Mega Millions

I think I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve bought lottery tickets. Add in the time I got a lottery ticket as a tip, and if you’re counting on Count Rugen’s hand (right hand? left hand? I’m embarassed to admit I don’t know!), you’d be dead-on.

Anyway, I was walking past the Customer Service counter at Giant in Hunt Valley a couple of days ago and I decided, more or less on a whim, to buy a Mega Millions ticket. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to win, and sure enough, I didn’t.


19 Days Later … Thoughts On Customer Service Re: eBay


The situation just got weirder: I just got notification e-mails from the seller telling me that they’d just recieved payment for the movie poster and had mailed it:

“XXXPosters. com” to me 8:59 pm (1 hour ago)
Hi there Snay,
We have received payment and it has cleared. Your item(s) are now on the way. Please be extra patient as we ship over 10,000 orders a week. Items can sometimes take up to 14 business days to arrive but IT WILL ARRIVE (Priority and Express Shipping arrive MUCH quicker as stated on our check out). Please also understand that this order has been passed onto our shipping department and actual shipping dates may vary.

This is the notification e-mail I recieved the other day:

Feb 25 (2 days ago)
I just wanted to let you know that I’ve shipped your auction winnings as detailed below.

I bet this is going to be one of those situations where I wind up with two posters for the price of one and get to sell the second one on eBay for a profit!

Waaaay back on February 7th (nineteen days ago), I used “Buy It Now” to purchase a movie poster of eBay, and used PayPal to pay for it. By last Friday, when it hadn’t shown up, I dashed off a quick note to the seller. Today, a message was awaiting in my inbox:


It has just come to my attention that your order was sent back to us because
the post office managed to mangle it up. Since this was absolutely not your
fault we will gladly send out a new order to you at no cost. Your order is
now on the way. We are so sorry for the delay and we WILL make sure you get
your order ASAP. We do apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for
being extra patient. If for any reason it does not arrive we will make sure
this matter is handled.

Is your nose twitching, too? I betcha anything the posters didn’t ship to begin with, as evidenced (1) by blaming the post office* and (2) this development “just” having coming to this seller’s attention.

In my line of work, this would be the line of thought in resolving such a conflict:

(1) Does the customer have any potential future requirement/desire for our product?
(2) Do we have any competitors to whom this customer might turn to satisfy that need if they have had an unsatisfactory experience with us?
(3) Aside for blaming the postal service, is there anything we can do to encourage the customer to return to do business with us as opposed to our competitors?

Here are the answers: Yes, it is possible that I will wish to purchase movie posters in the future. Yes, you have many competitors to whom I can take my business. Yes, there is something you can do to possibly gain my business back, like, I dunno, refund my shipping? Offer me a discount?

Here’s the best part. I don’t intend to leave this seller unqualified positive feedback. As long as the product arrives in good shape, I won’t leave negative feedback. But I think right now the best they’re going to get is neutral feedback: “Product Good, Problem with Shipping Took Three Weeks” … or something along those lines. Maybe: “Will Blame Their Own Effups on USPS!”

One thing’s for sure … they won’t be going on my “favorite sellers” anytime soon.

(In fairness, I don’t think I use eBay enough to put anyone on my “favorite sellers” thing …)

Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

If you don’t like sci-fi novels, you might want to stop reading … now.

Chasm City is Alastair Reynolds’ second novel. Tanner Mirabel is a security operative who travels by light-hugger to the distant colony world of Yellowstone, in search of a man named Reivich, against who he owes a blood-debt of vengeance. Here’s the problem: in the years Mirabel has been in reefer-sleep, Yellowstone got hit by the melding plague. The city has gone crazy, its living buildings changing so rapidly that thousands of people were killed as their city turned against them.

Meanwhile, before departing for Yellowstone, Mirabel was infected by an indoctrinal virus of the Cult of Sky. Many years before, Sky Haussmann, the captain of the slower-than-light Santiago, one of a flotilla out to colonize Journey’s End, committed a horrible atrocity for which he was crucified. Now the virus plays itself out — at inconvenient times, of course — in Mirabel’s head as he hunts for Reivich.

This also happens to be the second of Reynolds’ novels that I’ve read. At the moment, I think it’s his best.

I remember watching a Star Wars Documentary, and Mark Hamill quoted a line from his audition that he still remembered thirty years later, and remarked, “Who talks like this?” Sure, the technical stuff Reynold’s characters dig in to is completely unintelligible, but when you get past this, the dialogue doesn’t leave you scratching your head wondering if Reynolds’ borrowed his dialogue from JM Straczynski. And when you get to a point when you’re like “WTF are you talking about?” Reynolds’ writing is so descriptive that you believe this is how people will talk in this dark and desolate future.

