Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sights of the Season

Just a few of my favorite images of the season.

Here are the finished wooden reindeer

J's favorite ornament from our Christmas tree.

Roadrunners and Meerkats

Author's note: For those of you who don't live in a Time Warner Cable service area, their DSL service is named "Roadrunner." The even go so far as to use the cartoon animal and the "meep meep" cartoon sound.

In the cartoons, Roadrunner ALWAYS gets away from his nemisis Wil E Coyote. In real life, Roadrunner (at least the internet service) is more fallible. Sometime last Saturday (Dec 23) Mr Coyote (Internetus Interruptus) managed to kill my cable modem. Being the good customer I am, I immediately called tech support and, after a decent wait, got to talk to their customer support. With the holiday weekend, the best they could do was bring me a new modem Wednesday.

Fast-forward to this morning. Its 11:15 am, I'm home waiting on the cable guy who is supposed to show up between 11 and 2. I don't know about where you live, but around here public utilities aren't known for their punctuality, so I'm shocked when the doorbell rings, its the cable guy, and he gives me a "new" cable modem. He even comes upstairs and we test it out to make sure I can get on the Internet. At this point I am totally satisfied with the cable company and I head back to work.

After work, I come home and we are trying to use the computer when the cable modem stops working. After several minutes of testing, we determine the thing will work for about 5 consecutive minutes before it needs unplugged. So, again I call tech support- this is where it gets interesting:

First, the menu tells me that if I'm calling about the outage in the Anderson area to press 1, everybody else press 2. (Whoever you are Anderson folks, good luck!)

Next, I go through a couple of other not helpful menus that allow me to enter my phone number and that my problem is with my internet access. Then the waiting begins - the on-hold messages go like this:

"For answers to commonly asked questions, please refer to our website at http://www......."

If only I COULD get to your website! See thats why I'm calling!! If you just let me talk to a live person I could explain the whole thing.

"Please continue to hold. All associates are assisting other callers at this time. Your call will be answered by the next available associate"

Oh great, maybe I'm next???

"Have you upgraded to our digital cable yet. For just a few dollars more a month you can...."

Hey! I'm calling because the service I already have doesn't work - do you really think I'm in the mood to spend more money with your company?

"Please continue to hold. All associates are assisting other callers at this time. Your call will be answered by the next available associate"

Sure it will! I've heard that line before.

"Is the phone your calling from one of our new digital phones? If not now's the time to upgrade..."

Hmm, digital phone service is dependent on my non-working cable modem. So, if I had upgraded, I wouldn't even be able to call tech support! Great idea!

After about 20 minutes of this nonsense, we decide to go to their store located in a nearby mall. There are 5 employees sitting at terminals in a half-circle when we walk in and no customers. After a good 30 seconds (and probably some paper-rocks-scissors under the counter) one of them volunteers to help us. The other four sit there expressionless watching. Before I go any further, let me just say the man who helped us did a very good job (and even gave us a credit for our troubles).

The most surreal part of this experience was that I realized the rest of the staff was watching a TV located on the back wall. Being the cable company, I assume they have access to all 600 channels, things us mere mortals only dream of. And they are watching... Animal Planet. Even we get Animal Planet. And, how do I know they are actively watching the show? Because in the middle of serving us, this exchange takes place:

Worker1: What did you say those things are called?
Our Worker: Meerkats. M-E-E-R-K-A-T-S
Worker1: They're ferocious little creatures, aren't they?
Worker2: Oh, look at that!

Somehow, we managed to keep straight faces and get out with our new modem. Note to the cable company: More folks answering calls, less employees watching TV makes for happier customers.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The unofficial guide to Christmas Lights

"You've taught me everything I know about exterior illumination"

- Clark Griswold to his dad, "National Lampoons Christmas Vacation"

Every neighborhood has its own 'Clark Griswold' - including ours (see pic), who is determined to create the best Christmas light display EVER in his front yard. Living in SW Ohio, the bar here is pretty high - a man in nearby Mason achieved youtube fame when his display was used in last year's Miller Lite commercial. Unfortunately, not every house turns out as well. So, without further ado, here is my unofficial guide to Christmas lights:

1. Pick a Theme - There is nothing more odd than a nativity set next to an inflatable Santa riding a Harley. Also, the mix of reindeer with nativity scenes - camels I get, but reindeer aren't indigenous to the the middle east. A good theme ties all your decor together and gives you ideas for purchases during the after-Christmas sales.

2. Less is More - You really don't need to have every inflatable or every different type of pre-lit reindeer. A nice display allows you to appreciate all the elements, not overload your brain with light. I'm sure the folks in the International Space station have plenty to do without seeing your lights.

3. Don't mix white and multi-color lights - ok, I actually did this... but if you do keep 'em separated. Stringing them in sequence is big no-no!

4. Put away the 1970s - at some point you threw away the silver garland, aluminum tree, and disco ball ornaments. Its time to do the same with your outside stuff. Especially those hard plastic decorations that have faded in the sun beyond recognition.

5. Just because its expensive, doesn't mean its nice - there are some crazy inflatables out there now - and many of them are just crazy! Its tough to shell out $150 bucks on decorations that will be out of style next year. 5a would be that there is a different between 'classic' or 'retro' and 'old junk'... if you can't tell, err on the side of caution.

6. Safety first... or at least in the top 10. Yes, putting Santa and eight tiny reindeers on your roof would make the neighbors jealous - but, if you fall off, they're sure to see the paramedics show up and THAT is never forgotten.

Keep these simple rules in mind and you'll be on your way to top!

If I've offended anybody, I apologize! Just remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder! As long as you are happy with your work (and the neighbors aren't calling the mayor to complain) thats all that matters.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reindeer Games

First of all, for our loyal readers (hello Papa J), let me apologize for not posting for a while. I think my last post was before Thanksgiving... oops! With the holidays I should have some more time to post.

A few weeks ago, Janie and I decided to build a set of the white wooden deer to put out in our front yard. We found the plans online, purchased them on ebay, waited for the backorder, and finally got them last week. As you can see, we've been busy cutting, sanding and assembling them this week. In between holiday parties and get togethers with friends, we've managed to do everything but paint them and put bows around their necks (there's always tomorrow).

If your curious, the project is pretty easy, as long as you:
a) have a way to haul a 4x8 sheet of plywood (thanks Mom and Roger)
b) have a jig saw (it helps to have the scrolling wood blades)
c) have a moderate amount of patience
d) have a good partner to help you with the work!

Here are some up-close pictures of the project (and a cat who loves the camera).