July 31, 2006

At times, technology can be a little too automatic, even for an IT guy like me.

This past Friday night, while waiting to meet some friends in front of a new upscale bowling alley in Center City, I began to fidget with my cell phone. By pressing a combination of buttons on the side of the phone, I inadvertently activated a security feature that displayed an ominous message on the small color screen:


The familiar options along the bottom of the screen — “Menu” on the left and “Contacts” on the right — were suddenly gone. My only choice: “Unlock” in the bottom-right corner, which, when selected, prompted me as follows:

Lock Code


I couldn’t recall ever setting up a four-digit PIN on my cell phone, and worse, there was no apparent way to bypass the code in order to call Verizon Wireless to resolve the problem. I first tried turning off the phone and turning it on again, but no dice. I then started guessing possible entry codes — the PIN that I use for my ATM card, a few predictable default numbers (0000, 1111, etc.), and even the last four digits of my Social Security number, thanks to a friend’s clever suggestion after she had arrived — but absolutely nothing worked.

Finally, after several minutes, I thought of entering the last four digits of my cell phone number — and just like that, the spell was broken.

It wouldn’t have been a major crisis if I had been unable to send or receive calls on my cell phone for a short while. But it’s frightening how quickly I managed to accidentally turn my phone into a shiny paperweight, and frustrating that a so-called feature turned out to be a fairly significant problem.

And here’s the strange part: in spite of this episode (after which I changed the default PIN to a code that’s easier to remember), as well as the phone’s occasional tendency to take photos by itself, it’s still the most reliable cell phone that I’ve owned.

[ No. 270 ]

July 28, 2006

We can now add “failed Olympic bid” to Philadelphia’s long list of dubious accomplishments.

Yesterday, the U.S. Olympic Committee narrowed the field of American candidates for the 2016 Summer Games from five to three. Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco lived to see another day, while Houston and Philly were crossed off the list.

I have no problem with Chicago and San Francisco proceeding to the next round; they’re both fine cities, and I enjoyed my visit to each of them in the past. But can someone tell me why L.A. is still in the running? They’ve already hosted two Olympic Games in 1932 and 1984 — let’s give another city a chance for the international spotlight, shall we?

And it’s important to note that Philly didn’t lose out because of inadequate financing or athletic facilities; in fact, those topics hadn’t even been publicly discussed yet. No, the problem runs much deeper than that — the problem, apparently, is us:

“Reading between the lines, it’s clear that our international reputation was our main flaw,” said David L. Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corp. and cochair of Philadelphia 2016, the local organizing committee. “And it was the one thing we had no capacity to address in the time frame that was available.”

Man, it’s hard not to take that statement personally. Reputation for what, exactly? (I certainly hope that the voting members didn’t base their judgment entirely on the crass behavior of Eagles fans.) And does David Cohen really think that we could improve people’s perception of Philadelphia within the constraints of a project plan? That could take decades, Dave, assuming it’s even possible.

The locals, of course, were not exactly stunned by the latest setback to our town. We’re used to being kicked around by now, and that pattern of rejection and disappointment only adds to our sour “reputation.” A chance to host the Summer Games in 10 years might have helped to break that vicious cycle, and one Willingboro resident put it best:

“Those cities don’t need it as bad as we need it. It might have brought Philly together. With all the crimes and killing, it might have brought some of that down.”

Is Philadelphia turning into a second-rate city, or are we already there?

* Update: My friend Steve (who hails from Pittsburgh) offered some solace:

I wouldn’t worry about the corrupt committee crossing Philly of their list. After all, it’s all about the bribe money, not really the other factors for which cities get selected.
Plus, if they did have it, I don’t know how happy the residents would be with all the additional traffic and security (silver lining!).

Larry, in a message with the subject line, “I got your rings right here,” added:

Last time I checked, Philly was the 6th Borough, so there’s no way it’s a second-rate city.

