Friday, November 30, 2007

Alltel's Decline

Anyone who watches TV probably recognizes the Chad commercials from Alltel. It's a classic format that personalizes your company as a likeable laid-back guy, while portraying your competitors as well-meaning but clueless nerds, a format that Apple has used quite well against Microsoft.

The Alltel version of these commercials aren't spectacular - they were cutesy funny at first, then sort of degenerated into just kind of dumb as the ad writers tried to do too much with a good thing. The latest series of ads (the claymation ones at the north pole) are just plain bad, though. Gone is any pretense of the competitors being well-intentioned but dumb; now they're simply incompetent thieves who try to steal everyone's Christmas presents, but get thwarted by an elven SWAT team that throws ninja snowflakes. The commercial doesn't even try to promote a product or service or explain why Alltel is better, it's simply an over-the-top (in a bad way) attack ad on Alltel's competitors that doesn't even come close to making an actual allegation other than Verizon & ATT & all the others are thieving bastards.

Why am I ranting about this? No idea. I saw the commercial a few nights ago and it's been bothering me for a while, so I figured I'd write something.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Turducken!

Thanksgiving is a pretty big occasion at my house. We generally have around 15 people, my mom and I are usually up all night preparing the meal, and this year was no exception. The menu at the Heberlein table: turducken with sausage and cornbread stuffings, mashed potatoes with real gravy, bread stuffing with vegetables, roasted baby onions with red wine, green beans with caramelized almonds, brussel sprouts with cumbled bacon, baked corn casserole, cranberry sauce, brown bread, fruit salad, plenty of appetizers, pecan pie, chocolate bourbon pecan pie, and real homemade toffee. Of course, that doesn't count all the other things that guests bring, like pumpkin pies, potato pies, applesauce, cheesecake (it's not a Heberlein family event unless someone brings cheesecake), apple pies.

We used to prepare just a regular turkey, but a few years ago we tried a turducken, and have been hooked ever since. For the uninitiated, a turducken is chicken inside of duck inside of turkey, usually with layers of stuffing in between. You can get them premade, but we always make our own (we don't debone the birds ourselves, we let the butcher do that). If you've ever wanted to know what it takes to assemble this culinary masterpiece, well, you've come to the right place! Behold, the preparation of the turducken!

1) Prepare the sausage stuffing. We like sweet Italian.


2) Prepare the cornbread stuffing.


3) Spread the deboned turkey open on the table, exposing as much meat as possible (we usually have what starts as a 20lb bird).


4) Spread the sausage stuffing on the turkey.


5) Layer the duck on the sausage stuffing. Traditionally there's only one (whole) duck breast, but we like duck, so we use three.


6) Spread cornbread stuffing on top of the duck.


7) Put the chicken breast on top of the cornbread stuffing.


8) Finish off with more sausage stuffing.


9) Take a deep breath, and prepare to fold.


10) FOLD!


11) Tie quickly.


12) Tie some more.


13) Roast at 225F for 11 hours.

14) Enjoy!

Retroactive Sunday Cat Blogging

Pictures of home and the turducken coming soon, I promise. In the meantime, cat blogging!

After the initial where-the-hell-am-I? state, Lucy decided that she rather liked being some place where she could pick and choose what bed to lounge on.
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And of course, when you add a second blanket, well, that's just purrrrrfect.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Back in Lancaster

Well, back in good ol' Lancaster, home of the Amish, home of the me. The drive was busy but uneventful; Tuesday is early enough, I think, to avoid most of the holiday traffic. I did see a few things going up, though, that will strike fear into the hearts of the later holiday travelers: there's a lot of construction happening on the DC beltway, and at one point the 5 lanes converge into 2. THAT's going to be a nightmare. I still haven't decided how to go back, I don't even want to think about it.

Lucy was NOT a fan of the carry case, she cried nonstop for the first 2 hours, then eventually just accepted that she'd be there for a while and tried to go to sleep. Except every couple of minute or so there'd be a bump in the road and that would wake her up, and she'd cry a bit again. I really hate putting her in there, but I'd hate even more to have her get tangled up in my legs and cause an accident, so it's not like I have much of a choice. True to form, she's pretty shy and stays mostly under the bed. She explored the house a little late last night, but then came back and curled up under my parent's bed, much to my consternation. I tell myself it's because their bed reminds her of my bed back home, and if anyone else has other ideas about why she'd sleep with my parents and not me, you can keep them to yourself, thank you very much.

Not much else of interest to report. My parents finally have a decent internet connection, except that I can't connect my laptop to it, which means I can't VPN into the CapOne network and do work like I told my manager I would. Oops.

I brought my camera along to document the preparation of the Turducken, but this computer doesn't have the right interface, so right now you'll have to be content with a picture of Congo the Banana King, who watches over the vast expanse of bananas at the local grocery store.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Roundup

Well, the Week of Ugh has ended, and ended much better than it began, thankfully.

