It started on a high note

Picture this:

You are waiting for your morning bus with about 15 other people. Your bus stop plays host to multiple routes, so with each approaching bus, you squint at the glowing number emblazoned on its front (or taped to the windshield by the driver) to see if your chariot has come to whisk you away.

You note that the latest arrival is not said chariot so you return to your Metro or to gazing at nothing. A motion to your left catches your eye. With muscles still drunk from sleep, you turn your head and aim your heavy-lidded eyes down the sidewalk.

You see a man. You see a man running. You see a man running with, perhaps, a slightly panicked look in his eyes. These eyes are starting pointedly at the conveyance that still sits idly in front of you as the last interested parties climb aboard.

You twist your head again and take in the bus, the driver waving the last passenger on without showing their monthly commuter pass. Back to the man running. Back to the bus.

Decision time. Do you:

A. Motion to the driver, notifying them they have a latecomer rushing at best speed to the bus, appealing to his better nature to hold up for five more seconds.

B. Continue to gaze dumbly at the on-charging commuter, remaining motionless but for the infrequent blink, little evidence of higher brain function.

I, myself, typically choose A. Admittedly, studies have shown that my enthusiasm for flagging down bus drivers for other riders is directly proportional to the “female” and “cute” levels of the tardy rider. However, I maintain that, if I see a running rider (RR) and I’m in a position to, I will move to flag the driver.

Evidently, the 15 people at the bus stop this morning, five or six of whom I specifically saw watching me sprint towards them, do not share my principles in this matter.

As I ran, I watched the people at the bus stop look at me, look at the bus and then turn back to me. I could almost hear them thinking, “He’s not gonna make it. Dumb bastard.” Knowing that they weren’t going to help me and suspecting I wasn’t going to make it in time, I briefly considered lowering my shoulders and just driving through the pile of people. It was cold and icy, so they were all huddled together. I’m sure I would’ve done some damage.

I was in line with the back of the bus when the doors closed and the driver hit the gas. I ran past the bus stop, not to catch the bus, but because I knew if I stopped amidst the inconsiderate sons of bitches at the bus stop, I would’ve made a scene that would achieve nothing more than to make me look like more of an asshole than I already did.

Luckily(?), all but two of those riders got on the next bus. It was a route that I’ve taken in the past which goes farther than my office and I end up walking back through Chinatown, so I debated shouldering my way to the front in righteous indignation. But by then I’d taken a few deep breaths and reason prevailed.

I like my commute to work. On good days, I can get to work in less than 15 minutes and the express bus is nowhere near as exciting as the T. But it’s not without it’s own flavor of inconsiderate mcdouche that causes me to grind my teeth down to the nerve endings.

Netflix Review: Forbidden Kingdom

We don't make it out to a lot of movies in the theaters these days, but with 400+ movies in my Netflix queue, I'll get to the blockbusters... eventually. So, here's the first of my "four-month-late" movie reviews.

Watched Forbidden Kingdom last night. I really wanted that movie to be good… But… it wasn’t.

Jackie Chan and Jet Li were good with the roles they were given. Lei Yifei and Li Bingbing (!) succeeded at filling their respective of “Hot innocent girl” and “Hot not-so-innocent woman in a fetching white wig”.

Visually, the move was very good, though, I think some of the sets looked a bit rushed.

The fight choreography was passable. It was exhilarating finally seeing Jackie vs. Jet, that fight wasn’t enough to justify this movie.

These were the high points of the movie, and they made much of this in the special features. Jackie and Jet, of course. But also the Director of Photography (Peter Pau) and Woo-ping Yuen as the fight choreographer (You may remember him as the fight director from The Matrix movies who, when asked to describe the actors’ abilities as fighters, when he got to Keanu Reeves, his diplomatic answer was: “He tries very hard.”).

The parts of the movie that turned my stomach were:

The kid from “South Boston”. Where did they find this nitwit?? Did they just run out of money hiring Jackie and Jet?

I was also going to bitch about the Boston setting, but then watched the extras and saw they had to recreate all those sets in China, where they were being built by set designers who had to research what dumpsters and trash cans look like and accidentally put up the electrical outlets in the walls sideways. So they did a passable job, I guess.

