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Journal: Multiple bomb attack in Bangalore 3

Journal by artifex2004

Multiple sites in Bangalore have been hit with bomb blasts; as of this writing CNN has a tiny blurb that hasn't made front page news on the international edition site yet. (The BBC report is here.) However, microblogging sites are atwitter with reports of the damage. One person (Mukund?) has even generated a map of where the blasts appear to have taken place, already.

Reports right now are conflicting as to number and types of casualties. No word at this time who is responsible. Of interest to note is that Bangalore is a major IT hub for India and the rest of the world; no telling yet the extent of the damage, but with power outages and site/transportation closures this will undoubtedly affect business operations at least regionally. Of further interest is how crowdnews is once again a better (or at least faster) source of information than the international newsgathering organizations.

User Journal

Journal: [New Year's Story Meme] The Hunchback. 1

Journal by artifex2004

There was just one gas-lamp, on the street corner. It had been lit no more than an hour past, but already the snow was beginning to cover it, like a great night-cap, funnelling its yellow light to a dim puddle on the pavement. It was only six in the evening, and within a mile of St Paul's, but it was the darkest time of year, and as the homegoing cabs, carriages and hansoms from the City clattered past, the link-boys were all out, running ahead of the carriages, their torches streaming flame and smoke, their nimble bodies flitting through the traffic like dragonflies. There were a few lamps in the houses, but the firelight shone from between several shutters, because the night was bitter, and freezing fog was beginning to drift up from the river, making the passers-by muffle up heavily against the bitter cold, speeding them on their way homewards.

Amid the hubbub, very few could hear the singer who stood in a broad doorway near the lamp, half-dwarfed by its heavy lintels. He was barefoot, in rags -- a shredded jacket, tattered trousers -- and he was a degree thinner than any twelve-year-old boy should be, even an unwashed urchin like this. A cap was on the ground in front of him. Most people, already late because of the snow, pushed past unheeding, but not all. Some lingered, some raised their eyebrows in slight surprise, and some few -- but very few -- dropped a coin in the boy's cap.

Because the urchin's singing was strangely sweet and tuneful, even as heard through the rattle of the carts and the clangour, now, of the church bells. But those who lingered would soon pass on impatiently as the small body was racked with yet another coughing spell, as the boy stooped and clutched his narrow chest, as again the song broke up and died.

Then one passer-by paused for a little longer than the others. The boy had been concentrating on his songs but, in a moment or two, becoming gradually aware of his companion, he turned and looked at him curiously.

It was a lad only a little older than himself. One he hadn't seen in the street before, one with tumbled fair hair and strangely bright eyes. He wore a heavy cloak.

He smiled at the urchin. "Will you sing that one again?"

The smaller boy looked at him thoughtfully. The newcomer didn't look like he had any money -- but then friendliness was rare on the street.

"Awright, then!"

The youngster took a deep breath and began again...

Ave Maria, gratia plena...

Then, after a few lines, he once more started coughing, his thin body shaking, doubled up; he gasped for breath, croaked, whooped. This happened more often now.

"Sorry," he said weakly after a moment.

"Don't be," said the other boy. "That was... beautiful. What's your name?"

"My name's Sam, Master..."

"Master no-one. I'm Michael. Mike."

Then Mike said, "Here -- sit down for a minute -- back a bit, it's more sheltered."

The snow was not yet lying between the massive door-pillars; the two boys sat on the step and Mike reached into the depths of his cloak. "It's not much but -- here."

Sam's eyes lit up. Cor!" Just bread and a wedge of cheese -- but the half-starved urchin's mouth watered even at the sight of it. He hesitated as the other boy held it out. "You sure?"

Yes -- take it all. I've had plenty." Then, after a moment or two, Mike asked curiously, "Where did you learn that song?"

There," said the urchin indistinctly, nodding towards the church on the corner. He swallowed, then said, "I always sits in the porch when the choir sings. They 'ave the stove on, and a bit of heat gets out. An' I hear the singing -- it's wizard."

He looked at Mike. "An' I see the boys in the choir sometimes, in their white robes an' all. Coo, I think, they must all be really rich, have big houses like palaces, beautiful mothers, lots of toys an' so on, jus' like a dream it must be."

Hmm -- maybe," said Mike doubtfully.

The youngster went on. "I asked once if I could sing with them, but the vicar said they din't want no ragged kids. Then the bloomin' sexton chased me after that every time I tried to sit in the warm. Eh, what's that?"

Mike had turned his head away and had muttered something, it seemed angrily, but now he said, "It doesn't matter."

Anyways," Sam went on, "I still listened, and they sing that song more'n any -- I learnt it by heart. Don't 'arf like it."

Mike said quietly, "Yes, so do I. It was written by a brilliant young man in a country called Austria, a very long way from here."

