Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Selling Virtual Property

Or how to avoid getting scammed.

So you leveled your WoW toon/s to 80, got him(them) decked out in ZOMG! Epix! Pewpewpew! then you decided you wanted to sell your account and move on to WAR/LOTR (or some other MMO). The classic way to sell your account is via eBay, and contrary to what anyone might try to tell you selling your WoW account is entirely legal and totally allowed by Blizzard's TOS and EULA.

From WoW's EULA, 4.(b) Ownership - You may permanently transfer all of your rights and obligations under the License Agreement to another only by physically transferring the original media (e.g., the CD-ROM or DVD you purchased), all original packaging, and all Manuals or other documentation distributed with the Game;

and Wow's Terms of Use, 10. Security of Login Information - You are responsible for maintaining the confidentiality of the Login Information...

Blizzard give you the right to sell your copy of WoW, and while TOU 7. No Ownership Rights in Account makes it quite clear that you have no ownership rights to your account, Blizzard do make you responsible for the security of your WoW Account Info. Thus you have the right to sell your copy of the game, and you also have the right to provide someone else with your Account information.

BUT!!! (and yes, that's a big 'but') WoW's TOU 8. Account Suspension/Deletion gives Blizzard the right to suspend or delete said Account for any reason (or no reason) whatsoever. I'd say "so don't give them a reason to suspend/ban you" but it's kind of pointless when they don't even need a reason. If you agree to play their game you also agree to let Blizzard suspend/ban you at any time for any reason, or for no reason at all. That's just how deals with the devil work.

Anyway, enough with the legal mumbo jumbo, let's get on with the Guide to selling Virtual Property.

Step 1 - Create your eBay auction, listing it as WoW Online Game, inc. all CDs for both Expansions, manuals, etc, (inc. bonus lvl 80 Character) or something like that. Feel free to list the pertinent parts of WoW's EULA by which you have the right to sell your particular copy of the game as long as you transfer all media that came with the game.

Step 2 - Accept the Paypal payment. Really, Paypal is fine; trust me. If you can get a Bank/Cashier's Check that's ok too, but Paypal is your friend. NEVER accept a Personal Check but if you must, make sure it clears first. Or sell it to a Check Cashing Agency, take the 10%+ hit, and let them deal with the scammer when his check bounces.

Step 3 - Do NOT email the Buyer your Account Name & Password, seriously, and no, you're not trying to scam them either.

Step 3(a) - Use UPS, FedEx, Registered USPS, or any Certified Mail Service which provides a Tracking Number and/or Receipt Confirmation to snail-mail the CDs, Gamebox, Manuals, etc, to the Buyer. Insist on receipt confirmation. Do not email the Account Name & Password to they Buyer (yet). Ignore any threats by the Buyer to leave negative feedback on your eBay Account if you don't email them the Account Name & Password RIGHT NOW!!!

Step 4 - Get confirmation that the Buyer has received your snail mailed items. If necessary, print out this information and keep it in a secure place. This is proof that the Buyer has physically taken possession of the item you sold, and it will save your arse and money in the event of a dispute.

Step 5 - NOW you can email the Buyer your Account Name & Password. Ignore them when they say they can't log in and they want their money back. Try logging in yourself and you'll see they've already changed the password from whatever it was you set it to, and if they didn't change it they're an idiot.

Step 5(a) - Tell them you know they've logged in because they've already changed the password so they should stop being a douche bag, go play WoW and lrn2play.

Step 5(b) - Tell them the Account Name & Password work fine because you just logged in using them, and here they are again in case they typed them incorrectly. Try logging in again and you'll see they've now changed the password. Refer to Step 5(a).

Step 6 - Provide Paypal with evidence of physical proof of delivery when the douche bag tries to dispute the transaction, claiming they never received the item and they want their money back. If you'd only emailed them your Account Name & Password that might have worked and you'd have been screwed, but you sent them a physical copy of the game and you have proof that they received it. Who cares that they agreed to pay $1,000 for a copy of WoW (inc. bonus lvl 80 character)? You sold your account on eBay and avoided getting scammed. You win!

Step 7 - Fire up WAR/LOTR (or your other new MMO) and enjoy.

Step 0 - (Yes, I know this should have been the first step) Avoid screwing over your WoW friends by letting them know you're going to sell your account, remove yourself from any Guilds, and delete all Friends in your Friends List before you provide the buyer with your account name & password.

The Beginning of the End?

