Be Careful What You Wish For…

When we moved into this house, we bought each of the cats a new collar, and gave each a shiny new personalized nametag. Simon and Toto still have theirs. Nemo lost his in the first week. We bought him a second collar, and a third, but he lost each of those just as quickly.

It’s an easy neighborhood, so a collar isn’t too important. However, Nemo has a nasty habit of hiding when we call for him to come in, especially if it’s near dusk. After a couple of particularly fractious bedtimes, we recently bought him a fourth collar. For good measure, we added a little brass bell.

Big mistake.

Now whenever he makes the slightest move, Nemo jingles like a Salvation Army bellringer. But in the most annoying high-pitched tinny way. Sure, this helped us find him last night, but it also kept us awake because every time he shifted, every time he licked his paws, every time he hopped down to go get a snack, he jingle-jingle-jingled us awake.

We took the bell off today, but the collar stays. At least until he loses this one, too.

“It’s going to rain at 3:30,” I announced yesterday morning at ten. Kris’ parents were helping us to set up for our afternoon lawn party. The party was set to begin at three.

We swept and scrubbed and baked and cleaned. At three, everything looked grand. At 3:30 — not 3:29 and not 3:31 — it began to rain. I was quite pleased with myself.

Our lawn party turned into a porch party, but still it seemed to be a success. It’s always difficult for me to tell. I love to entertain, and I love to welcome large groups, but I never feel particularly effective as a host. I’m easily distracted. Also, I’m not especially good at small talk. Too, the mathematics of the situation doom me to failure. No matter how much I want to spend time with every guest, it’s physically impossible for me to spread myself evenly over the three hours people are here. Instead, I find myself drawn to one guest or another, or perhaps a small group. I only wish I could somehow learn to improve my hosting skills. If you joined us on Sunday and I neglected you, I apologize.

While Kris’ parents are in town, my diet is on hold. It’s unfortunate, but true.

I lost eight pounds last month, and had lost five this month before Chris and Claudia came into town. After Saturday (elephant ear and lemonade at Saturday Market, Chinese food for lunch, Benihana for dinner) and Sunday (nothing all day except party food, but that party food included brownies (including sheet cake from Kristin!), and brownies are my terrible weakness), I’m lucky I haven’t exploded.

We made pasta with little cream sauce tonight, and Kris is now baking her decadent chocolate-marshmallow dessert. Tomorrow will be just as bad.

Mike and Jeremy and I were talking about addiction last night. Mike was explaining how he’d just quit smoking cold turkey many years ago. Jeremy said that he’d like to quit, too, but always feels the pull of addiction. That’s how food is for me. Seriously. I love the stuff (especially brownies), and I have to be meticulous about limiting my intake or it’s easy for me to fall of the wagon.

Our weather the past two days has been typical of the Oregon rain that I love: mostly constant, with low hanging misty clouds and a gentle ever-present rain in the air. Normally, I’d be in high spirits. The problem? It’s the end of June and we haven’t had more than a couple of sunny days since mid-March!


On 28 June 2005 (07:37 AM),
Lisa said:

Well FWIW, I thought that the porch party was a great success. The porches created natural conversation groups (as well as toddler holding pens). True, I didn’t really see you because you weren’t on my porch. It was a good party, though.

Have you gotten all of the grass bits off all your floors yet? I think that the party brought most of the lawn inside.

On 28 June 2005 (07:55 AM),
Joel said:

Oh, that little cream sauce. It’s 10 am, I’m in a very inhospitable place (a biochem lab with a fair bit of radioactive stuff piled haphazardly about), but I would dig into a bowl of pasta and lil’ cream sauce right now with gusto.

On 28 June 2005 (08:29 AM),
Dennis said:

We went with the bell on the cat (to cut down on the predator tendencies). He comes in at night, the collar comes off. Goes back on 1st thing in the morning when we open the pet door.

On 28 June 2005 (09:34 AM),
Kristin said:

We thought the party was a success, as well. Ian and Tristan were certainly not ready to leave–“How come we always leave first?” Of course we did not leave first, but it’s hard to know the fun will go on without you 🙂 Tristan asked the burning question–“Why did JD get rid of his Game Cube? Kids still come there!” I was glad to see them playing outside instead of being vidiots all evening, however. Thanks for hosting–you were most certainly NOT inadequate. Oh, and sorry for feeding your addiction . . .

On 28 June 2005 (01:07 PM),
Courtney said:

The party was fabulous! I only wish we could have stayed longer. And, whoever made that incredible, decadent chocolate dessert with the graham cracker crust, it was amazing! I’d love the recipe. Jennifer’s raspberry tart was excellent too! That’s where I cut myself off, so I missed the brownies. I trust they were heavenly as well. 🙂

Movies Better Than the Books That Inspired Them

The book is always better than the movie. Except when it isn’t.

In general, books are better than the films they inspire; however, some movies transcend their source material. For example:

These are the examples that occur to me immediately; I’m sure there are many others.

There’s also a significant body of excellent films made from excellent books. (These often become personal favorites of mine.)

I know that many people actually prefer the Lord of the Rings films to the books. While this boggles my mind, I accept that such a large body of opinion cannot be discounted.

I’ve intentionally not listed cases in which I consider both the film and the movie bad (e.g. Girl With a Pearl Earring; Chocolat; many MIchael Crichton stories, such as Congo; many Stephen King stories, such as Pet Sematary).

I’ve also not listed instances in which I suspect the film is better than the book, but haven’t been exposed to one of them (e.g. Sideways, The Silence of the Lambs).

The next time somebody complains that the book is always better than the movie, remind them that it’s not always the case.


On 14 June 2005 (10:05 AM),
Andy Baio said:

You think the Running Man movie is better than the book? Yikes.

On 14 June 2005 (10:14 AM),
J.D. said:

HA! 🙂

Have you read the book (well, story really)? It’s awful. (I’m not claiming the film is good, by the way, just that it’s better than the book.)

On 14 June 2005 (11:05 AM),
Rich R said:

I would disagree with you on LA Confidential (Of course, right?)

I think the movie holds its own. I am quite fond of the way it was approached and the acting was tops. With that said, I still think the book was better, simply for the greater expanse of the story and characters in the book.

I really loved Cider House Rules as a film, but I think the book is better for the same reason I mentioned above. You can’t put the character study that is the book into a 2.5 hour movie…

On 14 June 2005 (11:14 AM),
Joel said:

Hmm… I actually quite like The Princess Bride novel, but do I like it more than the movie? I… think so. So! I very mildly disagree with you! Which makes this a controversial post, my friend, brace yourself for a torrent of commentary.

On 14 June 2005 (11:16 AM),
J.D. said:

re: Cider House Rules

In my personal quest to quell my verbose ways, I forgot to mention why this subject even entered my mind.

The book group discussed John Irving’s The World According to Garp last weekend (he also wrote Cider House Rules). I thought the book was fantastic. It’s my favorite of the five Irving books I’ve read (yes, better than Owen Meany, all you Irving fans).

Bernie and Kristi loaned us the movie, which we watched last night. The movie wasn’t bad, but it sure wasn’t good, either. It was mainly just a mess. It made me wonder how a film could capture all that Garp contains. It can’t.

(I’m reading another book now — Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell — that seems unfilmable.)

During our book group discussion, Kristi mentioned that movies are never as good as the books, but I disagreed, though the only example I could think of at the time was The Princess Bride.

On 14 June 2005 (11:25 AM),
Cepo said:

there’s NO WAY total recall is better than the book. 🙂 i wouldn’t know because i haven’t read it but i like philip k. dick and TOTAL RECALL WAS A HORRIBLE MOVIE. i hope the book wasn’t that bad.

On 14 June 2005 (01:58 PM),
Aimee said:

Great thoughts, Jackal.

I feel as though I can be fan of both a film and a book, if I judge them as two separate entities. I find I almost always leave the theatre disappointed when I expect a film to be a “true” to the book that it’s based upon. Sometimes I think that it’s folly to even compare a book to a movie of the same plotline, title, characters, etc. To elaborate using your example Gone with the Wind: While the book offers a detailed, eloquent, story-specific [Scarlett’s] Civil War, the film bequeathed a technicolor, epic legacy to American cinematic history. To me, the two mediums are distinctly separated by their essence: books encourage use of the reader’s imagination; film dazzles us with special effects, innovative cinematography, and star power.

On 14 June 2005 (02:52 PM),
Denise said:

I am surprised to see A Clockwork Orange on your list. I personally think the film is much worse than the book. I think the film revolves are sex, which the book does not.

