Monday, April 30, 2007

Their game, their rules

Last night in the World of Warcraft I was having a bit of fun with my Gnome Warrior, specifically I was being escorted through a mid-level Dungeon by a high-level friend in order to obtain some of the magical Plate armor that drops off the bosses in that dungeon. And we got some, too, with the final Boss dropping a neat Plate Helm.

Then a Games Master sent me a tell. A private, in-game message, like using Messenger or Yahoo Chat. The Games Master is an envoy of Blizzard, a real person in the game who adjudicates issues where necessary. I hadn't lodged a complaint with the GMs, which left one explanation why they'd contacted me, and sure enough, the GM informed me that my Warrior's name had been deemed inappropriate. He was letting me know this because he said he was about to log me out of the game, and when I logged back in I'd be asked to choose a new name for my Warrior.

Now fortunately I was talking to my friend using a VOIP and a headset because I was so shocked by what the GM had told me that I could barely respond to him, let alone type messages to my friend to keep him appraised of the situation. Now I reckon the GM must have been tagging along with us, invisible & invincible, and he was lenient enough to let us down the final Boss and get the Loot before contacting me. The GMs do have powers that make them virtual Neos within the WoW world, and this one's timing was too impeccable to have been mere coincidence.

Within seconds of receiving his message I was kicked out of the game. I promptly tried to log back in and was met with a screen I'd never seen before.



WoW! Pun intended. He wasn't kidding. For some reason someone found the name Knuttjob objectionable, and complained about it, and I've been forced to change it. Now I have a choice, I don't have to change it, but if I don't then I cannot log in on my Warrior. In case you're a puritan and you're getting the wrong idea, a nutjob is a crazy person, a nutter, someone who is, essentially, nuts. When I role play Knuttjob he is one crazy little Gnome who refuses to back down from a fight no matter how outmatched he might be. He's nuts, plain and simple. With me being an officer in my Guild, the Knocturnal Knights, it made perfect sense to gname my gnome...er...name my nome...no, that's not right either, it made perfect sense to call him Knuttjob.

I haven't renamed the little fella yet. I filed a protest with Blizzard but I doubt it will change anything, after all, it's their game, we have to play by their rules. Sucks, though. I like little Knuttjob.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Public Service Announcement


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Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Quizno's Affair

Heh. Sounds a bit like a Robert Ludlum novel ;)

I had lunch at Quizno's today, which normally I'd enjoy, and I did enjoy the sandwich but that's not what today's entry is about.

Quizno's, if you're not already familiar with it, is a toasted sandwich chain. At the start of the production line your sandwich is loaded with the meat of your choice, on the bread roll of your choice (white, wheat, etc), with the cheese of your choice, then passed through a toaster oven. When it comes out the other end you then get to add your choice of toppings, lettuce, onion, pickles, olives, peppers, etc, well, normally you do.

Today my sandwich emerged and I figured it was my sandwich because I was pretty much next in line, but the lady removing the sandwiches from the oven just tossed in some chopped lettuce, like she'd done with all the sandwiches before, then handed it to the guy next to her, who wrapped it and passed it on to the cashier, who called Next!

I ignored the cashier and stood there in front of the woman.

Next! called the cashier.

Again I ignored him.

Small Parmesan Turkey on Wheat? said the cashier, which was my sandwich.

Oh, I said to him, in staged confusion. Is that my sandwich? You guys don't add extra stuff any more?

The cashier looked at me, now his turn to be surprised, for real.

I wanted pickles and olives, I explained, but the girl never asked me.

The cashier took my sandwich back to the guy who'd wrapped it, who asked what else I wanted. I repeated that I wanted pickles and olives, and again said the girl never asked me.

Yeah, I was being a bit of a bastard, but I could have been a right bastard. Remember I said the girl had tossed in chopped lettuce, like every other sandwich before mine? If I'd been a right bastard I would have said I hadn't wanted lettuce. Then kicked up a fuss if the guy had tried to scrape off the existing lettuce instead of making me a fresh sandwich, from scratch. Now I don't mind a bit of bunny food, but it was added without my being asked. What if I hadn't wanted lettuce? Like the absentee pickles and olives, I hadn't been given a choice.

