Category Archives: Rants and Ramblings

Tumblr: Even More Random Than This

I use my Tumblr blog (or Tumblog, I guess) as a repository for random brain-farts and a dumping ground for the occasional photograph I take in my travels; it also contains some snippets of conversation that I find amusing. In other words, it’s an “everything else” blog.

I suppose you could argue that I could just post all that stuff here, and I’d be hard pressed to come up with a convincing argument to the contrary. Suffice it to say that I enjoy a certain compartmentalization of my inanity.

Star Wars: My Chinatown Moment

I had a Chinatown moment recently while watching one of the Star Wars movies with Kyle, my three-year-old son, and I realized that George Lucas is the Jake Gittes to my Evelyn Mulwray. ((If you haven’t seen Chinatown, starring Jack Nicholson as J.J. “Jake” Gittes and Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray, you should; this analogy makes more sense if you have. Go ahead: put in in your Netflix queue or run down to the corner video store. This blog will be here when you get back.)) It’s not that much of a stretch, is it? George delivered three prequels like so many slaps to the face of die-hard Star Wars fanboys like myself, and they hurt.

Before Kyle was born, I banished the prequels from my home. Even after I began his training—introducing him to the space opera by way of the LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game on my old Xbox—I was determined that the prequels would not sully my DVD player. We played the entire game together, and he experienced Tattooine, Yavin IV, Hoth, Dagobah, Cloud City and the forest moon of Endor in a multitude of interlocking bricks. When I upgraded to an Xbox 360, Darth Elmo I decided that there was little harm in upgrading to LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga as well. I’d played through the prequel trilogy LEGO game before my son was old enough to pick up a controller and found that (surprise!) it’s much more entertaining when there’s no intelligible dialog.

A few months ago, we graduated from the video game to the movies. Despite a few bumps (he’s not terribly fond of the Wampa ice creature in The Empire Strikes Back; ditto for Luke’s encounter with Vader in the tree-cave on Dagobah and Jabba the Hutt’s menagerie in Return of the Jedi) the movies are a big hit at the International House of Johnson, and I get requests to watch them on a daily basis.

Then a couple of weeks ago I decided to lift my ban on the prequels. I realized that as much as I reviled them, the prequel films would be right up my son’s alley. He’d already been inoculated: he loves Yoda in all of his puppety glory, pretends to be Han Solo and Luke Skywalker, ((I have yet to convince him to pretend to be Lobot.)) refers to a Belle (Beauty & The Beast) PEZ dispenser as “yellow Princess Leia”, runs around the house yelling “Open the blast doors!” and “Oota goota, Solo?”; he even knows who is “in Darth Vader”. But there was an entire trilogy’s worth of characters that he’d only ever seen in LEGO minifig form.

So I borrowed Star Wars: The Clone Wars from the local library. He’d seen the endless advertisements for the series on Cartoon Network and would often strike a Power Rangers-esque stance while yelling “Star Wars the Cone Wars!”—he’s not so good with the letter L just yet—so I thought we could ease into the prequels with the animated adventures of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker. The reaction upon seeing the Star Wars logo was pretty much what I expected—an explosion of ecstatic joy—but the movie didn’t really hold his interest beyond a few oohs and aahs during one of the lightsaber battles.

I suspected that my son would be more interested in the familiar characters and situations in The Phantom Menace, so I picked up the DVD from The Exchange, my local used music/movie/video game store. We watched the movie together and I saw everything that made me hate it: Jake Lloyd’s horrible acting, Natalie Portman’s inspired impersonation of a woodcarving, the utterly ridiculous Trade Federation droids. ((“Roger, roger!”? What kind of nonsense is that? If the droids are all controlled by a giant ship in orbit and every last one of them shuts down when that ship is destroyed, why do they need to communicate verbally with each other at all, much less in an idiotic homage to Gomer Pyle?)) All of it.

And my son loved every last minute.

