Searching Enabled

Since launching the new website, I've had several requests for a Search feature. As today, there is one. You can find it in the site menu or access the search page here.

If you have other requests or questions about the site, drop me a note.

A new and improved web store will be coming later this month.

Another Great Obituary

Awhile back I wrote about an great obituary that appeared in the local paper. Though the one below isn't written in the first person, I thought it gave great insight in the deceased. Wish more obituaries did that.

Leonard Mason Smith, 86, a veteran of World War II and Korea and longtime resident of Pine Island, Florida passed away on November 27th, 2013.

Leonard Smith was a very private man. If you wanted to know his cause of death, he would have told you that it was none of your business. If you asked Penny, his beloved wife, she would tell you that he had cancer, but not to tell anyone. Although his prognosis was dire, he battled on, lived his life and survived several years beyond the experts' expectations. He did not want his obituary to suggest that he lost a long battle with cancer. By his reckoning, cancer could not win, and could only hope for a draw. And so it was. Leonard Smith hated losing.

***

Leonard Smith hated pointless bureaucracy, thoughtless inefficiency and bad ideas born of good intentions. He loved his wife, admired and respected his children and liked just about every dog he ever met. He will be greatly missed by those he loved and those who loved him. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you cancel your subscription to The New York Times.

Leonard Smith would have thought that this obituary was about three paragraphs too long.

Read the full obituary here.

 

The Neighborhood Corn Snake Infestation

Our neighborhood appears to be infested with corn snakes. Earlier in the week a neighbor killed one that was over 5 feet long. Friday, my 7-year-old son caught an 8-inch baby snake crossing the road of our neighborhood. Then this morning my 6-year-old daughter discovered the following 3 foot beauty in our back yard.

Thankfully it was dead. Not sure what killed it but the first third of the snake was enlarged so I’m guessing it choked on something. But you can judge for yourself. J

Can’t wait to see what turns up tomorrow.

Great Parking Karma, Bad Line Karma

According to my seven year old, I have great parking karma.

It’s true.

No matter how full a parking lot or side street, I always seem to find a great parking spot. This parking karma especially comes in handy when I need to travel to downtown Salt Lake where finding a decent parking spot can be difficult or expensive.

Sadly, my awesome parking karma is offset by bad line karma. Say I go to the store and nab the perfect parking spot. I can guarantee when I go to find a checkout line, I’ll get stuck in the line that’s not going anywhere.

For example, the other day at Wal-Mart I got spot as close as you can get to one of the entrances. I quickly picked up the few things that Marathon Girl needed and then headed for one of the express checkout lines. There were three options:

  • Line 1 had three people waiting. Two of the three people in line appeared to have carts with more than 15 items.
  • Line 2 had one person. The checkout clerk was about half way through his order.
  • Line 3 also had three people in it though everyone in that line seemed to be carrying everything they would be buying in their arms.

So which one did I choose? Line 2, of course. It seemed the obvious choice. As I got in line, I had visions of being out the door and to my car in two minutes or less.

Did it happen?

Not by a long shot.

By the time all the man’s groceries had been scanned and I was putting my few items on the counter, I noticed that the man had pulled out a bag of coins and started counting them. Yes, the man was paying his entire $28 bill in coins. A woman pushed her cart in behind me, saw the guy counting out coins, and did a one-eighty back to one of the other express lines.

I looked at the other lines and thought that this line was still the best option.

I was wrong.

The guy was actually pretty fast counting his money but the cashier was a woman in her 60s or 70s. She slowly counted out all of his money—twice.

In the meantime people sailed through the other express lanes. Once thing I failed to notice about Line 1 was that it had a young cashier who seemed to be determined to set some kind of checkout record with every customer.

And me?

I spent the next 5 minutes watching people count coins over and over again.

At least I had a short walk to my car.

Comment Technical Difficulties

For some reason I'm no longer getting email notifications when someone posts a comment or when a comment appears in the moderation queue. So if I'm slow in replying or approving first time commentators, I apologize. I'm looking into the issue and hope to have it resolved soon. Thanks for your patience.

A Sign of Things to Come II

Here is a more obvious photo of the big event coming up in the next 30 days.

No, it’s not a messy playroom. It’s the first of the many boxes we’re packing up because we’re moving. (Congrats to Trina and Sue for guessing correctly on the first photo.)

We put our home on the market last month and sold it in seven days to a nice family from California. Now we’re on the countdown to pack up and get out.

The one hitch to this move is that we don’t officially have a new place to live—yet. Back in February we made an offer on a short sale and that’s still making its way through the bank. We hope to have good news in the next two weeks from the bank, but even if everything works out with the short sale it won’t close until 2-4 weeks after our house closes.

