Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Point and Counterpoint -- Sort of

"60 Minutes" this past week had an interesting story on The Cost of Dying.

By law, Medicare cannot reject any treatment based upon cost. It will pay $55,000 for patients with advanced breast cancer to receive the chemotherapy drug Avastin, even though it extends life only an average of a month and a half; it will pay $40,000 for a 93-year-old man with terminal cancer to get a surgically implanted defibrillator if he happens to have heart problems too.

Eugene Robinson asks in his column today "How much expensive, unnecessary, high-tech testing and treatment am I willing to have our out-of-control health system pay for to save one life, if the life in question might be mine or that of a loved one? The honest answer, I think, is: a whole bunch."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Now that's service

Recently received an order from Crate & Barrel and they honestly do an amazing job of packing. Lots and lots of bubble wrap and tissue paper, usually double or triple the volume of the original object. It's actually rather comical just how well Crate & Barrel packs and just how much care they take in making sure the object gets to you in one piece.

Anyway, I was unpacking the box yesterday and it was a very nice dinner tray. Except that one corner had been cracked during shipping and then the piece fell off in my hand. Utter sadness. The packing slip that came with the shipment gave a phone number to call in case of an issues so I assumed it would be the run of the mill "Ship us the broken part back and we'll send you another one and oh yeah, you have to pay to ship it back to us." I also wondered since Sweat Sock City has a Crate & Barrel here, would I need to go to the store to exchange it for another one?

Anyway, Crate & Barrel apologized profusely for the broken tray and also for another item -- a soup bowl -- that had gotten scuffed. They said there was no reason for me to take the items to the store or to even ship it back to them. They said something along the lines of "Just throw those things away and we'll send you replacements free of charge within 3 to 7 business days." I was flabbergasted. Especially since the soup bowl is usable, it's just scratched up a bit. Crate & Barrel said it was just easier to send us a new one rather than do all the paperwork involved in reshipping/returning.

It was an amazing response and just so very helpful and very nice. Plus, I was SO glad that they didn't make me go into the store because as we all know, this might be the happiest time of the year, but certainly not in the department stores!

ps. If you are moving, I HIGHLY recommend Crate & Barrel packing materials. I'm currently in the process of moving (sniff!) and those gazillion yards of material for one itty bitty soup bowl is coming in handy as I move my frou-frou items.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

I'm saying what I mean to say

John Mayer is so overrated. Seriously, what's the appeal? He's grungy and his songs and his voice (get some energy, already!) are annoying as heck. Seriously overrated. Right up there with U2 and Nirvana.


Thursday, November 19, 2009


So I downloaded King's Quest 1 from yesterday's post, and have been playing for a while now. So far, I've obtained 89 out of 158 points, but have hit a dead end. The game is pretty true to the original and I think all of the riddles are the same as the original as well. Unfortunately my memory isn't as good as it used to be so I'm spending a lot of time just wandering around looking for clues. I've gotten now to the point where I'm slightly bit frustrated, especially when I was just reminded that there are two other King's Quest to go after this one. Ah well. The point of this post was to say that yes, I have tried the download from yesterday, it works, and the game is pretty true to the original. So all you adventurer, nostalgia type gamers, this might be a good one to try, especially if you're thinking about testing your patience.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Lotd the Second

People of a certain age will remember the King's Quest games from the mid to late 80s. I loved those games and thanks to google, I found free downloads here of all three games. I haven't tried them myself so I can't vouch for them. But when I get my new computer...

The weather is getting cooler here and today I broke out my wool pea coat, my tights, wool skirt and knee-high boots (I had a scarf and gloves too, but that might have been a wee bit overkill). In celebration of the winter season making its debut, I present a video of two of my favorite things: Bollywood and ice-skating.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Friday, November 13, 2009

LotD the second

Palin Book Fact Check. Shouldn't be surprising she plays fast and loose with facts. It'd be nice if she could go away and take Carrie Prejean with her.

Carry On Bag etiquette -- definitely a must-read prior to the holiday traveling season. It will make your life so much easier.

My tips --

1. Leave the laptop at home. It's really, really, really not worth dragging it through security and depending on airport and/or destination, there could be a possible of confistication.

