Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Off to Williamsburg - MARAC Fall 2007

Later tonight, the Brave Astronaut family will head out of town to Williamsburg, Virginia. The Commonwealth of Virginia is celebrating its 400th anniversary and the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference will turn 35 at the meeting. The conference will be a good one and the Brave Astronaut will be a featured speaker on Friday afternoon.

Wednesday will be a fun day for the Brave Astronaut family. I will head to the links with Special K's AH for 18 holes here. You had your chance there, Ed in Pitt. Mrs. Brave Astronaut will likely head for the pool where we are staying. After the conference (Saturday afternoon and Sunday on our way out), we are hoping to go here and here. This place might be on the list as well. Mrs. Brave Astronaut will be bringing her laptop, so I hope to keep you all updated on the progress of the conference. But there will certainly be a recap on Sunday when we return.

Of course, Wednesday is Halloween and I am not sure if we will be in costume on the course, but we could dress up as really good golfers. That would be the best costume, if you catch my drift. We are bringing a costume for Little Brave Astronaut, but we might have to try and find some colonial garb for him to wear. After all, he will need something to talk to the therapist about.

But Halloween leads me to two stories. Tonight at 8:00, this show will be on the air. It is hard to believe this program is older than I. Were we not on the road, I would be watching. Last night, Peanuts creator Charles Schulz got the American Masters treatment from PBS. This on the heels of a new biography of the cartoonist. In the immortal words of Charlie Brown, "I got a rock."

Second, I am reminded of countless trick or treating times growing up in New York. I used to have the neighborhood sectioned off and could cover the entire neighborhood in about two hours. The candy haul was amazing. And in today's world, inconceivable. I used to go out by myself, getting around while it was still light out (the older kids would appear after dark, usually dressed as "hobos," looking for the free candy. At least they tried.

Now, parents walk with their children for we live in a far different world than the one of my youth. And of course, I have to eat all the Reese's peanut butter cups my son would get so he wouldn't have to get the epipen chaser. There was a chart in Sunday's Washington Post that reveled what your candy choice says about you. It also featured the comments of Steve Almond, who wrote this book. I might have to read it.

So, according to Almond, based on my candy preferences, my "Halloween Candy Personality" says either I do "well in groups but somewhat pompous. Prone to fancy costumes and arcane weapons. Wears hats in public that are ill-advised" or I am a "generous soul. [I] understand the salty in life, as well as the sweet." I evidently am also a "Sicko. Truly Demented. Plastic people living plastic lives." Well, that's not very nice. Happy Halloween.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Nutty Muffins!

Not to be outdone by the garlic infuses recipes from last week's Washington Post, the other recipes featured in the Food section contained the one below. As it featured pecans, C in DC shared the recipe with her college friends, who engage in a ritual selling of pecans each year. It turns out the recipe was written by the mother of one of C in DC's fellow classmates. Enjoy the nuttiness!

Apricot-Pecan Corn Muffins
This recipe makes 8 large muffins baked in a muffin tin with wells that hold 1/2 cup of batter.

If using a muffin tin with smaller wells (1/3 cup), make 12 muffins and adjust the baking time, checking frequently to avoid over baking. As with all muffins, the less you stir the batter, the better the result. The muffins can be baked early in the day, covered and reheated in a low oven (about 300 degrees) for about 15 minutes.

Serve these warm, with lots of soft butter.

Makes 8 muffins.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 1/4 cups cornmeal
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/4 cups low-fat buttermilk
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3/4 cup dried apricots, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted (see TIPS)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Use either 2 muffin tins with 6 wells or 1 tin with 12 wells (with 1/2-cup capacity) and generously grease the insides of 8 wells.

Sift together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside. Combine the buttermilk, egg and melted butter in a large bowl and use a fork to stir them until the egg is blended into the mixture. Pour the flour mixture over the buttermilk mixture and stir slowly with a large spoon just to combine the ingredients; there will be small lumps. Add the apricots and pecans, stirring gently just to distribute them. Pour about 1/2 cup of batter into each of the 8 muffin cups. Bake about 17 minutes, until the tops are firm and starting to brown; a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Let the muffins cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Use a small knife to gently loosen them from the pan and lift them out. Serve warm.

Happy Birthday, NJM!

So it came fifteen minutes after your birthday ended, but let's just say they did it for you on your special day.

And of course there was this . . .

New England Patriots 52 . . . . . . . . . . . . Washington Redskins 7

I'm going to bed now.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Complications from a Fall - Extreme Edition

I am fascinated that in this day and age, with modern medical technology being what it is, people can fall down and die. I read the obituaries fairly regularly (it's my mother coming through, she used to read them religiously) and very often I will notice that someone has passed due to "complications from a fall."

Notably the following celebrities have left us as a result of falling: But this circumstance takes the cake. Yes, it's a tragic story, but do you really want to be remembered for dying this way? (From the Washington Post, Monday October 22, 2007, p. A20, World in Brief):
New Delhi Official Dies After Monkey Attack
Wild monkeys attacked New Delhi Deputy Mayor S.S. Bajwa, who then fell from a balcony at his home and died, according to news reports. Areas of New Delhi are overrun by rhesus monkeys. Last year, the New Delhi High Court reprimanded city authorities for failing to control the animals. Devout Hindus believe monkeys are manifestations of the monkey god Hanuman and feed them bananas and peanuts.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Cannons to the Left, Cannons to the Right

Today is the 153rd Anniversary of the Battle of Balaclava, which took place in the Crimean War.

What? You don't remember the Battle of Balaclava? Perhaps you remember the commemoration of one particular brigade's efforts during that battle, immortalized by Alfred Lord Tennyson (pictured at right) in the poem, "The Charge of the Light Brigade."