I’ve watched bits and pieces of The Phantom Menace three or four times since then, and it still makes me cringe to hear Anakin Skywalker ask Padmé Amidala if she’s an angel. Something screams inside me anytime midi-chlorians are mentioned. ((Riddle me this, George: If the Jedi believe the Sith have all been wiped out, do they not understand that one who will “bring balance to the Force” is going to have to kill a cubic buttload of Jedi? Why would any Jedi in his right mind want to find such a person?)) And when Yoda appears, his face swollen and his features distorted as though he’s in the midst of a horrible allergic reaction—possibly to a gundark bite—I just shake my head.

But it’s still Star Wars, and my son loves it. And while we were watching it together one night before bedtime, I suddenly felt like Evelyn Mulwray.

I love it!


I hate it!


I love it!


I hate it and I love it!

Lucas has always maintained—despite the froth and fury of fanboys like myself—that the prequels were geared toward children. Watching my young apprentice’s reaction, it’s clear that Lucas wasn’t just blowing smoke; I am a generation removed from what passes for Star Wars these days, but experiencing them with my son has brought an unexpected appreciation for something I was convinced I loathed.

This was originally written for Whateveresque, a web forum maintained by author John Scalzi. It is reprinted here—in a slightly altered form—at my wife’s request.

HOW-TO: Provide Poor Customer Service (Micro Center Remix)

Acer Aspire 5102WLMiMy first employer after I moved to Ohio was Micro Center, “The Computer Superstore”, where I worked the sales floor in first the accessories, then the software and finally the peripherals department. It’s been nearly twelve years since I moved on from the store, but Micro Center has remained my primary destination when I want to purchase computer equipment. I know several of the people who work there and I trust them to know what they’re talking about and not feed me a load of crap; unlike some other computer retailers, I don’t immediately feel like I know more than the sales associate when the conversation begins. I have nothing but positive things to say about the staff at the local Micro Center, particularly the handful of people who I know from my days roaming the sales floor.

I wish I could say the same about the people who service their extended warranties.

When we purchased Laura’s computer two years ago, we also purchased a three-year Micro Center Protection Plan, which includes (per the information card we received):

  • Priority repairs for carry-in service.
  • 24-hour, 7-day Toll-Free Technical Hardware Support.
  • No deductibles, no hidden charges, no out of pocket expenses.
  • Power Surge Protection.
  • No Lemon Guarantee.

When the laptop died recently, I was pretty pleased that we’d spent the extra money on the Protection Plan. I dug up the information card, Laura found the receipt for her computer, and she called the Toll Free number for service.

That’s when the trouble started.

After running her through some troubleshooting that resulted in a still-dead laptop, ((I strongly suspected a dead motherboard after my own attempts to revive the thing were unsuccessful. The unit would power on, but performed no POST and did not boot to the operating system.)) the Customer Service Representative informed Laura that someone would be contacting her in two business days about arranging for repairs.

Wait. What? Two business days to arrange for repairs? Where is that in the features of the Protection Plan?

Several days later—there was a weekend between the two business days plus a couple of extra business days on the other end of the weekend, which I assume were thrown in at no extra charge—Laura received a call to inform her that a box was on its way; a box into which her laptop should be packed and shipped away for service. I cannot begin to speculate why it took nearly a week to arrange to have the box shipped, except to say that perhaps the one-size-fits-all foam insert was hand-made in Guatemala, or perhaps the shipping label that appeared to be computer-generated was, in fact, drawn by an eyeless Mole-man in the deep recesses of an underground cave where the light of the sun dares not venture.

After retrieving all of Laura’s documents from the laptop’s hard drive ((Courtesy of an IDE/SATA-to-USB adapter I purchased specifically for the task from, you guessed it, Micro Center.)) I packed the laptop into the box, along with the power adapter and the system restore discs, and Laura shipped it to Micro Medics, the company that would be performing the repair.

To their credit, the response from Micro Medics was very quick: the motherboard was damaged due to a power surge ((Hey, our Protection Plan covers that! Right? Right?)) and the unit was beyond repair. Micro Medics was kind enough to dispose of the laptop (read: part it out for other repairs) and offered to ship the hard drive back to us. They also informed Laura that someone from Micro Center would be contacting her about a “buyout”.