But then I am not a huge fan of Kubrick to begin with.

On 14 June 2005 (05:24 PM),
dowingba said:

I absolutely agree on Forrest Gump. Man was that book horrendous. Perhaps the worst book I’ve ever read. And I’ve read Star Wars fan fiction, for crying out loud.

On 14 June 2005 (10:56 PM),
Ron said:

I see you have mentioned my favorite movie – The Shawshank Redemption. Most people have never heard of it. I can watch it over and over and see something new each time.

On 15 June 2005 (06:50 AM),
Tammy said:

Ron thats soooo like my husband. He watches it every time it comes on TV. One day he made me sit down and watch it with him. I ended up liking it but, but I couldn’t watch it a dozen times over like he does!

On 15 June 2005 (07:36 AM),
Amanda said:

Ron, I’m with you. What a beautiful, touching movie. The acting, directing, soundtrack… everything about it is superb and inspiring. Truly a classic.

On 21 July 2005 (06:07 PM),
Martin said:

I agree on Total Recall, but probably not on Blade Runner (I saw it after reading the book and my immediate reaction was that the movie was laughably bad. I’ve since started to appreciate the cinematography and the music), and definitely not on the Minority Report movie, which only added huge plot holes, improbable action sequences and silly bits where Tom Cruise chases his eyes or listens to crazy doctors singing Swedish children’s songs.

Gin Fizz, Illustrated

Warm weather in the Willamette Valley makes me crave cool drinks. I was raised in an alcohol-free home, and have only recently discovered the joys of adult beverages. I bought a book on cocktails during my last trip to Powell’s, a book which has already yielded a couple of tasty treats.

I was initially turned off from cocktails because the first few I tried tasted more like alcohol than anything else. A couple of trips with Dave to the neighborhood bar have convinced me that cocktails can be quite delicious. I’m a sucker for anything citrus. Give me a lemon drop and a basket of fish and chips and I’m set for the evening.

House and Garden’s Drink Guide (published in 1973) is a fantastic book for a guy who knows almost nothing about liquor. (I do know that I like Scotch, but that’s about it.)

The first seventy-five pages (!) of the Drink Guide are devoted to explaining the history and science behind cocktails. Chapter titles include “What Every Drink Maker Should Know”, “Spirits and Wines — What They Are and How to Use Them”, and “What Drinks to Serve When”. The book is a pleasure to read because it’s so damned earnest: this was the era of serious cocktails and serious cocktail drinkers.

Mixing good drinks deftly and easily is a skill that not only affords a host a fine sense of accomplishment but gives guests a great deal of pleasure. It is a skill worth having, one that enhances hospitality and can make jovial a gathering of any size.

There are handy lists of drink measurements (such as jigger and pony), proper glasses, spirits for a well-stocked bar, garnishments and flavorings, and various types of mixers. There are short histories on brandy, champagne, rum, port, vodka, and whiskey. There’s a small wine section.

Here’s the two-page spread illustrating the various types of drink glasses (click on a page to open a larger image in a new window):


Browsing through the 850+ recipes in the Drink Guide, the Gin Fizz caught my eye. “Let’s try it!” Kris said eagerly. And so we did. It’s a little bomb of effervescent citrusy goodness. Here’s the recipe (with extended text):

from House and Garden’s Drink Guide (1973)

Fizzes, which are popular drinks in the late morning and afternoon, are usually served in highball glasses. They are made from liquor, citrus juices and sugar, shaken with ice. The mixture is strained into glasses which are then filled with club soda or other carbonated drink, including champagne. Egg, both yolk and white, is used in some fizzes.

Perhaps the best-known of these drinks is the Gin Fizz. There are many versions of it, but following is the classic recipe.

Gin Fizz

3 ounces gin
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
2 tablespoons [fresh] lemon juice
1 tablespoon [fresh] lime juice
3 or 4 ice cubes
club soda

Combine all ingredients except the soda in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously. Strain into a [12 oz] highball glass and fill with soda. Serves one.

Brandy Fizz: Use brandy instead of gin.

Holland Gin Fizz: Substitute Holland gin for standard dry gin.
Scotch Fizz: Use Scotch instead of gin. [This sounds awful, and I love Scotch.]
Silver Fizz: Add the white of an egg. [Why?]
Golden Fizz: Add the yolk of an egg. [Why?]

Bootleg Fizz: Add the white of an egg and a sprig of mint.
Cream Fizz: Add 2 teaspoons heavy cream.
Alabama Fizz: Add a sprig of mint.

I love that “serves one”. The book lists a four full pages of other Fizz recipes. Maybe I’ll try them all by the time I’m sixty.

Now that I’ve made several gin fizzes, I can ad-lib a little. By this I mean that I do not measure the citrus juice. Generally I do the following:

  • Roll a lemon on the countertop to free the juice.
  • Do the same with a lime.
  • Split each fruit in two and squeeze their juices into the cocktail shaker.

This yields roughly the correct volume of citrus juice, even if the ratio is a bit more heavily weighted toward the lime than the recipe specifies.

(Here’s a little secret: if you like citrus juice, this drink is damn good even without the club soda.)

Mickey Finn’s, the pub at which we sometimes play trivia, makes a tasty little concoction they call a lemon drop. I’m not sure what’s in it, but a little digging on the web revealed a couple of recipes, the most likely of which seems to be this:

Sacramento Lemon Drop

3 oz. Absolut Citron vodka (chilled)
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
2 tbsp. superfine sugar
Juice of 5 lemons (fresh and ripe)

Mix all the ingredients in a shaker. Shake vigorously with cracked ice. Dip the rim of a chilled martini glass into some superfine sugar. Pour strained liquor glass. (Dave, the Drink Master, suggests triple sec instead of vermouth.)

Kris’ favorite drink can only be found at Caprial’s Bistro. They call it a Metropolitan. We suspect that it’s like a Cosmopolitan, but made with grapefruit juice instead of cranberry juice.

I’ve e-mailed Caprial’s. They’re going to look up the recipe and e-mail me on Monday or Tuesday. (How cool is that?) I’ll post the recipe next week.

Aimee, who inspired this entry, forwarded the following recipe. “Try this on a hot day,” she says.

Blended Vodka Daiquiris with Lime and Mint

3-1/2 cups ice cubes
1 cup frozen limeade concentrate (do not thaw)
3/4 cup vodka
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves

Blend the first four ingredients in a blender until mixture has a
smooth, slushy texture. Divide among six champagne flutes or slender
glasses. (This is a must! It makes it more fun to drink the daiquiri in

fits and starts.) Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Tune in next time when we may (or may not) explore the gentle art of smoking.

This entry is dedicated to little Aimee Rose. Illustrations are from How to Give Successful Dinner Parties (1970) by Adele Whitley Fletcher.


On 10 June 2005 (11:27 AM),
Tiffany said:

I do not think I have a favorite drink. I like things for a while and then move to something else. Not that I drink very often. I order Tom Collins when I am in a bar that I do not know because I think that is good to know how to make the drink that you are ordering so if then screw it up you can tell them how you want it. 🙂
Recently, I found martini mixes (Cosmopolitan, Sour Apple, Chocotini, and my favorite right now, Tangerini) that were a hit at the Girl’s Weekend that I just hosted.

Also over that weekend we found that you can make a White Russian with soy milk and it taste just fine.

On 10 June 2005 (11:39 AM),
Aimee said:

I remember one warm summer Portlandish evening when you and Kris dropped by our little yellow house in Brooklyn and whisked us off to dessert at Caprial’s. While we all hemmed and hawed over the drink menu selections, Kris – without a glance at any other concoction – ordered her Metropolitan and generously offered tart and refreshing tastes all around.

This Spring, during an April heat wave, Joel and I were casting about for a new signature cocktail. Although one can hardly call a G&T (or for those with a more sensitive palate, Tangaray & Tonic) a signature drink, the almost effortless splash of gin, splash of tonic, and sliced lime is a tried-and-true, easy mix. However, sometimes one craves a bit more of a challenge in his or her after-work salve, so we tried to re-create Kris’s Metropolitan, and stumbled upon The Fog.

Taking it’s name from the after-affects of one serving and the opaque quality of the combination as seen through a martini glass, The Fog introduces stalwart vodka to flirty Cointreau in a fresh-squeezed, pulp-included grapefruit juice world. A lime garnish, perched on the side of the glass, tags along.

