Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Restaurant Review - Acapulco

Acapulco Mexican Restaurant
725 S Victoria Ave, Ventura
(805) 644-3952
Cuisine: Mexican

I took my wife and son to Acapulco tonight. As a kid, Acapulco was a family treat, so I have a lot of good memories at various Acapulco restaurants. The last time I went was when my wife and I were first married, and we had a bad experience. I have been trying to convince her to go back ever since. The guacamole there is addictive.

We were seated pretty soon, which is always good when you have a two year old in tow. The waiter asked us what we wanted to drink, and another waiter brought us our chips and salsa, but we didn't get any water. I thought this was a little strange. My son got a little too eager with the salsa and we had to wait for his drink to come in order to sooth his tongue.

The waiter was otherwise friendly, and came back shortly with our order of guacamole. I am telling you, this stuff is so worth the trip to this place. He made the salsa and I asked for the jalapeƱos on the side, since my son isn't quite as tough as he would have us think. ;)

My wife ordered a carne asada salad, my son got a bowl of fried chicken strips and fries, and I got the chicken fajitas. I find that good fajitas, as well as good chile rellenos can tell you a lot about a restaurant. I usually get the chimichanga or the four item mega platter, so I thought I would change it up a bit.

The carne asada was really good. I had a few bites of my wife's salad. Her pregnancy-skewed taste buds didn't appreciate it as much as I did, but that is becomming more and more common these days. My fajitas were really good, though a little heavy on the bell peppers. My son's chicken was pretty good too.

Though I did like the food tonight, I have had better dinners at Acapulco, so I will go with a 7 out of 10 for the food. The service was a little off. My wife had to ask for a refill. I asked for a refill just before we left, and it was not the drink I had ordered. The first glass of Pepsi had hit the spot. I think he put Diet Pepsi in the refill. He took a long time to give us the bill, and a longer time to process it. The service was much better than my last Acapulco visit (in Moreno Valley), but I have had better. I think tonight's service ranked a 6 out of 10.

These are pretty low marks for one of my favorite restaurants. I will be going back because of my past experiences. Tonight was pretty expensive for the quality we received. I still recommend this restaurant, and you MUST try the guacamole!

My Son's First Monster

I took my wife and son to dinner tonight at Acapulco. We were seated in a booth, and all went well until my son looked at the wall. Of all the places in the restaurant, our booth as well as the two nearest us had some wall art. As you can see in the picture, it is a clay sun with a face. My son was terrified of this.

He looked at the sun, looked at my wife, and immediately a look of concern came, followed by a deep frown. He started cowering away from the wall, which he happened to be closest to. Within seconds it became apparent that he would have to sit with Daddy, as far from the sun as possible.

A quick aside since it fits chronologically - My son was cracking us up with the chips and salsa. He decided it was time to start eating the salsa before our drinks had come. This is always entertaining because he gets this from his Daddy. It doesn't matter how hot it is, he is going to keep going. He looked up with surprise in his eyes after the first dip and said, "spice". This is his way of saying "spicy". We tried to sooth his tongue with other chips until the drinks came. He decided to go for the salsa again. With a big grin on his face, he said, "salsa!" and dove into the bowl again. This time he began scraping his tongue with his fingernails. His milk arrived within seconds. He drank some milk and went for the bowl again. It was pretty cute.

So, we finish dinner and he has begun his usual misbehaving stint and crawls under the table to get to Mommy. We thought he was over the whole sun incident by now, as he didn't seem to notice when he crossed over. My wife had touched the sun, pretended to feed it, and tried to convince my son it was safe throughout the meal. Right when we thought he was over it, he figured out where he was standing and got scared again.

Who would have thought such a simple wall ornament would cause so much fear in a two year old? I think it will be a while before we go back, so he can build up his nerve for another round. :)

The Election Dilemma

This year's presidential race has brought a new dilemma to me. I have absolutely no idea who to vote for. I have never been in this position before. I have until recently voted Republican pretty consistently. This will be the first time I consider voting for a Democrat. I am not sure how I feel about that.

I can say without a doubt that I will NEVER vote for Hillary Clinton. I think 8 years of her reign were quite enough. This is not to say that I would not vote for a woman. The right woman would need to run, just as the right man would need to run to get my vote.

My turmoil lies in part in the fact that John McCain is not a real Republican. For that matter, I am not sure that I myself am a "real" Republican. I think back to Ronald Reagan discussing why he was no longer a Democrat. He said something along the lines of, "I didn't leave the Democrats, the Democrats left me." I feel that way about the Republicans right now. This is especially true of Bush. He has done quite a bit to earn my distrust.

So, not being a full Republican, yet still considering myself conservative, what am I to do? Do I vote across party lines for Obama? It is tempting. He seems very sure of himself, which is good, but I still don't know what he actually stands for. Today I heard him on the radio blasting his former pastor. I think he made his point very well. Obama's religious background is as disturbing to me as Romney's. Can a man of questionable religious upbringing be fit to run our "Christian" nation? Are we even a Christian nation anymore?

A well-known, outspoken Republican I have had the opportunity to become somewhat acquainted with recently has thrown his hat into Obama's corner. This man worked in the Reagan White House. I can only imagine how difficult it was to come to this decision. Can I make the same choice? I don't know.

I am indeed at a cross-roads. I feel that any decision I make (with the exception of saying no to Hillary) will be a bad one. I hope that our country is ready for what is to come. I am not sure that I am.

PayPerPost - A New Adventure

I recently joined a new online community called PayPerPost. It is a gathering place for bloggers to meet advertisers and vice versa. The page looks pretty sharp, and I am looking forward to exploring it more.

PayPerPost is a great way to bring in some extra income. They offer a variety of methods to earn money. You can sign up for an existing opportunity, have an advertiser sponsor a blog post, allow other members to review your blogs, and more. This looks like a pretty good way to get a little extra money. Hopefully I can turn this into an opportunity to fill up my gas tank from time to time.

