Archive for the ‘Anecdote’ Category

Ethics & photoelectrics

Wednesday, 21 June, 2017

This morning I was setting up the school classroom for teaching my Primary Ethics class when one of the Year 4 boys in my class came up to me and asked, “Can you explain the photoelectric effect?” This is a nine or ten year old kid, remember.

He has no way of knowing I have a Ph.D. in physics, and so yes, this is actually something I know about and can explain to people. I tried to tone it down to a nine-year-old’s level.

“Well, it’s a thing that happens when light hits some materials, like metals. The light hits an atom… do you know about atoms and electrons and …”

“Yeah!” he says, in a tone of voice that indicates “of course I do, who doesn’t?”

“Okay,” I continue, “The light hits an atom and it makes an electron jump out of the atom, so it can then travel through the metal as electricity.”

“Hmmm,” says the boy, “Does the electron just jump up to a higher energy level shell, or does it jump completely out of the atom?”

I skilfully hid my internal jaw-drop, as I replied, “All the way out of the atom.”

“Huh,” he said, “Well that’s pretty simple. I don’t know why someone else told me it was so hard to understand.”

He want off to his seat, and I started teaching my class…

Another one of those days

Thursday, 8 September, 2016

Yet another miserable day in the saga of the dishwasher.

So we decided to get the integrated dishwasher replaced with one with a nice stainless steel door. I called up the retailer and requested this, choosing an equivalent model with a steel front panel, for the same price. They said there was a fee (about $300) for exchanging the dishwasher. I figured it was my bad assumption that the front panel would be a standard size and didn’t check to be sure, so I felt obliged to cop this fee, and agreed. They said they’d arrange delivery of a different model dishwasher in exchange for the one currently in our home.

Then yesterday I received an emailed receipt, saying they’d charged my credit card $550. So today I phoned them to query why this charge was some $250 greater than what I’d been quoted. The operator I spoke to said it was an installation fee, since I’d requested installation in my original order the new dishwasher would need to be installed, plus some other fee imposed by the manufacturer for an exchange.

I said that I wasn’t told about these fees when I accepted the quoted fee of $300 for the exchange, and I wasn’t going to pay them. There was some resistance and eventually I had to ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. I explained that I had been quoted an exchange fee of $300, and neither of these additional installation or exchange fees were mentioned to me when I accepted.

The manager I was speaking to actually said to me, “You should have known there’d be an installation fee, and now you’re just trying to get out of paying it.” I kid you not.

He was absolutely adamant that I had to pay the extra $250, despite me repeatedly pointing out that I was never told about this extra $250, and was quoted a total price of $300 for the exchange, and that that was the quote I accepted. His attitude was, “Well of course there was always going to be another installation fee – you’re getting it installed right?” I said I’d paid for installation of a dishwasher with the original order, and I expected at the end of the process to have an installed dishwasher – why on earth would I come to the conclusion that I’d have to pay another installation fee? Especially when it was never mentioned when I accepted the $300 fee to exchange dishwashers.

He wouldn’t budge, until I threatened to contact the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over them not honouring a verbal agreement on a quoted price, and attempting to charge me for fees that were never mentioned to me. This eventually got him to agree to “look into it” and promise to call me back. When he did, about an hour later, he said that the extra fees had been refunded. (And I’ve received emailed confirmation.) But not a word of apology for accusing me of deliberately attempting to defraud them.

You can bet that once the replacement dishwasher is safely delivered and installed, I’ll be sending the retailer a letter of complaint.

One of those days

Monday, 5 September, 2016

It’s been one of those days.

I took the day off work to wait for delivery of a new dishwasher, after our previous one broke. This is the second time I’ve had to take a day off to wait for the delivery, because the first time they came the dishwasher they brought was too big to fit into the kitchen cabinet space, so I had to change my order to a different model (and pay an extra $270). And then I had to wait a whole month for the new model to come into stock so they could deliver it.

Anyway, today was the day. The delivery arrived, and the dishwasher fit into the cabinet space. It’s one of those ones where there’s a front panel which matches the cabinetry, so it looks just like a cupboard. They guys took the panel off the old dishwasher and tried to put it on the new one… of course it didn’t fit. The new washer has a taller door, so attaching the old panel leaves a weird strip about 3cm high at the top, which would look obvious and bizarre.

