Sunday, September 12, 2004

simon legree, our supervisor

We worked hard this weekend on getting the fall belt collection at charlie & grace photographed and loaded online. It was fun because it's another great line by Alicia and Ray; I love seeing the designs they create. And I'm always impressed by the craftsmanship, and the choice of fabrics. This particular collection features boucle, wool, velvet, cotton, corduroy, and some lovely grosgrain ribbon.

Twitch, Stanley's demented cat, supervised. He made sure the belts were rolled just so for shooting, unrolling the ones that didn't meet his standards. That sure sped up the process ...

twitch_belts.jpg


Just as soon as I get a chance, I want to post some more photos from our vacation, particularly of an old train station that's being restored. But I'm just too sleepy right now to find them, process them, and so on.
posted by lee on 09/12/04 at 09:00 PM
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Saturday, September 18, 2004

aye, aye captain

Tonight we went to see Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow. We've been waiting for it and hoping it would be worth seeing. The bits and pieces of the previews I'd seen intrigued me since they had the Metropolis/Dark City look I love if it's done well. And the story looked like it might be a version of those science fiction space operas I sucked down and loved as a kid, like Asimov's "Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids" and Heinlein's "Space Cadet."

Plus, Roger Ebert gave it four stars and praised it like crazy. It got a decentish 67 on MetaCritic. So maybe worth a shot at $9 per ticket.

Well. It was fun. But it is so flawed it's almost tragic. After we watched the movie, Stanley said, "Ebert should cut back on his prozac."

skycaptain.jpegThe good: Jude Law (yum!), Giovanni Ribisi, the robots, the beginning. I even like Angelina Jolie's reprise of Lara Crotch, um, I mean her portrayal of the tough Frankie, girl commander with the bad British accent. Gwyneth Paltrow's clothes and hair.

The bad: Gwyneth Paltrow's acting, interesting characters barely fleshed out, pointless characters, the length, the plot, the premise, the look, the clichs ...

My misgivings began with the opening titles. The typography of the titles was just all wrong for a movie supposedly set in the 30s. The font used would've been appropriate for a movie evoking the silent film era, but most certainly not the 30s. The movie title rendering worked well -- just none of the rest of it. (If I could choose a new career, I would be a creator of movie titles and credits.) It's probably an odd obsession I have, I know, but it's pretty clear that someone didn't put enough thought and research into this and it should've been caught before the movie was released.

The setup: scientists are mysteriously disappearing, big huge robots land in Mid-town Manhattan and begin kicking cars around, intrepid girl reporter is hot on the trail of the story and meets an endangered scientist in Radio City Music Hall during a showing of The Wizard of Oz. [Comment: This was was a scene that should have been re-thought and recreated since the viewer gets so focused on watching TWoO (Glinda is arriving via bubble in this particular scene) that the characters in this scene, Intrepid Girl Reporter and Endangered Scientist, were annoyances and I missed what they were talking about.]

IGR leaves the Radio City when air raid sirens go off and goes running down one of the avenues dodging robot feet and trying not to get smushed while taking photos of 'em. Stanley and I both noticed that she ran over a grill in high heels and did NOT break her ankle. I knew then that I had to turn the "suspend disbelief" dial up a lot higher. Meanwhile, Sky Captain, by himself, is attempting to shoot down the hundred or so five-story-high robots with his ack ack guns, or whatever.

Next thing you know, SC is landing his trusty plane on some island on some mountains within driving distance of New York City -- can't quite figure out where since, as far as I know, there are no mountains on the coast around NYC. Not even in New Jersey. There we meet Dex Dearborn, boy genius who expresses amazement by saying, "Shazam." Then these bird robots attack the island, and some tall skinny robots with tentacles, all directed by some Mysterious Woman who's dressed looks like a rubber fetishist's wet dream. Oh, and IGR manages to show up too. Of course.

The robots and Mysterious Woman were sent by the evil Dr. Totenkopf who is stealing generators all over the world. So, they have to find the evil Dr. What's really creepy is Dr. T is played by Sir Laurence Olivier, who's been dead about 15 years. (Translate Dr. T's name if you want to figure out the entire movie.)

