Saturday, July 31, 2010

Summer Reading

It's moving on day. This afternoon we're getting on a flight at Newark and heading back home.

We are both very excited to begin setting up our new house, and are looking forward to the work and challenges after almost six months of not doing much work at all. But, as happens every time we come back to see our families and friends, it's always a little sad to be saying good-bye one more time. At least we have the comfort of knowing we'll be back during the holiday season at the end of the year.

This has been a wonderful week with Walt and Terry. They are great friends and perfect hosts, and probably the only regret we have is that we can never reciprocate because I don't think they will ever take the long haul to Oz.

There haven't been a lot of posts this week because there wasn't a lot to post about. It has been an absolutely lazy time with near-perfect summer weather, a big pool and beer in the fridge. I've taken advantage of the time to devour some books on the Kindle.

In fact, since we got the Kindles we have both read far more than we did in the past. We've downloaded more than 70 books since November and have already read more than half of them. It's like getting back to where I was when I was younger and read constantly.

In one sense I am a little surprised to find that the e-reader makes such a difference, but on the other hand the same thing happened with iPods. Suddenly, I started to listening to so much more music now that it was easy to get, easy to carry and easy to listen to. Publishers who worry about smaller profits on books for the Kindle, iPad and Nook are crazy. I am sure they are going to sell so many more books now that these devices are pervasive.

But enough analysis of the electronics industry. Since just about all I have done this week is eat, drink, swim, read and play online poker, let me wrap up this wonderful week (and wonderful trip) with three of my favorite quotes from the books I read here.

Michael Lewis has written a fascinating inside look at what went wrong in the financial industry leading to the Global Financial Crisis. His book is "The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine" and it's not just a dry work about finance. Check out this quote about when one of the few people who saw the train wreck coming started analyzing Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO) that helped bring down so much of Wall Street:

Looking for bad bonds inside a CDO was like fishing for crap in a Port-o-Let. The question wasn't whether you'd catch some but how quickly you'd be satisfied you'd caught enough.

One my favorite TV chefs, Anthony Bourdain, has written a fun book that is really a series of essays about various topics related to his life - and not always his restaurant life. In "Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook It," he has a hilarious description of the ultra-rich "beautiful people" he encountered on a Caribbean island:

. . . They're so ugly, these "beautiful people They wear the same ugly clothes, designed by the same misogynistic old queens - who must privately piss themselves with laughter seeing their older, richer clientele squeezing into these outfits . . . leading one to the observation that the style-makers themselves, the people who decide what the world will wear next year, who's pretty, what's "hot" and what's "not", are uniformly hideous beyond the lurid imaginings of Cub Scouts round a campfire. Just look at the guest judges on Project Runway or America's Next Top Model - or at the front row of any fashion show - and you'll get the idea: a dumpier, less attractive more badly dressed bunch of customers would be hard to find outside a suburban Dress Barn. Rick James - in the 70's - could never have gotten away with what Karl Lagerfeld wears every day.

And to think he can cook, too.

And finally, after an unnatural dose of non-fiction I went for light fare. Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum mysteries are some of my favorites. I can never read them without laughing out loud at several points. In "Sizzling Sixteen" the best character in the series, overweight ex-prostitute Lula, comes up with her new recipe to shed some pounds. It sounds so good that I think I may try it.

I'm only getting one doughnut, Lula said, getting out of the Firebird. I'm on a new diet where I only have one of anything. Like I can have one pea. And I can have one piece of asparagus. And I can have one load of bread.

Time to get moving. Next post from Sydney.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


It's another glorious, warm summer day here in New Jersey. Everyone else had gone off shopping, and I was sitting under the umbrella at the pool playing online poker and listening to the iPod when Pretty Flamingo played. It made me smile, thinking of that long-ago time when LK had danced to it and said it was the best song ever.

And then I did the equivalent in my mind of saying, "Oh my God!" for I realized that moment happened on this trip, not in years past. We have now been traveling so long that the early part of the trip seems like a distant memory.

I suppose it's natural. After all, we haven't slept at home since February 12. Of course that's because we haven't had a home since then. It's not that the travels haven't been interesting and that the visits to friends and family haven't been great, but it really is getting to be a long time on the road.

Since we handed over the keys to our Greenwich house, we have slept in 51 different beds, including those on three different ships. (Of course I count the Spirit of Tasmania!) In fact we've been on two ocean liners and three different ferries, two trains, nine different flights, and have driven in eight different cars (not counting taxis).We have been in 15 countries and wandered around 59 different cities or towns.

Probably the amazing thing is that we're still speaking to each other. Or to be exact, we're both still finishing the other one's sentences.

I am absolutely not complaining. This trip has been a once in a lifetime thing. We've done it because we love to travel and once we realized we couldn't get into our home until August, it seemed like a great way to spend the time. But at the risk of becoming one of those people who complain about a good thing, we are both starting to smile like kids on December 24th when we think about once again climbing into our very own very high bed.

