Archive for November, 2008

Sears Appliances and Service Sucks

November 11, 2008

When I built my house, almost 3 years ago, I needed all new appliances, since the old ones had to stay in the old house. I asked around, and a friend recommended Kenmore (Sears) appliances. I discovered that if I bought all of the appliances at Sears, I would get a sizable discount (perhaps 20%: I don’t recall). And if I put it on my Sears charge card (or got a new Sears charge card), I didn’t have to pay anything for six months. Sounded good.

The appliances arrived in decent shape, except for the refrigerator, which had a gash on the inside. I asked the repair person if it could be fixed, but he said that they would have to replace the entire thing, so I did not bother.

When the freezer jammed up with frost, I was told that I was not closing the door. This was not repaired. And the repair guy was wrong.

When the washer began to flash its lights, because the computer was freaking out, I was told to just unplug it and plug it in again.

When the microwave produced so much electronic noise that I was unable to use some of my electronic devices, I was told it was not their problem. Too bad the FCC is spending all of its time trying to harass Howard Stern instead of doing its real job, and ensuring that consumer devices do not interfere with each other. Attempts to contact the FCC were futile: they don’t give a damn about individual people.

The dryer and stove have been OK. But I was warned that if I ever called for service, and they arrived to find that nothing was wrong, that I would be charged for the visit. Unless I signed up for (and paid for) some kind of super-special warranty.

Recently, that same friend who recommended Kenmore in the first place, tried to get service, and had a frustrating experience. The repair guy charged her about $200 for a $20 part, and failed to leave a receipt explaining what he had done. Calls to Sears have failed to produce the receipt: they just don’t care.

Well. Kind of. Because Sears is calling her all of the time, asking her how she liked her repair experience. But these callers do not really care whether Sears did a good job or not. They just want to sell her more warranty contracts. No matter how many times she explains how bad their service is, a week later someone will call and cheerfully ask if she’s happy with Sears. They are thick as bricks.

The local Sears store gave her a phone number for Customer Service. When she called Customer Service, after she explained the situation, she was told that she had to call another number if she wanted to file a complaint. Apparently Customer Service does not deal with complaints.

I would stay far, far away from Sears appliances and anything that requires Sears repair. They may have done a good job at one time or another, but not recently.

My Summer Vacation

November 11, 2008

In the past 18 months, I’ve started an interesting, if not lucrative, business making guitar parts and even some guitars. You can find more details at my main web site,, if you follow the Guitar links.

In the summer of 2007, more and more people wanted to replace their expensive [$700] Translating Tremolos (Trans Trem or T-Trem) with a so-called fixed bridge. I ended up designing such a fixed bridge and making a small production run of 10 or so. After they sold, and were received quite well by the headless cognisanti, I fabricated another 10 or so. Then people wanted a special 5-string narrow bass bridge. And then a 12-string bridge. And then piezo saddles for all of the headless/Steinberger guitar line.

While searching for headpieces for the 5-string bass and 12-string projects, I came across an established guitar builder (Phil Langley) who wanted out of the guitar business. At first, I bought out his inventory of parts, but eventually also purchased the rights to the molds for the carbon graphite composite guitar that he had designed.

It’s been an interesting experience, in part because I’m more of an “idea guy” than someone who can spend hours performing repetitive manual operations in a shop. I tend to get bored and ruin parts. The experience of trying to do something I’m not particularly good at has been a good one.

These guitars and bridges and saddles are nice market items, so you’re unlikely to want to rush right out and buy one, but you might enjoy checking them out on my main web site.

This is ridiculous!

November 11, 2008

So, I just finished posting about the mink, and I look up, and he’s back! No! Wait! What’s wrong with his tail?!? And why does he walk so strangely? And why no bubbles when he dives?

I never see animals like this in the pond, and now two different ones in the space of a few hours? How unusual.

I guess that this one is a muskrat, given that his tail is rat-like, rather than beaver-like, and given that he eats vegetation, which an otter or mink would not allow to pass their lips.

The photograph is not great, but you get the idea:

Bubble, bubble…

November 11, 2008

At this time of year, the pond pump has been retired for the winter, so the waterfall is not working. During the summer, the ripples from the waterfall are always wandering across the pond, but not now. Sometimes, when it’s warm, one of the larger fish will move quickly near the surface, and waves will result. But not now.

So, I was surprised this morning when I saw some fairly large waves surging across the pond, first from under the rocks at the base of the waterfall, and then at the base of an adjacent rock. Then more waves, and bubbles coming from under the water. Were the walls of the pond collapsing? Were decaying leaves releasing gases? The bubbles meandered across the pond in a line, and I watched, fascinated.

Then the mink came out of the water, looked around, and dove back under the water. I’ve seen a mink at the pond twice in the past, both times in the spring when the ice was still on the pond. Never this time of year.

I spent about 30 minutes watching and filming him. The camera I have “only” has a 10x zoom, so movies taken with him at the other end of the pond were recognizable, but not dramatic. I did get one with him quite close to the house (perhaps 25 feet): the contents are not as dramatic as the others, but at least you can see him in some detail.

Click here for movie 1 (35 MB)
Click here for movie 2 (28 MB)
Click here for movie 3 (46 MB)

The squawks in the audio track are my parrots, not the mink!

He dove and swam quite a bit, clearly unperturbed by the near-frozen water. He can cross the small pond under water with ease, leaving a trail of bubbles on the surface to indicate where he is swimming.

This is one reason I moved here, and why I built the house as I did. The pond is right next to the house, which is the only reason I was able to get the pictures that I took. Moments like this make it all worth while.