The big example of ass-dom had to be the screenwriter. This was a guy who came off as very conscious of his image. He clearly knows his shite when it comes to Chinese fables, but do I really want to watch a special of him practicing Kung Fu sets on an LA beach in a really goofy looking costume?

The answer, is no, I really didn't.

I really want them to try again. Give Woo-Ping another chance with these guys in Hong Kong, then we might see something that justifies the star power. It'll be campy, it'll be cheap, but it's gonna be amazing.


Mr. Varmint Goes to Washington

This just doesn't seem right.

The White House is, supposedly, one of the most secure (albeit, public) pieces of property in the world. The Residence is watched around the clock by hundreds of our country's finest Secret Service agents (officers?). They have snipers and anti-aircraft emplacements. There's a big fuck-off fence!

So how come they can't keep out a couple of freaking raccoons?

I mean, I remember reading (Where the Red Fern Grows) that you can catch a raccoon simply by digging a narrow pit, putting a shiny piece of tinfoil at the bottom and banging pointed sticks in at angles that will keep a tiny, tinfoil-holding fist from pulling out.

That was a scheme made up by a little boy. These guys have the National Parks Service on the job!

If I may tangentilize here for a moment: How cool would it be to have the National Parks Service as your landscaper? Do you think you'd get a hat?

Anyway, it's obvious the NPS isn't up to snuff in the varmint rasslin' department. Time to call in the big guns: a 15-year (!) raccoon-catching (!!) veteran. Tim McDowell sounds like he's straight out of a movie. He knows right away what the problem is

"Y'see, they cages prolly don' smell rayet." (drawl embellished)

This is, obviously, an incredibly unfair portrayal of the man. I have no idea if he has an accent, pair of overalls or buck teeth.

I do feel, though, that the Post article gave us one small glimpse of this rodent snaring superstar's caricature when he offers his services gratis:

"I won't charge 'em nothing.(sic)"

I smell conspiracy, however, when he admits that catching raccoons at the White House has always been a dream of his.

Perhaps the man'll get his wish. I'm almost rooting for him. Unless he turns the whole thing into a Pied Piper situation. That guy got the rats out, but he came back and got all the kids, too. That ain't right.


May I Ask Who's Calling?

When is the last time you had to call tech support? Either your iPod has kicked the bucket, your Guitar Hero (Rock Band, more likely) guitar is no longer working or the public Beta test that is Vista has expired again.

Whatever the issue, if you have contacted technical support in recent history, you likely have been listed in one of the following categories:

Conscious Incompetence (CI)
Individuals who are not competent, but are aware they are not competent and understand the specific areas of deficiency. The incident area can be quickly identified with these customers, since they know where they are deficient, making it easier to isolate the issue.

Unconscious Incompetence (UI)
Individuals who are not competent, are unaware that they are not competent, and do not understand the specific areas of their deficiency. These customers require open-ended questioning to determine their competence level or lack thereof.

Conscious Competence (CC)
These customers are competent and are aware they are competent. Typically, these customers know exactly how and where they need help. They need to be acknowledged for their competencies, and you can ask specific closed-ended questions to pinpoint the issue.

Unconscious Competence (UC)
These individuals are competent but are unaware that they are competent. Typically, these customers understand that there is an issue, but are not clear on what the issue is or if they can fix it. These individuals sometimes know more about a particular subject than the service representative, but they often miss simple and easy troubleshooting steps, before they contact the support center for assistance.

For close to a year and a half now, I have been answering phones for a major publishing company whose online course management systems are used by higher education all over the world. I’ve had the pleasure and pain of speaking to each one of these individuals. They are, at times, kind and gracious, at others acerbic and impatient. Frequently they are harried and rushed. Always, they are wishing they didn’t have to be on the phone with me.

  • Your Favorite Old Aunt (CI)

  • This one is hit or miss. She (this is a rare gender-specific character), invariably, has no idea what’s going on inside this computer of hers, but whatever it is, it’s fantastic. She is just so amazed at what they can do these days. Her only downside is that you’re going to spend the next thirty minutes walking her through the most basic of functions, sprinkled in with stories of her progeny. If you’re lucky, you’ll only have to talk to her twice a day.