I signed up for PayPerPost for a number of reasons:

  • Gas prices are through the roof
  • I spend a lot of time on the internet looking for opportunities like this
  • I am expecting a new baby and want to save some extra money
  • I enjoy blogging and figured it would be fun to be paid to do what I enjoy

The PayPerPost dashboard is easy to understand, and I have been working my way through the pages. The widget for having an advertiser contact you for a post is really easy to install. They made it even easier for installing into a blogger account. I am looking forward to receiving my first request.

The PayperPost website has a lot of helpful tools to get you started. Among these are both blogs and video tutorials. The Open Opportunities interface is very easy to understand. It breaks opportunities up into three sections, blogs available to you, blogs unavailable to you, and blogs that have reached capacity and are no longer available. They color code it so you can't go wrong.

I am pretty new to the site, so I don't have a lot of experience with customer service or the rate of review/pay. I will be sure to update this post when I have been active a bit longer.

I would recommend this site to anyone looking for a great way to connect to fellow bloggers and get paid for what you love to do.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Son the Genius

While I was playing catch with my two year old son tonight, it occurred to me that he was pretty young to be playing catch. I was throwing him a rubber ball and he was catching it. The only ones he missed were the ones I overthrew. I started thinking about all the things he was doing that I thought were pretty advanced.

Since about the age of 6 months, my son has understood that keys go into locks. He couldn't reach the door knob, not for lack of trying, but he would have the key, usually the right one, and be trying to climb the door to put the key in the hole. I thought this was pretty impressive at the time. He only continued to show advanced motor skills.

I looked through the "What to Expect" toddler book to see how my son compared to his age group. He is currently 26 months old, going on 27 in the next week or so. Here are some of the things he is already doing, compared to what age he should be doing it.

Activity Expected Age in months Actual Age in months Variance
Wash & Dry Hands 34-36 25 He still needs a little work, but he has it down pretty well
Throw a ball overhand 34-36 14-16 He has been throwing overhand as long as he has been throwing.
Identify 4 colors 34-3624 He has red and blue down pat...he rotates among about 4 others.
Identify 4 Pictures by naming 34-36 25 "Grandma", "Grandpa", "It's Me", "Mama", and "Daddy" are common pictures he can name.

I could continue, but this makes my point. He is well ahead of his age category. Some things he can do that aren't mentioned in the book:

  • Correctly insert DVD into player
  • Turn TV on and off on command (or on his own timetable), and adjust volume
  • Unlock both door knob and dead bolt
  • Turn off any computer regardless of having seen it/it's power button before
  • Make cell phone calls to Mommy's friends or Daddy without Mommy knowing, and actually have a conversation (as best he can)
There are more things, but those are among my favorites. I think it is a pretty impressive list of stuff.

I know that all children are different, and that each one develops on their own time table, but it is always fun to see your kid ahead of the pack. He is excellent at motor skills, but is much slower on the verbal track. His cousin who is two weeks older than him has been talking for a long time, and can sing. She can't do some of the cool stuff above, so it balances out. :) I will keep you posted when he starts doing more cool stuff.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Robot Chicken Star Wars

Seth Green is part of a show on the Adult Swim segment of the Cartoon Network called Robot Chicken. You can find their page at They do a claymation parody of a variety of shows and movies that we all know and love.

This clip features Emperor Palpatine receiving news from Darth Vader that Luke Skywalker destroyed the Death Star. Watch, and enjoy. This would probably be considered at least a PG-13 clip, fyi.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Illegal Immigrants Are Law Breakers?

I know it is hard to believe, but a group of Illegal Immigrants broke the law yesterday. I mean, what part of ILLEGAL Immigrant suggests that these people might be inclined to break the law? I saw an interesting article on Yahoo today about a riot instigated by soon-to-be-deported illegal immigrants. It was titled "Hundreds riot at LA detention center for illegal immigrants". You can find the article here: [] - Original link is outdated. New link is here:

It seems that there was a large group of illegal immigrants in Lancaster, CA yesterday. These illegal immigrants were to be deported, and so they chose to riot. Apparently it started as a gang fight and spread to other parts of the facility. The riot only lasted a short while, and was ended once tear gas was administered.

According to the article,

"The federal Department of Homeland Security contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to staff and manage the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, which holds about 900 detainees who are in the process of being deported or awaiting resolution of their cases in immigration courts."

900 detainees. Did you catch that? 900 detainees. Sounds like Schwarzenegger could save California a lot of money by emptying this and other facilities as quickly as possible.

I have been encouraged by recent news of Immigration Enforcement cracking down on businesses in southern California who hire illegal immigrants. If Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villa-(insert your choice of "La Raza", "Riconquista", or [insert choice descriptor] here) is complaining about it, you know somebody is doing something right. The fact that there would be a riot is not surprising to me.

It is a sad commentary on modern society when I now have to delve more deeply into the idea of illegal immigration simply to avoid being labeled a bigot or a racist. I am pro-immigrant. I am anti-ILLEGAL immigrant. I have friends who just became citizens this year, and I think that the illegal-immigration rights people are intentionally slapping the faces of those people who do it the right way.

The United States of America is without a doubt a "country of immigrants." It would be stupid to argue against that statement, which is why the liberals have repeated it over and over again. The issue I have is not with immigrants. I just want the sacrifices my friends have made to mean something. Why should they bother getting their citizenship the right way if all it takes is waiting for George W. Bush, John McCain and Ted Kennedy to offer amnesty?

That being said I will get back to my point. Illegal immigrants should be allowed to riot in their own countries, and not here. I don't care if their country is France, Spain, Mexico or Canada. Illegal Immigration is just that - ILLEGAL. This riot is a valuable case study in the temperament of a large number of these Illegal immigrants.

