Sunday, June 29, 2008

The car rental business

There's been an ad running on radio recently where Budget are offering a single class upgrade, for free, for every car rental. They bill this with various superlatives such as 'rent with genius' and they seem to be trying to appeal to those of us, such as myself, who've had to travel a lot as part of the job and yet aren't high enough on the totem pole to warrant a luxury car.

Never mind the fact that I don't care much about what I drive; its sole purpose is to get me from point A to point B. But you, knowing that I drive, by choice, a Kia Rio, already knew that!

Call me a cynical old bastard if you will but I'm deeply suspicious of the entire ad. It seems to me that Budget have found themselves with a pile of larger so-called luxury vehicles that no one, in these days of higher petrol prices, wants to rent. I'd guess they have far more bookings for economy vehicles than they have economy vehicles. How to avoid pissing off the customer who made the economy booking only to be disappointed? Aha, genius! Let's offer *everyone* a single level 'free' upgrade!

Hmmm, that sounds a lot like reclassifying a compact as an economy, or a midsize as a compact. And if I, booking a compact, am going to be lumbered with a midsize, whether I want it or not, how is that an 'upgrade'?

It's been a common enough trick in my experience; book off a website, front up and 'oh we're sorry sir, we don't have that model. I can let you have this for only $12 a day more'. How very generous.

As for me? If I book an economy that's what I expect. If they* want to foist something larger off on me I'll have no qualms about submitting a bill for the extra petrol it used. Whether they'll pay it is another question entirely but at least it'll annoy em! Who knows, they might even start rethinking their business strategy.

There you go, cynicism and naïveté in the same post!

*they, in this context, means any car rental company, not just Budget.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

A little excitement

Last night we had a fire. When I say we I mean in the condo block - not our building. Nor, to be honest, was it much of a fire.

When I arrived home and was locking my car one of the neighbours approached in a somewhat agitated frame of mind, asking if I could smell smoke. As it happened I couldn't but I pointed out that there was (still is at the time of writing) a bushfire burning to the south west of the Greater Phoenix area. That's some distance away but prevailing winds, such as they are, blow the smoke toward us. Indeed, half an hour earlier, as I drove past Sky HarboUr Airport I was greatly tempted to pull over in the emergency lane and take a quick shot of the sun through thick smoke; it was blood red and the entire scene bathed in a soft golden light quite unlike that normally seen here this time of year.

She was somewhat doubtful (perhaps it was my accent) but went away so I did too.

A couple of minutes later we became aware of shouting and screaming outside and poked our heads out. The same woman was running back and forth, yelling for buckets of water and we could see a few wisps of smoke curling around the balcony on the next building over.

Before we could do anything else the fire trucks arrived. Most definitely in the plural; within about five minutes there were six full sized appliances plus a couple of smaller trucks, a police car, the local power company and CBS 5 News. Oh, and the news helicopter hovering overhead!

I have to say the firefighters seemed to enjoy their job! Out came the pick axes and the buzz saw; they kicked in the door of the condo seeming most affected and proceeded to chop holes in various walls to isolate the source of the smoke.

I should probably be somewhat circumspect about what the hysterical neighbour was saying; she was insistent that the fire was the result of a bunch of younger renters throwing their cigarettes over the balcony. This doesn't quite jibe with what the firefighters were saying; they reckon it was electrical wiring and I'm more inclined to believe them than a hysterical layman.

I suppose it was tactless to roll and light up a cigarette while she was trying to convince me!

Once it was clear the place wasn't going up in flames the atmosphere became almost festive. Naturally everyone living there (I'm guessing there are a hundred or so apartments) was out rubbernecking. Everyone except the poor bastards occupying the source of the smoke; they seem to be out of town. Someone had the forethougt to post a note on the door so when they do return they won't assume burglary.

I've lived here five and a half years and I didn't recognise most of the folk there! Sonya's lived here eight years and she knew almost no one either. We met the woman who lives four doors up; she's lived here since 1984! I honestly don't think I'd clapped eyes on her before yesterday. Sad commentary on modern community life methinks!

