Friday, February 29, 2008

The Bad, the Great, and the Tedious

Taking me three times as long as I should have to find the half-dozen items on my list because the store is rearranged, I find myself in the electronics department next to the laptops looking at accessories.

"What's the difference between a notebook and a laptop?" a male customer asks a saleswoman.

A few questions later, she falters at his asking about wireless.

"May I answer that?" I ask. At their response, I continue, "All new laptops should come with wireless by now. What you need to watch for is which standard they're using."

"Which standard?" he asks.

"Yes, the draft 802.11n is 80% approved and will be official maybe late this year, surely sometime next year. With such a high percentage of approval, some companies are making compliant products already. If the computer you want doesn't use the 802.11n standard, you should wait, if you can, to buy it when it does because it's so close."

An older saleswoman joins us, then goes and checks their routers. "Here's one," she calls over to us. He and I go over to her while the first saleswoman leaves.

"Yes," I point to the box. "See this? This is the standard you want. Make sure your laptop and router match." I point to another router. "See this box? It uses an older standard. If you get the 802.11n on your laptop, it'll work because it's backwards compatible, but it won't be as fast. As long as you're buying new equipment, you may as well get the latest technology."

"How do you know about this stuff?" he asks. "I took some classes to learn about computers, but they didn't teach anything about this."

"I used to be a programmer; different system, but the principles are the same. If two sides don't use the same standard, they can't communicate or don't communicate as well as they could."

"Oh, no wonder! Say, can you tell me how people are able to steal other people's data when they're using wireless?"

The saleswoman leaves.

"Essentially, it's radio like your cordless and cell phones, just a different frequency, and the sniffers tune in. That's why you'll need to get a VPN, a Virtual Private Network, if you'll be doing anything sensitive like using passwords and doing online shopping or banking. A VPN makes a tunnel for your data to go through so sniffers can't see it. You'll have to google to find one. If you just surf and read, don't worry about it because you won't be submitting any personally sensitive information."

"Thanks a lot! I learned a lot and I think you gave me more help than the salespeople would have."

"It's possible. I just ordered my fourth laptop and I've always known more than the salespeople."

"Fourth laptop?" His eyes are big.

"The first hardly counts because it didn't have the hard drive I wanted. The salesman lied about the size and I had it about two months while going through him, his manager, and up to the district manager before they accepted it back. My third got stolen last July while I was in California and the fourth is to replace it."

It's Monday evening and my new laptop arrives the next morning, more than a week earlier than Dell said to expect it, only five days after I ordered it. Wow! How great is that? Not only did it arrive a lot faster than my last one, it doesn't have all the pre-loaded trial software crap I had to delete off the other. Much better!

I'm ready to go online with it before the new CD from my ISP arrives, so I decide to set up the connection myself since I have my username, password, and the ISP's phone number on my eight-year-old laptop.

First, download and install a firewall from ZoneAlarm to keep the hackers out. Check.

Next, the ShieldsUP! test at the Gibson Research Corp. to ensure the firewall didn't leave any open ports for the hackers to sneak through. Check.

Firefox because it's safer than Internet Explorer. Check.

SpywareBlaster to prevent malware from getting into those little hidden places in the first place, probably why Ad-Aware and Spybot-S&D never found anything after I ran it on my old laptop. Check.

Ad-Aware. Ad-Aware. Ad-Aware. Ad-Aware. In four tries, I can't get more than half a meg of the free version to download. Hmm, it hasn't found any adware, spyware, or other malware since the first time I ran it on my old laptop, so maybe I'll be okay without it for awhile.

Spybot-S&D to catch and kill malware if it gets past SpywareBlaster and its own defensive measures. While it overlaps a lot of what Ad-Aware covers, it also covers what Ad-Aware misses, and vice versa. That's why it's best to have two good antispyware programs. Check.

Avast! antivirus software to handle viruses, trojans, and worms. Check.

System updates - there are 41 of them. (No, I didn't get Vista.) The estimated download time at 49 Kpbs is over seven hours. How tedious. I think about going to the library to use their high-speed connection, but rather stay here watching "Monk," "Without A Trace," and "Law & Order" on TNT and USA. I fall asleep and nap during a couple of episodes of "Walker, Texas Ranger." Check. Finally.

I guess maybe I'll start working on my (ugh) income tax return tomorrow during the "N.C.I.S." marathon on USA.

Or maybe not.

[Note: SUPERAntispyware is another good antispyware program but since it's weak on defensive measures, takes about an hour and a half to run, has a bit of nagware, and doesn't uninstall cleanly, it's best reserved for cleaning up spyware and malware that other antispyware programs can't eradicate.]