Haircut Fiasco

Monday night an old friend and I were catching up, and I got home too late to see my son before he was in bed. It turned out to be a good thing. When I saw him the next day, he was not the cute baby boy I had left the morning before on my way to work. Gone were his curls. Gone was his wacky hair. My wife had attempted to cut his hair. He was still cute of course, but something drastic had changed.

I don't know what she was thinking. I don't know that she knows what she was thinking. She used the clippers with no guard on the bottom half of his head, effectively making him bald. This wouldn't have been so bad if she had kept a straight line, but she didn't. This was a haircut that almost necessitated a complete buzz.

Last night I spent an hour or so doing my best to clean it up. It is very hard to cut a two year old's hair. I am inclined to give my wife some credit, considering how much he squirms. She still did a pretty bad job though, so that credit doesn't get her very far. :)

Now my baby boy looks like a kid instead of a baby. My mom is probably going to be in shock when she sees him. She likes the curls. I like the curls too, but it looks pretty good as it is now. Needless to say my wife will not be cutting my son's hair again anytime in the near future.

Learning To Talk

The last time I wrote about some funny things my son said he cranked up the output quite a bit. Let's see what happens this time. :)

Tonight I was making dinner while my son was playing with some coffee travel mugs. I was trying to keep my food from burning on the stove but my son kept trying to hand me a coffee cup. "Cheers", he would say as he clinked his cup against mine. He kept this up for quite a while, and I thought it was pretty cute.

For the longest time my son has been fascinated with flushing toilets. He always rushes to the bathroom whenever he suspects his mom or I have been in there. We are wanting to potty train him soon, so we have encouraged this excitement. Tonight I asked him if he wanted to flush the toilet, and he ran as fast as he could to get to it. When he was finished he looked up at me, clapped his hands and said, "I did it!" This is the first time I have heard this phrase, though my wife says it is a common one.

Every so often my son will look at his picture on the wall, look up at us, and exclaim, "It's ME!" My son is learning quite a bit. I can't wait to see what he will come up with next.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Big Brother in Training

My wife and I were reorganizing our garage today and came across a box of old stuffed animals that I had been saving for my son. He thought some of them were pretty cool, but the one he really was excited about was a baby doll. Immediately he gave the doll a huge hug and said "My Baby!". This elicited a laugh from us. He was so excited to have this baby around. I suppose I should fill in the back story as to why I even had this doll to begin with.

I am not sure of all the details, but apparently my name was supposed to be Zachary. My parents must have told my older sisters what my name would be, and when my mom changed it after I was born, this affected my sister. Again, the details are a bit fuzzy, but I think it went that she named it Zachary so she could still have a baby brother named Zachary. Eventually this doll ended up getting passed down to me. Since I took good care of all my stuff when I was a kid, this survived all the life transitions until today when I gave the old toys to my son.

So, back to today. He was carrying this baby all over the place. I asked him if that was his baby, and he nodded yes. I asked him where mommy's baby was, and he pointed to her stomach. It seems he is catching on to the fact that mommy is pregnant. I am not sure how much he has understood up until this point, but now we are wondering. I am sure as his vocabulary grows we will find out a little more about his grasp on the situation. Whatever he knows certainly didn't stop him from giving mommy's stomach a flying elbow drop while she was napping on the floor today.

We had to give the baby a diaper today. We caught my son pondering why the baby had no genitals, which was pretty funny too. After giving the baby the diaper he continued to play with the baby. We put some of his pajamas on it at bedtime, which thrilled him. He is sleeping with the baby near him tonight. We think that he is definitely interested in being a big brother.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Juno - Finally A Movie Worth Watching

My wife and I have been consistently disappointed with the quality of the movies that Hollywood keeps hyping as "Must See" and "The Best Film of the Year". The Academy Awards were full of movies that we couldn't believe made it. The 2 year old pretty much guarantees we don't see many movies in theaters, so we have to rent them usually. This is fortunate due to the high price of movies these days. We suffered through "No Country for Old Men" and "Michael Clayton" among other lame movies.

"Juno" is the latest movie Netflix has delivered. The acting is pretty good. I didn't hear too much hype about it, which probably helped. There are some pretty funny parts, and I was not bored watching it. It has a lot of folk music that really fits the movie.

There are a lot of themes that would probably require further discussion, but that is for another blog.

I think Juno turned out far better than most of the garbage that made its way across the stage on Oscar night. At least it won for writing. Good music, good writing, and good acting. I would recommend this movie. Four out of five on this one.

SurfJedi's Ultimate Roast Beef Sandwich

I made a sandwich tonight that was so good I had to write about it. I am calling it SurfJedi's Ultimate Roast Beef Sandwich. I am not normally a sandwich guy, so when I do eat them I go all out to make sure they are pretty darn good. Tonight was no exception. In fact, this was probably one of the most successful concoctions I have come up with yet. Now I probably hyped it too much, so hopefully you agree that this is a pretty good meal.

I used the following ingredients:

  • Deli Roast Beef from my local grocery store
  • Tillamook Sharp Cheddar cheese pre/deli sliced
  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Cajun Seasoning
  • Garlic Powder
  • Chili Powder
  • 1/2 Avocado (lightly salted)
  • 2 slices red onion
  • 2 slices vine-ripe tomato
  • Mayonaise
  • Deli Mustard
  • Whole Wheat Bread

I first mixed a small portion of the garlic powder, chili powder, cayenne pepper and Cajun seasoning in a bowl for even distribution. I laid a layer of roast beef on a foil-lined broiler pan, and spread the spices over the layer. I added another layer of beef, and added more Cajun seasoning and cayenne pepper on the top. I intended the main spices to seep up from the layer below, so I only needed my favorite ingredients on top. I put the broiler pan in my toaster oven. My toaster has heat settings and cooking method options. I put it on max heat (450º) and set the method to broil.