  • Hot For Teacher (CI to UI)

  • This is the young and virile-sounding (fe)male teacher that leaves you wondering how old they are and guessing at the color of their hair. They are typically amiable and chatty and talk to you as though you’re meeting up for drinks later with the rest of the group. Their questions are usually simple ones they probably could have figured out on their own but you don’t mind. You’re too busy wondering if it would be wrong to look them up on Facebook or to see if their college has faculty pictures on its Website. You ask them if there’s anything else you can help them with... twice.

  • Ernest Hemingway (CI to UC)

  • This is that cool older instructor that calls the guys “dude” and flirts with the girls. He understands computers enough to know that he has no idea what’s going on. He’s typically patient and understanding. He’s still excited that he’s preparing the youth of today to take over the world tomorrow, which is cute, but he is also savvy enough to know that electronic homework is rarely eaten by the dog.

  • Give Me Back My Abacus (CI to UI)

  • This luddite is not, happy. They never wanted to use this system in the first place and didn’t they say it was going to cause problems? Capable of, at best, grudging thanks, these customers are more frequently bitter and aggravated. No amount of empathy is going to help. Just fix the whatchamacallit so the bosses are happy and these kids will stop bitching and go back to their tiny phones and their portable records.

  • Just Fix It, Scum (UI to UC)

  • It’s broken and it’s your fault. They’ve never had this trouble before, so what did you do to break it? These are the people that cut you off in traffic and then park in handicapped spaces. They are the ones who talk on their cellphones in the movie theater. They take up both the aisle and window seats on the crowded bus. They drive Escalades or think they should. These are frequently students who have reached the instructor line and threaten to speak to your CEO.

  • ESL Charming (CC to UC)

  • This customer grew up somewhere between Mumbai and Jamaica. They do not complain when you ask them to spell the seven consecutive consonants of their last name a second time and are thrilled when you answer their question. You enjoy speaking to this customer so much you have to restrain yourself from unconsciously adopting their accent while talking to them.

  • ESL Chatterbug (CC to UC)

  • This customer’s difficult enunciation is compounded by the machine gun pace. They give you their alphabet soup moniker and are halfway through their problem description before you can decide if the first letter of their name has an umlaut. Asking them to stop and backtrack is an inconvenience. Asking them to repeat themselves is a war crime. Luckily, they have typically hung up on you before you can ask them if they need anything else.

  • The Hypocrite (UI to CI)

  • This customer typically calls in September or January. Their class starts in thirty minutes. How do they make a course? Where do they register as an instructor? They just copied another instructor’s course from last semester, how do they change the dates on all of the assignments? Can you just do it for them? These instructors are least likely to give students an extension on their papers.

  • It’s Not Me, It’s You (UI to UC)

  • Administrators who have teachers complaining that their losing valuable class time and program directors threatening them are rarely in a good mood when the call. Why should the fact that they have their network locked down tighter than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue have any affect on your bandwidth-intensive online application? Of course they have Flash! Version 1 isn’t good enough for you?

    There are good callers and there are bad callers. You’d like to say you are able to maintain a consistent level of professionalism and job devotion for all your users, but you wouldn’t be fooling anyone. There are callers you get off the phone with and feel genuinely good about the fact you were able to assist them. There are others that leave you fearing for the Republic. The only constant is that the caller who rings to your phone at 4:55 pm on Friday is never the former, and you are going to wish you’d let it ring.


    To Begin Again

    All right, it's time. Monday, February 02, 2009 is the day I need to start my blog. I mean, technically, I started this blog back in 2007… but I didn't put anything in it, so I don't think that counts.

    I must have only started it back then so I could save this awesome URL.

    That's right.

    Anyway, what does one write for a first post? This isn't really a themed blog. I'm not going to write solely about skiing, or puppies, or puppies on skies. No, this is going to be more of a scratch pad for my thoughts and opinions. This, I fear then, is a blog about me.