"I dunno about nothing like that," said the urchin, munching again. "Ain't never been to school, see."

But you like singing?"

"Not 'arf," said Sam again.

The bread and the cheese finished, Sam started to sing quietly again, but in a moment or two he started shivering, then coughing once more. Mike put his cloak round both of them and pulled the younger boy in against himself. "Better?"

"Yes, thanks, Mike."

In a few moments Sam stopped shivering.

"I'm awright now," he said, and Mike gently drew the cloak round himself again, then stood up. "You want to sing some more?"

The youngster coughed, half-retched. "Don't think I can, Mike."

"Oh yes, you can."

Sam, his attention caught by something new in Mike's tone, turned to look at him, then his mouth fell open in dismay. Now that his new friend was standing, he could see that under his cloak was a hump, an enormous hump that pushed his heavy robe back, and his body forward.

Then, as if realising that he was staring, he said, "Oh, sorry." Then with awkward sympathy, "Rough luck, Mike."

Mike laughed. "Oh, don't be sorry. Look."

Slowly, he began to remove his robe. The hump seemed to get bigger and bigger; it rose behind Mike's head, spread out on both sides.

The urchin had stood. There was light in his eyes, then on all of his face.

"Cor!!" he breathed at length. "Cor!!!" Then he started coughing again, doubling up, convulsing and whooping as if it would never stop.

But he did, and then the other boy put a hand on his shoulder. He asked quietly, "Will you come with me now?"

The urchin, his face still bathed in the pure light, looked up at him.

"Yes, Oh, yes," he whispered.

"Come on, then," said Mike quietly. "It's not as far as you think, though it's very dark. But take my hand, I know the way."

They walked together down the pavement and into a long alley beyond it, Mike's strong fingers entwined with Sam's. And at the end of the long alley the snow, the mist and the darkness took them.

Next morning, when two parish constables came on early patrol, one of them stumbled over what at first looked like a bundle of old clothes on the pavement. But it was the small singer, cold and lifeless.

"Oh, Gawd," groaned one of them. "Not another one. Well... call the cart, Harry."

The other looked down, shaking his head thoughtfully. "Yes, I remember 'im, bit of a card as I recall. But the cold was getting to 'im in the end, talking a lot of nonsense 'e was."

"Look," said his colleague, stooping and then standing up again. From beside the dead boy he had picked something up.

A feather.

A white feather -- larger, whiter and more beautiful than either of them had ever seen.

For a moment or two the constable who held it stared, was totally silent.

Then, quickly, he crushed it in his hand and threw it into the pile of rubbish in the doorway.

"Bloody brats," he muttered. "Come on, let's get this pavement tidied up."

As I finished copying this from somewhere and did a little tidying of my own, years ago, the sky lightened behind my blinds and another day beckoned. As you go into this new year, be thankful for what you have, and be thoughtful of opportunities to share - you never know just what the smallest kind word or deed might mean to someone, and you don't know what chances you have left until they're gone.

User Journal

Journal: Update on Dad 1

Journal by artifex2004

First, for those of you who responded to my earlier JE about my dad's accident, thanks very much for your support. I didn't freak out while watching the ER doctor stitching and moving around bits of his face, but I did a little in hindsight, thinking about it.

Anyway, he had a long surgery. He had seven fractures, but they had several hundred fragments to remove, they said, and they ended up giving him a teflon eyesocket, bascially. His face is still sore on one side, but you can't really tell any more what happened to him, except for a thin scar high up on his cheek. So he seems basically done with it, other than the pain he'll have for months, which is quelled mostly by ibuprofen, instead of by the prescription drug he was given, and that's good also.

I know it's a bit mean to say it, but it seems to have knocked a little sense into him, also. He's a bit more laid back and pragmatic about some things. I guess he finally figured out he's in his 60s and so forth.

Anyway, thanks for your thoughts and prayers. He seems to be beyond the risk of most related complications, infections, etc., now.

User Journal

Journal: I feel like an ass, asking, but 8

Journal by artifex2004

I put this off, and as mom and I are starting to say to each other, "well, at least we don't live in Louisiana," but it's still painful to my family, anyway. My dad fell a few days ago, in our house, and has some fractures in his face and a bunch of stitches. I know it was really painful then, it's still painful now, though he's drugged up, and he's supposed to go into surgery Monday to set his bones, etc., except of course the emergency room doctor forgot that Monday is Labor Day, so now we don't know when it will happen. I look at him, and I know he's only 30 years older than me, and I wonder what the future holds for me when I'm 60+, too. And I also know that the accident was easily avoidable, and though he blames himself entirely, I feel partly responsible. I know my mom is freaking out inside over this, too.