As the meat heated I sliced the tomato, onion, and avocado. As the meat cooked a very pleasant aroma began spreading through the kitchen. At this point my son was trying to help my wife make cookies, and I was delayed slightly in pulling the meat out. It was slightly overcooked for what I had intended, but it turned out having a crisping effect on the edges which tasted pretty good in the end.

I pulled the meat out and placed my cheese slices on top, then put it back in to the toaster. I lowered the heat to 250º. While the cheese was melting I put the mayo on both slices of bread, and added more Cajun seasoning on top of the mayo. I added the deli mustard to one slice of bread and the onions and tomato on one slice.

When I pulled out the roast beef there was a nice layer of juice at the bottom. I put the roast beef on the bread, and added the avocado to the top of it. I put a dash of salt on the avocado and closed the sandwich.

As I said before, this turned out really well. I think if I had to change anything, I might try some horseradish or Cholula/Tapatillo hot sauce. Some bacon might have been pretty good too, but I was working with what I had on hand. I would highly recommend this sandwich. Give it a shot and let me know what you think.

The Pipe Smoker's Plight

"I believe that pipe smoking contributes to a somewhat calm and objective judgment in all human affairs" -Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of all time, was well known for smoking a tobacco pipe. Some other well-known pipe smokers include:

  • J. R. R. Tolkien
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Bing Crosby
  • William Faulkner
  • Alexander Graham Bell
  • Douglas McArthur
  • Gerald Ford
  • Edwin Hubble
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Vincent Van Gogh

This is just the short list. Pipes have been popular among Kings and Presidents, among scientists and preachers, among authors, artists, and musicians. Pipe smoking has had a long history of elegance, propriety, and intelligence. This image is starting to fade in today's world.

When I smoke my pipe in a semi-public place, whether outside my house, in a park, or anywhere else, I usually get one of two comments: "Hey, that smells really good", or "This reminds me of my grandfather." Usually the person is somewhat older than I, but occasionally someone nearer my age or younger will say something along these lines. More common comments from people in the X or Y generations are: "What are you smoking in that", or "Do you have weed in there?" I think the state of our society has a lot to do with the latter comments.

Two assumptions are made in the above comments:
1.) Nobody young smokes a pipe.
2.) Pipes are obsolete.

I happen to disagree with both. I have found that there is quite a large group of men in their 20s and 30s that are smoking pipes. Some of us had a grandfather that smoked, but many of us haven't. I remember a man that lived in an assisted living facility that my dad ran who smoked a pipe. Every time we would visit him I enjoyed the smell of his tobacco.

Pipes smokers are in jeopardy of losing their rights because tobacco has become the "bane of American society" in some circles. If ever a correlation between "throwing out the baby with the bathwater" and the tobacco controversy existed it is now. People have been attacking cigarette smokers with such intensity that pipe and cigar smokers are suffering too.

Every group of people has outliers, and pipe and cigar smokers certainly have theirs. Most pipe and cigar smokers are polite about their smoking, and often the pipe smoker is the more courteous of the two. There are those who will blow smoke in people's faces or be rude in other ways, but those are the outliers I mentioned above. The majority of us are friendly, contemplative, and respectful, among other things.

Recent legislation in Calabasas, CA and other L.A. cities have made it harder to smoke a pipe or cigar in public. A tobacco tax was proposed a short while ago that would have affected us too, though the proponents of the tax only attacked cigarette smokers in their ads. I have yet to find someone who thinks my pipe smoke is offensive. If these activists have their way I will only be able to smoke in my home, if that.

Pipe tobaccos are not crammed with all the carcinogens that cigarettes contain. They typically have pleasant aromas, though there are of course some pretty harsh Cavendish blends out there. Pipe smoking has been shown to reduce stress, and even add years to one's life expectancy, most notably in a study involving twins. Some of the world's greatest minds have been pipe smokers, so why are we being considered collateral damage in the anti-cigarette campaigns?

The answer most likely is ignorance. Nobody cares to look at the bigger picture. If one type of tobacco is shown to be unhealthy, then all types must be. They ignore the fact that a great number of the carcinogens do not naturally appear in tobacco. What will our society come to once it decides to bask fully in this ignorance? Will there be room for the next Albert Einstein or C.S. Lewis? I hope so.

The plight of the pipe smoker may very well be the plight of modern day culture. If generations X and Y only know that marijuana is smoked out of a pipe, where is our future headed? If one cannot look at a pipe smoker with respect and nostalgia, what will the future bring? I believe that the great minds both mentioned above, and those many more not mentioned were great BECAUSE of their pipe smoking, and NOT despite it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

My Son's Darndest Sayings

From time to time one hears about Bill Cosby or Art Linkletter with "Kids Say the Darndest Things". They talk about some funny things kids say. My son is only 2, and doesn't say a lot, but some of the things he says are pretty funny. I fully admit that I may be a little biased on this one, but here we go.

One day a few months ago, back when my son was only occasionally muttering a word here and there, I was outside barbecuing hamburgers. My wife came out to give me the cheese to melt on the burgers, and handed my son a slice. He smiled really big, looked up at me and said, "I LIKE Cheese!" Ordinarily this wouldn't be a funny sentence, but considering it was a real sentence from a kid who doesn't talk, my wife and I thought it was pretty funny.

He has picked up some interesting words recently, which makes me wonder a little bit about the things he gets exposed to versus other kids. Here are his most common words:

  • NO!
  • Sauce (I think he gets that from his older cousin)
  • Spicy
  • Hot Dog
  • Cheese
  • Shoes
  • Stuck
  • Dog
  • Socks
  • Remote (also pronounced Mote)

This isn't necessarily a funny list, but notice that half of these involve food. I can only think of two other households where I know the word spicy is a common word. Those two households are those of my older sisters, only one of whom actually eats spicy food as often or as hot as I do.

