24 February 2005

Rooms To Go Delivery = Steaming Pile

It's not that I don't like the Rooms To Go concept. I think it's a fine concept. I like their stores a great deal, with all the natural light and so forth; so much better than the standard enclosed big box warehouse. And I rather like a lot of their furniture, particularly a sleeper sofa I purchased from them this past weekend. It's a very nice piece, olive upholstery (matches my walls) and very attractive wood trim. I'm almost positive it would fit in my condo's rather small elevators.

I scheduled delivery for Wednesday, knowing that I had a flight on Friday, about four hours or so of briefings on Thursday, and that I had company coming in on Saturday. The company would be sleeping on the sleeper sofa, since my two-room condo (well, five if you count bathrooms and kitchen) has only the one bedroom; I need a sleeper sofa so I can have a second bed.

We wrote on the delivery ticket that my condo would not allow deliveries after six p.m., and would the delivery crew please call my cell phone an hour before delivery--this would give me time to get home from work. Seemed like all would go well.

Tuesday I got a computerized message from the company saying that my delivery window for Wednesday was 3 pm to 7 pm. Well, 3/4 of that window was okay, and since I had no way to respond to this computerized message, I just figured I'd hope they could get to my place before 6--and maybe I could barter a solution even if they couldn't (who the hell would know if I had a couch delivered at 6:30? Nobody).

Wednesday I left work at three and went to the gym, figuring I'd just leave as soon as the call came. I left the gym around four having received no call. Fine, fine, there's still time.
Nothing happens.
Around 6:30 I get a phone call, but don't reach the phone in time; I call the number and get an answering machine for some guy I don't know.

I had dinner, and by that time it didn't matter anyway when they came because they'd be unable to actually deliver the piece. I was stewing.
Around 8:15 or so I'm outside, sitting on the porch reading Mark Tushnet's A Court Divided and enjoying a glass of Barefoot chardonnay, and a big unmarked truck pulls up out front. I watch with interest as the driver and passenger both get out of the truck and talk with the gate guard, then smoke cigarettes. Then they get back in the truck and drive away.

Curious, I figured I'd better go downstairs and see whether that was the couch. Sure enough, it was.

Irate, I called the local Rooms To Go from which I'd purchased the couch. I spoke with a nice person who was apologetic but couldn't explain what had happened--why no call before the delivery, why the delivery over an hour outside the given window. She checked with the dispatcher, and then came back on the line.
"Let me make sure... you said the couch hadn't been delivered, right?"
"That's right."
"Huh. The dispatcher said he showed a successful delivery. That's not right."
"Yeah, there's no couch here I can assure you of that."

So, the delivery team, first they give me a delivery window which is partially outside the acceptable time frame. Then, they don't bother to call before delivery as they'd been asked to do. Then, they deliver the thing over an hour outside their own estimate without calling ahead to tell me about it. Then, the dispatcher goes ahead and claims the thing has been successfully delivered though it quite clearly hasn't been.

I told the girl that they could deliver the thing the next day (that is, today), or they could keep their damned couch and give me back my money. She said she'd note that and have the manager call me in the morning.

Today? No call from the manager in the morning. No calls at all until I got out of my meetings and called the store myself. The manager says, well, it says here there's a delivery notice for next Thursday. Something about it had to be delivered on Thursday.

Good thing I wasn't standing there in person or I'd have hit him. I told him what had happened, said clearly Thursday meant today and not a week hence--where the hell would he get that idea from?--and anyway rescheduling the delivery without calling to tell me about it? You get the couch to my house this afternoon before six or you give me the money back.

At least the guy was honest. He didn't think there was any way they could get the couch delivered today. No shit.

If the money's not back in my credit card balance by the time I land tomorrow, I'm going to take advantage of Rooms To Go's big windows and throw a molotov cocktail through one of them.

22 February 2005

Step 1 accomplished

My quest to go to law school passed the first of about seven dozen major hurdles today. I feel the need to celebrate--but I didn't open the bottle of Val Verde sangiovese. That's for a much bigger celebration.

Actually, the meeting with my commander went better than I had even hoped--and I'm known for having unrealistic expectations. I was hoping for at best a grudging acceptance and a lukewarm offer of help. But I was happily surprised.