I can honestly say that we are ready to head home. To be precise, to our new home.

And in the meantime, sitting around a pool and counting up all the good things we've done in the last five months isn't a bad way to spend the last week on the road.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tale of the Tape

It's a little hard to believe, but we are nearing the end of our journey. We're visiting Walt and Terry in Freehold, New Jersey, and this is the final stop before we return to Oz. Then it's two nights in Sydney, one night in Canberra to catch up with Jason and Laura, and then a drive down the Hume to the ferry taking us to our new home.

We've been to so many places and spent time with so many old friends and family on this trip, and finishing it off with a visit to Walt and Terry is the perfect ending. They were our dearest friends when we moved to Oz 22 years ago, and they've remained dear friends through the distance and time since then.

One of the great things about getting together with them is that they never fail to entertain us with great stories. Whether it's family, friends, work or the neighborhood, something interesting - and usually quite funny - is always happening to them. Like this tale about Terry's brother Joey and his wife Dorothy.

In their late 50's and after decades of marriage and with five adult children, Dorothy - whom the family has always called Dee - decided that it was time for a change. She told Joey she thought it would be a good idea if they led separate lives but continued to share the family home. Kind of a quasi-divorce with the benefit that you can now date other people but without any of the nuisance of actually having to find somewhere else to live or take responsibility for your own bills.

Not surprisingly, Joey disagreed and the slow process of getting a divorce began. They had to sell their home, and, despite the fact that most of the world thought he was getting the raw end of the deal, Joey initially agreed to let Dee have the proceeds of the sale.

At some point Joey cleared his stuff out of the house and stashed it in boxes. Except it turns out it wasn't just his stuff. Unaware of what he had done, Joey had packed a couple of audio tapes when he was collecting his belongings. And, as most of us would assume, these were tapes Dee made, in which she talks with a psychic and discusses, among other things, the affair she's been having while she and Joey were married.

OK, maybe some of you didn't assume that these were tapes of Dee talking with a psychic. If so, you are probably the sort of person who also wonders why anyone in their right mind would ever make such tapes. And, if for whatever reason they did make them, why they would ever keep them. And, if for whatever reason they kept them, why they would just leave them around for their soon-to-be-ex-husband to find.

To which I can only say, "Go figure."

No matter. Having discovered the truth, Joey changed his mind about being so generous with the terms of the divorce. And that led to some fairly charged moments when Joey and Dee and their lawyers met to hammer out the final terms of the divorce.

Joey now demanded half the proceeds from the sale of the house. Dee countered by demanding her tapes back. As a two-time ex-husband, I have to tell you that seems like a very fair swap. Apparently, though, the harsh reality of the situation came as a bit of a surprise to Dee.

Her lawyer tried to play on everyone's sympathy, talking about how she would have to reduce her lifestyle if she didn't get more out of the settlement. Remembering that she had started this ball rolling in the first place, this didn't have a lot of impact on Joey. Partly, I assume, because he was still angry over her deception. But mostly, I suspect, because it was fairly easy to ignore her lawyer who, much like a minister at a funeral who has never met the deceased, kept calling her "Poor Dotsy", a name Joey had never heard in all the decades he had known her.

But hey, it's a new life for all concerned. I say if she wants to be Poor Dotsy from now on, then that is her right.

Now the real reason for sharing this tale with you is not to warn you of the dire consequences that may arise if you make a recording in which you talk with your psychic about how you are cheating on your spouse and then leave the tapes around where he can find it. No, I am assuming most of us have that one figured out already. Especially those of us who have left mobile phones around with text messages from our girlfriends - and you know who you are, too!

No, the real lesson to learn from this tale is how unexpected consequences can flow from not being happy with your chosen lot in life. After decades of married life, perhaps you feel you can understand the allure of a little variety. But if you are tempted, just keep this picture in your mind:

As the negotiations wrapped up, Poor Dotsy began weeping. Realizing how much she had lost and how poor her future prospects now looked, she sobbed, "All I wanted to do was date!"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Super Hero

My brother-in-law Dave is one of the nicest guys I have ever known. He is a hard worker, a wonderful husband and father, a great friend. The best thing about Dave is that just when you think you have him pretty well pegged - gentle, kind, mild-mannered - he shows another, more "inspirational" side.

The last time I posted about him I described his heroic effort in combating the ferocious and vicious groundhogs that were threatening the neighborhood. I hadn't known this side of Dave as hunter and defender of the home.

Then this week he showed yet another side - consumer advocate and activist. He is a legend in the making.

Peg had written a $200 check to get some cash to make some payments. She made it out to Dave and asked him to go to the bank and cash it for her. Dave, being the wonderful son-in-law that he is, didn't think twice about it.

