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October 31, 2005

Recap Of Brotherly Visit

Yesterday I dropped my brother Matt off at the airport after his week-long visit to Seattle. My entire division had been given the week off for releasing the .NET Framework 2.0 (shameless plug), so I invited him to come hang with his big brother. This was his second visit to Seattle, so we forwent much of the tourist fare and just hung out.

I decided to rent a car for the week (for those of you who don't know, T and I have been living car-less for two months now. Seattle's bus system is good enough that we can get by without one, or use Flexcar for short trips), so we had mobility. I used to laugh at the people with tickets under their car's windshield wiper, parked directly under a No Parking sign. Well, Monday night I was one of those people. I had barely had the car for 3 hours when I got a ticket for parking in a zoned area without a permit.

Tuesday Matt and I walked downtown and checked out Pike Place Market. For a snack, I treated him to a Piroshky before we headed over to Queen Anne for Korean BBQ with friends. After eating more beef in one sitting than I had eaten all month, we stopped off at the Stumbling Monk for some good Belgian beer with friends.

Wednesday Matt and I jumped in the car and drove down to Portland, Oregon for a two-night stay at the fabulous Days Inn. Portland has a great downtown, and it's small enough to explore in a day. This surprised Matt who described it as fitting into one of the neighbourhoods of downtown Toronto. We grabbed drinks at Saucebox before crashing for the night.

Thursday we hit downtown again, grabbing a Greek lunch at the restaurant with the inflatable purple octopus on the roof. Our waiter also donned an octopus on his bald head, which we decided deserved a tip, regardless of the service (which, incidentally, was very good). We shopped at Powell's Veritable City Of Books (an entire city block of bookstore) and I picked up a winter coat for myself (to match my new hat... more on that in a future blog entry), taking full advantage of the lack of Oregonian sales tax. We shot some pool, grabbed some beers, and got soaked in the rain. All in all, a good Pacific Northwest night.

Friday we headed back home, making excellent time in our little Kia Rio (the Cadillac of rental cars). For those of you looking to rent a car in the near future, be warned that the Economy class car really lives up to its name. No power locks or windows. I even think this particular car was missing shocks, since we felt every pebble we ran over. I pulled over at one point, convinced we had blown a tire, only to realize it was only the crappily paved I-5 highway (ASIDE: for all you Washington voters, yet another reason to vote No on I-912!). That night the three of us had dinner at the Kingfish Cafe for some Southern soul food (Matt had their famous fried chicken, T had the pork chop and I had the catfish). We made a half-assed attempt at the dessert, which was an enormous piece of cake, the likes of which ye have never seen. We finished off the night with drinks at Cyclops in Belltown.

Saturday we got up late (big surprise). Matt and I walked to the International District for some sushi, but were disappointed that none of my favourite places were open for lunch, so we settled on dim sum. I showed Matt Pioneer Square and the harborfront before joining up with T. We caught a bus to the 74th St Alehouse before going to a Halloween party. We were the lame ones without costumes (having an out-of-town guest is a great excuse). It was a relatively early night, since Matt had an AM flight on Sunday.

I had a great time with Matt. Only in writing this blog post do I realize how much we saw and did (and ate). It was a great time and I look forward to more visits from family and friends.

23:27 | Misc Rambling , Seattle | Comments (2)

October 24, 2005

Back Up And Running

Surprisingly there were few mishaps in reinstalling Windows over the weekend, the biggest one was when I unsuccessfully tore the apartment apart looking for my Windows product key. Eventually T found it inexplicably hidden in a box of memorabilia from my trip to Japan.

Expect blogging to be light this week as I've got the week off work while my brother is in town visiting. What zany adventures will the Lyon Brothers get into? Find out next week.

07:43 | Stuff | Comments (0)

October 19, 2005

A Time-Honoured Tradition

I hit up Fry's Electronics over the weekend, and like every time I go there, I ended up dropping several hundred dollars and coming home with DVDs (The Wrong Guy and Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas), software and computer accessories. This time I bought myself a DVD burner for my computer, strictly for backup purposes (no, really). Which will come in handy this weekend, when I perform the time-honoured tradition of formatting my C: drive and reinstalling Windows.

