Tuesday, November 30, 2004

An open question for the airlines

Here’s a math problem for you:

A typical Boeing 727 holds about 189 passengers. You can seat one passenger per seat. How many seats can you sell per flight?

This is a trick question apparently. The airlines seem to think the answer is 300 tickets. Their computers like to play some sort of airline version of Russian Roulette and sell many more seats than an airplane has in hopes that enough people will pay and not show up so they will have room on the airplane for everyone at the gate.

It is a mystery to me why the airlines overbook flights. I can understand reserving a few seats for people bumped from other flights. But I don’t understand overbooking a flight.

We went to Boise for Thanksgiving. The flight there was uneventful. Security wasn’t bad. We ended up with two hours to kill before the flight. The trip was fun. It was good to see my family. There were no political or religious discussions. My niece and nephew still talk to me despite the fact that they are rapidly approaching teenagedom.

We dropped off the Dodge Magnum the car rental person had convinced me to rent. It looked like a souped up hearse, but it was kind of fun to drive. We had checked in online so all we had to do was drop our bags off. That’s when the first ticket agent asked us if we were willing to give up our seats. “Give up our seats, why?” I asked. She gave me that smile that loosely masks disgust that airline employees have perfected and said, “The flight is overbooked and we are looking for volunteers to give up their seats and take a later flight. We’ll give you free tickets for anywhere Alaska or Horizon fly if we bump you.”

There it was, the free ticket offer. The catch….there was no guarantee when that later flight would be. We had tickets to Sunday’s Seahawk game and Tess had to be back to teach on Monday. We declined the offer and proceeded to the gate.

Well, they must have really been overbooked because the ticket agents at the gate were doing the hard sell over the loudspeakers. They were pleading with people to give up their seats and accept free tickets, hotel rooms, food. I was waiting for them to offer free pony rides.

Call me jaded, but a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush really applies to airline flights around the holidays. We watched the agents lure college kids up to the counter and coax them with free flights to Cancun and Cabo San Lucas. They found their victims and the rest of us waited for our delayed flight. Because the other mystery of the airlines are flight delays. They are based on the airlines own little chaos theory. Because all of the delays this Thanksgiving were apparently caused by snow in Reno. Oh my God, snow in Reno! That’s as rare as rain in Seattle. But apparently they had a little bit of trouble with radar equipment at the tower that lands planes. And our flight attendant told us they ran out of the liquid they use to de-ice planes. Bottomline was the plane on our flight was delayed in Reno on its way to Seattle before it came to Boise to return to Seattle.

Anyway, we got on the plane an hour and a half late and it didn’t look overbooked (apparently they got quite a few volunteers). The flight from Boise to Seattle is barely an hour. So, all and all, we spent almost four hours in the airport to make an hour flight to Seattle. I guess it beats driving 9 hours and dealing with mountain passes.

But back to my original question to the airlines: Why can’t you simply sell the number of seats you have on the airplane and leave it at that? Wouldn’t it make everyone’s lives easier?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Le Bois, Le Bois

Tess and I are flying to Boise tomorrow night to spend Thanksgiving in my birthplace. It's become a tradition to have dinner at my brother's house. It's an opportunity to whittle away at the guilt I feel about rarely seeing my mother. It's also an opportunity torment my Republican brother and remind my niece and nephew how much they have grown.

Their growth is a object of major angst for me. I touch bases on their lives on an annual basis so I'm only privy to their growth phases in condensed doses. As babies they were just these odd fragile things that spit up disgusting stuff when I bounced them around on my shoulders. This has been a tradition in my family to have my nieces and nephews spit up on me. Not being a parent, I have never taken that in stride as a normal thing.

As toddlers, my niece and nephew were even more of a mystery to me. They were usually too shy to warm up to me until I was ready to return to Seattle. When they started getting a bit older, I started to really enjoy messing with their heads. It was fun being "weird uncle Tim."