This poem was written to memorialize a suicidal charge by light cavalry over open terrain by British forces in the Battle of Balaclava (Ukraine) in the Crimean War (1854-56). 247 men of the 637 in the charge were killed or wounded. Britain entered the war, which was fought by Russia against Turkey, Britain and France, because Russia sought to control the Dardanelles. Russian control of the Dardanelles threatened British sea routes.

Many in the west best know of this war today because of Florence Nightingale, who trained and led nurses aiding the wounded during the war in a manner innovative for those times. The War was also noteworthy as an early example of the work of modern war correspondents.
[Some of the information above is from a website where I found the poem.]
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Someone had blunder'd:
Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things that make you go Hmmm

More from my extensive files of my past.
  • Why do you need a driver’s license to buy liquor when you cannot drink and drive?

  • Why isn’t phonetic spelled the way it sounds?

  • Why are there interstate highways in Hawaii?

  • Why are there flotation devices under plane seats instead of parachutes?

  • Why are cigarettes sold in gas stations when smoking is prohibited there?

  • Do you need a silencer if you are going to shoot a mime?

  • Have you ever imagined a world with no hypothetical situations?

  • How does the guy who drives the snowplow get to work?

  • If 7-11 is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, why are there locks on the doors?

  • If a cow laughs, does milk come out its nose?

  • If nothing ever sticks to TEFLON, how do they make TEFLON stick to the pan?

  • If buttered toast always lands butter side down and a cat always lands on its feet, what would happen if you tied a piece of buttered toast to the back of a cat, and dropped it? A Definite Science Project There.

  • If you are driving at the speed of light and you turn on your headlights, what happens?

  • You know how most packages say "open here?" What is the protocol, if the package says, "open somewhere else?"

  • Why do they put braille dots on the keypad of the drive up ATM?

  • Why do we drive on parkways and park on driveways?

  • Why is brassiere singular and panties plural?

  • Why is it when you transport something by car it’s called a shipment, but when you transport something by ship, it’s called cargo?

  • You know that little indestructible black box that is used on planes? Why can’t they make the whole plane out of the same substance?

  • Why is it that when you are driving and looking for an address, you turn the radio down?
  • Why don’t sheep shrink when it rains?

  • Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

  • What would Geronimo say when he jumps out of a plane?

  • If fire fighters fight fire, and crime fighters fight crime, what do freedom fighters fight?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Farewell to Blob's Park

Sad news from Jessup, Md. With the death of matriarch Katherine Peters in April, the family that has run Blob's Park has decided the landmark venue will close in early 2008. I have been once and we need to have one more outing before the last schnitzel is fried and the last beer is tapped.

C'mon local Brave Astronaut readers, let's find a November date for one last polka.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Recipe: Garlic Butter and Garlic Chicken

Last Wednesday's Washington Post Food Section contained a "tool test" of tools to prepare garlic. You can read the results here. The section also contained two recipes using garlic. Nothing wrong with garlic, ever. And with Halloween just around the corner, be sure to have some on hand to keep away the vampires.

As promised (since I missed last week), here are two recipes. The first is one that I am sure to make a batch to keep handy. I love the escargot and so this is a must. The second uses garlic in a great chicken recipe.

Ed from Pittsburgh is visiting for a few days, so we might have the chicken tomorrow, but tonight it's this.

Snail Butter
An intensely garlicky butter that can be used for any number of dishes, including snails, mussels or clams cooked in their shells. If you'd like to use it over a grilled steak or fish, omit the bread crumbs.

The plastic-wrapped butter may be stored in a resealable plastic food storage freezer bag and frozen for up to 2 months.

Makes two 5 1/2-inch logs, 2 inches in diameter.

  • 1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and separated (about 10 to 12 cloves), then minced
  • 1 1/2 bunches parsley leaves
  • 1/2 cup plain dried bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup licorice-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5 drops hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
Boil a kettle of water.

Combine the butter and garlic in the bowl of a stand mixer and blend on low speed for 1 to 2 minutes, until well combined.

Meanwhile, place half of the parsley leaves in a medium mixing bowl and pour boiling water over them; let sit for 30 seconds, then drain and refresh under cold running water. Squeeze dry and place on a cutting board. Add the remaining parsley to the pile and finely chop, then add to the butter-garlic mixture along with the bread crumbs, licorice-flavored liqueur, salt, black and cayenne peppers and hot pepper sauce, mixing just to combine.

Lay 2 large pieces of plastic wrap on a clean work surface; divide the butter evenly and place half at the center of each piece; use the wrap to help roll the butter into a sausage shape, keeping it tight and compact as you go. Refrigerate or freeze inside a heavy-duty resealable plastic food storage bag until ready to use.

Recipe Source: Adapted from "Roast Chicken and Other Stories," by Simon Hopkinson with Lindsey Bareham (Hyperion, 2007).

Bainbridge Island Vineyard Greek Garlic Chicken
This is nice and tangy with lemon, and with a sweet garlicky aroma that will fill up your house -- a preparation made for dark meat.

Serve with roasted potatoes.

8 servings

  • 3 heads garlic, peeled, separated and minced (about 2/3 cup)
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 4 large lemons)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 to 2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 to 1 tablespoon kosher salt, or to taste
  • 8 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks attached; about 5 pounds)
  • 1/2 cup boiling water
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Have ready a large (about 12-by-17-inch) baking pan.

