Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Easy as Dell!? %$#@%&!

If you check back to my November 9th entry you will find this throwaway line, "So I cancelled the order from Dell".

To refresh your memory, I had ordered a memory card and a video card from Dell for my daughter's computer. The video card was back ordered so I cancelled it and bought one from Best Buy. Although the actual cancelling of the order was less than simple, I didn't think much of it at the time but following events brought it to mind. So let me start at the beginning.

I called Dell to cancel the order and was immediately reminded that Dell had transferred their customer service for non-business customers to India. Because of complaints of bad service, business customers are still being handled in the USA but us lowly personal computer owners apparently don't require stellar customer service. Anyway, the person on the other end spoke English, although with a thick Indian accent. I told him that I wanted to cancel part of the order, specifically the video card because it was backordered. He told me to wait and after a few minutes he came back to tell me that the memory card had already shipped, which I knew since I had already installed it in my daughter's computer. I again explained that it was just the video card that I wanted to cancel. He again put me on hold. Eventually he came back and told me that he had sent an email to the people in the US that would cancel my order and everything should be fine. So, let me get this straight Mr. Dell, you transfer American jobs to India and then don't even give these people the tools to do their job? He has to cancel my order via email? What kind of madness is this?

Flash to ten days later, and sure enough the video card arrives at my house. I call Dell again and again I get someone in India. I explain the situation and he seems to understand the issue. He puts me on hold. A few minutes later he comes back on and tells me that he is waiting for a response from the return center so I can get a return authorization number. Although he didn't state "email" I strongly suspected he was waiting for one. A few more minutes and I got my return authorization number. UPS picked up the box without any trouble.

This whole thing could have been avoided if (a) Dell's web site gave accurate information about the length of time you need to wait for back ordered items or (b) the people in the service center were given the proper tools and the proper training to do their jobs!

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Family Bonds

Family BondsWhat led me to my earlier entry about Long Island was the HBO program, Family Bonds. It got me started wondering about what other people think about Long Island. Do people think of Amy Fisher when they think of Long Island? Do people believe that shows like Family Bonds reflect Long Island? Obviously, in one sense Family Bonds does reflect Long Island. The Evangelista family is part of Long Island. But in another sense they are caricatures of Long Island, reflecting only one sample of Long Islanders.

If you haven't seen the show, then you have missed an entertaining although odd program. The show is about the Evangelista family, who live in Medford. Tom Evangelista is a bail bondsmen and the show in part is about his business and his occasional hunting down of bail jumpers. What makes the show truly entertaining, however, is the family. HBO describes them this way, "the most outrageous, fun-loving, and wild (yet somehow functional) real-life family on TV". Tom's family is made up of his wife, his married daughter, his two sons, nephew, and various in-laws.

One of my favorite scenes involves Tom's mother who has a sick dog. The vet tells Tom that he needs to get a stool sample from the dog so he tells his mom to get it. She says, "I'm not going to get it. You get." Tom says, "I'm not getting it." The scene ends without any resolution. As the credits finish, we see Tom in his mom's backyard with a flashlight hunting for a stool sample. What a good son!

Anyway, if you think the Evangelistas represent Long Island then you right and you are wrong. Long Island is a big place with almost 3 million residents and one family can not represent life on Long Island. But they are Long Islanders.

Review - Pro Jakarta Velocity

Pro Jakarta VelocityAnother review, of a five star book on Amazon. I have to admit that I am a fan of Velocity so I may be biased. After all, I even wrote an article about Velocity. The book covers Velocity from end to end. There is little that I could find missing from the book where I would say, how could he have left out X. Good examples, clear writing, just a nice job overall.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Long Island

Long IslandI have lived on Long Island my entire life. I often wonder what the impression of Long Island is of people who have never been here.

