Monday, October 31, 2005

Halloween curling

Nothing particularly interesting happening on halloween this year, but I did have my normal Monday night curling league. The only thing that made this halloween night spooky was the fact that my parents came to watch curling. :) On the other hand, my mom was yet again obsessed with her camera and took some pictures.

The empty curling rink prior to the games

On the bright side, I was playing really well, as was the rest of my team, and we managed to win 9-2. The only really terrible shot I made was when the camera flash went off right in my face right as I was delivering a rock... I guess it made for a good picture, but a horrible shot.

Bad shot, good picture.

Some random sweeping on one of my shots

Well, that's about it for tonight... just wanted to get some of the pictures up. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Initiatives... and battling propaganda

Initiatives... in Washington State they constitute the right of the people to enact laws outside of the legislature's failure to do so. As we come down to yet another voting crunch time, the propaganda keeps flying. You see it on the news, you see it in advertisements, you may have even seen it in your mailbox. On general principle, I usually vote no on nearly every initiative, on the grounds that they are usually just an abuse of the legislative system in this state. The power of initiatives were given to people to enact laws that the legislature was failing to recognize for whatever reasons. But, the majority of the initiatives you see these days have never even passed through Olympia, but are rather attempts to introduce entirely new legislation straight from a small minority with a loud voice. Take this year's competing medical malpractice reform legislation, neither of which are anything more than extreme and poorly thought out laws to benefit the parties that are proposing them.

However, there's one initiative this year which received my support. Initiative 901 will extend the statewide "Clean Indoor Air Act" to remove exceptions for bowling alleys, skating rinks, casinos, and bars; and additionally limit all smoking withing 25 feet of entrance ways. This one isn't anything new to the legislature. On multiple occasions the lawmakers in Olympia have taken up the discussion, but for whatever reasons (which I think are strongly related to the constant pressure from the tobacco and business lobbyists), they have yet to take any action. I believe that the initiative process exists just for this purpose.

Of course, now that I've established, at least in my own mind, that the initiative is worthy of consideration, the question of whether or not it's worth supporting comes into question. As expected, there are two competing camps here, both conveniently with their own websites:

No On 901:
Healthy Indoor Air for All Washington:

This is where the war of propaganda comes into play. On the pro side, the main argument seems to be that everyone has the right to work and live without the hazards of breathing second-hand smoke, plain and simple. Any other remarks are simply responses to refute the claims of the competing camp. On the anti side, the argument is not so concise. On the front page of their website, I was first presented with a conspiracy theory that the initiative is motivated entirely by the big pharmaceutical companies in order to boost sales of their tobacco-quitting drugs. Now I'm all for a good conspiracy theory, but this is utterly ridiculous. First, it implies that this law will cause a significant increase in the number of smokers trying to quit. I honestly do not think that it's going to change very many people to stop smoking. It's an addiction, they'll simply find new places where they can smoke and go there. If they do decide to stop smoking, it won't be because they were told they had to... heaven knows they've gotten that same message countless times in the past and they're still smoking.
Conspiracies aside, the "No On 901" website makes quite a statement on nearly every page:

"This is not a debate on the merits of smoking. The debate is whether we wish to
give our government the right to outlaw smoking by adults on ones own personal
property, private business or vehicle while at the same time knowing all tribal
lands and businesses will be exempt."
While for one, this sounds like something they conveniently garnered from some well-conceived campaign material, it doesn't hold much water when further down the same page they present a collection of ill-conceived statistics and soundbytes extoling the supposed lack of a link between smoking and cancer, claiming cancer is all genetic. I was trying to find the kitchen sink on their website, but they seemed to have stopped just a hair short of throwing that at me.

Filtering through the smokers propaganda though, there really is a reasonable argument against the law, and that is the one presented by the businesses affected. The claim is that by prohibiting smoking in said establishments, business will suffer as customers go elsewhere--most notably to the bars and casinos on tribal lands unaffected by the initiative. While there may be some merit to this idea, I first believe that the potential influx of new customers to these establishments would far outweigh the number who stop patronizing them. Plus, realizing just how relatively small and far-between the tribal casinos are, I don't honestly believe that everyone will flood the reservations just to smoke and gamble, because of the crowds would be enormous and the air, well, toxic. It's just change, pure and simple... people will get used to it, and in a few years won't think anything of it.

All things considered, I voted no on every initiative, except I-901. I already mailed by absentee ballot in, but on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, we shall see what happens. Hopefully most other voters can filter through the propaganda and make their own educated votes too, whether they are the same or different than my own.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Blog leftovers...

