Extended warranties

You do know, right, that these are almost always pure profit for the vendor.  This is why sales staff are encouraged to push them at every opportunity, and may even be canned for not selling enough.

There is a devastating yet polite rejoinder for pressure to buy an extended warranty:  “If you think an extended warranty is in my best interests, then you must think this product is going to fail shortly out of warranty.  Therefore, are you saying that this is a very unreliable product prone to failure?”

The usual response is hilarious.  “Well, sir, I don’t mean that, just that, in case something does happen, you’d be covered.”  Have no mercy:  “Right, but this is supposed to be reliable.  Either it is a good product or it isn’t.  A good product doesn’t need me to buy extra warranty because odds of failure are remote.  A lousy product isn’t worth buying to begin with.  Which is it?”

Now, if they answer you honestly, have mercy:  “Honestly, sir, they nearly never break.  But my job requires me to offer this to you, and I can see you aren’t interested, so I’ve done all that is needed.  Shall we ring you up?”  If they have the candor to do that, treat them well.  It takes large nads to come out and say that.  If you’re really impressed, buy extended warranty just to help the guy or gal along.  You never know when that karma might revisit you.



We have something unique and rather cool out near my part of the world:  a serious art museum, about two hours away.  Maryhill is the former residence of transportation magnate Sam Hill, a post-Gilded Age chap with good connections but odd ideas.  He left his mansion (overlooking the Columbia, a bit east of Wishram) as a museum.   It’s nice as well as scenic.  It displays:

  • A significant and diverse collection of Native American artifacts.
  • A sizable collection of Rodins.  No, I’m not joking.  Yes, I mean what I just said.
  • Lots of Queen Marie of Romania and other eastern European stuff, including some very impressive ikons.
  • Of course, some stuff about Sam himself, though the museum doesn’t overdo his worship.
  • An exhibit on Loïe Fuller, a dancer who used gossamer drapery as a prop.
  • Some fairly dull stuff upstairs.
  • A gorgeous chess set collection.
  • Temporary exhibits that may vary.
  • Nearby, another oddity:  a full-size war memorial in the shape of Stonehenge, overlooking the river.

What makes Maryhill interesting and unique is the combination of middle-of-nowhereness (as I leave the freeway to go there, I see a sign: NO SERVICES 88 MILES), marvelous Columbia Gorge scenery, and truly historic artifacts.  That’s a lot of Rodins, essentially an education in his methods and life.  You can see his fingerprints on some of his sculptures.  Roman coins.  Dresses fit for royalty.  Cyrillic on ikons that I can barely read.  And above all, a very compelling portrait of Tsar Nikolai II (it is not ‘czar’) made more unique by vandalism.  Some angry intruder slashed the canvas where it hung in Belgrade, and while it has been repaired quite well, the evidence hasn’t gone away.  I’m not even much of an art buff and its significance leaps out and grabs even me:  the elegant portrait of the last Tsar in his military finery, crudely marred in an overflow of pent-up resentment.  What better metaphor for the chaotic, iconoclastic times of later World War I?

Researching with Wikipedia

Heh, don’t have a heart attack.  Wikipedia is great for research, but not in the way you’re thinking.  I use it all the time, yet rarely read the actual entry.

No, you can’t take anything you read there as authoritative.  However, you can see where it sends you.  Check the links, source notes, and all that stuff.  Armed thus, you can investigate those and make up your own mind about their reliability.  Website of some Holocaust denial maven? That’s a distrustin’.  Article by amateur historian? Better, if not fully authoritative.  Peer-reviewed article by expert, from whom further research indicates no predilection or motivation for bias? That’s pretty good.

The other benefit of Wikipedia is that it will at least alert you to high points of a subject for further study.  Reading about an event in its Wiki entry, you may believe nothing the author says, but you at least gain some idea of the main points of controversy.  Thus, if researching the Boston Tea Party, you would not let Wiki decide for you what its real motivations were–but you’d at least get a sense of how some construe the motivations, and from there, you could do some more substantive discovery and deciding.

Facebook Slacktivism

If you’re on Facepalm, you’ve seen them:  profile posts pressuring you to change your status to something.  And yes, it is pressure, often coupled with a guilt trip.  To gather these, I had to go unhide a whole bunch of people who have done them so often I finally just tuned them out:

Put this dog on
.//^ ^\\ your status
(/(_•_)\) to show
._/”*”\_ that you are
(,,,)^(,,,) Against Animal Cruelty

If I don’t, does that mean I’m for animal cruelty?

Who says Facebook friends aren’t real friends? They enjoy seeing you on line everyday, miss you when you aren’t, send condolences if you’ve lost someone, give you wishes on your Birthday, enjoy the photos & videos you post, put a smile on your face when you’re down, make you laugh when you feel like crying. Re-post if you love your Facebook friends. ?