Now some would say it was the attitude of the teller that brought about the drama. Others would insist that it was just Dave's strong will and absolute commitment to justice and fairness for all. No matter what the cause, here's what happened.

The teller was indeed a bit rude and snotty. That is unusual here in Pittsford where most of the store clerks and such are overly friendly and snotty. But I digress. The point is that Dave had taken a bit of a dislike towards this young woman as he endorsed the $200 check.

"And how would you like your $195?" she asked him.

"As part of my $200," he told her.

With the exasperation and condescension that only bank tellers seem to have mastered, the young woman explained to Dave that there were bank fees for cashing the check, and she was going to keep $5 out of the 200.

Since the check was written on an account in that very branch, Dave couldn't quite understand why they got to keep the $5. He told this to the teller. She told Dave that if he had an account there himself, she wouldn't charge the fee. He told her he didn't have an account there.

She (and I can picture her rolling her eyes a little here, although I cannot say for sure that happened) explained right back to him that bank policies were in place, a teller like herself could hardly override these policies, blah, blah, blah.

Dave fumed a bit but he took the envelope with the $195 and left the building.

This is kind of like the moment when Clark Kent rips off his tie and eyeglasses and becomes Superman. For Dave had no sooner returned to his truck than he became Super Consumer Advocate Dave. As Howard Beale before him, Dave was mad as hell and he wasn't going to take it anymore.

Super Consumer Advocate Dave marched back into the bank. He spotted a management-type woman sitting alone in a glassed-in office, and he walked in on her. "Can I help you?" she asked, to which David replied, "I want my 5 dollars." Apparently the woman signaled for security - a fairly typical bank response to consumer advocacy. And also, evidently, a fairly typical response to a man who looks quite angry and insists on getting $5.

Anyhow, others from the bank joined the woman and she and they kept insisting to Dave that he was fighting bank policy and just couldn't win. Super Consumer Advocate Dave, on the other hand, just kept saying, "I want my 5 dollars."

In the end, the regional bank manager, who happened to be in the building ended up in the woman's office. Faced with the dilemma of bank policies that even he couldn't challenge and a super consumer advocate whose sole mantra was "I want my 5 dollars," the man made what I consider a superior executive decision.

He reached into his pocket, took out his wallet and gave Super Consumer Advocate Dave a five dollar note. SCA Dave was satisfied, the course of justice was preserved, his job here was done. He left the bank.

All of which leaves me with just a couple of questions:

1. What's going to happen the next time mild-mannered Dave returns to the bank with one of Peg's checks?

2. Will the regional manager expense the $5 he gave Dave out of his own money?

3. Aren't we all lucky that Dave forgot he did have an account there, so we got to meet Super Consumer Advocate Dave?

Anyhow, for those of you intrigued by this story, here is some additional recommended reading:

The Real Groundhog Day: A post describing Super Hunter Dave and his battle with vicious urban vermin

Bank On It: A post describing the not so desirable consequences when LK got angry at her bank

"The Boys in the Bank": This article by P.F. Kluge was the inspiration for "Dog Day Afternoon", an excellent movie about how things can get a bit out of control inside a bank. (Remember "Attica! Attica!")

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Genius Bar

I am going to give you my feedback about my recent visit to the Genius Bar, but you need to know something right off the bat. None of those people in the picture look anything like the people who work at the Genius Bar we visited. In our determination to get our two MacBooks working again, we had plenty of time to observe the geniuses at the bar (and, yes, "genius" is the job title Apple has given them).

While I am sure they are all very nice people - and certainly the guy we ended up with is - I don't think Central Casting could have done a better job of getting the cast ready for Revenge of the Nerds, Part 14. It was quite amazing to see the variety of looks. Although each person was quite different from the others, somehow they all had managed through haircut, facial hair and clothing to convey to the world that yes, indeed, they are geeks and proud of it.

But that was all a distraction to the main reason we were there. Our Macs wouldn't start and we wanted them fixed.

The main problem this night was that lots of people's Macs weren't working, and at one point probably a third of the people in the store were unhappy Mac users hanging around (and around and around) near the Genius Bar. It's an interesting phenomenon. From the outside, and even from just inside the doors, the Apple Store looks incredibly busy. But if any customer were to actually pay attention to what is going on, they would soon realize that most of the people aren't really looking at new products to buy but were hanging onto old ones to fix.

(And in hindsight it probably wasn't a great idea to have two tables at the front of the store full of iPhone 4s, since no one was looking at them following their well publicized performance problems. That had the effect of dividing the store into thirds: potential customers stood in the middle third, sandwiched between displays of a product that doesn't work very well and people with products that weren't working at all. And they say Apple is brilliant at marketing.)

We had gone online and made appointments to see a genius about our problems. As the clock ticked past the designated time, we started to get more and more annoyed. Especially because their overhead displays show the list of who is next and my name went from third to second to first to second to first to second.

