Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The condolence script

This bereavement has given me some insight into the condolence script.

During my last bereavement (which was 15 years ago!!) I hadn't yet read up on etiquette theory, so I didn't know what people were supposed to say or how the bereaved is supposed to respond.  (It didn't really come up IRL though, because I was in university and the funeral was on a day when I had no classes, so I just went about life without telling many people.)

I used to think that you had to say something awesome to the bereaved person, that would make them feel better.  And I used to think that, as the bereaved person, you have to give a mitigative response, because condolences are such an intense and one-sided thing to receive that you have to sort of balance out the conversation (like how if someone compliments a specific aspect of your outfit, you might look at a specific aspect of their outfit to compliment.  Or if someone thanks you extra-profusely for something, you might feel like saying "Please, it's no big deal.")

When I started reading Miss Manners, she said that a simple expression of condolences or sympathies is sufficient ("I'm so sorry" or "My sympathies" or "My condolences"), and that "thank you" is a sufficient response.  These seemed woefully inadequate to me, but Miss Manners said they suffice and I certainly couldn't come up with anything that was as awesome as I thought it needed to be, so I began using them.

With this bereavement, I've come to the realization that there's no such thing as a series of words that can achieve the level of awesomeness that I thought was necessary in an expression of condolences.  Words uttered just exist on a completely different plane and scale than bereavement, even simple bereavement. It's like trying to knit a sweater that will refute a political argument.  It's just not a tool that can be used to achieve that goal, no matter how awesomely you do it.

So why bother?  Because the expression of condolences acknowledges the elephant in the room.  Death is huge, and it can seem weird and wrong and assholic to avoid the topic if you're talking to someone who's recently bereaved.  So "I'm so sorry" or "my condolences" is the standardized code for "I acknowledge that you were bereaved", and "thank you" is standardized code for "I acknowledge that you acknowledged it."  Then you can proceed with the business at hand without anyone having to worry about being rude about the elephant.

The existence of a standardized script helps because it's so difficult to say something right.  It's like saying "please" or "thank you" or "you're welcome".  Imagine trying to express those concepts if we didn't have standard words for them!  And, of course, bereavement is a far more sensitive and emotionally fraught situation than asking someone to pass the salt!  So the standard, etiquette-approved script allows us to acknowledge the situation and then move forward. No more, no less.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Programming note

My grandmother passed away early this morning.  I'm still processing the situation.

I am therefore a one-week hiatus from blogging, unless I feel the need to blog about my bereavement (so far my emotional needs don't seem to be going in that direction), or unforeseen circumstances require posting something urgently.

I will continue to use Twitter and the rest of the internet in whatever way best meets my needs at any given moment, which may include frivolous use.  This is my first bereavement in the age of social media, so I have no idea what I'll need from it.

You are welcome to continue to engage with me in whatever way you normally would, but I may or may not respond depending on what meets my needs at any given moment.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition VI

If you don't understand the difference between "required to" and "permitted to", and therefore advocate for policies requiring people to do things when policies permitting people to do those things would be sufficient to achieve your goals, you are henceforth required to do everything that you were previously simply permitted to do.

The penalty for failing to meet these new requirements is commensurate with whatever the penalty for failing to meet the requirements would have been in the policy you were advocating for.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Drilling

For the past week or so, I've been hearing drilling from the apartment upstairs.  It happens in the afternoon, on weekdays, for an hour or two at a time.

I don't know what they're doing, but I'm surprised they have that much drilling to do in such a small apartment!

This is of interest because in my old apartment, where I lived 8(!) years ago, I also had an upstairs neighbour who drilled frequently!  I didn't work from home then, but most weekends I'd hear a significant amount of drilling going on, and I was surprised they had that much drilling to do in such a small apartment!

 I wonder if I have the same upstairs neighbour??

Or maybe they have a cat...


Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Dell depot repair experience

The good: the whole process took less than 4 business days, despite my having been told that it takes 7-10 business days.

The bad: it didn't fix the problem

Details:

This repair was the next step in the process of repairing the very mysterious process of BIOS intermittently not recognizing the operating system on the hard drive. When I sent the computer out, I included a note (one page, typed, with informative subheadings for easy scanability) detailing the history of the issue and what we'd tried already, describing my recent observation that the computer was more likely to boot up on a second try if I turned it off and on quickly so it was still "warm" (like an old car that needs to be warmed up), and mentioning my theory that a different brand of hard drive, ideally Samsung, should be tried.

Purolator picked up the computer from me on Monday afternoon. It arrived at the depot first thing on Tuesday. According to the online tracker, it was in "diagnosis" status for an hour, then was moved to "repair" status.  On Wednesday afternoon, it was shipped back out via Purolator, and on Thursday morning it arrived back at my door.