See, in order to become a JAG, I have long road.
I must be accepted by the Funded Legal Education or Extended Leave programs from the Air Force. These programs have about an 18% acceptance rate. There are numerous aspects to gaining this acceptance.
But, to gain acceptance, I must first apply.
To apply, I must first get a letter from my functional at the Air Force Personnel Center, who's name is Maj. John Armstrong.
Maj. Armstrong is not permitted to deal with me on these matters until I get a blessing from my commander, Lt. Col John Kafer.
So, today I went in to get the blessing.

As I said, I hoped for a positive outcome but had limited expectations. LtCol Kafer and I are cut from very different cloth, and I never know what to expect from him. But after just about three or four minutes of me talking, he said he was glad to help in any way he could, and even mentioned that he thought, since the AF has too many tanker pilots right now, that this was the perfect window to give it a shot. He said, talk to Maj. Armstrong, find out what he needs from you, and I'll give you whatever you need.

I gotta tell ya, it feels wonderful. Could this be the beginning of, well, the beginning? One can only hope.

Because of Winn-Dixie

I've shopped at Winn-Dixie for years. Being a child of Jacksonville, the news of the chain's bankruptcy is particularly saddening. I do hope they'll succeed. Perhaps the current movie will help a bit.

Scott Maddox

Scott Maddox needs to take a page from Howard Dean's book. He manages a party that hasn't had a single noteworthy victory since 2000, and certainly none since he took over the party chairmanship. Maddox's role in 2006 is rebuilding a shattered party infrastructure and trying to figure out how best to put one of the two existing quality candidates (Jim Davis and Rod Smith; I can't speak for Bud Chiles yet) in the governor's office and chip away at the GOP hold on the state legislature. If he manages that, he'll do more for his party and his reputation (and thus his future in politics) than he could possibly do by mixing himself up in an already crowded primary. Maddox is young. If he has any brains at all, he'll work behind the scenes instead of grabbing a headline.

I don't know if he's capable of that.

21 February 2005

Divide and fail to conquer

Yesterday I was in the commissary for some things and stopped by the magazine rack to look for what turns out to be an old issue of Men's Fitness. No loss. What I found was more interesting indeed. Tucked away in the back was January's issue of The American Prospect, probably the only truly liberal political magazine I've ever seen on the base. I can't wait to bring it in to work and scare my colleagues.

I bought this one because on the front is a milk carton with a donkey, and it says, "Have you seen the Emerging Democratic Majority?" I figured this must be a direct slap at John Judis and Ruy Teixeira, who wrote the book The Emerging Democratic Majority and manage the weblog by the same name. I occasionally read this weblog, which is mostly vituperative crap, so I thought I'd pick up the magazine and read what one group of liberals had to say about another.

Well, the Prospect, while being too eager to help the Democratic Party and not eager enough to consider the third way argument I made on this blog back in November, is actually a fairly intelligent magazine. The January issue includes solid pieces on the inevitable Rehnquist retirement, the social security debate, and the loss of Richard Armitage from the State Department, although typically of leftist thought they fail to connect any of these things with each other. Then begins the body of the magazine, which includes three articles about whatever happened to the so-called emerging majority.

Michael Lind contributes a very bright article about why the Dems are being relegated to New England, the upper midwest, and the west coast, and what should be done about it (stop nominating Boston Brahmins is a key point). Then comes an article actually by Judis and Teixeira, who argue that in fact though the emergence of the democratic majority was put off a few years by September 11, it's still taking shape just as they predicted.

But here's where things break down. For starters, they blame September 11 for the slow pace of Democratic victories, but they published their book in October 2002, having had plenty of time to see what effect Bush doctrine in the wake of September 11 might have; that argument doesn't hold water. And beyond that, the two construct their entire argument on the single biggest problem affecting American politics today. They make all their arguments based on groups--Bush won such and such percentage of this group over that group, improved his numbers with Hispanics and devout Catholics in Ohio but didn't improve them with Southern Blacks or college-educated middle class whites.

Divide and conquer is an apt policy in war but has problems in politics. All people belong to groups, but all people belong to more than one group and assuming that all people in any group are always going to vote one way or another is inappropriate. Courting one group may indeed alienate members of that group who don't subscribe to the reasons the group is being courted.

Of course both parties are equally guilty of this; Judis and Teixeira present evidence that the Bush campaign specifically targeted devout Catholics in Ohio, for instance, and both parties have long discussed "The Black Vote" and "The Hispanic Vote" along with numerous other groups. Soccer moms and NASCAR dads might be the most benign of these groupings but prove that minorities are not exempt from being labeled by the political leadership of both sides.