Nothing makes you more territorial than feeling like your place in a queue is being stolen by someone else, but I couldn't really see any evidence of that. I assume that like so many things by Apple they simply didn't have a very good computer system running their information sign.

We did observe lots of the staff moving from here to there and back again without seeming to accomplish much. We were jostled. We were tired, having driven all afternoon to get to this store from our starting point in Vermont. "I am close to going postal," LK said at one point. But unless she planned on attacking people with her MacBook Pro, I didn't think any of us were in serious danger.

I did, however, briefly fantasize how Apple Marketing would handle a news story in which an angry customer injured several people with her MacBook Pro. "Proving again its great versatility, the sleek, lightweight MacBook Pro can be easily and accurately thrown . . ."

Finally Mark, a very pleasant young man, called my name. When I described my problem to him, it turned out that he had been the pleasant young man who had spent so much time on the phone with me two weeks ago. At first he seemed more interested in finding out if he had actually been successful in getting Apple to ship the operating system disks to me, but then knuckled down to the task when I explained that I had received the disks within a couple of days but they still had not helped me get the laptop to boot.

After doing the computer doctor's equivalent of telling my laptop to cough, Mark then hooked up all sorts of stuff that brought loads of data onto the screen. "Hmmm," he said. It was a Hmmm like you hear when you tune in to hear the day's news and get Glenn Beck instead. He hooked up more stuff, Hmmmed some more.

Finally Mark looked up and said, "This is quite embarrassing, but apparently when they installed your new hard disk they forgot to format it." He explained how normally they do all this stuff and load all this software, but I wasn't listening. All I was hearing in my mind was "I'm going to get my laptop back! It's going to be healed! I can play poker without LK wanting her laptop back!" Somewhere in the recesses of my mind Gloria Gaynor was singing "I will survive."

It was just about at this point, though, that LK looked up at the screens and said rather angrily, "Hey my name was third on the waiting list and it's not there anymore!" It was like those moments in the movies: I was no longer aware of any of sound in the room and as I turned toward my bride everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. I looked not at her face but at her hands, desperately hoping she had not somehow acquired some Apple-logoed weapon.

But no worries. Mark eased the tensions immediately. "Oh, don't worry. When you said you two were together, I just put you down on my list. While I load the software on his MacBook I will take a look at yours." We were both growing very fond of Mark. And Linda discreetly put something short and sharp-looking back on the counter.

LK's MacBook had stubbornly refused to start up a few days ago. You could hear the drive chugging away, but the screen remained dark. I tried every recommendation at the Apple web site support section. I even tried it a day later in case the computer had just been tired and needed a little lie-down.

When Mark returned a moment later, he opened LK's MacBook and pushed the power button. The screen sprang to life, as if it had not a problem in the world. "Oh," I said, "it's fixed. There's nothing wrong anymore." When Mark gave me a skeptical look, I was reduced to telling him, "I swear it wasn't doing this before."

I then explained how I had reset PRAM and SCM and booted from OS disks and all the other things I had tried. I was starting to sound like a desperate (failed) wannabe nerd and Mark was just smiling benignly.

"It healed itself," LK said. "We believe that a lot of machines just need a little rest and they heal themselves." I know I put this theory forward in another post, but I must admit it sounded a bit (quite a bit) airy fairy sitting there at the Genius Bar with a guy who fixes computers for a living. But actually the theory is from our friend Andrew, who also happens to fix computers for a living, so I'm not positive Mark thought we were just another pair of Baby Boomer New Age nutjobs.

After our experience at the Apple Store, I talked about computers with Sandy and Dave the other night because Jordan is getting one as she heads off to become a university whiz.

I told them that I thought the Apples were the very best for pictures, music and movies but that PCs like Dell were probably better for word processing, spreadsheets and databases - the sort of stuff that you really need a computer for in college.

Jordan listened to her parents recount my opinion. She then replied, "Of course he would say that. His Mac isn't working." It says something about the power of Apple's brand - trendy, cutting edge, sophisticated - that this very intelligent young woman failed to see the irony in that statement.

I can only hope that she gets Mark when she ends up at the Genius Bar.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The New York State Thruway Tour

We have completed the Pittsford-to-Pittsford-to-Pittsford round trip and are back in Pittsford, New York having left Pittsford, Vermont yesterday. Rather than go all the way east to catch the six-lane Northway, we drove the back roads through Saratoga Springs and Ballston Spa for a while and seemed to make better time by cutting off a fair number of miles.

An interesting thing happened in Ballston Spa. I knew I should take Route 67 but when we came upon the intersection I wasn't sure in which direction. Navigator LK, who had been through this town once before coming from the other direction, said to go right. I didn't go that way.

Of course, when I pulled into a service station to find out which way to go, LK was proved correct. As we backtracked, I told her that she had my full permission to make navigational choices when we are driving. I told her if I debated the decision in any way, she was to say, "Donald, when we were in Ballston Spa, you told me to remind you that I am always right about these things."

