Friday, July 28, 2006

On the road in Massachusetts

So little has changed on the street where I grew up in Dennisport, and along the beachfront of our old neighborhood, that I repeatedly hallucinate that I'm 16, and going to get in big trouble if I'm not home by 11. The weather has been fantastic: Warm, hazy, breezy, and nice waves to ride. Tonight I went over to a friend's cottage and we watched the Red Sox blow the game against the Angels. As I said, very little has changed.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I'd forgotten what "muggy" meant, but as soon as we stepped out of baggage claim into the Boston evening it came back to me.

After dinner (lobster at Legal Seafood) I settled my mom at the Hilton and went out for a long walk. While Boston is a good deal sleeker and more international that I remember it, it is still distinctively Boston, and very proud of its identity.

Tomorrow morning we're visiting friends of my mother's in Brookline, and then driving down to the Cape for three days in Dennisport.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Happy ending in sight

My appeal to the head of the company that was holding our screen door hostage for weeks resulted in immediate action by the vice president to get the door delivered and installed. Things continued to go wrong at nearly every turn (the door the salesman had ordered did not have the customized features I'd requested and emailed him to confirm; the hinges didn't fit) but once the VP was involved (he actually drove over to the house to check on the installation) problem solving was the order of the day. And the fellows doing the actual installation were delightful.

Of course, I'm now wishing I'd taken my concerns about the salesman up the ladder much sooner. But when a problem is incremental (such as a delay) it's hard to decide when to turn on the aggro. (Those of you who think "aggro" is a gamer term can check out its origins here.)

So, chalk one up for the squeaky wheel.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Two types of people

People like me who think this is terribly clever, and are headed for Home Depot immediately, and people who think this blogger should get a life.

Keep cool

The temperatures in Seattle this week have been in the record-breaking mid-90s. People are miserable, but in large part that's because they're in denial. You see folks hiking around in the hot sun without so much as a hat on their heads.

I grew up in the South where people know how to handle the heat. Here's a quick overview:
  1. Stay in the dark. Draw the drapes and shades; exterior shutters, if you've got them, are even better. Open only those doors and windows that are completely shaded by a roof or an awning and in line with a breeze. Don't turn on any lights.
  2. Drink plenty of liquid. Really, you shouldn't be without a glass of something cool in your hand, whether it's water, iced tea, or lemonade. Many advocate cold beer, though it's advisable to hold off on the bourbon on the rocks until evening.
  3. Stay low. Stay downstairs; heat rises. Stretch out on the floor (don't laugh until you've tried it).
  4. Don't move. This is not the time to clean out the closets, vacuum the rugs, or (heaven forbid) cook something. You could, however, use the time to write a novel or compose a song. This is why the South is famous for novelists and musicians rather than for self-improvement gurus and efficiency experts. (And all the Southern politicians? Let's just say that their early experience with extreme heat prepares them not only for the political milieu but for the place most of them will eventually wind up. Meanwhile, an columnists says we can blame air-conditioning for the election of George W. Bush.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Gripes and proposals

Seth Godin blogged recently about how companies "save" money by hiring unskilled, unmotivated, and untrained receptionists and then incur hidden costs in terms of customers and prospective customers who simply go elsewhere after a bad experience with reception. And, I might add, who let the rest of the world know about it.

This afternoon I'm about to try out a well-known salon/spa for a haircut. I looked up customer reviews on CitySearch and while I was impressed by across-the-board positive remarks about their stylists' talents, I noticed three seething rants -- all of them about the salon's rude receptionists. I also looked up reviews of the downtown salon I used to patronize and found the same thing. One irate patron wrote about overhearing the reception desk staff making fun of customers -- in loud stage whispers.

While Godin didn't make any substantive proposal for how to fix things, I'd like to. Thinking of shops where I've been favorably impressed with the receptionists, I realized that the receptionists were usually one of the following:
  • long-time employees
  • older than college age
  • partners in the business, or
  • employees whose jobs descriptions spanned other skilled positions in the company
If I go to our vet and the person on the desk is a vet technician, I get great service. If it's the designated receptionist, I can just about be guaranteed 10 minutes of "I don't know," and "I have to ask someone but they're busy" during which time five people stand in line tapping their feet and the receptionist just sits there, looking bored and unconcerned.

The issues here are judgment and motivation. Most, though certainly not all, people have judgment skills that improve with age/experience. Eventually the connection between dissing a customer and getting fired gets made. Eventually they get tired of droning "I don't know," and put together a helpful or at least polite answer. They figure out when to cut some slack for a long-time customer instead of enforcing a company rule intended to protect against deadbeats.