Nothing new and interesting here, just updates to stuff I've already written about. First the Cingular saga. So yesterday I went and did everything that the fine customer service rep suggested I do. I tried the phone with the updates that she sent to the phone, no change in behavior. So I stop by the Cingular store at Northgate and upgrade to a new SIM card... on the bright side, they didn't charge me for it, so I ended up with an extra $25 credit on my account, nothing wrong with that. But unfortunately, that also had no effect, I have the same problem I had before. Today I give Cingular a call back to see what they can do now. The first person I talked to was surprised the solutions I tried didn't work, and the only thing she could do was transfer me to their Equipment Exchange department to get a replacement phone. I worked my way through the Cingular phone system to find the specified folks, and talked to another lady who I explained the problem to. She thought it didn't sound like the phone had any problem, and I agreed that a replacement phone likely wouldn't help a bit. I asked her if I could talk to their technical support people who might be able to understand the problem. She put me on hold and found what she claimed to be someone from tech support, but it was just the normal customer support people again. This person still was not technical, and did nothing more than the rest of them tried to do. C'mon! Let me talk to someone technical who actually knows more details than what they've been taught in their "keep the customers happy" training. Though on the bright side, she credited me with a months service on my account. Well, at that I was out of options. So I went to plan C, and e-mailed Cingular, trying once again to get through to someone who can solve the problem. I got a prompt response to my e-mail, who said essentially that it "should work the way you describe"... and provided no real solution. What help is that?! I mean, I KNOW how it's supposed to work, what does it take to get it through to you people that it ISN'T working how it's SUPPOSED to work. ARGG. I'll respond to the e-mail and try to rattle more cages tomorrow. In the meantime, at least things haven't gotten any worse.

And in last night's Monday night curling updates... I played positively poorly for at least half of the rocks I threw. My line was good, but the weight tended to be off and the rocks would go through the back of the house, which certainly didn't help. After 7 ends, we were down 2 with one end to go. Then my whole team started making good shots, including myself. I made a great draw to the back of the house, followed by my teammates making great shots, and we ended up scoring 3 in the 8th end to win by 1 with a score of 6-5. No more curling until Friday.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Adventures with Cell Phones

I've determined that cell phones are a necessary evil. They never work quite how you expect them to, or the service isn't quite as good as you expect it to be, or something else causes you to be less than 100% satisfied. I've been pleased with my cell phone 70% of the time, except that other 30% of the time when I'm at home in my apartment, and it insists on giving me terrible signal strength. This is all the result of Cingular merging with AT&T Wireless back a year or so ago. Through my own research, I've determined that I get excellent signal (full bars) when I am connected to the AT&T (blue) network, but only 1 bar with the Cingular (orange) network. Despite this fact, my phone ALWAYS will prefer the 1-bar orange network over the 5-bar blue network. It's terribly frustrating, especially considering my cell phone is my only phone at home. The official word out of the Cingular home office has been that eventually they'll get the blue and orange networks all integrated, and nobody will have this problem anymore.

Well I got sick of waiting for this, and I called Cingular Customer Service today. Surprisingly enough, while I fully expected and was prepared for the reality that the first person I talked to on the phone wouldn't be able to help me and would probably give me the runaround, I was refereshingly proven wrong. The nice woman I talked to on the phone listened to my polite complaint, and proceeded to do some manic typing on her keyboard. She seemed well aware of the problem and provided me several solutions. First, she pushed out a software update to my phone while I was on the line (I could tell, because the screen on my phone did some wonky things while it was updating). She suggested that just the more recent updates may actually solve the problem. She also noted that my phone has an old 32K sim card, and recommended that I upgrade to a 64k sim card. She told me I could stop by any Cingular retail outlet and they can upgrade me on the spot, I'd just have to purchase the sim card which ranges from $20-$25. She said I can't avoid paying for the new card, BUT, she'd put a $25 credit on my Cingular bill to offset the cost of the upgrade. Even if the simple software update works, she recommended that I upgrade sim cards anyway.

Finally, as if that wasn't enough, she said that if after upgrading everything, if I was still having problems, to give them a call back and they'd arrange for a replacement phone upgrade to a newer model for no charge. Shocked and pleased at the service, I'm anxious to go home after work and see if it's working any better. Despite the fact that I've over the past many months found the precise optimal location in my apartment for best cell signal, I won't mind eliminating the need to contort my body into odd positions in order to use the phone. Stay tuned for late-breaking developments as the story progresses.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Long time no update...

