Tuesday, March 31, 2009

3-31-09: Let Them Go Bankrupt

I was talking to some colleagues today about the auto industry, most specifically GM. This was in response to the President's speech (see below) talking about how Chrysler needs to partner up and GM might go bankrupt.

Personally, I'm with Mitt Romney, who called out months ago to just let the companies go bankrupt. The President has given the auto industry another 60 days to shape up, which they won't do. They're going to need to go bankrupt, restructure, and come back. Allowing them to bleed to death, on the taxpayer's dime, hasn't helped anybody.

Just let them go bankrupt and get this over with.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Gypsy Kings - Hotel California

When I throw a Cinco de Mayo party, I plan on playing this song (despite the fact that it's by gypsies from Spain and not Mexicans):

3-29-09: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

I remember watching Young Sherlock Holmes when I was in middle school, and how much I loved the world of Sherlock Holmes. I find the romantic environment of Victorian England to be simply intoxicating. I also like mysteries. So, it goes without saying that: I'm a big fan of Sherlock Holmes.

So when I saw that Netflix has the five disc series of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes TV series, I jumped at the chance. I watched the first disc this weekend, and I'm absolutely hooked. Three and a half hours of unabashed joy. I truly can't wait for the next disc to come in the mail.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

3-28-09: Customer Service, a Positive Tale

I have to eat my words a little bit today. A couple days ago I posted a letter I wrote (but never sent) to Panera over something miniscule, but I think important. It had to do with customer service, which is one of my interests. I like to see good customer service.

On Wednesday, before heading to my grad class, I stopped by Radioshack to return a 1/8" to 1/4" stereo plug adapter that I didn't end up needing (turns out I have about a dozen of those). I was in a bit of a rush, and, looking back, was a bit of a jerk. The sales associate began processing my return by asking for my name and address, and I asked "Why do you need my address?" Fortunately, she was patient and explained why.

Right before she handed me my receipt she looked at me and asked "Sir, would you like a million dollars?"

I looked at her, smiled, and quickly responded "No. What would I do with it?" She laughed, and said: "I needed to do something to make you smile."

That's good customer service. Well done, Radioshack.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

3-25-09: Eat the Penny

This is a quick letter I wrote about a visit to Panera this morning. It's my latest battle in my crusade towards better customer service in the food service industry. I've since cooled my jets quite a bit, and won't likely actually send them the letter:

To the Panera Management:

        On the morning of Wednesday, March 25th, I decided to change my routine a bit and stop by Panera in Shelton for a bagel with cream cheese and a coffee on my way to work. I've visited your establishment many times in the past, usually for your delicious sandwiches, but not very often in the morning. I must compliment you on your bagels, by the way, and your coffee is always fresh.

        But I am slightly alarmed by your customer service. Now, let me start by saying that this is in no way a criticism of the friendliness of the staff; it's more of a business mentality observation. You will see via the attached receipt that the total for my purchase of a bagel with cream cheese and a small coffee came out to $4.01. To my dismay, I didn't have any small change on me, so I gave the cashier a $20 bill. Now, normally, at other stores like your competitor down the street, there might be a "Give a Penny, Take a Penny" contraption on the counter for these situations. Alas, there isn't one at your establishment.

        Instead of a "Give a Penny, Take a Penny," I was greeted by two employees, one the cashier, the other a kitchen employee who didn't look quite awake enough to accurately count out my change. The not-so-awake employee was asked by the cashier, for whatever reason, to count out the 99 cents and return it to me along with the rest of my change. I commented, in jest, "Could I owe you a penny later or are you really going to count out the 99 cents?" The not-so-awake employee, in a not-so-awake manner, replied "I guess I have to."

        Now, I ask you this: is it worth the penny? For two reasons, I say it isn't.
First, having two employees stand there while one counts my change and the other watches, while there are no other customers in line for the cashier to serve, probably costs the business more than $0.01. If these two employees both earn, for argument's sake, $8 an hour, that 30 seconds of dead time costs the business $0.13 in wages. The penny is therefore negligible, and neither employee is being productive.

        Second, I, the customer, was standing there watching this transpire. I even commented on it. I now think a bit less of Panera's customer service, and it's all because of one measly penny! Instead of changing my routine to visit Panera once a week in the morning, I might now only go once a month. Had I been told "Oh don't worry about it, it's just a penny," and received $16 in change, I'd remember it in a positive way and would definitely visit Panera more often in the morning. And, on top of that, you'd have two more productive employees who wouldn't be standing around collectively counting 99 cents.