Unless you’re hoping to cache Caprial’s Metropolitan in the Top Secret Roth-Gates Family Recipe, do share all around … I’d like to set up a taste-test: Metropolitan versus The Fog, tonight only in a knock-down, drag-out. Livers at the ready!

On 10 June 2005 (11:44 AM),
John said:

If you like lemon drop martinis, you should try them with limoncello rather than citrus vodka.

Your life will never be the same. 🙂


On 10 June 2005 (12:15 PM),
Courtney said:

Another refreshing summer drink is the Mojito, a Cuban rum drink with fresh lime juice and mint. Tacqueria Nueve (28th & E. Burnside) serves a great Mojito. Yum!

On 10 June 2005 (01:21 PM),
Lisa said:

Craig is currently working on making limoncello, by the way. It’s lovely stuff when it’s good quality.

Mint juleps aren’t bad, either, once you get past the idea that they’re not mint slushies.

On 11 June 2005 (09:06 PM),
Tammy said:

Jd did you read moms post under your May 30th post on the family page? You need to read that!

On 12 June 2005 (08:09 AM),
John said:

Wow, you guys make it? I’m impressed! I just run down to the liquor store, grab a bottle, and throw it in the freezer when I get home. We are fortunate enough to have the Luxardo brand available here in southwest Missouri.

Hmm.. 10:05 on Sunday morning. Gotta be happy hour somewhere, right? Now that I’m thinking about it, I must have a few sips – it’s THAT good.

/me trudges towards the freezer, shot glass in hand…


Verizon Sucks

I hate big corporations. I really do. They’re enormous behemoths that can’t be fought. Or when you do try to fight them, it’s futile; you get squashed. (Some of my previous complaints about corporate frustrations: Authorized Apple Service Provider, Credit Report (in which I complain about Sprint), and Customer Disservice.)

On January 12th, I received a phone call here at work from somebody representing Verizon SuperPages asking us to advertise in their phone directory. I have little memory of the conversation (because I have several similar conversations a month), but I’m mostly certain that the call ended with me saying something like, “I’m sorry, but I don’t want to advertise with you.” I have no memory of agreeing to advertise with any new yellow page company; we’re pleased with our current level of advertising.

In March, we received a $37.20 bill from Verizon for advertising in their Portland/Vancouver SuperPages. I phoned Customer Service (what a misnomer!) and explained that we had no record of having placed any advertising with them — would they please remove the charges? They would not and could not.

They asserted that we had, in fact, placed the order. “We have third-party verification indicating that the sales representative spoke with you, Mr. Roth, and that you provided your taxpayer identification number. This is all the confirmation we need to verify your order.”

The call ended with nothing resolved. A few days later, I received a letter from Verizon re-iterating all of this information. I contacted Dave. On his advice, I sent a certified letter to Verizon’s customer service department stating that the business has “neither requested nor authorized any service from” Verizon, etc. The letter threatened legal action if Verizon continued to bill us.

Verizon continued to bill us. They billed us in April. They billed us in May. They never replied to our certified letter. Today I received a letter from Verizon’s collection department. Enough is enough, so I phoned them again.

The woman in the collections department was nice enough, but she couldn’t help me. Her department has nothing to do with resolving disputes, only with collecting on outstanding debts. She suggested I call customer service.

I called customer service, and though I was trying to be polite, I was, I admit, a bit confrontational. (No shouting, no cursing, just had my hackles up.) This conversation was frustrating to a degree that I cannot even convey. I went through the whole “we did not authorize this” bit, and the customer service rep (Makeesha — is that a real name?) went through her whole “we have third party authorization in the form of your name and your business tax identification number” bit.

“Look,” I said. “My name is common knowledge, accessible from any database. And I give out our TAX ID number all the time. This is not proof of anything. I want written documentation that we authorized this, or I want an audio-recording.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” said Makeesha, “but this is authorization.”

Repeat ad infinitum.

Eventually, Makeesha gave me the address for Verizon’s legal department, though I’m certain any correspondence sent there is destined for the same old dead letter file that my former certified letter reached. (Actually, to be fair, the previous letter has been scanned into Verizon’s computer system. They have the letter, they just don’t care.)

Have you ever gone through anything like this? How do you cope with the awesome might of transnational corporations? How can the individual hope to have his voice heard when the transnat will not admit error? How can this be resolved to my satisfaction?

Yes, I could just pay for the add — $40/month is peanuts for Custom Box — but I refuse. It’s more than a matter of principle. If megacorporations can collect money because they say you owe it, where does that leave us? It’s insane!


On 08 June 2005 (10:54 AM),
Anthony said:

If megacorporations can collect money because they say you owe it, where does that leave us?

It leaves you paying them, I say. Or going to the poorhouse for debt gained from legal battles.

See, JD, I always oversimplify, but it seems to me that

(1.)Megacorporations push us around because they can.

(2.)Megacorporations can push us around because we need them (If we don’t do their bidding, our houses will burn, our spouses will cheat, our communication lines will be cut, we will be unprepared for death— in short, megacorporations are currently protecting us from every danger and hardship known to man, all of which will instantly become reality and destroy us if we don’t let the corporations run the world.)

(3.)If we didn’t need them, they couldn’t push us around anymore. (by way of analogy, a letter recently arrived at our house from the New York State Department of Health. It warned us that Alice, our pet mongrel, was due for her (state-required) rabies vaccination. Well. We live in Tennessee now, and Alice is dead. We put the letter in the trash and did not answer it. The point is, if I ain’t gotta dog, ain’t a man on earth gonna give it shots and bill me.

My (wonderfully simplistic) hypothesis is that we get to take our pick; we can live without many of the services supplied by the corporations, or we can obey the corporations.

I know of groups of people who are enjoying good food, health, recreation, and social life, and who, because they don’t use phones, never get bills from Verizon or anyone else for services not requested. The never have to pay fraudulent insurance charges, because they buy no insurance. Gasoline price fluctuations affect them very little, because their horses are grass-powered. They have escaped the mega-corporation tyranny. And they are as happy to have escaped it as you would expect.

But most of us have a deep desire to be normal. And the corporations have made it very abnormal to disobey them. So here we are.

I hate big corporations too.

On 08 June 2005 (12:53 PM),
Tammy said:

Well said nephew. And condolences on the loss of your mongrel.

On 08 June 2005 (01:36 PM),
Johnny said:

Dear Anthony-

For the record, I have never not cheated on my spouse because of pressure from a megacorporation.

I have, however, cowered in fear in my basement and prayed for the intervention of Citigroup, General Electric and American International Group to protect me from aliens and the depredations of the government.

Just felt the need to clarify that.

On 08 June 2005 (02:08 PM),
Drew said:

Complain to the BBB. If they have done this to you, they are doing it to others. Create the paper trail and hope for a class action lawsuit down the road.

On 08 June 2005 (04:41 PM),
Dave said:

Pay in pennies. Or stamps. Both are legal currency and can’t be refused as tender.

My rule: If you can’t beat ’em, make ’em wish they’d left you alone.

On 08 June 2005 (04:51 PM),
Mom said:

Your dad and I had a big problem with a huge corporation (Sears) when you kids were small and we were struggling financially. We wound up dealing ultimately with a guy that just didn’t seem to have a heart. Steve finally asked him how he could sleep at night. Apparently that got to him because he did an about-face and showed a more merciful side.

In this situation above, I think you have done all you can. Alternatives are legal action, and it’s not worth that, and negative publicity at our hands for Verizon, and the amount doesn’t justify that. If they in their turn threaten legal action, we may need to just pay and make sure that they know in no uncertain terms how we feel about them if they ever attempt to contact us again.

On 08 June 2005 (05:41 PM),
Lawyer Dave said:

Actually, postage stamps aren’t legal tender in the US. Only US coins and currency are:
31 U.S.C. 5103: United States coins and currency (including Federal reserve notes and circulating notes of Federal reserve banks and national banks) are legal tender for all debts, public charges, taxes, and dues. Foreign gold or silver coins are not legal tender for debts.

And the downside to paying in pennies/nickels/dimes is that the postage is a b***h on $40 worth of coins.

For more monetary entertainment, see: here. This includes the $500, $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 notes as well as the fractional paper currency issued during the Civil War.

On 08 June 2005 (06:01 PM),
David said:

I suggest you check out the Fair Credit Protection Act at the FTC web site:

Can you stop a debt collector from contacting you?

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collector telling them to stop. Once the collector receives your letter, they may not contact you again except to say there will be no further contact or to notify you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action. Please note, however, that sending such a letter to a collector does not make the debt go away if you actually owe it. You could still be sued by the debt collector or your original creditor.

