The Legend, Billy Holloman

The Legend re-surfaces! B3 Organ Player Billy Holloman just showed up on my radar for the first time in a few years. I had the pleasure of helping to produce (along with Kenny Horst) an album featuring Billy back when he led the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists' Quarter. It's still one of my faves, and I really miss both the AQ and the chance to see Billy play on any given Tuesday evening. Those were the days, man.

It was great to get a message from Billy and hear that he's still out there, doing his thing. I imagine we're going to hear more from him in the very near future, and I'll be sure to mention it here and elsewhere. Mean time, find him over at his MySpace page, linked from

I-GO First Try

Well, I reserved a car last night, for just two hours, to drive myself down Howard to Best Buy, to pick up an order I placed online. Last night's adventure was interesting, but I'm not going to call it a success.

First, when we got to the parking spot for the I-GO car (at Morseland), the car wasn't there. I called I-GO and explained this fact to them. They called the person who was supposed to have checked in the car by now, then calls me back. "Sorry, running late due to weather, ETA 10 minutes. Do you want to switch to a different car?" No, there's only one car at Morseland, and other I-GO cars are a bit of a walk, so we'll wait it out. I-GO extended my reservation by 30 minuets, and credited me the additional time, so I'm effectively not paying for when I'm not driving. The person with the car shows up just about 30 minutes late.

OK, we're not off to a great start. First, I had to call I-GO. Would have been nice if they had actually called me and told me the car wasn't ready. That's a few blocks from home and it's cold out. Thankfully, we can go stand in Morseland, if need be. But, OK, not their fault that the last user of the car kept it longer than she said she would. Maybe she was supposed to call and tell them but did not. I hope she gets nailed with some sort of overage of fine.

So we get the car. The car is fine, I've ridden in it before, as my girlfriend, who is already an I-GO member, has rented it before. Takes a bit of figuring out to drive it, because it's a hybrid, and has a lot of buttons. It all works and we get on down the road to the Best Buy on Howard.

That's when the best/worst part of the adventure takes place. I go into Best Buy, with my printed out order pickup email ("Your order is ready for pick up", the subject line screams at me) and I queue up in the customer service line, behind people with broken laptops and people who bought the wrong iPod.

Sure enough, I get to the counter, only to find that my order is not actually ready for pickup. It's not sitting in the pile of gadgets also awaiting pickup, and the customer service rep doesn't know what it is or where it is. He looks it up and "RSS" says there is one in stock, so he hunts down somebody to go look for it on the shelf or in the warehouse. Fast forward another 15-20 minutes. Nobody can find it in the warehouse or in the store. Guess I'm out of luck, and they inform me of such.

OK, please let me speak to the manager. He pages an "MOD", and while I'm waiting for that person to never show, I call customer service, who is suprised that the product isn't available. I hand the phone to the customer service rep in the store. He explains to the call center rep that he was surprised that the online site allowed the order, as RSS was less than 3 (I think this means "confirmed stock is less than 3 items"). He also says that the store does not carry this item. Which is odd, because from the context, it sounds like the inventory system says there's one in stock, but it sounds like they just simply have no clue where it's sitting, and they decided to give up on it.

OK, fine, cancel the order, thanks for nothing. So, I rented a car for nothing, to buy an imaginary thing from Best Buy that doesn't actually exist. Fail.

Oh well. I'm going to try again later today, with Circuit City instead. Hopefully the car will be ready for me when I walk over to Morseland in today's brutal cold.

That Blago, He's a Charmer

From The Smoking Gun:

During a wiretapped November 10 call, a frustrated and financially strapped Blagojevich referred to Obama as a "motherfucker" and said that he would not appoint an ally of the President-elect to the Senate vacancy if "I don't get anything." Referring to Obama, Blagojevich exclaimed, "Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him."

The affidavit does not specifically name the six prospective Senate candidates discussed by Blagojevic, Harris, and the governor's aides, it appears that several are easily identified. "Senate Candidate 1" is Jarrett. "Senate Candidate 2" is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Emil Jones, an Illinois state legislator, is "Senate Candidate 5." And "Senate Candidate 6" appears to be J.P. Pritzker, a wealthy Chicago businessman. Additionally, Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, is referred to in the affidavit as "President-elect Advisor." (21 pages)

Rogers Park Carless

Well, I can't call myself Chicago Carless, because that moniker is already taken. But I can be Rogers Park carless!

Back in August, when we lost our paid parking space, we decided to drive the car up to my father's place in Minnesota. As I mentioned then, it was a trial run, of sorts.

The trial was mostly a success. One caveat: Parking the car at my father's home was a pain in the ass. That just wasn't working out, for various reasons. So, in early November, I took the train up to Minneapolis and drove my car back down to Chicago.

Parking the car on the street here in Rogers Park throughout November was a real pain. We had to park a good 8-10 blocks away, and of course, you're supposed to move it every three days. That sucked.

I have no desire to keep a car in the city at this stage in my life, so I hatched a plan to sell the car to a friend of mine in Texas. We drove down to Texas over two days, Thanksgiving day and the day after. Boring drive, but easy, and kind of fun.

Spent the weekend in Dallas, met up with various friends, ate a lot of good food. Flew back to Chicago on that Sunday.

I still owed a couple of dollars on my car loan, so I paid that off with the money my friend paid me for the car, and the clear title arrived today. I took it out of one envelope and dropped it right back into another envelope and mailed it to my friend in Texas.

As soon as that was done, I called my car insurance company (Progressive Direct) and canceled. Since I actually like them, I wasn't jerky to them on the phone and politely answered their questions. Assuming we ever buy another car, they'd definitely be my first choice for car insurance. It's always been painless dealing with them.

So now, I'm free of a car payment and free of an insurance payment. I'm free of a car, and it feels good to be carless.

Are CTA Trains Designated Homeless Shelters?

Mike Doyle's on a crusade to stop harassment of the homeless. What form does this harassment take? The CTA has posted signs, and intends to enforce, riding guidelines that say you have to exit the terminal at the end of the line. Meaning, you can't ride back and forth on the trains all day long. Mike indicates that this is an attempt by the CTA to kick the homeless out into the cold. And at Christmas, no less!

Actually, what they've done is reinforce the point of the el: it's to get people from point A to point B. What this highlights is that the el is not a homeless shelter. If we need more/better shelter for the homeless (and I don't doubt that we do), then that's the problem we need to fix. Not to try to misuse (or allow the misuse of) public transit infrastructure to store the less fortunate. It's a poor fit, and everybody loses.

