March 15, 2009

Is Cable / Satellite TV really worth it?

Posted in Other Stuff at 6:46 pm by loolar

So, I checked my blog and realized I was overdue for my twice a year post.

Ahem.

Sorry, for the few tumbleweeds that might actually read this drivel, and a solemn promise to think, guiltily, about what the point of this blog is, periodically, before squeezing out another post around September.

So, my wife has been laid off, and as an educator with Los Angeles Unified School District, I often wonder how long my professional career is for this world.  For the record, I did not get my pink slip on Friday, the supposed Union-imposed deadline by which teachers have to be notified regarding their employment status for the upcoming year.  Twelve teachers at my school were “on the list.”  Can I be added to the list at a later date?  Am I safe for one more year?  Who knows.  Magic 8 ball, anyone?

Okay, so the subject has turned to how to cut costs.  And the easiest “pork” spending in this house is cable TV.  We have a DVR, and enjoy watching, commercial free, some occasional network dreck.  But for the most part, we’re just not that interested in what’s out there.  I guess we finally passed that 18-36 demographic, eh?

What do we watch?  Ghost Whisperer.  Treacly, trashy, maudlin and cheap, but Jennifer Love Hewitt is a binky biscuit and I love her.  Her cleavage is also a factor.  Besides, I’m a shameless sap, and 50% of the time the maudlin and cheap stuff actually chokes me up.  With tears, even.

We were watching Battlestar Galactica, but that started mainlining J.J. Abrams-style plotludes (plot interludes, or “occasional glimpses that there’s a point, only to be roundly ridiculed by the writers, who long ago gave up having one.”  Perfected by Chris Carter and the X-Files) to the point where I started wondering if I wasn’t a cylon myself.  The groovy sado-masochistic soft-porn mental manipulation dynamic between Six and Balthar had all but disappeared, and that was my primary reason for liking it in the first place – because face it, Tricia Helfer is a binky biscuit and I love her and her spray-paint-applied red dress until I jizz in my pants.  Ahem.  And thanks to Mike and Melinda for showing that Saturday Night Live has proven the law of averages, and was funny for one out of seven million skits.

So lacking that very compelling, uh, plot, the show degenerated into a meandering mess, and I could no longer tell if Apollo (Jamie Bamber) or Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) was the “girl” in the main plot, cause damn, Katee, yer more man than most, and all that that implies.

And we’ve been watching “Xena-light,” Legend of the Seeker, and the only reason to do that is to watch Bruce Spence chew scenery with demonic relish (“A fella, a quick fella, might have a weapon under there. I’d have to pin his head to the panel.“), or wait for Kahlan’s (Bridget Regan) boobs to pop out of her preposterous Ren-Faire corset.  Richard (Craig Horner) looks like David Cassidy and hops about in the battle scenes like a Pez junkie on a pogo stick.  Sadly, my wife really likes the Sword of Truth novels, and so onward we go.  I kind of liked them, too, until I realized I could save myself reading the last six by reading Atlas Shrugged.

When I can, I try to catch Colbert and Stewart, but “when I can” roughly translates, using “reality,” into “never.”

Much as I adore and worship Hugh Laurie (and he doesn’t even have breasts!), I find that House has firmly dug its trench and nothing remains but to admire long past victories.  Over, and over, and over again.  In a world where Bernie Madoff exists, being a curmudgeonly misanthrope only gets you so far, when you still actually, y’know, help people.  Besides, I recently lived my very own episode of House (I’m waving at you, you arrogant, pompous boor, Dr. Lawrence Leiter – don’t worry, your very own blog post is a’comin’!).

And we adored the hokey over-the-top seriousness of Heroes, but again, the tightly scripted hijinx gave way to stunt plotting, and healthy doses of J.J. Abrams-style plotludes.

Frankly, all of this can be watched on the internet, or wait three months, and on Netflix.  Without having to fast-forward through the damn commercials.  Which are set at a 100% higher volume level.  Rant on that forthcoming.

And so all I’m left with is caring about the NFL Football package, and frankly, with a kid and having to take Sunday classes to get credits, to get salary points, to get a raise (the only way you get paid more as a teacher – merit?  What’s that?  Go take pointless classes, stat!), I wasn’t even getting to enjoy football.  And while we did enjoy PBS Sprouts as an adjunct baby sitter, frankly, the boy enjoys Pixar movies more (and so do we.  Although Nina on the Goodnight Show… and, I’m a gonna stop right there).