On 08 June 2005 (09:11 PM),
Michael Moore said:

I think David is right on. My experience with companies that insist on billing you for things you didn’t authorize is that you don’t have to take any legal action against them. The Fair Credit Act allows you to notify them that you dispute the charge and will not pay it and you are subsequently protected from collection action by them, except that they can sue you.

Of course, (in my opinion) they would never sue because (presumably) they’re wrong. They just have no interest in discovering that they’re wrong since it’s easier for them, at this point, to just keep pestering you rather than look into it. And, if they sue you, they would have to provide the recording or written authorization. So long as you refuse to be intimidated, the system is designed to protect you, I think.

On 09 June 2005 (08:23 AM),
Lawyer Dave said:

Unfortunately, although the Fair Debt Collection Act is a useful tool in many circumstances, this isn’t one of them. The FDCA applies to consumer debt, not to obligations allegedly incurred by businesses. From the website listed above:
“What debts are covered?
Personal, family, and household debts are covered under the Act. This includes money owed for the purchase of an automobile, for medical care, or for charge accounts.”

JD’s situation is neither personal, familial, or a household debt. It’s a business debt.

Second, what usually happens (even in business situations) is that the alleged creditor will simply take your FDCA notice and send you a letter saying they’re going to turn you over to a collections agency if you don’t pay. This has a negative impact on your credit rating and most people prefer not to have that happen. Yes, the creditor cannot report false information to the credit bureau, but they believe the information is true and therefore claim that they’re not reporting false information. After all, they’re just reporting that they believe you owe this debt.

Once the credit reporting agency gets ahold of it, it simply stays on your credit report. Sure, you can challenge it, but what happens is that the credit agency (when they recieve a challenge), writes to the original creditor and says, “Why do you think they owe this?” The original creditor says, “Because they do and we have a note here that says that they do, otherwise we wouldn’t have reported it to you.” The credit agency writes back to you and says, “Gee golly, Creditor says you owe it, so we conclude it’s a founded obligation and we won’t remove it.”

Sometimes this results in negative things for the credit agency (such as the $5.3 million verdict against TransUnion in Portland a couple of years ago and, more recently, a Portland man’s $210k verdict against Equifax), but for the most part it’s easier for them to simply report what they’re told regardless of whether it accurate or legally justified.

I’m almost to the point with credit agencies that I’m ready to tell clients to simply file suit against an agency for reporting inaccurate information (a violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act) and seek a declaratory judgment against the agency and the original “creditor” to have a court summarily determine the validity of the “debt”. This immediately puts the obligation on the creditor to prove the debt in court. If they can’t, then you have a judgment saying that you owe nothing. I haven’t had anyone want to put this to the test, however. A small claims action could be a pretty good way to test this on the cheap.

On 09 June 2005 (09:14 AM),
jenefer said:

Now, this is a really useful blog posting. It also highlights why many businesses do such an annoying job of screening calls. We always require that callers tell us what client they are calling about so that we can “pull the file.” For sales calls we always request the proposal in writing, never do anything verbal over the phone. Sometimes we even resort to hanging up. Usually putting the salesperson on hold for four or five minutes solves the problem. We will have to be even more careful about Verizon, it seems. I will notify the receptionist/phone answerer.

On 09 June 2005 (07:35 PM),
soelo said:

I work for another big telco, and I would suggest one more call to Customer Service and if they refuse to adjust the bill, ask for a manager. Sometimes that manager can do things the reps can’t, or will be under pressure not to have the escalation go further and decide the $300 a year is not worth the hassle. If you can’t beat them, cost them $36 of their employees time each month.

On 10 June 2005 (11:40 AM),
J.D. said:

Nick just pointed out this amazing article from Willamette Week: One Woman’s Qwest, which covers another case of a telcom screwing somebody.

On 27 June 2005 (03:10 PM),
Vanessa said:

I have some information that can help you below (I think). I’m going through the exact same thing with Verizon at the moment with my company account! They are billing me $737.73 because I closed my account with them (due to lack of service for a MONTH) and they claim that I had broken a service contract with them. What service? Where’s my signature? Where’s the phone recorded message saying I did? None to be had but their representative noted it so it must be so.

I don’t know where you are, but my company is in NY. If you go to, it states that if you send copies of your letter of complaint to the following agencies, by NY law they must mark your account “in dispute” and they should withhold sending your information to a collection agency, etc. Useful places to CC: Informal Complaints Branch, Federal Communications Commission 2025 M Street NW, Washington, DC 20554; Consumer Services Division NYS Department of Public Services 3 Empire State Plaza, Albany NY 12223; Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, NYS Office of the Attorney General 120 Broadway, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10271.
If you are not in NY, check out your state’s attorney general office’s website and do a word search under telecommunications to see what you can do in your state.
Hope this helps. Good luck to you, I know I need it against these idiots!

On 27 June 2005 (08:52 PM),
brandon atoch said:


On 29 June 2005 (11:23 AM),
Dixie said:

Verizion has done it to me too. I had phone service for 2 weeks and found a better deal. I canceled verizion and received a bill for $354.00. I couldn’t beleive it. I called customer service, had all but $96.00 removed from the bill. I paid the $96.00 and 6 months later a collection company calls for the (You got it). I paid this again to keep it off my credit report. 6 months later Verizion sends me a check for $96.00. Today this is on my credit report as if I owe them and never paid. I disputed it. The dispute came back REMAINS on Record. This one little thing dropped my score 267 points. I have spent many hours on this and do not know what to do next.. ANY IDEAS?

On 22 July 2005 (06:38 PM),
Rather not said:

I “think” I signed a advertising contract with the local yellow pages.

The balance due is > $11,000.

I have taken ill (Found out I have a terminal illness 2 yr ago) and I have no idea what year this ad might have taken place. I do remember there was a ad we had that had a mistake and we wENT into a “Dispute Mode” Wrong address etc.

I assume this is the account the creditors now seek funds for.

I am in Florida and I am worried the creditors are after my car and my RV.

I just got a letter today 7-22-05 they we going to take action (sue me).

I did not know I could be sued for a intangables and I am still not sure if I will be served.

I learned the hard way to NEVER IGNOR a debt. Not just the obvious reasons, your credit rating etc but for a experiance I had as a younger lad.

When I was in my 20’s I wanted to buy a new car. I found a new 1979 (note the year) Ford Thunderbird. The dealer told me I would need to place 1,000 down and I could take delivery the same day. In retrospect my eyes were bigger than my wallet.

I went to my local bank and took out a personal loan for $1,000 (note the amount)

I bought the car and for various reasons found I could no longer aford it.

I did not finish paying off the $1,000 I borrowed for the down payment either.

The car got repossesed and I assumed that was the end of it.

9 1/2 yes NINE and ONE HALF Years later I answered the door and greeted two sherrifs and one tow truck driver.

That year I started doing well in a business I started and had a different car parked in the front yard paid in full.

I got handed some papers and the tow truck picked up my car.

The papers said that I took out a loan for $1,000 9 1/2 years ago at 18% interest and in order to regain my car they towed away I must pay a county collector $3,600. [Loan plus 18% over 9.5 yrs plus]

Although it was not the same car I had no choice but to forfit the car or pay the amount in full in order to get my car back. The $3,600 was well below blue book on the car so I elected to pay the debt in full and retrieve my car.

In essence this collection company harassed me year after year. They kept calling and I never had the money. A couple years went by and I never herd from them again. I assumed they just gave up.
Nope, they were just waiting for me to obtain (title or register) something of value that they could go after.

They had obtained a “Writ of Execution” after obtaining a judgement against me. Judgements are good for ten years.

They waited until the last moment to grab my assets and therefore got top dollar in interest.

The moral of my story is obvious, always answer a court summons despite you may be very broke at the time the summons arrives. My thought was you cant get blood out of a turnip.

Now I know better. This turnip got eaten up when the blood was fresh and best.

Likewise I feel this is the strategy being used by the collection agency the yellow pages has tunred this debt over to.

I was awarded a rather nice sum when I got my social security (disability age 47) and I went out and bought a RV and a newer car. But that was three years ago.

This yellow page ad had to have been before 1998 or 1999.

It appears to me the collection agency is going after me all over again however this time for a business debt. A debt that as in dispute and never resolved.

Onviously that is besides the point, I assume once the collection agency has it there is not much I can do but go before the judge “THIS TIME” let the judge know my financial condition, my health that there was a dispute/claim and if in deed this is what I am being sued for to see if the judge will allow me to pay off the debt over time. When your on Social Security your not in a position to come up with those type of funds.