Paying the receptionist a decent salary, and cross-training him or her for managerial responsibilities, makes the receptionist much more of a engaged partner in the business. I'd suggest that businesses do away with the "receptionist" title altogether and create "assistant manager" jobs that include 50 percent time at the reception desk.

Godin on how to give feedback

I'm a big fan of marketing maverick Seth Godin. His provocative post today on feedback initially took me aback:
I don't want to know how you feel, nor do I care if you would buy it, recommend it, or use it. You are not my market. You are not my focus group.

But when you read the rest of the post, his comments not only make sense, they'll probably change the way you give -- and ask for -- feedback.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Classic summer "salads"

The past two days are the closest I've come to living the life I envisioned when I left Apple this spring. I've been meeting with fellow bloggers and writers, working with a coach on issues that affect my writing, walking with my friend Rae, spending time with my mom, having dinner with Zorg, gardening, and editing a book about cooking.

The cooking book is very impressive (more on that later). But for some reason it got me thinking about truly kitschy recipes, such as the classic "Pink Cloud" (which my friend Deb calls "Pink Shit"). Turns out there are many recipes for Pink Cloud. Most of them contain:

1 can crushed pineapple
1 small box of strawberry jello
1 pint of small curd cottage cheese
1 small container of Cool Whip
1 cup mini marshmallows

Assembly is simple: Combine ingredients, refrigerate overnight, and serve. Some people heat the pineapple and sprinkle the jello powder on that to dissolve it. But apparently it's not necessary. Do it with lime jello and you've got...Green Cloud? Well, actually it's called Lime Jello Marshmallow Cottage Cheese Surprise. Here's recipe for it with a nice little twist.

While hunting down the Pink Cloud recipe, I also found a dish one of my high school sorority sisters was famous for -- the sinfully rich blueberry jello salad, full of sour cream, cream cheese, and chopped nuts. According to, this is a Southern food classic.

Bon appetit
, y'all.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

A short time ago, in a galaxy far, far from reality

What do Star Wars and fatally trendy e-commerce start-ups have in common? Find out when you take this quiz.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Tea and coffee

The Biznik book discussion group met this evening at El Diablo coffeehouse on Queen Anne Hill. At one point, the wide-ranging discussion touched on tea and local teahouses, including the excellent Teahouse Kuan Yin in Wallingford.

Still thinking about tea, I later came across I Heart Seattle's blog entry on a new teahouse, the Panama Tea House, in the historic Panama Hotel on South Main. I Heart Seattle says they have "the city's best iced tea," though I'm not sure what criteria that's based on. OK, OK, I'll check it out and report back.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Easily amused

I found myself giggling through the Sunday comics today. I particularly liked Doonesbury, with Lacey (the late congresswoman) appearing in a dream to Joan Caucus and telling her that, of course, feminism is dead. Women today don't call themselves feminists, "just as people your age never called themselves suffragettes or abolitionists [because] there was no need. The debate was over."

"But how? How do I die as a feminist?" Joan wonders. Here's the answer.

Out of this world

Happy birthday to you!
Happy birthday (52)!
Happy birthday, dear Zorg,
Happy birthday to you!

Ice cream, raccoons, bamboo, and bathtubs

What do ice cream, raccoons, bamboo, and bathtubs have in common? Problems related to them are what drive most of the traffic to The Mysterious Traveler Sets Out in the summer months.

The most popular archived entry at TMTSO is one that reprints the gist of the operating manual for the 1970s ice cream maker the Waring Ice Cream Parlor. The machine is apparently indestructable, but most people have misplaced the directions.

The next most popular entries are the ones about our raccoon-proof cat door. It is, indeed, utterly raccoon-proof. The only problem with it has been that one of our cats is afraid to use it because of the whirring sound the electric mechanism makes when it raises the guillotine-style door. The rest of the cats having gotten the hang of it, though one of them had a bad experience the other night. The door was going up to let little Kaylee out of the laundry room; she failed to see her big beefy sister Zoe waiting in the dark on the other side to come in. When door opened, both cats leaped forward, and in the resulting collision big Zoe blasted poor Kaylee six feet across the laundry room.

Tied for third place behind the ice cream maker and cat door entries are entries on getting rid of bamboo and caulking a bathtub.