So why TV at all?  About $60 a month in savings – add that up over a year, and that’s real cash.  So we may be dumping that very soon indeed.

Four years ago we decided to drop home phone service, given that we only used our cell phones.  We’ve never looked back.  That said, I think having access to local news (“Yes, Andrea, I’m standing here in front of the Wild Fires, and they are still burning.  Stay with us for more as it never develops!”), and the broadcast football games (the Patriots games are usually on as the network game) might be worth it.  If I could get ghetto-local service for like, $10 a month…?  Maybe I would.  Maybe I should, y’know, call someone about that.

What really needs to happen is the a la carte model of ordering stations.  You could take a free 30 day preview, and then decide to add the station.  You could add or remove stations at any time.  This would work wonders for advertising revenue models, and advertisers would know precisely how many viewers they were reaching, and moreover, that those were HIGH QUALITY viewers; i.e., the demographic they wanted – because those viewers are self-selected.  Oh well… as grandpa Gould used to say, “If it makes sense, you’re doing something wrong.”

I do things wrong all the time.

June 19, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Script of Despair

Posted in Movies at 5:06 pm by loolar

Just discovered the site The Editing Room thanks to Sama – brilliant sendups of movies as satired scripts.  Enjoy and despair – some shouldn’t be thought of as funny, because they’re way too true.

April 26, 2008

Los Angeles takes one more step toward NFL Franchise

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, NFL and other lesser sports at 5:17 pm by loolar

It’s being widely reported that the owner of the Lakers and Kings has unveiled the stadium construction plans and site, including a completed environmental impact survey, for an NFL stadium in LA. What I love about it is that he’s upfront in saying there will be no taxpayer dollars used to finance the stadium. The last owner to do that was Bob Kraft, owner of our beloved Patriots. Why the disgustingly rich Paul Allen couldn’t do the same in Seattle for the Seahawks is a question Washington State residents ought to be pissed about.

So the question now is, what team? No expansion plans, which means we steal from someone else. Since we’ve had our franchise stolen, I guess I don’t feel too bad about it. Widely regarded as the most vulnerable are “the New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and San Diego Chargers because of their stadium uncertainties.” Cripes, Jacksonville just got that franchise, are you kidding me? San Diego wouldn’t be too bad, since the fans down there probably wouldn’t notice it if they left, notwithstanding the last three years of pseudo-success.

March 27, 2008

Walmart – Save More. Live Better. Be Heartless.

Posted in Character, Customer Lack of Service at 1:25 pm by loolar

UPDATE: Walmart has apparently dropped its claim – and points to online blogs and petitions as helping them to, “step back and look at a situation in a different way.”

CNN reports on how Walmart has decided to exercise their right to reclaim damages awarded to Debbie Shank as a result of her successful suit, in order to repay their health care expenditures used to care for Debbie since her accident.

I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to pay a cent or two more to make sure people like Debbie are cared for. Thing is, with 90 billion in quarterly revenue, we’d be paying more like a hundredth of a cent more. While Walmart is within their rights to claim this money, the question is, why would they? Can they truly be that heartless? Is this the health care system we want, when the businesses mandated to support the health care of employees must act as opportunist predators to “keep costs down”?

I find this contemptible – and I’m pretty sure the fault does not belong solely to Walmart. Our obsession with bringing down prices in our lives must yield a weakness somewhere. You can’t get something for nothing as our entitlement-hungry society seems eager to forget. Sooner or later, someone has to pay. This time, it was Debbie Shank.

March 20, 2008

Warcraft – Macros to keep that +damage trinket working for you (Shadow Priest & Feral Druid)

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack, WoW macros at 9:16 am by loolar

UPDATED FOR VARIOUS CLARIFICATIONS BELOW.

I was typing this up for some friends who asked about it when, once again, I realized – hey, free blog post.

This will cover simple but incredibly useful macros I’ve discovered to make sure you’re using your trinkets that add damage to your melee and spell combat abilities.

The main idea was this – I had all these great “Use: increases damage for 20 seconds” trinkets, but I never used them. Always in reserve for the “emergency,” and usually forgotten. Finally, I read an article that admonished this behavior, saying if you’re not keeping these things on cooldown, you’re wasting a slot. After all, a 2 minute cooldown is basically one fight; so you can be using them constantly.

