Blog: July 2012

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

So much for good intentions

Last night my watchband broke (one of those metal expanding/stretch ones, my preferred style). It looked like it might be fixable with the right tools and know-how, which I lack.

There are three watch-repair places in my neighborhood, opening no earlier than 10AM and closing no later than 5PM. There are none near where I work, though I tried the lone jewelry store (no luck).

So after work I went to a local store to buy a replacement band. They refused to put it onto the watch for me for liability reasons (!), and would not accept my offer to sign a waiver. I declined to buy it without that demonstration that it was in fact the right size (hard to really tell in the packaging), and I can't really see well enough to do that myself. (I could have taken it home to Dani, but then I'd have to go back if it didn't fit, and...bah.)

Watches (in this class) are not much more expensive than the band. I just mail-ordered a watch from Amazon.

Sorry, planet. I tried to do if not the right thing then at least the less-wrong thing.

If anybody local wants a scratched-up but functional watch, let me know. Getting it to stay on your arm is your problem.

A challenge of globalization

I love the Internet. Among things, it brings me together with people I never would have encountered otherwise, many from far-away places. Hold that thought.

Mi Yodeya, the Stack Exchange site for Jewish life and learning, is currently in the midst of its first election for moderators. (Until a site graduates from beta it is assigned interim moderators. We graduated a couple months ago and now we're having our election.) I think I'd do a good job and I've been active on the site for a long time, so I threw my hat into the ring. There are six candidates for three positions.

It is customary to have a town-hall chat where the candidates answer questions from the community. It starts in an hour and a half. The Israelis will get up early (7AM), we in the US eastern time zone will stay up late, the folks on the west coast and in Australia are happy, and, well, if we have any Europeans, they're kind of out of luck. Scheduling is hard.

The chat is optional. I'd like to be a part of it, but I'm looking at that 1AM end and that 7:30AM minyan and...oof. We'll see.


Update: I made it. Lots of great questions that I focused on answering as they came; I only caught up with how other people answered the questions today. There's a transcript, but it's kind of chaotic. Somebody is working on a more-organized presentation.

I had meant to ask a question too but I never quite got to it. But lots of good info came out, so that's enough.

Air Canada followup

I sent copies of my Air Canada complaint to the CEO/President, Chairman, and Senior VP of Customer Relations (with suitable wrapper text to explain why they were getting this). Yesterday I got email from an assistant for Mr. Rovinescu, the CEO/President. She hasn't given me permission to publish the letter, so I will summarize:

She is disheartened to hear of my experience. Given my description, she can understand how frustrating that was. She regrets that their call center let me down and is sorry for the poor impression their discourteous employees left me with. As a gesture of goodwill, she would like to offer me 40% off the base fare for my next Air Canada trip, provided I complete it within a bit less than a year. They do not cover consequential expenses, but nonetheless require my original receipts for same for auditing purposes.

That does not help at all, and since it's not a voucher for a fixed amount I don't think I could sell it usefully. (I haven't read the fine print and don't know if it's even transferable.) This is the reply I sent:

Thank you for your reply. Unfortunately, I'm an infrequent traveler; I've only flown three times in the last decade and would not be able to use a discount in the next year. (Even if I could, I'm sure you can understand my reluctance to book my next trip with your airline.) A discount on future travel also doesn't help me with expenses incurred now. Is there anything better you can do to remedy this terrible episode?

(Belately I see that there is one error in that. I now realize I've flown four times, not three. This does not change the substance.)

VISA is prepared to dispute the charge if I can't settle the problem with the airline, but of course we would both like to try the direct approach first. I'm not yet sure of the process should VISA get involved; do we go to some sort of arbitration or what? Air Canada already has my money, but I guess VISA can take it back.

Time for a new {laptop, netbook, tablet...}

My trusty iBook has died and the Apple Genius declared a hard-drive failure. Apple no longer sells those, though I could go looking for a third-party solution and that's not off the table yet. But maybe it's time to move to a machine that can support an OS newer than 10.4 and a Firefox newer than 3.6, so I'm considering other options too. Read more…

Comment etiquette

On Stack Exchange, somebody asked for tips for posting civil and informative comments. This was my advice:

Another way to make a comment more friendly is, when possible, to cast it as a question rather than a statement. Consider the difference between:

  • (Answer) doesn't work because of X.


  • When you do that, how do you account for the problem of X?