I think the CTA is right, and Mike Doyle is wrong. And it's a bummer to see Mike's once-excellent Chicago Carless blog reduced to a one-note trumpet of hysteria-- seven of his nine most recent posts are on this issue.

What does the CTA have to say about this? From today's Sun Times:

"While our trains may serve as temporary shelters, they're not good shelters for anyone," said [CTA President Ron] Huberman. "We're going to try to make sure individuals who are homeless who are on our system can at least have access to people who can help them find safe, more comfortable housing."

Gaffney said 229 people were taken from the CTA to "appropriate facilities" by outreach workers in the last year.

But this is a small part of the thousands who are removed from trains for "continuous riding."

The article also states that the CTA also partners with the city's Department of Human Services, which works with the mental health services provider Thresholds. Outreach workers have 24-hour access to the CTA, and they enter the trains looking for people who need help.

Mike may have a point if he means to say that signage on the CTA isn't going to solve the homeless problem. I just don't think the signage, or enforcement of this policy, hurts people, or the homeless, and it appropriately reflects what the el system is actually for.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Breaking Out of the Script

I just learned something very powerful and useful, something that I know others will benefit from. I'm sharing it here with the hope that you'll find it as useful as I do.

If you're like me, you dread calling companies to cancel service. The cable company, phone company, whoever, they're going to debate with you about canceling. They'll offer up discounted or free service. They'll want to try to talk you out of it. If you want to keep the service, that's great. If you're just looking for a better deal, we all know that what you do is, you call up and threaten to cancel. But for me, by the time I've decided to call customer service, I've made up my mind. I'm done. I want out.

How can I break out of that script when I call to cancel, I wondered to myself. What if I just stopped cooperating, and simply, politely, declined to cooperate. Stop answering their questions. Just pretend they didn't even ask them. Do something, anything, so that I don't have to refute the posited merits of keeping my account active when I've already made up my mind.

So that's what I decided to do. No more aruging. No more verbally exploring possible alternatives to canceling. And, in two short days, Kate and I have used this three times. It has worked great, each time.

It started thusly. Yesterday, I called and canceled my XM Radio service. I sold my car, and since XM Radio sucks nowadays, so I have no intent of keeping my home receiver subscribed. I called up XM Radio, and let them know that I wanted to cancel my service. Why would you want to do that, the front line representative asked me? I decline to answer that, I say. In response, I hear back nothing but a few seconds of silence. I've stymied the rep! I pulled him off the script! There's nothing for him to latch on to, to try to convince me to stay with XM Radio. Okay, he responds, and he transfers me over to the retention department. (As I am aware is the standard process, from reading various blogs.) The retention representative tells me how sorry he is to hear that I wish to cancel my service. Can I tell him why I wish to cancel? I'm sorry, I reply, I cannot. Do I have a favorite channel, or do I miss a particular channel? I'm sorry, I decline to answer that. I simply wish to cancel service. Ohhhhhhhhhhkay, responds the rep. Your account is paid up through December 20th. Service will cease on that day. Have a good one.

SCORE! No debate, no trying to talk me out of it, no having to listen to them struggle with the big words they'll find in the script specific to whatever reason I give them. I'm done. I'm out. On the phone for six minutes total, and that includes talking to two reps, and a bit of hold time. Done and done.

Today, I took the day off of work, and Kate and I went downtown to do some shopping. She's been thinking of switching to T-Mobile for a while now, and wants to get a phone like mine. (I have a T-Mobile G1.) She decides to pull the trigger, so after lunch, we stop in to the T-Mobile Store at Water Tower Place. We start the process, and the T-Mobile salesperson says she needs to know Kate's Sprint account number. Kate doesn't have that, so she dials 611 on her Sprint phone to get it. The sales rep warns Kate not to mention that she's canceling, and I smile to myself when I hear that, because it's good advice, and Kate and I had already had a similar discussion a couple hours prior. (As I told her then, and you could consider this the moral of this entire story: Stop tipping your hat to big business, because all you get for offering up your opinion is an entry-level English-challenged idiot trying to debate you out of your choice via a script.) Kate reaches a Sprint rep, and has to repeat her phone number two or three times, as she does every time she calls them (I've witnessed it), because they can't hear her or don't understand her. After she's convinced them she's who she says she is, she asks for her Sprint account number. "Do you mind if I ask why you would like that info?" asks the rep. "Yes, actually, I do mind," replies Kate. That shuts the rep down, and elicits an apology. Kate says it's fine, no worries, you're just doing your job, but I'm just declining to give a reason. OK, no problems, Kate gets her account number, and away we go.

Just a few minutes ago, I decide to finally follow through on my plan to cancel a credit card. One that I hadn't used in many months, one that has a painfully low limit, such that I've long since replaced it in my wallet with a better card from a better bank. I work my way through the phone tree, and reach a representative. I wish to cancel, I explain. May I ask why, she asks? No, I reply, I do not wish to give a reason. The rep tries twice more, finally apologizing and saying that for the bank to be able to give better customer service, she would like to know what I can tell her to put down as the reason for cancellation. I understand, I reply. Please go ahead and write down, "Customer declines to provide a reason." I say that a bit forcefully, as I'm tired of playing, and she needs to stop trying to drag me back to the script. That does the trick. She understands that I'm not playing the game. The account is closed, lots of schpiel follows about how they thank me for my patronage, and hope I'll consider them again, etc., etc., etc. Thanks and have a nice day.

Total time on the phone? Two minutes and fifty five seconds. To cancel a credit card. I've never had that take less than ten to fifteen minutes before. I'm a rock star.

So, my advice to you is this: Don't give the company a reason for canceling, if you've already made up your mind and want to cancel your service. When Kate and I were discussing Sprint earlier, she mentioned that she thought it would be wise to let Sprint know that she was jumping to T-Mobile because Sprint doesn't have an Android phone. In response to that, I pointed out a couple of things. First, Sprint's CEO is on the record as mouthing off about how Android sucks. He's just trying to make his company seem less foolish for not more openly embracing the Android bandwagon, even while Sprint is probably secretly working on their own Android phone as we speak. And also, do you really think Sprint's CEO gives a shit what you think? Let them figure it out by the number of phone numbers ported to T-Mobile. Sure, the cancellation reason data collected by telephone customer service representative probably does trickle up to management, eventually. But, clearly, the primary purpose of that information is to for customer retention. It's to talk you out of canceling. And Sprint is not paying you for that time or for your insight. My time is valuable to me. Isn't yours? Yet Sprint or XM Radio, they want to spend that time freely, engaging you into a script-driven negotation over whether or not you really want them to do what you called up to have done in the first place.