First day on the job or not. Busy lunchtime crowd or not. I don't care. Make sure the customer is getting what they want. Don't assume, or the customer might just be an asshole.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Learning from VA Tech

I've refrained from commenting on this, mainly because my comments are not that which would "go with the flow", but I've decided I'm going to speak up anyway.

I'm very pro-gun. I see these shootings not as excuses or wake-up calls that we need to tighten gun laws or remove guns from society, but as wake-up calls that we need to be more aware of our fellow man (& woman), we need to become familiar with the signs that someone might be building up to become a "shooter", and we need to be willing to step in and get involved (by alerting the appropriate authorities) if we do suspect a shooting is a distinct possibility in the near future.

In 1996 Martin Bryant allegedly shot and killed 35 people in Port Arthur, Tasmania. I was living in Australia at the time, self-employed as a gardener for various clients, including an elderly lady from my church who lived on her family farm just outside town. One of my self-appointed duties was to cull the rabbits that were tearing up her property, so with my client's permission I'd visit her property late in the evening and eliminate a few of the rabbits with my trusty shotgun. After the Port Arthur incident the Aussie government decided shotguns like mine were dangerous (and they were, as many a rabbit found out) so they implemented what they called a Buyback plan to buy back a majority of privately owned firearms. Essentially confiscation with compensation. Despite many, many guns being removed from the public, shootings still occurred. There hasn't been another "Port Arthur" incident since, but that's not surprising considering that in Australia's 200 year history that was the only one of its kind. What has happened though it that a college student legally gained access to a handgun (an extremely highly regulated firearm in Australia) and shot several of his fellow students, while another fellow got hold of a sword, again a highly regulated item in Australia, and ran amok stabbing people.

Easy access to guns does not facilitate these kind of activities. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold had several plans for obtaining firearms, and were apparently willing to obtain them through illegal channels if necessary. George Weller didn't even need a firearm to kill 9 people in Santa Monica in 2006.

Then there's Joel Myrick, who was the assistant principal of Pearl Middle School in Mississippi in 1997, when Luke Woodham shot and killed two girls, one of who was his girlfriend. Luke then shot and wounded 7 other students before starting to cross the road to the Junior High School where he claimed he intended to shoot more students. That was when Myrick finally returned after running 1/4 mile to his car and back to get his legally owned and stored handgun. Myrick prevented any further deaths by holding Luke at gunpoint until the police arrived.

The anti-gun people like to say a law is worthy if it saves just one life. Using their logic, the law that allowed Myrick to legally own and store a handgun in his car is also worthy. Lives were saved that day because a private citizen was armed. That's enough proof right there that guns save lives. I only need to reference one case because it's all that's needed.

The truth is if someone is determined to get a gun, they will. If someone is determined to kill someone, unless they're stupid, it's almost impossible to prevent them from doing so.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I'm getting better, but life still has its moments

Not too long ago I wrote a post about coping with the loss of my father, and how I felt I was at a turning point in the grieving process, and I was right, I was, but life still has a way of creeping up on you and while I'm learning to deal with the loss of my father, that doesn't mean I'll ever be over his passing.

Today I was in Bestbuy getting a new car stereo installed, which took 2 hours so I had plenty of time to kill. I was browsing the DVD section when I saw a tin of John Wayne movies, 15 of them, for $15. My Dad loved John Wayne movies, so this is totally something I would have bought and sent home for him. Life is...was...still is full of those moments, where I'll see an item that I know my Dad would appreciate, but life has changed because now there's no point buying those little gifts. But that doesn't mean I don't see them and still think how much Dad would have liked it.

So in the car on the way home I was listening to my new, favorite Country station, which I thank Xinh for finding for me, and a line from one of the songs that was playing as I pulled into the drive of our house went "I took a swing at my father one Christmas, never dreaming it would be his last."

Well I never, ever took a swing at my father, because there's a damn good chance if I'd ever done that it would have been my last Christmas, but when Mum & Dad's Christmas card arrived a couple of years ago and I opened it and looked at their signature I started crying, because a tiny little voice inside of me said that it would be the last time I got a Christmas Card from Mum and Dad, and it was right; that was my Dad's last Christmas on this earth.