Friday night was dinner night with Justin and Danielle. I was exhausted and didn't feel like cooking, so we all went out to (where else?) Pho So 1 for Vietnamese, and on the way back we got ice cream and milkshakes at ColdStone. (We dropped a dollar into the tip jar and they sang for us.) When we got back to the apartment, Danielle picked up Ratatouille from Blockbuster, and we watched that while having wine and cheese. It's a fun little movie, they really did a good job getting the rat movements and actions right, it reminded me a lot of Templeton. Templeton's palette wasn't quite as developed as the movie rat's, but I'm pretty sure Templeton could beat up the movie rat, so it's all good. :P

After Justin and Danielle left, phase 2 of the evening commenced. Katie came down and she, Todd and I went out to Carytown. I met them at some place called Galaxy Diner, which has one of those weird doors where you have to push a button in order to open it - and I smacked right into it the first time. Oops. By the time I got inside Katie and Todd had finished eating (well, nearly, there was a single onion ring left, which I ate), so we all went out, walked what seemed like halfway to Richmond, and then took a table in the Sticky Rice Bar.

I'm not quite sure how many drinks I had, mostly because my memories of that night aren't entirely clear, but I remember watching Transformers, watching Katie & Todd battle with the chopsticks, walking a LONG way back to Todd's, and then passing out on his couch. Fun times!

As is so often the case, I ended up paying for it the next day; felt sick, had a headache, and just generally had a grouchy mood. That lasted most of the day, but cleared up by evening, just in time to go back to Todd's (for dinner, not for drinks) with some food that we ordered from Outback.

And now, behold, the crown jewel of the week! A picture of a cat jumping at imaginary things!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Week of Ugh

The title pretty much sums it up. Every month around this time I get very busy, because of all the MBRs (Monthly Business Reviews for the uninitiated) that happen during the middle of the month. Basically we all get together and discuss what happened last month, what's happening now, what will happen, etc. Since so much of what we discuss generally involves analyzing data, my schedule gets pretty tight.

Every month is bad, but this month is worse. Combined with all the normal responsibilities I have for the MBR is an additional project that I have to do an impact analysis for, a services dashboard that got transitioned to me because of the reorg, a LOT (deliberate capitalization) of small tweaks to the data to make it accurate, a Thanksgiving potluck (both coordinating and bringing something for), and a diversity holiday party. Plus all of the other stuff that I do.

The week has been tres ugh. Hopefully a good dinner with some good friends will help to clear it up.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Sunday Cat and Rat Blogging

Her Royal Highness the Princess Lucille will receive you now.



I was searching through old pictures on the computer and found this one of my rat, Templeton. It's from back when I was still a senior at Cornell, almost 3 years ago, when Templeton was still relatively young. I'll never forget how excited he was every night when I would bring him cheerios from the dining hall. *sigh, I miss my ratty.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Friday Cat Blogging (aka making up for lost weeks)

Like most cats, Lucy enjoys a good romp under the sheets from time to time.


I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeVil


This picture reminds me of something, but I can't figure out what.
John over at Americablog is right, this is pretty outrageous. I have to admit that I have a soft spot in my heart for analysts that work for evil companies (seeing as how I'm one of them), but paying out incentives based on how many health insurance clains you can deny is pretty low.

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-insure9nov09,0,4409342.story?coll=la-home-center

Friday, November 02, 2007

Flying Sucks

Prepare yourselves for another rant. This one is about public transportation, which, let's face it, sucks miserably in this country. The highway system functions like clogged arteries and are unusable for large chunks of the day, buses are a joke, trains are slow and don't go where you need them to, which means the only viable option for most people is to fly. It's certainly the preferred means of travel for business, because most businesses would prefer that you spend as much time being productive as possible, instead of spending unproductive time crammed into aluminum cans of varying shapes trying to get to a place where you can be productive.

But air travel in this country is already pretty shoddy, and it's getting worse. The lack of viable alternatives is leading more and more people to fly, which means more and more flights at airports that are more and more outdated, which means more and more congestion, and more and more unhappy people when things eventually blow up. (I could go into another long rant about public funding of transportation, what we could learn from Europe, and just how miserable we're all going to be in a few decades if we don't do something soon, but that's a completely different post.)

So what brought this on, you might ask? My recent experience with USAir. I went on a recruiting trip to Cornell this Thursday and Friday, which has been pretty much an absolute disaster, as far as travel goes.

Richmond Int'l was ok, but the flight from Richmond to Philly was pretty bad. They've decided to "upgrade" some of their planes to have 4 seats per row instead of 3, with predictable results. After spending an hour like that, we finally got to Philly, which is a classic example of an airport expanding beyond its capacity. USAir has to operate out of two terminals in Philly: C and F. The only way to get from one to the other (without having to go through security again) is to take a small, cramped, slow, and woefully under-scheduled bus shuttle. They can't install an underground train, because that would disrupt service too much, and they can't afford that.

small aside: KATIE GETS A SHOUTOUT!