Or is House about to jump the shark?

Last night on the season finale Dr. House fired Dr. Chase, while Dr. Foreman and Dr. Cameron handed in their resignation.

Now the show is called House, and the X-Files was not called "Scully & Mulder" but the same principle holds true with House as it did for the X-Files. Hugh Laurie is a brilliant actor and while his dry, sarcastic wit as Dr. House is the icing, it's his interaction with his fellow staff that make the cake. Just like the X-Files fell apart when there was no more Fox Mulder (or very little of him), House would never be the same without its supporting cast. That's not to say the producers couldn't replace one actor at a time, after all, how often do real doctors stick around in general practice? Usually they want to finish their internship and go into private practice as soon as possible. House could survive the loss of one character here, one character there, etc, but for three characters to leave in one episode? That's a serious hemorrhage that would kill any show.

Fortunately the internet scuttlebutt says the three will be back next season. House avoids jumping the shark...for now.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A weekend in Oakland

or how I found myself with wet pants three days in a row.

Thursday I left work an hour early and arrived home at 3:30pm. I took Anzac to the Vet's/Boarding Kennel, and then we were off to Oakland for the Memorial Day weekend. For those not familiar with US geography Oakland is about 10 miles from the city of San Francisco, and about 385 miles from our house. That's about the same as driving from Melbourne (in Victoria, Australia) to Canberra (the ACT), or from London to Edinburgh. We managed to get away a little after 4pm and with a couple of stops for food and gas we arrived in Oakland shortly before midnight. Not a bad run, really.

Friday we slept in, sort of, then joined Liz's cousin Emma at her parents' flat before heading on to the San Francisco Zoo. Somehow we piled Liz's cousin, her hubby Steve, and their two little ones into our Highlander with the four of us. Lucky we have a collapsible third row in which to stuff three of the kids. We finished the day by celebrating Emma's parents' 50th Wedding Anniversary at a local Chinese Restaurant. We'd originally booked a private room but when we realized there was no way the 20+ people who were coming would sit comfortably around the large table (and it was a pretty big table), we moved out into the restaurant's public dining area and secured two large tables for everyone. While in the private room I'd had my daughter sitting on my lap, and when we got up to move I discovered the leg of my jeans was almost soaked through...right where A. had been sitting. Yup. In sort of toilet training her we've become a little lax on the diaper changes, and A's diaper had reached its absorption capacity.

After dinner Steve and his FIL took the BART home while the rest of us somehow piled in to our SUV. We were fortunate that the local Garbologists were doing their rounds at that moment, because they blocked the lane beside us allowing us to stand in that lane while we packed everyone in to our SUV. Liz, myself, our two little ones, Emma, her two little ones, her mom, and an old friend from Shanghai. That's 9 people (5 adults and 4 kiddies six & under) a 7-seater SUV. I don't know how we did it either. Or why we did it. But we did, and we got everyone home safe & sound.

Saturday found us visiting the SF 6 Flags, a roller coaster amusement park...which also includes a mini zoo and aquarium, so it was actually an appropriate place to take the kids even if we never rode the roller coasters. Afterwards we went for dinner at California Pizza Kitchen and right at the end of the meal, as we were packing up our left-over food, Steve knocked over one of the glasses of water Californian waiters feel compelled to bring for everyone and ice-water ran across the table, missed their daughter (who was asleep in her stroller) and ran off the table beside her, right in my lap. I looked down at my left hip and made the observation that I'd just finished two days in a row with wet pants, but at least tonight it was just water.

Sunday we decided to take it easy and we all kicked back at Emma's parents' flat. Lucky her parents had flown off somewhere that morning so we only had 8 people in a 1 bedroom flat. Then it was decided we'd take the kids to a nearby park, it wasn't until I was standing at the elevator that I realized the "we" was Steve and myself. Liz and Emma were staying back in the flat.

The "park" Steve had picked out turned out to be a wilderness park, for hiking, fishing, swimming, etc, but not a decent place for four kids 6 & under to spend the afternoon. Lucky the Ranger directed us back down the road to a park with a playground where we spent the next couple of hours playing, swinging, watching the kids and eating ice cream when the Ice Cream Truck drove by.