So how to remember to always use them? Once I answered that question, my dps went through the roof, as our other feral druid’s damage meters attested.

The answer was to tie your favorite special attack to activating the trinket, so that you constantly use it as soon as it’s available. Even better when you have two trinkets; you can put them both in the macro. If the first one is on cooldown, it goes to the second – perfect!

So you’ve decided you’d like to keep those trinkets working hard for you – but macros are scary. Now what? It’s time to write a macro.

First, type /m or /macro in your interface. Up comes the macro window.

Next, choose “New” from the bottom of the window.

Enter a name for your macro. Make it similar to the actual ability you will be using in this macro. I’m going to start with a combat-based ability for my Feral Druid, Halifaxx. I chose to use the feral ability Mangle for these reasons:
1. It is the best “main” attack for feral druids
2. It has a cooldown (6 seconds), so it’s not a “spam” attack
3. It’s my lead attack, unless backstabbing as a kitty
4. It’s my constant “as soon as it’s off cooldown” attack, meaning I’m using it regularly enough that I will activate the trinket.

So choose a similar ability. For my Shadow Priest Talisker, it’s Mind Blast. So for Mangle, I called the macro “Mangle.” Clever, I know – but the point is to be useful. You can certainly call it l33t faczor lolz if you want. Just don’t tell me.

Next choose an icon. This is even easier. Always choose the red question mark icon (the first choice). What this does is uses the same icon as whatever spell you use in the macro (more on that in a minute) – so you don’t even have to get used to a new picture. Your macro will use the same tooltip picture your ability already does.

Click okay – now you’re ready to write the macro itself.

The first line of all of these macros is this:
#show Spell
Where “Spell” is the name of the ability in your spellbook. In my case, it’s:
——————————
#show Mangle (Cat)()
——————————

What this does is make sure that, on mouseover, the ability shows the same tooltip as the spell you’re using; this also ties into the red question mark and tells it to use that picture. This line isn’t critical; it’s just nice to use the same picture and tooltip as your primary spell ability.

Next, you want your trinket to activate:
/use Trinket
Where “Trinket” is the name of the trinket you want to use. Be careful to spell it exactly (also, always remember the trinket must be equipped when you use the macro, or the macro will just go straight to the spell; not a problem, but not the effect you’re after). In my case, it’s:
——————————
/use Bladefist’s Breadth
——————————

The next line may no longer be necessary as of patch 2.3, but since I tested it and it works, I’m not going to mess with it. It is:
——————————
/stopcasting
——————————
This indicates a stop in the process before a next step can begin.

Next, the actual spell:
/cast Spell
Where “Spell” is the ability in your spellbook. In my case:
——————————
/cast Mangle (Cat)()
——————————

UPDATE: For some time now, you haven’t needed to specify the rank of the spell – the game assumes you want the highest rank – unless you want to downrank to a lower level spell (you downrank spells when you want to use less mana or your objective doesn’t require your highest output; you may use a lower grade heal for “topping off” a party member; you may spam a low-level instant cast in order to try to activate a “chance on” effect; etc.).

However, certain spells confuse the system - particularly druid ones, which specify a form, such as (Cat) in this case. The game thinks the form qualifier (Cat) is actually a rank of the spell. As such, it will do nothing, unless you reassure it that there is a rank present. You can do so by using the set of empty parenthesis at the end of the command. Note that you only need to do this for any ability which ends with a parenthetical qualifer, such as “Faerie Fire (Feral)” – a regular spell requires no rank designation unless you specifically want one.

Finally, a clever bit:
——————————
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
——————————
This is important – you will get an error message the next time you use your favorite attack, because the trinket is now on cooldown. Your attack will go off (it just skips the line command it cannot perform), but the error message is annoying. This clears it and keeps your character from saying, “I can’t use that,” or whatever irritating error message they give (by the way, you can disable your character’s error message voice prompts in the sound menu). You will still here that hollow gong sound that indicates you’ve tried to use something you can’t, but in the roar of battle, it’s lost.

UPDATE: Be careful. The fact that you’re clearing error messages means you’re also clearing things like range errors (you’re too far away), cooldown errors (you can’t cast the spell yet), facing errors (you’re facing the wrong direction), etc. Therefore, it is up to you to be aware of all conditions, because you’re clearing all error messages.