In an unexpected moment of modesty, LK responded that she wasn't always right but she did happen to remember going down this street the other time we went through.

The four-hour trip on the New York State Thruway is like a quick tour of Europe without any of the old buildings or charming sites. In the case of Amsterdam, where we entered the Thruway, it was very disappointing not to be able to order marijuana brownies at the Starbucks. Realizing that these places were similar in name only, we whizzed past exits for Rome, Danube, Frankfort, Syracuse, Liverpool, Geneva, Lyons and Palmyra.

Since these places in New York are not even geographically much like their European counterparts, it is pretty easy to guess that the folks who named them either came from those places or had taken a really memorable holiday there back in the late 18th Century. (In the case of Syracuse, it must have been a package holiday tour, because when they named it they first applied for Corinth which was rejected because some other place in New York had already grabbed that bit of Olde Europa.)

And there are plenty of traces of some ancient history and classics buffs wandering across New York giving places names that sound pretentious enough to belong to be on an Ivy League university campus - Homer, Ilion, Minoa, Seneca, Tyre, Camillus, Manlius and Junius.

Mind you, not every place name is snooty, as we also passed on the opportunity to stop off and check out such places as Little Falls, Jacks Reef, Root, Weedsport and Wampsville. At least those seem to have been named in an attempt to describe the place itself, although I am not exactly sure what a Wamp is.

But the drive across the state makes it pretty clear that when it came to naming places, most of the early New Yorkers either added the word "New" to some European place or just skipped the "New" and gave it the same name. So it is no surprise to discover that Pittsford, New York was named by a guy from Pittsford, Vermont. But that was talked about in an earlier post.

Our micro-European vacation across New York State ended at the Thruway stop for Victor. This is the town where the mall with the Apple store is located. And we had made the trek across New York because we had an appointment at the Genius Bar to get our MacBooks back up and running.

LK had never exited the Thruway at this stop, but agreed it made sense to get off here rather than shoot past the mall and backtrack. Despite growing up just a few miles away, she had no memory of ever having been in Victor. And it became clear pretty quickly that we were doing the equivalent of driving around aimlessly hoping we either A) stumbled upon the mall or B) saw a big sign "Mall This Way, Dummies". Neither happened.

As we continued on our way I saw three road signs. One was to continue on the road we were on. One went to the tollbooths of the New York State Thruway, and the third was onto a highway that I knew would at least take us to Bushnells Basin, familiar territory and from which we could find our way to the mall.

LK suggested I just stay on the road we were on. "I'm pretty sure this will take us to the mall," she said. Have you ever been here before, I asked. When she said no, I made an executive decision. I had been driving six hours and didn't feel like taking the chance of wandering for another hour, so I got on the highway to Bushnells Basin.

LK sighed and said, "We're going to go right past the mall on this road. In fact, look, there it is." And, despite my best effort to convince her it was another mall, She-Who-Knows-Shopping would not be wrong this time. Of course the nearest exit was at Bushnells Basin and we sped well past the mall. I won't even discuss the brief detour onto an old rest stop in the vain hope there was some connecting road to the mall. Let's just say when the sign says "No Trespassing by Order of NY State" you're pretty sure this isn't Alternate Exit 3B.

When we got off, we headed back to the mall. I couldn't help myself as I pointed out that it was in fact on the route we had been driving on before I got on the highway. So, yes, LK was in fact correct when she said to stay on it. But I do blame her in this instance. After all, I had told she should say, "Donald, when we were in Ballston Spa, you told me to remind you that I am always right about these things." But she didn't remind me, and I made the wrong choice.

At the mall we went to the Apple store with our laptops. But that's for the next post. But here are a few previews:


LK: "I think I am about to go postal."
Apple guy: "Oh, this is embarrassing . . ."
DK: "Trust me, it wasn't this way before."

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Good Luck Tour

I am writing this post on my mother's computer. That is because, believe it or not, Linda's laptop stopped working yesterday. Hers was an Apple MacBook Pro, and I had been using it as my backup once my MacBook Air stopped working. Given that my Apple iPod also bit the dust in April, I am beginning to suspect that Apple may just be a subsidiary of BP.

The loss of our last laptop with two weeks to go on this trip isn't a total wipeout because LK bought an iPad two weeks ago. But given that it too is an Apple product, I now have my doubts about whether we will still be reading our e-mails in another couple of days.

Strangely, this continued failure of technology (I've also lost a GPS, a mobile phone and a Kindle e-book reader since February) hasn't even been the worst part of this week. No, with two weeks remaining before we return to Oz, the Don & Linda Good Luck Tour is starting to run out of - well - good luck.