The hard drive arrived in the mail on Monday. Micro Center did not call.

March went out like a lamb on Tuesday. Micro Center did not call.

April Fooled us on Wednesday. Micro Center did not call.

Nothing at all interesting happened on Thursday. Not even a call from Micro Center.

Around the world, corporate drones thanked their maker(s) in unison that it was Friday. Micro Center did not call.

This afternoon, I decided that perhaps Micro Center needed a gentle reminder, so I called the Toll Free customer service line, waded through the automated menu, and was connected to a customer service representative who informed me of two things:

  1. The matter is now in the hands of the claims department.
  2. The claims department is not open on the weekend. ((So much for 24-hour, 7-day support.))

Now, I will admit that once these facts were conveyed to me I became a little irate. Two business days (that turned into more like four) to arrange service was annoying, but five-plus business days without a call after the laptop was declared unrepairable really got under my skin. So, I let the CSR know. And I wasn’t particularly kind or gracious about it. I understand that she was—to the limits of her capacity—trying to provide assistance. But I didn’t care. I let her know that the process was pathetic, the delays were unacceptable, and I wasn’t anything approaching pleased about it. She was more gracious than I, and I give her credit for maintaining a professional demeanor. I was nowhere near as scathing (or foul-mouthed) as I could have been (or wanted to be), but I lost my temper and she did not stoop to my level at any point. She informed me that she would send an e-mail to the claims department and that we would receive a call first thing Monday morning, asked me if there was anything else she could do, and bade me good day.

And now we wait to see what will happen on Monday morning. Given the level of attention and concern Micro Center has afforded the matter thus far, I fear that the “buyout” amount they’ll offer for the laptop will barely cover the price we paid for the Protection Plan in the first place.

What’s truly sad about this whole experience is how poorly it reflects on Micro Center. I’ve always been very happy with the sales and service in-store. As I mentioned previously, I know several people who still work there, and I trust them to be straight with me. When Laura was looking for a laptop, there was never any question about where we’d go to buy it. When my mother was looking for a laptop, she made a special trip here from the Upper Peninsula so we could go to Micro Center together and buy one. When my mother’s laptop turned out to be a lemon, Micro Center replaced it; granted, I had to ruffle a feather or two to convince them not to ship it away for service, but in the end they replaced it, going out of their way to make me a satisfied customer. That’s what I like about the store: they know how to make their customers happy, and they’ll go out of their way to do so; I experienced that time and again when I was working there. It’s too bad that spirit doesn’t extend to their Protection Plan services.

UPDATE: I was not particularly surprised that the Micro Center Protection Plan claims department didn’t call on Monday. Disappointing follow-up has been pretty much par for the course upon which we unfortunately find ourselves. I resisted the temptation to call and raise another ruckus, as I don’t think I would have been able to display even a modicum of poise at that point. ((I wasn’t surprised, but I was very, very irritated.)) I opted to let it go and give them another day, and they finally called sometime Tuesday afternoon (or perhaps it was late morning). I wasn’t home when they called, so I have no idea whether the claims representative was at all contrite, but I have my doubts.

The matter has been resolved to Laura’s satisfaction. We’ve been issued what amounts to a Micro Center store credit for nearly the entire base value of the laptop when it was purchased, and we’ll put that toward the purchase of a new laptop. As with all things computeralogical, advances have been made in the past two years, and a laptop with specifications similar to Laura’s Acer Aspire currently fetches about half of what we paid for it in January of 2007. The upshot is that Laura will be able to get a better laptop for the same amount of money.

I fully expected that whatever settlement we received from the Protection Plan would be in the form of a Micro Center store credit. After all, why send us elsewhere for a new laptop? I’m pleasantly surprised at the amount of the credit, as my biggest fear was that we’d get some manner of depreciated value that wouldn’t be nearly enough to purchase a replacement.

