Friday, March 18, 2005

Why blog?

Today at lunch, I mentioned that I had a blog but a limited readership (to my knowledge anyway - maybe I should get a hits counter). So one of the people I was eating with asked why I bothered to blog at all if I didn't know if people would read it.

I've been writing since 2nd grade. I still have my first journal that consisted mainly of what I found out in college were technically called "Mary Sue" fanfiction. ST:TNG, TMNT... it's all very embarassing. So, fanfics were first. Poetry came around third grade. Short fiction came in late elementary school and attempts at novels started in middle school. I created an entire universe of characters and even my own language. Finally, in college, I gave up on thinking of plots and just started writing little rants, observations, and parodies and storing them in a folder on my computer. These things rarely made it to ink and paper.

Other people rarely saw what I wrote. In high school, people would come up to my desk and start reading my notebook when we were waiting for class to start (incidentally, I also developed codes so that the few things I really didn't what others to see could remain private). So people knew I was a writer. But I wrote for me, not an audience.

So why blog? Writing is something I've done to entertain myself and vent frustration for a long time. Having a blog, like having any kind of journal, motivates me to write. Otherwise, these thoughts would just stick in my head and annoy me for days on end. And maybe somewhere along the way, I'll provoke a few thoughts or a few laughs in the people who wander by and pick up my notebook.

The President's Science Advisor

I came upon this at Achenblog. Just funny.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Animatronic World Leaders: The Disney Conspiracy

Since the pope and his failing health were in the news, as well as the transfer of power about to take place at Disney, I couldn't help but think of a little conspiracy theory my roommate and I thought of back in college. I was just going through my files after restoring them to my computer when I found this. I hadn't even realized I'd written it down. Go figure. I 've added a couple of things to update it.

The circumstantial evidence has been gathered, the paranoia has increased, and the time has come for the revelation of perhaps one of the greatest conspiracies this world has yet seen. Who needs the Illuminati when you’ve got the corporate king of American-dominated mindless superficiality, Disney. If you think the hopelessly implausible and predictable plots of their movies were scary, wait until you hear what they’ve been doing (other than brainwashing our children – that’s another issue entirely).
Today’s topic: animatronic world leaders. That’s right. Disney has secretly been replacing world leaders with animatronic counterparts. Only four have been confirmed thus far. However, we are keeping an eye out for other suspicious characters – pun intended. The four confirmed cases are outlined here to give the reader an idea of what to look for.

Pope John Paul II, a.k.a. The Energizer Bunny

He just keeps going and going and going. Despite several bouts of pneumonia, several bumps to the head, and speculation that he is suffering from MS, the Pope is not only still alive, but he’s still very active, touring the world and meeting with other (though not necessarily animatronic) world leaders. How does he do it? Believers would like to think that God is keeping him alive to serve a grander purpose. However, the more likely conclusion is that he is an early model of the World Leaders series of animatronic characters. The trembling in his hands, engineers have suggested, is not MS, but signs of a faulty mechanical system, a faulty electrical system, or even a software bug. If the problem is not fixed, Disney may consider recalling this particular model.

Update: Continued hardware failures have forced Disney to take the Pope out of commission for days at a time, thus the need to confine him to a “hospital”, away from the viewing public. A major malfunction in the voice synthesizer has rendered his speech nearly unrecognizable. Disney’s current CEO, Michael Eisner, may be pushing the limits of believability and risks exposure if he continues to leave this model in the field. Will Eisner’s replacement decide to finally take this model out of commission for good? Stay tuned to find out.


There have been ten U.S. presidents in the time that Castro has ruled Cuba, and if the year-ending-in-zero curse holds true, it looks like that number may become eleven sooner rather than later. His longevity alone is evidence of something amiss. But why make Castro animatronic? Well, it seems Castro may have been part of the original motivation for the World Leader series of animatronic characters. After the Cuban missile crisis, Disney realized that Cuba could be a serious problem if left in the wrong hands. So, they accomplished what the CIA could not – they killed him. It took many years and many attempts, but they finally succeeded, possibly some time in the late ‘80’s while the world was distracted by the collapse of the Soviet Union. But that wasn’t enough. Killing Castro would simply result in a chaotic fight for power, possibly leading to an even more corrupt, or at least less familiar, government being put into place. So they replaced him with an animatron. Now, they wouldn’t have to worry about Cuba. Animatronic Castro could continue to spew anti-American propaganda, but now nothing would ever come of it.