Maybe it is my imagination but I get a feeling when a debt is subtatial that they purposly allow the interest to pile up.

From my understading the debt is sold to the collection agency for a percent 5, 10 maybe 20 Then the collection agency OWNS the debt. The Yellow Pages marks it as a loss.

It is in the collection agencys best interest to lurk and wait until your near the end of the statute of limitations to act. In theory had I not aquired assets they could obtain a judgement and lurk 10 more years and move in for the kill.

The interest rate was likely high back in 1998. Imagine what they will hit me up for $11,000 @ 12 to 18% or more a year plus cost etc.

I am going to send a certified letter to the attorney representing the collection agency denying the debt and hopefully they will be able to produce a signed contract so I know what I signed and the terms.

I don’t know the statuates for a debt itself (how long they have to file a judgement) however as you can tell I am aware of how long a judgement can be enforced.

In my wildest dreams I never thought anyone (except IRS) could take away a fully paid off car that had nothing to do with the origonal financing but now I know better.

Oh Lord, I hope they can’t obtain a judgement and a writ without my knowledge, otherwise I will see a repeat with my RV and or car?

Learned the hard way and still learning…

On 22 July 2005 (07:03 PM),
rather not said:

I did the prior post about the Judgements and Writs.

When I ran across this (old 2004 post) I could not help but remind myself of the first poster that got hit with a $37 a month ad that he did not order. Form what this gent says that was common for Verison to AD SLAM!

Yellow Page Advertisers – Read This! As a former employee of Verizon Information Systems (VIS or Verizon Directories; former GTE), I have just about seen and heard everything. Customer satisfaction and integrity are the backbone of any company. VIS seriously lacks this with its customers as well as its own employees. They care about one thing only: MONEY. Many a time have I seen customer service choose not to give an adjustment to a business owner’s ad that was wrong. There have been times when I thought that the mistake was great enough to warrant a 100% adjustment, only to see customer service warrant a 50% adjustment – and it looked like a 1st grader drew up the ad. Naturally, the business owner refused to pay for the ad. And there were times that I had to get involved to make sure the right thing was done for the business owner. Isn’t this the job of customer service? And when someone refuses to pay for an ad & Verizon is the phone carrier, watch out! They can cut off the phone service. Billing for the ad usually goes on that business’ monthly phone bill. When this happens, the monies that are paid by the business owner go to the phone company side first. Any remaining monies then goes toward the unpaid balance of the yellow page advertising. Usually, the business owner is pissed about the ad & only pays for the phone bill and the advertising balance goes delinquent. The account (at VIS) is then flagged so that the business cannot advertise on that phone number until the balance is paid. Usually, it goes to collections and then reflects negatively on that business’ credit. There were times when all of this probably could have been avoided if customer service would have done their job – which is looking out for the customer instead of looking out for the company itself. If Verizon is not your local carrier then they cannot have your service shut off if you do not pay your bill. All they can do is send it to collections. The business name and number is still flagged in their (VIS) system so that future advertising cannot be done. One way some business owners would get around a delinquent account is to advertise on a cell phone & change the business name that is being advertised. Some business owners would have the billing sent to a bogus address and get out of paying altogether. Sometimes, business owners would get lucky & get a rep that didn’t care about policy & would place advertising under several different phone numbers & business names. In order to cancel an advertising contract, you must do so within 14 days of signing the contract. Verizon will not budge on this. We were instructed that under no circumstances were we to let someone cancel after 14 days and/or after the first close date of the directory. After doing this for years, I could tell when someone was lying and when someone had a legitimate reason to cancel. Verizon did not care what the reason was – if we let someone cancel past a deadline, we got ripped up one side and down another – from our own manger, from her manager (the GM) and sometimes from the regional vice president (RVP), which is who the GM reports to. And this is where the old 80’s style of management – FEAR – came into effect. The only time that we could cancel something after a deadline was if the business owner threatened to go to the RVP. Or further up the ladder. I have also heard reps flat out lie: guaranteeing a certain amount of calls each month from an ad, how much money will be made off of the ad, the numbers in a particular industry (auto repair, for example) and how many references are made each month from the yellow pages for that industry and being able to cancel an ad at any time (lying about deadlines). You used to be able to check the closing of a directory by looking on-line at You can then look at each state, and then all of the directories for that state. If you are going to purchase yellow page advertising, here are some tips: 1) Try to advertise in an area where there is not half a dozen directories or so. This is easier said than done. The fewer the directories, the better chance you have on return on investment (ROI). 2) Utility directories (Verizon, SBC, PAC BELL, ALLTEL, etc.) cost more than independent publishers. Don’t be afraid to save some money and go with a reputable independent (TransWestern, Area Wide are two in the southwest). I highly suggest this if this is your first time to advertise in the yellow pages. 3) Here is a safe way to get an idea of what you can afford & what to expect from a DISPLAY ad: from top to bottom, figure out the average dollar amount that a customer would spend with you (your most popular service or item). Now, take that dollar amount & compare it to the monthly investment of your program: if the program is $100/mo, and the average customer worth is $50, you would need 2 SALES per month to break even (4 for a 200% ROI). If it takes you 2 CALLS to get a sale, you would need 8 CALLS per month for a 200% ROI. Don’t let the sales rep confuse you between sales & calls per month. The next thing to consider is the size of the ad & the size your competition is doing. Will this sized display ad get you close enough to the front to get you the required number of calls each month? Display ads are placed by size & seniority. Keep in mind that there is a SMALL percentage of the population that are frugal with their money: they think that a large, full color ad will have a higher cost for a good/service than the smaller ad at the back of the pack. Don’t base your advertising campaign on this, though. 4) Keep this in mind: there can only be two half-page ads on one page and there might be eight small ads on another page. My point is if you go with a small ad, chances are there will be many other small ads on that same page. To get more calls, you should have color in the ad to make it stand out from all of the other small ads. If you went with a three quarter page ad, well, no other display ads can probably fit on that page, and you can probably save some money by not having color in it. Color is an enhancement – use it when you need to. 5) In-column ads are placed alphabetically (these are the small boxed ads & vary in height). If your business name starts with an “A” or “B”, but your sales rep is pushing you towards a large display ad program that has a high monthly investment, consider doing an in-column ad with color – sometimes the in-column ads will start before the display ads. If your business name starts with an “S”, your ad will be in the back with the other businesses that start with the letter “S”. You might want to consider a display ad. 6) Overall, display advertising is the best way to go. But consider all of the facts before deciding on a display ad over in-column; also consider having color in it, what your competition is doing and what your ROI is. 7) Shop around for rates & call the advertisers from the directory that you are considering going in. But I might not call those that are in the same line of work – they might lie to you so that you won’t come in on their market! 8) NEVER, EVER LET ANYONE GAUARANTEE YOU WHERE A DISPLAY AD WILL FALL! THEY ARE PLACED BY SIZE AND SENIORITY; IT IS PURE SPECULATION WHRE YOUR AD WILL FALL VERSUS THOSE WHO RENEWED THEIR ADS FROM LAST YEAR AND ANY NEW ADS PLACED BEFORE YOU PLACED YOURS! TWO ADS OF THE SAME SIZE, WITH CONTRACTS SIGNED ON THE SAME DAY, WILL BOIL DOWN TO THE TIME STAMP ON THEM! EVEN IF YOU TAKE THE GAURANTEE AND PISS AND MOAN UP THE CORPORATE LADDER ABOUT WHAT YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO GET, NOTHING WILL BE DONE! 9) If it’s your first time to advertise, ask about discounts. With independents, you can usually get a buy one get one free, or at least a free ad that is half the size of the paid ad. With a utility directory, there are usually discounts for being a new advertiser, discounts for certain headings, discounts for having one or more colors in an ad, etc. The following year, if you renew, you can usually get some incentive (free ad or a discount) for upgrading the ad program. 10) If advertising with an independent, you will have to put down a deposit. Most utility directories don’t ask for a down payment. With a utility directory, most businesses get a line a credit; if your ad program is more than your line of credit, they WILL do a credit check! If the credit check shows something bad, you might have your credit limit lowered, you might have to put a portion down or you might have to prepay for the whole year! As for the employees, well, we were managed by fear. Rewards too, but plenty of fear. We worked on budgets (for example, to sell $100/month of new advertising each day) and there has been numerous, numerous times that reps have written fake contracts & have had fake ads drawn up so that they could make their budget for the two week pay period. New reps, veteran reps, reps with families, have done this. It was rampant. There is one small directory in southern part of the U.S. where over half of the yellow page ads were bad. This was usually done by purchasing a pre-paid cell phone & using the number on the contracts. Policies for the employees were not followed verbatim day by day. Writing fake contracts is grounds for immediate termination; some were fired right then and some were given the benefit of the doubt three or four times. Management does not police themselves. They do not hold themselves accountable for anything. Towards the end of last year, from what I understand, the company offered an employment buy-out of all employees. It ranged, I was told, from $15-$30,000, depending on the tenure/position and any benefits/retirement plans available. This started in the Northeast (former Bell Atlantic) when the union had some grievances; mediation sided with the employees. I was told that this was initially started with the telephone company side, and that when the judgment was made, Verizon decided that it should offer it company wide to keep things fair. I guess if one part was offered this and the other wasn’t, then it would be an HR nightmare. As far as I know, still to this day, the former Bell Atlantic is still union and former GTE is not union. Would a solid company have half union and half non-union?

