Category Archives: rants

The Boston Obstacle Course

It’s like our very own Winter Olympics! And the prize is More Snow.

Obstacle #1: Walk without tripping or slipping.

caution loose bricks in sidewalk

missing bricks from sidewalk

Obstacle #2: Figure out when other obstacle course participants (walking, biking, or driving) are on the other side of a snowbank from you. Dodge them to avoid a collision, without tripping and falling.

roadside snowbank

Obstacle #3: Avoid deadly icicles.

very big icicles

Obstacle #4: Guess the object under the snow. Be specific; what kind of car is it?

cars under snow

Obstacle #5: Get to work on time via public transit. (To my knowledge no one has yet achieved this final and most difficult obstacle, but the efforts put forth to accomplish it have been, may I say, Olympian.)

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Filed under city, rants, signage, transportation, unusual, weather

Department of Redundancy Department, how may we help or assist you?

Screenshot taken just moments ago:

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 6.15.29 PM

No. Just no. PIN stands for “Personal Identification Number,” therefore E-ZPass is asking me to enter my personal identification number number. Argh. Clearly this was something devised by CENTRAL Central Intelligence.

I hear this a lot, and as much as I try not to let it annoy me, it does. Also, “ATM machine.” The “M” stands for machine!

And we’re done here.

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Victory over Ticketbastard

A couple days ago there was an article in the New York Times that caught my attention: the band String Cheese Incident end-ran* Ticketmaster so its fans wouldn’t be charged the usual outrageous “service charge” fees.

I’m not even a fan of String Cheese Incident (though they have a great name), but it delights me to see someone figuring out a way to get around Ticketmaster’s pernicious and unreasonable fees – which, as the article points out, can add 30-40% to the cost of a ticket. So rock on, String Cheese Incident!

*”End-ran” sounds horribly awkward but is the correct usage.

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Spring

I tried to put up a new post yesterday, but got this error message:

Things weren’t back to normal in “a minute,” which is why I am posting today instead of yesterday, but I liked the error message so much that I wasn’t upset about it at all. (Matt might not be so thrilled, but someone has to be the scapegoat.)

This is just an example of how humor can defuse anger, especially in the customer service context. Imagine if anytime something broke – through no fault of yours – instead of having no information on when it would be fixed, or having a short, uninformative message, or worst of all having to spend 45 minutes on the phone with various customer service representatives and STILL [whatever it is] isn’t working, you experienced humor and cheerfulness instead? It doesn’t change anything – the site is still down, the phone is still broken, the internet is still out, whatever – but you feel better about it. And THAT’S good customer service.

I may as well mention here that I spent 16 minutes on the phone with Verizon recently, trying to figure out why I had stopped receiving text messages (and no, it wasn’t because my friends and family had abandoned me). In the more distant past, I spent a significant amount of time on the phone with Comcast customer service, and in the even more distant past, I spent more time on the phone with Time Warner than some people have spent living and breathing on this planet. Can you guess which one of these entities is my least favorite?

© Naturesound.com

Anyway, this post is supposed to be about spring! I did see a robin recently – not the first day of spring, MAYBE BECAUSE IT WAS SNOWING, but the day after that. It wouldn’t hold still for a picture though, so I took this one off the internet. Seeing the robin reminded me of the Calvin & Hobbes strip (which is not readily available on the internet because Bill Watterson is pretty serious about copyright, as well he should be) where Calvin sights a robin and gets all excited, asks his mom to call the newspaper because he saw the first robin of spring, is convinced he is going to win all kinds of rewards and become a millionaire, etc. His mom explains that is not going to happen, Calvin is deflated, and Hobbes says, “Cheer up! Did I tell you I saw a robin yesterday?” (I’m paraphrasing, I don’t have it in front of me right now.)

So, yes, it’s springtime in New England, such as it is. There are crocuses popping up (photos TK) and in general it is more on the warmer side of freezing than it was a few weeks ago.

And I saw the first robin, so I am in for wondrous riches and fame. Call the newspapers!

What I’ve been reading: Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf

What I’ve been listening to: Help! and A Hard Day’s Night, The Beatles; Horrorscope, Eve 6; Warm Strangers, Vienna Teng

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Filed under animals, rants, seasons, weather

The Particular Sadness of Blue Jeans

Otherwise known as that feeling of tragic inevitability when your favorite pair of jeans gives up the ghost.

For some reason, mine never tear at the knees, where I might acceptably patch them up and continue wearing them (well, acceptably in the ’90s, anyway. It’s a little more debatable now, I guess, and also now that I am 25 and not 15…but I could wear them on the weekends?).

There’s a sweet moment in time when a pair of jeans becomes perfectly worn and comfortable, like a second skin (or third skin, if you’re wearing leggings underneath because it’s 19 degrees out). But then…tragedy strikes. And you have to figure out if it’s worth it to try to sew them up, or if you should upgrade your second-favorite pair of jeans to “favorite” status now, or – worst case scenario – you have to begin the hunt all over again. And NO ONE I know likes shopping for jeans.