If you only take home one thing from this Blog, let it be this: When you see a little "something" that you know would make a perfect gift for a loved one, buy it for them, and give it to them straight away. Fill your life with happy moments that you can fall back on when the sad moments threaten to overwhelm you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

My 2¢ on Lord of the Rings Online

LOTRO is another MMOG in the vein of Everquest and WoW, and last night I got access to the beta version. The real game will be released in a week or two if everything goes to plan, but for now you can get a taste of things-to-come.

I rolled a Hobbit Minstrel and spent a few minutes messing with his facial features. I gave him blue eyes, sandy blonde hair, and a smattering of freckles across his nose and upper cheeks. I was going to go with a scar on his chin but I figured everyone would go with a scar (you have a choice of several) and it's hardly noticeable anyway. The character creation screen seems more versatile and open than WoW, but essentially it all boils down to very similar things. You've got a choice of Face1, Face2, Face3, etc, eye color depending on which hue you click on in the color box, likewise hair color. Hair style, like faces, is a choice between Style1, Style2, etc.

What might be more interesting for character creation would be the ability to alter the shape of your toon's nose via a slider bar, then their chin, then the size of their mouth, then their cheeks, etc, but that's getting beyond a simple review of LOTRO and into the realm of dream features for MMOGs in general. Overall the character selection screen seems to offer a lot of variety and choices to make your character unique, so you're not just another face in the crowd. It's a pity that all of the changes you're making will be on the side of your toon that faces away from you, and thus you'll hardly ever see the work of art you spent 20 minutes creating.

Out of the gate my first encounter was with a Dark Rider. Actually I saw him riding by but from the LOTRO Lore the sight of the Dark Rider was enough to give me a WTF??? moment.

I'm a brand spanking new lvl 1 Hobbit and you're throwing Dark Riders at me???

With only one way to go I followed the path taken by the Dark Rider and as I walked along Pow! I took damage from...something. I didn't get attacked by anything, it was like I stepped on a trap and just took damage. Further on in the game the same thing happened, while walking along a path I took random damage for some inexplicable reason. Perhaps if I'd found the combat log it might have told me what happened, but meh, I just kept walking. Around the bend and down the road I spotted the Dark Rider yet again and knowing how bad arse they are I stayed well back and looked for a way around him, but the hills alongside the path were too steep to climb and the brush was too thick so I bit the bullet and slowly moved forward.

The Dark Rider was interrogating another Hobbit and I overheard the last of their conversation and basically the game is set around the time of the scouring of the Shire. You can't play Frodo or Aragorn or anything like that, but I'm sure people will still try to play them, although they may play a part in the future of the game. After the Dark Rider rode off I met up with the Hobbit. He told me we needed to escape and that he'd unlock a nearby door while I kept watch. So I kept watch while the Hobbit tried key after key in the door.

It wasn't until I spoke to him again that he "found" the right key. After that we moved through a series of doors and mob encounters until we met up again with the Dark Rider, now with three henchmen. One of the henchman ran off to do the Dark Rider's bidding, and then the Dark Rider spotted us. As he rode closer his two henchmen moved up to attack us when arrows from the nearby woods rained down, killing the henchmen and driving away the Dark Rider. Thank God, coz I was still just a level 1 Hobbit Minstrel. After a brief bit of dialog with my rescuers the introductory scene ended and when the next chapter loaded I found myself in a new town filled with activity. Lots of activity. Real people (like me) were running around (or at least toons controlled by real people), talking to NPCs (toons controlled by the computer) and completing various quests, and I promptly joined them.

Coming from WoW the gameplay and controls are very similar so it was very easy to just jump in and start playing, although I did need to remap my Strafe Left & Right keys, and Invert the Mouse's Y-Axis. When I use my Mouse to look around I think like a Pilot. Pushing Forward on my mouse should dip my view down, much as a plane would dive if you pushed the yoke forwards. This means if I jump into a lake and start swimming, I'm literally "flying" in the water. When I push forward on my Mouse my toon will dive, and when I pull back on my mouse my toon will "climb", and this makes perfect sense to me. I actually did a bit of swimming last night and I loved the fact that my Hobbit did the Front Crawl stroke (often mistakenly called Freestyle) while swimming on top of the water. In WoW most toons tend to swim Breaststroke...ok, I'm generalizing. My Dwarf swims Breaststroke while my Elf puts his arms by his side and kicks his legs like he's a dolphin; maybe the Humans swim using the Crawl, I don't know, I hardly play Humans. So the swimming technique in LOTRO was very realistic and looked really good and I was greatly impressed.