I’m pleased with the end result (I’ll be more pleased when Laura has her own computer again), but I still feel the process is abominable. The delays—all on the part of the Micro Center Protection Plan organization; Micro Medics was very efficient—were ridiculous. Laura has been without a laptop for several weeks, and the matter—even accounting for shipping the laptop away to Micro Medics—shouldn’t have taken more than a week and a half: overnight us a box, we ship to Micro Medics, they diagnose (this took all of three business days, including shipping) and report back to the claims department, claims department contacts us with the settlement. Done. Instead, we got…well, you know what we got: jerked around for a couple of weeks.

I should note that I’m perfectly content to go back to Micro Center for the replacement laptop. As I mentioned before, I’ve always been happy with the local store and the people who work there. And, given the trouble Laura had with her Acer Aspire, I’ll probably recommend that we purchase another Protection Plan. Ultimately, it appears to have been a wise investment, even if actually using it was nothing but a pain in the ass.

Non Sequitur: 25 Utter Lies About Me

There’s been a rash of “X Things About Me” nonsense going on within my ever-expanding circle of social networking friends, ((This is a term we use ever so loosely these days, “friends”. I have a lot of acquaintances on Facebook and Twitter and such—more than I ever imagined possible—but the number of true friends is pretty small. I will go on record as saying that I consider Rachel Ross, who tagged me with this list, a true friend, if for no other reason than she knows how much I love not telling the truth.)) and I admit that I recently enumerated 16 Things (and 7 Weird Things), but now they’re all wanting 25 more Things, and it’s coming to the point where I am rapidly running out of Things About Me.

Well, True Things About Me, at the very least. But at last we have something different: 25 Utter Lies About Me. Finally, a list of twenty-five seemingly random tidbits about yours truly that have one thing in common: none of them—not even the ones that sound plausible—are true.

Perhaps I ought to be posting this to Facebook, as that is where I was tagged, but I have a blog for a reason ((Ego.)) and I’m going to use it.

Truth, begone! There is no place for you here!