Well, old jeans, thank you for making it nearly to the end of 2010. You won’t be forgotten. (Truth: I still remember previous favorite pairs of jeans. Paris Blues in high school, a pair that began with an “L” – l.e.i? levi? – that I got at a thrift store in college and only very recently and reluctantly threw out, after having patched the various holes with scrap fabric.)

I’m going to do ALL of us a favor and not go on a rant about people who buy jeans that already have holes in them, “distressed” jeans or whatever they are marketed as…it certainly is distressing, is all I will say about that. Actually, no. I will say that in order for jeans to achieve that truly “worn” look, you have to WEAR THEM. It’s like those pre-“weathered” baseball hats they sell now, or “vintage” t-shirts that are already practically see-through, when everyone knows if you want a shirt to look that way for real you have to have had it for ten or fifteen years already and worn it to picnics and the gym and to sleep and around the house and to paint the house and to wash the car and to go sledding in, basically ALL THE TIME, and only THEN does it become perfectly worn, because you’ve worn it. And then two weeks later it gets a hole at the neck or under the arm and you have to start all over again with a different t-shirt…

Argh. All of a sudden Snuggies make more sense. Let’s all just wear blankets and bathrobes and call it a day.

What I’m reading: The Patterns of Paper Monsters, Emma Rathbone
What I’m listening to: Horses, Patti Smith

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I guess I get excited about free speech issues.

Please read this article from 2009 in American Libraries:  Milwaukee Group Seeks Fiery Alternative to Materials Challenge. Then come back here, and read these two reviews of the book in question (both of these reviews came from and are available on Amazon’s page for this book):

From Publishers Weekly:

Embroidering her prose with lushly romantic imagery, Block returns to the world of Weetzie Bat for this keenly felt story. A prequel of sorts to Weetzie Bat, the novel opens while Weetzie’s best friend Dirk is still a child, lying on his mat at naptime. “Dirk had known it since he could remember” – known, that is, that he is gay. Tenderly raised by Grandma Fifi, famous for her pastries and her 1955 Pontiac convertible, Dirk struggles with love and fear: “He wanted to be strong and to love someone who was strong; he wanted to meet any gaze, to laugh under the brightest sunlight and never hide.” After his first heartbreak, with his closest friend (who cannot accept Dirk’s love nor his own for Dirk), Dirk battles more fiercely for identity; beaten up by a gang of punks, he slumps into semiconsciousness and is visited by his ancestors, each telling a haunting, lyrical tale of love, faith and self-acceptance. What might seem didactic from lesser writers becomes a gleaming gift from Block. Her extravagantly imaginative settings and finely honed perspectives remind the reader that there is magic everywhere. (Recommended for ages 12 and up.)

From School Library Journal:

A prequel to the popular books about Weetzie Bat and her circle of quirky friends and relatives. This novel is about her best pal, Dirk, in his pre-Weetzie days. He’s in high school (in L.A., of course), living with Grandma Fifi and struggling with how to come out to his best friend and soulmate. Although Dirk never does tell Pup he’s gay, Pup feels the sexual tension between them: “‘I love you, Dirk,’ Pup said. ‘But I can’t handle it.'” In reaction, Dirk takes to slam dancing in punk joints. When a gang of gay bashers beats him up, he drags himself home and passes out. While he’s unconscious, long-dead relatives he’s never known come to him in what seem to be dreams; when he wakes in the hospital, he realizes that his grandmother has been telling him stories. Out of her comforting words about how others in his family have insisted on being themselves, his battered brain fashions hopeful hallucinations, including one of his future lover. His visions assure him that “There was love waiting; love would come.” Block writes distinctively and convincingly, interweaving the hallucination scenes smoothly. She makes the power of stories felt – and here, more purposefully than ever before, she weaves a safety net of words for readers longing to feel at home with themselves. Gay teens in particular need this book. All fans of the series will relish meeting nice-guy Dirk as the tender Baby Be-Bop. (Recommended for Grade 10 and up.) (Emphasis mine.)

Some people, I hear, get incoherent with anger. I prefer to get articulate. Here is the post I wrote on my class’ discussion board this week, in response to the Wisconsin firebugs:

*

I wasn’t going to comment any more till next week but OH. MY. I don’t even know where to start with this one. How is it possible for people to be so easily offended? A ten-foot-high obscenity spray-painted across the front of my house MIGHT get me as riled up as these people are about a YA book. Might.

Okay. Really, where to begin? With the “accusation” that the library board of trustees were “submitting to the will” of such radical fringe groups as ALA and the ACLU? With the “damage” done to the “mental and emotional well-being” of the elderly plaintiffs – who, I might add, must have lived through some seriously turbulent eras in American history, when the n-word was used much more commonly than it is in this book? With the characterization of “explicitly vulgar, racial” – not racist, racial! – “and anti-Christian” serving as the grounds for objection? With the fact that a grand jury could declare the book obscene and making it available a hate crime? With the fact that four trustees were denied reappointment for following the library’s own reconsideration process instead of immediately yanking the book from the shelf? With the fact that it’s 2010 and people still want to burn books?

