January 28, 2014

January 28, 2014

Many happy returns. Well, just one, really.

One good turn deserves another, so I’m going to mention a good customer service experience I had recently in hopes that the universe will laissez les bon temps roulez.

(Note: This gets weirdly erotic and focuses less on customer service than on my ability to improvise tools. Eh.)

The company in question is SkullCandy, makers of headphones and earbuds and other ephemera to improve your audio consumption experience. I’m not a big headphones person, having not yet evolved the ability to wear both glasses and headphones pain-free. Earbuds, though, I’m all for, as they keep my coworkers at Cabinet-Department-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named unaware that I spend all morning listening to BBC Radio Cornwall. Not that they’d mind, necessarily, but it would raise a lot of odd questions and needless social interaction.

Yes, even though I have an office with walls and a door and everything, the construction grade is such that normal conversation can be heard pretty much regardless. Every time I see government workers on a TV show or movie hunkered in some sort of dim concrete bunker, I’m a little jealous. (Then they get taken hostage or blown up or something and I realize I don’t have it so bad.)

Anyway, the earbuds are a must, for everyone’s sakes. And SkullCandy makes ones that are colorful, and fit my freakishly-tiny ear holes, and aren’t hundreds of dollars. So I got a pair a couple of years ago*and it was audial bliss until.


Until I pulled them out of the headphone jack and the little metal nubbin stayed in the jack. Lest the word “nubbin” send you down a long road of Chandler Bing-related reminiscence, here’s a handy diagram to get you back on track:

So yeah. I was stuck with a broken pair of earbuds, a clogged headphone jack, and a rising sense of panic. The last time something like this happened (my CD drive stopped working), they replaced the whole freaking computer. This time, I assumed they’d just tear down the entire building. Also, enough of the nubbin was poking out that a good yank with a needlenose pliers would have solved the problem in a jif. (That's what she said?)

Life lesson: Always carry a needlenose pliers.

As it was, I had: scissors, tweezers, paper clips, and a host of tools ideally suited for preparing lunch but worthless in this situation.

Cue the MacGuyver music.

I knew that using the scissors would end with me in the emergency room because those mofos are SHARP. I don’t know who bought them or when, but I suspect they were actually meant for the armed services. You could start a coup with those scissors.

Couldn’t get any purchase with the tweezers. Not enough nubbin, and the metal-on-metal was too slick anyway. Neither was there enough leverage for the paper clips; the nubbin was snugly in the jack and I couldn’t even get the paper clip in there.

Time to put that Mensa membership to work.

I grabbed the rubber jar grip I have to open difficult beverages and used it in combination with the tweezers to extricate the nubbin. At that moment, I knew how the caveman who discovered fire must have felt.

What remained, though, was a broken pair of SkullCandy earbuds. And here’s where the customer service bit comes in. SkullCandy offers a lifetime warranty on all of their products. You just have to register online for a return authorization number and send your broken product back to them. They’ll process it and send you a coupon code good for a replacement value. I assume that mailing headphones, which tend to be heavy and bulky and expensive, would be more of a risk, but two stamps later my earbuds (technically earbuds and a nubbin) were on their way. Shortly after that, I got the coupon code, and shortly after THAT, I got the earbuds.

It worked. It actually worked.

Your move, universe.

* I first typo’d “a couple of ears ago” and laughed at my unintended pun and that’s not okay.

January 24, 2014

January 24, 2014


Does technology isolate us or connect us?

I was reading a column recently wherein the author argued that we’re turning into a society of people who do nothing but sit alone in rooms, staring at screens. First of all, that would be AMAZING. However, I would also contend that sitting alone in a room, staring at a screen, doesn’t necessarily equal isolation. The way I see it, the ability to communicate with people around the world who are also sitting alone in rooms, staring at screens, is pretty freaking fantastic. It seems arrogant to assume that the people immediately in the geographic vicinity make for the best socialization. I mean, I live in a city full of former student council presidents and it gets old after awhile. Sometimes I want to be in a group where I’m the one with the most degrees (two).

Your mileage may vary, especially depending on your comfort level with written communication. I myself personally would love a job that involved nothing but reading and writing. Perhaps you prefer talking, or physical exertion of some sort. More power to you. It’s those people who like face-to-face interaction that probably don’t dig the idea of connecting virtually. Hrm.