It got really bad Wednesday when my Dad scared us by falling in the kitchen. The bad news was that he fractured three ribs, but the good news is he didn't break anything else. So life is extremely sore and painful for him right now, and getting out of bed is proving to be one of the toughest parts of his day. But ribs do heal over four or five weeks, and he will improve. And maybe there is an upside as he will now start to do some PT to strengthen his legs and keep him from taking another tumble.

Then this morning I was able to prove that my head is harder than a window pane. I was raising one of the windows at Bob and Deb's where we are staying, when it slipped a track and fell on my head. Little damage to me except for a slice across the brow, but I was sitting there holding the frame so it wouldn't slide down further, and I was covered with slivers of glass with big, jagged pieces lying on the floor around my feet.

Fortunately LK was across the table and she took charge. I am sure she was a little freaked out since blood was running down my face, and it was impossible to tell how bad the damage was. But first she had to figure out how to get me away from all the broken glass so she could assess what was going on. I certainly couldn't do it since whatever happened was on top of my head and out of sight.

It turns out that General Linda is pretty good at organizing in a crisis. She got my flipflops (actually my new more fashionable flipflops) so I could walk without slicing my feet. She brought me outside and, with Bob's help, set up a blanket and a lawn chair so she could try to get the glass slivers out of my hair without leaving them around for someone else to step on.

All was going well. She picked the glass out of my few cuts with tweezers, and then proceeded to get the rest out of my hair. She decided to flush out any she had missed by using the garden hose. That's the hose with the ice water in it. She was incredibly efficient in getting me to the point where I could shower and finish the job, but she has a lot to learn about spraying very cold water on someone.

It turns out that I only have a slice on the forehead and a couple of little jabs on my legs. Like a kid who needs to show you my booboo, here's a picture of it after it's all been tidied and cleaned. And as a bonus, it is the first official blog picture of my new beard.

So there you have it - more broken PCs, broken ribs and a broken window. I am beginning to think it's time to end the Good Luck Tour.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Back Story

Such a long time between posts!

I would like to say that life here in Rutland has been so active and full of excitement that I just haven't had time to write. But since my mother raised me to try to tell the truth (except when it would hurt someone's feelings by telling them they're ugly), I can't do that.

Fact is, other than my predicament with the Apple laptop not working, I haven't had a single idea for a post since we drove here last week. Today, though, I am writing about something that happened yesterday. I hurt my lower back.

How I did it is a mystery. After my shower, I was standing at the bathroom sink trimming my new beard when I felt something in my lower spine that seemed to be looking for a way to wiggle out of there. I swear if my body were a cartoon, you would have heard Boing!!! for miles.

My reflexes in this instance were amazingly quick. I knelt naked on the floor and curled in the fetal position. Funny, now that I think of it, but that is my reflex to most of the stressful situations I find myself in.

At some point I felt as if whatever was going on in the lower back had decided to stop and I gingerly stood up. This was a key accomplishment because the option was to yell Help and have someone give this fat naked guy a hand getting off the floor.

The lower back was tender and a little sore, but I think major disaster was averted. Probably most worrying to me was that this happened when I wasn't doing anything. I wasn't bent over, I didn't cough, I was just standing there. Ah, I love being 62!

I did my back in a couple of times when I was in my 20's - once by trying to lift something way too heavy and not bending my knees (who knew those posters at work were serious?) and once while sitting at a table and sneezing. On the frailty scale, I think I ranked 7 or 8 out of 10 for injuring myself by sneezing, but apparently I'm not the only one who has ever done that.

The slight pain I am feeling now is very minor compared to those times, both of which are hazy in my memory as all I can really recall is taking muscle relaxants and lying on the floor.

That's not quite true. I do recall going out with my then-wife Mary even though my lower back was injured. A friend of ours had volunteered to watch Ben and Tom. Mary and I hadn't been out for an evening in months, so we happily said yes.

With my back hurting, I was worried about having to sit in a restaurant or theater, so we opted for a drive-in theater. Mary had a great idea. During her pregnancy, she had worn a maternity girdle - one that held you firmly in the lower back but had latex that expanded as your front grew. Or, that expanded over your fat gut if you were one of the few guys in the world wearing a maternity girdle.

It actually helped the lower back pain a lot, and I was watching Easy Rider at the drive-in. It was a double feature and in between movies I hobbled off to the men's room for a wee. The lines were long, and when I finally got to the front I unzipped only to see a solid wall of latex that I had forgotten about.

With the long line impatient behind me, I had a couple of options. I could pull my pants down and lower my maternity girdle in front of everyone or I could just zip back up and let the next guy through. Or, if you're me, you could worry about what total strangers think of you in the men's room and stand at the urinal a proper amount of time before imitating a shake or two and then zipping up. I then went outside and waited a couple of minutes to go back in and get in line for the toilet stall.

And even then I was praying that no guy would look under the door and see a girdle around my ankles.