They told me to get a new panel made to match at a kitchen cabinetry supplier, and they’d come and screw it on free (since I’d paid for full installation).

I called around five different kitchen cabinetry suppliers. Most said they only do full kitchen renovations, and wouldn’t make a single door panel. One guy said sure, he could do it -he’d come over, measure up the door, make a new one in a matching finish, and come back to install it. I said I didn’t want it installed, I could do that myself. (Figuring I have guys who will install it free for me.) He said no then, he won’t take the job, because if he can’t install it, it’s not worth his time to make it. Basically, he wants to charge me an arm and a leg for the installation work, and won’t just make the door panel for me.

So I don’t know where I can just get a new door panel made.

Wife came home and I was discussing options with her. We can either order a third new dishwasher with a nice silver door panel, and get the delivery guys to deliver and install that and take away the one we have installed now. Requiring yet another day off work to wait for them. Or we could just screw the current matching door panel onto the current dishwasher, and live with the weird 3cm strip at the top.

While holding the door panel up on the front of the dishwasher to show her what it would look like, I lost my grip and the door panel, a good 5 kilos or so of it, slipped sideways and jammed my ring finger between it and the adjoining cabinet, crushing it. I don’t think the finger is broken, but there’s a lot of blood around the nail and it’s going to be bruised very badly. Hurt like heck, I can tell you.

I got some ice and stuck it in a plastic bag to ice the bruised finger. While I sat with my left hand immobile on my desk, I did some web surfing.

Lifted up my left hand to check the finger, and the bag of ice tipped up… pouring ice water all over my keyboard.

Maybe I’ll just go to bed and wait for tomorrow.

Garage treasure trove

Sunday, 17 April, 2016

The basement of my apartment block contains individual lock-up garages for every apartment. They’re fenced off with wire cyclone fencing so you can see inside, but are secure enough that people store things in there.

I was walking past a row of neighbours’ garages, and inside one I spotted a big stack of books. Not paperbacks, but large format hardcovers. The pile was split into two, sitting on shelves of a portable storage thingy. The combined vertical height fo the stack of books was about a metre or so. Curiosity being the better part of valour, I went closer for a peek to see what they were.

They were Dungeons & Dragons rule books! Second and Third edition rules, splatbooks, settings, and so on. Must have been 50 or more titles. Wow. I had no idea one of my neighbours was a gamer. Pretty cool.

The Penny Drops

Tuesday, 19 November, 2013

I was sitting at lunch with my group of friends at work, talking about various nerdy stuff as we are wont to do. There’s no doubt that we are a group of nerds, in the modern non-pejorative sense of “people who enjoy certain types of intellectual recreational activities”. We play regular Magic: The Gathering tournaments, we play Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games, we play the latest European style board games, we run a popular Internet puzzle competition, we collectively write a webcomic based on the concept of Star Wars as a roleplaying game.

We share lots of interests in common and have incredibly nerdy conversations about them. But on this day I was struck by the fact that I didn’t follow what anyone else was talking about. They were discussing some sort of special mode in some computer game, which I only learnt right near the end of the conversation was actually Diablo. Throughout the whole conversation I just sat silently, not understanding most of what was being said.

I remarked that, even though we are all clearly nerds, there are still some significant differences between us. I, for example, don’t play video/computer games. I just don’t. I used to, as a kid – I had an Atari 2600 console and spent hours absorbed in playing various classic games like Pac-Man, Missile Command, Pitfall, and so on. A bit later I played an awful lot of Tetris, and really enjoyed SimCity. But… I haven’t really played any game more modern than SimCity. I’ve had a few brief goes at these newfangled first-person perspective games like Doom, but I just couldn’t get into them. And the video games of today are essentially a complete mystery to me.

So in a conversation about video games, I have nothing to add. I made a comment to this effect, pointing out how video games were one “nerd” thing that I just didn’t do. Knowing how none of these friends are really into sport of any sort (while I am), I commented that given the choice I would much rather sit down and watch a game of football than play a video game. They said, “What sort of football?” I replied, “Well, any, really.”

