March 15, 2010

Business Travel Travails

Last week I was out on business travel to Long Island (where my employer is HQ'd). I was scheduled to get home Wednesday evening, but before I could do that, US Airways decided to demonstrate in no uncertain terms why I should never fly with them again. (I would normally elaborate more on each point to convey the true nature of the situation, but I have decided to keep this fairly brief. Don't want you nodding off in the middle, dear readers.)

My original plans were to fly from Islip (Long Island) to Philly at 4:09 Wednesday and then from Philly to Denver that evening, but the Islip plane was delayed about 3 hours such that the 6:20 plane to Philly arrived before the 4:09 plane. The following is how I was entertained between 3:00pm on 3/10/10 and 8:00am on 3/11/10 in Islip and Philly:

  • I waited for my plane at the gate in Islip until past the normal flight time at the gate hoping a gate agent would appear. None did, so I went back out through security to see the ticketing agent. I went back out because (a) there was nobody to ask at the gate and (b) there were no flight status or times posted at the gate. The ticketing agent informed me that the plane had been delayed 1 hour but that I would be fine as my Philly-to-Denver connection was also delayed.
  • When the second hour delay was posted (not anywhere around the gate, of course), I checked with the gate agent (as one had arrived at the end of this initial hour delay). It was the same lady that was working ticketing when I checked an hour earlier. She then informed me I would still easily make my connection because it was now also very delayed.
  • During the third hour delay, 6:20 plane came in, but this agent refused to book any of the 4:09 passengers on this flight. There was room, but I heard her tell someone on the phone she was just not going to do it. She said she had "had enough."
  • Another US Airways agent arrived once the 6:20 flight started to board to see if she could get any of us on that flight. The Philly to Denver connection was now the latest flight (direct or indirect) to get us to Denver that night, and it would be very close. The new agent booked those of us with close connections on that flight while the other lady groused and told the new agent to ignore me because I had been up to see her “82 times.” (Even though there had been 3 delays, I only approached her once at the ticket counter and once at the gate, so hearing her complain about the “82 times” I had been up there was ... entertaining -- or something.) Another passenger did not board when called (he did not hear the initial boarding announcement) and the agent loudly remarked that he should be “punished” and not let on the plane because he missed the original boarding announcement. The other agent let him board.
  • Eventually I got on the plane and it flew to Philly. We (I and another passenger also trying to get to Denver) were given a gate on the C concourse as our connection and told we could probably make it if we ran. Since the flight came into concourse F (which is disconnected from the "real" airport), we ran to the shuttle and took it to the stop for the C concourse. While running down the C concourse we saw a departures board that listed our Denver flight as now leaving out of A6. We could have taken the shuttle all the way to concourse A, but since we didn’t have the right gate information, we now had to run through the airport to gate A6.
  • (As an aside, while charging through the airport I was sure that I was racing ahead of the nice lady also trying to get to Denver that night. I wasn't. She was on my heels the whole way. I was going to be all gallant and ask that they hold the plane for her when I got there. But damn! I could not shake her. Later I find out the bitch is a marathon runner.)
  • After running all the way to A6, we arrived (drenched with sweat) to see the door being closed. When we got to the gate we were told the plane had already left ... even though it was sitting right there. Pointing this out I was told, “you will not be allowed to board.” This was a big problem for me because I needed to host an important meeting the next morning in Colorado Springs. It was clearly not a big problem for them.
  • I asked what we were to do next, and we were sent to yet another part of the airport to get rebooked.
  • Once we got there, there was 1 customer being served and 3 agents, but the agents were busy talking and trying to not look at the forming line of customers. After another long delay (maybe another 40 minutes), one of the other agents finally agreed to talk with us.
  • She told us we would have to fly out the next morning. After another 20 minutes I was (supposedly) rebooked on what the agent said was a 6:00am flight.
  • Since our initial Islip delay was caused by mechanical problems, she offered a voucher for a hotel room about a hour away from the airport at a Days Inn with no indication of how we were to get there and back. It was now very late and I was very tired and frustrated. If I could have figured out how to get to and from the Days Inn, I would have gotten less than 3 hours of sleep, so I chose to stay the night at the Marriott at the airport. I needed more than 3 hours of sleep; I was a wreck.
  • After sleeping at the Marriott (which cost me $275.33 for less than 5 hours of sleep), I arose and went back in to the airport for my 6:00am flight. But it wasn’t a 6:00am flight; it was actually a 7:50am flight (maybe I could have done the Days Inn after all). THis was frustrating, but at least I had a boarding pass for the next US Airways flight to Denver. (I was told I could not utilize a different airline to get an earlier flight.)
  • When boarding commenced and I tried to board with my group I was told there was a problem with my ticket. It took the gate agent a while, but eventually she told me that my ticket “had no value on it” and that I would not be able to fly on the 7:50 flight. I asked what I should do, and I was told it “wasn’t her problem” and that I needed to talk to United as my tickets were originally through them (even though it was actually a US Airways flight). Now the plane was mostly boarded and approaching its departure time. I asked for my boarding pass back (as I needed it for my company, CA, to reimburse me for the cost of the flight per corporate policy) and was told I was not getting them back.
  • At this point I exploded with a cry of agony (but I did not swear or issue any threats). I know I should not have done this, but I was going crazy, so I cried out, took a breath and went back at the challenge with which I was confronted. When this happened, the 2nd gate agent told the first to “call the police” and that I would not be flying anywhere. (Now I am picturing myself on some kind of a national no-fly, no public library privileges, terrorist watch list for my troubles. Excellent!) Eventually the first agent I was working with called a manager (instead of the police). The manager was able to straighten things out after the plane had been otherwise boarded so I could actually get on the flight. In this time my originally assigned isle seat had been given to someone else, but I was just glad to get on the plane.