The depot report stated that they'd replaced the hard drive (with another Western Digital) and the processor. I booted it up, and found that Windows was in Setup mode from an initial installation, which is how you normally receive a computer from Dell.  I completed the setup, then decided to reboot it from a "cold" shut down state three times before I restored my data, just to make sure the problem had been solved.  On the third try, it once again failed to detect the operating system.  (In subsequent boot ups from a power off state over the next few days, it took two tries, four tries, and one try to boot up successfully.)

I emailed my tech to let him know about this and got an out of office message, so I decided to restore my system image so I could at least have my computer back for the moment.  On Friday, my tech emailed me back saying he'd look into what the next step would be.  I haven't heard back from him yet (which is fine - I asked him prior to sending it out what happens if the depot can't fix it, and he said he's sure there's some measure to take but that he has no experience with this, so he probably has to escalate it.)

So, long story short, I'm pleased with the turnaround time, but displeased with the fact that they couldn't fix it.

I suspect that their inability to fix it is yet another sign of Dell employee disempowerment.  The replacement hard drive I received was Western Digital despite the fact that my notes to the depot tech said that this was the variable that has yet to be eliminated. I suspect that this is because Dell employees are not empowered to provide another brand of hard drive.  (Although the ungenerous interpretation would be that it's because they ignored or disregarded my notes.) The fix they applied wasn't properly tested (again, despite my notes) because they didn't finalize the installation of Windows and therefore couldn't possibly have tested it with multiple start-ups from a power-down state.  I suspect that this is because they're required to deliver computers to clients with Windows in set-up mode rather than finalized. (Although the ungenerous interpretation would be that they couldn't be bothered to take the time to finalize and test properly.) So, because of this disempowerment, the computer was returned to me without the problem corrected, completely unbeknownst to the technicians.


***

I don't know what happens next. I emailed the tech in charge of my case, he said he has to look into what's to be done next, and he hasn't gotten back to me yet.

This doesn't actually bother me at the moment, because I genuinely don't know what I want from them.  Well, that's not completely true - what I want is a single, simple fix, ideally that I can implement myself, that will correct this problem and leave my computer functioning perfectly and meeting my needs at least for the next year.  But I don't know what I want from them that's within the realm of possibility.

My best guess is still that the problem is with Western Digital drives and that a Samsung drive should be tried, but the Dell website no longer sells non-SSD Samsung drives (and introducing SSD at this point would be the opposite of controlling for variables).  They did sell non-SSD Samsung drives in December, but they seem to be gone now.  So I can't reasonably expect them to provide parts that they don't have. 

I'm worried that they'll ask me to send it to the depot again so they can try other things, which I really don't want to do.  I feel like I've already been cooperative enough by allowing it to be sent to the depot once for a problem that occurred under an on-site service warranty, and like I've already been inconvenienced enough being without my computer for 4 days for something that didn't even fix the problem. I don't know what my response would be if  they told me that's what the next step is.

It does occur to me that the next step might be to replace the computer, and I don't know how I feel about that either. Apart from the boot-up problem, my computer still works beautifully, and I've heard that replacement systems are refurbished and therefore sometimes not always particularly good quality, so I'm afraid that I might end up with something worse.  My computer was very customized and upgraded, and even at the age of 4 years it still surpasses current entry-level systems. I don't know if they'd even have comparable refurbished systems available, and comparable new ones from Dell retail for close to a thousand.I'm also afraid that if they did replace, they'd want me to send my old computer back before sending me a new one, which would leave me computerless again, for something that may or may not end up being comparable.

So at the moment I'm quite content to wait patiently for their response, avoid shutting down my computer as much as possible, and enjoy my regular everyday life with my regular everyday computer.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Things I Don't Understand: shiny glass computer screens

My first flat computer monitor (and, in fact, every subsequent monitor) was a 17" LCD monitor with a screen that's made of plastic (or, at least, something softer and less shiny than glass).  I don't know what this kind of monitor is actually called, but I like it.

But I've noticed that more modern computer monitors, especially those with wide screens, have screens made out of a shiny glass. If you go into a store and shop for monitors, you find a lot of monitors made out of very shiny glass, and far fewer made out of the less shiny plastic.

I don't understand why they do this. The shiny glass screen greatly increases glare, and seems like it would get dirty far more readily.  I don't like it at all, but it seems more and more difficult to get a plasticky less-shiny screenof the style that has far less glare and doesn't get dirty as easily.

Why did they change it?  What's the advantage?  Why are the less-shiny plasticky screens harder and harder to find?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stress and resilience: an inconclusive braindump

As you've probably noticed, these past couple of months I've been finding myself disproportionately stressed about things that don't actually constitute real problems, like having to choose condo finishes and computer problems and a shortage of fanfiction.