2. Wear shoes that can easily slip on/off. Forget the laces. It takes too long. And oh, wear socks. Your feet will appreciate it.

3. Don't wear anything with metal on it. Seriously. This could include the belt buckle, the hairpin in your hair, the fastenings on your jeans. The list is endless and I've been pulled aside so many times for the rivets on my jeans. So now I go with plain old khakis.

4. Take out your baggy if you're carrying on your bags before you get to the security line. I used to keep my toiletry baggy in th front pocket of my carry-on suitcase, but it took too long to get out, so now I carry the baggy in my purse and it's much quicker to take out.

5. You have to take your jacket off before going through security. If there is anyway you can avoid wearing a jacket, I totally recommend it. The more things you have to take off/take out for security, the longer it's going to take to get through. So minimize.

6. On the plane, if you're carrying on, you're allowed one carry-on bag and one personal item for most airlines. If you have a suitcase, it better fit in lengthwise in the overhead bin or frequent flyers like me will glare at you for taking up more space than you're supposed to. Your personal item should fit in your seat pocket or under the seat in front of you.

7. If you're in an aisle or middle seat, don't buckle up until your entire row is seated. The sooner you can get up and out of the way, the sooner your seatmate can sit down, the better. Plus, on a personal level, I hate getting buckled up and comfortable only to get up every 10 seconds to let someone in.

8. If you're locking your bag, use a TSA-approved lock. Those are locks that have a specific marking on them and can be opened by the TSA if they need to look in your bag. If you use any other kind of lock, such as a pre-9/11 lock, they'll cut it off to look inside.

9. If you do persist on bringing your laptop on the airplane, I would suggest NOT working on anything related to your job. As someone who traveled a lot to areas where my industry had major operations, I can't even tell you how many times I looked over at a computer screen and saw confidential details on a company's workings. So if you're going to bring the laptop, at least watch a DVD or play games, and don't work on confidential things.

10. Carry some snacks in your purse. Continental will serve a snack, but it's usually not vegetarian. Other airlines will either give you peanuts or charge you. All of which is fine as long as you don't get delayed or re-routed due to weather. I've been stuck on the tarmac for hours and having a couple of granola bars helped. This is especially helpful if you are flying to any part of the country that might experience a weather delay (read: Northeast, Midwest), but in winter you can never tell.

Enjoy the holiday traveling season!
Passing on the Buck

I mentioned the Starbucks habits in yesterday's post. I don't think I know anyone who actually has a hardcore Starbucks habit, but then I run in different circles than the people described in the article. That being said, I do consume Starbucks about 4 or 5 times a year, most recently about a month or so ago because we thought they were offering free cups of their new instant coffee. Alas, we were wrong and ended up buying highly priced house coffee.

I love coffee. It makes me go in the morning, it perks me up. I don't drink a lot of coffee, maybe 2 cups a day (1 cup today), but I do enjoy a good cup. So this last visit to Starbucks, when you're forking over more than $2 for a plain ole black coffee, you expect something good. But instead, it was what I've come to expect from Starbucks -- as if someone overroasted the beans and then used the burned parts to brew the coffee. It. Was. Not. Good. The only thing more disappointing about a bad cup of coffee is one that cost more than $2.

The Starbucks wasn't giving out free tastes of their instant coffee as advertised but they did give us a packet to try later. I had it one Sunday morning instead of my usual instant Taster's Choice and again, It. Was. Not. Good. I have no idea how much that instant costs, but I definitely won't be trading in my current coffee for it. A friend tried it recently and his verdict was the same as mine. Not. Good.

I do have to give a shout out to Nescafe though. I had some really good Nescafe packs in Budapest -- they come pre-mixed with sugar and creamer and great for on the go. It could be that I was so excited about non-shot glass style expresso that I found the Nescafe (purchased at a train station kiosk) absolutely wonderful, or was it was really that good? I might try again in the future. The problem with nostalgia is when you revisit, the memory is sometimes better than the reality.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


This story in the WSJ re executives who got laid off and are still living large, even turning down job offers, seems so far removed from reality. It's hard to imagine keeping on with $130 haircuts or the Starbucks habit when you no longer have income to support it. It doesn't seem very smart to me, but then I get my hair cut at Haircuts for Less and similar ilk and I find Starbucks disgusting so my coffee habit is usually limited to Taster's Choice with the occasional splurge on McDonald's McCafe.