Running around the countryside, on the other hand, was terrible. My Hobbit leaned over at the waist and ran moving his arms and legs, and nothing else. His body and head stayed rock solid in a slightly bent over position that did not look natural at all. The characters in GTA:Vice City, WoW, Mario Bros, (almost every game I can think of) they all run in a realistic looking fashion, my Hobbit did not. It was not horribly obvious but it was something I kept noticing, each time I glanced at him, which detracted just a little bit from the game. How are you supposed to empathize with your character and get into the game when your avatar doesn't move around in a realistic manner?

While character movement seemed stilted, actual navigation of the countryside was made a breeze by a very detailed Minimap. It showed things such as vendors and quest givers...although the people I needed to talk to in order to finish my quests seemed strangely absent. They were in the game, they just didn't appear on the minimap, at least not that I could see. The intro area initially seemed overwhelming but once I'd done a couple of the "Kill X of Y Mobs" quests, or "Gather X of Y herbs" I'd become reasonably familiar with the zone and had little trouble finding my way around. Unlike WoWs seamless world, LOTRO's Inns and Stores are instanced, but load times (at least on my PC) were very quick. Open a door, step into the portal and a second or two later you're inside the building. Open the door, step into the portal, and a second or two later you're outside again. Not painful at all.

As I ran around I figured I'd concentrate on quests rather than grinding, and this appears the smart way to level in LOTRO anyway. I'm sure you get more XP/kill for a same level mob in WoW than you do in LOTRO, but then the XP needed to level in LOTRO seems to be less as well, at least for the initial levels. One quest asked me to kill some pigs and bring the meat back to the quest giver. After collecting all the meat I needed I killed one extra pig, but I did not feel compelled to grind out the XP I needed to level, or even just kill piggies for some "bonus" XP. Just completing quests earned me substantial XP and I leveled reasonably quickly anyway. I also loved that LOTRO shows you the vendor prices of your loot. In WoW I need to have a 3rd party program installed to see how much an item will sell for. In LOTRO they tell you, which makes choosing between two Quest Reward Items, neither of which you'll use, very easy to make. Usually I could use one of the items, but I think once or twice I completed a quest with no useful reward, so knowing which item would sell for more more money was a big plus.

At level 5 I earned the privilege of being able to add a title to my name. Because I hadn't died on my journey to level 5 I could choose to display myself as Bilimac the Wary, which I thought was hardly fair. One quest had my lvl 4 Hobbit take on a lvl 5 Pig and here's a definite difference between WoW and LOTRO. In WoW, a lvl 1 Toon taking on a lvl 2 Mob is a foregone conclusion. The Mob is going down. Most Toons in WoW should be able to take on two Mobs their own level, or one Mob a couple of levels higher than them, and know without a doubt they're going to be successful. This lvl 5 Pig had me worried and I was casting spells as fast as I could, only being a Minstrel my "spells" were Ballads that buffed & healed me while damaging my opponent. It didn't help that as a Minstrel I can currently only wear cloth armor which offered little protection against the razor sharp tusks of my foe. Fortunately a couple of people who'd turned up to kill the Pig as well joined in but it was still touch & go and even with their help I finished the fight with about 1/4 of my health remaining. Oddly enough I was actually concerned I would be defeated by the Pig. In WoW I was never worried about dying, and while LOTRO has a very lax Death Penalty, I'm still determined to advance as far in the LOTRO Beta as I can without dying once. I think it's also that I knew the Pig was a tough opponent so I did not relish coming back for a rematch if he defeated me.

So I was reluctant to add the title "...the Wary" to my name because my Minstrel had not been a cautious fellow or shied away from danger. Fortunately I had a second choice, being the addition of a "family" name, and so I became Bilimac of the Fallohides which matches both my appearance and the class I chose. I'm a fair-skinned, blonde, Minstrel, all of which are traits of the Fallohide Hobbits. Apparently if I can make it to lvl 10 without dying I can become Bilimac the Undefeated, but again that probably describes more of a cautious, wary player so unless something better comes along at 10 I shall remain Bilimac of the Fallohides.