Then I said, “You know how on The Big Bang Theory the guys are all nerds and they all basically enjoy doing the same stuff? They all like comic books, they all play video games. That’s not a realistic portrayal of nerd culture. There’s variation. Not all nerds like all nerdy things. They should have someone in their group who doesn’t like video games.”

“Like Penny,” one of my friends said.

“Oh my god,” said another, “You’re the Penny of our group!”

The Avianator

Thursday, 13 September, 2012

Coming home from work today I was attacked by a magpie. I came home just before lunch because I wasn’t feeling very well, and picked up a sausage roll at the station for lunch. I was eating as I walked home, and suddenly there was an ominous thundering of wings behind me, and a huge black and white mass of feathers swooped across my shoulder. My first instinct was naturally to protect myself, but it turned out the dire bird was more interested in attacking my food than me. It landed on a fence a couple of metres away with half my sausage roll in its beak.

And then it actually followed me. Another 30 metres or so down the street it came at me again, but this time I was prepared and turned to stare it down in time. It glared balefuly at me from another fence as I walked cautiously on.

In hindsight it’s good that it was only after my food. If it had been protecting a nest, I could very well have taken damage.

Inchworm, inchworm

Friday, 24 August, 2012

I made an interesting observation at the local Subway outlet near my work the other day. Like other American fast food joints, Subway has the annoying quirk of retaining American terminology even when operating in a country – like Australia – where some of the terms either mean nothing or mean something completely different in the local dialect of English.

For instance, Subway insists on referring to its brown bread as “wheat bread” – a term that nobody in Australia has any familiarity with whatsoever, except within the confines of a Subway outlet. Similarly they refer to wholegrain bread as “multigrain bread”. Perhaps most annoyingly, they have a thing called “marinara sauce”, which is just a tomato based sauce, with no seafood in it whatsoever. In Australia, “marinara sauce” means a seafood sauce, usually served with pasta. I really don’t understand why they insist on importing confusing American English terms wholesale, rather than adapt and change the terminology to match the English that people actually use here.

The other thing they do is refer to the size of the subs as “six-inch” and “foot-long”, despite the fact that Australia has been wholly metric since the 1970s, and almost everyone under the age of 40 has no real idea what an inch or a foot is any more. They could (and I argue should) much more meaningfully call them “small” and “large”.

This was brought home to me by the incident mentioned at the top of this post. We have a variety of food places near my work and my friends and I tend to choose somewhere different each day for variety. On this particular day we chose Subway. I wasn’t really paying attention when the woman behind the counter asked for my order, and I said I wanted a “twelve-inch” sub, since in my mind this was equivalent to something a foot long. The woman looked at me puzzled for a second, and said, “Sorry, do you mean a six-inch?”

I corrected her to “foot-long”, and then I realised that by asking this she was showing that she may well have had no idea whatsoever that there are twelve inches in a foot. If she’d known twelve inches make a foot, she’d have probably either just assumed I wanted a foot-long, or asked, “You mean a foot-long, right?”

So I suspect that for some of the young people working in Subway in Australia, the sandwich sizes of “six-inch” and “foot-long” are actually just labels. They don’t have any meaning in terms of length, because they’ve never used either a foot or an inch as a unit of measurement in their entire lives.

Barbershop Quandary

Tuesday, 12 June, 2012

So I’ve been going to this same barber for the past 16 years. He’s an old Sicilian guy named Frank; he has postcards of Italy pinned up on the wall, you know the sort of place. When I first went to him he ran a tiny cubicle in the middle of a small arcade, with a single chair in it, a bench with waiting room for two customers, and a sign saying “No seats reserved”. The first time I went in there, I sort of fumbled through a description of how I wanted my hair cut, having never really figured out the language that barbers use or what all those “number 2 blade” secret passwords meant. Frank cut my hair and it seemed fine to me. Afterwards, whenever I went in Frank would ask, “The usual?” and I’d just say, “Yes thanks,” and he’d cut it.

A few years later, his son joined him in the business, and “Frank’s Hairdressing” became “Frank & Michael’s”. They added a second chair to the cubicle, but it became too cramped to move about in properly. So they took up a lease on one of the small shops in the same arcade, and moved the business a total of about 5 metres into (slightly) larger premises. And in fact they installed a third chair. The first time Michael cut my hair, Frank instructed him on how I wanted it cut, and I didn’t have to say anything.

