Nov. 27, 2006

Recently, I’ve noticed a huge increase in the volume of spam in my Yahoo! account — at least 20 bogus messages per day. And after reading an astonishing article on CNN this morning, I learned that I’m certainly not alone.

According to a U.S.-based e-mail security company called Postini, about 90% of all e-mail is unsolicited junk mail, designed to sell something that you almost certainly don’t want. Even if you take that statistic with a grain of salt and round down to 60% or 70%, the sheer amount of spam is still amazing — and completely infuriating. It’s nothing short of a worldwide plague.

I’m sure it didn’t help that my primary e-mail address and a relatively new address for comments (the “Respond” link at the bottom of each post) were available on this public site, out in the open and ripe for harvesting. So I’ve taken some measures to conceal my e-mail addresses under the hood. It will be interesting if that update makes a significant difference in my inbox.

But spam will never completely die, mainly because there are enough gullible people out there who actually respond to spam — and therefore make the practice of spamming profitable. (With apologies to Jerry Seinfeld, who are these people?)

My only hope is that, if God is truly just, He will condemn every spammer to the lowest circle of hell.

[ No. 300 ]

Nov. 23, 2006

Hope everyone had a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving. Never forget that you always have plenty of things to be thankful for.

With each passing year, I’ve had a feeling that Christmas shopping is getting increasingly out of hand, but now I have conclusive proof that it’s completely and irreversibly insane:

Christiana Mall, of Newark, Del., will be opening at 3 a.m. on Black Friday.

Go right ahead, folks. Personally, I’m planning to wake up late tomorrow morning on a glorious day off, and if that means that I’m going to miss out on some lower prices before the sun comes up, then so be it.*

* Update: My friend Marty writes:

So, I am not one to comment on the blog, but seeing as how I actually witnessed Black Friday this year, thought I’d jump in.
I’m convinced that only idiots and masochists actually go to this event. This year, though, some merchants were kind enough to let you “pre-order” the Friday deals via the Web on Thursday. I’m convinced this is just a way to ensure that idiots pay more and folks with a pulse and a few active neurons get all the deals.
On that note, I’m going to go back to watching my new TV, which was pre-ordered at more than 50% off price on Thursday — picked up Friday at the crack of dawn while gaping at the lines and sheer stupidity that is getting up at 3 a.m. to attempt to get one of the five digital cameras on sale for $29.99. All the while knowing that they’d all been taken by folks ordering online.

Solid field reporting, Marty!

I must admit that I was one of those “idiots” at the King of Prussia Mall on a few Black Fridays about 10 years ago. The only difference is that I went to the mall at around 8 a.m. with my parents and sisters, and since I rarely had specific gift ideas in mind at that early point in the holiday season, I mostly tagged along to browse.

Anyway, it sounds like you got a great deal last Friday, but I stand by my decision to remain in bed well past dawn.

[ No. 299 ]

Nov. 18, 2006

Dear Local Business Owner:

I left you a message the week before last, requesting an appointment at my house to have my chimney inspected and cleaned — a task that you had performed very well for me two years ago. You returned my call this past Monday, and we scheduled an appointment on Wednesday at around 11:15 a.m. I even worked from home that day to make sure that I would be present.

You failed to arrive at any time on Wednesday, and two subsequent calls (one to your cell phone and another to your main office number, both on Wednesday afternoon) have gone unreturned since.

Look, I genuinely respect the hard work that you do, and I’d like to continue doing business with you, but that will depend on your ability to meet my minimum requirement of showing up. If an unforeseen scheduling conflict comes up, that’s OK — things like that happen. All I expect is a two-minute phone call with a brief explanation and an offer to reschedule.

If I was absent from a meeting at work and didn’t respond to my client’s request for an explanation, I’d almost certainly face disciplinary action for my careless behavior. The people in my line of work are expected to be professional and respectful toward their customers; why is that too much to ask from the majority of people in the home-improvement industry?

[ No. 298 ]

Nov. 10–12, 2006

Thanks to her friend’s last-minute cancellation, my friend Betsy generously invited me to join our shore house group for another weekend of college football, this time in State College for Penn State’s penultimate home game against Temple. Highlights from the weekend in Happy Valley:

  1. Immediately upon entering the timeless Rathskeller on Friday night, I bumped into the authors of Pop Cesspool and Wookified Productions, both fellow Penn Staters and friends of friends from the D.C. area. Great to see you guys again, Joe and Jim!
  2. We collectively decided to grab some late-night food at The Diner on College Avenue. I ordered a “grilled stickie à la mode” from the menu, but I felt compelled to ask the waitress why the delicacy was no longer listed as a Mount Nittany. “Oh, we used to call it that back in the day.” Back in the day? Good Lord, it hasn’t been that long — I graduated in 1996, not 1956.
  3. Kudos to everyone in the group for contributing to a fantastic tailgate before the game. Special recognition goes to our friend Fran, who graced us with her excellent grilling skills and provided a sturdy tent to protect us and the food from the intermittent rain that arrived about an hour before kickoff.
  4. We finally saw Penn State’s offense play well for once this season, even though their opponent was lowly Temple. The Nittany Lions raced out to a 21–0 lead in the first nine minutes of the game, and pulled away for a 47–0 win. The PSU defense held the Owls to only two first downs and 74 total yards on offense, both records during Joe Paterno’s 41-year tenure as head coach.
  5. I might just move back to State College for the ridiculously inexpensive restaurants and bars alone. At Bar Bleu (a relatively new jazz bar that replaced an Italian restaurant called Mario & Luigi’s), a Tanqueray and tonic and a bottle of Miller Lite sold for a whopping $4.50. Yes, that paltry amount covered both drinks, and the bartender appeared to accept my American currency.