  1. When I was sixteen years old, I broke my left shoulder during a high school diving competition held at Northern Michigan University.
  2. My younger sisters each received a Barbie and a Ken doll for Christmas in 1985. The next day, I convinced them that I had eaten the heads off both Ken dolls. This prank backfired on me in a big way when Karen flushed both of the removeable fists from my brand new Optimus Prime down the toilet.
  3. I never met my real father; there is some speculation that I was conceived by midi-chlorians.
  4. I was thirteen when I first traveled to Japan and I have been back four times in the past twenty-two years. On the most recent trip I was there for eighteen months and taught an ESL (English as a Second Language) class.  I used the Back to the Future trilogy as a training aid. When we recreated scenes from the movie in the classroom, the most coveted role was that of Doc Brown, as Christopher Lloyd is a superstar in Japan.
  5. I was a contestant on an episode of The Weakest Link that never aired. Jeff Stitzler, another of the contestants, suffered a fatal stroke during the taping. Each of the remaining contestants was given $5,000 and sent home. I briefly considered buying a Segway with my “winnings”, but Laura convinced me to donate the money to the National Stroke Association.
  6. I’d rather be golfing.
  7. It wasn’t until my 10-year high school reunion that my classmates revealed that they had completely fabricated the story about what happened after I passed out from drinking spiked punch at my Junior Prom. I was both angered and relieved to learn that Junior Prom was not the night I lost my virginity.
  8. Against her better judgment, Laura bought me a pet tarantula for my thirtieth birthday. His name is Torquemada, and he has gone AWOL twice in the past five years. We are now much more careful about taking him out of his terrarium, and he has not escaped since before Kyle was born. Kyle calls him “Tortemala”.
  9. I am Superman.
  10. I have been involved in one high-speed police chase, but I was in the back of one of the cruisers the whole time. The officer driving the cruiser joined the pursuit despite the fact that it was against regulations to do so with non-police personnel in the vehicle. I could have sued the department, but they offered to drop the felony possession charges against me if I agreed not to.
  11. I moved to Cleveland after my first marriage fell apart. For the first three years after the divorce, my ex-wife and I were not on speaking terms, but after I took responsibility for the fire and agreed to weekly therapy sessions with an anger management counselor, we formed what could be called a tentative friendship. If I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change the fact that we’re no longer married, but I’d definitely change the circumstances surrounding the breakup.
  12. I do 30 minutes of yoga every morning.
  13. My brothers and I have a running contest in which we call our mother and pretend to be each other and see how long before she realizes which of her sons she is actually talking to. The current record is measured not in minutes, but in number of consecutive calls. My oldest brother, over a series of seven phone calls, convinced my mother that Laura was pregnant with twins last summer.  We are all dreading the day when caller ID becomes available in the Upper Peninsula, as it will likely mean the end of the game.
  14. I was born with a kink in my urethra. As a result, I am physically incapable of urinating while standing up.
  15. I invented the Internet.
  16. My first car was a 1982 Dodge Aries, which currently resides under sixteen feet of water. I was being stupid in late December of 1990 when the ice on the pond in my parents’ backyard cracked. I managed to get out of the car before it went under, and barely got my feet wet, but I wasn’t quick enough to save anything in the car, including all of my cassettes. There was some talk of retrieving the car, but it was deemed too expensive so we left it there.
  17. I actually have an Uncle Sam, who is married to a woman named Samantha, so I have an Aunt Sam, too. Though they were both born in October (15th  and 23rd, respectively), they celebrate their birthdays on the 4th of July.
  18. I am from the future.
  19. I have eaten the same breakfast—two eggs over easy, two pieces of whole wheat toast with raspberry preserves, three slices of bacon and a glass of orange juice—every Saturday morning since October of 1996. Laura and I always play three games of canasta over breakfast on Saturday; the loser does the dishes for the next week.
  20. I was invited to join a secret society in college, but I turned them down.
  21. I lost fifty-three pounds on NutriSystem.
  22. I was kicked out of the Boy Scouts because much of what I did while trying to get my Coin Collecting merit badge was technically theft. My grandfather was extremely cool about the whole thing, and told me a very interesting story about how he came to possess the coins in the first place. He would have been kicked out of the Boy Scouts, too.
  23. I played keyboards in a band called “Milquetoast Breakfast”. We played only one gig, which ended when our guitarist, Greg Felders, over-tightened his high E-string and it snapped. The audience thought Greg’s screaming and clutching his bleeding left eye was part of the act and it was nearly 10 minutes before someone called an ambulance. I have lost touch with Greg, but I understand that he now plays for a locally-popular band called “Carmen’s Second Nest”, whereas I have not touched a keyboard since.
  24. I shot J.R.
  25. I do not close my eyes when I sleep.

Non Sequitur: Fun Facts (Round 1)

Recently, I spouted a series of “facts” about some of the folks I converse with on Twitter. In their original form, these all contained 140 characters or less. For ease of use today I have expanded the names of the Factees, so some individual facts may exceed the 140-character limit.

BONUS QUEST: Savvy readers might be able to determine the impetus for this exercise in lunacy if they examine the list carefully.

  • FUN FACT: Sam Chupp has not one but two arms, each with a five-fingered hand at the end. Individually, the hands are incapable of clapping.
  • FUN FACT: Jared Axelrod can go from clean-shaven to a goatee in seven minutes flat if he concentrates.
  • FUN FACT: Chris Miller once stabbed a minor Internet celebrity in the face…WITH HIS EYES!
  • FUN FACT: J.C. Hutchins loses all his super powers if he sees the color chartreuse, but only if it is actually Pantone® 14-0445.
  • FUN FACT: Contrary to popular belief, Bob is not married to the daughter of a prominent Mafia Don…ANYMORE.
  • FUN FACT: Evo Terra would just as soon kill you as look at you, but in actuality HE DOES NOT WANT TO LOOK AT YOU.
  • FUN FACT: Kris Johnson had a triple-shot venti mocha from Starbucks after lunch, and now his BRAIN IS ON FIRE.
  • FUN FACT: Ken Newquist has never been within arm’s length of an extraterrestrial being, but only because he has RIDICULOUSLY SHORT ARMS.
  • FUN FACT: Ivan has a removable face, used to switch expressions and show emotion, but he never changes it because he is ALWAYS ANGRY.
  • FUN FACT: Mur Lafferty once wrote a romance novel under the pseudonym Karyn Van Heusen. The title: LOVE’S FORBIDDEN FILLING.
  • FUN FACT: As a master of several forms of martial arts, Jason Penney knows 114 ways to immobilize a man, seven of them using JUST HIS GILLS.