This is a clear demonstration of the fact that I'm too easily stressed and not resilient enough to live in the real world.  But what do I do about this?  Braindump on my blog, of course!

***


By chance, I was recently required to take a (useless and unnecessary) training session on "change management".  It included a component on resilience, which I was looking forward to, but unfortunately it turned out to be useless.

According to the training, one of the things you're supposed to do to make yourself more resilient is self-care.  But the problem is that in my experience, resilience only becomes necessary in situations where your usual self-care is unavailable. I need to be resilient in the face of the loss of my fanfic happy place, and my fanfic happy place is a key part of my self-care. I need to be resilient during 2 weeks without  my computer, and my computer is a key part of my self-care.  I need to be resilient when dealing with condo drama that, if not properly addressed, will result in suboptimal housing, and optimal housing is a key part of my self-care.  If these things that threaten my self-care didn't exist, I wouldn't need to be resilient.

Another thing you're supposed to do to make yourself more resilient is live your values. We were told to list the traits we hate in others, then identify the opposite of those traits.  Those opposites are our values.  This exercise led me to identify my values as socialism and Wheaton's Law, which sounds about right.  But the problem is that I don't see how being socialist and not being a dick would equip me to deal with the unprecedented (to me) challenge of choosing condo finishes or the stress of eventually moving, or even the lesser stresses of a fanfic drought or two weeks without a computer - to say nothing of real problems that will likely happen to me someday, like unemployment or bereavement. My values aren't even relevant to the situations that require resilience. It's like advising someone going through a divorce to adopt a vegetarian diet - it just has nothing to do with the situation at hand.

I don't know if my emotions work differently than other people's or if the training was just spouting platitudes, but the ideas they presented weren't even on the same plane as resilience. Not sure what I'm supposed to do with that.

***

One issue that has become apparent to me in recent months is that my destressers are very externally dependent, which isn't very resilient.  Fanfic works beautifully, but I'm dependent on people writing new fanfic. Other fandom also works beautifully, but I'm also dependent on new creations from my fandoms - there's a diminishing return on the destressing benefits rereading/rewatching. Gaming works fantastically, but I'm dependent upon having a gaming-capable computer.  A good night's sleep and a long hot shower help, but that's dependent on quality living conditions.  Food and alcohol work, but that's dependent on my usual resources being available, and also comes with physical limitations. (As much as I'd enjoy it, I can't be tipsy and cramming cheese in my mouth every minute of every day.)  There is nothing that destresses me that isn't dependent on other people and/or circumstances.

***

Anti-materialistic people often say that the problem is seeking happiness in the things that money can buy, and that instead you should get happiness from your interpersonal relationships.  But interpersonal relationships are also entirely dependent on other people. They can abandon you of their own free will. They may be unable or unwilling to give you what you need.  They may not be available when you need them.  Interpersonal relationships can, of course, be rewarding, add to your happiness and improve your resilience, but they are just as dependent on people and/or circumstances as materialistic destressers.

***

At this point, people usually suggest exercise and/or nature.  But those don't destress me. Exercise makes me angry; nature is best case neutral, worst case a panic attack trigger, while taking me away from the things that actually do destress me, most of which occur in my home. 

***

Which is the problem with finding a new destresser.  Obviously, if I wanted to proactively seek something to replace my missing fanfiction, the way to do it would be to make a concerted effort to try out random things until something gets the desired results. But the problem with doing that is it would take time away from the tried and true, so it has to be approached carefully and measuredly.

Analogy: Cheese isn't available to put on my salad, but salad is still good. But if I just went around throwing other things on my salad willy-nilly in a desperate attempt to find a replacement for cheese, I could ruin a lot of salads. When I've had a difficult, stressful day and I'm desperately craving a yummy salad, it would probably be a bad idea to experiment and risk not getting my craving filled - and, in fact, risk becoming even crankier because something that I thought would fill my craving didn't.  And, of course, the flaw in this analogy is that it's easy to eat around a non-yummy ingredient in a salad, whereas the impact of stressers and failed destressers on stress levels and energy flow can't be quite so easily circumvented.

***

Historically, my destressers have always come to me organically, through my reading and other media consumption.  And my reading already follows a system that provides a good balance between known enjoyments and discovering new things, so I don't know if it can be further forced to provide me with the very specific form of new things I need to replace my lost fanfiction.

All of which is to say I don't have any answers, and I'd probably completely shatter if any real problems came along.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Dell needs to empower its employees to keep the company's promises

As I've mentioned before, every computer I've owned has been from Dell, and I've been completely loyal to them my entire adult life, but I've been losing my trust in them during the life of my current computer.

I just realized that this loss of trust can be boiled down to one thing: the employees aren't fully empowered to keep the company's promises.