Add that to a deftly woven complex plot — I think I understand the ending — and you’ve got a recipe for a good bit of readin’.

And The Winner …

I hit the Netflix jackpot: three films, all great! I’ve got Rendition above the DVD player as I type this, and I’m pretty sure that my track record of success means that movie’s gonna suck monkey testies.

First up, a sequel: Elizabeth The Golden Age, with Cate Blanchett reprising her role from a decade ago. It’s not as good as the first film, and the final battle scene is underdramatic and a little confusing, but it’s more than a decent film, and does well in trying to convey a lot of information and plot while not being overwhelmingly boring.

Hanover Street, an excellent Harrison Ford film, set in WWII England. He’s a bomber pilot. She’s a nurse. There’s a great comedic scene where they both upstage each other vying for a spot on a bus. Then they got bombed by the Germans. Then they jump into bed. Then he gets picked to fly her husband over France on a secret mission and they get shot down and you can probably figure out the dramatic tension from here. Well scripted, cool action sequences, a hint of Catch-22, and some great acting from Chris Plummer, Harrison Ford & Lesley-Anne Down make this totally queueable.

Last — certainly not least! — is from those claymation dudes behind Wallace & Grommit. I liked Chicken Run, so I figured I wasn’t going out on a limb putting this flick — Flushed Away — onto my queue. Nope! It’s a movie about a pet rat who gets flushed into the sewer and needs help from a cute-rat-chick with a Han Solo vibe to get home. Along the way he learns a lot of valuable lessons about blah-blah-blah. Seriously, the rat chick is cute. For a claymation rat chick, anyway. Cute, silly movie. French frogs who surrender when their French frog leader calls them to action. Hilarious stuff.

Honeymoon Period

The honeymoon period continues.

No, I didn’t get married. I’m talking about the merge of “old staff” and “new staff” that occurs when a business is bought out by new owners: in this case, the Indy, which Gary sold not quite two weeks ago, breaking the news to us by showing up at 8:30pm on a Saturday night with a case of beer, telling us to lock the door, hit the lights, and join him for a drinky-drink. Although I saved my beer for later (walking into a party with it in hand a couple of hours later, someone remarked, “Holy shit you come prepared!”), it was a very somber occasion. What would these new owners (a Philippine family) be like? Would any of us still have jobs? What would change? What would stay the same?

For the moment, the Indy remains largely as it was. The back walls have been scrubbed down and are being prepared to be painted. Some wall-wire-shelves have been relocated. Gary removed his personally owned artwork from the lobby. The new owners bought 18″ screens to make larger pizzas to sell for slices. They’ve been ordering 22 ounce dough balls for the large pizzas. There are now plastic bags available for customers’ soda orders, and new hot bags have arrived. The menu, aside from some new coupons, remain largely the same. The old staff has largely moved on — former insiders and managers were either not hired on, or chose to leave to focus on school, or worked a night or two as a driver and decided they didn’t like it. About half the driving staff opted not to continue under the new management.

I worked with Deep before, many many years ago when I first moved to Baltimore County. I was living at The Colony in Towson, attending school during the day and driving down to Columbia to work as the assistant manager of a Domino’s Pizza. When I finally transfered to the Timonium store (which closed shortly thereafter and reopened on Cranbrook Road), Deep was one of my drivers. He left Domino’s shortly after I did, and moved to California, where he worked as a taxi driver in Los Angeles before moving back this way a couple of months ago. Along with several of his cousins and his uncle and aunt, he’s one of the new management. He’s got big plans for the place: a new pizza oven (the one we’ve got is older than I am and even Gary — who worked as an electrician before buying the place — isn’t quite sure how it still operates), a grill and fryer, desserts (don’t know how we’re going to deliver ice-cream in the summer, exactly), even a selection of Indian food.