Wow. Larry’s memory (and wicked sense of humor) never ceases to amaze me. He’s referring to an infamous New York Times article from August 2005 that offered a backhanded compliment to Philly as merely an extension of the Big Apple. Understandably, Philadelphians were not exactly pleased. It’s bad enough that we’re completely overshadowed by New York; the article implied that NYC is annexing us, too.

Also, the Inquirer ran a follow-up story today that attempted to clarify the issue of Philly’s reputation and its role in the city’s rejection by the Olympic committee. Instead of having a bad image, Philadelphia apparently has no image:

“I am 100 percent convinced that this is not a bad-profile issue,” [Comcast executive and Philadelphia 2016 co-chair David] Cohen said, trying to explain why the city fared so poorly in the international polling. “This is a low- to no-profile issue.”

I can’t decide what’s worse — being disliked on the world stage, or being disregarded.

[ No. 269 ]

July 25, 2006

People who I don’t fully understand:

[ No. 268 ]

July 20, 2006

There’s nothing like a 27½-hour blackout to renew one’s appreciation for the modern convenience of electricity.

At around 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, shortly after the sky over Chesterbrook had darkened dramatically and strong winds began to whip the trees in my backyard back and forth, the power went out. The sudden outage seemed strange, since very little rain had fallen at that point, and the storm hadn’t really kicked into full gear yet. I was mildly annoyed, since I had planned to do a number of things around the house that evening. But it’s probably not a big deal, I thought — after all, the last blackout in my neighborhood had only lasted about two hours.

But as darkness fell without any change, I slowly realized that this was no ordinary power outage. Naturally, it took place during the hottest week of the summer thus far, and the muggy overnight weather made for a very uncomfortable night’s sleep. (I’ll admit that I’m very spoiled by the privilege of central air conditioning, and I’m a complete wimp without it.)

Overnight, I actually dreamt that the power had come back on, but that was only wishful thinking — I woke up on Wednesday morning without electricity, and returned home that evening still powerless. In talking with my coworkers during the day, I learned that violent storms had hit other Philadelphia suburbs much harder than my area, and PECO was scrambling to restore power to an astonishing 365,000 customers (the sixth-largest outage ever in the region).

A full day without electricity wasn’t an emergency for me by any means, but by Wednesday night, I couldn’t help feeling increasingly helpless, bored, and uncomfortable — no lights, no TV, no Internet access, no washing machine for my rapidly growing laundry basket, no cold beverages in the fridge, and again, no cool air throughout the house. But mercifully, the lights came on and the air conditioner stirred to life just after 11 p.m., and all was well again.

God bless Willis Carrier and his wonderful invention.

[ No. 267 ]

July 14, 2006

In case you’re wondering — all 10 of you out there who read this site on a regular basis — everything is just fine here in Monorailville. I know it’s a mortal sin to abandon one’s blog for two whole weeks without prior warning, but I’ve been enjoying some offline days at the shore, and I just haven’t been inspired to write about much of anything recently.

But now, I guess it’s time to catch up on a few things.

  1. The anonymous author behind Fresh Pepper?, one of my favorite blogs, has fallen silent yet again — it’s the third blog that he has shuttered over the last few years. I’m disappointed to lose a hilarious read each morning, but apparently, some of his writing was recently published under his real name and he wanted to pursue the “delusion” (his word choice) of writing professionally.
  2. The way I see it, the guy has genuine talent, and I can’t blame him for wanting to give it a shot. Best of luck, Fresh, and hope to see you back online soon.
  3. Everyone is still scratching their heads and wondering why Zinedine Zidane of France headbutted Marco Materazzi of Italy during the World Cup finals last weekend. The ongoing discussion about his violent outburst has completely overshadowed Italy’s victory, and that’s a shame.
  4. But can you imagine the worldwide reaction if Zidane was an American?
  5. Each time you’re tempted to complain about the summer heat, just remember that it’s a few thousand degrees hotter where Ken Lay is right now.
  6. This just in: Pete Coors, well-known beer company executive and promoter of responsible beer enjoyment, confirmed that he was cited for a DUI in May.
  7. Hey, didn’t O. Henry write a short story about this sort of thing?

[ No. 266 ]