Now back to some more funny things he says. The latest thing to come from my son involves diaper changing. For the non-parents in this crowd, this is where you may want to skip ahead. Discussions involving diapers are usually only permitted in comedy or parenting. You've been warned.

In the past, he would only answer us if we asked him if he pooped. The answer was always no, regardless of whether or not he had. He will avoid getting his diaper changed at all costs. Now he finally responds to the alternative. When we ask, "Did you Pee?" He quickly responds "I peed." The tone of voice may be why this is funny to me, but funny it is. He says it so confidently that it comes out funny.

As I said before, not everything he says is funny, but it is always interesting to discover his new words. I am looking forward to learning all the new things he has to say.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Review - Time Warner Cable

I switched to Time Warner Cable when I left Dish Network. Part of the reason I left Dish Network involved my DVR breaking, and therefore an inability to record shows, pause, rewind, fast-forward and such. This is a feature that one has to pay for, and I expect it to work. Dish Network didn't seem to agree, and I was to find out only too soon, neither does Time Warner.

At the time I signed up, I was in the process of leaving Verizon's DSL and Phone services. I was looking for the fastest internet connection I could get, which at the time was Verizon. I knew Time Warner had an Internet Service Provider (ISP) called Roadrunner, which in past experience was a nightmare. The salesman signed me up for the three pack bundle, which included 10mbps internet, cable tv, and a voice-over-IP phone service. He told me that I was in a fiber optic area, and that I would really be getting 15mbps, which I was pretty stoked about. He was wrong.

Considering the 10/15mbps rates were identical, I didn't complain when I found that I was in reality getting the 10mbps speed. What I did complain about was the fact that my upstairs DVR stopped recording. I was annoyed at the fact that I had to rent two DVRs for Time Warner, when Dish Network only took one. I was far more than annoyed when the thing broke in the first three days.

Eventually the DVR fixed itself, about a week later. We thought that we were out of the woods. We weren't. The downstairs DVR decided to fail. At this point we were also wondering what happened to our phone service, as our install date had passed. I called to figure out what was going on.

As for the phone, apparently the salesman screwed up and the phone order was dropped without notification. The DVR support person made me jump through some hoops, and nothing happened. It eventually fixed itself, as the upstairs one had done before. A couple of weeks later guess what happened. Yup, the upstairs DVR broke again.

In the mean time Dish Network had offered me a sweet deal to come back, so I decided to take them up on it. I got a salesgirl who didn't want my business, so I was forced to crawl back to Time Warner. I called and asked for a technician to come in, and asked for all charges to be reduced/dropped. They complied to their credit, and sent a tech out.

The tech was pretty good, and found that our signal was weak, and did his best to fix it. He boosted the signal by 4 times the original strength. The DVR was still out, so he replaced it. He offered to come by without a work order if anything wasn't working, which we are about to take him up on. Want to know what happened as soon as he left? The downstairs DVR broke again! Now I am furious with Time Warner. This stuff is way too expensive to put up with this kind of garbage.

I went back to Dish Network, hoping to get a more cooperative salesman. I managed to find one, and began the sign-up process when I hit another roadblock. This time it was not the salesman, but Dish Network itself that didn't want my business. I explain this in my Dish Network review, so I will move on.

I am now at a crossroads. I can't get Dish Network, and don't want Time Warner. One of my friends has gone the Netflix only route, which I am tempted to try. I can get DVDs of my favorite shows for less than half the price of cable. What is a disgruntled consumer to do?

Time Warner cable has a few redeeming qualities which I will cover to make this a fair review. Every time I have called I got a very friendly customer service rep. They aren't all knowledgeable, but at least they are friendly. The last guy I talked to was VERY good. He listened to my technical opinions and agreed that I was on the right track with my assessment. He sent out a tech and credited my account with no hassle.

The tech was another asset to Time Warner. He went above and beyond when he made the house call. My wife was very impressed with his service and he was on time. This is something that can be rare in the cable business.

The two positives mentioned above being considered, I still cannot recommend Time Warner cable. I plan to remain on the RoadRunner ISP, which the tech was able to fix, but I cannot justify wasting any more money on Time Warner's cable service. I give Time Warner a 1 out of 10 for value, but an 8 out of 10 for the customer service personnel I have encountered.

To Shave or Not to Shave

Shortly after my son was born my sideburns and goatee slowly merged into a beard. I had a relatively new marriage, a new baby, and I guess somehow a beard got attached to my new responsibilities. My grandpa had a beard, my dad has a beard, and my uncle has one from time to time. It was a fairly natural progression.

About a year goes by when my wife starts to bug me about shaving my beard. I tell her that I look better with the beard, but she won't believe me. She threatened to cut her hair which I had to painstakingly convince her to grow in the first place. I argued that it was not an equitable trade. Beards on men and long hair on women have traditionally been linked to gender identity. To threaten to cut her hair, thereby removing one of her gender identifiers didn't make sense, as shaving my beard would be removing my one of my gender identifiers. This argument didn't go too far with her, and so the nagging continued.

So, now that we are expecting our second child, and having decided to honor her request, I shaved my beard. I planned it out perfectly, in order to surprise her when she least expected it. I waited until a morning where she had done all her prep work for my departure in advance, and would not be waking up with me.

The morning finally came, and I shaved the beard down to the sideburns, which I have had as long as I have been capable of growing facial hair. I go to work, get the usual comments from my friends, and explain to them that my wife wanted it shaved. I waited all day to tell my wife.

I got home and my son greeted me cheerfully. My wife looked at me with a funny look on her face. She just kept on staring. It was apparent that my surprise had not only worked, but that I was right in keeping my beard as long as I did. Sure enough she told me to grow it back, as I am not nearly as handsome as I once was. ;) Now I get to grow it back, just in time for a hot summer.