Luckily, many of these errors are apparent because of other interface qualities; the number of your hotkey will be red instead of white if you’re out of range; the cooldown clock graphic will still be animating if you’re on cooldown – but if you’re facing the wrong way (and sometimes it’s hard to tell when you’re up to your neck in mobs), you may think you’re casting the spell – and you’re not. So beware!

So the whole thing, ready to copy and paste:
———————
#show Mangle (Cat)()
/use Bladefist’s Breadth
/stopcasting
/cast Mangle (Cat)()
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
———————

Bear version (note you will have to put this bear-specific version on your bear toolbar, because it is a different spell):
———————
#show Mangle (Bear)()
/use Bladefist’s Breadth
/stopcasting
/cast Mangle (Bear)()
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
———————

If you have a second trinket, just add a line item after the first trinket for the second one (see below for an example). Halifaxx’s other trinket is Hourglass of the Unraveller, which is passive, so I don’t need it here.

So your macro is done – now what? Drag the red question mark onto your toolbar replacing the spell button you have there. When you close the macro window (sometimes just on mouseover), the icon will change to the familiar one, only with some text on it (the title of your macro), letting you know it’s got “something special.”

Experiment; I suggest killing trash critters, and then salivate at how you will destroy! Think about it – in constant combat, such as an instance, you will be adding that damage every 2 minutes (more if you have two “use” trinkets), for 15 to 20 seconds. Your dps is on the way up.

Here is the caster macro I use for Talisker to make sure he’s getting the most out of his trinkets and Mind Blast:
———————
#show Mind Blast
/use Glowing Crystal Insignia
/use Terokkar Tablet of Vim
/cast Mind Blast
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
———————

Here’s a version with my heal trinkets, to pump up Greater Heal:
———————
#show Greater Heal
/use Oshu’gun Relic
/use Heavenly Inspiration
/cast Greater Heal
/run UIErrorsFrame:Clear()
———————

I’m not sure why, but these don’t seem to require the open parenthesis at the end of the spell.

Here’s my spammable debuff remover:
———————
#showtooltip Abolish Disease
/targetparty
/cast Abolish Disease
———————

I just spam that and it keeps targeting players until it finds one with a disease; no worries targeting. I’m going to do more work with the focus command so this doesn’t lose your targeted enemy while working (more on focus at a later date). I tried this with dispel, except dispel can be used offensively, too, so that needs more work.

============
This next one is exclusively for druids – our other feral druid will love this. You’re tanking and it’s going bad – if only you could jump out and take a potion!

#show Super Healing Potion
/cancelform
/use Master Healthstone
/use Super Healing Potion
/cast [nostance] Dire Bear Form

/cancelform gets you out of bear; the next two lines use the items (this particular version takes advantage of using a healthstone if you’re grouped with a lock; if not, it skips that step), then it gets you back into bear form.

Note that this will work if you start off as a cat or bird or manatee, too, because cancelform isn’t specific – it just says cancel your current shapeshift. If you’re already out of form, it ignores that step. If you’re in another form and it’s bad enough you had to take a potion, you obviously want to end up in bear form.

This executes so fast, I thought it hadn’t worked. But my health bar was now at 30% instead of 5%, and only 4 potions showed in the tooltip. Amazing. Obviously, change the name of the potion if you’re using something else, like the Ogri’La potions. I’ve used this twice more, and the shapeshift (if you’re already in bear) will not be visible. It’s that cool.
============

Finally, if you play on more than one computer, be warned – macros are stored locally. You will log onto another computer and find empty spots on your toolbar where the macros used to be. So email them to yourself or just replace the actual spells (you will then have to replace with macros when you get back to your original machine); or, bookmark Sound and Fury and just come back here to reconstruct them.

Have fun!

March 18, 2008

Warcraft – Shadow Priest and other clothie Tailoring Level Guide

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 12:30 am by loolar

Again, feel free to skip this, loyal reader, if it means nothing to you. I just took the time to write this for a friend, and figured, hey, free blog post.

So it finally occurred to me that my main character, Talisker, a shadow priest, needed to drop herbalism and level tailoring, to get the best purple sets in the game, pre-Serpentshrine/Kael raiding. My damage per second (dps) was not where it needed to be for the Karazhan runs my guild was getting ready to do. I had nearly 2,000 gold, so went searching for guides.