Well, the flight from Philly to Ithaca was delayed, delayed again, delayed again, and then delayed past the second flight to Ithaca, and then undelayed slightly. Seriously, they told us at 11AM it would be at least 12:30 before the plane was even on the ground. Then, at 11:20, people started boarding the plane. And when I say "people started boarding the plane" I mean just that. There was no announcement, no indication on the monitor all of a sudden people just started boarding the flight to Ithaca, with the ticket checker just ushering people onto the plane without really checking anything.

So finally we got into the air, and about midway through the flight the stewardess, for whatever reason, decided to get on the com and make sure that yes, everyone really was going to Ithaca. Why she decided to do this after we were airborne and not while we were still parked at the gate is beyond me, but she got results. Turns out that the girl sitting right next to me (who was half asleep and almost didn't hear the stewardess) was actually supposed to go to DC(!), not Ithaca, and had boarded the wrong plane. It wasn't entirely her fault; all things considered I'm lucky I didn't wind up on a plane for DC, and I KNOW people got left behind because they never announced the flight for Ithaca.

The part of the trip that I actually spent at Cornell I'll leave for another post. On to the return flight!

So, as I was riding the shuttle from the hotel to the airport, I overheard another asenger talking on his phone, saying that his flight had been delayed and that he didn't know what to do. "Perfect" I thought. Turns out that yes, my 5:55PM flight from Ithaca to Laguardia had been delayed by at least 2 hours, probably more. But not to worry, they said, there was a 10PM flight out of Laguardia to Richmond, so at the very least I should make that. I, being the analyst that I am, did some quick math. Flight was originally scheduled to leave Ithaca at 6PM If it's delayed by two hours, that means it will now leave at 8PM. It's a 90 minute flight, so I'd probably get to Laguardia around 9:30PM. That's doable if I'm trying to make a 10PM connection, but there was no way I'd make my previously scheduled 8:20 connection. So I asked if they could just book me for the 10PM flight and give me that ticket, since there the idea that I'd make the earlier connection seemed laughable. Well, no, apparently they can't do that, but it's possible that the earlier flight might be delayed enough for me to still make it. Oh, of course, how silly of me.

Ithaca is actually a rather pleasant small airport, and it has free wifi, but their "cafe", which serves sandwiches, chips and soda and nothing else, closes at 6PM, which leaves the vending machines. I was lucky enough to get a sandwich, but a lot of others weren't.

Finally the plane arrived, and it was time to go through security, where I got my first ever pat down search! More of a rub down search really, but hey, whatever. They inspected one of my bags but not the other, which is kind of weird in my opinion, but again, whatever. The whole process took less than a minute. I could have gone behind a private screen but opted not to, because really, what fun would that have been?

After my rubdown we boarded, went through the whole oxygen-is-flowing-even-though-the-bag-may-not-inflate routine, and then the rather terrifying part began. I've flown enough lately that I'm not anxious at takeoff or landing, but seriously, this time the plane sounded like it was going to fall apart. Loud, and I mean LOUD, rattling noises all over, the lights were flickering on and off, and the emergency exit door (in the row right behind me) startled whistling and shaking like it was going to fall off! The two people behind me (rather seasoned business travelers) were petrified. Eventually things settled down, and we got to NY.

Flight was delayed, delayed again, blah blah blah, surfed the net, boarded, flew, home. And now I'm tired so I'm going to bed.

Random Ranting

I'll redo the post on the week, but first, a random rant.

I just tried to sign into one of my online accounts, and their random "Enhanced Security Feature" decided that I needed to verify some more information so that they could be sure I was who I said I was. As a general idea, this is fine. However, more and more I'm seeing a lot of companies go about it in a way that's completely assinine.

I'm talking about companies that ask you to answer personal questions about yourself. Not just factual stuff like "In what city were you born?", but stupid stuff for which there's no particular right answer and which might actually change over time.

Some examples I've encountered:
What is your favorite restaurant?
Who was your childhood hero?
What was the first name of your first childhood crush?
What was your father's job when you were growing up?
Where do you most want to go on vacation?

What's your favorite restaurant? Right now it's Thai Diner. A month ago it was Cheesecake Factory. Before that it was Ipanema Grill. Seriously, has anyone ever had a favorite restaurant that hasn't changed over the years?

What was your father's job when you were growing up? Well, thankfully my dad was lucky enough to have just one job while I was growing up, so putting aside that potential issue, I have really no idea how to describe it. He's a small business owner, a framer, an artist, a painter, a gallery owner, he's everything.

Random rant ends now, because I have to go catch an airport shuttle.

GRAH!!

I had just finished typing up a long post about the past week and hit "submit", when my wireless card decided it was going to not work, so I lost the entire blog post.

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YYYYEEEEAAAARRRRGGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!