The CBS 5 news report was interesting. Uh huh, I've finally watched network news on TV here! According to them there were flames shooting everywhere and one neighbour was credited with saving the life of a resident. Can't say I saw that!

I said before that everyone living here was out rubbernecking. I lied a little; Andrew totally ignored it and continued playing World of Warcraft. I'm starting to get worried about that boy!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Every picture tells a story

or so they say. I felt this sign, seen yesterday on our way to lunch at Jerome, told its story very well indeed.

I love the direct way it jumps into the story and then heightens the tension. Seen as I saw it, hurtling along the road at 60 MPH, that bold 'All loads must be' followed by the imperative need to get closer so I could read the denoument.

Narrative brilliance!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

BigBoy is dead. Behold, FatBastard!

Late last night BigBoy, our HTPC (Home Theatre PC) died. Can't say I blame him, not after two and a half years of sitting in the dark beside the TV and never being switched off.

The first symptom was the loss of network connectivity; no guide updates. That's important when you have a couple of hundred channels available, even though I only ever check about a dozen or so on anything like a regular basis.

So I did what any self respecting geek would do, I rebooted him. At which point he stubbornly refused to restart. Ok, I can take a hint, especially since we're having a heatwave and hitting temperatures in the 115 range. Took him apart and blew out the dust and accumulated cat hair. Plugged him back in and nothing.

Long story short I concluded, correctly, that a new motherboard was probably in order. The CPU itself seemed ok so I took a chance and a drive over to Frys for the cheapest MB they had. I'm stingy like that. 60 bucks and an hour later and the new motherboard was installed. Still no reboot but that was expected; you can't change to a different motherboard and expect everything to still work.

Re-install of XP MCE 2005. Sounds simple. 7 hours later it was finally working. Perhaps I should have bitten the bullet and reformatted the boot drive but that's also a backup location for the rest of our PCs so I did an install over the top of the old one. In retrospect it would have been quicker to pop the system drive out, stick it in another PC and copy the backups but that's the benefit of hindsight. If I'd known in 1970 what I now know about what was going to happen to property values in Carlton (Melbourne) I'd be a millionaire today!

The XP MCE 2005 installation itself went smoothly enough, straight off the CD. Even the 'critical' updates (all 99 of them) went well enough. Where it went pear shaped was when it was time to install XP Media Center Update Rollup 2. Unfortunately we needed that for XBox support so's Sonya can watch 'So you think you can dance' whilst I indulge in some obscure Japanese movie. Unfortunately the rollup needed .NET 1.1 plus .NET 1.1 SP1.

And it stubbornly refused to install! At about the 1 hour point I was convinced there was a problem. Ever tried to cancel a .NET 1.1 install? It sits there for a VERY long time pretending to be cancelling but not doing a damn thing. 0% CPU and no disk activity. For as long as you're prepared to wait.

Two or three hours later I finally stumbled on the .NET cleanup tool. Ran it, then ran the .NET 1.1 installer again and finally it consented to finish.

I couldn't resist the idea of renaming the computer to FatBastard. *shrug* After all, he does have a terabyte of hard disks sitting in there! But he's going to be just as neglected as BigBoy was. I follow a simple rule; it's a HTPC and nothing else; it's role in life is to timeshift those obscure Japanese movies that the networks will insist on running at 4AM so I can watch em at a more civlised hour.

I could have thought of better ways of spending my birthday, but on the other hand birthdays are becoming something I'm less and less inclined to celebrate. Another twenty years or so and I'll start being proud of making it past 70 but right now it feels like just another milepost a trifle closer to the end than I'm happy with.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Missing the point

After a slow start the hot weather has finally arrived again. I don't know what the max temperature was today (somewhere around 109?). I can report that it was 96 at midnight so we're possibly not far away from the 100 at midnight that I rave on about at length.

I can't remember if I've specifically written about it but the heat of Phoenix carries a human toll; every year some dozens of people die of heat exhaustion and/or thirst (and that's not including the count, rather higher, of those who die crossing the border and perish in the desert).