I've been slacking off on my blog updates... well, partially because I've been so busy with things. At this moment, I just got home from my Friday night curling league, and am watching a rerun of Evening Magazine on TV which is featuring an interview with Bob Barker and a history of Husky Stadium. While that's probably way too much information, I'll elaborate.

The last 2 weeks or so I've been aggressively taking up the sport of curling. I think curling needs a new ad campaign to drum up some business in the States... I propose a new motto: "Curling... it's not just for Canadians anymore." Tonight we had 2 people from our team missing, so we had 2 subs, both of whom had curled even less than I have. Therefore I curled in the #3 position (Vice Skip), which was different than normally curling in the Lead position. The one difference being there were a lot of rocks out on the ice before I threw my rocks, and I had a couple of amazingly lucky shots, a double-takeout that was nearly a triple-takeout, and then a couple ends later, I actually made a lucky triple takeout. It was pretty impressive. Interspersed with my great shots were a couple that were less than stellar, but I can't be lucky all the time. :) We won our game 8-4 in 7 ends.

Tomorrow is another Husky Football game, against #1 U$C. Many have laughed at me or called me ridiculous for believing that there is any possible chance that we might beat U$C. I really don't believe it's going to happen, BUT I believe we have a chance. C'mon people... that's why it's called a game. But it should be a loud and rocking Husky Stadium, at least until the 3rd quarter or so where it may cut its attendance in about half. But you never know, stranger things have happened.

Anything else profound to add now? No, not really. Sleepy time.

Monday, October 10, 2005

New and Improved?

In my continuing quest to expose the fraud that is the world of product marketing...

Have you ever wondered if things that are called "new and improved" really are? Take the Glade "Plug-in" air freshener, for example. This item now has several variations... there's the original plug-in, the "double-size" original design plug-in, then they came up with the "extra outlet" plug-in... the one with the extra outlet built into it so you don't lose one in the process, and countless other improvements since then.

Now I'm not going to say the improvements aren't useful... certainly they're good ideas. They say the simplest ideas are the most impressive. But that's just it... now I don't claim the people who invented the Glade Plug-In are rocket scientists or brain surgeons, but they're obviously smarter than your average person if they're inventing things like that. I'm supposed to be convinced that when they invented the Glade plug-in, they didn't think to add an extra outlet to it so you could use it without blocking an existing outlet? I think not! I propose that, in fact, all of the so-called improvements were there all along, but were de-improved for the sake of marketing. Let's take a step into the Conspiracy Time Machine and go back to that fateful day when the product marketing folks first encountered the Glade Plug-In...

<do the wavy tv flashback sequence thing here>

Here we have Jane, the person who invented the Plug-In, and Bob, the head of product marketing for Glade.

"Bob, we have this great new product! It's the air-freshener of the 90's... it plugs into the wall which warms this scent thingie, that releases freshness into the room."
"Wow Jane, that's genius! We'll sell millions!"
"But wait, there's more. Look, an extra outlet built-in so that you don't lose any space."
"That's great, but can we make it simpler? Get rid of the extra outlet and make it worse."
"What? Why would I want to do that?"
"Because if we dumb it down, it's still a product that's so ingenius everyone will buy it. But THEN, they'll realize that they're missing an outlet. Just then, we'll release the 'new and improved' model with the extra outlet! And they'll buy another, this time with the extra outlet! We'll keep adding everything as an extra feature, and get them to buy a new one. We'll sell 3 times as many as we would otherwise! It's the golden rule of product marketing, never give them a quality product first, if you can give them inferior quality and then make them upgrade!"

<back to reality>

So there you have it. It's all about swindling the consumer into purchasing the same thing multiple times, each time with a new improvement. The moral of the story is, next time you buy something that's "new and improved" think of who's trying to take your money. :)

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Disneyworld Day 7 & 8

This is a late update after being home for several days, but I'll try to recap the last two days of the trip.

Day 7 was a last wrap-up day that was spent mostly at Epcot, in fact, it was spent entirely at Epcot. A nice way to finish the trip. We made another lap around the World Showcase stopping at the various countries that we didn't stop at previously. We also went on the Soarin' ride again... which even though I've ridden it countless times in California, is just an outstanding ride.