Friday, February 22, 2008

A Perk of the Job

I told my friend, Mary, when we met last month at the local Atlanta Bread Co., that since 1999, my job is to get people in trouble for not doing their jobs right, like Quality Assurance At Large. After giving a few examples, our conversation lulled and we went to the counter to order our food, the woman mistakenly charging me for the potatoes that come with my omelette.

Three employees later, I'm finally back at our table. "See what I mean?" It was all because the young woman who took my order hadn't bothered to learn the menu well enough to know that omelettes come with a choice of potato. Since it was only my second time there in three years and my first time looking at a menu, it isn't as though the menu is difficult to comprehend.

Like any other job, the routine can feel old. Sometimes, I feel like this country's going to hell in a handbasket not because of immorality or violence or other types of ungodliness, but because I encounter so many who aren't conscientious enough to do the job they're getting paid to do. "For the want of a nail...a kingdom was lost." I already posted about the last time I got groceries in "Little Foxes." Then, there was the $1.00 overcharged by an employee I hadn't seen before at the Chinese place I like.

She told me the amount then rang up my bill for a dollar more. Was she giving herself a tip? It might have been a simple mistake like a typographical error except the numbers were across the keypad. Because it wasn't busy, being close to 3 P.M. on a Wednesday afternoon, it's not reasonable that the bill for my food got mixed up with that for another customer especially since she took my order and had me pay right away.

It doesn't matter. Since I wrote $1.00 on the charge slip for a tip before I realized I'd been overcharged, all I had to do was report the overcharge to the other lady who promptly gave me a dollar after verifying the subtotal, tax, and total on a calculator with an apology for the first woman who disappeared after receiving my payment.

This evening, it's a little different. I'm tired of eating in and it's too cold and rainy for me to go out. What to do?

A coupon for two pizzas and a call to Pizza Hut is the answer. When my order arrives, I have a strong feeling to check the pizzas before signing the charge slip. Sure enough, the crusts are wrong and each pizza is missing a topping. After discussing the situation, during which I mention that the man who took my order said the computer was acting up with the driver responding, "No, it's his fault. I've been taking orders, too, and we haven't had any computer problems," I tell the driver to take them back and that I'll sign the slip when I get what I ordered.

After calling the restaurant to report the error and shorten the wait while my pizzas are made, I contemplate how ordering online might have avoided the situation. But if I had, I'd be avoiding doing my job and that employee wouldn't have been exposed for being so careless and trying to cover his butt in advance by telling me the computer was acting up.

A few minutes later, the shift manager calls. "I didn't realize you sent the pizzas back," he says. "You could have kept them."

"That's okay, I don't want them," I reply.

"It's our policy that we remake the pizzas and you get to keep the wrong ones," he explains.

Kewl! Four pizzas for the coupon price of two.

"But I don't want them. Both the crusts and the toppings for both pizzas were wrong. Probably the sauce, too, since it wasn't on the ticket. I'm guessing that regular sauce was put on them because the ticket didn't say easy sauce. Anyway, I don't want them."

Maybe if the crusts were different...

But, even if they were halfway appealing, what am I supposed to do with FOUR large pizzas? As it is with two, I'm going to be eating pizza for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for almost too long. I certainly don't want to be out in the cold, dark, rain knocking on neighbors' doors trying to give the extras away, nor do I feel like calling around and waiting for people to come get them. Neither way works for me and I don't want the extra pizzas hanging around here until the trash goes out.

When the driver returns, he explains that he didn't know he was supposed to leave the other pizzas with me and apologizes.

"Oh, no, it's okay. I don't want them and this way works for me," I say as I sign the slip for the voided charge and hand him the cash for a generous tip.

Two large pizzas for only the cost of tipping the driver. Sweet!

(Please read Malachi chapter 3.)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

132nd WKC Dog Show - Part 1 of 2

I miss having a pet. Even though I was greatly blessed to have been owned by the perfect cat for many years, I often think about getting another dog. The little white Bichon Frise that's opened a couple of the television commercials for the 132nd Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at New York City's Madison Square Garden persuaded me to watch the show with an eye for figuring out what kind of dog I might want.

Although I've owned both mixed breeds and purebred dogs and found the purebred puppies turning out as expected more reliably than the mixed breeds, I used to engage in reverse snobbery when it came to show dogs thinking that they were nothing more than kenneled runway models for whom appearance is everything. My respect was reserved for dogs competing in the obedience and field trials. A lot of my poor attitude for show dogs came from the few dog shows I attended as a teen and young adult where it was really hard for a spectator like me to see anything more than how the dogs got fussed over and primped and trotted around before the judges.