When the wind began to pick up and the temperature began to drop, we called it a day, loaded the kids into our car and headed back to the flat to find lots of yummy food in various states of preparedness. The girls had taken care of the bbq ribs, but a kindly old neighbor had also prepared a lot of yummy, traditional Shanghainese-style food. I made myself a cocktail with a lime/tequila drink mixed with Sierra Mist (it was actually quite good) and kicked back on the sofa while the four kids fought all around me. Then Emma's son (the younger of her two) climbed onto the sofa and launched himself at me like he'd been doing most of the weekend. My drink splashed up in the air and came down right in my lap...on my left hip to be precise, in exactly the same place as the water from the night before and the diaper runoff from the night before that. Lucky it wasn't too much of a mess so we got everyone dried up, I poured myself another drink, settled back down on the sofa...and Emma's youngest launched himself at me once more with identical results. This time his older sister was standing right next to me so most of my second drink ended up in her hair. Phew! Emma didn't seem to amused by this though...not sure why.

Dinner, once we finally all settled down, was an uneventful affair, and before too long we were saying our goodbyes and heading back to our hotel. We were planning to get away early so this was our last visit with Emma, Steve and their little ones, this time around at least. After a leisurely Burger King (Hungry Jack's) breakfast JE and I made several trips to the car and finally we were off on our way back home. The trip back went fairly smoothly and we did the run in less than 7 hours. No wonder we almost always need vacation to recover from our vacations, even the short, 4-day ones.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The elusive $2 bill

I got a couple of $2 bills the other day. Rather rare to get these in the U.S. because even though the Federal Reserve claims there are at least 500 million in circulation, most people who receive them tend to hoard them, thinking they're "worth something", and they are, each $2 bill is worth $2. Wow!

I've had a few pass through my hands in the years that I've been here, but I was planning to give these two to the kids until I noticed someone had used a Where's stamp on them, which was rather annoying. Until I discovered that some members of the Where's George crew are actually trying to increase the number of actively circulated $2 bills (something of which I approve) by specifically requesting them from their banks, even going so far as to order them by the Strap (100 notes) or Brick (1,000 notes). Then they stamp them with the Where's George stamp which, in most people's eyes, renders them worthless as collectibles and practically forces future recipients to spend them rather than hoard them.

I was also made aware of a flawed observation of mine that U.S. cash register drawers are not set up to cater to the $2 bill when in fact they are, the drawers are just misused. Because the $2 is rarely seen most cashiers place their $20, $10, & $5 bills in the slot to the right of their intended slot, with the $5 bill occupying the slot meant for the $2 bills. This leaves an empty slot on the left which is then used for checks and coin rolls, or $50 bills which are more commonly used than the $2. I'm not sure how cashiers would handle the change and their register drawers if they began encountering $2 bills on a regular basis.

Actually that's a project (if you live in the States) that you could take on yourself, if you've got a bit of a rebellious streak in you ;) If you frequently purchase your lunch or make some other small, everyday transaction like buying your morning cup of coffee, you could order a Strap of $2 bills from your bank and use them to buy your lunch or coffee instead.

It could even be rather chaotic, initially. Imagine going to Quizno's or Subway where you place your order, they make your sandwich, and then you offer to pay for it...with $2 bills. Most cashiers should be familiar with the $2, but you just might run into someone who hasn't seen them before, and they just might be accompanied by a pimply-faced, squeaky-voiced Shift Manager who also has never seen a $2 bill. And because you're in Quizno's or Subway's your sandwich is already sitting in front of you, so you just need to pay for it. You have your Debit Card on you but they can't force you to use that. In fact you're willing to pay for your lunch, just with disturbingly new, sequentially numbered $2 bills, so the Cashier and Shift Manager have a few choices: they can grudgingly accept the notes (unlikely if they think they're fake); they can ask you for a different method of payment, a request you'll refuse so they'll ask you to leave (possible); they can give you your sandwich for free (doubtful...just yet).

The Shift Manager could also call the cops, but if they do that Store Policy will also require them to call the Store Manager or Regional Manager to report that they've called the cops. When they do that they'll inform the Store Manager or Regional Manager that they've called the cops on a customer who was attempting to pay for his or her meal with several $2 bills, and then they'll get strangely quiet, and go very red, and after they hang up they'll be very apologetic and now there's a chance you'll get today's lunch for free, maybe with chips and a soda thrown in.

The cafeteria at my office is like that. I order the food, the cooks make my food, I take my food to the cashier and pay for it. I could imagine them looking at me funny if I suddenly produce three $2 bills to pay for my lunch, although with the number of customers they serve each day I'd be surprised if they're not familiar with this "rare" bill.