        I realize this sounds insane, but I guarantee my experience is not unique. My co-worker told me a remarkably similar tale of one of his recent visits to your establishment, and he was the first person I spoke to when I got into work with my delicious Panera food.

        All I am suggesting is that you please either change your prices to come out to even dollar amounts, or you look into a "Give a Penny, Take a Penny" contraption (doubtful seeing that it wouldn't really fit well in the Panera d├ęcor), or simply "eat" the penny. I doubt these transactions happen too frequently for it to "add up quickly," and I'm sure it will help with customer relations. You'll get far more out of the penny than you think.

        Again, I enjoy your products very much. This is just a small suggestion to make your business even better. Thank you kindly for your time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

3-24-09: Hockey Monday (late), 1898 Spalding Ice Hockey & Ice Polo Guide

I saw this online today. This has to be one of the coolest things I've seen. It's hockey history:

The 1898 Spalding Ice Hockey & Ice Polo Guide

Monday, March 23, 2009

3-23-09: Diminishing Returns

When I heard about how the Mexican government is offering cash rewards for any information that could incriminate the country's top drug lords, I was reminded of the time when I was in high school and asked my dad why nobody had tried to turn in Whitey Bulger despite the sizable cash reward offered by the FBI for any information that could lead to his arrest.

My dad's answer was simply this question: "How quickly could you spend the money?" He was referring to how dangerous it would be for any informant; you could be dead the next day if they found out quick enough.

But upon hearing the story today regarding Mexico, I thought it might be interesting if there were some sort of study done that looked in to how well cash rewards work, mostly along the lines of how much is enough? If you think about the simple logistics of it, you physically can't spend money quickly enough for some of the amounts. And the relationship is probably exponential (falling rapidly as amount of reward increases): the larger the reward, the less time you'd probably have to spend it.

I wonder if every one thinks about this. I'm sure there are still plenty of tips submitted daily to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies by people with no credible evidence. But are the people with valuable information simply smarter and know the stakes against them? Perhaps. But I'm not really interested in that.

I'd just like to see a study done to determine which rewards would probably be worth it to go after. If you're the FBI, knowing how much is enough to offer (why offer $1,000,000 when $500,000 will do?) and letting people know the "safety factor," you might just get more information. The toughest part is objectively determining which wanted criminals are more dangerous than others, from the point of view of an informant. It would ultimately be focused on how well-connected the criminal is. So, if you have information on some idiot who performs a single heinous act, like an assassination, they're probably just a lunatic and aren't well connected. So, despite the fact that you're dealing with a seriously violent criminal, if you have information, you're probably safer when they're caught. So, offering a substantial reward for those criminals might make more sense, as the "safety factor" would be higher. But then again, most of the time the whole point in capturing the criminal is to take down an organization, so it's a tough call.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009

3-21-09: The Obama "Special Olympics" Joke

I didn't see this until today, but apparently President Obama made a Special Olympics joke on Leno.

After watching it, I can understand how people can be offended. But to be honest, it didn't seem quite as big a deal as it's being blown in to. It was a quick little statement and I'm not even sure Leno picked up on it.

I don't agree with Obama's policies, but I won't go so far as to call him evil or an idiot just because he made one little quip that probably just slipped out. People make mistakes. If anything it's nice to see he's got a more biting sense of humor than I thought he did.

Now let's just remember this moment and try to remember how often President Bush was lambasted for misquotes. All I ask is for consistency.

Friday, March 20, 2009

3-20-09: St. Patrick's Day

Whoa, busy week, but a good one.

Things started off on Sunday with a fantastic time at the Greater New Haven St. Patrick's Day Parade (see some photos below). With the alcohol consumption before, during, and after the parade, things were quite nice.

The parade itself lasted about three hours, and featured Irish groups from all over the state. Some of the towns I'd never even heard of (Deep River?), and some groups were a little more into it than others. My personal favorite was the New London Fire Department, who did a great job at keeping the St. Patrick's Day spirit alive! A good time was had by all.

After the parade it was off to Anna Liffey's, which featured a big tent out back and a mass of people. I saw two firefighters (one male, one female) making out, which was good to see. By the time we'd gotten to Anna Liffey's, I was already well on my way, as was the lady friend and pretty much every one else. There was a live band, and it was a blast.