Combine the minced garlic, lemon juice, oil, oregano, pepper and salt to taste in a medium bowl, stirring to mix well. Evenly coat the chicken pieces on all sides with the garlic mixture and arrange in a single layer, cut side down, in the pan. Bake for about 55 minutes, until the skin is nicely browned. For the remaining 15 minutes' baking time, baste and cover with aluminum foil (to keep the garlic bits from burning). Baste once more before the chicken is done; put on a kettle of water to boil.

Transfer the chicken to a warm platter. Pour off the fat from the pan; add the just-boiled water and stir to dislodge any browned bits, creating a sauce. Pour into a bowl. To serve, sprinkle chopped parsley over the chicken and either pour the sauce on top or pass it at the table. Serve warm.

Recipe Source: Adapted from a 1999 Sunset magazine recipe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Countdown to 40

Tomorrow is October 20. While Mrs. Brave Astronaut and I will be heading into the wilds of Pennsylvania for the wedding of two good friends, the date also marks two months to my 40th birthday. A major milestone to be sure. Shortly after I turn 40, my son will turn 3 and my second child will arrive. I have purchased a home and am learning how to be handy. These efforts are going to require the application of some spackle and paint. I am not handy. I don't know why I agreed to this.

But anyway. Turning 40. Here's my wish list.
  • A flat screen HDTV. Hey, the prices are coming down. I don't deserve it, but it would be nice to have.
  • Tickets to the Washington Capitals - New York Rangers game. The Broadway Blueshirts will visit the Verizon Center (wait, maybe Nancy at Verizon could get me the company seats?) on December 12.
  • A nice dinner out. This will likely be accomplished with the American Express gift cards that Verizon is already sending. Where to go? I have a few ideas. Please feel free to comment on the choices. (Especially you, Restaurant Gal. I know you don't like to recommend places, but your description of the Palm when you were here last week has only served to remind me that I have wanted to go there since I moved here). Here are the places I am contemplating (in alphabetical order, so as to not influence your decision).
  • Blacksalt. Absolutely nothing wrong with good seafood.
  • Citronelle. One of those places everybody should go once? Should it wait until the big 5-0?
  • Fogo de Chao. Nothing says "Happy Birthday" like the "meat sweats"
  • The Palm. The leading contender. It has been on my radar, as I said, since I moved here. Newly renovated and really good steaks.
  • Proof. New, and a really good sommelier.

Would any of my friends like to come along? Let me know and I will make the reservations. The more the merrier.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Mid-Atlantic 7 Wonders

I want to first give a shout out to the Washington Post. As I spent time fighting the agents of evil monopolies, DirecTV and Verizon, the Washington Post was dutifully delivered to my door each day. My subscription was transferred to my new home very easily and the delivery actually started before I moved in. And I will give credit to anyone who can get up that early to get me a paper by first light.

The other week I put out a post that the Post was taking votes on what were the 7 Wonders of the Mid-Atlantic Region. The results came out this past Sunday.

Their seven, as voted on by the readers of the Washington Post.
  1. The Statue of Liberty
  2. The Empire State Building
  3. The National Cathedral
  4. The Brooklyn Bridge
  5. The U.S. Capitol Building
  6. Fallingwater
  7. The Lincoln Memorial
Agree or disagree? Discuss . . .

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Lighthouse Challenge(s)

I am a fan of lighthouses. I think it comes from summers in Maine, where we were within walking distance of this lighthouse. And I could see this one every day from the cliff where my grandmother's house sat. And of course, I grew up on Long Island and went to see this one and this one on many occasions.

I have lost count along the way as to how many I have visited. Maybe I'll make a more complete list and post it another day. But I wanted to bring your attention to something that, while I have missed it for this year, is on my calendar for next year. The Maryland Lighthouse Challenge took place on September 15-16 and was covered in the Washington Post today. Next year's event will take place on September 20-21, 2008. Who's with me? In 2006, 507 people participated, this year, 459 have reported as taking part in the challenge.

If you are free this weekend, the NJ Lighthouse Challenge is this weekend. I will be otherwise engaged (Mr. and Mrs. Brave Astronaut have a wedding to attend in the PA boro). The 4th Annual Long Island Lighthouse Challenge will take place in May 2008. So there are a lot more people out there who have this "disease" a lot worse than I.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

MARAC Williamsburg

I have wanted to post this for over a week. But things have gotten in the way. And today, I went through root canal on a tooth that had root canal five years ago. What fun. So while I sit here doing things that need to be done, allow me to make some amends to my professional organization.

I have been a bad professional. Caught up in the move and my fight against monopolies, I have neglected my responsibilities as treasurer of my professional organization. It also has something to do with the fact that my desk is now located in the living room and is pretty much the only piece of furniture in the room (read: NO TV). Needless to say, I don't like to sit there very much.

But it is where the computer is and as for the longest time it was my only outlet to the outside world, here I sat to talk to you all nice folks. And remember the phone works now, so please call. I can talk to you on that, too.

But again, I digress and am disrespecting the fact that in two weeks time, my colleagues and I will gather in Williamsburg, Virginia for the Fall 2007 meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference. One of the members of the Local Arrangements Committee is an outstanding blogger with a fabulous sense of humor (she's got a great sarcastic streak, I think that's why I like her) has started a blog for the meeting. Go read it here. And yes, I have put the check for the caterer in the mail to you, ma'am.

The program is particularly good, including this session featuring the Brave Astronaut:
"Shifting Gears: Mid-Career Job Changes" Have you thought about leaving your current employer for a new position? Have your concerns kept you from doing anything about it? The archival profession offers an amazing range of career possibilities. Come hear our panelists who have changed jobs, why they did so, and how they managed the moves. They will discuss the good, bad, funny, and ugly. If you have questions for the panel, please submit them ahead of time.
I want to thank the aforementioned LAC member who noted on the Williamsburg blog, all the good places to hit the links. I am not staying at the conference hotel, in fact, the Brave Astronaut family is trying to get there a day or two ahead of time so I might play a round with Special K's AH.