The last time I did this was in 2003, when I got back from my internship at Microsoft with a boxed version of Windows XP. After over 2 years my installation has begun to show its age. Applications are running really slowly, startup time is measured in minutes, and a curious thing has happened to my taskbar: the current application buttons have disappeared. All that's left are the toolbars I have turned on (QuickLaunch bar and MSN Search Toolbar). If I disable these toolbars, my entire taskbar vanishes. Hitting the Windows key makes the Start Menu appear in the top left corner of my screen. And now the latest thing: occasional lock ups, requiring a machine reset (or "warm boot" for those who remember the term).

So for the past three days, I've been attempting to backup my hard drive and preparing for the pain that is reinstalling the OS. If all went well I'll be blogging again on Sunday to let you all know how it went. If it went badly, I'll be posting from work on Monday.

19:23 | Nerd | Comments (1)

October 10, 2005

Can You Hear Me Now? Finally!

It's been four weeks, but I finally got my new mobile phone account switched from Cingular to Verizon and got my new phone in the mail.

Ever since I moved into my current apartment, I've been plagued with crappy phone reception (I don't have a land line); dropped and missed calls; and general phone service badness. I had originally signed onto AT&T Wireless before it was swallowed up by Cingular (which I expect to someday swallow up Verizon, making this whole effort moot). Teresa, on the other hand, always seemed to have 5 bars of mobile signal, so clearly my apartment wasn't situated in the Bermuda Triangle of cell towers.

I had been growing bored with my phone too (the Motorola MPx200). Originally it was such a novelty; it runs Windows Mobile OS, it plays MP3s, it syncs with Outlook (I feature I still miss), but it didn't work very well as a phone. Even in places where other Cingular customers had 5 bars, I couldn't receive calls. So to Hell with it, I thought. I'm going to look for a new phone plan.

T and I decided that since the majority of our time on the phone was spent talking to each other, we should get some sort of shared plan. Together we shopped around and finally settled on Verizon. T had been a 4-year customer with no complaints, and the coverage was great.

Week 1

We try to sign on through the website, but were unable to sign on to the plan we wanted. Granted, it was a little complicated: port my Cingular number over, get a share plan, move T's account onto mine, get an international calling plan and make sure I get my Microsoft discount (ASIDE: it's almost criminal how Microsoft employees get all kinds of discount at various stores and service providers while teachers like T get squat). All that, and I only wanted to sign up for a one-year contract. So I left feedback on the website, explaining what I was trying to do and how I couldn't.

The next day T and I went to the Verizon location in downtown Seattle, where we were treated very rudely by the staff. I asked her what the reception was like on a particular handset, and her answer was "Yeah, it's pretty good, I guess" Not exactly the ringing endorsement I was looking for. When pressed with questions about contracts, she got visibly irritated with us. She was rolling her eyes, running hand through her hair, and even walked away from us at one point!

So T and I tried a different Verizon outlet, where we had an awesome sales rep who answered all our questions, made us feel good, and finally told us he couldn't give the discount, and that we had to call the 1-800 number. Fine.

I called customer service and spoke to a very friendly and enthusiastic sales rep. He assured me that I could have everything I wanted, and only required I fax certain pieces of ID. I did so, and then began the playing waiting game, expecting my phone to be shipped to me in 2 business days.

Week 2

Two days had passed and no word from Verizon. So on the weekend I called to check the status and maybe get a tracking number. Turns out the phone never left the warehouse. Since it was the weekend, nothing could be done, but it would definitely ship on Monday.

Week 3

Monday came and went, so I called back. After being put on hold for half an hour trying to get in touch with someone who knew what was going on, I finally spoke to someone in the warehouse. He said the phone was being shipped out that very morning (what a coincidence!) and that I would receive my phone in 2 business days. He was right. There was a package waiting for me when I got home, so I excitedly opened it, admiring my new Motorola E815.

