact, trying to sign me up for video over phone lines, but actually trying to get me to switch to their fiber-optic system, called U-Verse. Lame name, but whatever. The service and price points are pretty appealing, so I start to look into it.

I go online to sign up, it looks good. Until I get to the page where it says, "Sorry!" Because they see that my existing phone line is shared with my DSL service. Well, yeah. That's why I want to change. Duh. But they can't take the order online.

So I call them, figuring they can just override that. Oh boy, was I wrong. They run into exactly the same issue. They can't order the switchover because I have "shared service" on my existing phone line. It's not that there's any technical reason they can't switch me over, just that the order system won't let them enter the order, either.

So my option is to cancel my existing DSL service, and then order U-Verse as a replacement. Meaning I'll be without Internet access for a while. Yeah, great solution guys. Or I can just go with the cable company option, which costs more and gives me less service. And sends me to their competition.

Brain-dead. I can't be the only one in this situation, but they have no solution for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Ice? Who Needs Ice?

This cannot be good news:
Scientists on Wednesday unveiled evidence to suggest global warming is affecting all of Antarctica, home to the world's mightiest store of ice.

The research, published in the British journal Nature, takes a fresh look at one of the great unknowns -- and dreads -- in climate science.

Any significant thaw of Antarctica could drown many coastal cities and delta regions. Bigger than Australia, Antarctica holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by 57 metres (185 feet).

Maybe my house will be beachfront property before too long.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Skiing While Canine

Had a new experience this weekend while skiing at Alpine Meadows. My wife and I had just taken the Sherwood Express chair for the first time, and as we paused to put on our pole straps and such, I noticed a very nice looking dog standing off to the side. Then I noticed that it was wearing a little bib of some sort, which I recognized as being for the Ski Patrol.

Then I looked away for a few moments, and next thing I knew I felt something warm rubbing against my leg. The dog had come for a little love. It started making its way around the skiers, getting lots of attention, then walked over to my wife, who patted him on the head nicely, prompting him to sit right down on her ski.

We chuckled as several kids came over to pat the dog, then decided we really wanted to go ski. So my wife tried to convince the dog that she was going to leave (no reaction). So she started to slide her ski out from under him, at which point he just lay down across both skis. Much hilarity all around, as now more skiers come to admire the dog and his captive. (Forgive the picture quality; my little old mobile phone has a terrible camera.)

Eventually a couple of the Ski Patrol humans took pity and called the dog over, but it took a lot of prompting. Apparently Trevor (or Mr. T) does this sort of thing fairly often. He gives the impression of having been there a long time, and is very sweet and good-natured.

In any case, I can now tease my wife about having been stopped by the Ski Patrol. And a quick visit to Google reveals that there are ten ski patrol dogs at Alpine, and they have their own trading cards! Here's a video about the dogs and their training, and lots of fine portraits on Flickr.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Fantasy and Reality

Maybe it's because I never watch the show, but I just don't get the phenomenon that is the television series "24." I mean, I get that it's an exciting drama and all that. What I don't get is the way so many people (including pandering politicians who should know better) seem to think it's reflective of real life:
Bauer’s fictional defense of torture and his fictional claims of its effectiveness are having very real consequences. Over the last two days, right-wing commentators have cheered Bauer’s belligerent Senate testimony, wondering how Congress could be so ungrateful to a torture advocate like Bauer. Often their commentary has been directed at critics of the Bush administration’s torture policies and suggests that the “average person” would approve of Bauer’s conduct.
Maybe people need to drag themselves away from the teevee a little more and get out in the real world with real people. The fear culture that is gripping this country is not healthy. People grossly overestimate the danger to themselves and their families from criminals, terrorists, child molesters, kidnappers, and so on.

I'm not suggesting that these things aren't real or that there aren't precautions one should take against them. But when the perception of risk is out of proportion with the actual risk, we end up doing things like overprotecting children so they can't even go outside to play or giving up fundamental rights and freedoms in exchange for protection from overinflated risks.

I realize that crime dramas and such can be very compelling, but they're not real.

I'm reminded of a line by Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller about people misunderstanding media (my emphasis):
We believe violence is exciting in entertainment. In America we have the First Amendment; there are no censors. But there are anti-violence censorship letter-writers. They want to make sure you'll never see anything that they wouldn't want to see. They say that if we had nothing on TV but shows like thirtysomething and Growing Pains all the world problems would be worked out in an adult, peaceful manner. They don't understand EVERYTHING's fake on TV. Homer Simpson doesn't work in a nuclear power plant! Homer Simpson is just an actor!
It seemed funny at the time. Perhaps, like many entertainers, he was just prescient.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Overdue Book Review

I've been meaning to write this up ever since I finished reading it. Life got in the way, as usual.

Anyway, my dear friend Laura Goodin recently got her first story published in a book called Canterbury 2100. As far as I know, the book isn't yet available in the U.S., but Laura was kind enough to send me a copy for Christmas (along with two packs of Tim Tams!!!). So the least I can do is tell you about it.

The premise of the book as a whole is sort of an update on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: a bunch of people making a pilgrimage by train to Canterbury in a post-apocalyptic future (in oh, about the year 2100). The train stops, the passengers pass the time by telling stories.

In this case, each tale is written by a different author, and the whole thing is strung together by editor Dirk Flinthart. He manages to make it all pretty cohesive, which is impressive.