But now my nephew is essentially a teenager and my niece is 12. I saw them in May at my oldest brother's fundmentalist Christian wedding in Rainier, Oregon. It was still fun to mess with their heads, but I noticed a change. They are shifting into teenage mode and I'm sensing they are fast approaching that point where they aren't going to want to spend any time with Weird Uncle Tim anymore when we visit. Next thing I know, I'll be in Las Vegas watching them being married by an Elvis impersonator and I'll really feel old.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Stop me before I watch more reality television

I didn't mean to watch the Bachelor. I had set the TIVO to record LOST and had it record 30 minutes past just to make sure I got the entire episode. I didn't realize the Bachelor came on right after it. So there I was sitting on the barcalounger too lazy to stop the show after LOST ended and the next thing I know, I'm watching the Bachelor. I mean, it's like a train wreck, you just have to look. And then boom, the recording ended right before the jerk hands out his roses and I freaked. I had to know who he was keeping in the house and who was getting the boot. So I set the TIVO to record the Bachelor.

I'm so ashamed of myself. I mean, Tess and I end up watch a lot of crap like that at her house because she has basic cable and you just don't have a choice. We watch What not to wear and the occasional Fear Factor. It's that or the shopping channels, because basic cable is basic crap. But I have no excuse at my house. I have like 400 channels including every movie channel. And what do I end up watching but the Bachelor.

Though I did have a conversation the other day with a co-worker who confessed she and her husband watched a fascinating documentary the other night about how airlines handle luggage. So I don't feel quite as bad about my viewing choices.

What's really scary is when I find myself watching the Food Channel and realize I'm watching a show about extreme eating establishments where people are challenged to consume things like a 10-pound steak and all the trimmings in a hour and they don't have to pay for it. It's important for these people to avoid paying for that steak because they are going to need that extra money for the triple bypass surgery they are going to need down the line. The real sad thing is that I've seen this same program like five times.

It's kind of like watching the Travel Channel and realizing every week is Las Vegas Week.

So every now and then I try to watch something educational on the History Channel or the Discovery Channel. I was fascinated by the guys running around with metal detectors at the Little Big Horn recreating the battle based on the pattern of the bullets they found. But ultimately, I find history programs that debunk the myths of the past a real downer. The Custer's Last Stand documentary essentially concluded Custer and his men didn't actually stand anywhere. They heroically ran around like chickens with their heads cut off being methodically picked off by the Sioux. Not that I blame the Sioux. Custer just didn't seem to know how to deal with a situation in which the enemy was not a bunch of unarmed, sleeping women and children.
History just isn't pleasant without the Hollywood spin that requires heroes and a happy ending.

But I'm not sure what I'd do without television. I scoff at people who say they never watch it. "What do you do," I ask. "Oh, we read and listen to music," they say. Give me a break. Turn the close-captioning on and you can watch television, read and listen to music.

Television isn't just entertainment anymore. It's a way of life. Even if it is just on in the background while you cook or do dishes, it provides that soothing sense of being connected to the world. If I didn't have television shows to talk about with the woman who cuts my hair, I'd sit there in awkward silence for 40 minutes because the Sopranos, Melrose Place, Desperate Housewives and Sex in the City are our common acquaintances.

Face it, we tend to know more about the lives of the fictional characters in our favorite television programs than we do about our own families. I couldn't tell you boo about my brother's lives other than one is a teacher and one is a born again. But I can sure tell you what Tony Soprano has been up to. For one thing, Tony Soprano's life is pretty darned interesting and I rarely talk to my brothers. When I do we just talk about the superficial things people who don't see each other very often talk about.

But don't get the wrong idea. I love my brothers. They just live in different states and different states of mind than I do.

And as usual, I digress. But all of this talk about my brothers and television has given me a great idea for a reality channel for families. Why don't they create a network where you can tune in and watch your own families lives? Could be an interesting way to stay on top of what they are up to.

Just a thought.