Strom Thurmond

Again, longevity leads one to be suspicious of this South Carolina Senator. (Editor’s note: the Strom Thurmond model has failed since the writing of the original article).

Dick Cheney’s Heart

He’s not entirely animatronic, but he sold his soul to Disney for a mechanical heart. Now, he encourages Bush to invade other countries to expand Disney’s potential viewership. That’s right! Iraq wasn’t invaded for its oil! It was invaded for its promise as a new marketplace for Phil of the Future and Aladdin. To appeal to their new audience, they will take the opportunity to sanitize and anachronize the rest of the 1001 Arabian Nights, sure to be a resource for Disney movies and television programs for the next millenium. In a few years, Disney’s Promiseland theme park will attract pilgrims- I mean, tourists, from around the globe. Look out India and China – Asia is the final frontier of Disney dominance.

Generic Servey

I was watching the news this evening and they gave the results of a poll. The only problem was, I had missed what the poll was for. All I knew was that 90% had said yes and 10% had said no. So I'm wondering something - if people have absolutely no reason to have a strong opinion one way on another, what do they tend to answer? What is the default? Surely there's been a study. There's a study for everything! If there hasn't been a study, here's a sample servey they could use.

1. Yes or no?
a. Yes
b. No

2. Agree or disagree?
a. Agree
b. Disagree

3. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being strongly disagree, 10 being strongly agree.

4. True or false?
a. True
b. False

5. a, b, c, or d?
a. a
b. b
c. c
d. d

6. 1, 2, 3, or 4
a. 1
b. 2
c. 3
d. 4

7. this or that?
a. this
b. that

... and so on...

Of course, to get rid of order bias, you might have to give half the respondents the options in reverse order, like put No before Yes and That before This.

Random? Yes. It's just a random kind of day.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

A day with it's very own website. Enjoy the final two hours of the day. And if you're going for the green beer, remember to bring a green designated driver.

Say, do you think they serve Romulan ale on St. Patrick's day?

The Compaq Computer Experience

Okay, Jody, if you insist. My summaries of the tech support calls are shortened and paraphrased ‘cause my memory ain’t that guen.

I bought my Compaq at the beginning of November. I probably could have built my own, but I didn’t want the hassle of troubleshooting and fixing any problems myself. I’d been meaning to get one a while, but my Mom suddenly decided she wanted to do online banking, which Win 95 wouldn’t do. So rather than get her a new computer, I bought one for me and gave her my old HP. Since that HP had been good to me, and I like HP printers, I decided to get the Compaq (now part of HP). It wasn’t as cheap as E-machine but, at least I thought, had a better rep.

When I moved to my aunt’s, the computer started having problems. The speakers wouldn’t always work when I turned it on. Restarting would “fix” the problem, so I lived with it. I moved into my apartment on Jan. 29 and had cable and high speed internet installed the following Monday. Since installation was free, I let the cable guy install the internet connection (you get to hear more about him in another post). He may have done something to mess up my computer, but formatting my hard drive should have repaired any damage he did.

Anyhoo, that week, my computer started restarting randomly. I ended up doing a couple of system restores to get it back to before the cable guy had messed with it. Come to think of it, my HP had done the same thing a few times, but it never became a persistent problem. Finally, I had friends over the first week in February, so I left the computer on overnight in case they wanted to access information online. When I got up the next morning, the computer was repeatedly restarting and I had no way of knowing how long it had been doing it. I managed to get it to a point where it was no longer shutting down and, silly me, didn’t bother to back anything up. That’ll learn me.