The problem here is old as the hills. Rather than attempting to make broad general statements about belief and persuading people--all people, rather than this or that group--that their beliefs are compatible, parties cram people into groups and then feed targeted marketing materials to each group. Having worked on campaigns, I can tell you that the campaign material distributed to blacks and whites in major campaigns is usually quite different; ditto materials distributed to different communities within a district. Because you are black you must care about this; because you live in a small town you must care about that. The only way most politicians are able to see people is through the lens of group affiliation.

Michael Lind at least makes the argument that the party should focus on economic issues and apply these across the board--who doesn't want more jobs and a stronger economy?--but fails to note the key difference between this approach and the standard divide and somehow fail to conquer anyway method. Of course, Lind will be bashed by the left for claiming that the Democratic party's best chance to regain power is to shift focus away from social issues (on which the liberals tend to be in the minority), so it's safe to say that his message will go unheeded and the party elders will no doubt attempt to stratify people into even narrower groups than "devout Ohio Catholics." And at that rate, that donkey's going to be on the milk carton for a long while.

19 February 2005

Cal and the RFID update

On Thursday a friend of mine, we'll call him "Tyler," who had been intigued by the arsTechnica article about RFID in elementary schools that Joel sent out earlier this week, found this update.

It's hard to be happy about the end result here, since it wasn't parental uproar or the threat of multiple civil liberties lawsuits that ended the escapade, but rather the inability of the company furnishing the damned IDs to actually go through with the contract. This company, InCom, I can't find any information on; a Google search yields a variety of different organizations, none of which seem likely to be the group in question. Incom.com is a web portal of sorts. In any event, it's over, at least for a month or two when another school in another state using another supplier decides to do the same thing.

On the bright side, though, it seems the school was already knuckling under somewhat, as the scanners above classroom doors had been disabled, and the school had not taken up disciplining students who didn't wear the badges. This of course begs the question of why the school wanted to do this in the first place. I can't imagine what they thought was going to happen. Good publicity for being the first school in the nation to try it? Better publicity for being pro-safety? Nobody out there is smoking enough weed to have made that seem like a good idea.

What concerns me is that the news article is still talking about how some parents had "health concerns" about the chips. Health concerns from a microchip? They'd be better off worrying about whether the freemasons were trying to poison the wells. Focussing on mythical health concerns arising from chips that have actually been FDA approved for surgical implantation under the skin is a remarkable waste of time; worse, it prevents smart parents from taking aim at the much more significant privacy rights and civil liberties issues. As the ars writer says, you don't have to be a member of the tinfoil hat brigade to see these problems--but if you're more worried about radiation sickness from the chips you'll probably overlook them anyway.

Much better news than any of this is that Tyler sent the link out from work, so I received it at my desk in the office. Previously the Air Force censors had banned me from connecting to arsTechnica, for what reason I can't remember. I think they called it a "portal site," which is meaningless because they also call intellicast.com a portal site. Portal to what? Accurate weather forecasts? God forbid! Today we let pilots check the weather themselves; tomorrow, total anarchy.

Anyway, apparently sometime in the last three months the censors either lost track of arsTechnica or decided that there really wasn't any valid reason for blocking it, so now I can actually read that stuff at work. Now if they'll just let me in to Howard Bashman's How Appealing blog and the new Politics1 blog, I'll never have to do any actual work again.

16 February 2005

Politics of personal idiocy

Check this terrific blurb on Political Wire:
GOP Operative Accused of Theft

Politics of personal destruction my ass. I find it entirely amusing that everything, literally everything these days, becomes "the politics of personal destruction." Even when the issue stems from what appears fairly good evidence of fraud and embezzlement, merely bringing the charges is clearly a personal attack.
My favorite of Taylor's statements reported in the news article:

" Taylor said he did not know why his fellow Young Republicans would file a criminal report with police simply because of his neutrality in a national election."

I don't know why, either. It's times like these where I play the old Occam's Razor card. If it seems unlikely that they would file criminal charges solely because of your neutrality, then the charges probably stem from something other than your neutrality. I'll continue to monitor this one.