Wednesday, November 17, 2004

You can count on me

They finally counted my vote. After three phone calls and two promises to call me back, the elections commission told me that they had found the absentee ballot in question and it wasn't mine. They sent my provisional vote to be counted and the Web site now verifies that it has been accepted and counted.

But what if I hadn't pursued this? What if I'd just assumed my vote had been counted? And how many people had similar problems? I may be jaded about lots of things about this country, but I believe in the fundamental concept that everyone here has the right to vote. They may not exercise that right and they may not vote the way I would like, but they all have the right to vote. It shouldn't be the right to go through the motions and hope the ballot gets counted.

So I still feel unsettled by the experience. It's like some basic principle I've always believed in has been shaken. And it can't be justified by blaming it on human error and shrugging. There is a lot at stake in an election. Regardless of what you believe about politics and politicians, voting changes cultures and effects our lives. The people who manage elections have a responsibility the same way someone who works in an automotive factory or builds jet airplanes. There isn't room for human error. If you screw up in these situations, you affect lives.

You know, I normally try to be at least a little humorous in my rants. I try to see the absurdity in everything and relate to it appropriately. But I just don't see anything funny about this.

But I suppose there is a bright side to everything. Whatever crawled under my house and died in the crawlspace has deteriorated to the point that it no longer stinks. The flys are gone. The yellow jackets nest in my gutter has died for the winter, my house is painted, I have new windows, my new bathroom sink is almost installed (if not hooked up completely) and the roof seems to have stopped leaking since I had the new roof vents installed. And best of all, Tess loves me even though I never make my bed, can't fold laundry worth a damn and can't cook without leaving a mess.

So, to hell with my vote.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Conspiracy

Call me wacky, call me crazy, but I think someone voted absentee using my name. I told the proverbial "you" about going to the polls on election night and being told I'd registered to vote absentee. So I went through the "provisional" vote farse only to get home to find a letter from the election commission stating they didn't have a valid signature on file for me and I had to sign and mail back a form to them in order for my vote to count.

Okay, I assume it was all taken care of and just a typical government agency mired in bureacracy and making mistakes. Now I don't know. Yesterday someone dropped a note off at my door saying I was on a list of voters whose votes would be invalidated unless a valid signature was on file with the elections committee. This note was from the State Democratic Party office. The local governor's race is neck and neck and they want to make sure they get all the votes counted. I'd noticed on my Caller ID that I'd received a call from the Republicans the night before. I assumed it was about the same thing.

So I go to the elections commission Web site and enter my provisional ballot number. It tells me my vote was void since I'd voted absentee and my absentee vote had been counted. This morning I called up the elections office and the nice woman there agreed that "this was a problem." She put me on hold and then came back on and said someone would have to call me back.

I just find it too much of a coincidence that after being registered to vote in this state for 24 years and voting at the same polling place for 17 years, my signature would disappear, someone else would register for me to vote absentee and then someone would actually vote absentee in my name. I'm willing to bet they didn't vote Democrat, either.

It's a helpless feeling. You read about identity theft all of the time. But in this case, someone has stolen my right to vote. And I'm not one of those whiners who want to do the election over just because my candidate didn't win. What's at stake here is the very principal we've been taught our country never compromises: we have the right to choose by voting. If you don't vote you don't have the right to bitch. I voted. That vote was invalidated by a system that has broken down or by some ass who wanted his candidate to win regardless of the method.

So are there really any winners in this last election?

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Spambo strikes again!

Ok, I received another version of the spam letter from another country offering me loads of cash for nothing:

PLEASE SEND YOUR RESPONSE TO THIS EMAIL ADDRESS:mellamedbarukh@latinmail.com

Dear Friend, As you read this, I don't want you to feel sorry for me, because, I believe everyone will die someday. My name is MR Barukh Mellamed Crude Oil merchant in Iran,i have been diagnosed with Esophageal cancer . It has defiled all forms of medical treatment, and right now I have only about a few months to live, according to medical experts.