    What better way, then, is there to start a completely self-indulgent blog than by copy-and-pasting the latest ego-trend to burn up the Facebook tubes!

    25 things

    1. The most defining element of my life would have to be the two, year-long boat trips I took with my family. The first when I was 11, the second when I was 16. For a long time, these trips became my character, what people knew me as. This was my own fault because I would find any excuse I could to bring it up. After too long, I decided I wanted to be more than "That kid who lived on a boat" so I stopped talking about it unless I felt it was absolutely relevant. I still dream of disappearing on a boat and sailing the world, but I doubt I'll ever work up the courage to do it.

    2. Speaking of those trips, I came back from the first one with shoulder length hair. Those were the days...

    3. I married my college sweetheart. People have asked what it's been like being married now. I can't say it's much different from the almost seven years we'd been together up until the big day. I'm still crazy about her.

    4. From high school onward, I've found that people seem comfortable coming to me to talk, to confide and to vent. If I've succeeded in shaping myself into someone people feel comfortable talking to about personal issues, knowing I won't judge them or preach to them or tell them to shut up, then I consider that one of my greatest successes in life.

    5. I've gotten in the habit of reading two to four books or magazines at once.

    6. I'd like to get a tattoo, but I've not been able to come up with something that I'm going to be just as happy with in 40 years as I am with it now. I'm guessing it'll eventually be something to do with my eventual offspring.

    7. I love to write, but I've yet to find something I love to write about.

    8. Something I'm working on: I find I'm too loud when I'm comfortable in a situation. On the flip side, I'm too quiet when I'm not comfortable.

    9. I've been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling so far in my life. I hope to continue that trend. I like to go to foreign lands and get lost. If I've only been to a country (like Mexico) on a cruise ship, I do not count that as actually having been to that country.

    10. The first cigarette I ever had I rolled myself out of a dead maple leaf. I remain non-smoker.

    11. I plan on having a model railroad when I grow up.

    12. I took Ritalin up until my sophmore year in college. I stopped taking it because I really didn't want to be reliant on a pill to be a normal person. I'm not sure I've succeeded in being a normal person yet without it, but I'm going to keep working on it.

    13. I suffer from (mercifully) infrequent compound migraines. They knock me out of a day and it takes close to 72 hours to get back to normal. Symptoms include the normal migraine head pain, sensitivity to light and sound. I also experience numbness on the right side of my body, (from just a hand to the entire right side, including my upper lip, which is always weird), holes in my vision and the inability to speak. I've never been able to determine if it's linked to food, an activity or just stress.

    14. I sometimes wonder if our neighbors can hear me singing and talking to myself as I walk around the apartment.

    15. I currently work in tech support and have a regular greeting that I've come up with that helps me get important information from the customer and maintain some modicum of control over the conversation. I've been asked multiple times if I'm a recording.

    16. I've fallen in love with Top Gear on BBC. How can you NOT love a show which talked the British Marines into letting them accompany a beach landing exercise in a Ford Fiesta?

    17. The only time (that I can remember) I have hurt a friend in anger is when they hurt Amanda. I surprised myself with how quickly and without thinking I reacted.

    18. I spent a couple weeks working for my high school's summer camp after my Junior year but was fired along with two other counselors for pulling the shaving cream while they're sleeping trick on my campers. The campers we pranked thought it was hilarious. The parents did not. None of us got paid for the three weeks of work. I'm still bitter about that.

    19. I'm a firm believer that "42" is the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything.

    20. I have lost count of how many Star Wars novels I have.

    21. I ask far too many questions without trying to look up the answer myself, first.

    22. I will do almost anything for a free t-shirt.

    23. I'm a wimp when it comes to spicy foods. My policy is that I don't eat things that hurt me back.

    24. For a time I subscribed to the Attack of the Show "Women of the Web" video podcast, a weekly podcast ranking the most attractive women on the Web. I ended unsubscribing because it felt weird watching that on my iPod on the bus. I like to think I'm not quite THAT skeevy...

    25. As soon as the New England Revolution move to a soccer-specific stadium nearer to Boston (Somerville?) I will be a season ticket holder.