But I would probably like to go here as well. It just looks kind of cool. There is also outlet shopping. And we will be there on Halloween, so there will certainly be something scary to do.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Houston, we have a phone AND Demands Met

I spent most of the day sitting by the phone today (the one at work, the one that works) waiting for the fine folks at Verizon to call to say they were on their way to install my phone service. To bring you all up to date, they were supposed to come yesterday between 8:00am and 1:00pm. When I called at 10:30, they were still coming. When they hadn't arrived by 2:30, I went out. Verizon alleges they came at 4:30 but there was no one home. Here's the funny part. The phone number that I am going to have, has voicemail on it. Today I was given instructions on how to set it up. So I did. Then I heard there was a message on it. Want to guess who the message was from?

Wait for it . . .
"Hi, this is the Verizon installation department. We just wanted to let you know the installer is running late but should be there soon. We'll call before we arrive."
Um, yeah. Verizon called the number which they were to install to leave me a message. I'll let that sink in for a moment.

Go ahead, think about it, I'll wait.

So when I talked to the installation department this morning, I made sure they would call me at work, so I might actually get the call, and be able to go home to meet the technician. You just have to know that somewhere a bunch of Verizon techs are drawing straws to see who has to deal with me. So the guy showed up around 6:45 and had the phone hooked up in about 30 minutes. I forgot what a nice sound a dial tone can be.

So, yesterday afternoon, I sent the email I shared with you the other day. This morning, my friend Nancy called. She had been busy. First, she was checking to see if the number was active. It was she who told me the line is active, but it just doesn't ring at the house, nor can I make outgoing calls.

Then she told me what she was going to do for me to make me feel a little better and not want to take a hammer to Verizon's equipment. She did OK:

  • She credited my entire account at the old address, including my wireless charges so I don't have to pay that bill. In fact, she reports, and I confirmed online, there is a $.03 balance. Think I should hang them for the three pennies? Credit = about $167
  • She has credited me for all charges incurred at the new address to date, primarily for the Internet, as that is the only thing I have right now. Credit = about $50
  • There will be a $10 reduction on my phone service for the next 12 months. Credit / Savings = $120
  • She is sending a second American Express gift card in the amount of $100. Total bonus = $200.
So Verizon has given me about $600 in credits, refunds, and free cash. Is it enough? And I was even nice to the technician when he arrived. Funny how he mentioned to me that my story seemed typical. Hmmm.

For those tuning in for a recipe, yes, I know it's Monday, but another moving issue is the new stove is still not hooked up and I am hoping to be able to cook again soon. Maybe you'll get double recipes next week.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Tick Tock, Verizon missed the deadline, Surprise!

Here it is nearly 1:00pm and no Verizon technician. I have called and they told me they were still coming . . . tick, tick, tick.

Here is a story sent by a friend with a story of a woman who had it with her attempts at getting service to her home. This time the perpetrator was Comcast.

Here is the latest email I just sent to my "friend" at Verizon, Nancy. Let's see what becomes of that. My thanks to all of you who have sent me messages of encouragement and outlets to vent my rage. I'll share the letters I send to Verizon and DirecTV when they are ready.

Stay tuned.
October 14, 2007

Dear Nancy,

As you are probably aware, a technician did not arrive at my house Thursday afternoon. I learned in conversations with the installation department as well as the FIOS Service Center, the order had been written incorrectly. A service appointment was scheduled for today, Sunday, between 8:00am and 12:00pm. It is now 12:15, and I have already called the installation center, and they assure me a technician is coming out. I am not optimistic.

As it seems this matter may be coming to a conclusion, I want to summarize where we are to date and find out what has occurred and what other compensation Verizon will offer for my difficulties.

My new account / bill should have the following services:
  • FIOS Internet – this service has been up and running since September 20, although I have received notification from Verizon that the service will be interrupted on Monday, October 15, as they do not have a telephone number to attach the charges to.
  • FIOS Phone Service – presuming this service is connected on Sunday October 14, with the phone number you have given me.
  • Verizon Wireless services for my account attached to this account with the One-Bill discount.
  • Whichever bundling discount is applicable to this account based on the services I have contracted for.

Now, to summarize. First, the old account. It is my understanding that my brother-in-law has canceled this account. I would like the following resolutions confirmed to me in writing.

  • Refund / credit to me for the phone service for the month of September, prepaid on my bill of September 2, 2007, in the amount of $48.18.
  • Refund / credit to me for the DSL Internet service for the month of September, prepaid on my bill of September 2, 2007, in the amount of $24.99.
  • That no additional charges be applied to this account as it is no longer an active account and that I am not responsible for any additional charges on this account.
  • The refunds /credits noted above be applied to my new account or refunded to me by check mailed to my home address.
  • My Verizon Wireless account has been de-enrolled from the One-Bill service and will be re-enrolled in One-Bill attached to the new phone number.
  • Some portion of my Wireless charges refunded to me as compensation for lack of any other phone service. I incurred an overage in minutes last month in the amount of approximately $70.

Second, the new account. As above, please confirm the items below in writing.

  • Refund / credit for any charges incurred on this account to date and that no charges will commence until the phone service is up and running at this account.
  • I am respectfully requesting a promotional discount or some percentage off my bill for a period of no less than twelve months (one year) from the commencement of service as compensation for the difficulties I have had with Verizon over the past six weeks.

Further, I am still awaiting the arrival of the $100 gift card you promised. You might consider an additional gift card of one in a higher amount as compensation for the missed service call.