Now when other customers see you using "rare" $2 bills they might think you're crazy to spend them, or even try to buy them from you. Whatever you do, don't sell them for less than $2 each :D But definitely let anyone who asks know that they, too, can order them by the Strap from their bank, especially if they want sequentially numbered bills. They might just do that in order to get uncirculated bills, and then they'll have 100 $2 bills of which they only want to save, at most, $20 worth. You've just recruited them to the cause, because now they'll spend the other $180, and that will get people talking to them about the $2 bill.

It's Fight Club's "Project Mayhem", only a more civilized, less destructive version ;)

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A Plumber at 4:30am?

Stumbling in to the bathroom at 4:30 this morning (and boy am I glad I got straight up without hitting snooze several times) I stood on the bathroom mat and immediately had wet feet. Not good. But that's what I get for not checking my handiwork the night before.

Last night I'd replaced the flapper valve and refill/flusher unit in our toilet tank, and hand-tightened the plastic nuts as per the directions, but when you're dealing with plumbing "hand-tight" is rarely tight enough.

Downstairs to the garage I went, got my multigrips, returned to our bathroom, and slowly and carefully tightened the nut connecting the water main to the tank. Then just to be sure I also tightened the nut underneath that holds the refill unit in place.

When I checked water was still slowly leaking out, very slowly, so I tightened the nut a bit more, wiped the hose and again checked for leaks, then tightened the nut a bit more, and so on. It was a slow process that took close to half an hour but eventually I was confident the water had stopped leaking, or at least confident enough to get in the shower. I think everything is good now, but I won't know for sure until tonight when I can check it out over a longer period of time.

Imagine if I'd really needed a Plumber at 4:30 in the morning, instead of being one.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Longest Night

Saturday JE and I camped out overnight with the Boy Scouts at a local park in the foothills. Apparently the park is fenced in so you're safe from bears and other predatory nasties.

The camp's activities were supposed to commence at 3pm with a 2pm "check-in" time when you'd set up your tent, etc., but with people turning up late the activities started late and the campfire ceremony started late, so it naturally finished late which meant JE and I crawled in to our tent a little before 10:00pm. Not too bad for a Saturday night, except our Saturday nights don't normally find us camping out under the stars (protected by a layer of canvas or nylon) surrounded by young boys playing Uno and adults chatting away. I figured I'd let people play and chat until 10:30 before calling out a reminder that there were other people trying to get to sleep, but I didn't need to. The kids playing Uno were playing in the tent belonging to the talking adults, and the adults called it a night and kicked the kids out and back to their own tents before I needed to enforce my authority (assuming I had any).

Finally quiet reigned and I was able to relax and try to get comfortable enough to fall asleep on half an inch of high-density foam, which is rather hard to do in normal times (is it ever normal to try to sleep on 1/2" of high-density foam) but I've also come down with a nasty sinus cold which only compounded matters. Fortunately I'd come prepared (like all good Boy Scouts and Scout Leaders) with a supply of Sudafed and I'd taken one when we'd first crawled into our sleeping bags so I think that helped me sleep for the first few hours.

Around 2am I awoke and looked at my watch and almost shuddered at the thought of how long it still was until morning. It's not unusual for me to wake several times during the night, but I don't usually wake up with a pain in my right hip from sleeping (practically) on the hard ground. The cold was not an issue, I didn't feel cold at all, but 1/2" of foam does not provide much padding at all. I rolled over on to my left side and tried to find even a small depression to get my left hip in to. I succeeded, somewhat, and drifted off to sleep, for maybe 45 minutes. Woke up to a pain in my left hip, rolled over on to my right side and remembered that hip hurt, too. Lay on my back but it was both comfortable, and uncomfortable. It was some comfort for my hips, but not comfortable enough to sleep, just yet.

Sleep that night was nothing but a series of 30 mins naps until 5:30am when dawn broke and even though the sun didn't penetrate the layer of cloud, the sun's light still did, and light nylon is no protection against sunlight, not even the ambient variety. First came the footsteps, then the voices, and I looked at my watch to see what ungodly hour it was, then looked at JE and noticed he was awake. For the next 20 minutes I attempted to convince him to go back to sleep to no avail. I knew what he had in store for the rest of the day, but so did he; two birthday parties, and a piano recital awards ceremony and there was no way he was going back to sleep, even though he could have used the rest.