What follows is what I learned – hopefully will be helpful to someone. I spent about 850 gold leveling to 375, and another 900 gold getting all the mats to make the sets. If you’ve got a bank full of this stuff, obviously it will cost less.

Talisker is also an enchanter, so from time to time I deviated from the recommended patterns in order to create equivalent green items that I could disenchant. This was helpful in defraying costs since I could Auction House the materials. I never learned “extra” patterns; as they are pointless to me at the moment (I am not twinking a lower level clothie).

The starter guide I used gets you to 250; subsequent posts advise how to get to 375.

What it may or may not mention:
Any trainer can train you to 300 since patch 2.3; so you can park in Iron Forge or Stormwind near the auction house and tailoring supplies (I did Stormwind). I ended up making numerous mounted trips back and forth to buy various materials from the tailoring supplies and the AH. Not sure of the best place in horde side, except that I frickin hate getting around Orgrimmar.

You only need to go to Outland to learn past 300 to 375. Hama is upstairs in the inn at Honor Hold (the horde counterpart Dalinna is in Thrallmar).

As for DEing (disenchanting), you will occasionally have a chance to choose an equivalent pattern that will yield a green item, vs. the white one that is recommended. You’ll have to use your judgment; I usually took the green item so I could DE it, and I was happy with that. Ultimately, avoid anything that makes you use a lot more cloth; then you’re spending a lot more just to make the items. This is particularly important for the mageweave stretch, which really sucks – that stuff is EXPENSIVE. One poster recommends trying to get this pattern, as it skills for only one bolt per crafted item.

At 325, you’ll need to be making bolts of Imbued Netherweave. This pattern can be bought from the Lower City vendor (where all the tradeskill vendors are, south part of city), and you will need the mana loom there in order to convert bolts of Netherweave into Imbued Netherweave (3 bolts & 2 Arcane Dusts – so one stack of Netherweave cloth yields one bolt of Imbued Netherweave with 2 pieces left over). The loom is right next to him – convenient.

At around 360, I think, you will need the pattern for Imbued Netherweave Tunic – this is a scryer pattern, but it’s not BOP – so if you’re Scryer, excellent; if you’re an idiot and went Aldor without reading up on why, like me, you will need to nicely ask for a Scryer to buy it for you. Remember, you need Scryer rep to buy the pattern, but not to learn it.

I’m an idiot because I’m a dps class, and Aldor give wonderful supplements for healing, while Scryer give good ones for damage (more on that later).

Now, once you’re at 375, you will choose a specialization, which are offered as short quests from the specialty vendors that sell the patterns for the sets (and the pattern for the cloth transmutes). If you are a healer, you want the Primal Mooncloth specialization to make the Primal Mooncloth set, so you will need to complete this quest. If you’re a shadow priest, or whichever warlock spec does shadow damage, or a frost mage, you want the Shadowcloth specialization to make the BOP frost/shadow damage Shadow’s Embrace set, so do this quest. If you’re a fire or arcane mage, or whichever warlock spec does fire damage, you want the Spellfire specialization to make the BOP fire/arcane damage Wrath of Spellfire set, so do this quest.

However, also buy the patterns for the other two transmutes, which do not require specialization. Each cloth transmute has a four day cooldown – but they are independent of one another. So buy all three patterns and try to keep them all on cooldown. Also, you will make TWO pieces of the cloth you specialize in for the mats of just one. So if you specialize in Primal Mooncloth, and do your transmute as often as possible, every four days, you will have Primal Mooncloth x2, Shadowcloth, and Spellcloth. What do you do with the other two? Trade them for Mooncloth with other tailors doing the same thing.

If you get impatient to craft your set and have the cash, you can just buy the specialty cloth on the AH – don’t pay more than 40g per piece; any price under 35g is actually pretty good. I did this for my chestpiece; I figured I’d make it back later on transmutes once I’ve finished crafting what I need to.

Each of the cloth transmutes has a special requirement.

Primal Mooncloth is not only the easiest, the mats are the cheapest. This requires you to transmute at a moonwell; Cenarion Refuge in Zangarmarsh has one right across from the botanist lady. You will get a one hour buff from it, too (regen 12 health and mana per 5 seconds for 1 hour).

Shadowcloth requires the Altar of Shadows in Shadowmoon Valley, right across from the Netherwing Island. It also has some of the most expensive materials (this also provides a one hour buff of +25 stamina).