– Friday, February 06, 2004 at 18:10:13 (EST)

On 13 August 2005 (05:42 AM),
Virginia said:

Never get angry… just get even. I contact every govt agency including the SEC about how Verizon sucks. I blog regularly on the same theme. One NYC organization I belong to even has a Verizon VP assigned to them because everyone complained consistently and often.

Megacorps suck and the only way we mosquitoes can get to them is to bite them hard, often and where it hurts the most – their stock price.

Contact your local press… organize a press/blog/buzz campaign.

Verizon sucks

On 21 August 2005 (03:47 PM),
JON C. said:

Verizon Wireless Services, is a division of Verizon who currently provides Cellular Services to millions of people throughout the United States. It has been known to be one of the WORST Cellular providers in the nation and really doesn’t care about its customers because they believes if they could make a buck providing horrible services the executives will get paid. Verizon also is known to make false, misleading representation on how good they are. Its time we fight back and do something about it now before it is too late and Verizon scam some other innocent person.

August 21, 2005 – Have you ever owed a bill to Verizon Wireless for services not received, not up to perfection or for something, an associate at Verizon said you would not be charged for? If you answered yes then please rest assured that you are not alone. Millions of people throughout the United States have complained that VERIZON WIRELESS has overcharged them, ripped them off and have made up charges for services they did not receive. One advocate by the name of Jon is fighting back via the internet and has just launched the newest website to hit the World Wide Web –

After dealing with MANY Associates at Verizon Wireless, Elizabeth Sturgis from Verizon Wireless Executive offices he is encouraging everyone to fight back by doing the following:

(1) If you do NOT have any services through VERIZON do not join them, your better off going to another service provider like Cingular Wireless, TMOBILE or Sprint/Nextel

(2) If you are experiencing any billing issues With VERIZON WIRELESS IMMEDIATELY Contact the Federal Communications Commission via their website or via mail and complain about them.

(3) File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau

(4) Contact your Attorney generals office


On 04 September 2005 (08:48 AM),
American said:

Check out Verrizon’s new scam on their web site. Here is what they’re promoting
“Unlimited IN Calling AND Night & Weekend Home Airtime Minutes”. The term “Unlimited IN Calling” is used here to mislead people to believe that they can receive calls for free when in fact it just only free when calls are placed between Verrizon’s customer.

Their Customer support representative are rude and not professional. Their phone only work in America and only on their network (another reason to get you stuck with their service). Once they got you as a customer they don’t care about the service. All the promotion are only available to new customer.

The image of corporate American are full of cheat, lie, and greed. This is typical behavior of corporate America. This trend is not going to stop any time soon so get use to it.

On 04 September 2005 (09:08 AM),
Michel said:

I found this post from Michel and would like to report it. Apparently, even within Verizon network it may not be free at all.
Verizon wireless is the WORST cell phone company ever! Our cell representative talked us into using the “in” plan and getting our family around the country to sign up w/ contracts. Then, over a year later (after lots of overage fees) we find out non of our family was “in” because they were not in our calling area!

My mother calls me at least everday, sometimes 3 times and it was using my minutes! My bill was $487 last month! So, we called Verizon and the rep told us “that was our own problem”. We tried to discuss our options, and he told us we were “out of contract, so cancel if we like.” So we canceled the next day.

Now Verizon is billing us early termination fees! Their customer service is soooo screwed up!

Our contract we signed was a one year and it ended June 11, 2005. Now they are trying to tell us because we added “in” calling in July 2004, that it automatically extends our contract w/out us knowing. Then, I changed from National calling to local (since I stopped traveling) in November 2004 and now they are trying to tell me that because I made a change to my plan, it re-extended my plan a year from that date! I asked them to show me the signed contract and they said that since I used the phone after switching the plan, that is considered a digital signature and that they sent me a package (which I never received) after the fact that told me a change in plan extends my contract! That is crap!

I changed my plan minutes/coverage every few months with my old providers and it never changed my contract? Since when can a company extend a contract w/out consent of the customer?

Also, why did the rep tell us we were out of contract and to cancel??? We will never figure out these large companies. And the worst part is you are helpless! They can put it on your credit and you can’t do anything about it!

Maitland, Florida

On 10 October 2005 (05:02 PM),
JON C. said:

Thanks for all!:) yeah i know verizon is getting worse. wait till they complete the merger between Verizon & MCI *URGH*

On 10 October 2005 (05:10 PM),
JON C. said:

Hey Michel & American can you please post this on my website…..??? I want to tell more of the world how bad Verizon is. Also do you mind me advertising what you both said on my site also.?
I did do a press release but anyways.


Snake in the Grass

Sometimes I forget how goddamn fun it is to stray outside my comfort zone, even just a little bit. Doing something new is inevitably entertaining or educational, and often both.

For example: today Kris and Marla dragged Will and me to watch one of their fellow crime lab workers perform in a community theater production. This, I admit, is innocuous enough, but I’ve been so inwardly-focused lately, so worried about righting my own ship, that I’ve forgotten what it’s like to do something new, what it’s like to have fun. (I even forgot to go see Lisa’s dance recital, something I had meant to do.)

The Gresham Little Theater is housed in a grange hall between Sandy and Gresham. Its production of The Snake in the Grass, an old-fashioned melodrama, was pure cheese. I loved it.

This is the sort of story in which the villain demands: “You must pay the rent!” and the poor seamstress cries: “I can’t pay the rent!” and the hero steps in to save the day: “I’ll pay the rent.” It’s the sort of story in which the heroine is bound to the railroad tracks and the hero must make an improbable rescue.

As I say, the show was pure cheese, and most of the acting (and sets) was no better than that you’d find at a high school play (though this only added to the fun). The audience was encouraged to participate: we were invited to sigh when the sweet heroine, Dakota Melody, appeared on stage; to cheer when the brave, handsome, and ambitious sheriff, Billy Bold, came out; and to always boo and hiss the villain, Silias the snake-oil salesman. I didn’t do much participating, but I enjoyed listening to those who did. (There was a group of about thirty — the theater held fewer than a hundred people — that was wholly into the show by the end.)

Justin, Kris and Marla’s co-worker, did a great job as the carrot-wielding hero. The fellow who played the villain had a grand time taunting the other characters and the audience. But I was most impressed by Wild Prairie Rose, who strutted on-stage near the end of the first act, growling her lines with glee and hamming it up to great effect.

I also enjoyed the show’s music. A piano sat on a corner of the stage, and one of the actors kept up a continuous soundtrack, similar to those used to accompany old silent films. Before each act, various cast-members entertained the audience by singing period songs (such as Meet Me in St. Louis and Bird in a Gilded Cage).

I also had fun watching the other audience members. For example, there was a small group of old people from an adult foster care home seated in the front row. Two toothless old men gummed popcorn, sang along with the songs, and generally had a good time. One of the old men was seated next to a boy of about seven. The boy was dressed in his Sunday best, and he sat patiently throughout the entire performance.

(This show reminded me how fun it was to do theatrics in high school. I was in only three shows, and only in bit parts, but I had a blast.)

After the show, the four of us had a fine meal at Gustav’s, including fondue, onion rings, and lots of schnitzel. For the evening’s grand finale, I made a demonic little man from straws and radishes. If only I’d brought a camera.

Later, Kris and I watched Wes Anderson‘s latest film, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. We’ve been Anderson fans since his 1998 film, Rushmore, which is one of our favorites. Unfortunately, his other films don’t quite measure up.