Reluctantly I let him get up and we got dressed and joined the other early morning risers. I honestly don't know how we made it through the rest of the day without a nap, but here we are, finally, at the end of a very busy weekend. Thank God I've got work tomorrow!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Six degrees...

Bruce Lee starred in Enter the Dragon. His climactic fight was with...
Bolo Yeung who played the villain in Bloodsport which featured...
Donald Gibb, who played Fred "Ogre" Palowakski in Revenge of the Nerds, which included...
Anthony Edwards who played Goose in Top Gun alongside...
Tom Cruise, who appeared in A Few Good Men with...

It's true ;)

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Getting too old for this shit

4:20am - alarm goes off
4:20am - actually get up instead of hitting snooze several times
4:55am - leave house
4:56am - stop at 7-11 for coffee
5:25am - arrive at Immaculate Heart of Mary 35 minutes earlier than necessary
6:00am - teacher arrives to let me in and I begin setting up the Polling Booth
7:00am - Polls open
Approx. 25 people show up throughout the day to vote or just drop off their Mail-In Ballot.
8:00pm - Polls close, begin packing up polling equipment, tallying ballots, etc
8:40pm - finish packing up and loading car. Set off for Collection Depot.
8:45pm - pull up behind a car just sitting in the right lane with no indicators but stopped outside the Collection Depot. Figure the idiot was last in line, now I am...last in line, that is, not an idiot. Turn on right indicator then decide it's not enough and engage Emergency/Hazard Lights just so idiots coming up behind me can see I'm not going anywhere.
8:46pm - idiot pulls up behind me with neither Indicator nor Emergency Lights on.
8:47pm - idiot pulls up behind other idiot. Neither is willing to use signals to inform other drivers that they have no intention of going anywhere.
8:55pm - finally enter gate of Collection Depot but still have several cars in front of me, and a lot of idiots behind me. Some idiots who pulled up at the end of the line and sat there before realizing the idiots in front of them weren't going anywhere roar past then blast their horn, as if it's our fault they're an idiot and not paying attention to traffic conditions.
9:05pm - unload polling equipment, receive receipt and we're on our way
9:20pm - drop fellow poll worker at home in downtown LA.
9:40pm - arrive home, and glad to be there. Feed the dog, kiss the wife and sleeping kids and tell them I love them.
10:00pm - fire up WoW and run around a virtual world pretending to be a Gnome Warrior. Kill a Basilisk that knocks me off my mechanical ostrich as I ride past. Kill a few of his Basilisk buddies that looked at me the wrong way, a truly petrifying experience...for someone other than Zerka! The psychotic Gnome Warrior!
12:00am - crawl into bed after deciding I don't want a black Razr V3xx enough to spend $100 on one.

4:20am - hit snooze
4:27am - hit snooze
4:34am - hit snooze, debate not going in to work
4:41am - hit snooze, debate some more
4:48am - hit snooze, Body disobeys Brain's order to get out of bed
4:55am - hit snooze. Brain kicks Body out of bed.
5:20am - pass 7-11. No time for coffee.
5:30am - catch bus, sit two rows behind Mr. Flip-Flops. Wonder if he bathed recently, perhaps when he was up Mog's way.
6:00am - Get off bus. Brain admits that we should have stayed in bed. Body says, too late now. Body spies a Starbucks. Coffee time!!! Body and Brain finally agree on something.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Using the BMI may not be healthy

Not too long ago we had a health seminar at work, where you could talk to various health professionals about various health issues, and even get your Body Fat Percentage calculated. So I'm 37-years old, 5'11", 205 pounds (a little less, now) and after all the measurements were taken it was determined I had 21.0% Body Fat. My weight for my height meant my BMI was 28.6 and this is where things took a strange turn. At 21% Body Fat, I easily fell well within the "Acceptable" Ranges for Men, being 18 to 25% Body Fat. My 28.6 BMI is a whole different story, but that's because the BMI is as outdated as your grandmother's giant panties, which can double as a duvet in winter. A 28.6 BMI for a 5'11" male is considered overweight, in fact it's bordering on the obese. Anyone who knows me would say there's no way I'm borderline obese.

I'll admit I could lose a few more pounds, but in order for my weight to fall within the "BMI's Healthy Weight" range for my height I need to get down to under 175 lbs. I have not weighed 175 lbs since I was about 15 years old. The really crazy thing with the BMI is I could weigh 140 lbs and I would still fall within the healthy range. Trust me, if my weight fell below 170 it would not be healthy, and even at 175 I'd probably have people wondering if I have cancer.