Please note that I am intending to address this issue to the Maryland Public Service Commission as well as sending a letter to the Chairman of Verizon Communications. I have been very patient throughout this ordeal and it has completely mystified me as to why a company that is expected to provide good communication has been unable to provide service to a customer, who has been with the company for many years, especially in a situation where I was requesting an upgrade to my services, offering to pay you more money. And yet, we are in a situation where you are applying discount after discount to my account to make up for Verizon’s inability to properly establish residential phone service.

I am requesting that you share this email with your supervisors as well as those in the other offices that can help resolve the issues noted above. Please let me know the names of those individuals, as well as their contact information, so I may discuss my service with them as necessary.

Finally, please note that through this entire situation, you have been the most helpful source of resolving issues. While it has been difficult to reach you at times, you have been responsive to my emails and the corporate instant messenger service used by Verizon has been very helpful in getting information to you. You are to be commended for your work on this account and please let your supervisors know that I appreciate all of your hard work.

I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience, in writing, with responses to the issues noted above and what other compensation Verizon will be offering me as a result of the company’s continued mishandling of this matter.

Thank you very much,
Brave Astronaut

Friday, October 12, 2007

Farewell John Colorado

Friday marked the 10 year anniversary of the death of John Denver, who was killed when the Long-EZ aircraft he was piloting ran out of fuel off the coast of California. Investigations later attributed the crash to modifications made to the plane and Denver's lack of experience in flying the plane. After his death, the Governor of Colorado ordered all Colorado flags lowered to half-staff to honor Denver.

My siblings are all older than I, in fact, my brother, the oldest is 14 years my senior. Both he and my sister (10 years older than I) were big fans of John Denver, who was at the peak of his career during their late teenage years. Denver was planning a concert in the New York area and my sister wanted to go in the worst way. Tickets were hard to come by and my father talked to friends about securing tickets.

A colleague of my father's had a connection and worked to get tickets. He ultimately called my father and told him, "Yeah, I think I can get some tickets for that concert the kids want to go to, you know for that "John Colorado" guy." John Denver had been renamed and in our family, from that point on, he was always "John Colorado."

In his song, Rocky Mountain High, there is a line, "they say he got crazy once and tried to touch the sun." Rest well, Mr. Colorado, your music continues to entertain us.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Verizon Update

Would it surprise you to learn that the order for phone service was written incorrectly? As a result, no technician will be arriving today. I have just received a phone call from Verizon stating they will send a technician out on Sunday from 8:00am to 12:00pm.

Anybody want to bet it doesn't happen?

Stay tuned. Meanwhile I will go back to the letters I am writing to the chairmen of DirecTV and Verizon Communications.

Anybody want to bet those go unanswered?

Oh my God! She's gone from suck to blow

If you are a fan of Spaceballs, you will recognize the above line. It also sums up my feelings these days about Verizon, with the exception that the company may indeed both suck and blow. There is something to be said about monopolies. In fact there is a story associated with John D. Rockefeller and monopolies, he of the first really, really big one.
John D. Rockefeller was playing golf with a friend, who was also a priest, when a messenger arrived to inform JDR that Standard Oil was being broken up into several smaller companies. JDR allegedly turned to his friend and said, "Father, have you any money?" The priest was taken aback. How could the country's richest man be in need of money? Was the punishment too severe? He evidently replied to Rockefeller, "No, John, I do not. Why do you need money?"

Rockefeller is said to have replied, "Not for me Father, for you. I would advise you to buy Standard Oil stock as this breakup is going to make all the stockholders a lot of money, when they get a share in each new company for each single share of Standard Oil they have. I am going to be a much richer man when this is over."

I have worked in customer service positions. It boggles my mind when a company that needs to provide good customer service (let alone good communications) completely screws up a situation and seems ill inclined to try and fix it. This would be my situation with Verizon. I am home now waiting for the Verizon guy to come and hook up my phone service, resolving an issue that has been ongoing for more than a month.

Here's my story:
At the beginning of September I called Verizon to tell them I was moving and that I needed new service at my new address. I was (at least I thought I was) very clear that I needed to set up a new account as the old account and services was to continue at my old address (for my sister-in-law and her family). I agreed to the "upsell" and ordered Verizon FIOS phone and Internet service at my new address. Please note, I was now agreeing to give Verizon MORE money than I had been giving them before.

I was given a service appointment for September 20 to install the phone and Internet service. I moved on September 17. At about that same time, my sister-in-law's husband went in to check on the status of the DSL service at the old address. Nope, disconnected. Of course, it was. Because Verizon put it in their systems as a transfer of service to the new address, despite that I was getting different service and a new phone number at the new location.

On moving day, I had my first conversation with a woman, Nancy, in the Verizon FIOS department. She has been the one person at Verizon that I have found who is mildly competent and has continued to work the issues and try and get them resolved. My sister would be convinced that it was my mother trying to help me out - Nancy was my mother's name.

The DSL service never returned to our old address and my sister-in-law's husband was even more disgusted with Verizon than me, so he has canceled the service altogether at the old address. That account still had my cellphone account tied to it (Verizon's all about the bundling) and I have now had to "de-enroll" from the Verizon One-Bill and will have to re-enroll into One-Bill when the new home number is up and running. As one might imagine, I went over on my wireless minutes last month (as my cellphone was my only means of communication with the outside world) and was looking at a bill with $70 extra in overage charges.