So, by earlier standards I guess this year's entry in the back pain derby is far down the list. And it does have its up side. We've canceled a ride to the factory outlet stores in Manchester today.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

MacBook (Rep)Air


As a friendly face behind the Genius Bar, you’ll be able to take the thorniest questions and answer them in plain old English. Do hardware and software troubleshooting. Provide basic customer training. And perform timely repairs. All of which make for some very happy customers.

From the "Jobs at Apple" page on


Dear Apple Person

I am writing to you on my blog because you don't seem to put e-mail addresses for store managers on your websites. And yes, I know from your web site that they are actually called Apple Store Leaders. ("Store Leader may be the official job title, but Visionary is more like it.") I looked for that name, too, and didn't find it. Otherwise, I would be writing to that person. But I've got to say, for such a friendly "Can I call you Don?" sort of company, it is a little surprising you don't make it easy to get in touch when there's a problem.

I should also tell you that I am writing on my wife's computer because my 2-year-old MacBook Air isn't working. For the second time in two years. Yep, it's the one that stopped working two weeks after I bought it. And then it stopped working a few weeks ago. And now, most interesting, it's still not working even though I got it back from your service department yesterday.

It took two weeks to replace a faulty hard drive, but when you returned my MacBook Air to me, the woman in the store apologized for the delay and said the store wanted to give me a 50 percent discount. I was most impressed. So impressed, in fact, that I started telling anyone who would listen how I had been wrong earlier and you really are a kind and caring company. Of course, you were just teasing me.

For when I went to boot the computer, all I could get was an icon of a folder with a question mark on it. And while the icon was perfectly apt in describing my feelings, I really would have preferred seeing the icons on my desktop appear on the screen.

Obviously I should return it to the service department - oh, excuse me, I forgot you call it the Genius Bar - but that can't happen. We are now far away from your store and in a couple of weeks we will be back in Australia. Maybe it's my fault for not testing the laptop when I picked it up, but I honestly didn't think I would need to. And now I'm five hours away in Vermont and there's no Apple store anywhere around here.

I spent several hours this morning following your online guides to solving this problem. I hit the start button along with the C key; I hit the start button along with the X key. I hit the start button and held down the Command-Option-P and R keys. Still that little question mark kept blinking at me and the computer would do no more.

So I went the major, heavy techie, super-geek solution route. I decided to reinstall the operating system, as your website suggested. That, of course, posed its own challenge since my Macbook Air doesn't have a disk drive. Two years ago I paid extra for it because I loved its trim proportions and the fact that it was so light. It only dawned on me today that it's so trim and light because you took most of the stuff out of it, like Ethernet ports and disk drives. And only today have I begun to wonder why a stripped-down laptop costs half again as much as a fully loaded one. But let's save that question for another day. Like when we discuss my wife's new iPad.

Back to my immediate problem I did see on your site, though, that I could attempt something called "Remote Installation of OS X (the Operating System)". I put on my white socks and sandals, tucked the plastic pen holder in my pocket and set to work. I used my wife's MacBook Pro and my sister-in-law's copy of the operating system.

And for once in my life, I followed instructions carefully. That's miracle No 1. Then I actually was able to start running the software in LK's laptop on my laptop. Big miracle No 2. It was a slow process, maybe 10 minutes or more, but finally I got the message. "Unable to Install OS X on this computer." As miracles go, 2 out of 3 ain't bad, but it left me back where I started.

So, giving up on solving my own problems I called the store that had failed to fix the computer. Oh, excuse me, they called it fixing the computer.

I was put on hold for more than five minutes when I was finally told I was being transferred to AppleCare, your national pay-for-support help line. Listening to the mechanical voice as it began to tell me which button to push for which option, I chose the big red button and hung up.

Which is when LK stepped in. She called the store back, and whereas I got the runaround and a quick transfer, she proved her mettle. I was in awe of her skills and must really try to remember such lines as "No, no, that's not what I need and won't help solve anything;" "That would be nice if you hadn't already taken two weeks to fix a simple problem, but it won't do now;" and the clincher, "What I really don't understand is how you people could tell a customer that you have fixed their computer and you obviously didn't even turn it on to see if it worked. What is the matter with you?"

No transfer to the AppleCare number for my sweetie. She was put straight through to a repair guy at the store. Her task completed, she handed the phone back to me.

As so often happens, this techie - oh excuse me, this Genius - was really nice and really pleasant and seemed to be trying to help. I almost started to forget that he was probably the one who did the initial "repair". He explained that I had basically done everything they would do first and it probably needed to go back to the shop. He checked for nearby stores and confirmed what we knew. None are close.

Then in a sudden flash of illumination, he said, "Wait a minute. The OS X version you're trying to install remotely. Is that for a MacBook Air?" When I explained that it was a MacBook Pro, he had an "Ah!" moment. Apparently the OS X disk is different from one type of Mac to another.

"Funny, they don't seem to mention that on the web site," I said.

"No, they don't, do they?" he said.