So anyway, he hurts, we all feel miserable, if you're inclined to pray or think happy thoughts or whatever, it'd be appreciated. Like I said, it's not New Orleans, or anything, but it still sucks to us.

User Journal

Journal: my latest whine about Apple service 3

Journal by artifex2004

For Christmas, my parents bought me a $50 gift card to Apple, thinking I could use it online. Wrong! So Monday, I go to the Willow Bend store, (which I'm already reluctant to go to from a prior lame experience, but it's close to the clas I'm cutting out from early), and try to use it along with an AmEx gift check (present from HP) to buy an Apple keyboard (see below) and an overpriced iPod holster. I ask at the beginning of the sale, can I use both of these? Sure! Oh, she's a trainee. She asks for help because she's locked out of her POS terminal.

Supervisor does something to it, tells her to make sure I sign the check twice, since it's blank. After I fill it out, he cuts in, and asks if I'm sure the card is $50. Then I ask, won't it tell you? And he said, well, if we put in a number that's too high for it, it won't accept it. So I'm already worried that my parents gave me a higher value card, I forgot the right number, and the extra is about to be eaten. (turns out it was $50, but I'd think the system should have just pulled that info on its own.)

So then he asks me, is it okay if I use the check, but leave some money on the card? No, I say. The whole point why I had to come to the store was because Apple didn't accept their own card at their own online store. I really would hate to have to come back, when I already had to think of something overpriced to buy just to empty the card... Hm, okay, he says, we can probably give you cash. So then some other guy standing around gets asked if they can give cash back from the AmEx check, to which he says sure! No problem. So finally, it works out. I feel really guilty about spending $40 for an iPod case as soon as I leave the store (no kidding, there's gotta be an RDF) but keep walking. I've already had a seemingly schizophrenic Apple experience returning something before at this location, and I don't want it again.

Okay, so a few days before this, I get a $30 coupon in email to buy something, along with my education discount. So I decide to go ahead and spring for a mac mini. I decide I will buy an official Apple keyboard at the retail store later, to use the card my parents gave me, since I can't use it online. (see above) Actually I originally decide to buy the combo keyboard and mouse, but I realize later I have a decent Wacom tablet with mouse I'm not using, that I can plug in for the mouse. So Thursday morning, maybe 3AM, I order the faster mini, stock except I decide to pay for the 512MB upgrade. Before I put the memory upgrade in, it says one day expected shipping time. After, it says 1-3. $643 for the fast mini with the 512MB, @$30 off and my edu discount. Yay.

So today, I get an email saying Apple can't meet their ship window (it ended yesterday), and I can change or cancel until they ship, which is projected to be by the 24th... I'm not happy about this, so I call the number in the email and ask to change the order to just the stock fast mini, so I can get it faster. No problem, she says, though it takes her 10 minutes to actually figure out how to do it. She then quotes me a price of $624, and says the target date is now the 27th. What? Do I still have the $30 coupon and the edu discount? Yes, she says, of course. I thank her, and ask if the delays are because they may be shipping 10.4.2 with the machines? She says she has no idea, they never get told the reason for the delays. I thank her and hang up.

So then I go back to my desk to check the order, to see why losing the upgrade only saved me $19. Well, she erased the coupon, despite what she said. So I have to call back. I don't even want to think about the extra delay in getting my mini, I'm just upset about the money at this point. I either want the $30 off I was promised, or I want to cancel. I'm already thinking how I will have to repack the keyboard and might as well return the iPod case, but that I'll go to the Knox street location, where the people are actually friendly. (Knox to Willow Bend is like Austin to L.A.)

So I call, the wait time is longer, then I get someone who repeats my order number about 4 times before finding it. When I explain I had a coupon before, and it got lost when the order was revised, he looks, asks me if I placed the order online or over the phone, then finds my coupon # after about 5 minutes and reads it back to me. Then it takes him almost another 10 to finally say it's fixed. New total price: $594.29, though he doesn't give me the new total, just says, if I want to go look again, he put the coupon back on, so the mini is $549 now. Looking now, it's still the 27th. I can tell I'm his last call of the night, ending at 10PM Central; he doesn't confirm the ship date. I don't ask. We both are glad to hang up.