Here are two recent examples of lack of employee empowerment, how they made me lose trust in Dell, and how they would have won back my loyalty if the employees were fully empowered.

The Warranty Extension Problem

About 2 months before the four-year on-site service warranty I purchased with my computer expired, I got a mailing from Dell offering me the opportunity to extend my warranty.  The mailing was customized, with my name, computer type, purchase date, existing warranty details, and even my service tag number.  I called the number provided, and spoke to a gentleman who was prepared to sell me a warranty extension for a reasonable price.  I agreed, and as he verbally reviewed what I'd just purchased, he mentioned that this extension was for mail-in service.  "Wait," I objected, "My warranty is for on-site service!"  He insisted that there's no such thing as on-site service for laptops, even though that's what I have and I had successfully had a technician dispatched to my home for a previous issue with this computer. So I told him I had to think about it before paying that amount for mail-in service, and hung up.

Then I reached out to @DellCares on twitter.  When I told them the situation, they told me there's no such thing as an extension of a four-year warranty, even though I had a customized mailing offering me just that and the gentleman on the phone had just offered to sell me one, just not with on-site service.  I showed them a picture of the customized mailing, and they told me I must have received it by mistake.

Since @DellCares thought warranty extensions didn't exist, I figured I should take what I can get and called the phone number again. But the gentleman I spoke with this time told me this wasn't the number for Canadian service (even though it was printed on my customized mailing sent to my Canadian address and they'd offered to sell me a warranty not an hour earlier) and gave me another number to call.  I called that number and got what sounded like a US television provider (I forget the name), saying that they can't accept toll-free calls from outside the US.  So I called Dell back and, weirdly, got the same representative. He gave me another phone number that was one digit off what I'd written down.  I repeated it back to him and got it confirmed, but when I called it I got what sounded like a fax machine.

I went to the Dell website in an attempt to find the correct phone number and, as I was logged into my account, discovered I had the option to buy the warranty extension online!  Awesome!  The price was higher than the first gentleman I'd spoken with named, but it included on-site service and was available at the click of a mouse! I bought it, immediately got a confirmation email, and that was that!

Or so I thought.

A month later, when my hard drive began failing, I called tech support, and they mentioned that there was only about a month left on my warranty.  Wait, what?  I just bought an extension!  Long story short, my warranty extension somehow didn't go through.  It didn't appear on my account, and my credit card wasn't billed.  If the hard drive problem had come just a few weeks later, I would have been out of warranty without even knowing it!  Unfortunately, the warranty representative I spoke to wasn't able to sell me the same warranty I thought I'd already bought.  She could only sell me mail-in service.  I offered to send her the email showing that I'd bought it through the website previously, but she had no mechanism to receive emails from clients.  Nor could she put me in touch with someone who could fulfill this promise - the best her supervisor could do was reduce the price on the mail-in service.

So despite the fact that Dell twice promised me the opportunity to buy an extension of my on-site warranty, both times entirely on its own initiative with the promise generated by its computer systems that were well aware of the age and nature of my computer system and my geographical location, I couldn't get in contact with a person who could sell me this promised warranty, even though the price I was willing to pay was more than the cost of an entry-level laptop at a Boxing Day sale.

The On-Site Service Dispatching Problem

As I mentioned before, I'm currently going through some very mysterious technical problems. I've been through extensive troubleshooting over a period of weeks, and had every hardware part that could possibly be involved replaced, yet the problem persists.  The technician I've been working with says all that's left to be done is send it to the depot.


The problem is that this technician is not sufficiently empowered.  The entire process has been completely logical, and I totally understand from a diagnostic perspective that having it looked at in person is the next logical step, but he has no mechanism to dispatch an on-site technician to make a diagnosis.  They can only dispatch on-site technicians to install specific replacement parts that are dispatched as a result of remote diagnosis.

On top of that, he also has no mechanism to dispatch a different brand of hard drive.  This is an issue because the boot-up failure only happened with Western Digital drives, not with the previous Samsung drive, so it's a variable that hasn't been eliminated.  (Also, it's the only remaining variable to eliminate that either I or the telephone tech can identify.)

So, despite the fact that I cheerfully paid a premium for on-site warranty service back when I purchased the computer, I still have to send it in to the depot (and therefore be computerless for two weeks).

What would have happened if these Dell employees had been empowered

If these employees had been empowered, I would be singing Dell's praises and they would have won back my blind loyalty.

For the warranty issue, if either the warranty rep or the @DellCares person had been empowered to extend my on-site service warranty, I would have been thrilled.  It never occurred to me that a warranty could be extended before I got the mailing in the first place, and when I got the mailing I thought "This is the solution to all my problems!"  (My problems being that the early signs of hard drive failure were manifesting themselves without my recognizing them, and I don't really want to buy a new computer this year, hoping instead to wait for Windows 10.)  If I'd gotten a warranty extension, I would have blogged and tweeted enthusiastically about how awesome Dell is for anticipating my needs.