[ No. 297 ]

Nov. 2–5, 2006

Having completed a pair of ambitious trips to Nebraska in 2003 and Michigan in 2005 to see Penn State football road games, we decided to travel to Wisconsin this year for Nittany Nation Road Trip III.

For a change of pace this year, our friend Tony wisely booked a Collegiate Athletic Travel travel package, which would greatly simplify the process of buying tickets to the game, ensure that we’d stay in a nicer hotel than last year’s “crack house” in Ann Arbor, and provide us with some camaraderie with fellow Penn Staters while in the Midwest.

Thursday. As with the previous two journeys, I began the trip by first driving down to the Washington, D.C., area to meet up with the other PSU road warriors. Honestly, I knew better than to arrive on the Capital Beltway during afternoon rush hour, but I managed to hit the heavy traffic at just the right time, and as a result, the first leg of the trip took well over three hours.

I first met Tony at his workplace in Arlington, Va., and the two of us met up with John and Doug at Union Station, where we picked up our rental vehicle, a silver Dodge Grand Caravan minivan (with New Jersey plates, to my amusement).

We left D.C. just after 8:30 p.m., heading west on I-270 and I-70 through Maryland and into Pennsylvania. A late-night meal at a Perkins in Breezewood, Pa. (“the Town of Motels”), was followed by a long overnight drive on I-76 in Pennsylvania and into Ohio, I-80 in Ohio, and I-80/I-90 through Ohio and Indiana. And believe it or not, we actually drove through some flurries in the wee hours of the morning.

Friday. I took the wheel for the last third of the 838-mile trip, taking I-90/I-94 into Illinois, through a staggering number of toll booths and the heavy Chicago morning rush hour, and I-94 and Routes 12/18 to our final destination at the Sheraton Madison shortly before 11 a.m. Central Time.

Still groggy from a mostly sleepless night, we ate lunch at the hotel restaurant, then took a necessary but inadequate two-hour nap before regrouping in the late afternoon. We had a few drinks at the hotel bar, and as we discussed our plans for the evening in the lobby, a number of Penn State players and assistant coaches (all of whom were staying at the same hotel!) walked right past us.

We spent Friday evening all over downtown Madison. Our plans including dinner at the excellent Great Dane Pub (thanks for your friend’s recommendation, Kim!), coffee at a nearby Starbucks, a drink at the State Bar & Grill, a long walk around the university campus, and a few more beverages at State Street Brats and MacKesey’s Irish Pub. Back at the hotel bar before hitting the sack, we even bumped into Scott Paterno, son of our beloved head coach, who had attended the same law school as John.

Saturday. Game day started early with a chartered bus ride to a Penn State pep rally under a big tent not far from the stadium. It was quite an affair — a few hundred alumni and fans came out to see the the Blue Band pep band perform and pose for photos with the Nittany Lion mascot. And of course, there were several folding tables that offered plenty of PSU apparel for sale, too.

The big event finally arrived at 11 a.m., when Penn State kicked off its final road game of the season against the Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium. Strangely, the game was a carbon copy of the one we witnessed in Lincoln three years ago: a low-scoring defensive battle, plenty of squandered scoring opportunities on Penn State’s part, and a very disappointing loss. To make matters worse, during the sluggish 13–3 defeat, Joe Paterno broke his left leg during a sideline collision and had to be carted off the field.

For the record, we have embarked on three Penn State road trips since 2003, and we have witnessed three losses. I’m seriously starting to think that our presence in the stands during PSU road games is simply not helping.

As we trudged away from the stadium among a huge, slow-moving crowd, a tall skinny young guy named Tom began chatting with us and invited us to join his tailgate nearby. We accepted his generous offer, and enjoyed a few beers with him and his friends at the corner of Milton and S. Randall Sts., just a few blocks from Camp Randall. We then followed his group to Jordan’s Big 10, a popular downtown bar whose parking lot becomes an outdoor beer garden on game day.

By the time we left the bar, night had already fallen and we were absolutely starving. We sat down at Nick’s Restaurant on State Street in Madison, but after scanning the limited menu, 1960s-era basement decor, and mostly white-haired patrons, we quicky decided that the place was downright creepy and hurriedly left through the back door before a waitress even arrived at our table. We settled into Tutto Pasta Trattoria across the street, where we thoroughly enjoyed a great Italian meal, and returned to the hotel for a very early bedtime.

Sunday. Given that our outbound trip took 15 hours, and all of us had to work on Monday, we got up well before dawn and hit the road at around 5:15 a.m., while the full moon was still overhead. The trip back was largely uneventful — lots of great stand-up comedy clips on Doug’s XM receiver really helped the miles fly by, and another Perkins stop served as a good midday meal. We arrived back in Arlington shortly after 8 p.m., and I felt surprisingly alert throughout my final 2½-hour return to my house in Chesterbrook.

The final numbers. From Arlington to Madison and back again, we covered 1,681 miles in just over 29 hours, including breaks. (If you include my additional round trip between Philly to D.C., I traveled 1,998 miles in a little under 35 hours.) Given those ludicrous statistics, maybe we should just book a flight to the next Penn State road game.

And, of course, we took plenty of photos during the trip — check ’em out!

[ No. 296 ]