Day 8 and time to go home... and the rains come in. Tropical Storm Tammy was pushing its outer edges into central Florida and starting the rains. But we weren't leaving until the evening, so we took a last stop over at Disney-MGM studios for some last minute excitement. Actually, Amy wanted to go play Millionaire, so she could try to get into the hot seat. So that's what we did. I, of course, was ineligible to get into the hot seat for 30 days after I got into it several days earlier, so it wasn't quite as fun for me. So Amy actually got the fastest finger question correct, but was not fast enough, she ended up being about 6th place and didn't make it into the hotseat. But some guy didn't do so well, and actually missed a relatively dumb question, and left rather quickly. The person with the highest score would make it into the hotseat, and that person was none other than, AMY. Now the entertainment comes. Amy does pretty well with her questions up to the first milestone at 1000 points. Of course, then there's a bit of banter between her and the host. Here's my paraphrased transcript of the conversation:

Host: "So Amy, what do you do in Seattle?"
Amy: "Uh, nothing at the moment, I'm unemployed"
H: "So you're just out of college, or...?"
A: "No, I was fired."
H: "Oh... I see... so what did you do?"
A: "I worked for a... marketing company."
H: "So obviously you were marketing the wrong stuff"
A: "Apparently."

H: "So did your boss do a Donald Trump thing like 'You're Fired!'"
A: "Haha... no, not quite, but that would have been funny. He kinda is like that."
H: "Bad hair and all."
A: "Totally."

At this point we continue... and a few questions later...
H: "For 16,000 points: King Kame... -ha-ma..."
A: "(correcting him) Kamehameha."
H: "Ka-me-hama"
H: "(laughing) Kamehame... sheesh, I've even BEEN to Hawaii... "
A: "Kamehameha"
H: "Kamehameha. King Kamehameha I was responsible for combining the flags of Britain and America into the state flag of which of these states."
A: "Where did you say you've been?"
H: "Nowhere! I've been nowhere!"
H: "A) New Mexico.... B) Utah.... C) Alaska..."
A: "I bet D) will be Hawaii."
H: "D) Hawaii. You know what my producer just said in my ear... 'You're Fired!'"
A: "Well hey, I'm looking for a job!"

At this point the host just loses it completely. The audience is laughing hysterically. At some point in there we get the answers all through. Amy makes it to the 125,000 question which she promptly gets incorrect and goes back down to 32,000 points. This concludes the show.

Backstage after the show, Amy's picking up her prizes, and the host drops by and tells her how much fun he had. Even the director comes by and jokes to the host "Make sure you get a copy of her resume." It was quite entertaining.

That concludes the excitement of the day, we all came home on our 6 hour flight. My dad and I managed to watch about 5 more episodes of West Wing... and we made it back including all of our luggage. That concluded the fine trip to Disneyworld.

I'll be adding and documenting all kinds of pictures in the photo album later... but for now that's all there is to say.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Disneyworld Day 6

Is it time to go home yet? Yes it has happened... I'm officially sick of being on vacation. I'm ready to go home. Not that things are bad or anything, it's just too much vacation. I'd love to be back in the 55-degree weather, back to work and the regular schedule. But instead, I've got another day of vacation. :)

Today's adventures were very laid back. Considering we've already been to all of the parks here, now we're just going back and catching things we missed the first time around. We went over to the Magic Kingdom this morning... and lo and behold there were a TON more people there than there were when we went a few days ago. It was almost mayhem... except that even with all of the extra people, the lines on the rides still weren't much worse.

We did go on Splash Mountain, and got wet. But that's all part of the fun of it. Here are some pictures I took that were neat.

After that we went back towards the center, had lunch, and then went over to Tomorrowland for some time. Took a ride on Space Mountain using some leftover fastpasses from 3 days earlier... fortunately they only look at the time, not the date. Then I wandered off to meet up with Amy and do some shopping... and again not buy anything. Typical. Got sick of the heat and the crowds, so we left the MK and took the monorail down to Epcot. There we rode Spaceship Earth, which most people don't realize is the actual name of the BIG Epcot icon--that silver ball-looking thing. The ride itself is an interesting, yet incredibly slow moving, journey through the history of communications. (What did you expect? This IS Epcot, afterall.)