Inside the package were instructions on how to get my account set up. For starters, I needed to activate my account by calling an automated service. I had to enter numeric information like social security number, ZIP code, date of birth, etc. I got all the way to the last question, which asked me to agree to a two year contract. What the Hell, I only signed up for one year! I entered 2 for "No" and was supposed to be transferred to a live representative, but their offices were closed.

So I called up customer service to get this straightened out. The guy I talked to said his computer told him that I was signed up for one year. So we went ahead and activated my handset. Then he tried to do a conference call with us and the automated service. I got through half the questions when my phone died. What the Hell? Then it dawned on me that I was using my Cingular phone to make this switch. I tried my new headset, but since my service was not yet activated, I could only call the automated system! I was now locked out with no phone!

I borrowed T's phone and called customer service back. This time I got a clueless woman who said that based on the price I paid for my phone, I must have the two-year contract, and to call the automated activation service. No amount of pleading would get her to look up my account on her computer. Nope, the price of the handset was all she needed to know. Exasperated, I hung up. And that's when T got angry.

She called customer service, chewed this poor rep out (basically summarizing this increasingly rambling blog entry) and demanded to speak to a supervisor. After waiting on hold for 15 minutes, T was talking to her. Then the supervisor wanted to speak to me. I explained the situation, as she listened sympathetically. When I was done, I heard her type a couple things into her computer, then she asked me to try to make a call on my new handset. Lo and behold, it worked! And for our troubles? A $15 credit on our next bill.

Week 4

I've been using my new phone for about a week now and am pretty happy. No dropped calls, it's slightly smaller than my old phone, and has a camera. I figured I had put this whole mess behind me, when I got an email this morning from the Verizon website support, telling me they had finally opened a ticket for the issue I had emailed them four freakin' weeks ago! I replied that I thought that kind of turnaround was shitty and demanded it be escalated. But honestly, I'd be just as happy if I never heard from them again.

22:30 | Misc Rambling , Rant | Comments (2)

October 8, 2005

The Entrepreneurial Busker

When T and I were in Vancouver, we were taking a walk back to our downtown hotel after grabbing lunch in Chinatown when we spotted a man on rollerblades playing a guitar. He spotted us and started skating towards us, singing and playing louder as he got closer.

We tried to walk faster, pretending not to notice him (which would mean we were both blind and deaf). We were only one block away from W, Hasting St., not the nicest part of Vancouver, so we really didn’t know what to expect.

He was a black man of medium-build with long dreadlocks and a good voice. He skated along side us singing “Dust in the Wind”. After a few verses, we realized not making eye-contact with him was silly, so we let him serenade us as we continued walking down the street.

When he finished singing the chorus for the second time, T tried to push a twonie into his hand, but the man refused.

"I’m not done yet," he said, and sang another verse.

Eventually he finished his song, took the money and skated away, looking for other pedestrians to entertain. It left me thinking how this guy was the most entrepreneurial busker I had ever seen.

09:40 | Stuff | Comments (0)

October 6, 2005

Torture: The Pros And Cons

I don't know what sounds worse, the headline "Senate votes to ban torture" or the fact that President Bush is threatening to veto it.

08:20 | America , Politics | Comments (0)

October 3, 2005

A Disaster Waiting To Happen

If you were in charge of the marketing department at a company that made food products, and had to decide on the packaging for two entirely different products, whose only shared characteristic is that they both need to be refrigerated, would you make the packaging the same colour and scheme? (no, it's not just the poor lighting, the cartons are the same colour).

Milk and Eggs

To make matters worse, milk and eggs are two products I use in the mornings, usually before having my morning caffeine, so I'm not at my brightest. I'm terrified that one of these mornings I'm going to end up with eggs in my coffee and a pan full of scrambled milk.

20:48 | Stuff | Comments (1)