But because they weren't empowered, I feel tricked and abandoned, and have lost trust in them since a transaction just somehow didn't go through despite my being sent a confirmation email, I got no notice whatsoever that it had failed, and resolving the problem was simply not possible.

For the tech support dispatch issue, if the telephone rep had been empowered to dispatch a different brand of hard drive to rule out that variable, or to dispatch a tech to diagnose on site when it became apparent that we'd eliminated every avenue for remote support, I would take this as a reminder of why I was loyal to Dell in the first place. Even if it took multiple tech visits to solve, I'd be delighted that they're taking such good care of me. Dell's on-site warranty support has saved my ass with every computer I've owned, and if they'd been able to do the same with this one, they'd have completely won me over. I'd be totally loyal to them once again. I'd be blogging and tweeting their praises. When buying my next computer, I'd go to the Dell site without even considering comparison shopping and buy the best gaming laptop available with the best warranty possible.  When people are discussing what kind of computer to buy, I'd say "I always go with Dell because their warranty service is so awesome!"

But because the tech wasn't empowered to do anything except have me send my computer to the depot and therefore spend at least two weeks computerless, I'm stressing out, I'm googling for information about Dell's depot service and finding horror stories, and I feel betrayed and tricked and abandoned that I have to send my computer out despite having purchased on-site service.
 

One Dell innovation that I appreciate is after you call tech support, the tech you speak to is assigned ownership of the issue.  You get an email with a tracking number, and you can email the same tech back if you  have further problems.  They'll give you further support by email or arrange a callback at a convenient time.  I love this because it means you only  have to wait on hold and explain your problem once.  After that, it's just a continuation of the same conversation, occurring at your convenience.

And the telephone tech I've been working with is awesome. He's perfectly polite at all times and above-and-beyond patient.  I have no objection to his technical skills - his initial pre-googling knowledge is greater than mine, and there was nothing I could google up that he didn't already suggest.  Thanks to Dell's system of having a single tech take ownership of the issue, he's gotten back to me promptly every time I've emailed him, and I've been notified of his expected return on days when I've emailed him while he's out of office. Dell just needs to extend this to its logical conclusion, so my awesome tech has the authority to do everything necessary to solve my problem rather than being forced to leave me with the stress and uncertainty of sending my computer into a void.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Today I learned you can add pages to archive.org!

If you look up an active web page on archive.org (aka the Wayback Machine) and they don't have it archived, you get a page saying:

Wayback Machine doesn't have that page archived. This page is available on the web! Help make the Wayback Machine more complete! Save this URL in the Wayback Machine

If you click on the "Save the url in the Wayback Machine" link, the page will automatically be added to the archive!  (Unless, presumably, its robots.txt file prevents this.)


Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books read in December 2014

New:

1. Crashed by Timothy Hallinan
2. As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes
3. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
4. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
5. Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason
6. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler
7. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor
8. The Ig Nobel Prizes by Marc Abrahams

Reread:

1. Treachery in Death
2. New York to Dallas
3. Chaos in Death

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Fanfic drought

Another recent stressor has been that the In Death fansite has stopped posting fanfiction, and another reliable source has not yet materialized.

The In Death universe is my current fandom happy place, and a steady flow of fanfic is a vital part of maintaining that happy place.  Rereading isn't nearly as effective at giving me the same happy as a new story, and since there are only two novels and possibly one novella a year (I know this is a lot for an author to write, but it isn't a lot for a reader to read), I turned to fanfic.  When I worked in the office and I had to do an emotionally devastating translation, I'd take a break to walk to the nearest wifi hotspot and open up the day's fanfic updates on my ipod.  Then I'd maintain my equilibrium by taking breaks in the In Death universe throughout my workday. When I have a panic attack, I deal with the trigger, have a glass of wine, call a friend if I need to be talked down, and then read fanfic until I can't keep my eyes open any longer.  When, in the course of day to day life, I get a feeling that's best described as "I wanna go home!", there's an implicit "...and read fanfic!" to it.  If I go home and there isn't any fanfic to read, the "I wanna go home!" feeling isn't 100% assuaged.

My latest round of condo drama was in November, which is NaNoWriMo, and therefore a lean period for fanfic as our authors try to write their novels instead.  And I'm sure a good part of the reason why this condo drama was so stressful for me was that most days there wasn't any new fanfic for me to read, so I couldn't fully reboot my brain as much as I needed to.