The Verizon technician arrived on September 20 and informed me that he was there only to install the Internet service as the phone portion of the order had been canceled (by Verizon, not me). As with DirecTV, Verizon neglected to tell me why this had been done. This was when I got on the phone with Nancy and started to "work the problem." As the DirecTV issue spiralled into chaos, I kept telling the Verizon guy, "You know, I used to hate Verizon. You should feel better, now there's a company that I hate more than you." I think I scared him. He wound up leaving his drill behind and when he came by a few days later, he asked Mrs. Brave Astronaut if everything was OK with the Internet, as he did not want me to ever be mad at him.

I was ultimately given a new service appointment for this coming Monday October 15, which I maintained with Nancy, was completely unacceptable. It's funny how things become more acceptable when you go around and around and the day finally arrives. Monday is but four short days away. But I digress, they are supposed to come today. So, I sit, and wait.

I have now been on the phone with Verizon again and have learned that the order for the hookup was done incorrectly, so I will likely not get hooked up today. Has Verizon done anything to make me feel better? Let's see. I have received:
  • refund / credit at the old address for Internet and telephone service (since I wasn't there to use it and it was disconnected anyway.
  • refund for the first month of Internet service here at the new address (sure I had it, but why pay for something when it is the least they can do and they are threatening to cut it off anyway because there is no phone number to bill it to).
  • Half the overage charges were credited to me by Verizon Wireless (a gift, something they didn't have to do)
  • A $100 gift card has been promised to me by Nancy.
So I am thinking there must be some more goodies in Verizon's goody bag for me. Suggestions? I am thinking a promotional discount on my service (whenever it gets hooked up) for 6 months? A year? Another gift card? Have them come and clean my house? Something better be coming to me. Rest assured of that. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Technology Update

There is a rumor that Verizon will get around to installing my phone service tomorrow. Before I get to that rant, let me update you on some DirecTV news. Faithful readers will remember that DirecTV screwed up my move, order, and service for television. So when the installer finally arrived, I called to request something more, clearly looking for something that I was not entitled to. They threw me a bone, giving me two free months of Showtime. I was sated.

Then I received a few calls from a contractor that works with DirecTV on the installation side. They were investigating an "escalation" issue regarding a late arrival by an installer. I finally got back to them and they informed me that since the installer had arrived late, I would be receiving a $100 credit! I began to explain my tale of woe to this nice young woman who was giving my $100 to see what else I might get. She told me to contact DirecTV directly. So I called. I explained my sob story to the first person that answered. He said that my record was already showing a credit balance, which I explained was only was was owed to me (double billing of the new DVR, credit for lost service time). So he asked what else he could do for me. I explained that I felt some additional compensation was due to me for the inconvenience. He transferred me to another individual and I explained my story once again.

He looked at my record and said, "Well, you are getting two free months of Showtime . . ." To that I responded, "well, yes, but I didn't have Showtime before, how about something for all of the services I already have or perhaps another perq (I thought about mentioning Center Ice here, ADR, but wait). So he looked and he put me on hold for a moment.

So he comes back and says, "How about we do this for you?:"
  • Reduce the cost of your Total Choice package by $10 for the next 12 months

  • No charge for your DVR service ($5.99/month) for 12 months

  • No charge for HBO ($13.00/month) for the next 6 months
I was driving at the time. I should have pulled over, because I nearly passed out. Who says the squeaky wheel doesn't get the grease? I resisted the urge to get greedy by saying, "Hey, your website is offering a portable DVD player for new customers." I thanked the nice young man and even got him to send me all of that in writing. Let's see what happens with Verizon tomorrow.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Cleveland Rocks

I don't want to say as expected, but I will say "as promised," here is a "laudatory" post about the city of Cleveland, albeit not necessarily about the Indians, although I will root for them over the Red Sox in the ALCS. [While the idea for this post had been in my mind since the end of Game 1, it did not get written until the waning innings of Game 4.]

Cleveland also "owns" Drew Carey, who takes over for Bob Barker in a few weeks on the Price is Right. Carey has promised trips to Cleveland in the showcases. How bad can that be? All my gummint friends will not be able to view the video linked above. Watch it when you get home. It's the opening sequence from the Drew Carey show from a few years ago, the tune is, of course, "Cleveland Rocks."

I actually like Cleveland. I have only been there once and it was for a meeting. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference held a joint meeting with the Midwest Archives Conference. The meeting took place in the fall of 2000. At that time I had recently split up with my first wife and went off to the meeting. A good friend and colleague was also coming to the meeting. Her marriage had dissolved the year before. We always had a good time at the meetings and at this meeting, we made plans to go to the Cleveland Museum of Art.

The two of us went off to the museum and I kept finding myself looking at her. It dawned on me that we were both now "unattached" and we had become such really good friends that maybe we should take the relationship to another level. Just a few weeks after that conference, she came down to spend a few days with me in Florida, where I had gone on business. We started "dating," although she remained in DC and I continued to live and work in New York. I asked her to marry me in December of 2001. We were married in May of 2002, we welcomed our first child in December of 2004, and our second will arrive in a few short months.

And we owe a part of our successful relationship to Cleveland. Congratulations to the Indians. Now go out there and smother the Red Sox, please? Then you can go ahead and lose to the Rockies. The Yankees fought the good fight. But the bugs? Was that nice?

Monday's Recipe: Ah-Pulls

One of my son's new favorite words is apple. He draws it out so that it comes out like a sneeze, but instead of ahchoo, it becomes what you see above. Last week in the Washington Post Food section, they featured in season apples. I have a few good apple recipes in my cookbooks, but this one with chicken sounded particularly good. Enjoy. Oh, and by the way? Let's GO Yankees. It would seem the baseball gods would like Joe Torre to stay manager of the Yankees for a little while longer.

