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Journal for 30 June 2006, Part II


Last night the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, this evening the lower. We’re at a KOA just outside Mackinaw City, a glorified hotel strip for those wishing to visit the island. Tomorrow we become one of the masses, crowding onto some boat for a 20-minute ride to what has been dubbed by many as a mecca for horseshit and fudge.

Today was a good day. After leaving Iron Mountain this morning, I did some quick backtracking so Lisa could get her photo by the Michigan welcome sign, and so I could figure out where I’d made a wrong turn on the way to the hotel the night before. From there we made decent time to Marquette, where we planned on spending a couple of hours but instead spent five. We found both of my old homes, and in one case inadvertently met the current residents, who came storming out at the sight of my camera.

“What are you doing!?”

“Sorry, I used to live here.”

With that the broke out smiles and waved. “Oh, okay!”

We also found the car dealership my dad used to manage, so I stopped to call and let him know where we were. A 15-minute conversation ensued, which eventually led to me going inside to see if some of his former coworkers were still there. In both cases they still were, over 25 years after my family had made its move south to Wisconsin.

I’m astounded that I’ve been with my current employer six years. I can’t imagine a decade, much less a quarter century.

Other than that, we spent some time out at Presque Isle, a fantastic park just north of Marquette, and some general bumming around. (Lisa got to see her first Michigan left, too.) I’m amazed at how much is the same as it was in 1982. Many buildings, stores and businesses were exactly as they were when we left. Heck, TV6 Marquette is still using the same logo as it did when we lived up there.

Before coming here I told Lisa that in some ways Michigan is a state where the past has made it to the present more fully formed than in other places in the country. She saw that today, whether it be the state trooper cars with the old-fashioned bubble machines, the traffic and street lights hung on wires over the streets, or the numerous old-school industries. In a way, Marquette is an extreme example, albeit one I’m very fond of.

The drive down to Mackinaw City was a bit long but generally scenic. (Lisa liked the bridge more than I expected.) We had some difficulty finding a place to eat this evening, but after one failed attempt at one restaurant finally found a partially-crowded pizza place (just about the only thing open after 10:00) that turned out to be reasonably good.

Well, it’s getting late, and we have a packed day ahead of us tomorrow, so I’m going to turn in. The next entry will likely be from Detroit.

More later.

Posted in Journal,Travelog at 10:54 pm

Journal for 30 June 2006


Friday morning. We’re in Iron Mountain, at an old HoJo next to a mobile home park. The drive out last night was OK, although longer than expected due to some horrific traffic in the Twin Cities. In a few minutes we’re off to Marquette, and then Mackinaw City.

I’m still trying to figure out how best to introduce Lisa to Detroit. Take the Interstate right to downtown? Or maybe drive down Woodward? I probably won’t figure that out until we’re a half hour or so outside the city, but that would be consistent with the level of planning I’ve done for this trip.

And we’re off. More later.

Posted in Journal,Travelog at 10:18 am

Journal for 29 June 2006


Well, we’re off to Michigan and other points east. Hopefully we won’t get mugged in Detroit. (Hi Lisa! I’m kidding!)

Happy Fourth!


Regarding the Sprint incident a few days ago, I decided to stick with Verizon.

Posted in Journal at 12:50 am

Journal for 25 June 2006


It was kind of a structurally incoherent weekend, so instead of trying to weave everything together, I’ll just list it out: We tried the dinner and movie thing on Friday. Dinner was bad, and we never got around to the movie. Saturday brought condo obligations, errands, unexpected discoveries in the common areas of the basement, and a visit with Robin and Andy, who were up from Madison. Today brought Lisa sleeping in until 1:30, followed by me forcing her to go to urgent care. (Turns out she has a bad case of stomach flu.) Today also brought a body floating in the canal between the Isles and Lake Calhoun, which means I’m probably looking at another month before Lisa lets me take my evening walks on side streets again.

Beyond that, not much. We leave for Michigan on Thursday, which means the next three nights will probably not be relaxing in nature. (Heck, I’m still uploading photos from our last trip.) It’s not the best time to go on another trip, but our vacation days are limited this year and we need to make as much use of our work holidays as we can.

Besides, July is a great time to be in Detroit. Really.

More later.