Two or three hours later we made our way up to The Playwright in Hamden, where another band was playing and more merriment ensued. To be honest, I remember about half of the time there. I think I talked to a guy about Quebec and France for a while. Apparently he was talking to the lady friend and her friend, but he was a nice older gentleman, so I made friendly conversation with him before he was off. Nice guy.

Before I knew it, it was 11:00PM. Where had the time gone?! Absolutely flew by. Seven hours later I was up and had to start the work week.

On St. Patrick's Day itself, which was on Tuesday, I had a normal work day and class that night. But, I was able to meet up with the lady friend and her friends back up at... Playwright in Hamden. Twice in three days... And I think the bartender recognized me. Some dancing ensued, but the night wasn't nearly as late as on Sunday. Still, quite the time. St. Patrick's Day is one of my favorite holidays.

Some photos from the parade:

Monday, March 16, 2009

3-16-09: Hockey Monday: Spezza's Illegal Stick

You don't see this called very often, but it's a real penalty.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

3-14-09: Into the West

(Happy Pi Day)

I had a St. Patrick's Day party at my place last night, which was absolutely wonderful (for me at the very least). About 20 people showed up, but the place wasn't uncomfortably crowded, so it was quite nice. Having my close friends come to celebrate your saint's day is a special occasion, and I owe them my unending thanks.

I wanted to keep things semi-authentic, so I played a couple Irish-themed movies. The first, Into the West, was recommended by my Irish friend Mick. The second was the popular American-made film The Boondock Saints. Both were enjoyed by all.

It's a 1993 Irish classic about two gypsy children and a horse. It's not quite a children's movie from the American standpoint, which makes it really interesting. There are strong hints at alcoholism, and it's far from squeaky clean. It has great acting, a great cast, and you finish watching the movie feeling good about life.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

3-11-09: Softball T-shirt Design

Here's a quick t-shirt design I did on CustomInk.com for my company softball team. Just a preliminary design for now:

Make custom t-shirts at CustomInk.com

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

3-10-09: Preliminary Party Preparation

I just got out of a midterm for my Intellectual Property Law course. Wasn't too bad, though he did sort of trick us by having a couple questions that literally have two answers (e.g. choice E was "B Only"), and he threw on three questions from a Bar exam, but otherwise it wasn't too bad. It was open notes.

Earlier today I did some cleanup for my party this Friday (a pre-St. Patrick's Day celebration). I'd started moving stuff around on Saturday, which went well. Today was equally quite productive; most of the stuff is squared away.

The only frustrating event during this afternoon's setup occurred in my upstairs room, which I'm planning on using as a game/music room, but on Friday it shall simply be the "Foosball Arena." I have the foosball table all set up in the middle of the room, with the center directly beneath the light for the players. I think of this shit! Anyway, I was given an old receiver, CD player, and two speakers by my parents, who are moving down south this month. The receiver is probably 15 years old by now. I wanted to test the sound of the room by lying the speakers on their backs so they're facing straight up, in order to bounce the sound off the slanted ceiling. It worked beautifully, but the left speaker had some issues. So I knelt down and investigated.

It turned out the speaker wire going in was quite frayed. Stupidly, I tried to fix the problem, and ended up shorting out the wires. Oops. The receiver, in its dying breath, flashed "PROTECT". I immediately unplugged everything and detach the speaker wires. Too late. The receiver would not turn back on; it even gave a nice little flash and emitted the tell-tale smell of burnt components. I was a little upset, but not too worried, because I have a trusty backup.

The original plan for the upstairs room was to use my Logitech computer speakers, which are pretty decent, and subwoofer. Upon receipt of the old receiver and CD player (with only an RCA Line Out), I went with that option. The CD player and speakers are still good, but the poor old receiver has suffered an aforementioned untimely demise. My only issue now is that I need to buy a "Y Cable" with a female end in order to plug in the preamp, which only has an 1/8" headphone male plug as the input. No big deal, though, as Radioshack has one for $10. I am saved! It turns out that I have about six or seven "Y Cables" with male ends, and I have no idea why. I must have accumulated them during my high school hardcore audiophile days. I'm part-time audiophile now (I hope you know what the phrase means - it's not a creepy thing; if not, click here).

So, the music setup for Friday is: Macbook connected to the AIWA receiver and speakers downstairs, with the old CD player attached to my Logitech speakers upstairs (playing more easygoing tunes for the more laid back crowd). I think of this shit!