And off they go. I won't say more because it would be too tedious to recount it all -- besides, you'll have to get your spoilers elsewhere. To say there are plot jumps is a genuine understatement. How they get from a uranium mine in Tibet to naked in a bed in Shangri-La is never explained, for example. And how people disembarked from the Hindenburg III when it was tethered to the Empire State Building is never shown, which disappointed the hell out of me because I've been wondering for years how they were planning to do that before the idea of dirigibles blowing up over Fifth Avenue struck city planners as less than ideal (yes, the Empire State Building was built with a mooring for blimps. It's true).

The director, Kerry Conran, originally planned to make this movie in black and white and, I read somewhere, only colorized it at the last moment because the studio didn't think people would go see a BW movie. I think colorizing it was a mistake since it's interesting at first, but annoying after about five minutes. All of the actors look like they've been resurrected from the dead, and IGR's lips look like dried blood. The lighting and robots were designed for BW and this movie would've been gorgeous if Conran had stuck to his guns. I might have enjoyed it more, too, instead of noticing the colorization to the detriment of noticing the plot. Oh wait, maybe not.

Some reviewers have said this movie is kind of like Raiders of the Lost Ark, in tone if not in actual plot. I disagree. The robots and the underground factory were more evocative of Metropolis, especially the Mysterious Killer Woman, but the plot was pure Star Wars. I swear I saw one scene back in 1977. And a much better actress for the IGR part would have been Kathleen Turner 20 years ago, or Drew Barrymore. Paltrow just sucked.

The plot for this movie is too thin (not to mention flimsy) and the gimmicks are too heavy-handed to be able to call this a good movie. It's interesting. And fun if you can dispense with the "yeah, right" reaction every five minutes. It's a badly cobbled combination of hundreds of science fiction pulps, comic books, and matine movies -- there is not one line of fresh dialog with the exception of the very last line (which was perfect). Definitely not worth full price. And expect the kiddies to have nightmares from a couple of the scenes.
posted by lee on 09/18/04 at 08:39 PM
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Sunday, September 19, 2004

pruning and planting

Last week, my package from White Flower Farm arrived. Friday, I got my package from Paradise Garden. So, today, I managed to work in the garden while I was doing my only-when-it-gets-painfully-slow computer maintenance. You know, pruning the spyware while while weeding.

magellanica.jpg

While running one optimizer program, I planted FUSCHIA 'Magellanica', which is supposed to get six feet high though I doubt if it will here since zone 6, which is our zone, looks like the cold end of what it can take. It got good reviews at Paradise Garden, and I love red flowers and is a perennial, so I ordered it. The plant looks really healthy and was a lot bigger than you get from most of the mail order plant places. It looks like it might even survive. I just have to remember to mulch it well during winter.

930693.jpg

Around that, I planted some spider lily bulbs. This is what the catalog says about lycoris radiata: "Spider Lilies sport gorgeous bright red flowers adorned with long, curling filaments (the source of the "spider" moniker). The flowers can be seen from great distances in the garden and last practically forever in a vase. Spider lilies prefer partial shade, especially in hot climates, and well-drained soil. They thrive in Zone 6 if planted in a protected location and mulched heavily in fall. Heirloom, 1750." So I'll much these too when I mulch the fuschia. I got them from White Flower Farm.

The registry was optimized, so it was time to search for all the unnecessary files like the crap ~whatever.doc files Microsoft leaves about (MS has yet to create a tidy program) and all the crap in the browser caches and various other junk grosso.jpgfiles. The program I use takes a while. So I planted Lavandula i. 'Grosso' in a sunny spot. I love planting lavender because the smell always makes whatever mood I'm in better. Maybe there's something to that aromatherapy stuff, I don't know. Another very healthy looking plant from Paradise. I have so-so luck with lavender here. Sometimes it grows just fine outside -- I had one plant that lasted three years until this winter's brutal cold did it in. Mostly they don't survive unless I bring them in. The description: "Desired for its very fragrant flower spikes. Great as a cut flower in arrangements. Comparatively large shrub-like perennial with blue-green foliage and large, fat, purple flower spikes. Excellent for drying. Midseason with repeat bloom. 24-30 inches tall with taller bloom spikes."