And if I don’t, does that mean I don’t care for them?

Tell me if this makes any sense. I’m still scratching my head at this one. Homeless go without eating. Elderly go without needed medicines. Mentally ill go without treatment. Troops go without proper equipment. Veterans go without benefits they were promised. Yet we donate billions to other countries before helping our… own first. Have the guts to re-post this. 1% will re-post and 99% won’t

So if I don’t accept your premise and parrot what you say, I’m gutless?

Doesn’t make sense, does it? Homeless in the US go without eating. Elderly in the US go without needed medicines. Mentally ill in the US go without treatment. American troops go without proper equipment. American veterans go without benefits that were promised. Yet we donate billions to other countries before helping our own first. 1% will re-post and 99% won’t. Have the guts to re-post this. I KNOW I’M IN THE 1%

For this one, evidently, I’m gutless again, plus unkind to our needy?


So if I don’t make a mindless repetition in ALL CAPS, it’s because I’m afraid of offending someone?

Very sadly, most of you probably won’t copy and paste this. Will you do it and leave it on your status for at least an hour??? It’s Special Education week, and this is in HONOR of all the children who need a little extra help, patience & understanding. Proudly, I will! …Thanks!! ….’Here’s to all the kids who need just a little bit…… more

This one switched message a bit, leading with the guilt trip.  So now I don’t like learning-disabled kids?

Now you see why I just block anyone who does too much of this.  Maybe some people can be insulted into making a show for others, but the idea has no appeal for me.

The golden secrets of diagnosing computing problems

Since that’s what I’m doing this morning–specifically, trying to figure out why Firefox is messing up Castle Age for me, and not for the rest of the world–a good subject seemed to be the things many people don’t grasp about trying to correct, or at least track down, most computer problems.

No result is diagnostic unless you can reproduce it. In order to make the problem go away, you have to know how to make it happen.  In this case, I can reliably say that with all my Firefox paranoia add-ins enabled, both Castle Age (a Facebook game) and Facebook chat are partly broken.  I have had them occasionally work correctly, but in general, it’s about 99% reproducible.  This is good.  It’s the intermittent failures that’ll send you around the bend.

No result is diagnostic unless confirmed from a fresh start. This is especially true of instabilities.  Once you see your first instability or oddity, there is the chance that further instabilities and oddities are consequent from the first one.  The true test is if you get the same reproducible result from a fresh start.  When I was a computer shaman, I can’t tell you the number of people who reported ‘dozens of errors’ without restarting Windows and trying again.  It was hard to get them to understand that only the first error told us anything, and then only after a fresh start.

Change one thing at one time. If you alter more than one thing at once, and the result changes, you cannot know which change on your part made a difference.  Never, never, never go into your Options or Settings and change five things at once–you won’t know what solved it, and you might mess up something else.  In any case, you will muddy the waters and probably forget what all you changed, thus making it impractical to put it back the way it was.  One change at a time, then test.

Therefore, the basic concept–and why computer nerds seem to be able to solve things that mystify you–is not as mystical and shamanic and otherworldly as it may seem.  What they’re doing is just good science–and this is also why all the DSL tech support people first make you reboot everything, in case you wondered.  Restart whatever it is.  Try again immediately, in a deliberate effort to reproduce the problem.  Once you can reliably reproduce your problem, you can begin trying one thing at a time to address it.  If the change doesn’t address it, put what you changed back where you had it, and try something else.  Knowing this will save you headaches and money.

In my case, I strongly suspect that one of my add-ins is preventing CA and FB from doing things.  Thus, the process is tedious but will yield useful information:  disable something, shut down Firefox, restart it, reproduce the problem.  If I can still reproduce the problem, my change didn’t fix it, so I should re-enable what I disabled, disable something else, restart Firefox and test again.  If suddenly I can no longer reliably reproduce the problem, then I have a very good idea which add-in is the culprit.  I then have to decide if it’s one I can live without.

New book: Fascinating Bible Facts

One fact of my work is that I can say virtually nothing about a project until it’s published.  Contractual confidentiality obligations.  However, once it’s published, I have some freedom, and in fact the publisher would like for me to talk it up.  So let me tell you a bit about its making.

First off, here’s the link:  Armchair Reader:  Fascinating Bible Facts.  It will be available in about a week; they’re taking pre-orders.

Those of you who know me well might be pretty surprised to imagine me working on such a book.  I’m Asatru (basically, old-time Germanic religion).  I do not deny anyone’s god or gods, but I’m not a Person of the Book (Christian, Jew or Muslim).  And when pushed, I can be rather strident about it.  There’s a reason there is a placard on my front door that says POSITIVELY NO SOLICITORS, NO MISSIONARIES.  I can get along great with nearly all people of any faith or no faith long as they respect mine.  But a Bible book? Me?