For now the plan is to move in temporarily with Marathon Girl’s parents and cross our fingers that the short sale closes soon after. If something happens with the short sale then . . . well, I don’t want to go there.

One way or another everything will work out. Things are just going to be crazy for the next month or two.

Two Cheers for Awesome Customer Service

Having worked as a customer service rep during my college years, I know how frustrating it can sometimes be to get a problem or issue resolved with a company—especially a big one. Over the years I handled thousands of phone calls from people who had an issue with the company’s products or service. Though I couldn’t solve every problem, I did my best to resolve the issue to the customer’s satisfaction. Because of this background, I always appreciate it when a company goes above and beyond in helping their customers.

Two weeks ago I was in Las Vegas attending a user conference at the Bellagio. Several days after returning home, I realized my favorite pair of pants was missing. After searching the entire house I finally decided that I must have left the pants at the hotel room. I have absolutely no idea how I managed to do this as I always triple check the hotel rooms before checking out. I contacted the Bellagio and was told they’d see if a maid or a guest had turned them in. A couple days passed I didn’t hear anything back. I figured I didn’t leave the pants in the hotel room or the person who got the room after me happened to wear the same size pants as me and was now walking around Las Vegas in the most comfortable pair of pants on the planet.

Saturday morning a Fed-Ex box arrived at my door. In it are my favorite pair of pants and a pair of socks I apparently left in the room as well. For some reason that was the last thing I expected. And I’m so happy to be wearing my favorite pair of pants. (I'm wearing them even as I type this.)

So thank you, Bellagio, for going above and beyond. Your outstanding customer service will be noted next time business takes me to Las Vegas.

The Ukrainian Stray Dog Problem

Apparently the Ukraine is trying to get rid of its stray dogs ahead of Euro 2012.

Animal welfare groups accuse Ukrainian authorities of using illegal and inhumane methods of killing stray dogs that cause long, agonizing deaths. They say dogs are often poisoned or injected with banned substances as officials rush to clear streets ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship next summer.

Euro 2012 organizers deny any involvement in a stray eradication campaign.

Full official statistics are hard to come by, but figures and estimates provided to The Associated Press by authorities in the Euro 2012 host cities of Kiev, Donetsk, Kharkiv and Lviv show more than 9,000 dogs have been put to death over the past year. Animal protection groups believe the number is far higher.

"It's a slaughterhouse," said Asya Serpinska, head of the Ukrainian Association of Animal Protection Organizations. "We are convinced that there is an unofficial order to purge Euro cities of stray animals so that, God forbid, some stray dog doesn't bite some foreigner."

Ukraine has a large stray dog population, estimated at tens of thousands in some cities. The dogs, often running in packs, can be seen on streets, in parks and even children's playgrounds. Nearly 3,000 people reported being bitten by stray dogs last year in Kiev and about 1,900 in Kharkiv, according to city officials.

On paper, officials have embraced the internationally accepted practice of sterilizing strays, then releasing them into areas where they pose no public threat, placing them in shelters or finding them homes. Sick or aggressive dogs are humanely euthanized.

But in reality, activists contend, a stray dog handled by authorities has little chance of survival. The only question, they say, is how much it will suffer before it dies. Shelters are virtually nonexistent, pet adoption unpopular and sterilization costly; most dogs are simply put down, they say.

"It's capture and kill," said John Ruane of Naturewatch, a British-based animal welfare group that monitors the situation in Ukraine. "It's just barbaric."

When I lived in Bulgaria, it wasn’t uncommon to see packs of stay dogs roaming the streets of Sofia. (It wasn’t as bad in smaller cities but still existed.) It seemed that every neighborhood had at least one or two packs of dogs that would roam the streets looking for something to eat. When I lived in an area called Lozenets, the pack lived under a balcony of a nearby apartment building. While I lived there one of the dogs gave birth to a litter of six puppies.

The dogs were anything but aggressive. If they did approach you, their heads would be down and you could tell by the skittish way they walked that they were on edge. All you had to do was raise your hand and pretend you were throwing a rock and the dogs would scatter. And they were so hungry they’d eat just about anything. Sometimes if the pack was congregating near our apartment building, we’d drop chunks of stale bread from our apartment five stories up. The dogs would woof it down like we had just thrown them pieces of raw meat. As far as I could tell, there was never any effort made by the city to round them up. Animal shelters in that part of the world were unheard of.

While I don’t know how the packs of stray dogs in the Ukraine are different than their counterparts in Bulgaria, I don’t understand why animal rights activists are upset that the dogs are being killed. While I don’t condone the inhumane methods of killing stray dogs mentioned in the article, having packs of dogs run wild on the streets isn’t good for anyone. The dogs in Sofia were filthy, disease ridden, and looked like they were constantly starving. I don’t see why they be treated any better in the Ukraine. Simply sterilizing strays and releasing them “into areas where they pose no public threat” like the animal rights activists want just stops them from reproducing. It does nothing to feed or shelter the animals. Releasing serialized animals and letting them fend for themselves doesn’t strike me as being that humane.