At peak times, such as Saturday mornings, when the queue got long (the bench in the new place seated three customers, but there were occasionally guys queued up standing outside), Frank and Michael employed a third barber to come in and use the extra chair. But I tended to go get my hair cut at other times, mainly to avoid the waiting. But also because I dreaded the thought of getting the new guy and having to explain to him how I wanted my hair cut. Because I couldn’t. I didn’t know the language or what to say to pass on that vital information. A few times I went in and they had the extra guy there, but fervent hope was enough to land me a seat with Frank or Michael, and it was simply “the usual”. The third barber changed over time too – it was the same guy for a while, then it was some other guy, and then a bit later someone else. They always seemed to be about Frank’s age – I presume they were family friends or something. Once I got the new guy, and as I sat down, Frank looked over and without prompting described to him how I wanted my hair cut. The guy did it, and it was fine. The next time I got the same guy, and – phew – he remembered and cut my hair right.

But then a few months ago my luck ran out. I went in and there was another new guy there. I waited on the bench, hoping when it was my turn that Frank or Michael would finish their current customer and call me over to their chair. But no, the new guy finished, and called me over. And then came those dreaded words I’d avoided for sixteen years. “How would you like it?”

I panicked. A cold sweat broke out. I looked desperately around for Frank or Michael, but they were both engrossed in their current customers, backs turned to me. I tried to describe what Frank and Michael did, fumbling for words: “Sort of short, I guess, but not too short, you know, with those clipper things at the back, and sort of cut around the ears, and…” I must have rambled incoherently for a minute or so. The guy took up his implements and proceeded to give me the strangest haircut I’ve had in sixteen years. It was all sort of wrong, and looked funny, and was too short in the wrong places, and weirdly long in others.

I let it grow out, this weird haircut, and when I went back the next time I got Frank and he said, “The usual?” and I breathed a sweet sigh of relief, and said, “Yes, thanks.” And he cut it beautifully.

Then I went on my recent trip overseas and when I came home it was almost time for a haircut again. I went in last Friday afternoon, and there was a new guy I’d never seen before in there, working the seat between Frank and Michael. The sweat started to rise as I waited on the bench, realising that it was my turn next, and Frank and Michael looked like they’d recently started their current customers, but the new guy was just finishing up with his. And lo came the dreaded, “Next!” and I found myself in the barbershop hotseat, with the new guy, and me having never adequately described my own haircut in over sixteen years, quivering with fear like a doe in the headlights. The words, “How would you like it?” rang out like a gunshot in the night.

Overcoming my fear, I realised I still had an option open to me. In desperation, I called out, “Frank, how would you describe my usual haircut?”

Frank turned towards us, said to the new guy, “Short medium.” And the new guy nodded and proceeded to cut my hair with no further instruction, and it came out perfect – exactly the way Frank would have done it.

Plasmonic

Saturday, 3 December, 2011

I guess with the Star Trek episodes done, I should post some other things here.

I donated blood plasma today – I think it’s my 44th donation. I usually do whole blood, but they don’t want my red cells for a few months after I visited South America earlier this year. I took a photo of myself hooked up to the apheresis machine (avoid if photos of needles are not your thing – photo here).

And I ran across this: Legend: an OGL fantasy roleplaying game rule set, available for the next week on a “pay what you want” basis, with all proceeds going to Child’s Play, a charity that uses gaming to make kids stuck in hospital feel a bit better. Cool – it’s always nice seeing people contribute work for a good cause.

Buying fruit

Sunday, 10 July, 2011

So I was buying groceries at the supermarket and they had some odd looking fruit there that I didn’t recognise. Wife thought they looked interesting and grabbed a few. Then when we got to the checkout, the guy at the register put them on the scales, looked for a second, then asked me what they were. I said, “I have no idea.”

He had to get the woman on the next register to come over and identify them.

(They were nashi pears, although of a variety that I hadn’t seen before. I thought they were similar to nashis, but they looked different enough that I wasn’t sure. And it was cool to just say I had no idea.)