Macs Really Do Suck! :)

At my office it is well known that I am not a fan of Apple Macintosh computers. I am not a huge Windows-phile, but I find Mac to be even more annoying. As a web developer I have to deal with the everyday hassles of internet browsing programs reading pages differently. Due to the differences I am forced to have a Mac laptop in addition to my PC. I have grumbled from time to time, and now that Safari has a Windows version I have a glimmer of hope that I can put the Mac behind me, much to the dismay of some of the IT guys I work with who worship Mac.

This particular Mac was supposed to be top-of-the-line when it was purchased less than a year ago. It is a MacBook Pro, and was purchased the day it was released in stores. That being said, one would think that it would be pretty reliable. Not so.

Almost immediately I lost a mouse to it's USB port. It fried it somehow. I have since lost another one. I got a USB flash drive for Christmas from my boss, and the Mac claimed it too. A friend at work has the same model of laptop, only bought it in January, and the video card crashed. After all of this, I still couldn't convince my friends at work that Mac is an inferior product. Yesterday I finally made my point, or at least my Mac did.

My Mac was requested of me in order to run some tests on a big screen tv that is used for meetings. I willingly gave it up and awaited it's return. I was told that they decided to do a firmware upgrade on it, and it kept failing. Ultimately the process kept stalling out and I was told to back up my files, and salvage what I could. I finally got the concession that I was waiting for, in a way. He didn't say all Macs suck, but he definitely said mine does. That is a step in the right direction at least.

I had to make a backup of all my files, both on the Windows and Mac partitions. This Mac's handling of Parallels is another story waiting to happen, so I won't get into that here. After saving all my work, we reformatted the Mac and upgraded it to Leopard. Hopefully this will be the end of my Mac woes, but I doubt it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Review - Dish Network

I was a Dish Network customer in Cherry Valley, CA for 2 years when I moved to Oxnard. During that whole time I had a great experience. Everything worked as it was supposed to, and the one time it broke they fixed it quickly. Keep in mind that Cherry Valley is in the middle of nowhere.

I moved to Oxnard and intended to cancel my service, as I had been told I would have to pay for the move since I refused to pay an extra $6 per month for insurance. When I called to cancel they convinced me to sign another two year contract without paying to move my service. I should have followed my gut on this one.

The Dish Network tech came to my house and installed the service. Within a day we lost the ability to watch tv upstairs. I looked the connections over, and then called customer service. They walked me through some stuff, but were unable to resolve the issue. They were going to send a tech out, so we ended the call amiably. I took another look at the cabling, and decided the tech didn't know what he was doing. I had uninstalled the unit from my old house, and knew how it was supposed to look. In moments I fixed the tv. I rerouted the cabling to the appropriate places and changed the signal from air to cable, as it was plugged in by a coax cable. This fixed the problem so we called off the house call.

Well, a few days later it broke again. My wife called and they attempted to force us to pay for the house call. She explained that one was already going to be sent, that we fixed the first problem ourselves, and had only had our service for three days. This fell on deaf ears. Finally she asked to talk to the manager, at which point the girl immediately approved the house call at no charge.

Well, it turned out that the tech had put a staple through the coax cable when he tried to hide it under the carpet near my fireplace. He replaced the cable and things started working...until the DVR broke.

I ordered a new DVR and waited for it. What happened next wasn't Dish Network's fault, but the way they handled it made them complicit. The forecast that week was the biggest storm California had seen in years. All the news stations were preparing us for some massive rain storms to come through southern California, dropping as much as 14 inches of rain in the first day. What did UPS do about this? They left my new DVR in a puddle at my front door, in open sky getting rained on. I put the box on some towels and promptly called Dish Network to arrange for another DVR, explaining what had happened.

I was told that I had to turn in the wet DVR before I could get another one, so I got the instructions for returning it. I told them I wasn't going to pay for service since I wasn't receiving service, and he told me that he credited my account. Apparently he didn't pass the word on to his company, as they cut off the service for nonpayment. This was after I had confirmed with 3 separate people on 3 separate days that I owed nothing.

I was not happy, to put it as kindly as possible. I spent the next week on the phone with customer service, trying to get the mess sorted out. I logged 12 hours in three days during that week, and was so fed up with Dish Network that I decided to move on.

While I had great service in Cherry Valley, my horrible experience in Oxnard forces me to give Dish Network a rating of 1 out of 10 for both value and customer service.


After switching to Time Warner Cable I received a call from Dish Network's retention department. They offered me a pretty sweet deal, but I told her I would be in a better position to decide in a couple of days and she should call me back. The deal was 3 months free (1st, 10th, and 20th months), $14 off the first 6 months, and no contract.

I called back a couple of weeks later and was told that the girl had no business offering me that deal, and that she couldn't honor it. I was dismayed, but accepted my fate. Things kept getting worse with Time Warner, so I tried again. Apparently I was two weeks too late this time. I was signing up for the exact deal I mention above, when my credit card raised a flag on their system. He asked me if it was a real credit card or a debit card. I told him it was a debit card with a Visa logo on it, therefore making it qualify as a Visa.

He explained to me that two weeks ago Dish Network implemented a rule that only credit card holders could become new customers. The DVR costs $600, it was explained to me, and Dish Network wanted to protect themselves from loss. Having already turned in my broken DVR and following their instructions to the letter, I found this rather insulting. I do not have a credit card, as I prefer to pay for any luxuries in cash, thus better managing my money. The fact that I don't have a credit card should not be the reason I don't qualify for a service I had for two years. I never missed a payment, and they got their equipment back. They even managed to purge me from the system, so even if I was delinquent, which I wasn't they had no way of proving it. I was denied solely because I am being responsible with my money. Bad form Dish Network, bad form.