So, on the good side:

  • I did get home on Thursday.
  • I did not physically harm any of the various (hopefully endangered) US Airways employees that deserved it ('cuz that would just be bad karma).
  • I was not clubbed to death by Philly's Finest for being a terrorist and library book abuser.

All-in-all a very successful trip. Can't wait for the next one.

January 28, 2010

The Cooking Class

So this week as an experiment I took a "Rustic Italian" cooking class with the wife at an excellent local restaurant.

Now, if you do not know me very well, you might not realize that I have some severe limitations when it comes to my cooking prowess. I freely tout my "3 or 3" limitation: If a recipe has more than 3 ingredients or 3 steps, it is probably beyond my not-so-considerable capabilities. I have simply never really learned to cook.

Now most of you reading this probably already know this, but I did not: A prerequisite for attending a cooking class is that you already know how to cook.

Pardon me?

When I took driving classes, they did not assume I could drive. When I took calculus, they did not assume I already knew about differentials and integrals. When I took percussion lessons, they did not assume I already knew how to play the drum. But cooking class? Why would you attend a cooking class if you did not already know how to cook?


So when I entered the classroom (a.k.a. the kitchen) I was in for quite a shock. When the wife and I entered, the rest of the class was already working away. (We were like 2 minutes late -- damn over-achievers.) My first warning sign was that I saw no signs of instruction occurring anywhere. But I thought, well, the wife knows how to cook, so we'll just work through this.

Not so fast.

There were no 2 person stations available, so we had to split up. Now I'm starting to worry. And in spite of my worry I made a truly inspired choice. We had to decide between a simple bean dish and some absurdly fancy Italian dessert, and the wife let me take my pick. I thought, "Why the hell would I want to learn to cook beans?" So i picked the dessert. In my defense, the "absurdly fancy" part of the dessert was not disclosed at the time of selection.

So now I was directed to a cooking station in the corner by the walk-in fridge and the world's biggest mixer. At my station I had: a 10" pan, a tub of walnuts (or some sort of non-peanut nut -- what do I know?), some sort of fancy wax paper and some instructions. I thought, I can read instructions -- no problem. I looked closer to find that they were mostly English words, but much of their meaning was lost on me.

I understood the "butter the pan" part.

Well, I thought I did.

First I had to find the butter. It was, of course, not in the conveniently located, aforementioned walk-in fridge, but eventually I found it. I took the butter (in a small metal cup) back to my station. Here I proceeded to stare at the pan and the butter, back at the pan, back at the butter and so on for a while. My mind was asking: "How do I get these 2 things together in the proper configuration?" Previous to this, I guess I had only ever "buttered" a pan with a Pam-like spray. Eventually, with some judicious use of the wax-like paper, I got the butter on the pan. Great, that only took like 15 minutes. I should be done with this dessert sometime around midnight.

Now I am not going to waste your time with a step-by-step reenactment of that fateful night (nobody has time for that), but I will relate a couple of points of my "education" related to the eggs.

First, the eggs -- I could not find them. They were not in the conveniently located, aforementioned walk-in fridge either. After some detective work, I was able to locate them. Now the instructions:

"Separate 8 eggs."

Separate them from what??