If they really cared what you thought, they'd send you a survey in the postal mail, or have a survey firm call you a few days down the line, and keep the process completely separate from customer retention. And if they want me to respond, they can staple a five dollar bill to it.

You know what sucks? XM Radio

I have my car again for a few weeks, until I drive it down to Texas to sell it to my friend.

It has XM Radio in it. I've had XM Radio for years. When I lived in Minnesota, I had a 15 mile (each way) drive through heavy traffic, and being able to listen to fun stuff is what helped keep me sane. Now that I don't drive much anymore, XM is far less important to me.

Since I had the car, I drove it down to work in Indianapolis, instead of taking the bus. I forgot to bring my iPod along. No worries, I thought to myself, I'll just listen to XM.

Except...XM has changed, and not for the better. Last Wednesday, which is the day I was driving down to Indianapolis, XM and Sirius executed their merger. What this means is, most of XM's music channels went away. No more "Fine Tuning." No more "XM Cafe." No more "Ethel." Just lots of soundalike channels with smaller playlists and slightly different focus. For example, Ethel has been replaced with Alt Nation. Alt Nation is apparently all Southern California Frat Boy Hard Rock Masquerading as Indie, all the time. Yuck.

BPM, the dance channel, survived. And now there's another dance channel, called Area, which is....just about the same. Heavy on the trance, heavy on mix sets, heavy on European stuff. Not Different Enough.

There's a new NPR channel -- that's good, I like it. And they added BBC Radio 1 - one of my favorite pop stations around. Great! But, what about the rest of this garbage? They took away other stations to add a Grateful Dead channel? Really? In fact, there are now six or seven "single artist" channels -- apparently for people who don't know how to work an iPod or a CD changer.

Where's the punk channel? Where's Ethel? And Lucy? And Flight 26? And the disco channel?

This seals the deal for me -- since I'm ditching the car, I'll hardly be listening to XM any more, anyway. I'll cancel my home receiver, and my car's subscription, as soon as I drop the car off in Texas.

Bye, XM. It's been fun. (Did you know that I was one of your first subscribers? I've had XM for years.)

My friend Mickey is the guy buying the car. Think he'll activate the XM? I suspect not, cause he ain't happy about the merger, either.

Megabus Double Decker Fun

I've written about Megabus before. I take it down to Indianapolis for work pretty often. I've ridden it many times, though after my one bad experience with the bus breaking down, I avoided it for a while.

So, I started taking the Amtrak down. It's a lot of fun if it's a night when the Cardinal runs. There's a bar car and food to be had, and it's a comfortable ride. Takes longer than driving, or longer than the bus, though. The Amtrak is always delayed in transit due to freight traffic, and it makes a lot of stops. This means what is about a three or four hour drive ends up being a five to six hour train ride. By the end of it it's after midnight and I'm usually sleepy and grumpy. Still, better than driving.

The return train from Indianapolis to Chicago leaves very early in the morning, which doesn't work for me. So, I ended up drifting back to the Megabus. For a while I was doing a split ticket, taking the Amtrak down and the Megabus back. That worked out well. If the bus doesn't break down, it's a comfortable ride. Sometimes, if it's crowded, it's a bit less fun, but still, usually tolerable.

Last time around, I wasn't able to book my travel until the last minute. The train was sold out, so I had little choice but to take the Megabus down. To my surprise, I was able to ride a double decker bus. A friend had warned me that the top floor of a double decker can feel a little wobbly as you bob and weave down the highway, so I sat downstairs. I had just about the entire downstairs to myself, and it was a pretty sweet setup. It had chairs organized in a sort-of lunchroom/kitchenette setup, with a set of two chairs facing front, two chairs facing back, and a table in the middle. Since it was just me, I had plenty of room to spread out, set up my laptop and catch up on work, etc. It was a very nice ride. Very quiet, and since I had just about the whole downstairs to myself, I imagined that this is what it feels like to ride on a private bus, like the Madden Cruiser. Not bad at all.

So, next week, I'm probably heading down that way again. Should I take the train, or the Megabus?

Burger? Burger!

Best neighborhood lunch (so far)? A gyros burger from Morse Gyros. Take a bacon cheeseburger. Remove the bacon. Replace it with a small amount of gyros meat. Add a bit of tzatziki to the lettuce and tomato. It was amazingly good. And it's a nice way to enjoy a bit of gyros flavor without eating a giant, senses-overwhelming blob of gyros for lunch.

The place is clean, and the price is right. A gyros burger with fries and a soda is $5.95, tax included.

Best Cab Company to Call?

Hi from Boston, BTW. Kate and I are here to see some sights, eat some seafood, and visit family.

After today's adventure with Flash Cab no-showing and not answering their phone when I called to find out what was up (3 phone calls, each time they answered, then I went into a queue, then it rang about 400 times until I gave up), I'm wondering what a better option is, if I want to pre-arrange a cab to O'Hare from Rogers Park. Anybody have any opinions?

(Kate did finally get hold of somebody at Flash Cab on the fourth try. By that time, it was already 20 minutes past when we needed the cab to be there, and we told them fuggedaboudit. Then we caught a cab on Sheridan in about 30 seconds. Which is perhaps just what we should have done to begin with.)

Morse Theatre Reinvented and Ready to Open

Read all about it in the Chicago Tribune. (Hat tip: North Howard Neighbors Association.)

Irritatingly, I'm about to go out of town for a few days, so I won't be able to wander over there and check it out on Thursday, which bums me out. If you head on over there this weekend, please let me know about your experience!

I imagine my girlfriend and I will be checking it out next weekend.

It'll be interesting to see what the music vibe at this place becomes over time. I see some jazz, but a lot of blues, too. And a bit of classical. I have pretty broad musical tastes, but what I'm most hopeful for is more live jazz in the neighborhood. I'll get out to see it a lot more often if I don't have to head all the way down to the South Loop to visit the Jazz Showcase.

Spam from Randolph Wine Cellars

As I mentioned here previously, an email address I gave only to Uncommon Ground ended up in the hands of Randolph Wine Cellars. How Randolph Wine Cellars got hold of my address, how they got hold of this list, I'm still not sure, and I'm continuing to investigate.

But I can tell you, I don't think Uncommon Ground is to blame here. I think they were a victim. I think this was done without their knowledge or consent.