At this point, some people will feel moved to recommend things for me to read instead.  While I always welcome reading recommendations, that is a solution to a different problem.  The problem here is not something to read, the problem here is something to make me feel a certain way.  I can't articulate this feeling apart from "fandom happy place" and "rebooting my brain", and only new, quality content from my current fandom happy place makes me feel that particular way.  This is a very rare phenomenon.  It has only happened before with Harry Potter and Eddie Izzard.  Harry Potter fanfic doesn't work any more because I got closure on the fandom with the final book.  Eddie Izzard doesn't have fanfic, what with being a real person rather than a fictional universe, but I got this same feeling from watching everything he's ever done.  However, I caught up on Eddie completely, and now new stuff arrives only sporadically.  The vast majority of my ongoing fandoms don't generate this happy feeling.  Even Star Trek and Monty Python never generated this happy feeling, even though they were my primary fandoms for well over a decade.  I never even had this feeling before Harry Potter.  It's quite rare, and not readily reproducible.

So not only do I have no new fanfic to reboot my brain and take me back to my happy place during the two weeks when I'll be without my computer, but I also have the looming spectre of no reliable source of new fanfic for the indefinite future. Even though I still have my other amusements and comforts, this casts a certain gloom over everything.

Analogy: the effect of In Death fanfiction in my brain is like the effect of cheese in salad.  You can make a salad without cheese, but it's yummier and somehow more complete with a wee sprinkling of cheese. The flavour of the cheese complements and enhances the flavour of everything else, and it just doesn't satisfy my needs quite as well without the cheese.  While I can handle a salad without cheese without too much complaint, the prospect of a future without a reliable source of cheese is terrifying!


I know that some people reading this will have thoughts about the appropriateness of fanfiction as a happy place and other things that would make more appropriate happy places. If you feel moved to share these thoughts, my upcoming post or two (haven't yet worked out if it will be one or two posts) on resilience and emotional management will be a more useful place for them.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Contemplating my next computer

All of my computers have been Dells, always because I got at least five years out of the computer and was extremely happy with their warranty support.

With my current computer, I've had a number of experiences (not all of which I've blogged) that have led me to question my loyalty to Dell.  These aren't so much technical problems, but customer service problems - not getting call-backs when I'm supposed to, people on the phone who aren't empowered to keep promises made to me by the Dell website or personalized mailings I received, repeatedly getting my call dropped when getting transferred to the person who can allegedly solve my problem, etc.

Because of this, I'm not automatically going to Dell for my next computer.  I haven't done comprehensive research yet, but the internet suggests that other brands like Asus/Acer (I don't remember which it was - obviously I'll have to research more) may have better components, so I'm considering looking for higher quality elsewhere.

But, at the same time, my current problems make me realize how much I value warranty support. I'm aware of the economic argument against extended warranties, but, for hardware problems especially, I like having the option of making it someone else's problem.  But I haven't been able to find any other companies that have warranties as long or comprehensive as Dell's.

The internet has also suggested the possibility of buying from Dell's "small business" store rather than their "home" store, on the grounds that the "small business" end of things apparently has better user support.  I haven't looked into that extensively, but it's on the table.

At this point, someone usually suggests that I build my own.  I'm reluctant to do so because I'm clumsy.  After observing technicians dismantle and reassemble my current computer, I'm afraid that if I tried to build one myself, I'd use too much force or something trying to snap components together and break some circuit board or plastic bit, rendering the whole thing useless.  Paying money for components and putting time and effort into assembling them with the end result being a computer is one thing, but paying money for components and putting time and effort into assembling them only to destroy something and create an expensive paperweight is another thing. My computer is too important to me to put it at the mercy of my fine motor skills.

And, at this point, someone usually suggests that I get a Mac.  But I'm reluctant to do so based on my experience with other Apple products.  I don't particularly want to pay a premium for something that's soon going to be treated by the manufacturer as obsolete and non-maintainable, at least as compared with my current technology usage patterns.

But another option might be to start treating my computers as disposable, i.e. spend only a few hundred dollars for something that I don't expect to last longer than a year rather than a couple thousand in an attempt to get five years out of it.  Doing this may eliminate any bad feelings of regret at spending big money on something that doesn't end up working beautifully for many years, and might even introduce an element of happiness when it comes time to upgrade - "YAY, I get a better computer!" as opposed to the current "WAAH! I have to shop for a computer!"  But I don't really feel very good about the idea of deliberately buying lesser quality with the expectation of throwing it out.  In general, it seems more ethical and, frankly, classier to buy quality and longevity whenever possible.