Anyhow, he's shipping me a MacBook Air OS X disk and I will try to fix it all again one more time.

But, Apple Store Leader Whom I Would Have Written To if I Knew How, I've gotta say - I would gladly have paid full price for the repair to get the job done right. I had not understood that it was half price because you didn't bother to complete the work.



Sunday, July 4, 2010

Exterior Decorator

Just quick random thoughts on this 4th of July in the US as we head to a brunch, the final event where we'll see the family at this reunion.

First, it is a very good thing that we are going to get into our house in four weeks. It finally dawned on me that LK needs a project to be happy, and setting up the new home, renovating parts of it and decorating it will be fun for her.

Because, for the past several months she has not had a house and to compensate she has made me her project. I should have had an inkling when she suggested I grow a beard. It is so unlike her that I should have spotted right away that is the spousal equivalent of redecorating the house. She's renovating me.

Then the other day she bought me flip-flops. Two pairs! They're leather, Donald, and they look so much nicer than the ones you're wearing, she insisted. I argued that I didn't want the second pair. Told her my philosophy was to buy one pair, wear them till they needed replacement and then buy a new pair. I don't need a closet full of flip-flops. And truth be told, I really don't like having to choose which footwear to put on in the morning.

I finally became aware of how full-on her renovation of me has become when I picked the clothes to bring on our two-day trip to the family reunion. Very practical: a couple of shirts and a couple of pairs of underpants. When I opened the suitcase, there were a couple more shirts thrown in. When I got dressed I wore the shirts she packed, of course, because I knew they looked better than the ones I had chosen.

And since I promptly spilled coffee on the light green shirt this morning, it turned out to be really good that I had a backup. But we all know that LK wasn't being practical. She was redecorating her chubby hubby. I suppose I should take some small comfort that she at least didn't feel the need to add a backup pair of underpants as well.

And I can't close without telling you about the Who's On First moment my father and I had yesterday.

We talk about the Red Sox most days, and yesterday I asked him what they were going to do now that their two catchers, Martinez and Veritek, are both on the disabled list.

The conversation went pretty much like this:

Me: Who's going to catch for Boston now?

Dad: Cash.

Me: Yes, catch. With Veritek and Martinez out, who's going to catch?

Dad: (getting a little irritated) Cash

Me: (thinking he's not hearing me well). Yes, catcher. The Boston catcher. Who's going to catch?

Dad: (very annoyed) Cash.

It was at this point I decided that his hearing aid wasn't working and this conversation was going nowhere fast. Until he added: Cash. The new catcher's name is Cash.


And if you want to see the original Who's on First, this should do the trick:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

State of the Reunion

We're in Sharpsville, Pennsylvania for the annual family reunion. Not my family, but Linda's. Yet somehow it feels like my family.

Last night we went to a cookout at Tommy's house - part of the long tradition of this weekend. We haven't attended the reunion for 14 years, but within minutes Ed whom I didn't recall was saying to me, "You're not really that guy from Australia who made martinis, are you? He was tall and thin. Obviously they feed you well in Australia."

I do vaguely recall that Dave and I made martinis 14 years ago, and I know I am the only guy from Australia to ever attend this event. I was never tall and thin. It's interesting that after 14 years Ed remembers the martinis, but not me. Perhaps I didn't make them well enough. Or too well. One or the other, I suppose.

It was only a few minutes later that Phyllis recalled for everyone within earshot how I had made an atrocious drive on the first tee of the family golf tournament. It was a bad shot. OK, it was horrible. The ball went a grand total of about 20 yards, only 2 or 3 of which were down the fairway. The rest of the distance was off to the right and into a bush.

That is actually quite unique for me. When I was golfing most of my drives went off to the left. It didn't help that they were making a video of everyone's first drives, and my effort became the highlight reel that day as people watched it over and over. But no matter, what is endearing is that Phyllis can still remember that bad drive after more than 20 years. And loves to tell everyone about it.

As I said, somehow this reunion feels like it's my family.

And speaking of families, today is Peg's 91st birthday. What a wonderful way to spend it, catching up with so many of her family.

Besides being a great mother-in-law, Peg is also my biggest fan. Last night there were about seven of us sitting around chatting, and Joanne asked if anyone had read her cooking blog. Shortly thereafter, Peg told everyone, "Don writes a blog nearly every day, and it's great. It's the first thing I read when I go on the computer."

Tommy thought for a second and said he only read a couple of blogs and didn't really have time for more. Joanne decided we'd talked about blogs long enough and changed the subject, and my chance to increase my readers into the double digits fell by the wayside. But it was nice of Peg to try. As the old song goes, "We belong to a mutual admiration society."

More reunion this afternoon, and David and I have decided to try to replicate the Bloody Marys we discovered at Dick's Place in Mendocino for the group. We'll see how Ed feels about those cocktails 14 years from now.