1) I know I must sound cheap, but $30 was 5% of the price of the properly revised order, and I'm a poor college kid. My decision to pull the trigger now, instead of later, was based on that extra discount.
2) I hate the hassle I get at that particular Apple store, too. When I walk in, they're indifferent at best. I'm shaved, showered, just came from school. I'm not wearing designer clothes and I'm fat, but that should make me look just like the average Apple developer. They don't know, or don't care, that this costs sales. I'm trying to throw money at them, and they don't want it from me, is what it boils down to. (The people at the Apple store on Knox don't care how I look, they smile and try to help, they don't have to be hunted down and asked, so I don't think this lookist attitude is universal.)
3) I am disappointed that Apple's systems don't talk to each other, so I can't use my Apple gift card online. The sign in the store says "think of all the ways you can use your Apple card," but it's only one. Oh, and my parents are upset, now, too, because my mom says she was promised that I could use the card online, before she bought it. Nobody likes being lied to when buying something, nor of causing the recipient of a gift hassle.
4) The inventory and ordering systems available to the phone personnel are also apparently quite slow and labyrinthine, or I just had slow agents both times I called. They didn't sound inexperienced, though, so it's probably not their fault.

There's lots of other things I could have added here, about how I would have handled things as an Apple rep had I been on the other side, but it would narcissistic to explain how I'd have done things differently, and made the customer feel like I cared, either on the phone or in person. Let's just say that, I understand being dumped at the back of the line for revising my order, even though the first agent seemed to agree I might get my order faster if I got the base model instead, but when the second agent was telling me he understood the need to get my unit soon since classes had already started, it would have been trivial to offer to upgrade my shipping, because of the inconvenience with the missed ship date and everything else, don't you think? I didn't feel like I should ask for that, but at the same time, it's what I wanted to hear. It's the sort of thing I gave people when I had a similar job.

No offense to /. friends who work for Apple, or like them, but I think Apple service in general is lame, especially for a company that touts itself as being premium quality. My in person "Apple experience" is usually bad, and nobody at Apple seemed interested in improving it either this time or in the past. It's only my friends who keep me convinced that the hardware and OS are worth this. Oh, yes, I won't bother writing Apple about it this time, because they ignored me the last time I wrote about that store and their service. I'm just going to whine about it here.


Journal: Blockbuster's mail service sucks 6

Journal by artifex2004

Dec 3rd final update:

Dear Jason,

Thank you for contacting Blockbuster Online Customer Service. My apologies for the delay in response to your e-mail. Recently we have been experiencing an unusually high number of e-mails, which has been affecting response times.

In regards to your previous inquiries about titles not being allocated, there are several variables impacting DVD shipping and check-in. Although our shipping centers are operating 24/7, based on the United States Postal Service delivery and pick up times, the time of day title allocations occur, and the number of titles to be checked in and reallocated in a given period, delays may result in a longer period of time for discs to be received and distributed. As a result, there may appear to be a delay in your shipping when in fact the process began long before you see a title was shipped. We are working to improve this process, and apologize for any inconvenience.

Secondly, we have refunded the charge for this billing cycle. Please enjoy the service through December 28th for free! We appreciate your patience, as we work to better your experience with us.

Always here to help,

Your Friends at BLOCKBUSTER Online


Dec 2nd update: On Nov 29th I went to cancel, and the system offered me a free month to let them improve, etc. I accepted. November 30th, I was charged another month's fee anyway. More evidence that BB sucks!


UPDATE: after a few more days of open slots and cessation of
ALL cs mail from BB(!), I'm cancelling and merging the queue back in with the one I have at GreenCine.


For the third time, now, I've had at least one open slot and they haven't filled it in the same day. Here's my latest missive:

For the third time, I've had at least one empty slot with 133+ discs in my queue, which are almost all "available now." Why aren't you filling the slots in a timely manner? I've asked repeatedly if you're throttling, and never get an answer. When I try to call, I get busy signals. Please have a manager respond this time via email with an explanation as to why the system says discs are available when they're not, whether that's intentional, and if not, why it's happened 3 times recently now for me. I'd also like an explanation as to why it takes many days for an email response, and why the phone number is always busy when I try to call.

In the past, I've had one response that said on Nov 8:

Dear Jason,

We sincerely apologize for the unavailability of titles in your queue. Our customer base has grown higher than anticipated, and we are working quickly to build our inventory to meet customer demand. Thank you for your patience in this effort.

This was in response to a message I sent on Nov 3:

txtIssue: My shipped slots were empty all day after the morning update, and only one selection shipped this afternoon. I had 140 titles in my queue. What's the delay? Are you throttling delivery, like NetFlix has been accused of doing? Please tell me why, when most of the titles say "available now," you couldn't fill the other two slots.

Oh, and my response on the 8th was:
Are you saying that the reason why the slots stayed empty is that out
of the 140 titles on my list, almost all of which said "available
now," NONE were actually "available now?"

Should I have any trust in your queue system at all?

To which I have yet to receive any response, even though they claim they'll respond if you reply. They're obviously ignoring their 2 business day rule on replies, also.

Okay, so anyone else agree Blockbuster's mail service (or customer service, for that matter) sucks? I'll keep updating my end...

In case of injury notify your superior immediately. He'll kiss it and make it better.