CA Assemblyman Beall's Beer Tax

Assemblyman Jim Beall has made a proposal to tax your beer. You can read more about it at the Mercury News website.

If he has his way, the beer tax would go from 2 cents to $1.80 per six-pack. I'll use the author's math here to state that this is "an increase of about 1,500 percent". 1,500 percent! Of course this doesn't count our wonderful recycling tax, also known as the CRV. Aren't their slimy fingers deep enough into our wallets as it is? Apparently not.

While I don't agree with the tax, I could get over it a little easier if he had some solid reasoning. Here is his explanation: "The people who use alcohol should pay for part of the cost to society, just like we've accepted that concept with tobacco." Yes, he said just like we've accepted that concept with tobacco. What kind of reasoning is that? Just because we have accepted something bogus doesn't mean we should use that same bogus reasoning to support our outlandish crusades. I will save my thoughts on the tobacco tax for a later date, but suffice it to say that pipe and cigar smokers should not be lumped in with the strain on society garbage that the California government is spewing to appease the likes of Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

I marvel sometimes at how low we set the bar for a minimal intelligence standard when it comes to our elected officials. It goes up through the federal government as well, but we sure pick some winners in California, don't we? Beall doesn't stop there though. Want to know his reasoning for taxing beer? Other states tax beer at a higher rate than California. That's right, everybody else is doing it, so we should too. As if this particular portion of his argument wasn't bad enough, he again goes the route of using an unjust situation to validate his reasoning. Check this out: "Beall said he's targeting beer because his research showed that California undertaxes brew relative to other states, which he said isn't the case with wine and spirits." So, since we already stick it to the wine and spirits industries, let's make certain we don't miss anybody. Why not repeal those taxes and make the beer industry's current rate the universal rate? I doubt you will hear him arguing for that.

Apparently Beall has had some success in this area before, and is trying to make this his cause. He managed to raise the price of Mike's Hard Lemonade and the like, taxing them at a hard alcohol rate, rather than the beer rate. Since when is a malt-beverage hard alcohol? Beall's work will raise the price of a six-pack by $2.

According to the article, this plan doesn't stand much of a chance. At least someone in Sacramento has their head on straight. I say it's time we tell Sacramento that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. We need to stand up for the rights of all of California's citizens, not just the wealthy professional liberals who want to spend more money on bogus stuff.

As an afterthought, I will mention that I am not much of a beer drinker. This article fired me up on the sheer stupidity of Assemblyman Beall alone. I am tired of one group of people thinking it is fair to tax another group of people in some sort of back-handed attempt to convert them to your way of thinking.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Public Relations/Customer Service

"Public Relations is a set of management, supervisory, and technical functions that foster an organization's ability to strategically listen to, appreciate, and respond to those persons whose mutually beneficial relationships with the organization are necessary if it is to achieve its missions and values." (Robert L. Heath, Encyclopedia of Public Relations). Essentially it is a management function that focuses on two-way communication and fostering of mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics."
Source: Wikipedia

I have been thinking about Public Relations (PR) and Customer Service a lot lately, especially since beginning a new job last September. As a Web Developer, I am pretty deeply entrenched in the PR engine of my place of employment. Technically I am in IT, so we interact with the "official" PR department from corporate. Most of the people in this department have done a good job representing the company. One person, who fortunately is no longer employed, had no clue about PR.

I will call attention to the last line of the above quote. "Essentially it is a management function that focuses on two-way communication and fostering of mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and its publics." I highlighted two sections that are completely unknown to this person. This person decided that it was their way or the highway, and had no tact, even in front of an on-duty U.S. Marshall.

The sad thing is that this person is not an anomaly. Every time I call some sort of customer service rep, which I count as a qualified PR member, I run into someone like the person I described above. There is a general sense of dismissal and lack of empathy that radiates heavily from these people. Does this say something bad about society, or the companies who employ them?

To be fair, occasionally someone up the chain from these horrible representatives does have a clue as to their job description. I think that genuine, empathetic, caring, intelligent people do work in PR. I just wish they were easier to find.

Go Get Me Some Pez!

A week or so ago my wife and I were in the store and we came across a PEZ candy display. My wife doesn't like PEZ, so she usually walks on by, but this time it caught my son's eye and we had to stop. We looked for a character he would like, and gave him a choice between Mickey and Winnie the Pooh. He chose the Pooh. Daddy, thinking ahead, decided to pick up a spare package of PEZ refills.

Sure enough, as soon as the candy is in the dispenser, he is chowing down on it and quickly consumes the first pack. We cut him off at one, and so he had to wait until the next night for more. While I was at work he began stalking the cabinet where I had put the remaining candy. He doesn't say too many words yet, but it was clear what he wanted. My wife told him he had to wait for Daddy to come home so he could get more candy.

I got home to a huge hug and a big kiss. He was definitely not wasting any time. :) My wife told me what he was waiting for, so I filled his dispenser and he quickly ate the whole pack. He then went about his business this time, not knowing about the spare pack I bought.

The last few weeks my son has been very concerned with something outside at night while we are watching TV. My wife and I have no idea what it is, since he can't tell us. One night we thought it was the wind, and took him outside to investigate. Another night we thought it was because we had the porch light on. We have yet to figure out what it is. One night though, it was quite clear.

My son began showing concern for something outside, so Mommy and Daddy proceeded to guess at what it could be. He kept saying no, and then repeating whatever it was he was saying, patiently waiting for us to guess what it was he said. At one point he grabbed my hand and pointed to the door. He had a PEZ dispenser in his hand, so I took another guess. I asked him, "Do you want Daddy to go to the store to buy you more PEZ?" Daddy scored big on this one. He began nodding his head vigorously, seemingly saying "Yes Daddy, GO GET ME SOME PEZ!"