Now, here I have to admit that I have never read Chaucer's stories (though I do own a copy, at the behest of another writer friend who wrote her thesis on Chaucer, and I still plan to read it), so I can't tell you whether Flinthart did a great job of fitting this tale into the mould of the original. But for me, the overall flow worked pretty well, especially considering that there are eighteen different writers involved.

As you might expect from a collaborative effort of this sort, the quality is a bit uneven. The good news is that nothing is bad enough to be unreadable, and most are really pretty good. If I have a general complaint, it is that too many of the tales are written like short stories (as opposed to episodes in a larger tale): they try to have a little twist at the end, and most are too predictable.

I should mention Laura's contribution, "The Miner's Tale," in particular. And not only because she's my friend. Her story manages to avoid the pitfalls I've mentioned above. I resisted the urge to read it first, and instead read it in the flow of the book. Because the story and its characters don't really rely on anything particularly special about the ficton, the story just works. It's a good story about good people trying to do right in a difficult situation. Very human, very nicely written.

Some of the other tales get a bit too tied up in magic and/or religion and/or technology that doesn't quite fit the overall picture. My favorite stories are those like Laura's (and the Doctor's and Hunter's Tales) that are stories about human nature and how the people react to the situation forced on them, rather than being about the situation itself.

All in all, I enjoyed the book, and look forward to reading Laura's next effort. And it made me want to go read my Chaucer. Not right away, but it is back in the queue.

They Obviously Want Me

Just came across this little job opening:
The Caretaker of the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef is a newly created position. There are a few minor tasks that need to be taken care of, but the most important duty is to report back to Tourism Queensland (and the world) and let us know what’s taking place on the Islands of the Great Barrier Reef.
Right. One blog entry per week. I can do that. Heck, I'm even qualified for this job!

We’re looking for someone with an adventurous attitude, passion for the outdoors and good communication skills. A broad range of experience is considered and Tourism Queensland will be selecting applicants based on:

- Enthusiasm for the role

- Entertainment value (personality and creativity)

- Presentation skills (being media-friendly)

- At least one year's relevant experience

I am so there!


That is the word my fine foodie friend used to describe this.

One can just feel the arteries hardening while reading it. But in a good way.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Oh, No! Not Liberals!

I missed this one while I was out of town. Apparently there is much wringing of hands over the notion that President-elect Obama might be listening to...liberals. I rather agree with Steve Soto's take on this:
Their candidate just ran on their platform and got his head handed to him by a centrist Democrat, who is allowing the broadest possible input into his policies and agenda, and still there are knuckle-dragging goons who are unhappy that Obama isn’t only listening to slugs like them.

Well slugs, let me clue you in: You lost, and so did your agenda and your policies.

Except of course, I wouldn't call them slugs (in public). But really, who did they think Obama was going to ask for advice? Them?

And then I might point out that the Washington Post article that Steve refers to (it's just one example) is a particularly pathetic exercise, both from a journalism standpoint and from the flimsiness of the argument put forth by the quoted conservative spokesperson. The article cites just the one spokesman, and he apparently doesn't know that there are liberals out there, but he's heard there are:
"It is disturbing," said Roger Clegg, a conservative opponent of Lee's appointment who is now watching the Obama advisers at the Justice Department. "The transition team as described to me was made up of nothing but people on the far left. Though Obama is more moderate, that makes you wonder what kind of advice the president is given, and what range of choices he'll be given when it comes time to make appointments."
That's it. That's all he's got. Not that some raving lunatics are taking over the asylum, but an unnamed person or persons described the transition team as being really, really liberal. But wait, there's less! The article describes two controversial Clinton nominees who are advising Obama. One is gay, and one is Chinese American and supports affirmative action. Oh, and someone from the NAACP is reviewing civil rights. Clearly these people must be plotting the radical overthrow of all we hold dear!

Apparently it wasn't enough for these folks to engage in all the fear mongering while they held power the last eight years or during the campaign season. They now apparently want to make us all afraid of ourselves. But the voters didn't seem to buy it, and I'm guessing they won't look at the moderately liberal government we're about to see with any degree of trepidation. Mostly they want their jobs, their health care, and their homes. Most of them are not terribly concerned with the labels attached to the people who help them out with that stuff.

Skiing While Ursine

We spent the weekend visiting friends and skiing at Bear Valley. Most of you probably know that I'm a long-time fan of bears in general (and my California Golden Bears in particular). Bear Valley is kinda wonderful in that it's one of the few places where you can find lots of bear pictures and other decor items without it seeming forced or kitschy.

In addition, the ski resort has named all of its lifts (and some of the runs) after bears (Cub, Bear, Pooh, etc.). My only objection is that one lift is called "Koala," and of course, that's not a bear at all. On the other hand, I was initially confused by the lift named "Kuma," until a quick visit to the Google informed me that "Kuma" is Japanese for "bear."

One highlight was skiing down toward one of the lifts on our first run down the back side, and having my daughter look up in surprise and say, "That lift is Pooh!" And indeed, right there on the lift, it says its name is Pooh. Very cute.

Anyhow, the skiing was quite nice. Friday was a blustery, snowy day, but that produced a lot of good snow. Saturday was cold, so the powder stayed good. Sunday, most of the people disappeared even though the snow was still great. I guess they'd all had enough on the holiday weekend, so we had the run of the mountain in great conditions.