This is a developing story, so I don't yet have all the answers. In the mean time, there are two things you can do:
  1. Read this update from me, over on my SpamResource blog, with more information.
  2. Frequent Uncommon Ground over on Devon and Glenwood. Their food is awesome, it's close by, and I think you'll love the vibe. My girlfriend and I love the place. If you haven't checked it out, I think you really need to. Helen's chicken sandwich is yummy. As is the buffalo skirt steak, pork "t-bone," pumpkin ravioli, and more.
BTW, I'd love to know if anybody else got spam from Randolph Wine Cellars. Please let me know.

Cops Outside 1137 Pratt?

Anybody know why there were 3-4 cop cars at 1137 Pratt, with a bunch of officers looking around, shining flashlights all over the outside of the building, about 7:30 pm tonight? We were walking by and didn't stop to ask the officers what was going on.

Weekend Casino Adventues!

Kate and I have made it down to Indiana to go to a casino a couple different times now. We had lots of fun both times. Going to a casino on a Saturday is a good way to waste a day.

The Horseshoe Casino in Hammond was our first destination. Getting there was easy. There's a free bus that picks you up in front of the Hyatt on Wacker. Leaves every two hours or so. Talk to the concierge at the Hyatt to find exact details. I think we caught the bus at 12:10.

After a quick bus ride, you get dropped off at the Horseshoe. If you're not a member of their rewards club, you pretty much have to join as a condition of the free bus ride. It's not much of a big deal. It costs nothing, and you get a coupon for money off the buffet.

The bus driver gives you a slip that works as your return bus ticket. It has a pre-printed time on it. Ours was 5:10. I imagine you could leave at 3:10 or 7:10 instead, if you so desired. I doubt they look that closely. I'm sure they give you a preset time in order to get you to stay long enough at the casino to spend some money.

We had a late lunch at the buffet. We're big fans of casino buffets, as they usually have pretty good food, and you can get whatever you want. I really liked their buffet. It was big and there was a lot to choose from. I rated it higher than Kate did, but she would still probably say it was fine.

The actually casino area itself is amazingly nice and new. I understand that the Horseshoe was recently refurbished and remodeled. It definitely looks really nice, and it feels pretty much like you're in Las Vegas. As with all the casinos around that area, you're actually on a boat. We walked around outside a bit to try to see the boat, but it's not much to look at. It's a giant building built on a barge. Not very boat like at all.

The casino layout was fine. Lots of slots. Not a lot of penny or nickel slots -- this place really seems to have more expensive games than other casinos. We played a lot of slots, a bit of video poker, and some roulette. We know very little about roulette, but our dealer was very kind and patient with our dumb questions. Be sure to tip your dealer.

Strangely, this casino has no hotel attached to it. That makes it less than suitable for a weekend excursion. I don't know that I'd want to stay here late in to the evening gambling, then have a nice dinner at the steak house, then have to take a bus or drive home. It's a lot more fun, too, when you have a room you can go chill out in, periodically.

Also, there is absolutely zero to look at outside the casino here. It's really in the middle of nowhereville, and there's nothing but a long driveway to walk back down to get back to civilization.

We hit up the Horseshoe probably about a month ago. This past weekend, my parents were in town, so we took them to the Ameristar Casino in East Chicago. Seems like this casino has changed names a couple of different times. It was a Harrah's, then a Resorts, and now it's an Ameristar. Ameristar isn't a big name. I've never been to an Ameristar casino before, and their website suggests they're located in random cities, far from Las Vegas.

There's a free shuttle to the Ameristar, but we didn't use it. My parents rented a car to drive down here, so we just used that to drive to the casino. It was easy to get to. I-90 to Cline Avenue, and follow the signs. Piece of cake.

Turns out, the Ameristar is very nice. Like the Horseshoe, it's also on a boat. Unlike the Horseshoe, it actually looks like a boat from the outside. If you're bored, walk outside by the bus drop off, and turn to your right, and walk to the water's edge. You can see the boat -- a large four or five deck vessel, instantly recognizable as having actually been originally designed as a water conveyance.

The Ameristar is perhaps not as newly remodeled as the Horsehoe, but it's still very nice, clean and modern. They have a good three or four levels of casino floor on board the boat, and they have a ton of penny slots to choose from. Sometimes it was almost hard to find nickle or quarter slots to try instead. (And it did take a bit of poking around to find where they kept the video poker games hidden.) It's hard to tell for sure, but this casino might be a bit more affordable than the Horseshoe.

I tried roulette at Ameristar. My mom, who likes roulette, sat at the table and played as well. Our dealer seemed less on top of things than the dealer at the Horseshoe was. At one point she gave both my mom and another player the same color chips, and then there was a huge incident trying to determine who actually won a game, when that color won. That was confusing and irritating, and I damn near don't excuse the dealer for that. That was the one blemish on an otherwise enjoyable experience at the Ameristar.

The buffet at the Ameristar is a bit small. The selection was fine and nobody went away hungry, but it wasn't anything like what you'd see at any sort of Las Vegas casino, old or new. There's also a diner, a sports bar, and a steak house. The diner doesn't open until 6:00 pm. Next time we go, we'd likely try eating somewhere else, assuming the sports bar has food during the day.

The Ameristar has a hotel, and from what I read online, it seems to get pretty good reviews. In spite of the lackluster buffet, I do think this would be a fun place to stay a night. It's a shame that they don't seem to have musical acts or entertainment. This would be a fun place to come see some worn out old crooner, working the B-grade casino circuit.

We found both casinos to be a lot of fun, and they're both worth visiting. It's a very close call, but if I had to choose between them, I think I'd choose the Ameristar over the Horseshoe. The Horseshoe might have been a hair fancier, but the Ameristar is still very nice, and seemed a bit more affordable. I can see us going here some night to gamble, have a nice dinner at the steakhouse, then staying at the hotel for the night.

RoPa is Open!

Did you know? RoPa is open! It's located in the old Cafe Suron space at 1146 West Pratt. We've been there a couple times now, and loved the food both times. We'll probably write up something more substantial later, but for now, I'll just say: Yum. Go check it out.

And be sure to try the 14 Hands Cabernet, it's quite good.

ETA: Since this post shows up first when Googling for "RoPa Rogers Park," I thought I would be kind and include a link to their website: RoPa Restaurant and Wine Bar.

Morse Theatre

I didn't even know the Morse Theatre had a website until I saw Craig complaining bitterly (and immaturely) that they're linking to him.

From the looks of it, they're going to open around the first of October. I can't wait to check it out. I'm glad to have more stuff in the neighborhood.

Sounds like maybe Craig must have gotten into some pissing match with them, like he did with Morseland. Don't really care, not my fight, and it's Craig's loss.

Poor Dating on Websites

I knew this was bound to happen. United Airlines stock dived the other day, because people don't know how to read web pages properly.