It did the repeated restart thing again the next day. Now I couldn’t do system restore. It would even randomly restart in safe mode. I got the recovery disk and tried to do a regular restore (which wouldn’t effect my data but would send everything back to factory settings) and got the blue screen of death. So I decided to call technical support to see if they had any other ideas before I completely reformatted my harddrive and lost everything on there (which, thanks to this blog and the fact that I already had disks from when I transferred to the new computer, was actually not very much). They had me boot into a slightly different form of safe mode and run chkdsk, which caused the computer to restart again. Other than that, he had me do all the things I’d already done, including the standard restore, which again resulted in the blue screen of death.

Tech guy: We’ll have to format the drive.
Me: Crud.

Oh, at some point in the call (can’t remember when exactly), my called got dropped. I use my cell phone as my primary phone, so this fun phenomenon reared it’s ugly head several times during this little adventure. Thankfully, this time, the tech support guy called back. He gave me a case number so I could refer to it in the future. Oh, and I did.

Where was I? Oh, yes. Full restore – in other words, format the hard drive. Okay, here we go…

Well, looky there! The blue screen of death!

Me: I think the hard drive must be bad.
Tech guy: Ma’am, I’m going to send you a disk.
Me: Um, a disk will not solve a hardware problem.
Tech guy: This disk will allow us to do a lower level format.
Me: How long will it take to get here?
Tech guy: 3-5 days
Me (eyes bugging): But, what if that doesn’t fix it? Is there a place I can take it to get it fixed?
Tech guy: You could take it somewhere, but they will charge you.
Me: But I have a warranty!
Tech guy: Let me send you this disk. This will fix it.
Me (so not convinced): Fine. Just send the disk.

The disk had not arrived by Tuesday of the following week, so I called. The disk had not been sent until the previous day. Not liking the speed of service, I asked again if there was a place I could physically take my computer to get it fixed. They suggested taking it back to the store where I bought it.

I had bought the computer in Richmond at Best Buy. I found a Best Buy in Laurel, but lugging my computer to my car and driving all the way to Laurel didn’t exactly appeal, so I waited for the disk.

At this point, I’m fairly sure I’m mixing up my dates, because according to my blog, the following did not occur until after my four day weekend tour of Virginia, so I’m not entirely sure where the time went. I got the disk and tried to follow the instructions sent with it, but the disk would not allow me to format the hard drive because of some EULA issue. The disk was for an HP Pavilion (my previous model). I have a Compaq Presario. I was irritated that I may have waited all this time for the wrong disk. So I called tech support.
They asked me to do what I had just done. I explained the disk was for the wrong model computer. They had me look at the partition and press enter about five hundred times. Each time I explained that this did nothing. Finally, I got disconnected.

When I received no call back within ten minutes, I called back myself (by the way, each time I called, I had to tell a voice recognition system my computer make and model number and wait about 20 minutes to speak to a person). He had me run chkdsk using the disk I’d been sent. “The hard drive has an unrecoverable error” appeared almost immediately. Well, gee, I coulda told you that. He had me use the Compaq recovery CD I already had to reset something to do with the boot system and the recovery CD managed to format the drive. He asked if he could call back in a couple of hours to see how it was working. I said that would be after midnight, but fine.

My computer was working for an hour. Then it randomly restarted. It went back into windows fine, though, so I left it overnight. The tech support person never called.

The next morning, “could not read memory location XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX” and a black screen greeted me. And I was back to where I was before I called tech support the first time.

I didn’t feel like calling tech support again. To me, this was a hardware issue that could not be fixed over the phone and I didn’t want to deal with it anymore. My parts and labor warranty was turning out to be mostly my own labor. So I decided to take the thing to Laurel. But first, I tried to call the store to see if they would even take it. No answer. I called the Geek squad to see if they would know. I was on hold for 10 minutes, but when she came back, the Geek squad person assured me that they could ship it to the manufacturer for me. Hurray!

Pack. Lug. Drive in the dark up Route 1. Lug. (Okay, I had a hand cart, but still. Lug.)

A man in front of me at customer support was chewing them out for their poor service. It went on for 15 or 20 minutes and served only to rub my already raw nerves. Someone finally approached me and asked if I needed help. I explained the situation and gave him my receipt. He came back and said their was nothing they could do. Anger… building. I stuck around to talk to the manager. He told me to contact the manufacturer. “I did. A lot.”