Crap files cleaned off the computer. Next up, turn off indexing -- I was surprised at how long that took. I didn't see any point it letting it hog up resources on my XP Pro system since searching is so damned slow now an extra five minutes doesn't make much difference. While waiting for that to run, I planted Sisyrinchium bermudianum, aka blue-eyed grass.bermudianum.jpg The catalog says, "Blue star-like flowers adorn the compact iris-like foliage. A long blooming and all around excellent perennial." They just look so pretty I couldn't resist them.

What I really want to get, and I hope I can in the spring, is crocosmia. I saw some at a local nursery for the first time and have been regretting even since that I didn't just buy a couple of pots of them when I saw them. They're just not for sale after July, I guess. I did order a couple of peonies and some stokesia from Paradise. I would've ordered even more, but I can't afford either the time or the money just now. My wish list there is quite long. I tried to order some freesia bulbs for forcing from Brent and Becky's bulbs, but their shopping cart is broken (again). Oops, just tried it again -- seems to be working now. So off I go ... (my computer is all nice and tidy and scrubbed of everything bad and I even defragged it). Check out Spyware-Guide -- great resource!

Oh, one more thing. This is an image from Punditman.com, and it makes me laugh every since time I look at it. Just something so satisfying about what it expresses. It's in a popup because the file is quite large (444 KB). View image (Note to those who want to use this picture: do not link to this image, just take it and use your own bandwidth to display it. If I find out you're linking to it, I'll replace it with something nasty.)

posted by lee on 09/19/04 at 09:47 PM
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Thursday, September 23, 2004

Kinkos has more than a few kinks to work out

Haven't needed to use Kinkos in a while. Good thing. I decided to try Kinkos's online ordering system to order photo greeting cards for use as invitations to my parents' golden wedding anniversary. I needed them delivered to my sister in Michigan at the very latest by Thursday night. According to everything I read on the website, this was a shoo-in.

The photo greeting cards are about $30 for a package of 25 cards and envelopes. You can only get them in sets of 25, which is fine by me. I created the card and labored over getting the six lines allocated for the text inside (an invitation to the anniversary party, in this case), ordered four sets of 25 cards with matching white envelopes, ordered overnight delivery (Fedex owns Kinkos now -- I figured it would be seamless), paid for them, everything was easy. I even got a prompt notice that my order would be sent directly to the Kinkos I'd selected to process it -- the one in Norwalk on Westport Avenue. Mainly because it's close to my house and I figured if necessary, I could go there to proof the cards.

I didn't think twice about it -- Kinkos should have the process down pat after all these years. This was on the 19th.

So I was pleased when, later that day, I got a message stating that the order had been processed and was being delivered. Since it was a Sunday, I figured the order would go out Monday and my sister would receive it on Tuesday. Sounds about right for overnight delivery, right?

Well, nothing on Tuesday. I figured I misunderstood what the message said. But, nope, my sister didn't get them on Wednesday, either. Ok, panic time.

I call. "Oh, yes, the order was processed, and it's here."

"What do you mean, 'it's here,' it's supposed to be in Dearborn Heights?" Flunky said he'd have his manager get back to me within 15 minutes. So, 30 minutes later, I called. "Oh," she said. "The order was done, but the guy who ran it put it in the wrong bin."

"So what are you going to do about it?" I asked, explaining that it was already supposed to be in Dearborn Heights. She gave me the runaround and said they'd get it out "tomorrow." I asked how it was possible for her to get it out on Thursday and get it delivered in Michigan by Thursday evening -- why couldn't she just get it out right then?

She refused, saying the cutoff time was 6:00. I told her that she was nuts, that there was a Fedex center downtown Norwalk and if she sent somebody right then, they'd make it in plenty of time. I heard her asking a staff if she knew where Fedex was, and then told me she'd send somebody over. She lied.

I didn't waste any time -- I called customer service, the 1-800-2kinkos phone number. When will companies realize that using words instead of numbers for customer service only makes things worse? I was angry to begin with and the annoyance of wasting more time trying to find the flipping microscopic letters on the keypad weren't making things any better.