Posted in Journal at 11:53 pm

FoodLog: Dinner at the Town Talk Diner


Speaking of food, Lisa and I had an excellent meal last Friday at the Town Talk Diner here in Minneapolis.  This may sound a bit strange, but in a way it was almost a relief to find such a good place to eat.  While it definitely has a high-class edge to it, at root it’s nothing more than a damn good diner.  It’s the kind of place someone in Chicago or many parts of Wisconsin could take for granted, but up to this point has been completely lacking in the Twin Cities.  (Sure, the New Uptown Diner, Mickey’s, and others have their place, but the operative words in those cases are “food” and “bland.”)

And, holy crap, it has good hamburgers!  Good hamburgers in the Twin Cities!  (Just as I was about to give up hope, this place comes along to counter the scourge of “oh, the Convention Grill has great hamburgers!”  And don’t even get me started on those abortions at Matt’s Bar.  Best burgers in Minnesota my ass.)  Good beef, appropriately charred, a sesame-seed bun, properly toasted, and paired with extremely delicious garlic parsley french fries.  I’m a burger snob, so I could quibble (I prefer semmel or potato rolls), but, really, I’d eat Town Talk’s burger regardless of what state I was standing in.

Lisa liked the Town Talk, too.  Especially those mini hot-dog appetizers.

The good-Wisconsin-diner analogy isn’t perfect, as the Town Talk definitely isn’t your typical Wisconsinish diner in many ways–it’s stylish, a bit expensive, and serves Guinness floats–but no matter.  Just the very fact that the place exists fills me with hope for the future of food here.  There’s always the risk we’ll return and the food will suck, but for the moment I’m just going to let myself bask in the warm, fuzzy feeling I get about good, non-pretentious food available just a couple miles down Lake Street.  Whoo hoo!

Posted in FoodLog at 11:24 pm

Journal for 22 June 2006


Kind of an odd week for food. Starting Tuesday I had two straight days where I didn’t have to pay for a single meal. That may be normal for the globe-trotting sales rep or tech support person, but for a lowly landlocked office monkey like me, it’s kind of unusual. Today brought more free food, too, but I passed on it this time around.

I need to exercise more. Walks every night aren’t cutting it. (Where’s that bike I keep talking about getting?)

Posted in Journal at 10:54 pm

Journal for 21 June 2006: Sprint “Service” an Oxymoron?


This evening I walked into a local Sprint store, ready to purchase an expensive phone and sign myself up for two years of $50+ phone bills. Fortunately for me, I arrived just in time to see an existing Sprint customer get some of the most exceedingly poor customer service imaginable. His phone had stopped working for some unknown reason, and he was trying to find out his options.

“So, can I get a replacement?”

“We could give you the same model as your current phone for $58.”

“But it’s still under warranty.”

“Manufacturer warranty. You’d have to send that into Samsung and wait and see if it’s a product defect. That would take at least two weeks.”

“Two weeks!?”

“Or you could buy the same model for $58.”

“You don’t handle the warranties?”

“The manufacturer takes care of that.”

“What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”

“I don’t know. You could buy a new phone.”

“Do you have loaners?”

“No, we don’t do that.”

“So there’s nothing else you’ll do.”

“You didn’t purchase the equipment protection, so there’s nothing else we can do.”

“What would’ve equipment protection covered?”

“Manufacturer defects, cracked screens.”

“Manufacturer defects? Then what’s the warranty for?”

“You wouldn’t have to send your phone in.”

“So if the screen was smashed, you’d replace that?”

“Not if you smashed it.”

“If the screen was broken, you’d replace that?”

“As long as it wasn’t intentional.”

“So what can I do now?”

“You can buy the replacement for $58, or send it to Samsung.”

Frustrated, the customer spent a few moments conferring with his girlfriend. “I guess I’ll have to buy the replacement.”

“That’ll be $58. Credit card?”


The rep took the card and walked over to his computer. “OK, we should get the replacement in two to three business days.”

A shocked and exasperated look came across the customer’s face. “You mean you don’t have one here!?”

“Replacements have to be shipped in. Those are the rules they gave us.”

“How am I supposed to know when it’s in?”

“We’ll leave you a voicemail.”

“But I don’t have a phone!”

“Then you should just wait three business days to make sure it’s here when you come back.”

“Three business days.”

“So come back on Wednesday.”

“What? Today’s Wednesday.”

“I mean Monday.”

“I don’t believe this.”

“I’ll need your old phone.”

The customer handed over the phone. The rep opened it up and handed the battery back to him.

“What am I supposed to do with this?”

“You’ll need that when we get your phone in.”