If you're one of those wirey people with a slight frame the BMI Tables are possibly one tool (of several) you could use to determine how healthy you are. For people with average or large frames feel free to ignore the BMI, and instead know that if you're a woman and your Body Fat is in the 25% to 31% range, that's apparently "acceptable", whereas Men need to stay a little leaner and keep their Body Fat under 25%, if not around 20%.

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I was leaving a comment on Mike's Blog but it began to turn into a Blog entry, so I figured I'd better post it here rather than leave an essay length comment on his Blog. Besides which, I'd already commented on that particular post of his once already ;)

We just had dinner at a restaurant where they listed on the Menu that parties of 8 or more would be charged a 15% gratuity. So 15% would seem to be the industry average, and I'm ok with that. I'm also ok with just a 15% gratuity being added to the bill. I frequently tip at 15% for average service, but I'll also tip better or worse depending on the quality of service. What I would not be ok with would be dining somewhere with a party of 8 (or more) and receiving sub-standard service and being expected to cough up a 15% tip (or more).

You might be pleased to know that you can, in fact, dispute that compulsory tip if you don't believe the service you received warranted a tip of such magnitude. The law allows the compulsory tip to be legally added to the bill IF it's listed either on the menu, or clearly displayed in the restaurant in a location where it is assumed the "common man" could not fail to notice it. But you can still dispute it. In fact if the restaurant correctly identifies the tip for "parties of 8 or more" as a "gratuity" and not as a "surcharge" and the authorities are called in and you find yourself in court because you refused to pay 15% (or more) for crappy service, there's a bloody good chance you'll win your case. A "gratuity" is provided at the customer's discretion, a "surcharge" is mandatory; see the difference?

If I have a drink that comes with free refills, I expect my glass to never be empty for more than a few minutes. If it does, or I have to stop my waiter and tell him I want a refill, that's poor service. If you make me stop you for a refill consider yourself lucky if you still get 15%. At Denny's or any other breakfast diner I expect my coffee mug to never be empty. Of course I take care of that myself by adding creamer and sugar when I need a refill but that's just so I don't have to tell the waitress to leave room for creamer & sugar, plus when they top me up it automatically mixes the fresh coffee with the creamer & sugar so I don't need to stir my cup, which drives Liz nuts because I like to ring the bell when I stir my coffee.

At a steakhouse that Liz and I dined at with a friend, we'd been working in the yard all day (laying pavers) and had developed quite a thirst. I forget how many Arnold Palmer's we put away during our meal but we're talking at least 5 pints, each. Our waitress was right on the ball and we'd barely drain one glass when she'd whisk it away and return with a fresh one. Excellent service. She got at least a 20% tip if I recall correctly.

I once ate breakfast with about 10 coworkers at The Pantry in downtown Los Angeles We got itemized bills. We also got an 18% to 20% gratuity automatically added to the bill because of our party size. Our waiter never brought out my toast until I reminded him. He needed reminding. He brought everyone toast but me, and showed no sign of bringing my toast either. The Pantry does excellent sourdough toast and it is delicious with orange marmalade and coffee.

Remember what I said earlier about the bottomless coffee cup?

My coffee cup, and everyone else's at the table, sat empty after we finished our first cup. Our waiter never offered any of us refills. Finally someone asked him if we could get a refill. Our separate bills arrived with an 18% tip added on. Half the table got up and paid then hung around outside waiting for the rest of us. Just as we were getting up to pay our bills the waiter arrived, with a pot of coffee, and asked if anyone wanted a refill. Asshole. While paying my bill I tried to tell the cashier I was not happy with the service and did not feel it warranted the 18% gratuity, but she relied on that age old excuse of shrugging her shoulders and staring at me blankly while saying "No comprende, senor."

So, if it's listed as a "gratuity" and you honestly do not feel the service you received warranted the percentage that was automatically added to your bill, you can dispute it. Cross it out and write in what you think is a more appropriate amount and re-tally the bill. Also make sure they didn't tax you on the gratuity, because if they did you will want to work out the tax based on your bill sans the gratuity.