Sadly, like Bulgaria, it appears the stay dog problem is more of a cultural issue than anything. Unless Ukrainians are willing to invest in real animal shelters and humanly euthanize the dogs, it’s going to return and persist long after Euro 2012 is over.

Give Me A Choice When Buying Groceries

Some major grocery chains are considering doing something stupid: Eliminating self-checkout lanes.

Albertsons LLC, which operates 217 stores in seven Western and Southern states, will eliminate all self-checkout lanes in the 100 stores that have them and will replace them with standard or express lanes, a spokeswoman said.

"We just want the opportunity to talk to customers more," Albertsons spokeswoman Christine Wilcox said. "That's the driving motivation."

***

The move marks a surprising step back from a trend that began about a decade ago, when supermarkets began installing self-checkout lanes, touting them as a solution to long lines. Now some grocery chains are questioning whether they are really good for business.

Kroger, the largest grocery chain in the U.S. (with some 2,500 outlets), is experimenting with removing all self-checkouts in at least one Texas store, reports StorefrontBacktalk, an industry publication. Publix, another major chain, is "on the fence" about self-checkout, according to a report quoted in the story.

When I go shopping, it’s usually to pick a few things up for Marathon Girl on my way home from work. There are two stores near our home that I can pick things up at. The first has no self-checkout lanes. The second has 10 self-checkout lanes. Unless she needs something specific at the first store I always choose the second because self-checkout lets me get in and out of the store quickly. At the store with no self-checkout lanes there’s always a line at every checkout lane. Going there adds at least five minutes to any shopping trip.

Self checkout lanes are perfect for shoppers who don’t have many items and need to get in and out of the store quickly. The human touch is great when you have a cart load of groceries but when I go, I don’t care if I talk to someone. I want to buy what I need and get on with my life.

What I don’t understand why some stores don’t want to give shoppers a choice of how to buy their groceries. Just because there’s a self-checkout lane doesn’t mean someone has to use it. If people want the human touch, that’s great—let them wander over to a lane with a person. But please don’t force to stand in line when all I need to buy is a gallon of milk or a bag of apples. I’m fully capable of checking out those items by myself.

Comments Upgrade

Because some comments threads on this blog can get a little long, I’ve just added a Reply options to the comment section so you can reply directly to a comment instead of typing in an answer that might appear three or four (or more) comments down. Hopefully this will make the discussion a tad easier to follow. It also lets you subscribe to the comment thread via email as well as preview your comment before posting. It works for me but I want to make sure this work for everyone, so if you wouldn't mind, reply to a comment on this thread or subscribe via email. If something not working, send me a quick email.

A Story of Two Cell Phones

I carry two cell phones—one for personal use and one for work. My personal phone is with T-Mobile. My work phone is with AT&T.

I’ve been with T-Mobile for 10 years. I signed up with them back in the day when they were called VoiceStream Wireless. Though coverage was a bit spotty with them 10 years ago, those problems were resolved within a year or two of becoming a customer. (Let’s be honest, 10 years ago most cell phone coverage was spotty.) Aside from this one issue when I first signed up with them I’ve never had a problem with their products or services.

Whenever I call their customer service team, wait times are short, the reps know what they’re doing, and my problem or issues always gets resolved. I also like the fact that I don’t have carry a one- or two-year contract with T-Mobile. Marathon Girl carries her T-Mobile service month to month. When my contract expires in a couple months, I’ll be doing the same thing. Though I’ve been on the same talk plan for about five years, it seems that whenever my contract comes up for renewal, price around at competing products and services. None of them seem to offer the same bang for the buck. And since I’ve been happy with T-Mobile, I keep resigning with them.

My work phone is a different story. The coverage and signal from AT&T isn’t as nearly good—especially if I try to get online. Their network always seems congested. The few times I’ve had to call AT&T for support, the wait times have been horrendous and the customer service even worse. I’d probably be more upset about the AT&T service but the company foots the bill for the phone and I can (usually) do what I need to do with it when it comes to email and other work-related tasks, I tolerate it.

With this in mind, I wasn’t happy to read that AT&T was buying T-Mobile. The following two paragraphs especially jumped off the page.

AT&T customers have been disgruntled about the quality of the company's network, especially for voice calls made over Apple Inc.'s iPhone. . . .

On Sunday, AT&T pitched the deal as a way to solve network congestion, by combining two operators using the same technology and alleviating a spectrum shortage that would keep T-Mobile from building a next-generation network.

Should this deal be approved, it sounds like AT&T is going to shove its customers on to T-Mobile’s network. If they end up combining that with their higher-priced plans and crappy customer service, it looks like I’ll be shopping for a new cell phone provider next year.