They really looked rather separate to me. It's not like it was one giant egg or anything. Not being completely ignorant, I did eventually conclude the it was a yolks vs. whites sort of segregation thing they were after. (By the way, egg "whites" do not start out white. They start out as a slimy clear substance.) This is not like separating the white clothes from the colored clothes. It's all really one slimy mess once you get past the shell. Luckily by now the wife had the beans pretty much under control, so she came to help me. We both cracked eggs. I did my best to separate the whites from the yolk, but a little yolk got in with the whites. I thought, "close enough."

Then the wife swept in with horror on her face trying everything she could think of the get the evil yolk bits out of the heavenly white bits. Good thing she was there! Thanks to her swift intervention, nobody died that night.

Second, I read about whipping the egg whites into "soft peaks." I still don't know what this means, but I tried. I put the bowl of non-white egg whites on the mixer stand (this was the small mixer) and, with some help, figured out how to turn the contraption on.

It was cool. It could go really fast! I like things that go fast!

Unfortunately, it wasn't actually mixing the eggs. I was just spinning merrily above the bowl. This is when I started looking for a longer mixing attachment thingy with which to reach the eggs. At this point I received one of my few bits of instruction. The chef running the class was wandering by and nicely asked what the fuck I was doing.

(He didn't actually use the "f" word, but his eyes were a little wide, so I could tell he was thinking it.)

Then I learned that the solution was to use the arm on the side of the mixer to raise the bowl into position. So I mixed away. Somehow I knew this contraption was supposed to transform my slimy clear egg stuff into fluffy white something or other. When it got there, I asked the assistant chef/instructor lady if it was okay. "Not yet," says she, "you want soft peaks." I nodded like I had a clue about what she was saying and mentally translated it into "mix more." (The "not yet" was my primary clue.)

So I did.

Then, like 2 nanoseconds later, the wife comes by and takes a look. "Oh, no," says she, "looks like you have hard peaks. You mixed it too long. We might have to start over." "Oh no," thought I, "I have to work tomorrow morning."

Having no interest in starting over, I mixed in the sugar and crossed my fingers.

In the end, the dessert came out great, mostly thanks to the timely interventions of the wife. The chef/instructor dude said it was perfect, so I didn't mention the hard peaks.

Tonight, as another experiment, I am taking an improvisation class. If they point me to a station in the corner and tell me to start improvising, I think I will scream.

January 11, 2010

Catch-up Blog: Recent Reading

Well, hi there!

I have been absent from these pages for a rather long time, and I wanted to bring both of my dedicated readers up-to-date on what I have been reading since last August. Rather than doing a separate post for each book, I am simply providing the table below which lists the book, my rating of the book and the beginning of my review of the book.

To see the rest of any of the review text, just click on the Title link of the book and you will be taken to the goodreads page for this book and my review.

(The formatting is a bit of a mess for this blog. I will fix that as I have time.)

The Miracle at Speedy Motors (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #9... by Alexander McCall Smith The Miracle at Speedy Motors (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, #9) 2/5
I picked up this book because I had heard good things about the series and because this particular book had "Speedy Motors" in the title. :)…more
Blood Diamonds (Paperback) by Greg Campbell Blood Diamonds 3/5
A very good exploration of the tragic circumstances surrounding the diamond industry in general and Sierra Leone in particular. The book also does a …more
Brisingr (Inheritance, #3) by Christopher Paolini Brisingr (Inheritance, #3) 3/5
A decent third book in the series. If you liked the earlier ones, you will like this one. If you did not like the earlier ones, this one will not wi…more
A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (The Western Frontier Libra... by Isabella L. Bird A Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains (The Western Frontier Library, 14) 2/5
The book is a fascinating account of Bird's travels mostly through Colorado. She was a tough old bird (pun intended), and she attempted something tha…more
The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2) by Stieg Larsson The Girl Who Played with Fire (Millennium, #2) 3/5
I have very much enjoyed reading Stieg Larsson's first 2 books of this (Millennium) series. I would probably give this book a 3.5 if I could. Larsso…more
Pride and Prejudice (Paperback) by Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice 2/5
I know this is supposed to be a great book, and I know that most of you enjoyed it far more than me. It just didn't work for me. Yes, I saw the hum…more
Outlander (Outlander, #1) by Diana Gabaldon Outlander (Outlander, #1) 2/5
Most guys should not read this book. It's not that it is particularly poorly written -- it's not, but it does seem primarily designed to make women…more
The Magicians' Guild (Black Magician Trilogy, #1) by Trudi Canavan The Magicians' Guild (Black Magician Trilogy, #1) 3/5
This is a pretty good "young adult" or younger book. I did not connect with it all that well, but I would give it a strong recommendation f…more
The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the W... by Leonard Susskind The Black Hole War: My Battle with Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics 4/5
And another book I would like to rate 3.5. Actually is was a 4.0 until the last quarter of the book, so I am biasing up my rating here. It's a 4.5 o…more
Ringworld (Ringworld series, Book 1) by Larry Niven Ringworld (Ringworld series, Book 1) 3/5
I sounds like a broken record, but I'd give this SciFi classic a 3.5 as well. Pretty good, pretty well-told story. I am not yet sure if I will read …more
Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon (Hardcov... by Craig Nelson Rocket Men: The Epic Story of the First Men on the Moon 3/5
I'd give it a 3.5 if I could. This book is a very interesting and insightful view into the internal workings NASA throughout most of the 60's.
The Magicians (Hardcover) by Lev Grossman The Magicians 3/5
This book was about a 3.5 for me. It is an interesting mix of Narnia and Potter with more adult themes. I really *did* enjoy it, but it bugged me th…more
Angels & Demons (Robert Langdon, #1) by Dan Brown Angels & Demons (Robert Langdon, #1) 2/5
Good premise for a story, but not all that well executed. …more
The Glass Castle (Paperback) by Jeannette Walls The Glass Castle 4/5
Jeannette Walls does a wonderful job of telling the difficult story of her childhood. The reader gets a real sense of what things were like for her a…more
The Secret Life of Bees (Paperback) by Sue Monk Kidd The Secret Life of Bees 2/5
This book is about a 2.5 to me. Parts of the book are a 3.5-4.0. In particular, the depiction of the black vs. white conflicts and struggles of th…more
Brothers: A Novel (Hardcover) by Da Chen Brothers: A Novel 3/5
This novel is great in the way it conveys the cultural revolution of China, but it is hobbled by the absurdity of its many coincidences. This story o…more
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World... by Michio Kaku Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel 3/5
I think this is a 3.5 star book, but I am grading on the low side today. :) This is a fascinating book about many of the "impossible" th…more