SECRET BONUS QUEST: If you are extremely observant (and I suspect you are), you have already noticed that each of the names mentioned above is actually a hypertext link to another area of the Interwebs altogether. If I were to suggest that a CODED MESSAGE can be revealed by reading the fifth word of the most recent blog post (as of 18 January 2009) at or near each of these locations, I WOULD BE LYING. If I were to suggest that the first person to embark upon such a wild goose chase and comment here with the unscrambled message might win a prize of not-insignificant fabulosity, THAT WOULD ALSO BE A LIE. You should not do this. There is no message. There is no prize. Any effort you expend in attempting to glean such a message in order to attain such a prize would be UTTERLY WASTED. I am absolutely not kidding.

Non Sequitur: Sixteen Things

Once again, I have been tagged to enumerate some random tidbits (factual, one presumes) about myself. The magic number here is sixteen and the tagger was none other than Chris Miller.

Off we go.

  1. My most recent meal (as of this writing): four sliders and half an order of Not-So Fries at Yours Truly. This is just part of the reason I’ve found the weight I lost last summer.
  2. I play with my wedding ring a lot; it drives Laura nuts. On long trips (such as driving up to my parents’ house), I occasionally take the ring off and place it on the little joystick for adjusting the side mirrors. I often take it off or switch it to my pinkie finger when I’m typing.
  3. I still have my tonsils and they are ginormous, even more so when they’re infected (which seems to happen once or twice annually).
  4. The first Star Wars film I saw in the theater was Return of the Jedi at the Lode Theater in Houghton, MI. I was a little concerned that my eight-year-old brother, Adam, might not be able to keep up with the subtitling of Jabba the Hutt’s dialog, but I don’t think he had any problem with it. After the movie, we ate dinner at the Douglass House across the street. As we were leaving the restaurant, I realized I’d left my jacket in the theater, so went in to retrieve it. Luke and Leia were chasing scout troopers on speederbikes and I found my jacket with no trouble.
  5. I once lived in an apartment above a video store and still could not return a rented movie on time, even though I could have easily dropped the tapes through the hole in my bathroom floor directly into the video store.
  6. The last time I assembled one of these lists, my wife indicated that she could come up with seven weirder things about me than I had. She has yet to deliver.
  7. Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition, No. 12
    I still remember the cover of the issue of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Deluxe Edition my mother bought me the day I got my first pair of glasses, way back in elementary school. The feature that I remember most distinctly: Stilt-Man’s leg, which is the only part of the villain visible on the cover and extends up beyond the boundary of the image.
  8. I have smoked precisely one cigar in the thirty-five and a half years I’ve been on this planet. I do not intend to smoke another, no matter how many more years I remain here.
  9. I once stuck my tongue on a metal handrail in the middle of winter. I was at school and had snuck outside, so no one knew where I was. After a brief bit of panic, I tore my tongue loose, and the next several meals I ate were incredibly unpleasant. I didn’t tell anyone about it until years later.
  10. If I were compiling a list of United States I don’t feel compelled to visit, I would probably put Idaho at the very top, but only because I’ve already been to New Jersey.
  11. I spent two weeks trying to “hack” a broken copy of Hacker II: The Doomsday Papers for the Apple //GS before giving up and calling Activision Customer Support only to learn that the game was not supposed to boot to a command prompt after all. They sent me a replacement copy and I eventually beat the game.
  12. The only items of clothing I have purchased for myself since getting married are hats, gloves and winter boots. I will probably purchase a pair of gloves on the way home from work today.
  13. I always put my shopping cart in the corral; if there’s no corral, I’ll return it to the store. I do this simply out of a desire to feel morally superior to those people who leave their carts in the middle of the parking lot.
  14. The Rocketeer' class=
    I think The Rocketeer’s helmet is one of the coolest things ever. If I could have one accurate replica prop from a movie, that helmet would be it. If I could have the entire costume, I might never take it off.
  15. It was a list like this one that convinced Laura she needed to introduce herself to me more than fifteen years ago.
  16. I often clean my glasses in the morning with the underwear I am about to don. The cloth is clean, soft and apparently lint-free, so it’s pretty much perfect for the job. I’m well aware that this is probably something you neither needed or wanted to know, but that’s the risk you take when you read one of these lists. Let it be a lesson to you.