I've made a note to myself to check January 15 to see which are the most popular winter entries. Perhaps I should blog about cleaning the filter on the furnace...

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Seattle Rhythm Festival

Ghanian drummer and teacher Saeed Abbas (far right) with members of his troupe Gye Nyame performing at the Seattle Rhythm Festival (Saturday, at Seattle Center).

"Gye Nyame" is the name of a Ghanian symbol refering to the supremacy of God.

Cat on a treadmill


Friday, July 14, 2006

Swingin' with the armadillos

Last night's Asleep at the Wheel dance at the Century Ballrooom was just about perfect. Asleep at the Wheel is a band in the Texas Swing tradition, an aggregation of flashy sidemen (and one woman) with a repertoire polished to perfection. Ray Benson -- lead singer, lead guitarist, arranger and band leader -- is the constant that makes it all happen and keeps it rooted in the swing tradition. Benson's a big guy, with a big ego, and a big, big talent. It was just awesome to have him play and sing for dancing.

As expected, the dancers were diverse and enthusiastic. The Century's immense dance floor is perfect for roadhouse swing and two-stepping (and the balcony above is great for watching the dancers). Rae and I got a table up the balcony; John joined us a little later and we kept him busy on the dance floor all night long.

Asleep at the Wheel's set was a tasteful mix of hot classics with some lesser-known gems like "Sugar Moon." This got me thinking about the years back East when I went Western Swing dance two or three times a week -- often at the City Limits in Manhattan. Oddly, I ran into Tad, my old New Haven housemate from 1978-79, at the dance last night. And when I got home I found an from one of my old City Limits dance partners, Barry, inviting me to the annual Western Swing dance in September at his farm near Poughkeepsie.

I don't think I'll make it to Poughkeepsie, but Wayne Hancock will be playing in Seattle at the Tractor Tavern Sept. 1. I plan to be there; too bad their dance floor's about the size of a pool table.

Windows, doors, and more lousy customer service

I've avoided naming the Seattle-area company that's been holding our new screen door hostage for three weeks, but summer's half over and they still haven't called to schedule installation.

My dealings with them in the past had always been pleasant. They represent several of the better manufacturers, and have supplied our back door and our sky light, and did some outstanding work tracking down the sliding screens that fit our French doors.

That's why, in early May, I stopped by their showroom to order a screen door with installation package and didn't choke on the $1000 price. (It was a nice design, with a special type of hinges that would allow me to remove the door in the winder and pop the hinge pins back in every spring.). They charged my credit card for the full price May 10.

Then, silence for six weeks. I suspect there'd be silence still, except I called them June 27 to check on the order. The woman at their front desk told me that the door had arrived and that someone would call me later in the week to make an appointment to install the door.

No one called.

A week later, I called again, then stopped by to enquire. At that point, the salesman told me that he needed to run over to Builders Supply (a mile down the road) to pick up the correct white hinges, and after he had the hinges, the installer would schedule installation.


A week later, I emailed the salesman to check on the status. He emailed back July 7 and said he'd been busy but "we should have everything done by next week."

Well, next week is over. There's been no call, no email -- and no door. I'm steaming.

At this point, the door has been languishing in their warehouse (just a few blocks from our house!) for three weeks. Summer -- the reason I ordered a screen door -- is half over.

I've sent off another email, and will call Monday morning. If they don't install it next week, there's no reason to believe they ever will. At least not this summer. It appears our only option is to cancel the order and demand a refund.

This is incredibly frustrating, because I'm fairly confident that this is a lovely, high quality door that we would have enjoyed if it weren't for this company's inexcusably bad customer service.

(It's not my custom to pick apart local companies in my blog, but in this case I felt that there was no option. Their website does not list a president, CEO or manager, and I have no confidence that sending a letter to their general address would get it delivered to anyone but the salesman -- who already knows my views on the matter.)

[OK, here's what happened after I called the company headquarters.]

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"I'm a Mac" "I'm a PC"

Do the new Mac ads entice PC users over to the Mac side...or just annoy them? This ad spoof from Comedy Central's Nick Kroll has the definitive answer.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Where did the weekend go?

For some reason, I have only the vaguest memories of the weekend. It was chopped into little tasks, and lots of cancellations.

Friday night I completed the draft text for a website I'm editing. It's a very frustrating project because the structural and visual redesign the site needs is not going to happen for several months. It's like being asked to clean up a cluttered room without moving or removing any of the junk.