Thoughts welcome. I'd particularly be interested in firsthand experience with warranty support from retailers or manufacturers other than Dell.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Horoscopes

From the Toronto Star (can't find an online link, typos are my own):
This year your creativity soars. You also seem to develop your intuitive ability. The unexpected occurs within your domestic life. With so much going on, you'll want to simplify your life where you can. if you are single, someone you meet in your daily routine could come to mean a lot more to you. You are likely to meet a special person after spring 2015. If you are attached, the two of you might opt to try out a different lifestyle. A fellow Capricorn will be less flexible than you are.
From the Globe & Mail:

A new moon on your birthday indicates that the coming 12 months will be extra special. Wherever you go and whatever you do you will attract the right people at the right time to get the right things done. How can you lose? You can’t – so enjoy it
The Toronto Star one makes me nervous.  It's the sort of thing that sounds good on the surface (like it's pointing to  productivity and good luck and marriage!) but it upon closer reading it sounds more like the "unexpected [occuring in my] domestic life" would be something bad that leads to upheaval, and the creativity, intuitive ability and desire to simplify are born out of necessity during a period of upheaval.  A person meaning a lot more to me also doesn't sound necessarily positive. That would also be true if I had a stalker or an unwanted pregnancy.

The last time my birthday horoscopes made me nervous was in 2009, and 2010 (the year to which that horoscope applied) ended up being the year I developed Entitlement.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

What to do if you're offended at being offered a senior's discount


DEAR ABBY: I was at the hairdresser yesterday, and when I went to the register to pay, the receptionist asked me if I was over 65 "so I could get the senior discount." Abby, I am only 55! I found her question insulting, and several of my friends have had this same experience. I appreciate the young woman trying to save me a couple of dollars, but I'd rather pay full price than be asked if I want the discount.
Why don't businesses that offer senior citizen discounts just post a notice near the register? That way, if a customer is entitled to it, she or he can ask for it when they check out rather than have to hear that they look older than they are. -- INSULTED IN PEORIA, ARIZ.

I suggest that if you are offended by being offered the discount, you should say yes to the discount. Even if you aren't old enough.

By accepting the discount, you are disincentivizing the business from proactively offering the discount, by creating a situation where the more they offer the discount, the more money it costs them.  You're also getting yourself some compensation for your hurt feelings.

Some people will object to this on the ground that it's lying, and if you do object on those grounds you are, of course, free not to do this.  But since some people are apparently so insulted at being offered the discount that they feel moved to write to Dear Abby, I feel that accepting the discount is proportionate retribution.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

BIOS sometimes (but not always) doesn't recognize the operating system on my hard drive

The computer: Dell XPS 15 running Windows 7

In early December, one of the built-in diagnostics found that the hard drive failed a "SMART short self test" and a "targeted read test", which meant that failure was imminent. 

I'm still under warranty, so I got it promptly replaced by in-home service, successfully reimaged, and life proceeded as normal.  I cheerfully chalked this up to my standard "Dell saves my ass with a major repair just before the warranty expires" narrative that's happened with every computer I've owned, and carried on with life.

Two days later, I booted up and it said it couldn't find the operating system.  I freaked out and called tech support, and during one of the reboots that happened while they were running me through diagnostics, Windows suddenly booted up normally.

Over the next several days, this happened every time I booted up.  BIOS wouldn't find the operating system on the hard drive the first time or two (or three or six), but then it would find it for no discernable reason.  And after it did find it and boot up Windows, everything would proceed beautifully.

Over the course of several days, on the phone with a Dell rep whom I've spoken to more than any other human being this month, we ran every diagnostic in the book, repaired the boot sector, reinstalled Windows a couple of times, and manipulated all the potentially-relevant BIOS settings.  The problem still persisted.  Boot-up failed more often than not, but once it succeeded everything worked normally.

From a technological standpoint, this problem would occur somewhere in the connection between the hard drive and the motherboard. So, finally, they had a tech come in (with the beautiful in-home warranty service I paid a premium for when I bought my computer) and replace my motherboard and my hard drive.  I reinstalled Windows, booted up successfully a couple of times, reimaged, and got on with life.

But then, the next morning, the problem reoccurred again!  BIOS didn't recognize that there was an operating system on the hard drive, despite the fact that literally everything that might be contributing to this problem had been replaced!

So now they tell me that the only choice is to send it in to the depot, which would leave me without a computer for a total of 7 to 10 business days.  This makes me very sad.  My computer is central to my social life, play and creativity (fortunately I have another for my work), and is the absolute core of my happy place and self-care. The idea of being without a computer for 2 weeks is a grey cloud lurking over my head. I literally feel like there's something ominous standing behind me.  I told the tech (and he agreed) that I don't want to send it out before January so it doesn't incur further delays what with all the statutory holidays this time of year, but even though I get to enjoy my computer during this difficult holiday period, I'm still feeling impending dread about the prospect of 2 weeks without it.

I understand from a diagnostic perspective why they'd want to look at it in person in a depot (I found myself thinking during this process that it would be faster if I could just take it in somewhere and sit down with a tech at a workbench who had a lot of different tools and components and just try stuff out), but it's just disheartening to have to be without a computer for so long when I've already paid a premium for a warranty that includes on-site service.