Do I even know sixteen people to tag? Let’s try Jason Penney, Rachel Ross, Eric Feldhusen, Rae Lamond, Eric Bork, Sam Chupp, David Moore, The Bearded Goose, Sudrin, Jude, Not Andrei, The Cynical Optimist, Wesley, Jaxvor, Slowhand and Laura Johnson. Yes! Laura Johnson, who does not have a blog. Get one! Your husband can help!

TVstuff: Disable the Cable?

“Don’t panic.”

That’s what the Time-Warner Northeast Ohio customer service representative told me this morning. I think she was mistaking the irritation in my voice for fear. I’ve been a Time-Warner Cable television customer for all of 70 hours and already I’ve had to call customer service; this does not bode particularly well for our burgeoning relationship.

At issue: the Viacom debacle. As near as I can figure it, Viacom wants to wring more money out of Time-Warner for channels like Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and MTV. Because apparently people still watch MTV. Time-Warner, naturally, doesn’t want to shell out the dough, claiming that they’d have to (surprise!) raise their rates.

This morning, Viacom decided that negotiations weren’t going to cut it, so they resorted to something akin to extortion: a crawl across the bottom of their networks imploring Time-Warner customers to contact their cable provider if they didn’t want to lose shows like SpongeBob Squarepants when the ball drops in Times Square. ((Happy New Year!))

At the International House of Johnson we do occasionally watch SpongeBob Squarepants, but losing The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report would be a deal-breaker. We rarely watch anything else on Comedy Central, because 90% of the programming on Comedy Central is crap, but The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are pretty much the only two shows that Laura and I watch together.

The Viacom crawl is, in my opinion, hitting below the belt as far as negotiations are concerned. It’s certainly not unprecedented, but it’s kind of a dirty trick. Viacom is essentially threatening to take their ball and go home if Time-Warner doesn’t play the game to their liking, but their crawl makes Time-Warner out to be the bad guy. According to one source, the price hike Viacom wants is triple the increase from their previous contract with Time-Warner, which translates (per Viacom) to roughly 25 cents per month per Time-Warner Cable subscriber. ((Time-Warner claims that this could set a precedent for other networks to demand higher rates and result in a $30-per-year increase for customers.)) The crawl, quite naturally, fails to mention any of this.

But the crawl is effective. Laura asked me about it first thing this morning, as she’s not at all keen to lose Nickelodeon or Comedy Central, so I thought I’d give Time-Warner a call. The number provided in the crawl was experiencing “technical difficulties”, which I took to mean “a flood of calls from angry parents whose children want to watch SpongeBob tomorrow”.

At this point, I know that Viacom is playing dirty, but I called Time-Warner Northeast Ohio anyway. I was greeted with an automated message assuring me that negotiations to keep the Viacom networks were underway and wouldn’t I please just hang up because that’s all they could tell me.

Unfortunately for Time-Warner, they’re the new kid on the block as far as television providers in the International House of Johnson are concerned, and I was already annoyed to discover that having a digital cable box and subscribing to “extended basic” service is not the same as having “digital basic” service. ((Translation: Our current service plan does not include Noggin (another Viacom network, the one that features all of Kyle’s favorite shows), BBC America or the basic OnDemand features.)) Oh, and their installer was 30 minutes late on Monday.

So I waited on hold for a customer service representative. Poor Barbara got a bit of an earful as I explained that, should the Viacom networks disappear from my lineup, Time-Warner’s reign as the television provider in my house would be a very, very short one. My DirecTV receiver is still active ((In fact, the television was tuned to Noggin on DirecTV when Laura saw the Viacom crawl this morning.)) and my digital phone service has yet to be installed, so it’s just a matter of who I call Monday morning to inform them that their services will no longer be required.