At this point, I should have pulled out my Reward Zone card and said “See this? This means I spend a ton of money here every year. Find a way to fix my piece of junk computer, which I bought from Best Buy, or I start doing my CD/DVD shopping at Wal-Mart.” Instead, I turned around and walked out. Good thing, too. As I put my computer back into my car, a quiet little f-bomb escaped the confines of my brain and exited through my lips. I don’t swear. Ever. Know that this was a sign that I had pushed much too far. (it didn’t help that I had added to rather than subtracted from my sleep debt that weekend). And it was going to get worse.

I called Compaq while sitting in my car in the parking lot. I told them that I had reformatted my hard drive and it still wasn’t working. I hadn’t memorized my case number yet, so I just gave them my name and soon enough I was listening to silence as my latest tech support guy read through my case file. Finally…

Tech guy: Okay, can you turn on your computer.
Me: No. No I can’t. I can’t get into Windows. It’s not software – formatting the hard drive should have fixed a software problem. This is a hardware issue. I’ve been trying to fix this over the phone for three freaking weeks. This isn’t working.
Tech guy: Okay, just let me go to the lab and look something up (the tech support people said this a lot). Can I put you on hold?
Me: Sure. Why not?

Ten minutes later… okay, it’s a hardware problem. We’ll send you a hard drive.

“Finally,” I thought.

The next day, I went on Compaq’s website at work, found a list of nearby stores that supposedly would take my computer if it turned out the hard drive didn’t work, and found the “e-mail the CEO” feature to give them some feedback on their customer service.

The hard drive was there on Friday, but I had to go to a wedding Saturday so installation had to wait until Sunday. Sunday, I tried to install the drive using Compaq’s instructions, but I couldn’t get one of the cables to unplug from the back of the old hard drive, so I called tech support to see if I was missing something. No, they said, it should come out just by pulling on it. Okay, is there somewhere I can take this to have someone else put it in? He said he’d look it up, then proceeded to try to convince me that spyware was responsible for my hardware problem and I should buy this 39.99 anti-spyware package from them.

Me: This was not a software problem. Hardware problem. HARDWARE!
Him: Spyware can cause many problems.
Me: I have anti-spyware. And anti-virus. And firewall.
Him: But this is specifically for HP.

It was obvious he wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so I just let him forward me to the sales guy while he looked up where I could take me computer. The poor, defenseless sales guy. I vented some pent-up frustration in his direction. I’m sorry sales guy.

Sales guy: So, tech guy tells me you’re having a spyware problem.
Me: No, no, no,.no, no! This is not a software problem. I reformatted my freaking hard drive and the thing still crashed. Spyware is not going to swarm my computer and cause a crash in 1 hour. This is a hardware issue.
Sales guy: Oh… Well, spyware protection is still good to have. It’s only 39.99.
Me: I don’t think so. I’ve been trying to get my computer fixed for a month. I am incredibly dissatisfied with the service and I’m tempted at this point to never buy anything from Compaq ever, ever again.
Sales guy: Ma’am, I understand you’re upset and you don’t really want to buy anything right now. I apologize for the problem. I’m going to hand you over to Tech Guy again.

Tech guy gave me a local number to call. I called it. It was Radio Shack. And they couldn’t put my hard drive in, but they could ship it to the manufacturer. Since the Radio Shack about a mile east of me had been listed on Compaq’s website as a service center, I went there. They said they couldn’t do anything with it and recommended taking it back to Best Buy or contacting the manufacturer. So I called Compaq from right there in Radio Shack.

Tech guy: Thank you for calling HP. How are you today?
Me (totally ready to take a swing at someone): Not well. I want to know where I can take my computer to get it fixed. PLEASE!