Got through to customer service, where the rep first said the package could be shipped in the morning for evening delivery. Which would be fine -- the idea was to get it there by Thursday evening. Friday would be too late. But, the ninny of a manager, L, refused to ship it because, she told the rep, it would be too expensive. Oh, just what an irate customer wants to hear, right? The idiot manager basically said the screwup was a staff's fault, or my fault, definitely not her responsibility.

I told the rep that this answer was completely and totally unacceptable -- I think the rep agreed, because the rep put me on hold and tracked down the District Manager for the store. She told me that he just happened to be over at the Kinkos that was processing my order, and that he would call me. I told her thank you, and I called him, given Norwalk Kinkos's track record for returning phone calls.

He was nice, at least, and apologized and did not blame me or an underling for the screwup. He said he had a solution: since the order was digital, he would set it up so the Dearborn Heights (or Dearborn) store printed the order and would get it to my sister by 4:00 Thursday. Ok, fine -- the key was that she gets them by Thursday night so she could address them while on her trip to Washington so she could get them in the mail on Monday. He also told me that I could pick up the order sitting in the Norwalk Kinkos and do what I wanted to with it (there's no way I needed 200 invitations, but I did want to see what they looked like). I said I would be in to get the order Thursday some time. His solution was great -- and that explains why he's a District Manager and the store night manager is just a night manager and will never be anything more than a night manager.

I then got a message from the nincompoop manager later that evening letting me know that everything was set up for the job to be completed on Thursday.

I got a phone call from the Dearborn Kinkos on Thursday about 4:00 or so. They guy said, "Um, they're trying to deliver the package, but there's nobody home." Me: "Well of course there's nobody home -- they're at work. As long as it's not raining, you can just leave the package inside the storm door." "Uh, ok, I just wanted to confirm that we could leave the package."

I had some hope.

But it gets better. They delivered the cards, all 100-plus of them. And Jamie said they look great. But ... "Aren't there supposed to be envelopes?" she asked. Not an envelope to be found. I guess Kinkos assumed we would hand deliver all 100 of them.

Back on the phone to the Low IQ manager. Who not only was rude, she essentially told me to deal with it myself. She gave me the number and the name of the person handling it. She said, "I thought you were going to come in earlier for your order, I was going to follow up then." Why do I have to go in to handle anything for an automated order? The whole idea is ease ... but I digress.

I called Dearborn and asked what the deal was. The guy was courteous, but, he said, the other Dearborn store actually printed and delivered the job, not him. I asked him what we were supposed to do without envelopes, which were part of the deal. He said he'd check and see if he had them in stock. Fortunately, he did, and fortunately, my sister was able to go over to the store and get them since Kinkos doesn't deliver after 5:00.

So that ended well enough though why I had to spend so much time on the phone to get the job done right I don't know. Fedex Kinkos advertisements are a crock -- you can't turn stuff over to them and not worry about it.

YOU ARE NOW ENTERING THE TWILIGHT ZONE
Then I went to pick up the order trapped in Norwalk. One of the Kinkos drones went to get my order, and handed me a Fedex letter envelope with four cards, no card envelopes, in the fedex envelope. It wasn't even a pouch, just one of those business letter mailer packages. "Where is the rest of the order?" I asked. "This is the order," he said. I said it couldn't be -- I'd hardly pay $120 for four cards, especially cards without envelopes. He insisted that was the order.

I asked to speak with the manager immediately. Drone said, "She's in a meeting." Now, I could SEE the woman from where I stood and she wasn't even on the telephone, just rustling through some papers on her desk. I told the kid to stop lying and go get her now.

The dumbkopf manager came out. I explained to her that the District Manager said I could pick up my order. She said she knew nothing about that. I said, "Yes you do, he was talking to you while we were on the phone, I HEARD you." She handed me the four cards, said she had to keep the Fedex envelope. I asked where the other 96 cards were, and the envelopes. She said I was holding the complete order. I asked her if she was insane, pointing out that you can't even buy individual cards, only sets of 25. As in four sets of 25 cards.