I’m not panicking, I’m just annoyed that—having been a satellite television subscriber for seven years with only two issues that I can recall—I switched to cable and wound up on the phone with customer service after less than three days.

UPDATE: Time-Warner CEO, Glenn Britt has issued a statement. Additionally, Viacom has allegedly threatened to block Time-Warner Cable Internet subscribers from accessing their free online content, such as episodes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

UPDATE: It certainly appears that Viacom is planning to block Time-Warner Cable Internet subscribers, if the pop-ups on sites like are any indication. So, even though I currently put pennies in Viacom’s pocket because I’m still paying for DirecTV, because my Internet access is through Time-Warner I won’t be able to access free content on (I’ve seen the pop-up myself on that very site.) That’s really playing dirty, Viacom.

FINAL UPDATE (01 January 2009): Well, it looks like Time-Warner Cable and Viacom have reached a “an agreement in principle“, which means 13 million households can spend New Year’s Day in Bikini Bottom after all. As an aside, if one of your New Year’s resolutions was “no cable rate hikes”, you’re probably going to be breaking that one sooner than you expected.

TVstuff: Ditching the Dish

After more than seven years with DirecTV, the International House of Johnson will switch to cable television next week. Why? The bundle. Time-Warner is offering us some fairly significant savings if we bundle our phone, Internet and television services, which we currently get through MCI, Time-Warner and DirecTV, respectively. ((The bulk of the savings will come from switching the phone service, but we’ll get a slight discount on the Internet and television services as well.))

I’m a little trepidatious about the switch, especially because I really have no major complaints about DirecTV service and I’ve got a slew of movies on the DVR that I haven’t gotten around to watching yet:

  • Live Free or Die Hard
  • Meet the Robinsons
  • The Invasion
  • Larva
  • Beneath Loch Ness
  • Raging Sharks

Speaking of the DVR, I neglected to ask the customer service representative what the capacity of the Time-Warner DVR is; I’ve gotten used to having 100 hours to play with and I’ll be a little disappointed if that drops to 35 hours, which was the capacity of our original DirecTiVo.

On the other hand, I’m looking forward to On-Demand programming, which wasn’t an option on DirecTV unless we significantly upgraded our service and equipment. If there are enough On-Demand titles too keep a certain young apprentice happy, I may never have to record an episode of LazyTown again. ((Which is not to say I don’t like LazyTown. Like most of the shows Kyle enjoys, it has its own special, freaky charm. I give Stefan Karl, who plays Robbie Rotten, a lot of credit for being a very entertaining physical actor; he’s also a surprisingly good-looking guy under the prosthetics.))

The other thing I’m a little nervous about is giving up our POTS. The Time-Warner bundle includes their branded VOIP service, and as with any Internet phone service if you don’t gots Internets, you don’t gots a phone. Thankfully, I can think of only two times in the past year when our cable Internet service was out, and one of them was for less than 30 minutes.

We’ll make the dish-to-cable transition on Monday (provided all goes well) and the POTS-to-VOIP transition in early January. The latter is delayed because MCI requires notification thirteen business days in advance of switching service provideds, which I think is just ludicrous.

HoNoToGroABeMo 2008: Adam’s Beard

Here we have a late entry to How Not To Grow a Beard Month, my younger brother, Adam. He’s not late because he didn’t participate right along with the rest of us, but because I’ve been too lazy to post the photos he sent me until today. But rather than post every single picture, I decided to do an animated progression, starting with Day Zero and proceeding through Day Nineteen (he has yet to send me the remaining eleven days).

The thumbnail below links to an animated GIF, which weighs in at just over 1MB. If you’ve got a slow connection, it’ll take a while to load.

Adam' class=

Once I receive the remaining photos, I’ll update the animation. I estimate that it took me about two hours to scale, rotate and align the individual frames of this animation, but I think it was well worth it to demonstrate that someone in my family can grow a decent beard.