It's not entirely a reader's fault -- I have long noticed that when I search for and find various archived articles all over the web, the web page I'm reading rarely spells out exactly when the article was originally written or published. Even worse, a lot of sites have a stupid bit of Javascript on them somewhere that always says today's date. I don't need a newspaper's website to tell me what today's date is -- it's not a calendar. It needs to tell me what date the article I'm reading, the page I'm looking at, was originally authored.

When I right click on a page and look up the page's info, sometimes it gives me more information, including the original date of publication. Often, it does not. So many websites are database driven, and things like template or sidebar changes make a page count as "updated" today, even though the article is from 2002.

Shame on any newspaper, other periodical, or article-driven website that does not make it clear and easy to determine on what day (and in what year) an article was originally published.


The convenience store Sonny's at Lunt and Sheridan was robbed a short while ago. (Current time here is about 2:50 pm.) I am led to believe that a butcher knife was used and that nobody was hurt. The cops seem to have found the knife.

ETA: More info from Craig.

Big Fat Bacon!

Damn, maybe I'm regretting moving away from Minnesota. I'm missing out on the opportunity to eat 1/3 pound slice of bacon fried and carmelized with maple syrup, served on a stick with dipping sauces. (Image Courtesy of Dave Romm.)

Thankfully there's Wiener and Still Champion in Evanston, if I need my bacon fix. They have battered, deep fried bacon. I'm intrigued, but scared, and have yet to order it.

The Giant Hole on Sheridan

Worst photo ever, taken by me, last night, on the way home from the Italian Village.

Every time I return from being out of town for a few days, I see that something has changed around the big hole on Sheridan at Pratt, just outside the 7-11. I come back and find a new cone, or new blinky light, or something added to improve the visibility of the giant hole. This time, they've gone all out. The put up a fancy barrier with yellow safety tape all the way around.

It's great that they're concerned about this thing. Somebody's paying attention. I expect the barrier/warning/cover/whatever around this thing to grow bigger and more impressive until it begins to look like an ice fishing house.

Or? I had another thought: The city could just fix the hole. It's a sunken manhole cover or something. I imagine it takes a bit of work to repair, but it's it's been this way for months, and it is a dangerous hazard. Good thing I don't have a car right now; maneuvering around it in a vehicle is a hassle.

Leash Your Damn Dog!

I think I aged about fifteen years in the past ten minutes. I took one of our dogs (Solly) out this morning so he could go to the bathroom, and so I could run to the corner store. I saw a certain neighbor with his two dogs a ways down the alley. Solly and I were not headed that way, and the neighbor and his dogs were a ways away, so I didn't think much of it. We get a ways further down the block and Solly stops to do his business. Out of nowhere, two larger dogs are suddenly on top of him, jumping around, growling, barking. One of the dogs backed away, maybe just wanted to be friendly, but the other one is on top of him, barking, trying to bite at his neck, I think. I ended up pulling them apart while screaming at everyone to back off, and then I yelled at the owner to control his damn dogs. He retorted that my dog attacked first, which makes little sense because my dog is on a leash, standing there, going to the bathroom. WTF?

On a related note, I plan on bursting in on my neighbors while they're on the toilet later today. Just want to make friends and get to know them. Apparently it's an OK thing to do.

(Yeah, I realize it's extremely unwise to pull two dogs apart. But the owner of the other dog was just standing there, and I reacted without taking time to think it through.)

Rogers Park(ing): An Update

As I mentioned before, we lost our parking space on August 1st. What did we end up doing?

Going carless!

On August 2nd, we drove my 2004 Saturn VUE up to Minneapolis and parked it at my father's house. This is a bit of a trial run; if it doesn't work out, we can always head up to Minneapolis and get the car back.

But, for now, at least, we're car-free. No parking, no problem. It's a nice feeling. So far, it's been fine. Kate has applied for i-Go, and is already finding the process frustrating.

I may sign up for i-Go or Zipcar myself, but for right now, I don't need it. Groceries can be delivered, and I can always take a cab home from Target.

We'll see if I still feel that way come December.

If this works out, I'm going to get rid of the car for good. I can always rent one if I ever need one. It'll be nice to be out from under the payment and insurance-- which I can't quite make happen yet, as the loan isn't paid off. Very soon, though.


Hey, welcome to the official relaunch of my blog. I have posted here sparsely, mostly because I had a half dozen blogs going all at once. Well, no more of that. I'm going to roll up a few of the other blogs I have and move them on over here, as tagged entries on

At some point, I may even tell you why I changed the name of this blog, and that that name means. Stay tuned.

Hertz, are you kidding me?

So, we traveled from Chicago to Minneapolis for a few days, to take care of some family business, and visit some friends. We're taking the train back down to Chicago, today. As we sit at the Amtrak station, waiting for the train to come in, I've been observing what goes on at the Hertz car rental desk here at the station. That's Hertz Local Edition, here at the Amtrak Station at 730 Transfer Road in St. Paul, Minnesota.

It seems like a good idea. Oh great, I thought to myself. Next time we come up here, we can just pick up a rental car at the station. I'm not the only one who has thought this would be a great idea; as I have sat here for the past hour, I have seen two people walk up and inquire along these lines.

Only to be told that one can only pick up a car between 7:00 am and 6:00 pm. Which is somewhat of a problem, because the only train from Chicago arrives at about 11:00 pm every evening.

So, here's the deal. There's a train station, where you can rent cars, but not when you actually arrive on the train station on a train. Does that strike anybody else as incredibly useless?

I overheard an employee say to one gentleman, "this isn't here for the train station. It's here for the neighborhood." Can you say "missed opportunities?" I knew you could!

Bill Morton on Joe Moore

I really liked Bill Morton's take on Joe Moore's past statements and opportunities to make things better in our 'hood. Like Bill, I'm relatively new to Rogers Park, only having moved here in 2006. Like Bill, it's taken me some time to decide what I agree with and what I don't agree with. Separate the truth from the bullshit, etc.

The Boys and Girls Club Fiasco is probably the first thing where it clicked for me that Joe Moore is being clearly, observably deceptive. There was obviously back room dealing going on regarding the Gale Park Community Center, and I'm glad to see so much light being shined upon it.

I would imagine Joe is .... less than pleased.

Making the Calls Stop

In June, I got a new phone from RCN. It didn't take long for the phone calls to start. The solicitations started coming within a couple days of hookup.

I've been doing my best to diligently address this problem. Registered the new number with the do-not-call registry. Politely asked callers to add me to their do not call list. For every automated call, I pushed the right button, or called the right number, to get a hold of a human. Waste a couple minutes of their time, as they've done to me. Just to politely let them know I am not interested, and could they please cease calling me?