I have not particularly lived my life so well, as I never really cared for anyone(not even myself)but my business. Though I am very rich, I was never generous, I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business as that was the only thing I cared for. But now I regret all this as I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in the world. I believe when God gives me a second chance to come to this world I would live my life a different way from how I have lived it. Now that God has called me, I have willed and given most of my property and assets to my immediate and extended family members as well as a few close friends.

I want God to be merciful to me and accept my soul so, I have decided to give alms to charity organizations, as I want this to be one of the last good deeds I do on earth. So far, I have distributed money to some charity organizations in Austra, cameroun, liberia,Algeria and Malaysia. Now that my health has deteriorated so badly, I cannot do this myself anymore.

I once asked members of my family to close one of my accounts and distribute the money which I have there to charity organization in Bulgaria and Pakistan, they refused and kept the money to themselves. Hence, I do not trust them anymore, as they seem not to be contended with what I have left for them. The last of my money which no one knows of is the huge cash deposit of fifteen million dollars $15,000,000,00 that I have with a finance/Security Company abroad. I will want you to help me collect this deposit and dispatched it to charity organizations. I have set aside 10% for you and for your time.

God be with you. MR Barukh Mellamed mellamedbarukh@latinmail.com
Here was my response:

Dear spammer:

I'm sick of receiving such poorly written letters from you people. So, I've taken the liberty of rewriting your piece of crap letter in real English that people can actually read. Please use it in the future and maybe you'll get a better response.

And can't you get a better job? There has to be a Starbucks or McDonald's somewhere in your country. Show some dignity man!

Your Friend


"Dear Friend,

As you read this, I don't want you to feel sorry for me, because, I believe everyone will die someday.

My name is Mr. Barukh Mellamed Crude Oil merchant in Iran. I have been diagnosed with esophageal cancer. It has defied all forms of medical treatment, and according to medical experts, I have only about a few months to live.

I have not lived my life particularly well. I never really cared for anything or anyone but my business. Though I am very rich, I have never been generous. I was always hostile to people and only focused on my business as that was the only thing I cared for (this is redundant by the way, so I'd probably delete it).

But now I regret all this. I now know that there is more to life than just wanting to have or make all the money in the world. I believe that if God gave me a second chance at life, I would live it very differently.

Now that God has called me, I have willed and given most of my property and assets to my immediate and extended family members as well as a few close friends. I want God to be merciful to me and accept my soul so, I have decided to give alms to charitable organizations. So far, I have distributed money to some charity organizations in Austria, Cameroon, Liberia, Algeria and Malaysia.

Now that my health has deteriorated so badly, I cannot do this myself anymore. Once, I asked members of my family to close one of my accounts and distribute the money to a charitable organization in Bulgaria and Pakistan. They refused and kept the money. So, I do not trust them anymore. They are not content with what I have left them.

The last of my money (which no one knows of) is a huge cash deposit of fifteen million dollars ($15,000,000) that I have with a finance/security company abroad. I want you to help me collect this deposit and distribute it to charitable organizations. I have set aside 10% for you and for your time.

God be with you.

Mr. Barukh Mellamed mellamedbarukh@latinmail.com"

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

I hate being a "provisional" voter

I don’t know if it was from sitting outside freezing at the Seahawks game, or the stress of the election, but I was as sick as a dog last week. I’m not sure why we single out dogs as a simile, but nevertheless, I was pretty darned sick. I tried being a trooper and going to work. But between the hacking, sneezing and major snot flow, I was treated as welcome as a leper at a Mary Kay Cosmetics party. That was last Tuesday. I was sick, but I had to vote.

I don’t believe in absentee voting. I like to get my ballot, go to a booth, make my decisions and then watch the ballot safely slide into the ballot box. At least then, I know it should be counted. Something about trusting my ballot to the US Postal Service is terribly frightening to me. Don’t get me wrong. I think the USPS does one heck of a job considering the volume they have to deal with, but every now and then, some things just slip off into a black hole somewhere at the post office and never make it to the intended destination. I mean, these are the same people who stopped delivering my mail for a week when the evil tree removers were removing my neighbor’s tree. They never did explain that to me. I believe the carrier was morbidly afraid of chippers.