Festivities start at 8:00PM.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

3-8-09: Watchmen

First off: 500 posts!

Now to business: Watchmen. Last night, myself and a group of friends went to a showing of the newest addition to the comic book / graphic novel movie parade that's been going on pretty steadily since X-Men arrived. Watchmen has been heralded as the best graphic novel of them all, and this film had a lot of hype surrounding it, especially among fans of the novel.

Let me preface my brief review of the film by saying that I have never read the Watchmen comic, and am only somewhat familiar with the characters. Many people who've read the comic seem to dislike the film. But then again, other critics have said that it's pretty good, so long as you haven't read the comic. So, I went in expecting something pretty good.

And that's what I got: a very interesting, somewhat overwhelming look, at the Watchmen story. I found the film to be quite stunning in its presentation; the visual effects were outstanding, and it didn't feel like it was overdone.

The acting was pretty good, as well. Again, I'm not too familiar with the characters, but they seemed to take their time developing them, so what I was exposed to seemed to be quite convincing.

My only real beef with the film was that I think it was caught between a rock and a hard place in that it couldn't decide which audience to serve: the fans of the graphic novel or the general public (who chose to see the film because it was heralded as a great comic). I thought it did an OK job at explaining the characters, but a lot of the story seemed to go over the head of most people who saw the film without knowing the back story. But... fans of the comic panned the film. So I have to ask myself: to whom was it directed?

But nevertheless, it's a great story. The ending seemed quite cliche, but had some real novelty to it. I wouldn't say it's my favorite comic book / graphic novel film, but I was quite entertained, and mesmerized, by the characters and the story. It operated in a surreal, but strangely real, domain, with some characters you can easily relate to, and others you can barely understand (Dr. Manhattan). I'd say this was a very good film. I, for one, was not disappointed.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

3-3-09: UEFA Champions League

It's March, so it's sports bracket prediction season. To warm up for March Madness, I'll start with my predictions for the UEFA Champions League. If you're at all interested in seeing good international soccer, tune in to the tournament on ESPN or ESPN2. The next round of matches are set for next week, so set your DVR to record ESPN next Tuesday (3/10) from 3:30PM to 6:00PM. I don't know what teams are set to play in that time slot, but it's going to be good.

Here are the current matchups in the Round of 16 with the second legs coming up. My picks for the winners are in bold.

Atletico vs. Porto
Lyon vs. Barcelona
Arsenal vs. Roma
Inter vs. Man UTD
Real Madrid vs. Liverpool
Chelsea vs. Juventus
Villarreal vs. Panathinaikos
Sporting vs. Bayern

I don't know how the Round of Eight is selected, so I'm going to just run down the line in the order from the Round of 16:

Porto vs. Barcelona
Arsenal vs. Man UTD
Real Madrid vs. Chelsea
Villarreal vs. Bayern

And for the semi-finals:

Barcelona vs. Man UTD - A dream match-up: Messi > Ronaldo.
Real Madrid vs. Bayern

And the champion: Barcelona.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

C is for Cookie

It's good enough for me, too, Cookie Monster.

3-1-09: Dune

My Netflix movie of the week (for last week) is, without a doubt, David Lynch's 1984 adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. I haven't seen that many good sci-fi movies recently, so I made sure this time around to watch a classic. And boy... did Dune live up to the hype. I'd only seen bits and pieces of the film on HBO and other movie channels, but never in its entirety. I also made sure to rent the Extended Edition, which had a three-hour run time.

The basic gist of the plot is that there are a bunch of planets that are part of an empire that are feuding over the mining of "the spice melange," which is the most precious substance in the universe. It allows for extended life and special powers that let some bend space. Different groups use it for different things, but it all comes from the desert planet Arrakis (a.k.a. "Dune"). The story revolves around Paul Atreides, who is the heir to the House Atreides, one of the royal houses in the empire. Paul is thought to be a messiah figure, and the story plays out around that theme.

I can't help but think The Amory Wars and Tremors stole some ideas from this; one in a deeper way, one just took the worms idea (they have enormous worms on Arrakis that are attracted to movement and devour everything). But I don't think either quite live up to Dune. It's just an amazing story, and the film adaptation is marvelous. Great cinematography, excellent cast, excellent film.

If you're in to sci-fi movies, Dune is one you must see. I think I might go ahead and look into reading Herbert's novel.