After a little more wandering around Epcot, we took the monorail back to the Polynesian Resort for dinner at Ohana. Tasty dinner with lots of food, of course. Walt Disney must have loved to eat. :)

Tomorrow will be our last full day here at Disneyworld... so more of the same... then Wednesday finally coming home again. Now it's time to relax some more.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Disneyworld Day 5

Time for another update. Today we went to Epcot as planned. As has become the usual, Amy stayed in the hotel and slept, not at all caring about how difficult she was making things for the rest of us by refusing to even attempt to be a part of the vacation. But I digress. So we went to Epcot, went around the World Showcase and saw most of the countries represented. Plenty of shopping was done, though I don't think anything was bought. We then moved on to The Land section of Epcot which contained Soarin', the newest attraction at Epcot. This is an exact copy of the Soarin' Over California ride over at Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim, which we've all ridden multiple times, so we weren't completely set on riding it here. But while there, Amy finally showed up, and at about 3pm we all got fastpasses with return times from 8:00-9:00pm. What the heck, why not? After we got our fastpasses, we went to the second newest ride at Epcot: Mission Space. This ride never seems to have too long of lines, probably because it's so intense that people are either (a) scared of it, or (b) they've ridden it once and never want to ride it again. Myself falling into neither of those categories, was thrilled to go on it again. Amy and I convinced our parents that they would be fine on it, it wasn't THAT bad. Well, they almost chickened out, but made it. They now fall into category (b). :) I guess 5G forces are too much for some people of the aged pursuason.

But after that recovery, we worked our way back to the boat that took us over to dinner at the Beach Club resort. It was a buffet themed as a New England Clam Bake. Oddly enough, I was the only one who actually ate the steamed clams... but they had all kinds of tasty foods. So that was good by my standards. After that the parents took a bus back to our hotel, while Amy and I went back to Epcot and I proceeded to take two more laps back and forth through the World Showcase because she wanted to shop. Then we actually used the fastpasses and went on Soarin'. After that we got out and came back.

Now for my commentary. You wouldn't believe how many British people there are around here right now. All I hear are British accents. We've all noticed this, but can't figure out why this would be the case. Some figure that perhaps school hasn't started in the UK yet so people take vacations and are here. My guess is that there are exactly the same number of British people as there always are (Orlando IS a big international tourist destination), but there are just a lot fewer Americans vacationing right now, so you notice the foreigners more. We'll probably never really know the truth.

But speaking of how few people are around, I don't think we've had a wait time longer than 20 minutes on any ride we've been on. It's definitely something to be said for coming in the off-season. Good times. Tomorrow... another day another adventure.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Disneyworld Day 4

Another day at Disneyworld. Today's adventures were off to yet another late start, we didn't actually make it out of the hotel until about 11am. But that's ok... sleep and relaxation is good on vacation. Today we went over to the Disney-MGM Studios and spent most of the day there. As with yesterday, Amy stayed and slept and met us over there after a few hours. At the Studios, we went on a bunch of rides... including the fabulous Twilight Zone Tower of Terror which features a 13-story drop in a runaway elevator. Who can beat that for thrills? :) We also endured the obligatory torrential downpours of "big" rain. These we survived nicely by just hopping from indoor attraction to indoor attraction. One of those being the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire: Play It!" game show attraction. Basically it's just like the TV show, except the contestants come from the audience and play for "points" which give you prizes. Well, as per always, they start with a Fastest Finger question, which was something like this:
Put these famous city nicknames in geographical order from North to South:

A) Alamo City
B) Emerald City
C) Windy City
D) City of Angels

Well, I thought I was incredibly slow in determining that the order was B-C-D-A... but obviously underestimated the fact that nobody seems to know that Seattle is the Emerald City. As a result only 6 people in the entire audience (of several hundred) even got the correct answer, let alone in the fastest time. So they flash the bottom 5 seat numbers up on the board, and my number wasn't there... but I was sure I got it right... just as they flash up the fastest time in Seat 326, lo and behold, I had won and was going up to be in the hotseat. Anyway, I had my moment in the spotlight, made it up to the 32,000 point level and missed the 64,000 point question... but it had to do with literature, so I don't feel bad at all. It's not like one I *should* have known. haha. As a result, I won 10 pins (for each of the point levels I reached), a hat, a polo shirt, and a lanyard. All in a days work. :) It will go well with the ones I won at California Adventure at Disneyland when I also reached the 32,000 point level.

After the entire family went on the Tower of Terror, Amy and I went on the Rock'n Roller Coaster. An excellently thrilling 90-second ride.

In front of the Tower of Terror

I also enjoyed the Muppet mayhem at MuppetVision 3D. It's a 3D show that includes all of the Muppet craziness.

With some close-ups of Bunsen and Beaker

Chatting with Statler and Waldorf

Tomorrow is planned to be a full day at Epcot, which will be most excellent. Plus I'll get to visit the Universe of Energy ... and you can count on a picture of that. :)