The Royal Tenenbaums was disappointing. His first film, Bottle Rocket, had some fine moments, but was more uneven than Rushmore. Kris and I are split on The Life Aquatic: I thought it was a return to form (though not as good as Rushmore), but Kris was unimpressed. (Anderson’s next film is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox; I can’t even imagine how that’s going to work.)

Quick plot summary: Bill Murray plays a once-great oceanographer (sort of in the mold of Jacques Cousteau). His life is a mess. His recent films can’t find an audience. His partner and best-friend is eaten by a jaguar shark. His wife(?) leaves him for another oceanographer. He’s surprised to find a thirty-year-old son he never knew he had. He’s dogged by a feisty reporter. Through it all, he’s surrounded by a the strange crew of his boat (the Belafonte).

I liked it.

My favorite bit — and this should surprise noone — is when the cub reporter (played by the ever-wonderful Cate Blanchett) is reading aloud to the child in her womb. What is she reading? After listening to a line or two, I paused the movie and turned to Kris with a big grin on my face: “It’s Proust!” Indeed it was. And not only Proust, but Proust from the Modern Library edition!

Before we climbed into bed, I went downstairs to grab my Modern Library edition of Swann’s Way. I lulled myself to sleep with:

When a man is asleep, he has in a circle around him the chain of the hours, the sequence of the years, the order of the heavenly host. Instinctively, when he awakes, he looks to these, and in an instant reads off his own position on the earth’s surface and the amount of time that has elapsed during his slumbers; but this ordered procession is apt to grow confused, to break its ranks…Perhaps the immobility of the things that surround us is forced upon them by our conviction that they are themselves, and not anything else, and by the immobility of our conceptions of them. For it always happened that when I awoke like this, and my mind struggled in an unsuccessful attempt to discover where I was, everything would be moving around me through the darkness: things, places, years.

I love Proust.


On 06 June 2005 (08:38 AM),
Jeff said:

I can see how that passage of Proust (or any passage of Proust, really) would lull you to sleep…

On 06 June 2005 (08:50 AM),
J.D. said:

You know, when I wrote that bit, I knew that Kris or Pam or Jeff or dowingba was going to write that very joke. I changed the wording of the sentence, but then I changed it back so I could see who would be first to the punch. I just hadn’t expected the punch to come so quickly!

On 06 June 2005 (10:16 AM),
Tiffany said:

Sounds like a fun weekend. Thanks for the ‘The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou’ review. I have debating renting that movie.

On 06 June 2005 (10:38 AM),
Ant-Man said:

Proust is a verbose, rambling fool, and I shall squash him!

Essential Macintosh Software

It seems that more and more of my friends are moving to Macintosh. This is a Good Thing. Macs are not perfect, but for most users they’re the best choice. They’re safe, reliable, and accessible. Best of all, they’re a pleasure to use.

As these friends change platforms, though, they find themselves asking: “Which software should I use?” I’ve been back on Macintosh for nearly three years, and have explored a lot of the available software, and am now willing to make recommendations.

(Please note that the programs I mention aren’t the only (or even the best) options. They’re merely the options I recommend.)

Web Browser
Safari is the default Macintosh browser, and it’s a good one. It’s my favorite web browser, actually, on any platform. It’s quick and flexible, with tabbed-browsing and a built-in google search bar. Safari’s biggest weakness is printing. On Internet Explorer for the PC, you’re able to print a selection from a web page. You can’t do this from Safari, and, quite frankly, it sucks. (Free.)

Firefox,the best browser option for the PC, is also available on the Mac. Firefox is very similar to Safari, but more extensible. You can download addons to change the browser’s functionality. Firefox is a great option, but I happen to prefer Safari. (Free, open-source.)

E-Mail Client
Apple Mail is the best of a marginal field. It’s included with every Mac and, for the most part, does a fine job. It features lightning fast searches (best e-mail search I’ve ever used), custom filtering, and an elegant interface, but the damn thing is far too buggy. It crashes often (without loss of data, fortunately), and a couple times a year it just stops working altogether. Apple Mail is good except when it isn’t. (Free.)

Eudora is the same e-mail application that many people use on the PC. It does a fine job, but it’s just, well, ugly compared to other Macintosh applications. The interface is less-than-ideal, and the search is just okay. Still, it’s a fine alternative. (Available in three modes: free but feature-limited; free and full-featured but with ads; and $50 paid mode.)

Some people swear by Mailsmith. I swear at it. After using Mailsmith for a year, I’m afraid I have to recommend against using it. Its user-interface is fine, and it offers a lot of options, but everything else is a mess. It’s slow. (I mean really slow. Sorting or searching with just a couple thousand messages in a mailbox is unbearable.) It’s a nightmare to find and change a preference. Support is unhelpful. And it’s expensive. If you’re willing to fuss with the program, it’s probably great. (Why else would people praise it?) But if you want to fuss with things, you ought to be on a PC. Me? I just want my mail program to work. ($100 and an infinite amount of patience. Fully-functional 30-day demo available.)

Office Suite
Most Macs (all Macs?) ship with Appleworks, a basic office application similar to Microsoft Works. For most people, this is all the office application they’ll ever need. It doesn’t have all the features of Microsoft Office (though it will read MS Office files just fine), but I’ve never really noticed. It does what I need. Jeff notes that he uses AppleWorks a lot, and is generally content with it. It’s not ideal. (Free.)

If you need Microsoft Office, it’s available. I never crave Word, though sometimes I crave (and use) Excel. Excel is rather keen. ($400.)

Text Editors
As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, I don’t use a word-processor. I use text-editor. What’s the difference? A text-editor doesn’t have fancy features like multiple fonts and page layout options and rudimentary graphic design tools. A text-editor is just a program for writing. I left the world of word-processing six or seven years ago, and I’ve never looked back. The Mac ships with TextEdit, but there’s a better option.

Most Macintosh power-users sing the praises of BBEdit, which has been a mainstay on the platform for over a decade. I’m not a huge fan of BBEdit. Like Mailsmith (it’s made by the same company), it suffers from an overwhelming options screen. The latest version of the program (version 8) seems to be a step sideways. Some nifty new features were added, but at the expense of speed. ($200. Fully-functional 30-day demo available.)

Instead, I recommend the stripped-down version of BBEdit, which is called TextWrangler. If this had been available when I bought BBEdit, I could have saved myself a chunk of cash. (Free.)

Image Editor
Apple has made a big deal about iPhoto, and I’ve been impressed at some of the things that Jenn uses it for, but I’ve never been anything but frustrated by it. It’s slow. It’s cumbersome. It’s feature-set is anything but robust. (You can’t even re-size a photo!) It’s a good way to organize your photo library, I suppose, but that’s about it. (Free.)

Many Mac users love the venerable GraphicConverter, a $30 shareware program that allows for basic image manipulation. The geekier set advocates the free, open-source GIMP. I’ve used GIMP on both Windows and Linux, though, and have never been impressed.

For image manipulation, I use Photoshop Elements, a stripped-down version of Photoshop that has a wealth of features for the average user. The latest version (3.0) isn’t very good, though. I regret having spent $80 on it. It’s slow, buggy, and features some mind-numbingly stupid programming. It’s a good choice if you can’t find 2.0, but otherwise skip it. I’ve uninstalled Photoshop Elements 3.0 on my computers and am using 2.0 instead. Photoshop Elements 2.0, if you can find it, is a pleasure to work with, with some clever intuitive features that have just disappeared in the latest version.

Music Jukebox
Macintosh ships with my favorite music jukebox: iTunes. As with most Apple products, iTunes features lightning-quick searches, an excellent user-interface, and great organizational capabilities. I used to use WinAmp on the PC, but iTunes is superior to it in nearly every way. (Free.)

Movie Player
Every Mac ships with two movie-playing applications: DVD Player for watching DVDs and QuickTime for watching other video files. Unfortunately, these aren’t the only video players you’ll need.

You’ll also need Windows Media Player (a free download from Microsoft) and the fantastic free open-source VLC. VLC is a must-download app. It’s my default media-player. If it doesn’t work (which is rare), I fall back on Windows Media Player or QuickTime.

It seems strange to need so many different media players; I console myself with the fact that I needed just as many in Windows. (All of these applications are free.)

Other Applicatons
Here’s a list of other useful applications that the Mac ships with by default: Address Book (which integrates with Apple Mail and other Mac apps), iCal (which is notoriously buggy, but still useful), iDVD (for burning DVDs, which I never do), iMovie (for making your own movies, which I rarely do), iSync (for syncing data on multiple Macs — I use this all the time), and iChat (for internet chat, which I rarely use).