(Speaking of isolation, I blasted through Orange Is the New Black (book version) in two days, and I’m pretty certain it’s going to be on my 2014 best book shortlist. Fascinating stuff, and not at all as rapey as I expected. Is it wrong to hope she gets arrested again so there’s a sequel? Is that not how that works?)

(And speaking of books, I blasted through The Fault in Our Stars in even less time than OITNB and sobbed at the cruelty of the universe when I finished. Never has "life sucks, and then you die" rung more truer as an aphorism.)

One could argue (as I'm about to do right now, in fact) that technology is the conduit by which we can meet those with exactly our interests. I've been researching Mensa groups to join*, and narrowing the long list of interests-to-be-listed-on-member-profile to just eight. (Alas, my shortlist came to around a dozen, so they'll never know my love of chocolate.) Am I likely to find someone with exactly the same interests? Probably not. But maybe they'll be able to follow quotes from Tolkien with quotes from Knope, as I do.

Do you have any internet friends? My earliest ones I met through Yahoo! Groups and AOL Instant Messenger. Now it's more likely to be Facebook, game show appearances, or FOAFs.** Someday: Direct brain interaction!

* Oh yeah: I got in to Mensa. Great accomplishment of 2014 or greatest accomplishment of 2014? Remains to be seen.
** Probably technically abbreviated FsOFs but eh.

January 13, 2014

January 13, 2014

In My Opinion: Saving Mr. Banks

Anything you can document, the BBC can document better. I learned this recently when I saw The Secret Life of Mary Poppins* (available on YouTube here) a few weeks before I saw Saving Mr. Banks. To be fair, each has its merits, but I’ll take the unvarnished truth over wishful confection any day, even when the wishful convention features Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson. It seems fitting that a movie about creating the “Disney version” of Mary Poppins would in fact be a Disney version of P.L. Travers’ life, though, doesn’t it?

The film is a bit of a frame tale, simultaneously about the travails faced by Disney (both the man and the corporation) while adapting the Mary Poppins books** for the screen and about the troubled childhood of author P.L. Travers. Let me tell you, the fact that she was actually Australian was the least of this woman’s worries.

Though the thesis of SMB seems to be “Not even a cranky old lady can resist the charms of Disney,” a fair bit of time is spent flashing back to episodes involving Travers’ alcoholic father in an attempt to explain the source of the crank. The documentary didn’t focus as much time on her childhood, so I can’t attest to whether some, none, or all of the events shown actually happened. I am pretty sure, though, that Mary Poppins was unfortunately NOT inspired by an actual person. I believe Travers herself said that Mary just flew into her head one day.

In addition, no time is spent on Travers’ adulthood. DID YOU KNOW that she was probably bisexual? DID YOU KNOW that she decided which of a set of twins to adopt by consulting an astrologer? DID YOU KNOW that she didn’t tell her son that he was adopted, nor that he was a twin? You would if you’d watched the documentary. Nothing about that in SMB, though I read that a son plotline was filmed and ultimately edited out.

To me, the fascinating paradox of P.L. Travers is that such a mixed-up, unhappy, un-British woman could create the stereotypical happy British family. The books, and then the movie, defined Edwardian domestic life in the minds of millions of kids, myself included. You got your nanny, you got your cook, you got your Katy Nana, you got your walks in the park, you got your sidewalk chalk drawings, and you got your kite flying. Yet there’s little evidence Travers herself got any of these.

None of which means SMB isn’t a pleasant film. I found myself tearing up right alongside the rest of the (mostly elderly) crowd. I laughed at the funny bits. I cringed at the cringey bits. The mouse house knows what it’s doing when it comes to human emotion, and the knockout cast (so many fabulous people even in the bit parts) didn’t hurt.

But it’s not the full story. For that, you need the documentary. It’ll better inform your view of both the woman and the books (much darker than the movie). Disney is good, but don’t forget the BBC.

* Presented by Victoria Coren Mitchell, who hosts my favorite game/quiz show, Only Connect, and whom I can only aspire to be.
** Yes, Mary Poppins first appeared in book form. Multiple books, even.