Most were polite. One place, though, in particular, was not: World Data Systems.

They called repeatedly, and were abusive and rude when I asked them to stop calling. I would cut off their sales pitch, tell them I'm not interested, and they'd say things like, "Not interested in what? HAW HAW HAW" and then they'd hang up.

Then they or some other person would call me again the next day or the day after. Rinse, lather repeat.

The last person from World Data Systems who called me on July 18th called the wrong place at the wrong time. I let her have it. No, I am not interested in taking credit cards, because I do not run a business. I tried to tell your company this on every previous occasion, and yet you keep calling. What exactly does it take to get you to put this number on your do not call list? She just said, "Thank you" and hung up.

A bit of online research revealed various email addresses, contacts at the company. I emailed everyone I could find on July 18th and posed that same question. What exactly does it take to get your company to stop calling me? Nobody responded, but the calls seem to have ceased.

Here's the date and times of the calls, for the record.
7/18 11:08 am from 708-763-0861
7/17 12:56 pm from 708-763-0494
7/15 at 9:04 am from 708-763-0835
7/11 at 3:34 pm from 708-763-0617

Also, for the record, this company is one I will NEVER do business with. I am already put off by unsolicited telemarketing, and the fact that this company's employees are jerks when you try to get them to stop shows them to be unprofessional.

Rogers Park: Parking?

Anybody know of any parking spaces available for rent? Near Sheridan and Pratt? We're losing our for-pay parking space at the end of the month. The building we're renting from says they need the spaces for tenants.

I'll probably walk up and down the streets around there making calls over the next few days.

Comments from original post:

The North Coast said...

There is a SF home next door to me on Pratt, whose back yard has been turned into a parking lot, and there might be a space available. Someone told me that the spaces rent for $45 a month.

The house is right next door to the courtyard bldg at 1218-1228 W Pratt. It is a huge old brick-and-stone Dutch Colonial. I met the resident once. I would suggest slipping a note under the door with your contact info, because I don't know who to contact otherwise. If you walk around the back, you can see the parking.

July 19, 2008 4:27 PM
Blogger Al Iverson said...

Hey thanks, I appreciate the tip! I will wander over and check it out.

We are thinking we might go crazy and actually get rid of the car, on at least a trial basis. (I can park it at my father's home in Minnesota and let him use it.) But, we're still deciding.

July 19, 2008 5:52 PM
Blogger The North Coast said...

I ditched my car 20 years ago when I moved here from St.Louis, and it's the biggest favor I ever did myself.

I immediately realized savings of over $4000 a year. No more payments. No more repairs and getting mauled by mechanics. No more inspections. No more parking tickets. No more sliding money equal to a month's apartment rent under a plexiglass window to the towyard troll to ransom my car out. No more coming downstairs at 8AM to discover some drunk had peeled off the entire left side in the night. No more verbal duels with car salesmen to get them to drop the price because they marked the thing up 25% the minute they saw a woman walk in the door.

You just learn to live differently. You plan your trips more. For example, I buy the bulk of my groceries, especially large, heavy items such as cat litter, once a month and have them delivered. If you need a car once or twice a month, there are basic car share organizations like I-Go and ZipCars.

The neatest thing is that if you hanker after something really sexy, like a BMW roadster or Porsche or even just a sporty Japanese car, you can rent the thing. You can enjoy cars you could never afford to own.

July 20, 2008 12:43 PM

Rogers Park: Grifter Alert

This guy is still around and still going strong. I exchanged words with him at Sheridan and Pratt this morning at about 9:30 am. I'll try to grab a picture next time I see him.

Stan Properties / SPSuites @ 1137 W. Pratt

A friend of mine came to visit a few weeks ago. We thought it would be fun to set him up at 1137 West Pratt – which is very near to home. We had previously stumbled across the fact that they run part of the building as a hotel, having run into the occasional college student or international traveler on the street asking us where they go to check in.

Investigation turned up a web site with more information and online booking. It was a bit of a risk, not knowing what the building was like inside, but we decided to go for it. The location was perfect, and it was significantly cheaper than a hotel room.

I booked a room online and let my friend know. The first snag was, I booked it for the wrong long weekend. I called Stan Proprties and talked to a very helpful woman named Cera, who helped me update the dates to the right ones. She was supposed to call me back and tell me when it was complete, but did not. I did receive an email from their automated system indicating that the date was updated per my request.

Then, the day before he arrived, I noticed that the date was off by one day. He was arriving on Friday, but the “hotel” reservation started on Saturday. This was partially my fault; I simply had told Cera to move the dates up a week, and I didn't double check the dates. If I had, I would've more quickly found that the date was only adjusted by six days, not seven.

I figured this out on Thursday evening, just before bed, so, first thing Friday morning, I called Bogdan at Stan Properties. He wasn't sure if anything could be done. I said I'd be willing to pay extra to upgrade to a more expensive suite, if it would help things. He told me he would figure out what could be done and call me back. That was about 9:40 in the morning. At about 1:30 in the afternoon, I called back. Bogdan indicated that it would be no problem to check in today instead. I asked if I should call back around 4 pm (check-in time) to get the keys, and he said yes.

So, I called back just after 4pm. A different person answered. (Sadly, I didn't write her name down, though I ended up talking to her a half-dozen times that day.) She said the room hadn't been cleaned yet, and that she'll find out where the cleaners are and let me know. I said that was fine, because they were doing me a favor changing the reservation, and my friend wasn't in yet.

While I was standing outside the building – I saw the setup for obtaining the keys. They have 3 or 4 “realtor-style” key-holding padlocks attached to the front gate. These are the kind of thing a real estate agent would use to get into your house to show it to prospective buyers. They give you the code for your key box, and inside you find your keys.

It seems pretty straight forward. But, like I said, we've run across people trying to “check in” here in the past, and those people have always been confused. I think if I didn't live nearby, and already know how this worked, I'd likely be really confused. Case in point, while I was there, I saw a woman sitting there with luggage, looking forlorn. She was visiting from Ireland, with her fiance, and had a reservation here. They didn't see the key boxes and didn't know what to do. Her fiance was off somewhere figuring out what to do, so I called Stan Properties back and helped her get her key out of the box and get into the building. She was very grateful. I certainly don't blame her for not easily understanding how this process works – it's very uncommon. Visitors expecting a typical “hotel style” process will find that it is anything but.