Spellcloth requires you to be anywhere in Netherstorm. However, there’s a nasty surprise. Crafting this spawns a level 70 void elemental, and it’s tough. What everyone suggests, and I have verified from personal experience, is that you craft it in Area 52, right between the Ogres that guard the Arena awards building. Make sure you have an instant damage spell (wand or Shadow Word: Death for me) so that you can tag the elemental immediately on spawn and not get ganked – you want the help of the ogres, but you still want that elemental! When you kill him, he drops 1-3 motes each of fire and mana – up to a 30% refund on your materials. So make sure you are still providing damage to the fight; the ogres just help you take it down fast.

Talisker was able to solo one (wanted to see how hard it was), and I made it – with 35% health. If you can’t dps (heal types), I would not suggest trying to solo it. There is no buff from crafting this; but I’d rather have the mats refunded, so it’s cool.

Beyond making your three piece set, if you’re healing, you will also want rep with the Aldor so you can make Silver Spellthread at honored, and then Golden Spellthread at exalted. If you’re doing dps, you want rep with the Scryer so you can make Mystic Spellthread at honored, and then Runic Spellthread at exalted. These are the best caster leg augments in the game.

March 12, 2008

Stephen Colbert and World of Warcraft

Posted in Life in Los Angeles, Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 5:06 pm by loolar

WOW Insider has an article about how Upper Deck , creator of the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game (WoW TCG), hired artist Todd Lockwood to produce an image of Stephen Colbert, of The Colbert Report, for a special card depicting him as a “Paladin for Truthiness” for the game:

Stefen Colbear Paladin of Truthiness

I love it. Absolutely love it. I don’t play the game or have any cards, but I’d buy a pack to get this one.

My problem is this (emphasis mine):

Unfortunately, Colbert’s agent nipped the idea in the bud. According to Lockwood, he didn’t even show the artwork to his client. Blizzard and Upper Deck presumably had hoped Colbert would feature the card on his show, giving them mega-publicity. An unknown individual leaked the image onto the net a few weeks ago, and WoW and Colbert fans excitedly spread it around in both card and wallpaper forms.

I’ve pounded the pavement enough in Hollywood for that throwaway line to make me furious. You want to know why the same crap keeps getting made in Hollywood? Because the gatekeepers – agents, executive producers, studio executives – have no clue about entertainment or their audience. They got into Hollywood because they had a useless law degree or MBA, were 23 and without prospects, and hey, they could meet hot actresses. I know, because I’ve met them. As a result, when good ideas come down the line that aren’t “cool” as they see it, they get nixed without their client ever knowing.

I only hope Colbert sees this somehow – and fires that twit that thought he knew better.

March 10, 2008

Waiting for Service – 10 Things I Want From Restaurant Waiters

Posted in Customer Lack of Service, Life in Los Angeles at 4:03 pm by loolar

My wife and I recently vacationed for a week in Seattle and the San Juan islands, and had the opportunity to eat at a number of restaurants, from greasy spoons to fancy high-end joints. I’m a serviceable cook, so when I go out to eat, I like to try things that are beyond my ability to make, and I like to enjoy good service. Unfortunately, the second thing is vanishing.

It seems that people in the service industry are more and more clueless about the experience they are creating, and nowhere has this become more apparent in the last decade than in the restaurant business. So my wife and I collected some of our biggest pet peeves so we could share them with you, my two readers. Somehow it makes me feel better.

Servers put up with terrible behavior out of misguided “brotherhood” loyalty, and so frequently forgive, and therefore, forget, some cardinal sins when it’s their turn to sling the plates. One of my dearest friends has worked in the restaurant and bar industry for over ten years, and so puts up with – and apologizes for – a pretty high level of unacceptable service out of a sense of forbearance for their suffering. Hey, servers, if they don’t like the service industry, don’t take it out on me – in the words of Quentin Tarantino as performed by Steve Buscemi as Mr. Pink, “I got two words for that: learn to fuckin’ type.”

And so, presented in the order of the meal you’re likely to encounter them, the tips for professional waitstaff and servers:

****

1. For Bartenders – I don’t want a glass full of ice, and please learn to pour.
Whether it’s water or soda, most bartenders will scoop a glass through the ice bin, then fill it. It’s fast, it’s easy, and then they don’t have to sit there with the soda gun forever because the ice makes it fill up faster. Unfortunately, this is not customer focused, this is server focused, and the result is that I get three sips and then an iceberg slides out of the glass and punches me in the face.