I wish I'd been armed with the knowledge I now possess when I ate at The Pantry and received such crappy service. I'd have crossed off the gratuity amount, retallied the bill and left $1 tip, which is still more than that crappy waiter deserved. What is insane is one of my coworkers who ate with us is a lawyer, and she was unaware of the law regarding gratuities and surcharges, and she didn't offer me any advice...then again, with her being a lawyer, I should probably be glad she didn't. I might have saved a couple of dollars on the gratuity, but spent $20 for the legal advice :P

A quick poll

Hands up those people whose spouse called them at work today because their youngest child had wedged him or herself down the back of a dining room chair? Keep your hand up if you called the Paramedics, from work, because you were the one with the local PD dispatch speed dialed into your cell phone. You get Bonus Points if the Paramedics were forced to cut the cushion off said dining room chair in order to free your youngest child.

*EDIT* added photo

The little lady managed to slide halfway through the gap between the cushion and the lowest rung, and Liz was unable to get her out one way or the other. If you examine the top of the lowest rung on the destroyed chair you'll see two whitish spots on each end. My resourceful wife apparently took to the rung with a saw, but the cherub kept wriggling around and Liz was afraid she'd cut her, so she stopped sawing.

What was I just saying yesterday?
Never underestimate the children :D

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Never underestimate the children

The in-laws always did this, and were always amazed when our kids did things that they didn't think they were capable of. Then again, they were also constantly amazed when the kids did minor, trivial things, like the time JE as a toddler found a fridge magnet in the family room and he went and stuck it back on the fridge.

Now it's my turn to be amazed, this time at the different skill levels being displayed by the kids in JE's T-Ball league. Some of the kids can throw the ball ok, some can catch it, some can hit, some have trouble with all three tasks, and some kids excel at all three. Some of the kids have trouble hitting the ball off the Tee and take a few swings before making contact, and some of the kids can hit a free thrown pitch and nail it, first time, every time.

Initially when the T-Ball season started the kids would hit the ball off the Tee and run one base. Then the next kid hits the ball and makes another one-base hit; regardless of whether he gets caught out or launches the ball into the outfield, it's a one-base hit. The only exception is the last batter (each kid gets one hit per innings) who always makes a Grand Slam 4-run homer, regardless of how well he hits the ball.

In the last few games we started pitching to the kids. The first time around they hit the ball off the Tee but in the second innings they were first thrown a few pitches (or maybe just the one ;), and most of the kids did ok. If they missed too many times the Tee was brought up and they hit the ball off the Tee, which again might take a couple of swings.

In the last game none of the kids hit off the Tee unless they couldn't hit one of several pitches. They were pitched to in every Innings but we were pretty generous with the pitches. A couple of kids still had to hit off the Tee, just like a couple of kids never needed the Tee and in fact nailed the first pitch thrown to them. Coach Jessie even had to dive out of the way to avoid getting hit by the ball when these kids were at bat.

One of the boys in particular has a wicked swing, and the coaches of the other teams commented that he was the only kid they'd seen hit the ball clear into the outfield. Other balls made it into the outfield but they were either grounders or bounced once or twice in the in-field. This young fellow (it wasn't JE) would clear the diamond by a good amount and send the other team's fielders scrambling after the ball. He lucked out and was the Last Batter in the first two Innings, which meant he got to make Grand Slam Homers, and he made them legitimately. Both times he drove the ball into the outfield then raced around the bases, making it home before the fielding team could get the ball back in to their catcher to "tag him out".

This six year old boy hits a baseball better than I do. He also catches and throws very well, and he might just be on your television one day, playing Major League Baseball. Never underestimate the children ;)

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The miracle of technology

Last week I ordered some new valance clips for our blinds because some of the current clips broke. The new clips arrived yesterday but when I opened the envelope I discovered they were the wrong kind. So I took a photo of the correct clip with our digital camera and emailed it off to the company who'd sent the wrong clips so they could see which clips we needed. Just to be on the safe side, knowing some IT dept's block certain attachments on emails, like pictures, I uploaded the picture to the internet and included the URL in the email.

This morning I had a response from the company that the clip is not one they carry. Now the company which sent me the clip is not the company we ordered the blinds through, but I figured the first company had contracted with the second, so it was the second company, the ones that sent the clips, that I'd emailed.

On the first company's website I noticed a button that said Live Chat. Going with my gut instinct, which told me it was not a button to chat live with sexy singles in my area, I clicked the button and a window popped up that said it was contacting a Customer Service Rep, and shortly a message popped up that said I was chatting with Patricia.

I'd already entered my order number so Patricia said she'd locate the clips I needed and would send some right out.