August 15, 2009

The Lovely Bones

The Lovely Bones The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I can't decide between a 3.5 or 4.0 for this book, but I am leaning towards 4.0.

The protagonist and narrator, young Susie, is raped and murdered very early in the story. But fear not, since Susie is doing her narration from beyond the grave, this isn't even a minor bump in the road. This is good because otherwise the story would be too short, and you'd miss all the good stuff.

Having the deceased Susie narrate is a bit risky, but Sebold does a pretty believable job of it. There are some rather odd bits in the book, but she generally pulls them off well. (I will not mention them here so as to not give anything away.)

So, rape and murder of a young girl and the pain and difficulties that follow must make this a very depressing book. Not so much, it turns out. While there is nothing gleeful about the terrible things that happen, it still manages to be a rather hopeful and occasionally humorous book. The author has an interesting take on the "what happens after death" thing which I appreciated.

View all my reviews >>

Physics of the Impossible

Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration of the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I think this is a 3.5 star book, but I am grading on the low side today. :)

This is a fascinating book about many of the "impossible" things portrayed in various sci-fi books and movies. The author does a very good job of making the outer edge of physics as we know it accessible to the average reader to the extent that it might be needed to achieve these supposedly impossible things.

I was interested to learn how many "impossible" things are difficult but not inconsistent with the laws of physics. In the whole book there are only 2 things Kaku notes as being outside our current understanding of the laws of physics: perpetual motion machines and precognition.

If you like Hawking's lighter works, you will like this book as well.

View all my reviews >>

July 23, 2009

"That which you manifest is before you."

The Art of Racing in the Rain The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"That which you manifest is before you."

"The car goes where the eyes go."

This is a book about the trials of life. This is a book about the possibilities of life. This book is sad. This book is hopeful.

This is not a book about racing. But the book does talk about racing and its lessons for life. The protagonist (Denny) is a racer, a husband and a father. Pretty much every bit about road racing in this book is accurate, and that is very impressive. Garth Stein may not be a racer, but he must be an avid sports car and F1 fan.

Oh, and the story is wonderfully told from the prospective of Denny's dog, Enzo. Enzo believes that when a dog's life ends, if he is ready, he will come back as a man. Enzo is more ready than many people I have met.

If you read this book you will root for Denny and fall in love with Enzo. It is a fairly simple, very easy read, and I enjoyed it very much.

View all my reviews >>

May 28, 2009

My 2 most embarrassing moments...