Chicken Scaloppine With Apples in Apple Cider Sauce
The Washington Post, October 3, 2007

This is a wonderfully simple and flavorful fall dish in which everything cooks in the same pan - in about 30 minutes. 4 servings

  • 2 to 3 tablespoons mild olive oil or vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, either thin-cut or pounded into thin cutlets
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup apple cider
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 medium crisp apples, such as Granny Smith, Jonathan or Cortland, peeled, cored and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
  • 1 small onion, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat.

While the oil is heating, spread the cornstarch out on a large plate. Sprinkle the chicken cutlets with salt and pepper to taste, then coat both sides of the cutlets with the cornstarch, shaking off any excess. Place the chicken in the pan or skillet, being careful not to crowd the pieces. Cook for about 2 minutes, until lightly browned on one side, then turn over and cook for about 2 minutes on the second side. Transfer the browned pieces to a plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken cutlets, adding oil as needed.

Combine the apple cider and chicken broth in a measuring cup. With the pan or skillet over medium-high heat, add the apple and onion slices and about 1/3 cup of the cider-broth mixture. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring and scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pan or skillet; allow the liquid to evaporate. Add the butter, stirring to combine, then reduce the heat to medium. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the apple and onion slices are tender. Add the remaining cider-broth mixture and return the chicken to the pan or skillet. Make sure all the chicken is coated with some of the cooking liquid and the apples and onions. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar; increase the heat to medium-high so the liquid comes to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low so the liquid just bubbles at the edges. Cook for 5 minutes; the sauce will thicken slightly and the chicken should be cooked through. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. To serve, spoon the apple-onion mixture over the cutlets.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Of Baseball Note

It is nearly midnight here in Maryland and I have learned that the Chicago Cubs fans are invoking their never ending mantra, "Wait 'til next year." The Cubbies have been swept aside by the Arizona Diamondbacks, who will await the winner of the Philadephia-Colorado series. (This game is currently in the 6th inning and the Rockies have a 1-0 lead over the Phillies.) As I said in my predictions, I wished for the Cubs to make it past the D-Backs, for if it wasn't now, who knows when it might happen? And the Rockies? Well, they are the team to beat. They are on fire.

In the American League, the Red Sox are manhandling the Angels and are one game away from the ALCS. Tomorrow afternoon the two teams will face off in Anaheim. The winner of that series will face the victor of the Yankees-Indians series. Yes, yes, I said the Yankees in four. So now it will have to be five. Yes, the Yankees are 3-11 in postseason games since the collapse against the Red Sox in 2004. But they are heading home to the Bronx and I still believe (wait, isn't that a Mets slogan?). Just in case, I have my laudatory Cleveland post just about ready to go to satisfy the wager I have with Amy in Cleveland. Game three of that series will be tomorrow evening.

What am I doing tomorrow? The Brave Astronaut family is heading up I-95 to visit with the newest member of the Brave Astronaut's extended family. Mrs. Brave Astronaut's sister gave birth to a daughter last week and we are off to ooh and ahh at the new baby. But I'll be sure to check in and report on the baseball tomorrow night.

Our drive tomorrow will take us into Delaware, home of the I-95 bottleneck. This article was forwarded to me by my mother-in-law, as she knows just how much I hate that state and its "highway," which is really just a parking lot and toll collection station.

Monday is Columbus Day and I will take the opportunity to get some paperwork done, finish cataloging my books in Library Thing, and maybe get some art on to the walls.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Mandatory Space Content / Quiz answers

While the Yankees get beat on in Cleveland, I figured I better get this post out.

I am the Brave Astronaut. I went to a school with halls named for the three astronauts who died in the launchpad fire. Today's mandatory space content from the annals of history. On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik and the space race was on.

Here's an article from Tuesday's Washington Post. And be sure to check out this list of the 50 best space highs and lows from Time Magazine here.

And here are the answers to last week's quiz.
  1. How many birthdays does the average man have? Just one
  2. Some months have 31 days; how many have 28? All of them have 28 days!
  3. How many outs are there in an inning? Six outs in an inning (three per side)
  4. Divide 30 by ½ and add 10. What is the answer? 70 (30 divided by ½ equals 60!)
  5. If there are three apples and you take away two, how many do you have? Two, you took them, remember?
  6. A doctor gives you three pills telling you to take one every half an hour. How many minutes would the pills last? 60 Minutes, start with the 1st pill, 30 minutes later take the 2nd, then 30 minutes for the 3rd!
  7. A farmer has 17 sheep, and all but nine die. How many are left? Nine, if 8 out of 17 die, all but 9 die, right?
  8. A clerk in the butcher shop is 5' 10" tall. What does he weigh? Meat, a butcher weighs meat!
  9. How many two cent stamps are there in a dozen? 12, there are twelve 2-cent stamps in a dozen!
  10. What is the least amount of coins it takes to make 55 cents if one of the coins is a quarter? Three coins. One quarter, another quarter, and a nickel!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

So Who's Your Team?

I think I have made it clear that I am pulling for the Yankees to be victorious this year in the World Series. Hey those Wild Card teams are always the dark horse. If the Yankees are to be victorious, the team that started playing after the All-Star game will need to show up. If it's the team from before, they're screwed.

So to the matchups.

ALDS #1 - Los Angeles Angels vs. Boston Red Sox
I have said all season the Angels were the team to beat. However, they did get slapped around at the end and they are staggering into the post season. Regardless, sorry NJM, I predict Angels in four.

ALDS #2 - Cleveland Indians vs. New York Yankees
Major League anyone? I have an informal bet with a fellow blogger in Cleveland that the loser will have to say something nice about the opposing team on their blog. We are not going so far as to have to parade around in jerseys or trade NY style pizza for whatever those nice folks in Cleveland eat, but we have an arrangement for something. Sorry, Amy, my heart tells me Yankees in four.