I worked with Deep’s uncle last Sunday, and will again tomorrow. He wants to put a big screen TV in the lobby so customers will stay and enjoy football and March Madness. I don’t know if he knows how much Comcast will charge for commercial-use TV access, but there’s precedent: we used to have a TV/DVD player in the kitchen. Robin & I would watch “COPS” every Saturday night, followed by Law & Order and one of those 48-hours-type crime documentary shows. I like these guys. They’re energetic, eager, excited, and best of all, when they speak of Gary, they do so postively. There’s nothing to sap moral more than new owners coming in and saying “Man, this place is a shit hole.” Gary owned the place for eighteen years. He was more than a little burned out, and in five years of working for him, I’ve never seen him as happy as when he told us he’d sold the place. It was like the weight of the world had been removed from his shoulders. Deep’s cousin, A., who I worked with tonight, has spent time working as a bartender and in construction. Sunday is his only day off, but he’s probably going to come in, grab some menus, and doorhang some neighborhoods anyway. Their attitude towards the store is so infectuous, I’ve actually cut my hours back at the slack-a-shack Franchise.

I think the future is bright for the Indy. But no matter how good these new owners are, it’ll never quite be the same without Gary and Robin behind the counter. It really was the end of an epoch, when GLW sold it.

Not Really Another Name For A Maze

I don’t know how you all are spending this cold and icy night, but as for thy, I nuked a bowl of popcorn, turned off the lights, and watched Labyrinth, for probably the first time in ten years. I loved this movie when I was a kid, and re-discovered it shortly before graduating college. When I saw a copy at Target last week on sale for $7, I just couldn’t resist.

If you’d asked me what I remembered of the movie, I would’ve told you, “Jennifer’s hot, David Bowie’s creepy, and there’s an M.C. Esher stage at the finale.” And yet, watching it, it was like I’d always remembered the film, and all the characters, and all the eccentricities of the Labyrinth.

It’s kind of like reuniting with an old friend you haven’t thought of in decades.

Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century/The Next Slum

The first of the double-title is the subtitle of James Howard Kunstler’s The Long Emergency.

The Long Emergency was given to me as a gift by my friend Tim. It’s about the consequences for a society built on the framework of cheap energy. Well, what happens when that energy goes bye-bye? It’s a frightening view of the world, and of the drastic changes that will occur on every level of society. I don’t pretend to know how much of a doomsayer Kunstler is, or how accurate his predictions are, but I do know it’s a very frightening book. This is not to say Kunstler doesn’t have a way for words, in fact, after attending a conference in Maine in 2003, he writes, “I was so depressed I felt like gargling with razor blades.” Which is kind of how I felt after reading this book.

Anyway. In The Long Emergency, Kunstler describes how suburban-dwelling Americans will adopt: middle class Americans will flee to cities and small towns. Suburbs, dependant on gas powered transport no longer available, will become the new slums:

The gigantic smear of suburbia that runs almost without interruption from north of Boston through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Washington, and northern Virginia is not going to be a happy place. It will be subject to the most extreme loss of utility and equity value. This suburban portion of what was once called megalopolis may become as much a forbidden zone as the South Bronx became in the late twentieth century. The inhabitants of the Bronx in 1925 would never have believed how deparate their burrough would become in 1970; by the same token, the denizens of Bergen County, New Jersey or Fairfield County, Connecticut, today may never believe how desparate their localities may become in 2025. (291).

The second of the double title is the title of an article by Christopher B. Leinberger for The Here’s an excerpt:

In the first half of last year, residential burglaries rose by 35 percent and robberies by 58 percent in suburban Lee County, Florida, where one in four houses stands empty. Charlotte’s crime rates have stayed flat overall in recent years—but from 2003 to 2006, in the 10 suburbs of the city that have experienced the highest foreclosure rates, crime rose 33 percent. Civic organizations in some suburbs have begun to mow the lawns around empty houses to keep up the appearance of stability. Police departments are mapping foreclosures in an effort to identify emerging criminal hot spots.

It hasn’t been brought about by the collapse of our countrys’ dependance on cheap energy, true, but Kunstler discussed the mortgage crisis in his book (published in 2005, FYI):

The economic wreckage is liable to be impressive. If large numbers of house owners cannot make their mortgage payments, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and by extension the federal government, would be the big losers. The failure of the GSEs (government sponsored entities) would make the S&L fiasco of the 1980s look like a bad night of poker. The failure of the GSEs would pose a far graver situation than the LTCM (Long Term Capital Management) flameout. It could easily bring on cascading failures that might jeopardize global finance. This time, the American public would feel the pain. (233).

I was, frankly, more than a little disturbed when I read The Long Emergency. Reading that article in The Atlantic terrifies me, not because I live in tracts of empty residential suburbia (although I do think there’s an empty apartment or two in this building), but because Kunstler seems to be, how do I say it? “Right on.” And if he was right about the mortgage consequences, what else is he right about?