What's crazy is a couple of people in this article have turned down job offers. In this kind of economy, who knows when the next offer is coming? It just seems enormously irresponsible for people who are otherwise pretty smart.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Going somewhere? Here's an article on the Best and Worst Airlines for Lost Luggage. Next thing you know, they'll be charging you a fee not to lose your bags.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Garage sale

Today we garage sale'd with some friends. Super early start to the day -- 5:30 am -- but by 11:30 am, we'd cleared about $247 and change. We then took the leftover books and CDs over to Half Price Books and got another $20. Not bad for a few hours of work for stuff we were planning to give away anyway.

Thoughts --

The minute the signs go out, it's like the people transporter beam themselves to the driveway. It's amazing. The re-sell guys were first at our sale and walked around picking out things immediately, did not haggle our prices and probably gave us the biggest bang for the buck right away. The later buyers were more haggler-prone and wanted to bargain everything down. The craziest one was the lady who insisted that she couldn't pay more than $3 for a nice end table with a lamp and then had us load it into her brand new Lincoln Navigator.

People at garage sales will seriously buy anything. It's almost ridiculously comical. As a whim, I marked an empty diffuser bottle with used reeds in it at 10 cents, not expecting anyone to buy it. It sold. A big surprise were the clothes. We put clothes out -- all brand names like Ann Taylor, Anne Klein, GAP, the Limited, etc -- and didn't actually expect anyone to buy them. My friend and I probably sold about $10 to $12 worth of clothing. My friend said that she had tried to sell clothes at previous garage sales and had not succeeded. I suppose our combination of good quality merchandise and the economic conditions came together and we sold several dresses, skirts, coats and jackets between the two of us.

We found that the furniture really attracted people and we had a lot of it. So we put some at the end of the driveway and some of the beginning and people were pulled in. Our traffic reduced quite a bit by the time we sold almost all of our furniture. By late morning, given the sparcity of items, people would just drive by. Still, we got a second wind when we least expected it -- around 10:30 or so. By then, we told people to make us and offer and take the stuff. We cleared another $15 or $20 before taking down our signs.

You have to watch out for the scammers. We almost fell victim to one today, but managed to pull it together before we really lost our shirts (literally). This guy and his wife (?) came by, made idle chitchat and then expressed interest in certain items, especially an IKEA bookshelf marked at $50. Then, without buying anything, they spun us a story about how they were starting a non-profit. We then said if they came back around lunch time, they could haul off whatever was left for free. They said they'd be back then and then offered to pay us $25 for the bookshelf when they returned (they didn't give me the money).

In the meantime, I sold the bookshelf for $35 and was holding it for the lady who bought it (and gave me the money for it). The couple returned and when they found out that the bookshelf had been sold, they left without taking any of the other stuff for their alleged non-profit. The guy told us that despite his offer of $25, he was only willing to pay $10 for the bookshelf. In retrospect, we think that he was trying to get the bookshelf for free and he wasn't really shopping around for his non-profit.

The other lesson we took away is that we started cutting prices way too early. If someone offered us a ridiculously low price for something early in the morning -- say 7:30 am -- we took it. In retrospect, the bulk of our traffic came during 8:30 to 9:30 and we might have gotten better prices on earlier sales if we had waited. There were several moments when there were two or three people interested in a piece and invariably, the second or third person said they would have given us more for the piece than the buyer did. Who knows if they are telling the truth? After all a bird in hand is better than one in the bush.

In another case, I had a piece of furniture that garnered absolutely no interest but I wasn't aggressive in pointing out this television stand -- which was in good condition -- or in cutting the price. We were invariably successful when we chatted up a product and/or talked about the context it was used in or the value of the product in our lives. I didn't do that with the television stand or a glass end-table and the result was that these were the only two pieces of furniture left when we closed down the sale. In the end, we donated both pieces to a local charity, but I should have been more aggressive about it.

