Saturday, January 31, 2015

Books read in January 2015


1. The Hangman by Louise Penny
2. Ruth's Journey by Donald McCaig
3. The World of Post Secret by Frank Warren
4. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
5. Tenth of December by George Saunders 


1. Celebrity in Death

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

10. 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


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

Update: It took a second, more stressful depot repair to fix the problems by applying the solution I thought of in the first place.


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!

If you look up an active web page on (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.)