The woman from Stan Properties informed me that the cleaning people were downtown, and it now being rush hour, it'd probably take them a couple hours to get up to Rogers Park and get the room cleaned up. Knowing Chicago traffic, that seemed truthful. I hadn't yet picked my friend up from Union Staiton, and even afterward, we were just going to hang out and then have dinner, so there was no real rush to check in.

After I picked him up and we grabbed a cab back up to the neighborhood, we dropped his stuff off at our apartment, and went out for dinner and drinks.

I was disappointed that the woman from Stan Properties, who promised me with absolute certainty that she would call me back when we could check in, never called me back. They're now zero for three on returning phone calls. I realize people are busy, stuff is happening, but this is a problem. It takes no effort to return a phone call and say “hey, still working on it, sorry for the delay.” I do this myself, via phone or email, when working on a particularly tricky and urgent problem for a client.

Anyway, I called Stan Properties back just after 8:00 pm to find out where we're at with getting the keys to a clean suite. The call was received by an answering services, who took down all my information, and assured me that they'd page somebody. They did, and that person called me back about fifteen minutes later. It turns out that nobody had come to clean the room and drop off keys. They paged somebody else, who came up there to clean the room. A couple more phone calls later, they said it would be very soon now, and we'd be all set.

We stopped in a neighborhood bar for an after dinner drink while we waited. After we were done there, nearing 10:00 pm, we decided to give them one more try before giving up and checking my friend into the Hilton Garden in Evanston instead. I walked over to the gate just as somebody was fiddling with the key boxes on the front gate. He was the Stan Properties employee setting up the room, and he had keys for us. Finally, all set.

We grab my friend's luggage and take it on over. The lobby of 1137 Pratt is nice and clean. After a bit of confusion, we find the elevator. (It looks to be about an eight floor building; it better have an elevator. My friend is older and stairs would kill him.) The elevator is very, very old, and missing a couple of buttons, but it gets the job done. We exit on his floor and note that the hallways are very small, and a bit beat up. Definitely could use some sanding and patching, plus a new coat of paint.

The room itself was actually very nice. It was a very small studio. Very small. It had a twin bed. (Or was that a double? It was pretty small, so I'm thinking it's a twin bed.) But just about everything in the room is brand new. It has a perfectly serviceable little bathroom, and kitchenette. It had a flat screen TV and ethernet cable for internet. Everything is clean and nice.

My friend couldn't get the TV or ethernet to work. He rarely watches TV, and he has a Sprint EVDO modem for internet, so these weren't really issues. Nothing worth complaining about. (And it's hard to say if there is an issue with the TV, or if it's just too complicated to wrangle.)

The stay itself was uneventful. No problems with electricity, heat, water, any of that. There were no loud noises, nothing disturbed him, nothing made him feel unsafe. It worked well for my friend to stay so near, and he got a good night's rest at the end of each day of adventuring. It did just what a tourist needs a hotel room to do -- give one a quite place to relax when not exploring the city.

Kate and I are always trying to get friends to visit – so this was a bit of a “test run” to see if we'd be comfortable with other friends, or my parents, staying here. Was it a successful run? I'm not entirely sure. I'm a bit irked about the company not returning various phone calls throughout the process. That, plus it taking until nearly 10 pm to get the keys, makes me worry that they might be the kind of people to just “tell you what you want to hear” to get you off the phone, even if it's something they can't do anything about. I hope that's not the case.

This really could be a deal killer. Thankfully, I have my platinum card. Sometimes stuff happens and you just have to throw the credit card at it to make it go away. Eating (or disputing) one hotel charge while having to spend more on a last minute different, more expensive hotel charge, is something I can do in an emergency. Hell, that's why the good lord invented the platinum card. So if I were stuck, if this ended up not working out, it would have been irritating, but not the end of the world. I wonder, though, about other people that stay here, that don't have a backup plan, don't know the neighborhood, don't know where else to look for a hotel. That would not be a good situation to be stuck in.

And the building hallways and elevator need some TLC. The building age isn't really a problem; I live in a similarly aged building, and my place in Minneapolis was even older (having been built in the 1880s). So, I'm not put off by the potential limitations of an old building. But at some point you can't just add more coats of paint to something; it actually needs to be sanded and patched. (And elevator buttons replaced.) It reminded me a bit of the hotel I stayed in when I last visited New York for work. (A little old, a little beat up, bring your cell phone with in the elevator just in case, but everything ended up working out just fine.)

Also, a lot of the communication issues were driven by me originally booking the suite for the wrong dates. If I booked it correctly to begin with, and they had been able to work through their normal schedule, to get the room ready by 4:00 pm the day of check in, would any of this been an issue?

The room itself was fine. The location was great. The price was a bargain compared to usual hotel prices here in the Windy City. And it was probably a lot nicer than the Super 8 on Sheridan Road.

So, depending on who next comes to visit, we may try this again. It's worth giving another shot, and if everything comes together, the process and property would work out fine. We shall see.

Sprint EVDO Woes (Maybe)

I'm writing myself a quick note in this space, so that I'm keeping track of my various discussions with Sprint regarding my EVDO coverage.

Seemingly, since I replaced my EVDO modem, I'll have periods where the connection will work fine for a few minutes, then slow down to a very slow speed, then drop completely. Often the Sprint Smartview app will say I'm connected, but I'll have no actual connectivity.

It feels to me like a dead zone (poor cellular signal) or internet issue, perhaps relating to what tower I might be connected to, or related to my physical location (Sheridan and Lunt, Chicago). But, I'm not an expert.

Today, I tried to login to Sprint's website so that I could email my concerns to Sprint support.

Their website says I have to prove who I am...all over again. Even though I'm a registered user. I have to identify myself via one of two ways:

1. Text message to my Sprint phone. I don't have a Sprint phone. I have an USB Mobile Broadband modem. I have no clue if it receives text messages. I assume that it does not.

2. Answer a bunch of weird and invasive questions. When you lived on Columbus Avenue, what kind of car was registered there? Uh, I never lived on Columbus Avenue, and I have no clue. It asked about six variations on things like that until it locked me out for giving wrong answers. It's clearly getting data from a consumer credit report -- and it's confusing me with my father, based on the data it's displaying. And I have no idea what year Lincoln he had when he lived on Columbus. FTW.

OK, so I call in to Sprint instead. A explain to the rep that I can't access the Sprint site and that it's asking me for personal information that doesn't actually relate to me. He very slowly confirms this for himself by logging in as me (I have to give him my password over the phone, very high tech). He says there is a system issue and it will be fixed in two hours. Okay, that's balogna, but I give up for now.