I also got frazzled because I was unpacking stuff and still pricing when people started showing up and that was just weird because in some cases, people were buying things I hadn't yet put a price on and it was just crazy that way. I wonder if people show up so early not only to get the best price but to also get those of us running the sale at a time when we're so frazzled that we just automatically quote them a price without thinking too hard about it.

Also, when you're doing a garage sale with three other people, you need to keep track of whose stuff is being sold, make sure you get the right price for it, and then get the money to the right person. It can get super confusing, but I'm glad we did it all together. It was a lot of fun and the camraderie was great. Also, pooling four people's things together created more buzz and traffic through our sale well past 11 am. Which is always a good thing. We sold more than $500 total, about $125/person. Not a bad day's work.

All in all, we think it was a success. We're thinking about doing it again in April when the weather is nice and hopefully have some more stuff to sell, especially things like roller blades or old bicycles which might do better in the spring months when demand is high. I had donated 7 bags of things to the Salvation Army about 1 month ago and I wish I'd saved it to sell instead. I figure, if you're going to donate the stuff anyway, try and sell it first either on eBay, Craigslist or at a garage sale. It's worth a shot, hard work as it is. And who couldn't use a little cash these days?

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Interesting article, or rather book review -- Flesh of Your Flesh.

How is it that Americans, so solicitous of the animals they keep as pets, are so indifferent toward the ones they cook for dinner? The answer cannot lie in the beasts themselves. Pigs, after all, are quite companionable, and dogs are said to be delicious.
Story time

I read Stephen King's "Premium Harmony" at the New Yorker magazine here (free to read, so go ahead, click). I discovered the story at a time when I'm having a short story renaissance. I used to love short stories -- reading and writing them -- and then I got derailed by the idea of novels and longer stories and it's been years since I've written a short story of any merit. The Stephen King story, however, has merit.

For a short story, King has managed to infuse his characters with, well, a lot of character. The conversation -- rapid fire, not bogged down with unnecessary details or action 'moments' -- sketches out the characters well. There are snatches of humor here and there, moments of poignancy, and above all, illumination of character -- something incredibly hard to do in the space of a short story. The interesting thing here is that King doesn't bother making his characters likeable; in fact, he puts so much effort in making them unlikeable, and yet, still very realistic. King also managed to draw all the little threads, all the little details, together in the final graf, which was excellent. He followed the old adage to a t: if there is a gun over the fireplace in the first act, it should be fired by the third.

While I enjoyed the story, I did find it a bit... outlandish, out of the realm of reality at moments. But it wasn't so much that I was distracted and tempted to hit the back button (and all you internet fiction readers know about the back button!).

All in all, an enjoyable story, well written, a bit on the quirky side, but if you're looking for a quick read over lunch, I recommend Premium Harmony.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

LotD the third

Happy first day of NaNoWriMo!. Good luck to all you aspiring novelists out there. I did this three years in a row, finishing the project my second and third times (eh, that's finishing the word count, not the actual novels -- which are big honking stinking piles of putrid trash on my hard drive, but hey, at least I tried!). If I didn't have so much going on in November this year, I'd give the 50k word marathon another shot, but alas, I don't think so. Maybe next year...
LotD the second

One Hundred Things Restaurant Staffers Should Never Do. I have to say, I have been on the receiving end of many, many of these before. Especially the wobbly table thing. I hate the wobbly tables so many restaurants seem to fix with a wadded up piece of napkin. Or getting your plate taken away before your companion is finished. Or having a lunch with a good friend constantly interrupted by a bored waitstaff who wants to join in (we didn't come to catch with you, oh random waitperson who we just met for the very first time). First fifty in the linked to article, the next 50 are promised to be forthcoming.

Interesting Ed-Op in the NYTimes from a rancher's perspective: The Carnivore's Dilemma.

... there are numerous reasonable ways to reduce our individual contributions to climate change through our food choices. Because it takes more resources to produce meat and dairy than, say, fresh locally grown carrots, it’s sensible to cut back on consumption of animal-based foods. More important, all eaters can lower their global warming contribution by following these simple rules: avoid processed foods and those from industrialized farms; reduce food waste; and buy local and in season.

I got my hour back!