And here’s the meat of this entry, the little Macintosh utilities I can’t live without:

I’ve used a half dozen file-sharing clients from Napster to BearShare to LimeWire to Kazaa to Kazaa Lite. None of them come close to touching Acquisition for quality of user interface. As a bonus, Acquisition is fully integrated with iTunes. This application is beautiful. (Free download. $17 payment requested.)

Don’t let the ugly interface scare you; Audacity is a handy app for working with audio files. It’s a free, open-source with which you can record live audio (like birds in the yard); convert tapes and records into digital recordings or CDs; edit sound files; cut, copy, splice, and mix sounds together; and more. (Free, open-source.)

I’ve already ranted about how I would watch almost no television if it weren’t for Netflix and BitTorrent. Using various directories, I’m able to find “torrents” for download, and thus I watch television programs I otherwise would miss. Network executives aren’t happy about it, but would they rather have me publicize their programs in my weblog after downloading them via BitTorrent, or would they rather have me not watch at all? (Free, open-source.)

Like iPhoto, but better. Lightbox is an image-management program for serious photographers. It works with RAW image files, keeps track of thumbnails, and, best of all, doesn’t make you keep all your images in one directory. ($25, fully-functional demo available.)

I love to cook, but I do a terrible job at keeping my recipes organized. I’m always asking Kris things like, “Where’s that recipe for Thai tuna salad?” MacGourmet solves that problem. Or it would if I ever got all my recipes entered into it. The program even has a keen companion website with recipes and more. ($25, time-limited demo available.)

This app allows you to read syndicated feeds. That may be gibberish to you. An RSS (or similar) feed is basically a plain-text version of, say, this weblog, which can be acquired by various applications, including NetNewsWire. NetNewsWire lets you subscribe to these feeds, essentially tracking to see when your favorite sites and weblogs are updated, then displaying the new stuff for you to read. It’s very handy. ($25, fully-functional 30-day demo available.)

Ah, Quicksilver. I’ve barely begun to use this little app — loudly advocated at 43folders — and already I sense its power. It’s essentially an operating system accelerator: press option-space and type the first few letters of a program, or the first few letters of a URL, or the first few letters of a document name, and Quicksilver opens it for you. Very handy. Here’s an excellent introductcion to Quicksilver. (Free.)

Some of us are still on Usenet. (When I first started using the internet, Usenet was the internet: there was no world-wide web.) ($25, fully-functional 15-day demo.)

If I could have only one third-party Macintosh application, it would be SpamSieve. SpamSieve is the most effective spam filter I’ve ever used. It integrates flawlessly with every e-mail client I’ve used. It just works. (I only have two very, very minor complaints: its icon lives in the dock, and it gives me a modal dialogue box after each (frequent) program update.) ($25, and worth every penny.)

How do I move files back and forth on my web site? With ftp, of course. There are plenty of free ftp clients available, but none of them offer the features and elegance of Transmit. Transmit is the best ftp program I’ve ever used on any platform. Most people don’t need an ftp client; me, I can’t live without one. ($30, fully-functional 15-day demo.)

This handy little menu-bar app displays weather forecasts. It used to be available for $8 from the developers, but their web site is gone. I can’t find it. I think the above link will give you a free fully-functional demo, but I’m not sure.

This little app lets you record sound from any source, even realaudio or DVD audio. WireTap captures the sound as it’s routed to the speakers. Ambrosia used to have a free version available, but they’ve updated the app and are charging for it now. (Wow. I just installed WireTap Pro. It’s got Windows-level of crap in its folder after installation. Not a good sign.) ($19, though the old version is free if you can find it.)

I’m hesitant to recommend anything from Real Networks knowing how insidious their software is on the PC, but from what I can tell their various media players are actually fairly innocuous (even useful!) on a Mac. The latest version is Real Player 10, but I’m still using RealOne Player and am quite happy with it.

I’m sure there are scores of other great little Mac apps out there that I haven’t discovered yet. One great thing about Macs is that they’re useful out-of-the-box. Throw in a couple of the above apps and they kick ass.


On 02 June 2005 (04:29 PM),
Kris said:

Boy, is this boring!

On 02 June 2005 (07:43 PM),
dowingba said:

$200 for a text editor? And you actually bought it? Sorry but I just can’t get past that price. I know it has alot of nifty features and what not, but two hundred dollars?! For a text editor?!?

On 02 June 2005 (09:16 PM),
Jeff said:

Here’s my take on the applications (programs) listed above. Keep in mind that my computer needs are very basic and I have zero desire to do any tweaking:

Safari -> My browser of choice, no need to think about switching.
Firefox -> Use it at work on PC, would use if not for Safari.

Apple Mail -> E-mail search is a wonderful feature. Best e-mail client I’ve used, much better than Outlook Express. I have never had if crash.
Eudora -> Seen it, used it a few times on JD’s PC at work, better than Outlook Express, but I’ll keep Apple Mail.

Appleworks -> I like the drawing & painting portions, but if you are used to Word or Excel, the rest of it takes some getting used to.
Microsoft Office -> If you are an Excel addict as I am, Office is worth the price of admission.

TextEdit -> I’m typing this in TextEdit. I find it to be the perfect weblog entry composition too — plain text with spell check — I don’t need anything else from a text editor. One of my most often used programs… er, applications.
BBEdit -> Played with it a little on JD’s PowerBook. Way too complicated for a text editor… I’ll stick with TextEdit.
TextWrangler -> Never tried it… don’t feel the need to.

iPhoto -> Great for retrieving photos from the camera and organizing in albums, but that’s about it. You can do cropping, rotating, red-eye editing etc, but I just find it all much easier in Photoshop.
GraphicConverter, GIMP -> Haven’t tried either one.
Photoshop Elements 2.0 -> My default photo editor — intuitive & powerful. Perfect for editing photos for weblog entries.

iTunes -> Two big thumbs up here. Easy song or artist searching, easy CD burning (either MP3 or standard format), easy to use.

DVD Player -> Works very well, but mainly plays kid’s movies… 😉
QuickTime -> Never been impressed with QuickTime. Microsoft wins in this category.
Windows Media Player -> My default video media player.
VLC -> ???????

Aquisition thru Unison -> Never used any of these. Don’t know why I would need to.

SpamSieve -> Have been training SpamSieve for 5 months now, and it is starting to pay off. Most of the spam from or Custom Box account no longer gets through to my home computer.

Transmit -> Never tried.

WeatherPop -> A very handy feature. Nice to get the weather forecast with one click of the mouse.

WireTap -> Sounds interesting, but I’m not sure when I would use it.

Once you go Mac, you’ll never go back…

On 03 June 2005 (08:26 AM),
Tammy said:

I’m sooo with Kris on this one! (yawn)

On 03 June 2005 (11:03 PM),
Dana Johnson said:

I hate paying for software — except for games.


I’ve had a mac available to me for a week now (in addition to my multiple linux boxes, some of which can dual boot into various MS operating systems)…

For those of us who are inveterate geeks, DarwinPorts and Fink provide a centralized interface to downloading and installing a very large number of ‘standard’ *nix apps.

The Mac mail app is adequate, I suppose. Thunderbird is nearly it’s equal. Of course, neither is really the equal of mutt, but that’s just IMHO. =)

On the browser front, I can only add a pointer to Camino, another Mozilla-based browser project, a la Mozilla and Firefox. This one has a native Cocoa interface (unlike Firefox, which is technically rendered in XUL, same as Mozilla — if this means nothing to you, you can safely ignore it).

I like pretty icons!

While BitTorrent is indeed keen (I like the looks of this client, but haven’t really put it through it’s paces), I’ve had much better luck finding stuff on eDonkey, a client for which lives here: xDonkey.

For those of you just as geeky as myself (which is probably nobody), there’s also QemuX, an OS X port of the QEMU ix86 emulator. Using QemuX, you can boot Windows (or Linux, actually) in a window.

I actually use this functionality all the time for actual work-related type activities. But if you don’t actually need this, then you’ll never use it.

If you are at all an IMer, I would also recommend Adium X, based on a native-port of GAIM. This is a multi-protocol IM client which handles some protocols that iChat doesn’t (ie, Yahoo Messenger).

Finally, there are tons of little tweaks and apps at Apple’s site, here. Many are native ports of common open source apps (such as JD’s aforementioned GIMP), like OSX versions of VIm and Emacs…