Bartenders may say, “hey, fine, we’ll slow down the entire process to fill your soda, pansy-pants, but don’t come crying to us when your drink order takes 30 minutes.” This is the wrong attitude. This would be a problem, certainly, but this solution only takes care of half the issue. Drinks are timely, yes, but they’re not good drinks – which is really the most important part, isn’t it? If this is such a crippler, put a soda gun where servers and bus staff can get at them. Either way, stop doing it.

As for beer – stop pouring it before it spills all over the glass. I guess they figure I can’t complain that they didn’t fill it up all the way. Unfortunately, this leaves me with a wet, slimy, sticky mess. I don’t want to feel the beer; I want to drink it. Learn to pour, or at least wipe the glass off before you hand it to me.

2. At least pretend to write down my order.
I don’t care how clever you think you are; invariably, I get an order screwed up by a waiter who insisted on taking it verbally. I want enough things “my way” – whether on the side, extra crispy, extra tomatoes, whatever – that there are plenty of chances to screw it up.

Even if you do this all the time, without error, ever – the bottom line is this: when you don’t write down my order, you cause me to stress that it’s going to be wrong, and that directly detracts from the reason I’m there in the first place – to enjoy myself. I know some people think this makes the experience “more magical;” well, it never impresses me, but always causes me anxiety, thereby lessening my experience. And make no mistake – I’m only there for the experience. I can cook most of these dishes myself.

3. Don’t put the gigantic dollop of butter on my pancakes.
This is the fault of the kitchen, but a smart waiter would always tell them to keep the glob on the side. This was underscored when we visited a greasy spoon for brunch that didn’t do it – the butter was served separately in a small dish. Wonderful, and reminded us how much we hate this when they don’t. Admittedly esoteric list item, but with a baby, going out to breakfast has become one of our rare eating-out indulgences nowadays – and you’d be surprised how many “high end” places do this.

4. Remember “the customer is always right”?
In Montreal last fall, for Rob Sama’s bachelor party, at a $50-70 a cut steak house, I had my order screwed up – the waiter brought me a cut I did not order. The waiter reviewed his pad, confirmed he had written down the cut I did not order, and so concluded that it was I who was mistaken. Are you kidding me?

Never mind the fact that, when I ordered, he didn’t hear me the first time, so I not only repeated it, I pointed to it on the menu (this must be the source of the error, obviously). But I pointed to it on the menu. The other 8 guys at the table saw me do that. And yet he insisted I was mistaken because of his written “evidence.” I don’t care if I ordered a bowl of froot loops and then asked where my steak was when you brought it – the customer is always right. Make me feel good, make me feel happy, bring me what I ask for, even if it’s my fault. When it’s your fault, you sure as hell better not argue with me about it.

5. Let me actually taste it before you ask if it’s okay.
Eager to ignore customers until it’s time for the bill, the food is delivered along with a cheery, “how is everything?” I don’t know yet. I’m still picking up the fork. And considering stabbing you in the eye with it. You may want to ask, “do you need anything else?”

6. Stop overfilling the pepper.
More for management than waitstaff, except that I see the servers usually doing this job. What is it with pepper shakers? You shake and shake and nothing comes out; you unscrew the top only to be blasted with a volcanic eruption of ash from all the pepper jammed into the damn shaker. Leave some room in there, or it won’t come out.

7. Stop interrupting me.
Unless you’re Jack Nicholson in AS GOOD AS IT GETS, you go to a restaurant with someone. And unless you’re socially maladjusted, you talk while you eat. Unfortunately, it seems that most servers have begun to mistake good service for rude and inconsiderate interruptions. Excellent waiters have the instincts to know when you want something; more importantly, they never interrupt a conversation in progress to ask something as inane as, “everything okay?” And how is it they have the uncanny ability to interrupt the story right at the punchline / surprising twist / heartbreaking moment?

In an Italian restaurant in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island (one of the most expensive places in town, by the way), we were interrupted, mid-conversation, by three different servers. Our drinks were full, we were eating and talking – what the hell did you think we needed? Again, good service isn’t about pestering, it’s about being aware of the needs of your customer, and being available if they want you. Walk by, hover for a moment, let me see you – and when I don’t ask for anything, be on your way. If you’re worried that I’ll be too much of a wuss to “bother you,” then tell me you’ll do this up front, and let me know you won’t interrupt me, but when you are nearby, I can call you over. And don’t ask me anything when you can see my mouth is full.