I told Patricia I'd called last week, had been told the same thing, was in possession of replacement clips, but they were the wrong ones.

Then I pasted the url for the picture of the right clip.

Rather than trying to describe what the clip looked like, I was able to show Patricia exactly what I needed.

Patricia said she was printing out a copy of the picture and would send it to the factory with my request, so hopefully this time we'll get the correct clips.

Through the power of technology, I was able to chat to a CSR and not only let her know exactly what item I needed, but show her, too. Awesome!

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Real, or a con job?

What's your opinion? And is anyone fluent enough in Japanese (I think it's Japanese) to know what the commentator is saying? I figure he's just pointing out the obvious, which is very obvious when we see the replay & close-up in the second part of the clip.

New coffee machine

A few years ago when I worked for Jobtrak they had a Keurig coffee machine. I loved this thing. It made you a cup of freshly brewed coffee in seconds. No mess, no fuss, no hassles. When I got a job with The City I missed the Keurig machine so much that I talked the guy running our office coffee club into getting one.

I attended the LA City Vendor Fair a few weeks ago and the Office Depot booth were promoting a Small Office Keurig machine, which is really a home machine. I hooked up with the Rep and before you know it I'd arranged to get our coffee from Office Depot for considerably cheaper than our previous supplier, and we scored one of the Small Office machines for just $1. Bargain! Now the machines are great for small offices, like no more than 10 people. We have approx. 100 people in our office. These machines are totally inappropriate for our level of usage...but they're great for home ;)

When you turn it on in the morning it takes no more than a minute or so to heat the water for a cup of coffee, and is ready to brew a second cup within 10 second of making the first.

Life is great ;)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Authentic Aussie Fish & Chips

In a large mixing bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of self-raising flour and 1 egg. Gradually whisk in 375ml (1 can, or 1 1/2 cups) of a "light beer" until batter is smooth. See, you can't drink the stuff, but you knew there was a reason they made light beer.

Season batter with a dash of salt and pepper, then cover and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat vegetable oil in a deep fryer (or deep saucepan), then dip two filets of fish (such as flathead or whiting, or my personal favorite, school shark) into the batter to coat and allow the excess to run off.

Deep fry those suckers until they're golden brown and little crispy bubbles have appeared over the batter and you're drooling so stop it because it makes the oil splatter. At least drool down your shirt or something! Good Lord, man! Other people will want some of this and you're drooling all over it!

Remove crispy, golden brown, slightly drooled on filets of fish (shark is a fish so that's an all inclusive phrase...unless you used filets of dolphin. Sicko!) and set aside on paper towel. For authentic fish & chips feel free to use a few pages from the local newspaper, but make sure your paper comes from a printer that bakes the newsprint properly or the ink will come off everywhere, and inky fish & chips are not good. Inky squid or calamari is acceptable, but not inky fish.

While oil reheats dip another two filets of fish (or mammal of choice) into the batter; allow the excess to run off then carefully lower the battered filets into the boiling oil. Did I say earlier to do that carefully? If I didn't, I'm saying it now: be careful! Don't accidentally dip your finger into the boiling oil like I did a couple of weeks ago coz that FUCKING HURTS!!! And it doesn't matter how fast you rip your finger out, it's too late. That stuff is hot and it burns!!! Feel free to yell and scream but try to use unintelligible phrases coz the kids are in the house. Avoid screaming FUCK!!! even though you've just dipped your finger in boiling oil. You don't want to upset the neighbors sitting in the next room waiting for a meal of authentic home cooked Aussie Fish & Chips.

Run finger under the cold tap for a couple of minutes while keeping an eye on frying filets. Remove when golden brown, set aside to drain, then batter one filet at a time while placing boiled finger back under the cold tap. Extremely carefully lower filets into boiling oil, cook to golden brown, remove, set aside, repeat, etc.

Toss in some chips (with the skins still on, for added flavor), fry to golden brown, remove, drain & lightly salt. Place on plates, then serve and enjoy with a frosty cold beverage held in the hand with the boiled finger because Damn! If that icy cold can doesn't feel good against your burned digit, I don't know what does.

Toast the neighbors and ignore the strange looks they're giving you when they think you're not watching. Tell them the yelling was part of a secret Aussie ritual, like when the New Zealand All Blacks do the Haka before a Rugby game. They'll still think you're a weird Australian, but you're a weird Australian who makes bloody good Fish & Chips.

Good on ya, mate! You're a bloody ripper!