A big change from WoW was less of the Kill X of Y Mobs quests. There were a few of them, don't get me wrong, but it never seemed like I was on a treadmill, killing mob after mob after mob. Rather many quests had you running around, exploring the zones and talking to people. You can do those one of two ways. The fast way, "Shut up already and give me my reward!" or the slow way, where you read what they have to say and immerse yourself in the game world. There are also delivery quests that are quite different from what WoW has to offer. Delivering Pies for a baker I cannot get into combat or the pie will naturally get ruined when I'm forced to defend myself, nor can I swim across rivers, Pies do not like water, for some reason. I also have to avoid Hungry Hobbits. Not all Hobbits are hungry...ok, they all are, but there are certain Hobbits labeled as Hungry, and they're the ones to avoid. There are also Mail Run quests, again where you cannot get into combat or swim across rivers, but this time you need to avoid Nosey Hobbits. Get too close to a Nosey Hobbit or a Hungry Hobbit (if you have Pies) and you fail the quest. These quests are also timed so it's not like you can take the long way around but you still need to give these interfering Hobbits a wide berth. Cutting through someone's front yard was not enough, as I found out trying to avoid a Nosey Hobbit on the path, and I failed that particular Mail Run quest. All of these quests serve to introduce you to the game world and make you feel like you're part of something real, and it's a definite change of pace from WoW's typical Kill 10 Rats quests.

As I completed quests I acquired new items, both from the Mobs I slew and from generous citizens grateful for my help, but as the Quest Reward items were generally better than anything I found on defeated foes, I never felt compelled to kill Mobs just to see if I could get some good loot. Of course we're still early in the game. In WoW, especially at higher levels, it's not uncommon to spend literally hours killing the same Mobs in one area over and over and over again for the cloth, money, and items they drop. By the time my Hobbit was level 5 I'd acquired a hat and some shoulder pads (armor) as Quest Rewards. Such items are not available in WoW until lvls 15 or higher. More pieces of armor, hats, etc, serve two purposes. More armor obviously helps to keep you alive longer, but it also helps to give your character a slightly more unique appearance. Of course two Hobbit Minstrels completing the same quests will most likely choose the same Armor, so you might still end up looking very much like every other Minstrel out there, but when I found a green pair of gloves with the same armor as my current gloves, but which sold for less, I promptly equipped the cheaper gloves and sold the more expensive pair. I also picked up a pair of ear rings and a bracelet which I was able to wear and which showed up on my Hobbit, so there are always choices to make that can individualize your toon.

I have 1 more week to play the Beta at which time the game goes live and I'll need to buy a copy of the game if I want to continue playing. Given that I don't know anyone who's going to play LOTRO, and that an MMO is really a social experience and is a lot more fun with friends, and given that there's still so much for me to do in WoW, I currently cannot see myself buying LOTRO, yet. If I had several friends who I knew were going to play I might give up WoW and join them in LOTRO, as two gaming subscriptions is not something I'm prepared to take on just yet. Although chances are if I was going to play LOTRO I'd probably do the $200 Lifetime subscription. Pay once and play forever. I like that option.

Overall I liked what Turbine have done with the game. There was just enough LOTR Lore thrown in to make you feel like you really were in Middle Earth, and once I got out of the lowbie area and entered the Shire, a considerably larger zone with many more Hobbits running around, it really was like the book come to life...which is sort of like being a part of the movie. I think Turbine have a winner with this one.

Monday, April 16, 2007

KCET & McDs

I took JE & his Tiger Cub Scout buddy "W" for a tour of the local KCET Studio yesterday. We lucked out in getting in on that. I called them asking about tours because the boys needed to do a tour of a TV Studio or Newspaper Office to help earn their Tiger Cub badge. The first person I spoke to said they didn't do tours anymore, but she transferred me to a fellow that she said might be able to help and I guess I hit the right chord with him because he said to shoot him off an email and he'd see what he could do.