A while back I was ask to blog about my two most embarrassing moments on some FaceSpace site. Since they are *still* my top two, I will reproduce them here for your enjoyment and my embarrassment:

Embarrassing Moment 1:

At one point while I lived in the (south) San Francisco Bay Area (right out of undergrad school), my parents came to visit. Among other things, they wanted to see the ocean. Okay, fine. We headed down towards Santa Cruz via highway 17, a beautiful, twisting highway through the mountains prone to traffic jams. Now, somehow we ended-up going on a weekend. In the Summer. Stupid! So, obviously, we got stuck in a traffic jam with a bunch of teens & 20-somethings headed to the beach. And my parents.

There were a couple of convertibles in the (not really moving) lane next to us. In the car next to us were 4 or 5 girls ... uh ... cheering. In the convertible in front, there was this guy. Alone. And then this head emerged from his lap, and the other girls cheered louder. So we (my parents and I) pretended not to notice. But we couldn't go anywhere, so we had to pretend real hard.

I thought: we can get through this. It's not that bad.

Well the amorous couple had other ideas. They made a few tactical adjustments, and then the pretty lady decided to hop on her friend's lap. She had to work at it a bit, to get things arranged just right so she could attach herself to his not-so-passive restraint system. And of course, there was the cheering section going wild. And my parents. And no where to go.

So while the nice couple fucked away in the car just 4 feet away from the windshield of my car, and their fan base went wild (their car was rocking all over now), and I was getting more than a little aroused, we all pretended like nothing was going on. I am pretty sure Dad was thinking he wouldn't mind being in the other car (brings a new perspective to that Dr. Seuss classic: "Hop on Pop"). I am pretty sure Mom was horrified. I was torn between wanting to jump in the car with the other 4 or 5 girls and wanting to disappear. But I really couldn't do either.

That was a l-o-n-g trip to the beach!

Embarrassing Moment 2:

This was much more recent, and it is much more embarrassing for me.

After being up very late the night before, I stopped for coffee on the way to work in my big extended cab, long-bed, 4x4 Dodge Ram 2500. Went in, got my coffee, went out, got in the truck and placed my coffee the conveniently located beverage holder. So far so good.

[Here we take a moment to remember that I race cars on a regular basis for fun. I have great situational awareness and vehicle operation skills. I am not the best driver in the world, but I am a lot better than most, and I take pride in it.]

So, I buckle-up and put the truck in reverse. I back out smartly, swinging the truck around to leave the parking lot.

Wham! WTF?!? The coffee left its convenient beverage holder (and its cup, for that matter) and flew across the truck. An entire light pole, complete with 4-foot high, 3-foot diameter concrete base, grew up from the ground behind me and attacked the back of my truck. It hit so hard, it must have been running straight at me. There is no way I could have been moving fast enough to hit that hard if it was stationary. I was pissed. I don't know how it happened, and I just don't make mistakes like that.

I took a deep breath and decided I should pull away from the pole and roll away from the coffee shop so I didn't have to face any of those people that just saw me try to destroy my truck and the 3-foot diameter concrete base of the light post all in one slick maneuver.

I thought: I can get through this. It's not that bad.

I put my foot on the brake and shifted the truck into drive. I then turned back to see if I could pull straight out.

(Warning: bored readers should now skip ahead to the next paragraph. Or just stop reading and do something useful.)

[Now we pause to talk about the heel-and-toe technique required for down-shifting when coming off of a fast straight into a slowish corner (for those of you that do not know about it). In this situation you need to depress the clutch with one foot, while braking hard with the other foot and engaging the lower gear. Sounds easy enough. But before you can let off of the clutch, you must blip the throttle so that the engine is turning fast enough to match the speed of the transmission. If you do not do this the rear tires will lock-up under what is called compression braking, and you will most certainly not make the corner. The problem is that you are still braking very hard, and most of us do not have 3 feet. To solve the problem, I rock my foot between the brake and the throttle using the outside edge of my foot to blip the throttle. Clutch out, turn in for the corner, done.]

I told you that to tell you this: I do not generally brake in the center of the brake pedal; I brake to the outside of the pedal. In the race car I often only brake with the ball of my foot. So, when I turned to the right to check behind me, my foot slipped from the brake onto the accelerator. I really don't know how this happened. Nothing like it has ever happened before, and I hope it never happens again. While I was looking back, the truck launched forward. Fast. Faster than I thought possible. I turned around and saw, in what seemed like slow motion, my truck ram (no pun intended) into the back of a brand new Ford F250 pickup in. It was about 2 weeks old. Before everything stopped moving, that truck was knocked 50% out of the parking lot. Ugh!!!

The owner was not in the truck, but he was walking back to it with his coffee. I can't imagine what went through his head as I smashed into his nice new truck. I hopped out, my head spinning. He shouted: "What the fuck!?!" I think all I replied was, "I don't know. I'm sorry."