What Long Island really is all about is difficult to pin down. It's hard to even agree on what Long Island is. Ask someone from the area and they will tell you that Long Island is Nassau and Suffolk county. A person from Brooklyn would never consider themselves a "Long Islander". But physically, Long Island encompasses four counties including parts of NYC. Going west to east they are Brooklyn and Queens which are part of New York City, and Nassau and Suffolk. The entire island is 118 miles long (it is a long island, the longest adjoining the continental US) of which 85 miles is Nassau and Suffolk. At its widest point, the island is about 20 miles wide. Living on Long Island, it is very easy to forget that you live on an island (at least until you want to get off it).

The population of Long Island is larger than most cities. Including Brooklyn and Queens there are about 8 million people on Long Island. The population of Nassau and Suffolk is about 2.8 million. Generally, the further east you go, the less populated the island is (except for the Hamptons in the summer). For those who are interested, the population density of Nassau County is 4,655/mi²!

Long Island is often thought of as a "bedroom community" for New York City and to some extent that is still true although most people on Long Island don't work in NYC. Long Island is made up mostly of single-family detached houses. Median household income on Long Island is pretty high (although the cost of living is high) and the education system is generally excellent. Many top-ranked colleges are on Long Island. Many top-ranked hospitals are here as well.

The weather on Long Island tends to be moderated somewhat by our proximity to the ocean but we have definitely have four distinct seasons. Did I mention we have 1,180 miles of shoreline including some of the nicest public beaches in the country?

Some Info about Long Island:

Long Island History

Wikipedia - Long Island

Special bonus picture from my front door:
My Block

Monday, November 15, 2004

Review - Effective Enteprise Java

Effective Enteprise JavaAnother review, this time of an excellent book. I gave it five stars on Amazon. This is similar to the book Effective XML, in that it is a collection of various topics. You could open the book anywhere and start reading an item and not feel lost. Not a tutorial or reference but more like a collection of articles by someone who knows the topic.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good: Mikey has been qualified for the Medicaid Waver program. This is going to be a huge help. We are already getting extra therapy in the house for Mikey and we will be getting an aid soon. I think this is going to take a lot of pressure off of everyone especially with Michel being sick. Which brings us to...

The bad: Michel needs more surgery. Her Chiari Malformation has developed to the point where they need to put a shunt in and do some extra work at the base of her skull. This will require two surgeries, two days apart. The plan is to put the shunt in on December 14th and do the other surgery on the 16th. Michel will be bald for Christmas! She will be in the hospital for five days. Fortunately, Michel's parents will be staying with us and I have some vacation time left over. I just hope that this is the last of the surgeries.

The ugly: We went out to a barn dance with our friends on Saturday. My sister, Barbara, (who lives in Medford near the stars of Family Bonds) watched Mikey while Beth had a sleepover at a friend's house. It was good to get out and see some of our friends. The ugly part? You should have seen them dancing! ;-)

Friday, November 12, 2004

Review - Java Garage

Java GarageI just wrote a review of Java Garage by Eben Hewitt. I gave it two stars on Amazon. I think this is a book that could have been good but the author was too much into this I have to be different mode.

I noticed that the book got several very good reviews on Amazon and one review similar to mine. That review seems to have been hit with a bunch of unhelpful votes. Some people miss the point and think that the voting on Amazon is for whether you agree with the review or not. The question is, was the review helpful.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Memory, Cards, Roller Coasters, and a Kiss

MeIf you recall from a few days ago, I had bought Roller Coaster Tycoon 3 for Beth for her birthday. But darkness reigned o'er the land as it was revealed that great heaps of memory and fancy new video cards are needed to run the complex 3-D games of today. So it was off to Dell to order the above mentioned items. Dell was quick to deliver the memory but the video card was backordered. Not to worry, Beth, the box from the game says we can run the game with the pitiful old 32meg video card that you have in your computer. But it was not to be... the game complained that more and more was needed. And darkness once more descended upon the land.