My attitude started getting adjusted with an invitation from a coworker to attend a dog show in which he and his wife entered three or four dogs. Meeting them at their van in the parking lot, I watch while two dogs are unloaded and one is turned over to a professional handler who heads for the building. Another handler comes over with a dog to speak with my host.

"Is that your dog, too?" I ask after the second handler leaves.

"Yes, some of our dogs board with their handlers in different parts of the U. S. so they can make the shows we can't get to and we sometimes get to meet at the same shows. Here, go ahead and take her in," he says, handing me the leash for the second dog from the van.

"Oh, dear. Do you think that's wise?" his wife asks. I'm not sure about it myself because I never held the leash of a champion dog before.

"Sure. Gail's used to German Shepherds. She'll be fine," he replies.

"You are?" she asks me.

"I have one. It's the second one I've owned."

"Well...just be careful," she says as we merge with the fringe of the crowd entering the building.

Was I in a position to break the dog?

"What do I need to be careful about?" I have to raise my voice above the low din.

"She doesn't like other dogs," he replies as we enter. "Just keep hold of her and you'll be fine."

She doesn't like other dogs and we're at a dog show? Oh, man! I cast a quick eye around for the nearest dog while I check the collar at the end of the leash I hold. Was it put on her as a slip chain so I can use it as a choke collar?

"She doesn't like children, either," his wife yells above the noisy crowd of families with their children and dogs.

The steps to the seating area are close enough that I don't have time to freak out at the thought of that scenario and we soon reach the seats staked out by the German Shepherd Dog crowd. A handler claims the dog I hold before I sit down. We have a good view sitting right above the second of four rings on our side, but things are happening too quickly for me so I focus on the chit-chat around me.

A German Shepherd soon leads his lady down the row, returning from his turn in the show ring, pausing to check me out.

"Hi, baby," I say. In that moment, he deduces that I'm his long-lost best friend forever and stops all conversations within earshot by climbing onto my lap and trying to lick my face.

"NO! DOWN! GET OFF! I'm so sorry! He hasn't done that to a stranger before. I'm so sorry!" The dog's lady apologizes profusely after pulling him off of me.

"It's okay." I'm laughing. "He's just a big baby."

"Really? Are you really okay?"

My host leans forward to speak across his wife, "She's okay. She's one of us. She has a Shepherd of her own at home."

"You do?"

I nod.

"Oh, good," the woman visibly relaxes. "So many strangers think of German Shepherds as fierce, mean dogs when they're really just a bunch of babies. I used to have Dobies, but never again. They really are fierce and after one of my own dogs bit me, I said, 'That's it,' and got rid of them all."

I agree. Most dogs don't mind puppies, but when I lived in Texas, a neighbor's Doberman came from three houses away and bit a little Collie-mix puppy I had badly enough to require stitches.

The group of us spend the rest of the morning swapping dog tales, finishing up at a nearby restaurant.

That's all it took to start changing my attitude toward show dogs; I'm that much of a sucker for dog kisses.

----- Continued in Part 2 -----

132nd WKC Dog Show - Part 2 of 2

My concern that the commercials would be so much better than the actual show is quickly overcome by Michael Lefave's fabulous announcer's voice and by the USA co-host/analyst David Frei and his co-host Lester Holt providing commentary. Unlike the boring segments I watched in previous years, they actively work to dispel the high fashion model image of the show dogs and provide information to prevent the mismatching of owners with inappropriate dogs. Several times during the two-day broadcast of the semi-final and final events, Frei and Holt say, "Do your homework." On the last night, Frei says, "The dog you get will live for 7, 10, even 13 years. That's a long time so it's worth your spending an extra month finding out what the dog was bred to do. Go to the Westminster Kennel Club's website, click on the parent clubs, find a dog show and talk to the handlers. Read a book. Make sure the dog's temperament and needs fit your personality and lifestyle."

Through it all, LaFave tells us:

"This dog is not for the first-time dog owner."

"You have to be an alpha human with this dog."

"The Poodle used to be a water retriever and its haircut was designed to protect its vital organs and joints from the cold water it swam in."

"This dog loves children."

"This is the ultimate family dog." Unfortunately, I don't catch which dog he's talking about. It might be the Labrador Retriever.

"The German Pinscher is manipulative, but loves to learn if you take the time to teach it."

"This dog wants to please its people."

"The Doberman Pinscher used to be bred for fierceness, but is now bred for intelligence, obedience, and to be an affectionate companion."

"The Chihuahua thinks it's a big dog. It doesn't know it's a small dog."