The Drunkard’s Walk

November 9, 2008

The title of this book, by Leonard Mlodinow, may be more appealing to you than its contents, at first glance, since it is about randomness, probability, and statistics. But for those of you who are mathematically challenged, you would be making a mistake if you pass this book by.

The first half of the book discusses the history of probability and statistics, from the time of the Greeks, when the concepts were beyond imagination, to the end of the last millennium, by which time most of the concepts and mathematics had been fully developed. The history is interesting, and the math is minimal. And you will find out the difference between probability and statistics (I would explain that here, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you!)

But where this book shines is when it discusses how the random nature of our existence is perceived by brains that are [too?] adept at discerning order, cause-and-effect, and meaning, even where there is none.

He discusses how statistical analyses of sports records, Wall Street successes, and the careers of movie moguls reveal that all of these are more likely to be the result of random fluctuations than of brilliant insight. Those CEOs who bring down multi-million dollar salaries could be replaced with a set of dice, and in the long run, the companies that they run would fare no worse. And the boards of managers who place their faith in these CEOs are equally misguided.

He also reveals studies of human nature that are sobering. We need to feel in control, and need to feel as if all around us makes some sort of sense, to the point where we fabricate explanations for situations that are clearly random, and out of our control.

This will not come as a shock to those of you whose feet are firmly, even cynically, planted on the ground, but the underlying explanations are interesting and provide ammunition for the moments when we are confronted with people for whom the universe, and our place in it, are too well understood.

Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

Fox Media Player Sucks

November 9, 2008

I’m a fan of the Fox TV show House.  When my TiVo failed to record a critical show last spring, I went to the Fox web site to see if I could watch it online.

My experience with viewing streamed video from other networks (such as CBS) is that this technology simply does not work.  For some reason if one is connected to the Internet over a satellite connection (which has high latency), most of the video streamers roll over and die.

Fox decided that they would not use any of the existing streaming technologies (Windows Media Player, QuickTime, Flash, Real, etc) and rolled their own.  With much fanfare.  They explained that they were doing this because the other technologies were inadequate.

Here are screen shots of their amazing new streaming technology.  Perhaps they should have tested it before releasing it. And, no, their support people were not helpful at all.

Click here for screen shot 1
Click here for screen shot 2

Is this the best that we can do?

November 9, 2008

Perhaps my cynicism is getting out of hand, but were these candidates really the best that we could find, out of all 250 million of us?

Obama. Charismatic, well spoken, and skillful, but mostly untested. Let’s hope he manages to craft a good team and make some progress.

Biden. How can a professional politician continue to make such brain-dead statements? How can anyone trust him when he says such blatantly moronic things, in public, directly to the news media? How could anyone select him as a running mate, or express confidence in him? I’m not sure he’s much better than Palin. Seriously.

McCain. Why would anyone want a leader who was behind the mindless smear campaign against Obama (associates with terrorists, is a socialist)? And who then repudiated those messages, even as he was paying to have them sent out? Two-faced jerk. He was losing the election, but did he really have to lose his class, too? And now we’re supposed to respect him? At least Obama managed to avoid the kind of cruel character assassination that revealed who the real McCain is.

Palin. What a joke. Can’t remember what news papers she reads? Thinks Africa is a country? Now that the election is behind us, even the Republican campaign staff are ridiculing her inadequacies. How anyone could have seen anything but “moron” when they looked at her is beyond me. But they did. And that is really depressing. Her selection by McCain demonstrated that he did not take the responsibility of guiding this country seriously. “Win at any cost” is not a strategy that respects our country.

It seems as if most of the people who rise to the top of the political soup are unprincipled chameleons who appeal to the neuronically challenged by reducing complex problems to simple slogans. None of the candidates stuck to their guns: they danced around the tough issues, adjusting their position to try to appeal to as many people as possible. The debates were endless repetitions of the same talking points, over and over again. The attacks were predictable, and were repeated even after the charges had been answered, over and over again. It was more important to attack than to actually explain positions or differences.

This may be the best system in the world, but the idea that, after 200 years, it is a good one makes me laugh out loud. Of course, most of the blame goes to The People, those who tolerate this crap. So long as people will allow themselves to be convinced that Palin was a qualified leader of this country, this country is in real trouble. And don’t get me started on the Electoral College. One man, one vote? Not even close.

I’ll try to keep quiet about this crap for another four years. But don’t push me.

I never would have imagined this!

November 7, 2008

I received this amazing information from a friend…


The video shows dolphins playing with rings.

Humans blow smoke rings but dolphins have a much healthier habit. The attached video is of dolphins playing with rings which they have the ability to make under water to play with. It isn’t known how they learn this, or if it’s an inbred ability.

As if by magic the dolphin does a quick flip of its head and a silver ring appears in front of its pointed beak. The ring is a solid, donut shaped bubble about 2-ft across, yet it doesn’t rise to the surface of the water! It stands upright in the water like a magic doorway to an unseen dimension.

The dolphin then pulls a small silver donut from the larger one. Looking at the twisting ring for one last time a bite is taken from it, causing the small ring to collapse into thousands of tiny bubbles which head upward towards the water’s surface.

After a few moments the dolphin creates another ring to play with. There also seems to be a separate mechanism for producing small rings, which a dolphin can accomplish by a quick flip of its head.

An explanation of how dolphins make these silver rings is that they are “air-core vortex rings”. Invisible, spinning vortices in the water are generated from the tip of a dolphin’s dorsal fin when it is moving rapidly and turning. When dolphins break the line, the ends are drawn together into a closed ring. The higher velocity fluid around the core of the vortex is at a lower pressure than the fluid circulating farther away.

Air is injected into the rings via bubbles released from the dolphin’s blowhole. The energy of the water vortex is enough to keep the bubbles from rising for a reasonably few seconds of play time.