8. Don’t make me wait for the easy stuff.
This is the most irritating thing; being constantly interrupted, and yet paying no attention to easily satisfied needs. You don’t need to interrupt me, you don’t need to ask – just keep my water glass full. Nothing brings a nice dining experience to a screeching halt like trying to survey the restaurant for your server as if you’re playing Where’s Waldo, and all you want is more water.

9. Don’t clear my plate while I’m still eating.
Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But I’ve literally had to slap the plate back down because my mouth was too full to say anything. If I’m still chewing, there’s a good chance I might want another bite.

10. Please box up my leftovers for me.
This one blows my mind when I’m at a nicer place, but it’s becoming more and more widespread. When they ask to clear the plate (excellent – see #9), and I ask to have my leftovers boxed, more and more often, they leave and bring back a box. Never mind that my table is cluttered with glasses, uncleared dishes, and other people’s elbows, or that you have much more space in the back – how is this service? It isn’t, and it leaves a real sour taste at the end of the meal.

BONUS #11 (Because this list goes to eleven)

11. Give the original receipt back with my credit card slip.
Too many servers mysteriously steal the original check when they return with your credit card and a bill slip. I don’t know about you, but I’m not great at math, and I typically use the tax to figure the tip (in most states, doubling the tax is about right). It’s not on the credit card slip. Also, by the time I put out my credit card, I’m ready to go soon; I want that decision to be mine, not the server’s – so I want to review the receipts after I get my card back. I can always have them run it again.

****

Well, there you have it… now I pray to the gods of viral internet sharing that this actually makes it to a waiter or waitress.

So why does any of this matter? Well, think of this… for two decades, as American industry moved offshore to preserve the illusion that we have no inflation (because prices are still low, right?), it has been touted that we are moving toward a “service economy,” although perhaps only to keep us from throwing crooks out of Congress. Well, if this is a service economy, then why is it that more and more businesses are derided for their lack of service? This is just one example; but in terms of America “staying competitive,” it’s not a long shot before we lose our service industry overseas as well, merely because it’s not hard to figure out how to be polite and customer-focused.

March 5, 2008

Gary Gygax goes to a Higher Plane

Posted in Fatherhood, Life in Los Angeles, Role Playing Games, Teaching, World of Warcrack at 4:15 pm by loolar

I certainly owe a tremendous debt to Gygax for giving my science fiction/fantasy adolescent mind an outlet; or perhaps he owes me thousands of hours of my life back – either way, I would be remiss if not marking his passing.

I rarely get to roleplay anymore; it seems that with children, most of us who can run a game just don’t have the time to plan it. And most of us have ceased to play the Wizards of the Coast update to the TSR classic rules anyway, preferring home-brewed systems light on mechanics and heavy on flavor. Additionally, World of Warcraft has become a surrogate of sorts, since I still get to see most of the group online.

That said, I’ve been engaging in roleplaying in one form or another since my early teens, which I am forced to admit means in excess of 25 years now (kindly don’t do the math). I actually look forward to teaching my son the idea when he’s old enough, the same way I taught my younger brother. I still believe the game prompts creativity and literary hunger, and anything that gets kids to read is okay with me.

In honor, I’m linking a fun Salon article, mostly for the video at the end – a Warcraft inspired take on “Mahna Mahna” as made famous by the Muppets. For those not in the know, ROTFLMAO means rolling on the floor laughing my ass off; the other gibberish sung by the main character are similarly-inspired bits of email, chat, text and video game words, or “leet speak” (l33t for “elite”).

March 4, 2008

Warcraft – Shadow Priest Level 70 Gear List – Non-Raid

Posted in Role Playing Games, World of Warcrack at 11:01 am by loolar

Great post by Big Bear Butt Blogger on the gear you can assemble as a Level 70 Shadow Priest, which Talisker is, when not raiding the 25 man content yet, which Talisker isn’t. I’ve already power-leveled tailoring to get at the Frozen Shadoweave set.

Which, incidentally, cost me about 1,000 gold. Back to saving up for that epic mount. Doing heroics sort of helps; if you have the daily quest, you’ll at least come out with 10-15 gold after the repairs.

Another post soon to follow about where I’m farming Primals for the materials.

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