Fortunately I had that spare pack and was able to satisfy that craving. Next time he starts looking out the window with a worried face I will know what he is thinking.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Syracuse Professor Laurence Thomas and the Cell Phone of Doom

I received the following link from a mailing list I belong to at work:

It is an article describing an incident between a student and a professor. The student was text messaging (texting) in class, and in the front row, no less, so the professor walked out on the class.

The professor states in his syllabus that he will react this way if students are "rude" enough to text in class. The class in question has roughly 400 students.

The above link shows lots of support for both the students and the professor. It brings up an interesting question. Does the student who pays tuition have the final say over what he/she is allowed to do in class? Is the professor the final authority on classroom antics? The chancellor at Syracuse appears to be dodging the issue, but I am sure the time is coming when she will have to take her stand.

There are a number of points in favor and against both the professor and the student. I will begin with the professor. Professor Thomas did publish a syllabus stating that cell phones and texting are not allowed in his class. His actions are consistent with the syllabus here. In my opinion I think walking out on the class is a little extreme, but he did give fair warning.

Professor Thomas uses some strange arguments to support his position. In one of his emails he states, "I am an old fashion individual in that I believe in principles of right and wrong that transcend every race/ethnicity and sexual identity." I get the part about the old fashioned individual, and the part about the principles of right and wrong, but what does it have to do with race or sexual identity? Since when is texting being racist? I even somewhat get how he would jump on the race card. Even more baffling is the sexual identity. Where did he come up with this stuff?

The students seem to be using the worn out story about how they pay his salary when they pay tuition, so he should back off and conform to the norm. While I may agree that the professor was out of line, I cannot support this statement. One pays tuition to receive instruction. The salary is paid by the University, and not by Joe Student sitting in the front row. One of the conditions of admission to any larger body is that the student conform to the standards upheld by the University. To act in opposition to the University's guidance and standards is failure to follow through with your end of the agreement. That being said, I am not restricting the role of a student to behaving as a robot.

The educational process is dynamic. There is no easy way to pin down where the line is between maintaining an agreement to follow University guidelines and the University trying to control one's every thought and action. I believe that if a student wants to throw away a $30,000 a year education, he has the right to do so. However, I also believe that the other 399 students in this class that are also paying $30,000 deserve to have an uninterrupted lesson from their professor. In this case, I think both the student and the professor were wrong, as they acted in tandem to deprive the 399 from their rightful educational experience.

Restaurant Review - Casa de Soria

Casa De Soria
1961 E Thompson Blvd, Ventura
Phone: 805-648-2083
Cuisine: Mexican

Tonight I took my wife and son to Casa de Soria in Ventura. This was our second visit. The first was on a Friday night and the place was so packed, we waited thirty plus minutes to be seated. The experience from that point on was identical to tonight, so I will talk mainly about tonight.

It was much less crowded tonight, so we were seated immediately. We like to sit at booths since my son rebels against high chairs and booster seats and we can contain him in a booth. The booths here are a little narrow, and sitting across from a pregnant woman and having the table touching both of our stomachs gets a little uncomfortable. This is the only downside to the restaurant.

The service is amazing. Before we had settled in a waiter brought us chips and salsa and asked for our drink order. He was very courteous and promptly brought our drinks back. He came back just as we were ready to order. As we waited for our food the chips began to run low, and a waiter promptly gave us a new bowl of chips. We asked the waiter for some spicier salsa, which he also promptly brought us. More on the salsa to come. A moment later our food arrived. We had waited less than 5 minutes from the time we ordered. This was the same speedy service we received on the previous visit, even with the huge crowd. Our waiter came back and refilled our drinks as we needed them. As we were eating, he noticed that our bowl of chips had a lot of broken pieces. He told us it was no good and brought us a fresh bowl with larger, unbroken chips. Once we were done, he quickly brought us our check. We were in and out in less than thirty minutes.

The food here is among the best I have had in California, and definitely in Ventura County. This counts all food, and not just Mexican food. There are two things I order when I want to get a feel for a new Mexican restaurant: shredded beef and a chile relleno. From those two items I can tell if I am going to like a place or not. Technically the salsa is a third indicator, but it is not something I have to order so I won't count it for the moment. The first visit I ordered a mini burrito with shredded beef and a chile relleno combo plate. For a mini burrito, it was pretty substantial. Between the two items and the chips and salsa, I had a very satisfying and filling meal.

Tonight I ordered the Carne Ranchero, which is basically Carne Asada with a side of guacamole and pico de gallo. The meat was incredibly tender, and there was plenty of it. They served it with a choice of flour or corn tortillas. I favor flour tortillas typically, so I ordered the flour. They served two large, apparently home-made flour tortillas piping hot with my meal. I could have used a third one, but I am trying to cut back a little on carbs at the moment, so I didn't mind only having two. This was the best Carne Asada I have had in a restaurant. My wife was pretty impressed too when she tasted it. She has only ordered the Chile Verde so far, which she loves.

The salsa is pretty mild, and my two year old son has no problem eating it. I asked for a spicier salsa and it was really good. It tasted a little like a Chile Relleno, so I am guessing it had more than one kind of pepper in it. It had a nice aftertaste, and that is when you feel the heat. I have had far spicier salsas, but this one was both spicy and great-tasting. In my opinion it doesn't matter how hot it is if it tastes bad. I would definitely recommend the spicy salsa.

On a side note, my wife has banned myself and my mom from judging heat for anything she eats. Things I thing are ridiculously mild have burned her mouth more than a couple of times. I had her taste the mild salsa tonight so I could be sure I gave a fair review of the heat. Again, my two year old could eat it without drinking any water, so it is a pretty safe bet when I call it mild.

The service and food here are really good. I give a 9 out of 10 for service, and a 9 for the food. My wife and I intend to become regular customers here.