NLDS #1 - Philadelphia Phillies vs. Colorado Rockies
Okay, so Holliday never touched the plate last night. But he was called safe and the Rockies are heading to the postseason against the Fightin' Phillies. The Phillies picked it up at the end and enjoyed the spectacular collapse of the New York Mets. I don't think it's enough against a team that has won 15 of its last 16 games. Rockies in four.

NLDS #2 - Arizona Diamondbacks vs. Chicago Cubs
Isn't every year supposed to be the Cubs year? This might be it (for a while anyway). The Diamondbacks aren't as good as their record. Statistics said they shouldn't have won the division, but they did. They will be tough, but I still like the Cubs in five.

Those are my predictions and I'm sticking with them. Let's see if I can do any better than last year. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Mid-Atlantic 7 Wonders

I am home sick today. I caught the current version of the plague that is bouncing about the office. And no, I don't think my son brought something home from daycare. But God, do I feel awful. So here's a blog post to keep you all sated, while I go and drain my head.

I discussed here before about the new Seven Wonders of the World "contest." I reported on the results and the new "contest." The Washington Post, feeling the Mid-Atlantic region got shafted, has started their own little contest here. Voting will continue for another week or so, and they will report the outcome on October 14. So go and vote for your favorite Mid-Atlantic Wonder!
The choices are:
  • The Brooklyn Bridge

  • The United States Capitol

  • Chesapeake Bay Bridge

  • Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel

  • Chrysler Building

  • C&O Canal

  • Dulles Airport

  • Empire State Building

  • Fallingwater

  • Independence Hall

  • Jefferson Memorial

  • University of Virginia "Lawn"

  • Lincoln Memorial

  • Monticello

  • National Cathedral

  • Pentagon

  • Skyline Drive

  • Statue of Liberty

  • Washington Mall

  • Washington Monument

Monday, October 1, 2007

Why I'm Not a Mets Fan?

That would be a rhetorical question . . . I grew up on Long Island in the shadow of "that purple stadium" and my heart was with the Yankees. Sure, I cheered them in 1986 when they won the World Series, but put tickets to a Yankee game or a Met game in front of me, I'm grabbing the tickets to the Bronx.

As the "free baseball" continues in Colorado, I will say parenthetically here, I have mentioned to my friends that my allegiance to the Yankees may fade when they start playing in their new stadium in 2009. Yankees playing anywhere other than in Yankee Stadium is just plain wrong. There are some who say one of the reasons that the Yankees struggled all year was the curse of Babe Ruth was back. It's possible the Babe was a bit upset at the Yankees tearing his house down.

But the Amazin's now have a new place in baseball history, the spectacular collapse. No team has ever blown a lead like the Mets did over the final weeks of the season. If Willie Randolph has a job next year, there is no justice in baseball.

Coming next - baseball predictions. Because I did so well last year.

Update: DirecTV Caves, Brave Astronaut Victorious!

So the installer is here. He arrived late, and not when DirecTV said he would be here. DirecTV said he would be here between 6am and 8am, which I knew wouldn't happen. I got a call from the installer around 8am and he said he was on his way. He got here about 10am.

Around 9:30am, I called DirecTV. I remained very calm and talked to two customer service representatives and then to a supervisor. I explained my situation to all three of them and requested that I felt I was owed "something" for my troubles, you know "for the effort." I gave them some examples, NHL Center Ice, premium movies for a period of time, a new flat screen TV, something to make me feel better about DirecTV.

Laurel, my supervisor du jour, realized I wouldn't go away without something, offered me Showtime for three months at no charge. So I got that going for me. The question now is, do I cancel when FIOS TV shows up in two weeks?

Stuck at Home, An Early Monday Recipe

As I wait and watch the DirecTV installer work on returning TV to my life, I was also wondering what recipe I might put up for tonight. Last week, I was sent a link by C in DC to this site. It is written by a Parisian woman living in Montmarte. She lived for a time in California. She is not a professionally trained cook, but has really good recipes. The site recently celebrated its fourth anniversary. To honor the site, I "borrowed" this recipe for today's recipe. Enjoy!

Cubes à la Noisette
  • 150 g sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp rum
  • 6 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • a pinch of salt
  • 130 g all-purpose flour
  • 70 g whole-wheat flour

Caramelized hazelnuts:

  • 120 g whole hazelnuts
  • 60 g sugar
    (Makes about 100 pieces.)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (360°F).

Start with the caramelized hazelnuts. Heat up the 60 g of sugar in a small non-stick saucepan over medium heat. When it is completely dissolved into caramel, dump in the hazelnuts and stir quickly with a wooden spoon to coat. Transfer the hazelnuts onto a silicon baking mat or a sheet of parchment paper, spreading them with the spoon to get them in just one layer.

In a food processor, mix the eggs and the sugar until fluffy. Add in the oil, the vanilla and the rum, mix again. Add in the flours and salt, mix again. The dough should resemble cake batter : liquid but thick. Pour this into a baking dish (33 x 20 cm or 13'' x 9''), ideally nonstick, greased otherwise. Even out the surface with a spatula.

When the hazelnuts have completely cooled, break each hazelnut apart, making sure you keep them nicely in one piece. Place the caramelized hazelnuts in even rows across the surface of the batter (the more regular, the easier it will be to cut out the cubes).

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the top is lightly golden. Let cool for 5 minutes, and cut into small cubes, each one topped with one hazelnut. Lift out the cubes carefully, arrange them on a cookie sheet and leave inside the turned off oven for 30 minutes, to dry the edges out a bit. Cool down completely before serving, and store leftovers in a metal box at room temperature.