She got even ruder, and insisted that the order said four. She ran and got some printout where she showed me the numeral 4. I said, "Yes, four SETS." I lost it, and yelled that I wanted my order and I wanted my refund for overnight delivery. I did not swear or use any phrase harsher than "you're screwing me over." She then tried to throw me out of the store, accusing me of swearing at her, and threatened to have me removed. I told her to go ahead, call the cops, but I wanted my order and my refund, and that shouting isn't swearing. I insisted that she call the district manager. She said didn't know his number. I asked if it was Kinkos policy to lie to customers. I could see I wasn't going to get anywhere with the ignoramus, so I got the spelling of the District Manager's name and left.

I told Stanley what had happened, handed him the four cards, and he burst out laughing. The level of incompetence, from the second the order hit the Westport Avenue Kinkos to finally getting the order completed, was breathtaking. I have never encountered quite this level of bumbling; it's as if Kinkos's corporate model is the Keystone Kops.

The manager needs some serious training in customer relations. Instead of blaming the drones, blaming the paperwork, and blaming me for the mess, taking not one iota of responsibility for the screwup, L should have just apologized profusely and made it right. I didn't even need a profuse apology, I just wanted the order done right. A simple, "I'm sorry, I'll fix it." would've been just fine. This company claims customer satisfaction is their top priority, so one would thing store managers would receive a least a booklet on "How to Deal with Irate Customers." Maybe they do train managers -- maybe this one is the proof of the Peter Principle.

When we got home from the library, I had some time before CSI started, so I decided to call customer service again so I could get a refund for the delivery fee and register a complaint about the nasty, rude schmuck manager, and ask what the kind of business they are running. Doesn't the store staff know what the hell Kinkos sells? But customer service had beaten me to the punch -- there was a message from them asking me to call.

The rep on the phone was courteous, listened, is well-trained in dealing with super-irate customers. I wanted to know how they could have gotten the order so wrong and why the District Manager, who was in the store and saw my order since he knew what it was, didn't catch the obvious screw-up of four cards instead of four sets. I made him listen to it blow-by-blow (well, he asked for the story). He told me that Fedex was refunding the cost of the entire order to make amends for being so badly treated. I said I didn't need the whole thing refunded, just the shipping fee but he said that Fedex authorized the refund so a refund is what I was going to get (I got it -- more trouble for him to not refund it all). I told him I want an apology in writing from the moron manager, and I wanted to know from the District Manager how he could have missed such an obvious screwup when he was "investigating" my problem. Mr. Rep said he'd put that in the "report." I'm not holding my breath that I'll ever hear from Kinkos again.

I did tell the rep that I wanted to go on record as being pleased with the final product -- the invitations are beautiful -- they're able to print high-resolution images well. It's a pity that my experience with Kinkos was so bad that unless they're the ONLY company that can do something, I will never use any of their services again -- not for personal stuff or for business stuff. They wasted way, way too much of my time. I certainly wouldn't recommend them for Christmas cards or anything else like that. I wouldn't recommend the Norwalk Kinkos for ANYTHING unless they get a manager with a hint of intelligence in there.

STAMPS.COM IS SWIRLING AROUND THE DRAIN
I was beginning to think conspiracy thoughts -- there's a plot afoot to drive me insane ... because I also had trouble ordering photo stamps from stamps.com. We wanted to use another picture of my parents for the stamp, and though the price of the photo stamps are a bit on the high side, hey, this is a super special occasion, so ... and the advertising makes photo stamps seem so cool.

But you can't make photo stamps of anyone over the age of 12. Only they don't tell you that when ordering -- you just get a note that your order has been rejected and if you have the patience to read through the legal crap, you can figure out why. I spent a long time getting the image just right, so I was super ticked that stamps.com wasted my time. I hope they fold, a possibility mentioned in the Wall Street Journal today.

PRESSING ON
I have one more biggish task for this celebration, no, I take that back, two tasks. But they're both tasks that I control so I don't have to worry about it -- I just need some time to do them. The designing part has been quite enjoyable. And I'm really looking forward to the first week in November -- it will be wonderful for all of us to be together at the same time. It's been longer than I can remember that all five of my sibs and I were in the same place with my parents at the same time. What makes it even better is that I LIKE my family.

posted by lee on 09/23/04 at 08:23 PM
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