Well, in the first place…suppose you asked me:  “J.K., do you have more in common with atheists, agnostics, Jews or Christians?”  The answer would be that I have the least in common with atheists, since they are convinced there are no supreme beings of any kind.  Next agnostics, who don’t know.  Next Christians, who believe in a supreme being but who in many cases proselytize, an act alien to my thought.  Finally, Jews, with whom I have the most in common.  They are theists, like me, but they do not proselytize.  My point is that because I too am a theist, I’m not so ill-equipped to write about matters of faith.  Just happen to profess a very different faith, that’s all.

The way I get engaged for a project is, an editor contacts me and says, “We’re interested in having you do this.  What do you think?” I usually ask some questions and get a feel for it.  Sometimes it’s e-mail, sometimes a phone call.  Most editors, at some point, seem to like to talk on the phone at least once, just to get a sense of me.  (“Who is this guy, anyway?”) Since turning down work is not typical for me, I usually sign on.  Since it’s a buyer’s market, I really don’t have a strong negotiating position, so I don’t dicker about payment rates.  Some think that’s selling myself short, literally:  “Why not go out and get what you’re worth? You’ve done great for them!”  Answer:  perhaps I have–they keep hiring me.  And I might get more money.  But what then? “Well, we could engage J.K., but it’ll cost more, and we have plenty of others just as capable who cost less.  Sorry, J.K.”  And who could blame them?

So, when I got the approach for what would become AR:FBF, I was pretty straightforward.  “You do realize, I trust, that I’m not a member of any of the faiths represented in this book?”  I did point out however that I had a degree in ancient history (with specific focus on the early Roman Empire, which happens to coincide with the early Christian Era) and read some Hebrew, plus a bit of Latin and Greek.  They rejoined that, as a non-Person of the Book, I didn’t have a dog in the fight, so to speak.  Not being predisposed toward any of it, I might treat it with more balance.  I signed on.

It turned out to be both a very fun and edifying project.  I had three great editors to work with.  Whether I subscribe to John 3:16 is immaterial to my education; what is material is that the rise of Christianity is an important event in the history of western civilization, and I ought to have perspective on it.  I could not have researched this work without acquiring this.  In short, if you love ancient history, the Judeo-Christian scriptures are among your ancient sources.  You may, if they are not your religious scriptures (or perhaps if they are, or because they are; your call), evaluate their credibility with the same historiographical eye with which you’d examine Tacitus or Plutarch, and conclude what you will.  What you cannot do is dismiss them, even if you’re an atheist.  Not if you are worth a damn as an historian, you cannot.  Whether you believe the supernatural parts is no more material here than if you were studying Native American oral traditions, or even Scientology.

Having not yet received my complimentaries, I don’t know how much of what I wrote and was paid for was actually printed.  I’m pretty sure a lot of it was, and that I did a disproportionate share of the book, because in the Amazon blurb, most of the features they mention, just so happens I authored those particular manuscripts.  The basic process is that I’m either presented with topics, or invited to select from a list, or asked to suggest a list.  Sometimes all three happen.  The editors make some decisions (usually with some input from me, naturally) on length and subjects, and assign me the work.  I do it and turn it in.  The sooner I do that, the sooner I get a new assignment, so it is in my best interests to bust my butt and get all over that.

I am contractually obligated and expected, upon request, to rewrite or edit MS to the editors’ satisfaction.  Sometimes this is wanted, sometimes not.  But once I turn it in, I have very little influence over how the MS is used (if at all).  The publisher may use it in this book, or in a future book, in as many as they wish, with or without attribution to me (though they have historically been quite kind about that).  I have transferred the ownership rights, and in so doing, have warranted that they are rightfully mine to transfer (meaning, that it was my original work).  The publisher’s duty to me ends when I am paid.  That said, I’m very fortunate to write for PIL, because they’ve nearly always been kinder to me than the strict letter of the contract obligates.  They’ve been classy and professional and considerate, and I’m pleased that my name is in over a dozen of their books.  Good advice for ‘lancers:  try and be classy, professional and considerate to your editors.  If you are, you’ll probably be seeing them again.  People prefer to work with people who are easy to work with.

The whole process can take months to a year.  I know it’s going live when they contact me for a contributor bio.  That seems to be the publisher equivalent to a submarine skipper ordering the last man down the hatch to dog and secure it–when that happens, next step is to submerge.

Anyway, if you’re interested in some thoughtful takes on matters Biblical, the new book may be of interest.

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