I think that about covers it, actually. I wonder if the West Bend Parents for Free Speech accept donations.

Also, I did not know Wisconsin had a “sexual morality law.”

*

Normally I am a little more balanced and scholarly on the discussion board, but this one just kind of blew my mind. And I’m sure it isn’t an extraordinary case – I’ve always lived in pretty liberal areas where Banned Books Week means there are displays of books that have been challenged or banned (elsewhere) and everyone is encouraged to read them.

Part of the issue, of course, is freedom of speech and freedom of expression (which we are legally guaranteed in the First Amendment of the Constitution), and that works for both sides – the author is entitled to write whatever she wants, and the publisher is entitled to publish and distribute it. People also have a right to protest and object. Moving down a level from the federal, there is also the American Library Association’s (ALA) Freedom to Read Statement, which begins, “The freedom to read is essential to our democracy.” Pretty clear there. Then we have the ALA Code of Ethics. While librarians commit to providing the highest level of service and equal access to all, we also “uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources.” As a citizen and as a librarian(-in-training), freedom of speech and thought are important to me, as is fighting censorship.

This sort of fuss – what happened in Wisconsin – is routinely kicked up over fiction. Harry Potter, to take one major contemporary example, has been challenged all over the place for promoting witchcraft, among other reasons. We all know that acknowledged literary classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill A Mockingbird have been challenged and banned since they were first published, and Ulysses wasn’t even allowed in the country when it was first printed. Now, I am the last person to say that fiction can’t influence a person – of course it can, or no one would be so worried about it. But: I don’t believe that writers of fiction can invent anything worse than things that have already taken place on this earth. That is not an insult to the creativity of fiction writers, but rather an unspeakably sad reflection on human history. We cannot imagine worse tragedies than we have already propagated on one another – murder, war, genocide, indifference…and all of that is in libraries already, in the nonfiction section. (Oh, and speaking of violence – the Bible is most definitely one of the most violent, and arguably immoral, documents I’ve ever read.)

Could also be that it takes a lot to offend me personally. (That’s not a challenge, by the way.) I really do believe that people have a right to voice their opinions, no matter how vehemently I disagree with them, and vice-versa. I do NOT believe, however, that anyone else should get to decide what I read. (Though “keep your laws off my books” doesn’t work as well as “keep your laws off my body,” catchphrase-wise. The laws are supposed to be “on the books,” unless someone is prepared to memorize every legislative document in the country, and I will go out on a limb right now and say that no one is. Oral tradition, meet the U.S. Tax Code.)

Anyone still interested in censorship/free speech issues and libraries might like these articles:

Children’s book author Dan Gutman wrote this article for School Library Journal in response to an angry letter from a parent (he also wrote back to the parent).

Lester Ashiem, an influential figure in the library world in the 20th century, wrote this piece on censorship vs. selection in 1953; ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom got permission to post it on its website in 2005.

Thank you and goodnight.

What I’m reading: WHATEVER I DAMN WELL PLEASE. In this case, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman.
What I’m listening to: The Suburbs, Arcade Fire; We’re Not Happy Till You’re Not Happy and Why Do They Rock So Hard, Reel Big Fish

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Giving TWC a run for it…

So last night I spent fifty (50) minutes on the phone with someone at Comcast, trying, yet again, to fix our internet service (it is not, at present, working; I’m writing this at the library. God bless the library). Though problems with Comcast have been a regular feature of my life since moving in to my current abode at the beginning of August, they are still better than Time Warner in a few ways:

1) The automated system takes two minutes to get through, after which the caller is rewarded with the experience of speaking to an actual human being; no hold music, no estimated 45-minute wait times.

2) That human being is usually competent and helpful, and apologetic for the problems the caller is experiencing (and ESPECIALLY apologetic if a tech person was supposed to show up and did not).

3) When it is necessary to schedule an appointment for a tech person to come to the house, that appointment is usually scheduled for 1-3 days in the future, not two weeks (cough-TIME WARNER-cough).

4) When the tech person does show up (and on two or three occasions, I will readily admit, s/he has not), s/he is competent, helpful, and usually fixes the problem (often by replacing one piece of non-working equipment with a piece of working equipment, which means they came prepared).

So, on balance, better than TWC; but then again, they didn’t set the bar very high, did they? An unathletic snail could get over that bar, given a few minutes. Putting things in perspective; I know there are many, many people in the world who don’t have access to clean water or enough food, and that is a much worse problem than spotty internet access – a problem in a completely different category. On the other hand, we’re paying for the service, and having to spend hours on the phone, and further hours waiting around the house for tech people who may or may not show up, depending on which house Mercury is residing in these days (I don’t know what their criteria are), just isn’t acceptable.

Here, again for your enjoyment, are two examples of people turning frustrating customer service experiences into humor (and, in one case, results!), rather than – as I’ve done here – simply rephrasing that whiny, impatient chorus of a child trying to drag his/her parent out of a boring situation or setting, such as a conversation with another parent, or a shoe store: Come on come on come onnnnnnn!

The Oatmeal
Dooce

Let’s just hope the guy shows up this time.

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Filed under rants, TWC