But I digress.

I went to my neighborhood polling place (why do they always make you vote in elementary school gyms) and slyly slipped by the bake sale strategically positioned right outside the gym. Ok, there weren’t the major lines reported in many places, but it was busy. I go up to the table for my precinct and hand my registration card to the elderly lady sitting behind it. This same old lady has worked the table for the past 17 years since I’ve been voting here and not once has she been able to find my name in the registration book in less than 15 minutes. This is where I’m going to rant about using volunteers to work at polling places. I’ve got nothing against old people. Shoot, I’m rapidly approaching being an old fart myself. But why do the elections offices use them to monitor something as important as distributing and logging ballots. This particular old lady was not even pleasant in a grandmotherly way. She was old and bitchy. When she finally found my name, she snapped at me, “This says you’ve registered to vote absentee.”

Ok, I’m sick. I’m standing there with mucus dripping from my nose like a river and this bitchy old lady is staring at me like I’m a terrorist trying to scam a ballot out of her to vote democrat. I tense up and respond that there must be some mistake. She tells me I have to use a “provisional” ballot, hands me one and says to vote and take it to another table where a younger volunteer is sitting, sorting ballot stubs. I’m a bit confused, but I sit down at a table (all the booths were full, so I didn’t even get the dignity of voting in an actual booth) and mark my ballot. I take it to the volunteer at the “provisional” ballot table and tell her that I was told I was registered to vote absentee and given the “provisional” ballot. She acted put out that I was interrupting her stub sorting, but handed me an envelope and told me to fold the ballot, place it in the envelop and fill out a stub and then place everything in a third envelope. I asked her why I was listed as voting absentee when I never voted absentee. She just shrugged.

I proceed to fill out the stub for the ballot. It asks for basic info like name, address etc. and then asks for my voter registration number. I look all over my registration card and I’ll be damned if there was anything on it that resembled a registration number. I asked the woman which number it was. She frowns and takes my card. And damned if she could find a registration number, either. She said to go ahead and put the ballot in the envelope and she’d get my number later from the old biddy at the first table. I’m getting pretty agitated at this point. The envelope obviously was too small for the ballot. I did my best to shove it in and seal it. Snot is literally dripping onto the table and the woman was giving me dirty looks. I handed her the ballot and watched her push it aside. I have my doubts if it ever made it near a ballot box, but I was given part of the stub with a number and Web site where I could track its progress through the system. To date it hasn’t been counted.

But that is beside the point. Everything’s decided now and my “provisional” ballot isn’t worth a rat’s behind now. You’ve got to love the system.

So, I dragged my sick self home. Ironically, I open my mail and find a letter from the elections commission saying they needed a copy of my signature on file before they could verify my vote. I’ve voted in this state for 24 years, 17 of those at the same place and now they tell me they need a copy of my signature. Oh, and they needed to know my voter’s registration number, too. I xeroxed a copy of my registration card, signed their damned form and put it out in the mailbox, certain the USPS knows how I feel about them and won’t deliver it anyway.

Finally, I staggered to the barcalounger and turn on the tube. Much as I love my TIVO and satellite system, it is nearly impossible to actually find anything but movies and shopping channels. Curious as I was about the election, I went to bed without much knowledge about who was winning. I spent the next three days in bed even sicker than that much slandered dog. I didn’t really care how the election was going or where my “provisional” ballot was.

I’m a bit better now. I’m back at work and I know the election results. All I can say is that I’m glad it’s over and I don’t care if I never see another campaign ad or hear the results of another poll.

But, I think I’m going to go register to vote absentee. A friend of mine was registered to vote absentee and they sent him two ballots.

God bless America!