You might expect more of a hue and cry until you realise that those who die are, for the most part, 'street' people. I vividly remember seeing a 'street' person fall over in Williams Street Melbourne, about thirty years ago. Everyone walked past, careful not to notice this old, unshaven, dirty (and probably smelly) guy gasping for breath on the pavement. I wasn't much better myself though I did call for an ambulance. My excuse? I didn't know what else to do. Poor enough excuse methinks.

I don't know if he died that day or not.

Today, as I drove to the office listening to KTAR[^] (I really must find an alternative to the obnoxious Ankarlo - alas Charles Goyette is gone) they ran a 'public announcement' to the effect that, now that it was the height of summer, there were drinking water and air-conditioned refuges available to those who needed them. So far so good, they do this every year. But what took my breath away was the continued advice to 'log on' to their website to find the locations!

Friday, June 13, 2008

The land of opportunity

The other day, as I wandered at lunchtime into the lunch room at the office, PP (Personnel Person) was finishing a sentence. ' aunts basement was flooded.'

I couldn't resist. 'That's the great thing about this country' I said. 'In America even the ants have basements!'

Thursday, June 12, 2008

If it's warm weather then it's time for

my annual 'How American are you' test. Three years ago[^] I scored 23%. Two years ago[^] I scored 27%.

Last year I managed 32%[^] so I fear I'm slipping.

You Are 31% American

America: You don't love it or want to leave it.

But you wouldn't mind giving it an extreme make over.

On the 4th of July, you'll fly a freak flag instead...

And give Uncle Sam a sucker punch!

Bright shiny things

Andrew was as happy as a dog with two dicks this evening. 'Look at this' he cried, pointing at his computer screen. Needless to say the screen was displaying World of Warcraft. I peered and beheld something resembling a sceptre. 'That's mine. See how shiny it is?' he said.

Uh huh. 'Andrew' I said, 'I'm not sure how to tell you this but it's just a bunch of pixels on the screen.'

Well he wasn't going to let *me* rain on his parade; no sirree. He launched into a description of the heroic battle he'd fought against thousands of basement dwellers all over the world to win his spoils. I could feel my eyes glazing over!

Description over and the will to live slowly returning I went into the kitchen, grabbed some tinfoil and a handy pen, wrapped the latter in the former and returned to Andrew.

'Hey Andrew' I said. 'See this? Mmmmm, nice and shiny!' as I handed it over.

At least Sonya had the grace to laugh!


Sonya was bored on Sunday so we went to visit a cemetery. Isn't that what everyone does when bored? As it happened I wasn't averse to the idea; I enjoy a good cemetery. We're gradually 'doing' all the Phoenix cemeteries.

I have to admit that I don't enjoy them here as much as I should, due entirely to the climate. There's not much chance of them becoming overgrown and 'romantic'. Instead they're either carefully manicured grass or hard scrabble; mostly the latter.

One of the more interesting ones is down on (I think) Fifteenth Avenue, having, as it does, many monuments dating from when this was the Arizona Territory and one or two more from before the annexation. Interestingly the Mexican flag flies as prominently as does the US flag, only fitting for the graves of those buried when this was Mexico!

Just as interesting is the fact that you can't get into it! There's a little sign on the gate directing one to an address three or four miles east. It's been five and a half years since I last went there (it was the day after my arrival in the US) and I had, at that time, not much idea of the street names. When one goes to the address they hand over the key in return for a deposit. I suppose there must be a market for stolen cemetery keys!

The cemetery we visited this weekend is at Twenty Third Avenue and Van Buren and was, apparently, once four cemeteries in close proximity, since combined into the one. I can see the Jewish cemetery being separate at some time in the past but I couldn't see much rhyme or reason to the rest of it being separated into three pieces at one time. Perhaps one could argue the case for the military section but that'd be about it.

But one feature that intrigued me was the number of tombstones in the shape of a tree stump and with the following plaque attached (image shamelessly stolen from here[^] because I didn't have my camera with me).