“$58 and I don’t get a new battery?”

“It’s better than the $280 to get the phone new.”

It was at that point I decided to walk out. Sprint’s prices are so much lower than the competition I still may go with them, but it’s clear that cost advantage comes with a pretty ugly downside, one I’m not sure I want to deal with. The entire point of buying a convergent device is to make one’s life easier–the Treo should do a reasonable job of replacing my phone, digital planner, and the mp3 player I use for audiobooks–but if the purchase means dealing with crap like I saw this evening, I’m not sure it would be worth it.

Posted in Journal at 8:38 pm

Journal for 20 June 2006


The first meeting of our condo association was tonight.  I went in with the goal of avoiding as much responsibility as possible, and came out association president.

Posted in Journal at 11:18 pm

Journal for 19 June 2006


Late Sunday evening. A less-than-stellar week was followed by what was essentially a working weekend, one where everything undertaken consumed more time than expected. There was the purchase and installation of two air conditioners, the installation of a power backup for the computer (power service in our neighborhood has been spotty since the summer heat arrived), clothes lines put in place in the basement, and a new laptop for Lisa.

While finding and installing the air conditioners and the power backup was frustrating–those two seemingly innocuous tasks ate up over 15 hours–the setup of Lisa’s new Acer was excruciating. We went really cheap on her new machine (she only plans on using it for email and surfing), and while 256MB of memory will probably be fine for that, it made the initial software setup and configuration extremely slow. (One of the side-effects of the low price was almost nothing was installed on it, even basic virus protection.) One Windows reboot actually took over 10 minutes. In the end, setting up her computer took over three hours, a process that probably wouldn’t have taken more than 15 minutes on my desktop. On the bright side, Lisa is really happy with it, and there won’t be any more jockeying for one computer, so it was probably time well spent.

And that’s pretty much it. Aside from an excellent (and rain-soaked) dinner I’ll write about sometime this week, there’s not much else to talk about. (Well, I guess I could talk about laundry, but this entry is boring enough as it is.) More later.

Posted in Journal at 11:37 pm

BookLog: Blink by Malcolm Gladwell


Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is an interesting little book, a quick read that can either give one new ideas on the power of snap judgements and quick decisions, or maybe validate one’s approaches to decision-making that have not been thought about in a formal way. It’s mostly successful in making it’s case, but unfortunately does not give readers much in the way of suggestions as how to utilize what they’ve read.

The basic point of Blink is this: Snap judgements, often culturally derided for not taking all available information into account or ignoring major seemingly-significant factors, can be extremely useful when paired with the appropriate background knowledge or within a strict decision-making framework. With some notable exceptions, they often can be more successful and correct than decisions based upon lots of thinking or mounds of data.

If that sounds boring, it’s not. Gladwell gives plenty of examples of the appropriate use of snap or information-constrained judgements, ranging from a hospital’s process for identifying if someone is having a heart attack (with greater success than previous look-at-all-the-data methods) to a researcher figuring out whether a young married couple will last more than a few years (with a startling degree of accuracy). In doing so, he gives readers a greater awareness of different, successful methods of making quick judgements, so they may be able to start to find them in their own life and work. What Gladwell does not do is provide a formalized framework for identifying when such approaches may work, and it may be in that area that his book falters.

Granted, it’s probably unfair to ask for that much considering Gladwell seems to have just scraped the surface of this subject himself. But it’s absence in Blink does set off my BS meter somewhat, the exact kind of warning to which Gladwell wrote that we should pay attention. In some ways, Blink comes across as a bit of a potemkin village, all examples but without a strong core message. Maybe a core message isn’t necessary in this case, though. I still found it an interesting and even a useful book.


Gladwell also provides a few cautionary tales about snap judgements used improperly, most notably the 1999 police shooting of Amadou Diallo in the Bronx. While that story in particular works well as a warning, and is followed by some examples of changes or approaches that could have prevented the tragedy, Gladwell again does not give readers a framework for identifying and mitigating situations that may arise in their own lives. As with the other cases, it may not be fair to expect Gladwell to do such a thing, but it does feel like more of a glaring omission in this area. If, indeed, the answer is just trial-and-error until we find something that works, Gladwell should at least say as much.

But, for the most part, these are just grumbles. I’d still recommend the book. (And if you can help me figure out why it occasionally sets off my BS Meter, I’d really like to know.) 7/10.

Posted in BookLog at 10:46 pm
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