So I sent him an email and never heard anything back, and was thinking I'd have to write off the KCET Tour and do a tour of the local newspaper office instead. Then last week the guy called back and said he could do the tour around 10:30 this Sunday, so 10am found me and JE picking up W and we were off to west LA and KCET.

We arrived around 10:45 and after chatting with the security guard out the front who called our guy to verify we were ok to be there, we were in. I got a couple of pictures of the boys next to the "Welcome to KCET" sign then our guide arrived to show us around. We got to see pretty much everything inside KCET, the editing board, the recording studio, a green stage room, and a stage where a game show was being filmed while we stood watching in the wings. It was pretty cool. Afterwards I got a picture of the boys standing under a Sesame Street street sign.

With the boys complaining they were hungry (in fact they'd been complaining before the tour started) we were off down the road to the closest McDonalds where I ran into the McDonald's cashiers from hell. Ok, not really their fault. They were obviously new. But that excuse has a very short expiration date.

I ordered two Happy Meals, one with a plain Cheeseburger, and one with six pieces of nuggets.

Wait, slow down, said the cashier.

Dude, I didn't order that quickly, and what's so hard to understand about two Happy Meals, one with a plain Cheeseburger and one with a six-piece of nuggets. Ok, technically the Happy Meal with the six-piece is a Big Kids Meal, but seriously, that wasn't a complicated order...unless you're new on the job, like my guy.

He finally got my order right after two other employees came over to help, one of which was the Shift Manager, but I still had to explain several times that I wanted two Happy Meals, one with a plain Cheeseburger, and one with the six piece of nuggets.

Now W is a rather peculiar child. He doesn't like ketchup (or catsup...or tomato sauce) with his fries; he likes ice cream. Last time I took JE & W to McDs for lunch I relented and bought him a small vanilla shake...wait, that was the first time we ate at McDs. So W had his ice cream and he was dipping his fries in and eating them, and I'm ok with that. I prefer a chocolate shake for my fries but some like chocolate, some like vanilla. Then disaster struck. W knocked over his shake which naturally ran out all over the place because you can't have the lid on your shake if you're dipping your fries.

The second time we ate at McDs W was drinking his milk from those cute little bottles they have. Like JE, he was using a straw. Unlike JE, who'd lifted his bottle off the edge of the table and held it down low so his straw and bottle were mostly vertical, W just tipped his bottle towards him, so bottle and straw were mostly horizontal, and the almost full bottle of milk was quickly emptied into W's lap.

Remembering the ice cream incident, with recap provided by JE, I was reluctant to get W even a small ice cream lest he make a mess. He ate a couple of the fries and declared them delicious, and I thought we were good to go. What kid doesn't love french fries? W doesn't. He asked for a second plain Cheeseburger, yes, he'd eaten the first. With money from his mom in my pocket I figured I couldn't let the kid go hungry, so I approached the counter and ordered a second plain Cheeseburger, from a different cashier this time. Just the Cheeseburger. Not a meal, nothing complicated; one plain Cheeseburger.

Got the Cheeseburger, unwrapped it, and saw lettuce on the sides, and onion. Lifting up the lid I saw a couple of pickles, and vegies and ketchup and sauce everywhere. This was not a plain Cheeseburger.

Excuse me, I said, I ordered a plain Cheeseburger. (WTF is up with your staff today???)

Literally within seconds the cooks had slapped a cheese-covered patty inside a bun and W's second plain Cheeseburger was in my hands. Kudos to them.

Then I saw the Shift Manager ask the cashier if I'd ordered a plain Cheeseburger, and he promptly shook his head.

Guess what, pal? The Shift Manager saw the problems I had earlier trying to order a Happy Meal with a plain Cheeseburger. She knows I ordered a plain Cheeseburger this time, too. Don't lie to the man, especially if she's a woman.

I didn't humiliate the guy by making a point out of it and saying I had ordered a plain Cheeseburger, but I'm sure the Shift Manager spoke to him afterwards anyway.

I've got no problems with McDs hiring 16-year olds and paying them minimum wage and working their arses off, but I'm not going to make allowances for them. I did my time in retail and customer service and quite frankly if you can't perform, if you can't provide excellent customer service, you've got no business being there. Yeah, you're only getting minimum wage and you've got rude customers up in your face, but that's part of retail and if you can't deal with that don't get a job in customer service. I could deal with that. I was bloody good at it, but it doesn't pay the bills. That's the only reason I left. I'd still be working in retail and kissing up to you and licking your boots and I'm so good at it that you'd totally believe I was loving every second of it, if it paid the bills, but it doesn't and that's why I'm not there any longer.