Stupid Air Force Tricks

The following email came out at work today. I’ve cut the sensitive and boring parts:

In order to facilitate a successful upgrade of AMC's Exchange 2000 e-mail environment to Exchange 2003, the AMC NOSC will implement a new and improved Outlook Web Access (OWA) logon procedure starting 25 Feb 2005.

A new logon page will be displayed that will require all users to enter their username and password and then select two of the following options:

· The first option allows users to select which client they prefer to use:

· Premium: provides all OWA features available (most features will not be available until the upgrade to Exchange 2003 is completed, schedule TBD). This is the default option when logging in.

· Basic: provides fewer features than the premium client, but offers faster performance (use basic client for slow connections, ie, dial-up).

· The second option allows users to select what type of computer they are using:

· Public or shared computer: select this option when accessing OWA from a computer whose security settings cannot be confirmed (Internet kiosk, computer at a library, etc…). This is the default option when logging in.

· Private computer: select this option when accessing OWA from a computer whose security settings can be confirmed (home or office computer).

Once the user is logged on to OWA, the look and feel of the interface will resemble the old interface.

I always find these things interesting as they are entirely representative of the Air Force mentality. This is a “new and improved” logon procedure. What is improved about it from the standpoint of a general user?

Actually, near as I can tell, nothing. It requires me to go through two additional steps that I did not have to go through before to check my email from home. While it allows me to choose a faster-performance option, it’s worth noting that the former system offered only that option, by offering no options at all. Since the AF won’t let me telecommute anyway, I don’t see why anybody cares much about “all the OWA features available” just to check email from home, which less than 10% of the force does anyway.

This is typical of AF improvements. Improvement is, in fact, a synonym for change, and has nothing at all to do with whether the change is an improvement or, as is so frequent, not.

11 February 2005

Sicko Shrimps

Is anybody else disturbed by the Dairy Queen commercial with the two shrimp eating popcorn shrimp?

If you haven’t seen it yet, here’s the synopsis:

Male shrimp is eating something.

Female shrimp: What’s that?

Male shrimp: It’s the new popcorn from Dairy Queen. It’s delicious. Try some.

Female shrimp: This is great. Wait a minute, this isn’t popcorn! This is popcorn shrimp!

Male shrimp: I knew there was something familiar about it.

Female shrimp: Wait a minute! Where are the kids?

Both: (screaming)

Okay, this is really one of the more disturbing commercials I’ve seen in a while. Dining on children is now funny? I missed that memo. I was surprised to see this commercial twice. How long will it be on the air before DQ thinks better of it?

California and The RFID Kids

A friend of mine (we’ll call him “Joel”) sends a link to an article on arsTechnica (which I always think says Arse Technica) about mandatory RFIDing of elementary school students, which article then links the following story:

RFID School

If you’re at all interested in this sort of civil liberties issue, read the news article above first. Evidently this elementary school, operating on its own, decided that it would require id badges to be worn around students’ necks containing an RFID chip. Let’s think about this, shall we?

“The RFID chips are worn around the neck in the form of ID badges”

This is an elementary school. How many hours do you think will pass before a bully yanks on a kid’s id badge to choke him? How many hours do think will pass before another bully steals a kid’s badge? What will happen then? This is moronic on its face, RFID aside.

“carry the child's name, photo, grade and unique school ID number”

Ah, great, yet another opportunity for identity theft. Let’s say that this handy little ID falls into the hands of a pedophile or kidnapper. What then? Why, look at all the cool information he’d have to start spoofing the child’s parents and the school.

And what are we doing with the “unique school ID number?” Is the kid’s name and grade not enough? I went through a large public school with a kid who shared my first and last name and yet somehow the school was able to tell the two of us apart. Possibly by that tricky middle initial, I don’t know. Is it that we’re just numbering all our kids now so that they’ll be used to the idea of being known by a number for when the Government decides that we should all henceforth be known by our numbers? Hmm.

"Students who lose or destroy their badges will be accountable for the cost of replacing them."

Ah, yes, so now we’re discriminating on the basis of wealth. Obviously a lost badge is a much bigger deal to a poor kid’s family than to a rich kid’s. Seems to me like the aforementioned bully has a whole new way to make fun of the poor kids. Yaay!

“the system allowed the staff to find when a non-student was in the school, due to the interloper's lack of badge.”