I explained that I had been to Best Buy and Radio Shack I had called customer service umpteen times and really, really did not want to deal with this anymore. He said I could ship it to Compaq, which would be slow, or a technician could come to my apartment and install a new hard drive for me. But it would cost $30 and I would have to ship back the hard drive they had already sent me. Neither of these options had been given to me prior to this point. I wanted to know where I could ship the stupid thing, but he insisted that it could take three more weeks and the technician would be faster. I wasn’t so sure, but $30 is less than the $2000 I was tempted to spend to get an IBM. He wouldn’t make the appointment for the technician right away. He wanted me to ship the hard drive back first. I was not thrilled. I asked if he was absolutely sure that this was an actual option. If I hung up the phone, shipped the hard drive back the next morning, and called the next afternoon and talked to a different tech, would they make an appointment. He assured me yes.

I shipped the drive the next morning (Monday, now entering the month of March) and called that afternoon. I got a tech girl this time. And, sure enough, she insisted that I needed and in-home service warranty to get in home service. I tried not to scream. “I was assured just yesterday that I could get a technician to come. It would cost $30, but they would come.”

“Oh, if you’re willing to pay, yes, I can make an appointment.” The appointment was made for Thursday afternoon.

Wednesday, I get a call saying the hard drive going to the local technician has been delayed, and they won’t be able to make the appointment on Thursday. They would call me on Friday when the drive arrived to set up a new appointment. A couple of hours later, a quality service person called to check up on my case (remember that “e-mail the CEO” feedback?). They asked if the problem had been resolved. I asked why I had to send the hard drive back – why couldn’t he just install the one I had? Company policy. Oh, well that makes it all better. Thanks. Since the wheels were already in motion for the tech to come, the QS call ended up accomplishing nothing but riling me up again and ruining my dinner.

Friday, March 4, around 11, my cell phone rang, but I don’t get reception at my desk at work, so I let them leave a message. The message was some guy mumbling about a hard drive. He left no number. Thankfully, my caller ID actually displayed a number, so I called it right back. The person who answered said that my hard drive had arrived and started asking how to get to my apartment. I realized he was going to come over right then. I explained I was at work and kind of needed more than five minutes notice to leave (boss, I need to go, my computer’s sick). So an appointment for Monday, 2-4 was made.

Monday, 2 o’clock. No technician. No answer at the number that had called me on Friday. At 2:15, I calm myself by telling myself that maybe it was like appointments with the cable company – to 2-4 was an estimate. Sure enough, at 2:30, the technician arrived. He opened the computer, popped out the old hard drive (it took a little cable wiggling), popped in the new one, plugged in mouse, keyboard, and monitor, turned on the computer, put in the recovery disk, and pressed ‘R’ (recovery). “Okay, I’ve done.” He started to leave. This had taken maybe five minutes. An hourly rate of $360. What a bargain!

A mouse pointer was sitting in the middle of a light blue screen as he gathered his stuff to go. “Woah, hold on. I’ve gotten this far before and seen it crash. Could you stay for two more seconds?”

Sure enough, the blue screen of death appeared. He called someone, who then called me. I’d have to ship it. He said it would take 7-10 business days. The box to ship my computer in would be there the next morning.

It wasn’t. It arrived Wednesday.

Thursday morning, I shipped it. It was now their problem. I could enjoy my computer-free life without having to actually think about the computer. I was in a much better mood already. Friday, they got it. Monday, they shipped it back (which freaked me out, because I was afraid something had happened to it they made them say the warranty was void or something) and I got it back Tuesday, March 15. 6 weeks after my first call to tech support. They had replaced both the RAM and the hard drive, at least according to the sheet they shipped with it.

So, these six weeks don’t count against my warranty, right? Right?

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Recipe for Disaster

Take one female engineer with sleep problems who hasn’t lived anywhere without a computer since age four or anywhere without internet since age 14.

Move away from friends and family to an unfamiliar environment, then remove computer and Internet.

Stuff weekends with social goodness, preferably hours away from new home, preventing usual weekend catch-up sleep.

Heat and stir often until little remaining sanity evaporates.

Stand back at least fifty feet to minimize physical injury. Serve hot.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Computer's back

But is it truly fixed? It may take a couple of days, possibly a week, for me to convince myself that my computer may actually, finally be repaired. But remember what happened the last time I posted that my computer was working again? Yeah. How naive I was. As if I wasn't already paranoid...