January 7, 2014

January 7, 2014

Special Sauce

Despite the polar vortex smothering much of the country, and a transit system that didn’t even have the common decency to start on fire this morning, it is a great day, my friends.


Arby’s is offering its condiments in bottles, restoring my faith in humanity for another day. Ish.

It’s not that the horsey sauce is the best part of the Arby’s sandwich, but it’s an integral part. And now I can apply that integral part to whatsoever I wish. The possibilities are limited only by the contents of my larder, and you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s a pretty well-stocked larder.

(In anticipation of an upcoming move, I resolved yesterday not to go grocery shopping until I’ve relocated. I checked my fridge, freezer, and pantry and determined that I’m set until at least April. Preservatives ftw.)

Note that these are available for a limited time at Arby's stores, so you'll want to get my housewarming/engagement present sooner rather than later. Ahem.

January 6, 2014

January 6, 2014

Consider This: Enlisted

One of the unexpected benefits of going home for the holidays was that I watched a lot of regular network TV. My parents don’t have cable or internet, so it was the big four plus the occasional Family Feud episode on Milwaukee’s CW affiliate. Thank goodness for all those repeats of Hollywood Game Night, is all I can say.

But the beauty of sitting through so many commercials—other than the realization that Americans must buy a lot of cars—is the exposure to new and returning shows. Despite my subscriptions to numerous entertainment periodicals (like Sarah Palin, I read “…all of them”), I didn’t realize that Community was coming back so soon, or that Girls was right around the corner, or that FOX is trying a comedy about military life.

That last one’s called Enlisted, and TheBoy and I have agreed separately and together that it looks like an interesting show. It’s apparently about three brothers in the army, at least one of which is a screw-up. (Possibly two of them are screw-ups. Unclear.) I’m hoping for dark comedy a la the BBC’s Bluestone 42, but probably with less profanity and more minorities. Really, anything that makes the military world a little more accessible is welcome. If they do an episode explaining how it is that every enlisted rank is some form of sergeant, I’d be golden. Watch the trailer here, then check it out this Friday.

Other notes on midseason TV:
  • Though we had zero sightings of Ghost Sybil on the season 4 premiere of Downton Abbey, that doesn’t mean she wasn't there
  • I myself personally really liked ABC’s The Assets, but I also loved FX’s The Americans, which is basically the same show but told from the Russian perspective.
  • When did Jimmy Fallon become the face of NBC? Dude is everywhere lately. Not a value judgment; just an observation.

January 2, 2014

January 2, 2014

Happy Haunting, Lady Sybil

We’re back to an even-numbered year, and I for one am glad about it. There’s something unsettling about an odd-numbered year, though maybe that’s just the OCD talking. Good things happen in even years, though; Olympics and elections, oh my! Sure, they’re the less-glamorous winter games and the midterms, but still.

Oh, and TV is coming back. Specifically, British TV airing on PBS. More specifically, Downton Abbey and Sherlock. Your mileage with these shows will vary, but I’m looking forward to them both. Here’s hoping that Edith finally wins one for the Gipper rather than getting her hopes and dreams crushed yet again. (Also, I wouldn’t say no to any of the following: Sybil as a ghost, Bates growing a handsome moustache, Cora spending the entire season abed, and/or DID I MENTION GHOST SYBIL?)

Speaking of British TV, I spent much of my holiday break watching episodes of QI. There’s something curiously addictive about it; I think I did four episodes in a single day at one point. Though I’ve not yet dreamed that I was on the show, it’s only a matter of time. I HOPE.

Oh, and if you aren’t already back home, penciling these shows into your DVR*, travel safely. I encountered many aged people and children on my flights into and out of Milwaukee and all I can say is hoo boy. There is a whole universe of people out there who apparently haven’t flown commercial post 2001. (Surprise: Your giant metal money clip WILL make the metal detector beep!) And it doesn’t stop once you get on the plane. On my flight to DC, the beverage service actually skipped our row. My seatmate pressed the Attendant Call button tout suite, since I was too busy fiddling with my window shade that was stuck in the open position, exposing me to full-on sun. Delightful.

Anyway, DA is back this Sunday and Sherlock returns on the 19th. Mark it.

* I don’t have one, but that IS how they work, right?