I understand new people on the job need to learn the ropes. So learn the ropes, get the job done and when you mess up be man enough to say, "Yeah, he could have ordered a plain Cheeseburger. I might have missed that." There are so many people willing to kiss arse for minimum wage that to keep someone on who's not going to give 100% is just inexcusable. You're doing yourself a disservice by hiring substandard help, you're doing your current staff a disservice by teaming them up with someone who's not going to pull their weight, and you're doing your customers a disservice by having them served by someone who's not going to provide excellent customer service. If you can't stand the heat, get out of McDonalds.

I expected better from Kellerman

I'm currently reading Jonathan Kellerman's "Therapy" and while I've always enjoyed his books I can't let slide what I see as a glaring mistake.

After informing a mother of the death of her son and his "girlfriend", whose identity is unknown until provided by the grieving mother, Milo immediately drives to the residence of the "girlfriend" and tells the father that his daughter has been killed.

The problem is that there was no ID on the girl's body, nor did she get ID'd by a relative. The grieving mother was not shown a photo of the dead girl; she just assumed the "blonde" that was found with her son was the last girl she knew him to be seeing. So acting on information provided by a woman who has gone into shock, and without verifying the information first, Milo tells a man that his daughter has been killed. The father kicks Milo out of the house when the "dead" daughter walks in the backdoor.

I don't know much about law enforcement, but it seems to me that before you'd tell someone their child is dead you'd want to get a more positive ID than "Wwaaahhh! My son is dead! Boo hoo hoo! Huh? He was with a blonde girl? That must be Kelly Smith. Wwaaahhh!!! My son is dead! Boo hoo hoo!"

Milo eventually gets a photo of the dead girl to show around (and shows it to the parents of the dead boy who don't recognize her), but you'd think he would have made more of an effort to identify the dead girl first, or at least got a photo to show the father before telling him his daughter is dead.

* * *

Milo: "Mr. Smith, I'm afraid your daughter is dead."

Smith: "Oh my god. That's so quick."

Milo: "Sir?"

Smith: "I was just talking to her in the kitchen. Kelly? This nice policeman out here says you're dead."

Kelly (from kitchen): "I guess I must be, Daddy. I mean he is a policeman."

Milo: "Er...do you have...any other daughters?"

Smith: "Nope. Just the dead one."

Milo: "I gotta go. Got...stuff to do. Important...policeman stuff. You know. Bye!"
Runs out door.

Smith enters kitchen where Kelly is lying face down at the table, a large kitchen knife protrudes from her back.
Smith sits down and resumes reading his book "Ventriloquism for Dummies".

* * *

No, that's not how it went in Therapy:P

Friday, April 13, 2007

A short story

The chirping of the phone pierced his dreams and a sleep-clumsy hand moved towards the receiver. Finally he had the phone in his hands, the chirping stopped and he lay the receiver across his head.

"Hello?"

"Hi, son."

"Uh, hi, Dad."

One sleep-encrusted eyelid opened just a crack and he looked at the clock.

"Dad, it's 3am."

"I just wanted to tell you I love you."

"I love you too, Dad."

The phone was silent and he knew his Dad was gone.

Then both eyes opened and he stared at the clock. It wasn't 3am. It was 3:12am. It was 3:12am on the morning of Saturday, May 15th.

Six years ago his mother had woken up to find his father sitting on the edge of their bed. She said he'd looked at her and with tears streaming down his cheeks he'd told her something was terribly wrong, and then he'd collapsed onto the floor.

The paramedics had not been able to revive him and he was pronounced dead at the scene. Cause of death was a massive heart attack. The time of death was 3:12am, Saturday, May 15th.

As he stared at the clock the phone began chirping again. He answered it reluctantly, hesitatingly.

"Hello?"

"Hi, son."

He laughed.

"Hi, Mum. He called you, too. Didn't he?"