What? I may not be the most technologically savvy person around, but if I recall, RFID works by tracking the chips in the cards, and it really doesn’t have any way of tracking a card with no chip. In other words, if a person lacks the RFID, how are they going to show up on the RFID tracking system? This doesn’t make any sense at all. I’m sure the school thinks it does, but I’d like to see it working.

After all, the stated intent here is to know where the wearers of the badges are. RFID allows the school to track the students by monitoring the whereabouts of the RFID chips. And yet here they’re saying that they’ll also know the whereabouts of, well, apparently of everything else in creation since a “non-student” wouldn’t have the RFID chip and so wouldn’t be traceable.

“while the whole school must wear the badges, only the seventh and eighth graders are being tracked.”

This has a host of problems. Only some students will be tracked, but all students have to wear the tracking device? Interesting. So either we’re saying that some students aren’t important enough to be tracked, or that other students aren’t trustworthy enough not to be tracked. I don’t like either of those implications.

This also just muddies the waters regarding the tracking of “interlopers.” Not all students are being tracked. But we’ll know who doesn’t have a badge because we’ll be tracking them. If the question arises that you have an interloper, mustn’t you then attempt to determine the location of all the students? In all the grades? Thereby tracking them? At what point do we just say we’re really tracking all the students, because you never know when there’s somebody on campus who ought not be there?

If I’m a visitor to the campus, do I get a badge at the front desk? Doesn’t that then allow the school to track me while I’m on campus? What if I refuse?

I think this school is opening itself to a host of legal challenges, and I hope my donation to the Electronic Frontier Foundation helps fight those battles.

Now read the bit on arsTechnica.

This brings up a whole other side of the problem, namely what are we programming these kids for? Besides a lifetime of not trusting others, I’m not sure. The author here is correct in his statements about the industrial public school system; one does not have to be a disciple of John Taylor Gatto to recognize such things.

The question is, if public schools are intended to socialize children, what sort of socialization is intended here? Are we heading toward a Logan’s Run system where everyone has a chip and if you’re not in the right place, They come after you?

Do They have to wear chips? I’ve always wondered.

09 February 2005


The time has come to renew my Florida drivers license. I can do this one of four ways.

The most popular has long been the renew-by-mail method, which used to be one of just two options. The other, of course, was to actually go down to the DMV and wait in line and fill out the paperwork and get an entirely new license. Nobody ever did that, not really, because the lines at the DMV are, of course, the stuff of legend. Wait, wait, wait some more, that has always been the motto of DMVs in every state.

Well, Florida decided recently to move into the 21st Century, and began offering two additional ways to renew, for those people who feel the U.S. mail is too slow and that 37 cents or whatever it is these days is too much for a stamp. Hooray for progress.

Now, in addition to renewing in person (which nobody does) and renewing by mail (which only people over 55 would actually do), you can also renew by phone. But think about this. Renew your drivers’ license by phone?

Come on. Phone calls to large impersonal organizations like banks, insurance companies, and computer technical support operations are painful at best, an exercise in self-flagellation and futility. And now you’re telling me I should add to that the fact that this is still the DMV, the people who get a perverse pleasure out of making you wait in a line only to tell you you’ve been waiting in the wrong line? Get real.

I can’t imagine who is actually doing this. For my part, I am one of the perhaps two dozen Americans still using a rotary-dial telephone exclusively (I have the cell, of course, but what sort of person decides to use waste phone minutes on hold instead of spending 37 cents on a stamp? Okay, okay, everybody under the age of 30, but still, it’s absurd), so there’s almost no chance in hell that I’d actually manage to get through the system anyway.

That leaves the holy grail of renewal options, renewing online. This seems obvious. You simply visit www.gorenew.com and you can click your way to five more years of driving on a license with that ridiculous picture of you when you were 21 and actually went to the DMV solely to get an ID that didn’t have “Under 21” stamped across the front. I figured I’d go ahead and do this.

Wait wait, here’s the punchline.

I went to the site. You can go there yourself. You choose the option you want, and click continue. And then you wait.

And you wait. And you wait some more. And then you get the following message, after about ten minutes or so:

The connection to express.hsmv.state.fl.us has terminated unexpectedly. Some data may have been transferred.

Yes, that’s it. So much for renewing online. If they can’t make you wait one way, I guess they’ll find another. Now where did I put my stamps?


The two-month span between the last post and this one is explained in the following way:
The Air Force sucks.

I'm back from deployment now.