I'd never seen this before and at first I thought perhaps I'd stumbled upon evidence of some American secret society. The close proximity of Freemasons and I.O.O.F. markers led credence to the theory but it seemed unlikely. I was closer than I thought[^]. And also see here[^].

A bloody insurance company! Yeah, I can see myself wanting a Farmers State logo on *my* grave!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Not that I'm counting

but at this moment 100 days hence I shall, with luck and continuance of life, be high above the Pacific Ocean on my way to Australia. Those fish and chips are getting closer!

He's breathing!

As I think I've mentioned once or twice before, I, with my friends, was rather fond of going to movie matinees in the mid 1960's. That was a time when ones choices on TV were somewhat less than they are now. Whether choices today are better is another question entirely. There's nothing quite like having 108 channels of TV and nothing to watch! Fortunately that doesn't happen to me; TCM run a lot of old movies and IFC and Sundance aren't too bad either. You should have heard Andrew though, before he discovered World of Warcraft. 'There's nothing on!' he'd complain. 'What about The African Queen' I'd ask. 'Oh, that? That's old!'

There is no response to that!

But I digress. Back in the 60's we'd go to the Saturday Arvo matinee. A feature film after the intermission; cartoons, a newsreel and a serial before the intermission. Intermission? I still get a chuckle watching the three hour marathons made in the 60's (Spartacus, Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, The Great Race, 2001: A space Odyssey) when the intermission placard comes up. I very much doubt todays teenagers have ever seen the word; certainly not at the movies.

I can't remember much about the serials; I think they ran Flash Gordon[^] once or twice. For the most part the serials seemed to be about cowboys fighting the injuns! We'd sit there in the dark munching on Jaffas[^] and drink in this alien culture. Whenever someone would fall with an arrow in the back we'd watch the actor. And inevitably someone (usually me) would shout 'he's breathing!'. Laughter throughout the theatre.

Good times.

I was watching In the light of the moon[^] tonight (US title is Ed Gein[^]) and couldn't help noticing, in the scene where we see his brother laid out in the coffin, that the actor was breathing. Someone sure screwed up there!

I called Sonya up to see (she and I have long since accepted that we don't like the movies the other likes). Her comment? 'I don't know how you notice things like that.'

Practice :-)

Monday, June 09, 2008

Vote Schmuck!

That's the proud slogan on some electoral signs that have sprung up in Tempe, way down south, where I work. At first glance it might look like an exhortation to the idle, uncommitted voter, to go and vote!

Not a bit of it. Nope, it's the name of the candidate. I'll give him his due, he knows the nature of his name, for the slogan goes on to read 'Schmuck... that's right!'. Full points for a sense of humour. Of course, I could wish he represented a different party.

Yeah, I know I shouldn't make fun of peoples names, but if he can do it I can certainly join in.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Another year, another birthday

But not mine, not just yet.

It's June 3[^] again and I spent most of the day racking my brains trying to remember an interesting story, or even any story, to tell about Robin.

I came up blank!

The combination lock

In something of a minor miracle Morgan's managed to keep a job for an entire week.

She announced on Saturday that she needed a lock for her locker, that others might not pinch her stuff while she was out on the sales floor. Yep, she's working at a local department store though which department I couldn't say.

Andrew thought a moment and announced that he had a spare combination lock. Sounded reasonable given that his most precious asset at the moment is protected by his World of Warcraft password! So up the stairs he went and down came a padlock of the sort that has four little wheels, each numbered 0 to 9.

Of course he'd forgotten the combination! So Morgan played with it for 30 seconds or so and gave up. There are, after all, only 10,000 possible combinations. She handed it to Mom and she, Mom, handed it straight on to me. Uh huh, that'd be right.

I immediately turned the wheels to 0000 and 'click' it was open! Amazed looks! 'How did you do that?' they chorused.

'Well', I replied, 'it was easy.' Dad (their dad not mine) bought it and gave it to Andrew. And they're both so lazy they wouldn't have read the instructions on how to set the combination. Therefore it had to be still set at the factory default!

Perhaps I ought to have played the role of Houdini rather than that of Sherlock Holmes; now they know how it was done they're not half as impressed. But I bet you are!