They talked for a while before hanging up, and then he just lay there, staring at the ceiling. He lay there for a long time before sleep finally reclaimed him. The phone never rang again.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Cruising down Mexico way

So we spent the last week on & off a cruise liner, sailing down the west coast to Cabo San Lucas, Mazatlan and Puerto Vallarta, then 2 days at sea as we sailed north back to sunny...er...dreary and overcast Los Angeles.

It was an interesting cruise, to say the least, with a 2-year old and a 6-year old in tow. JE was able to attend the Kids' Club, which meant after breakfast if we had no plans we'd drop him off at the Kids' Club clubroom then pick him up for lunch, then later drop him back there again, then pick him up for dinner, then drop him off again, then pick him up in time for bed. Our little cherub of a daughter, falling into the "less-than-three" age bracket, stayed with us for almost the entire cruise until Liz mentioned she'd seen something about a baby sitting service. We made some inquiries and discovered that for the incredibly low price of $8 per hour we could have a sitter watch our treasure while Liz and I had some quality time, without the kids. I ask you, why did we only find out about that at the end of the week-long cruise?

JE and I took part in several activities, including frequent trips to the pool. We also took part in a bean bag tossing competition (which I won, scoring a Gold Medal shaped like the Royal Caribbean logo, which I gave to JE). We also played a few games of Shuffleboard, or at least pushed the pucks from one end to the other. Oddly enough the cruise ship also had a 30' rock climbing wall, which JE climbed to a height of 6' before wanting down...NOW!



Later on I took part in a speed climbing competition against 3 other men, and I'm happy to say that with a combined time of 25sec for two climbs I took home the silver medal.


The winner's time was 22sec (give or take a few 1/10s of a second). The record for the single fastest climb to the top is 5 seconds, but that record is held by the Head Climbing Instructor. The guest record is 6 seconds :P

Oddly enough the Head Climbing Instructor is from Perth, in Western Australia. He told me to track down one of the dealers in the casino who he said was from Victoria, my home state. At the casino when I asked the female Pitboss if Dave was working I discovered I was talking to yet another Aussie, a Queenslander, and found that Dave is not from Victoria but from New South Wales, from a tiny town called Tathra, to be specific. The significance of this is two-fold. The population of Tathra is approximately 10% of that of my own hometown of Traralgon; we're talking real "small town" here. And two, Tathra just happens to be where my family used to holiday many, many years ago. In fact Dave said of all the Aussies he's met on the cruise ship, more Victorians know of Tathra than do his fellow New South Welshmen. Dave was manning the Craps table when I met him, and it was a happening place. I was so caught up in what was going on that I wanted to play, even though I had no clue what was going on. I resisted the urge though, but I think I'd like to play Craps one day. It seems a lot more fun than feeding quarters into a slot machine.

Also interesting to note was that of the staff on board the ship and the many nationalities that were represented, while North Americans (Canadians excluded) made up a majority of the passengers, I do not recall seeing a single North American working. There were Canadians, and Central and South Americans, there were Europeans and Asians, people from all over the globe...but nobody from North America. Apparently most people sign on for a 6-month contract, and that means six months of non-stop dedication to the ship and company. Not to speak ill of my fellow (adopted) countrymen, but it does seem as though Americans can't hack life on board a cruise ship.

Now our waiters were some of the most attentive staff I've ever had the pleasure of being served by, if not THE best. When we turned up for dinner on the second night we had a high chair in Amber's seat, and it was there waiting for us every night after that. Dixon and Johnee also memorized the kids' likes and dislikes, as well as our own bread and dessert preferences, too ;)

While expensive to get away for a week, when you work out that accommodation, food and most on-board activities are included (bar gambling, of course), the price of a cruise is actually reasonably cheap compared to staying in a 5-star hotel for the same period of time. After all, at the hotel you still need to pay for your meals, then you need to get out and about and have a good time. On a cruise ship there's a couple of shows each night and activities during the day, and the service! One night I even rocked up to the Main Dining room at 10pm just as they were shutting down and within minutes (literallly) I was leaving with two plates of food; one with a hotdog & fries, and one with a cheeseburger & fries. Midnight snacks! Yeah, baby!

So we had a great time, but we're glad to be back, too :)

More photos can be seen at Liz's Flicker Site.