Perhaps by way of compensation, I went out and removed lots of overgrowth from the garden. Then I watered all of the various beds using soaker hoses and sprinklers. It's only the first week of July, and already plants are looking stressed, and the lawn's turning brown. Very discouraging.

Zorg took me to REI to shop for clothes for my trip back East. I wanted some travel wear that dries rapidly, and was delighted to find two pairs of pants and a pair of shorts that worked. Unfortunately, the shirts looked either like something you'd wear on safari or something you'd wear while riding in the Tour de France.

Saturday night we tried to see Pirates of the Caribbean at the Bay, but it had sold out hours before showtime.

Tonight's dinner here with my mom and our cousins from Phoenix had to be postponed due to an illness; fortunately I hadn't bought the salmon yet. Or baked the pie. Now that's all shifted over to Wednesday.

I've been scanning some books into Delicious Library and plan to watch an episode of Twin Peaks (season 1) on the iMac before bed. I'd seen the Twin Peaks film, but not the TV show. It's fascinating.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Two nights of baseball

The crowd went wild Thursday night, applauding the players and singing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." That, of course, was at the Seattle Symphony's presentation of the Baseball Music Project concert -- a mixture of baseball classics and new music from composer Fred Sturm, narrated by the very engaging Dave Winfield.

It was quite an improvement over the dismal Mariners' game I attended Wednesday night at Safeco Field.

The concert was accompanied by a slideshow of vintage baseball images. Afterwards, I tried to imagine someone 50 years in the future getting nostalgic about the loud, garish, ticky-tack environment of today's ballparks, where there's more focus on the video screens and speakers than there is on the field. No luck.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


I spent today visiting a family friend who raises sheep on Whidbey Island. Lambs are cute, but I'm glad I brought along my muck boots.

Monday, July 03, 2006

I lost it online

In the 1970s, there were rock music reviewers whose stars burned brighter than the pop phenomena they analyzed and criticized. So, where are the "genre-defining" reviewers for today's online games?

Writer Clive Thompson (blog: collision detection) thinks he has found them. Plus a little-known interview with the legendary pop critic Lester Bangs.

(And, please, someone tell me you know what seminal work of criticism the title of this blog entry refers to.)

If you love good writing

Several years ago, while writing for Apple's early webzine iReview, I had the temerity to review the New York Review of Books website. Somewhat to our surprise, it was one of the most fluid, transparent, and user-friendly sites around. After the review was published, we received a short and very pleasant note from their director of electronic publishing thanking us for the mention.

I visited the website today (still a paragon of clarity) to read the obituary of NYRB's co-editor and co-founder, Barbara Epstein.

If you've glanced at NYRB on the newstand, and dismissed it as overly intellectual and arcane, this is a good occasion to take another look. I found the topics timely and the writing incisive. Yes, the content verges on the esoteric and even the precious, but the writing is simply superb. Jason Epstein (Barbara Epstein's co-editor and husband) nails' Bill Buford's memoir about his mid-life plunge into cooking in the kitchen of Mario ("Molto Mario") Batali with the line:
Heat is the story of a one-sided culinary love affair pursued with only occasional, restrained sniping by Buford at Batali's unequal response.

Wonderful summer reading, lots of it free and online. And there's an RSS feed.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

More reflections on customer service

I regret that I'm too sleepy to give these folks the props they deserve, but

  • Rainier Industries. Installed the new awning just as I'd requested. And called the next day to make sure we were happy with it.
  • High Road Automotive. Called to correct some information they'd given me yesterday when I asked about the condition of a head gasket when I picked up my car after its oil change.
  • Our lawn service guy, who took action after I complained about the terrible job his new crew did on our lawn. He fired one of the two guys (I was the third customer to complain last week), and came to the house to apologize and to ask me if I would agree to have the other fellow on that crew, who he feels was not to blame, continue to work on our lawn if supervised. Plus, he re-seeded the part of the lawn that was damaged.
  • The Designer Consigner in Edmonds. The salesperson listened to my comments about pants not fitting unless they were a petite size; she went and hunted down some petite capris she was sure would fit me...and they did.
  • Purrs on Wheels (mobile cat grooming). Brandi, the owner, called to let me know she would be a few minutes late arriving to groom our cat Betaille today. Betaille is old and cranky and a bit paranoid but Brandi is so good with her that I think Betaille actually likes to be shampooed and trimmed! She's been purring happily all evening.
All this more than offsets the clueless door company, which received our new screen door early last week but still hasn't called to set up an installation time.