It could well be that X isn't a problem -- your assumption is wrong. If you assert it you look bad; if you raise the question the poster isn't put on the defensive, and if it's a problem he can fix it (and thank you for the help).

I used to leave comments like the following that I thought were friendly and helpful:

  • This question/answer could be improved by adding (details/a source).

I realized that comments like the following got better results and also that I preferred them when on the receiving end:

  • Could you add more details about X?

  • Do you have a source?

This approach doesn't always work (e.g. for site policy). It's also most important for the initial comment, before you and the other person are engaged in a dialogue.

Air Canada complaint

This is the complaint I am about to submit through Air Canada's web form. I'm posting it here to summarize and to give them a place to post comments if they choose.

Also, a request: if any of you link to this elsewhere (which is fine with me; it's a public post), please let me know. I am mindful of the laws of lashon hara (hurtful speech) in posting this; I believe I am on the correct side of them, but I do want to make sure that any followup from Air Canada reaches the places my post(s) did. Thank you. Read more…


My (rebooked) flight landed in Pittsburgh around 7:45AM and I was reunited with Baldur by 9. (Reunion with Dani will have to wait, since he'd already left for work by the time I got home.) I haven't read all my email, to say nothing of LJ and G+, and I doubt I'll even try to catch up. If there's something you think I should see, you know how to find me.

The Newark airport is a well-oiled machine, especially compared to Toronto Peterson where they're still rubbing sticks together to try to figure out how to make fire. I was at my connecting gate 35 minutes after stepping off the first plane -- including passport control, baggage claim, customs, baggage recheck, train to another terminal, and TSA. Granted it was 4AM, but I got a very favorable impression. I would fly through there again, were I to fly where that's relevant. (The airline was United. I don't know how much credit goes to the airline and how much to the airport, but that combination was smooth, at least.)

Farewell, Baldur

Baldur, February 28 1993 - July 6 2012. Feisty and friendly, cranky and comforting, and always a true friend. I will miss you.

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I'm supposed to be 2+ hours into a flight right now. But apparently I'm not allowed to have nice things, and Air Canada needed to go for a clean sweep. Ten (!) hour delay this time! The mind boggles.

BTW, even though they had my email address and (local) phone number, there was no contact. I knew I couldn't print a boarding pass at the hotel and Internet there was kind of expensive anyway, so I didn't see it before I left. (Though I don't know if it was even posted; someone behind me in line said he had checked a couple hours earlier.)

They wanted to put me on a combination that would get me home around noon tomorrow. I asked if they could do any better and explained the urgency. After more than three hours of standing in lines I have a flight through Newark that gets me there around 8AM. And, learning from history, I confirmed that if that connection fails, there's another flight an hour later. They claimed to be unable to put me on the El Al flight leaving at 4PM for bureaucratic reasons, grumble.

This may surprise some given the comments in another thread, but most of the agents I've dealt with here have been polite. (One seemed to have no respect for the queue, though; she kept pushing me aside because I was going to be here all day anyway, but I didn't want to be in her Internet-deprived office all day! Sheesh.)

I came to the airport hoping to get an upgrade as partial compensation for the difficulties they caused on my trip here. Instead I'm begging for a flight home a mere 10-12 hours late and, of course, I'll get whatever seat nobody else wanted (middle, I assume) and I have to assume I won't be able to eat the meal and plan accordingly. I will be contacting Air Canada's customer service when I get home, and frankly, I want a full refund. This is freaking ridiculous.

I'm done with Air Canada after this. I might also be done with Israel; we'll see when I calm down more. It is too frustrating to try to get there and back from Pittsburgh. At the very least I am done with solo major travel.

Travel tech

Dani lent me his iPad for my trip. It has proven to be very convenient, aside from the auto-correct introducing some errors when I type. (I'll fix any that I've missed when I get home.)

My iBook crashed yesterday. I don't know what the problem is or if it can be fixed; it made a loud sustained whirring sound, not the klunk of a dying disk (at least for PCs), so I don't know if it's a disk error or something else. I couldn't figure out how to turn it off - no response to the mouse or keyboard, nor to the power button. I ended up popping the battery after things quieted down (so the disk wasn't spinning); no idea if that made things worse.

If I can't fix it I'll need to replace it with something. The iPad is nice so it might be that (with a real keyboard), if it has a real text editor and access to the file system. Does it? Is there an emacs port yet?