So I cancelled the order from Dell and went to Best Buy where I got the required 128meg video card. Installing the hardware was easy. When I installed the memory, Windows XP recognized it instantly and started using it. But the video card was different. Installing the card was not too hard. Pop out the old one and slip in the new one. Plug everything back in and start it up. Insert the installation CD and install the drivers. reboot. Uh-oh! A blue screen of unhappiness has appeared on the monitor. Start it up again. OK, this time it starts and we get to windows but we start the game and again the blue screen appears. And there is much gnashing and wailing at the evil name of Gates in the Paul household.

Let's google ati3duag.dll which seems to be the offending program. Hits! Someone else had the same problem and they installed the updated drivers and all was well. Off to the ATI web site and download the new drivers. Uninstall the old, reboot, install the new, reboot. Looking good so far. Start the game and... rejoicing! O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! Daddy is the hero!

Well was it all worth it? Beth came down and said, "Daddy, this game rocks!" and gave me a kiss. So, yes, it was well worth it!

Sunday, November 07, 2004

The Blogger Hits 46

MeToday is my birthday and I turned 46! Dwight Eisenhower was President when I was born. The Giants and Dodgers had just completed their first season in California. Movies released in 1958 included Vertigo (I always liked that film), The Bridge on the River Kwai (top grossing film of the year) and Attack of the 50 Foot Woman. Ice-T, Madonna, and Dan Castellaneta were born that year. It was also the year my wife was born. You can read more about that wonderful year here.

Today was a nice day. The weather was perfect and the kids and I played in the front yard throwing leaves in the air. It's better than raking. The wind carried all the leaves over to my neighbor which is only fair since I don't have any trees on my property. I took Mikey for a drive and we listened to his current favorite song, "Word Girl" by Scritti Politti, about 100 times. My son obviously has excellent taste in music. Michel didn't have a great day. She overdid it a little (laundry, cleaning) while Mikey and I were out and was hurting for the rest of the day. My mother-in-law gave me 47 cents. I think it was one cent for each year and then a penny for good luck. Either that or she miscounted.

Mikey is in bed and Michel is resting so I'm going to watch a little football and work on the NY Times crossword until 10:00 when my new favorite TV show, Family Bonds comes on. I think that show might be the subject of a blog entry!

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Post-Election Tales

Here are a couple of post-election stories that caught my eye and I thought were interesting/humourous:

In the first one, we learn that people from Ohio think the British are "weenie-spined Limeys" and have "pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions."

Brits' campaign backfires in Ohio

In the second story, we are reminded that people get the government they deserve:

'Mystery Candidate' Wins Without Campaign

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Fall and the Wind

WindmillThe Fall is my favorite time of the year. Crisp, cool weather replaces the hot, humid New York Summer. Today was a beautiful Fall day. It had rained hard yesterday but today was clear windy day with temps in the mid 50's. The wind was blowing the leaves off the trees and now there is a pile of crunchy leaves in front of my door. The Fall brings perfect weather but it also brings wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables. I bought some NY Macoun apples today but it also the time of fresh local grapes and fall squash.

All this wind (plus a post about alternative energy sources by Helen Thomas on JavaRanch) has reminded me of the Long Island Offshore Wind Initiative that has been in planning for a couple of years. The plan is to build windmills about five miles offshore where the wind blows almost constantly. If all the windmills that are planned are built, the windmills would provide 5,200 megawatts of power and supply 77% of Long Island's power needs. We would have cheap, pollution free power and eliminate most of our need on foreign imports. If we used Canadian hydroelectric or solar power for our remaining needs, we could eliminate virtually all polluting energy sources for Long Island's power.

Of course, a proposal like this doesn't come without critics. The main criticism seems to be aesthetics. The windmills will be visible on a clear day from our beautiful beaches. Some people have complained that they will be an ugly eyesore against our previously pristine views. Here is a simulated picture of the windmills. I wonder if the builders of windmills in Holland received the same complaints from those who didn't want to ruin the views of tulip fields. There is also the question of cost and cost effectiveness. To determine the practicality of windmills on Long Island, a small wind farm of between 25 and 50 windmills will be built. They will produce about 100 megawatts of power, enough power for 100,000 homes. It is estimated that the wind farm would be complete by the end of 2007.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Happy Birthday Beth!