Sadly, it looks like my only other options will be Verizon and Sprint.

Best (or worst) Headline Ever

Back when I wrote for a college newspaper, there were a handful of staff writers that tried to sneak at least one double entendre into the articles we wrote. Ninety-five percent of them were caught by the editor or faculty advisor before the paper went to print. When they would get through, we'd get a good laugh out of it. So when I saw the headline in the Salt Lake Tribune below, it made me wonder if it was an honest mistake or if a headline writer got a good chuckle as he went to bed. You can visit the article here.

There’s No Such Thing as a Free Breakfast

Hotel complimentary breakfast

While on a family vacation in Colorado several weeks ago I found myself in the hotel lobby one night. A man who looked like he’d been on the road all day walked in. During the check-in process he asked if the hotel offered breakfast in the morning.

“We do,” the desk clerk told him, “but not with the rate you booked the room at. If you want, we can upgrade your room for $8.95 and everyone can have breakfast in the morning.”

The man agreed to the rate increase, checked in, and headed up to his room.

Complimentary breakfasts have become standard at most hotels. However, this was the first time I heard a hotel give someone the option of upgrading their room to include breakfast. However, as the experience shows, there’s no such thing as a free breakfast—even if it’s advertised as such.

A lifetime ago, back when the late wife and I were college students, she worked as a desk clerk for a national hotel chain. When her schedule required her to work until midnight, I’d drive over after my job or evening classes ended and sit in the lobby and do homework or read while she checked in and helped guests.

Because the hotel was located right off I-15, a lot of people would stop by late at night and see if the hotel had any vacancies. If the hotel had vacancies, the follow-up question most of them would ask was if the hotel offered a free continental breakfast. The late wife would tell them that it didn’t but pointed out the great restaurant across the parking lot which was known for having some of the best breakfast food in the state. Upon hearing that the hotel didn’t offer a free breakfast, a lot guests turned around and went searching for another hotel.

One night the owner happened to stop by while the late wife was on duty. In the space of five minutes two potential customers came in, asked about the free breakfast and left when they discovered the hotel didn’t offer one. The late wife turned to owner and mentioned that the hotel was losing out on potential customers every night to other hotels that offered a free continental breakfast.

The owner just kind of smiled and shook his head. “What people don’t realize is that to offer the ‘free’ breakfast, I’d have to raise the nightly rates five to ten dollars a room to cover the cost,” he said. “They may go to a different hotel, but they end up paying for that free breakfast though higher room rates.”

Apparently, however, the owner realized it would be better for business if he offered a “free” breakfast to guests. About a year after that incident the lobby was expanded to make room a breakfast area. As soon as it was done, rates went up to cover the cost of the “free” breakfast.

On the way home from a family vacation last weekend our route home took us by that hotel. I glanced over at it as we sped past. The hotel’s marquee advertised a free breakfast. The parking lot was packed.

Who Are The Johnsons?

Return to Sender

When Marathon Girl and I moved into our home five years ago, we went through the inevitable process of receiving mail that hadn’t been forwarded to the previous owner. We had her new address and forwarded the mail on to her. After a few months, we stopped getting her mail.

Then Christmas came. Holiday cards arrived in our mail box not only to her but two cards address to the Johnson Family. We had no idea who the Johnson Family was but figured it was the owner before the woman who sold her house to us. We Return to Sender on the cards for the Johnsons saying they were no longer at this address.

We forgot all about the Johnson Family until the next Christmas. Once again two Christmas cards arrived for the Johnson Family. And though Marathon Girl and I weren’t 100% sure, we were fairly certain that they were the same two families that sent cards the year before. Once again we sent them back and went about with our lives.

We’ve now spent five Christmases in our home. And each year two cards arrive for the Johnson Family arrive from the same two families. The last two years we haven’t bothered returning them. Whoever sends these cards either don’t get the cards back in the mail or have lost touch with the Johnson Family to the point where five plus years have passed and they have no idea where the Johnson Family lives. If it’s the latter reason, I’m somewhat surprised. In an era of email and social networking, it’s not hard to keep in touch with people or, at the very least, notifying them that you’ve moved. Our lives take us in a hundred different directions making it impossible to keep in touch with everyone. But you’d think after (at least) five years, you’d either find a way to contact them or hear through the grapevine that they moved.

As a writer, a collector of stories, and one who is fascinated by human choices and behavior, I want to know who these families are and what their ties are to the Johnson Family. Were they neighbors? Childhood friends? Casual acquaintances? Ex-lovers? There's a story here and the storyteller in me wants to tell it. But the Johnson Family is just a name on an envelope. With no forwarding address, their story will never be told but maybe, just maybe, the seeds of a book have been planted.