There's one factor in all this that we haven't been able to test or rule out: the brand of the hard drive.  Both replacement hard drives that the BIOS doesn't reliably recognize have been Western Digital (which was also the brand of the external hard drive I used to own that was giving me problems.)  The previous drive (which never once had this problem) was Samsung.  When I googled around the problem of the BIOS sometimes not recognizing that the hard drive has an operating system, I found Western Digital hard drives were disproportionately represented.  But it seems like Dell, like most large companies, buys equipment in bulk, so they have no mechanism for providing me with a different brand of hard drive.  I don't know if the depot would be able to do this either.

So that's my current emotional crisis.  If you've ever successfully solved this problem of BIOS sporadically not recognizing the operating system on a hard drive, I'd love to hear in the comments how you solved it!  If your answer is going to be to buy a different type of computer, please save it for my upcoming post contemplating the purchase of my next computer.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Dreams of being stalked

Lately I've been having dreams of being stalked and harassed to an extent that has never happened in real life.

For example:

1. I dreamed I was an astronaut on my way to go to space.  (This is not an uncommon theme in my dreams - quite often I'm an astronaut on my way to space when I get interrupted by people being mean.)  I was walking to my spaceship, and this gang of frat boy types came along and kept blocking my path and catcalling me.

2. I dreamed I was grocery shopping, and one of my purchases was a bottle of champagne.  (Yes, from the grocery store. Apparently my subconscious doesn't know Ontario liquor laws.)  The cashier, who was a very tall, large, imposing teenage boy, packed all my groceries normally, then opened the bottle of champagne and started pouring it over the rest of the groceries.  I was shocked and told him to stop, but he just kept mocking me for not liking him pouring my champagne all over my groceries.  I called for the manager by shouting "MANAGER! MANAGER!" and all the people in line joined in calling for the manager, until the manager eventually came over and made him stop. But then, as I walked home, the cashier started following me and yelling at me for complaining that he'd poured champagne all over my groceries.

The strongest correlation of these dreams is computer-related stress.  If I go to bed feeling stress or nerves because of computer issues, I'm highly likely to have a dream of being stalked or harassed.

Psychoanalyze that!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Things I Don't Understand: smoothies

People talk about smoothies like they save time, but they don't!  Preparing fruits etc. to go in a smoothie requires at least as much preparation as to eat them raw.  If you're going to eat a whole raw apple or peach, you just wash it and eat it, throwing out the core/pit at the end.  But if you're putting it in a smoothie, you have to cut it open and remove the core/pit.  And that's before we even get into the question of whether you need to cut things up somewhat before putting them in the blender (depends on the nature of the fruit and the nature of the blender, I'd imagine).

In addition to the utensils, dishes etc. required to prepare the ingredients and serve the smoothie, you also have to wash the blender that you make it in, which is probably harder than washing the rest of the stuff given the thickness of the smoothie.

And the texture of the smoothie is another thing - it's too liquid to feel like you're eating so you don't get the satisfaction of "Yay, I just ate some food!" but it's also too thick to drink easily and mindlessly. 

Unless you, like, don't have teeth or something, I see no advantages whatsoever and every disadvantage over eating actual food.  But the vast majority of people who think smoothies are the be all and end all of healthy eating appear to have teeth.

What gives?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Blogger is imposing captchas on me against my will

Recently, captchas appeared on my comments pages.  I didn't put them there, my comment settings have Word Verification set to "No", but they're still there.  I even see them when logged in with my own account as blog author!

And to add insult to injury, my spam comment queue is still full, with multiple spam comments a day.  This means the spammers are getting past the captchas, but the captchas are still there inconveniencing real people who might want to comment!

Not impressed, Blogger!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Extended public celebration of Christmas is unkind to children

My fairy goddaughter, who just turned 3, is getting impatient about waiting for Christmas.  Some days, the fact that Santa isn't coming tonight reduces her to tears!  Yes, it's just a couple of weeks away, but think about that in terms of proportions: she's 3 and I'm 33, so 2 weeks for her is like 22 weeks for me. That's nearly half a year!

Stores and TV channels and media in general have been in xmas mode since the beginning of November, for a total of nearly 2 months of christmassing.  But, for my fairy goddaughter, that's like 22 months, or nearly 2 years!  Imagine hearing "Santa is coming soon!" for 2 years!  And imagine this in a context where Santa coming is The Most Exciting Thing You Can Imagine, and where you haven't yet developed the cynicism to say "Meh, that's what they always say"! 

I think it's extremely unkind to get my fairy goddaughter's hopes up for such a painfully long time.  If Christmas is supposed to be for the children, it should be scaled down to something the poor kids can manage!