BethToday was Beth's birthday. She turned 12 today which means she is only one year away from being a teenager!!! Accepting that I have a daughter who is practically a teenager is not easy expecially when it is so easy to remember when she was small enough to hold on my forearm. I think that is one of the reasons that it is hard for parents to accept their children growing up... because we remember them as being so little as if it was yesterday.

Anyway, Beth got the two things that she really wanted, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 1 Box Set and Rollercoaster Tycoon 3. Plus we had KFC for dinner and Carvel cake for dessert, both of which are Beth's favorites. Everything was perfect except that I found out that Beth's computer doesn't have the right graphics card to run Roller Coaster Tycoon so I had to order an upgrade from Dell. Anyway, all we will be well when the new card arrives.

So, Happy Birthday Beth! You are the best daughter any father could ask for.

Monday, November 01, 2004

A Peak at Some of the Family

Forgotten-NYMy wife's cousin, Kevin, has a really cool web site called Forgotten NY. The idea behind the web site is to capture the images of New York that are part of our past. Kevin explores all over new York and captures images of abandoned buildings, old faded advertisments, streets that no longer exist, etc. It makes for a fascinating way to look at New York City.

Anyway, Kevin also has a blog and his entry for July 22, 2004 includes a picture of the family. Open it up in a new window because Kevin describes the people in terms of his relation to them. I will describe them in relation to me. If you are looking at the picture, the first thing to point out is that I am not in it. I was home watching Mikey that day while Michel was in Brooklyn helping Kevin. The second thing to keep in mind is that this is my wife's family so you are basically looking at my in-laws.

So, Eileen (2nd from left) is my sister-in-law. She is Michel's sister. (Michel, for those who haven't been paying attention, is my wife.) To the left of Eileen is her husband, Tom. To the right of Eileen is my mother-in-law, Mary King. She is from Newfoundland and has an accent that everyone thinks is Irish. Although I pick on her and she drives us crazy sometimes, she is an absolute lifesaver and has been an incredible help especially since Michel became ill. In front of Mary are Eileen's two sons, Brian and Patrick. That makes them my nephews. Well, they are my nephews because they are Eileen's kids not because they are standing in front of my m-i-l. I mean, not every kid who stands in front of my m-i-l is my nephew. But I digress. To the right of Mary and slightly behind her is Michel's cousin Tina. She lives in Phoenix but happened to be visiting. [Ed. - Michel has reminded me that Tina didn't happen to be just visting. Tina had come to NY to help us after Michel's surgery.] According to my daughter, Tina is tres cool. Next to Tina is my wonderful wife. I would go on here about what a lucky man I am to be married to her but I don't want to make this too long! In front of Michel is my daughter, Beth. Beth is an absolute treasure. I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate to have these two ladies in my life. And last but not least, the handsome gentleman all the way on the right is my father-in-law, Jim.

Missing from the picture is Michel's brother, Jim and his wife, Kathleen, and his two kids, Tracy-Anne and Timmy. They weren't able to be there that day.

So there you have it. That is the family that by the law of the great Empire State, New York, I am officially related to.

A New Blog

I started a new blog called Java Book Reviews where I intend to post my reviews of books related to Java and programming in general. There are a couple of reasons for doing this. First, I want to syndicate my book reviews to JavaBlogs but I don't want to syndicate all the other things I post on this blog. Since Blogger doesn't support categories, my only choice was to create a new blog for the book reviews. Second, I don't want to clutter up this blog with the book reviews.

In the future I will just post a short note here whenever I post a new review. I am not going to delete all of the reviews that are here because some of them have comments but at some point I will delete all the reviews that don't have comments.