"This dog is independent."

"The Anatolian Shepherd is highly territorial and considers its family as part of its turf."

"The Australian Shepherd, despite its name, originated in the Western United States."

We hear early on from Frei and Holt that all the show dogs are pets, some volunteer as an Angel On A Leash or work as certified therapy dogs while others provide service in other ways. From them we learn:

One dog from Colorado revived his mistress by licking her face when she fell unconscious from a heart attack.

A dog from Alaska works as a sledge dog and part-time as a certified therapy dog.

The Kuvasz from Helena, Montana has had run-ins with bears and once saved his mistress from an attack.

The Anatolian Shepherd from Texas had an ear ripped off by a bobcat while he was protecting a herd of goats. His owner sewed his ear back on.

The Siberian Husky loves to run and we shouldn't ever trust it and let it go off-leash.

The dog that likes McDonald's cheeseburgers, barks whenever they drive by a set of Golden Arches because it recognizes from where its favorite food comes.

The Samoyed does whatever is asked of it, whether it's hunting or hauling. The one that won Best of Breed was the maid of honor at the owner's wedding. Holt adds, "The Samoyed should be the mascot for a vacuum cleaner company because it really sheds."

Then, there are the dogs enjoying their celebrity status like Vikki who snacks on Special K cereal and has her own website as well as the dog who started showing only six months ago and has already won the Best of Breed at Westminster, the show where over 2,600 champion dogs representing 169 breeds compete against their breed's standard for Best of Breed, Best of Group, and the grand title of Best of Show.

As with other dog shows, it's hard to see much personality in the dogs trotting around all bathed and brushed to the nth degree, but a few make an impression on me:

The little French Bulldog, bound and determined to sniff THAT spot, finally puts on the brakes and plants his feet in the carpet only to slide along because his handler keeps going, not even breaking her stride.

The Bulldog that decides it isn't going to trot for anything. Walk fast, yes. Break into a trot, no.

Another dog figures out that it can speed up for a few steps and dive down to snatch a treat accidentally dropped by another contender's handler, successfully munching its prize without its handler noticing.

Finally, there's Uno. Only 15 inches high at the shoulder, the little Beagle has the confidence and projects the stature of a large dog with the presence and charisma of a movie star. I'm impressed although I don't particularly appreciate Beagles, except for Snoopy. I had one, or part of one because he was mixed, and knew two purebreds owned by a neighbor and they were always wanting to go off rabbit-hunting as soon as they were out the front door. That we lived with rabbit-filled fields on almost three sides was especially convenient or inconvenient depending if the point of view was that of a Beagle or a human. At least, we humans never had to worry about them running out into traffic.

I'm not the only one taken by the little beast. Uno gathers more of the crowd's support as the show progresses from Best of Breed to Best of Group causing Holt to exclaim, "Look at that! He's a rock star!"

During the final round in which only the seven winners for Best of Group compete for Best of Show, spectators are strongly encouraged to cheer for their favorites. You don't need an applause meter to be able to tell which dog is the audience's favorite. Evidently, Dr. J. Donald Jones of Marietta, Georgia, who remained in seclusion in another part of town until it was time for him to depart to judge the final round, agrees.

The crowd erupts into a standing ovation as Ch K-Run's Park Me In First, a.k.a. "Uno," is awarded the trophy for Best in Show.

Frei is surprised, "We have never had a reaction like this! I've never seen a standing ovation given for a dog!"

It's a great dog show, the best I've ever seen in person or on TV.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Too Good To Not Share - "We Didn't Start The Fire"

Billy Joel's #1 hit song, "We Didn't Start The Fire," is making the rounds as a Flash presentation by Ye Li, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business:

It's a great collection of photos and images of 40 years of modern history set to music that goes by in just a few minutes.

The key lines in the song for me are:

"We didn't start the fire
No, we didn't light it
But we tried to fight it."

Did I try to fight the fire this week? This month?

When I was in Honolulu, I learned that the Calvary Chapel has it's Thanksgiving dinner at the church, not for church members as do many other churches, but for those to whom they're ministering.

Did you try to fight the fire at any time during the past year?

For the song's background:'t_Start_the_Fire.

For the lyrics:

Mark 13:7. And when ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars, be ye not troubled: for such things must needs be; but the end shall not be yet.

Mark 16:15. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

Luke 14:
12. Then said he also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee.
13. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind:
14. And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Little Foxes

I pick up grocery items lining them up on the conveyor belt to check out. Ensuring the heavy items will go first into the trunk of my car, I concentrate on getting those sacks put in the front of the cart until the clerk finishes and is waiting for me to pay.

I swipe my credit card, sign, and push my cart away to the wall to see what happened to my crushables that the clerk piled into the cart to make way for the next customer in line. I can't find the pretzels.

Stepping back to the counter, I report to the cashier, "I can't find my pretzels."

She pulls them out from under her counter.

I frown at her. What were they doing down there?

"I thought you were done," she explains.

I shake my head. Whatever gave her that idea?

"Do you want to pay for them?" she asks.

I feel myself getting an attitude. "Uh...yeah!" How else am I going to get them? If I don't want them, why did I bother coming back to ask about them?

Since she already started checking out the couple's groceries behind me in line, I have to wait and hear her tell them how this is her second job and that she's been up since 4 A.M.

Oh, I bet that's what happened. It's almost 8:30 P.M. and she's tired. Good for her for working so hard, but why did she hide my pretzels and try to make like I did something to cause her to do it?

After a while, the wife observes that it'll be faster for me to go to an Express lane rather than wait on their full cart getting checked out.

The cashier escorts me to an Express lane and asks the cashier there if she can take care of me.

"Only if she's paying by cash or check. My credit card machine isn't working."

They look at me and I shake my head, no. I don't care how small the purchase amount is at this point. If she hadn't hidden my pretzels under her counter and tried to wriggle out of her mistake instead of accepting responsibility, I might have handed over the cash, but now, let her work it out.

At the next register, my cashier puts her head close to the other's and speaks too softly for me to catch the words. I get a sense that something isn't right, somehow.

After I finish paying the new cashier, I ask what the other one said was the problem.

"She said her credit card machine quit working," he replies.

"Excuse me?" I knew it!

He repeats himself.

"No, that wasn't it. The machine didn't quit working. She did," I retort.

"What? She said..."

I wave my receipt tape. "My card went through just fine and here's the tape to prove it. She quit scanning my groceries and when I discovered my pretzels were missing, she pulled them out from under her counter."

"That's weird." He frowns.

"Yes, and then she lied to you about it, but that's okay because you got the straight story, now."

A troubled look crosses his face before he wishes me a good evening and I leave.

Examining the tape after I unload the bags, I see that she subtotaled three different times for reasons known only to herself. Three subtotals while scanning only $50 worth of groceries. Maybe she was so tired from working two jobs that she accidentally went into overdrive at the third subtotal, added the tax and got the total without meaning to do so. That's not such a big thing.

The problem is that she didn't say anything about it to me, evidently thinking I'd pay and leave, and her error wouldn't be discovered until I was home and it was too late. Little did she know that I'd miss my pretzels only five feet away from her register.

She committed such a tiny mistake, made it worse trying to conceal it, and then lied about it to the Express cashier who now knows what she's like.


John 4:22. For there is nothing hidden, which shall not be revealed, nor has anything been kept secret but that it should come to light. (NKJV)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Welcome Aboard!

I'm not normally a jealous person, but when my friend Roxie started blogging, I felt tendrils of green sprouting within me.

You see, I considered starting a blog when they first became popular several years ago and many times since, but some things are best kept to oneself and other people are much better at blowing whistles at businesses and politicians and keeping up with current events than I am.

As for the rest, basically my life is too boring for words unless I'm traveling. When I'm not traveling, about all I do is research, work on my writing, and fly kites. I enjoy hiking, too, except when it's too cold for me, too hot, under thunderstorm skies, or during allergy season which, considering where I live, pretty well covers the entire year.

So, there I was watching TV the other evening when the lightbulb went on: I can blog my "Sound Off!" pieces - my raves, rants, and ramblings that need their own platform. I did a few previously through email to friends, starting with the worldwide Millennium celebration that was held an entire year too early (as if the general public starts counting from zero the same as OS programmers do!), and can continue by blogging whatever strikes my fancy in the future. Please be forewarned, however, because of the nature of the beast, rants are more likely to be forthcoming than are raves or ramblings. If you are offended:

(a) please accept my deepest apology, or

(b) that's just too bad although you might be comforted by the fact that it's the least you'll suffer for ticking me off because I'll be praying for you to receive the light of Christ and only God knows how He'll answer that prayer or what else I'll be motivated to do. Although I've yet to be motivated to do anything more drastic than complain or write letters of complaint to the Powers That Be in your miserable life to get them to hold you accountable for doing to me as you did, you never know. Therefore, don't push me or you may very well find yourself banging your head against a brick wall and bleeding from the injury you caused to yourself.

Nevertheless, I hope you are entertained and amused as well as get your thoughts provoked from time to time.

Welcome aboard!