I explain my problem holding a Sprint EVDO connection. He keeps saying there is a problem with the Sprint website and it will be fixed in two hours. Dude, I'm not talking about the Sprint website, and a problem I've been having for days-to-weeks has nothing to do with whatever issue is currently being experienced with the website. We go around and around on this, until I give up, and I ask him to transfer me to another rep. He can't/won't/whatever, and keeps telling me to try again in two hours. I hang up and call back.

Next rep -- helpful, polite, clueless. Tries to help me troubleshoot the connection. Her script refers to some version of Sprint software that I do not have. She keeps asking me to click on buttons that don't exist, menu items not found in that application, etc. She finally admits that I'm not crazy, we really are working on two different versions of an application, and she escalates it up a tier.

The third rep -- polite, knowledgeable. But, has to run me through all the lame troubleshooting stuff one does with PCs. Reboot. Uninstall. Re-install. Clear DNS cache. Re-activate the modem. OK, can't harm anything, maybe something will change. We'll see.

I'm up and running after all of that, though it cost me 59 minutes and 24 seconds of my day, spent on the phone with Sprint. And who's to say if something actually changed, or if things are just working fine for a while (as they do) then start crapping out again.

We'll see.

Plans for the future include calling Sprint every time the connection gets fussy, to make sure that stuff is logged, in case I want to ask for a credit later. (Or if I want them to wave the ETF later, if I want out of this contract.)

Hmm. AT&T is a no go in my neighborhood in Chicago. Sprint is driving me nuts today. What's left? I wonder if Verizon has good coverage here.

Liquor License for RoPa? Yes, Please!

We received this notice in the mail a couple weeks ago regarding RoPa, the new restaurant going in where Cafe Suron used to be. (I should have posted it sooner but I am a travelin' fool lately.) My take is: Yes, we want RoPa to have a liquor license. I would most definitely enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail with some delicious Mediterranean food. BYOBs are a pain in the rear, as bringing a bottle of wine along requires planning and forethought that I lack.

Date: 5/23/2008

The following is information on a liquor license application which has been submitted to the Chicago Department of Business Affairs and Licensing:

Date of Application: 5/23/2008
Name of Applicant: TAS ENTERTAINMENT, L
Address of Applicant: (not posted by me)
Business Address: 1146 W PRATT BLVD
License Type/Description: Incidental

If for any reason you have an objection to the City granting this license, submit your specific written complaints or comments to:

MaryLou Eisenhauer, Acting Director
Department of Business Affairs and Licensing Local Liquor Control Commission
121 N. LaSalle, Room 805
Chicago, Illinois 60602

Pursuant to section 4-60-050 of the Chicago Municipal code, the city is required to send public notice of a new package goods, tavern, or incidental license application to all legal voters within 250 feet of the proposed location. All objections must be received by the Department of Business Affairs and Licensing/Local Liquor Control Commission within 40 days of the date of the application shown above. If received by the 40th day, your comments will be taken into consideration by the Mayor's License Commission before any decision is rendered on the issuance of the license. In the event a hearing is commenced in this matter, you may be required to provide testimony in person to support your complaint or comment.

Poetry Reading at Quimby's Books

My friend Paula Cisewski will be in town on June 23rd to read at Quimby's Books at 1854 W North. For more information, click here.

White MacBook Wrist Rest

If you've ever seen a used white MacBook, you know how grimy the wrist rest gets. Just gross. Whatever spongy rubber they use on the white ones wears down, gets sweat and goo caught in it, and no amount of Windex can bring it back to life. My girlfriend has one, and it was yucky looking.

So instead, I replaced it with the wrist rest/keyboard assembly from a black MacBook. She ordered it from this place. It was as advertised, seems to be the real OEM part. Took a handful of small screwdrivers and some patience to install. Now it's working great, and her computer now has a unique look.

AT&T Wireless Internet Coverage

Turns out AT&T's 3G wireless broadband service doesn't work that well here in Rogers Park. I tried it at my home, my office, and Ennui, and if I can get any sort of stable connection, it's much slower than comparable service from Sprint. Read more about it over on my gadget blog.

Testing out AT&T 3G

I've had Sprint Mobile Broadband (EVDO) for a while, but my modem is wearing out (USB connector problems) and Sprint just instituted a 5 gigabyte monthly cap. I don't know if I hit that cap, but with that change, Sprint, Verizon, and AT&T all now have a 5G cap, and they all charge $60/month. As a result, Sprint lost any advantage from my perspective, and I decided to see about switching over to service from AT&T.

I stopped in at my local AT&T store today and picked up a USBConnect 881 wireless modem. I stopped at my office on the way home and installed the software. Just plugging in the modem mounts a read-only drive with the software installer on it. No installer CD to lose, which was neat.

The installer takes a good long while, and requires a reboot. After reboot, you wait a good long while for the modem to start up the first time. That's when I started to run into problems. I just couldn't keep an AT&T connection from my office. It would say connected, I could maybe click on one web site, then it'd sit there and I'd get "server not found" errors in Firefox. Literally at the same time as I am browsing the web successfully on my Sprint connection 2 feet to the left.

OK, AT&T fails that test.

I brought everything home (just a few blocks south of my office), and fire it up again. This time I'm sitting right in the window, and I'm able to get a good, solid AT&T connection, according to the software.'s slow. Really slow. The latency for web browsing is killing me. That's odd, I think to myself. My friends who have AT&T say that "where they have rolled out 3G, it usually feels faster than Sprint."

Well, maybe AT&T hasn't rolled out 3G to my neighborhood in Chicago. Because this is horribly slow. Maybe it's AT&T's fallback network connection, EDGE. (AT&T is still rolling out 3G coverage, but while Chicago is supposed to be covered, my experience suggests that it's not complete. T-Mobile and AT&T are the last national providers still dealing with slow-as-molasses EDGE data networks.)

I did some head-to-head testing on and here's what I found:

ISP Ping time ms) Speed: Down (kbps) Speed: Up: (kbps)
AT&T 3G 397 88 61
Sprint EVDO 165 1065 323
Comcast 22 7701 1538

(I tested my home Comcast connection just for fun. It's not really apples to apples.)

Comparing AT&T versus Sprint, the Sprint connection is twelve (12!) times faster for downloading, and five times faster at uploading. Latency, the measure of how long it takes to send the smallest bit of information back and forth, is also important. A web page with eight images means nine requests to a web server. Even if all nine requests are tiny, you get penalized by a higher latency; if the latency is very high, you're really going to feel that nine different times as you wait for the images to load. And Sprint's latency is half as much as AT&T's, meaning the Sprint connection would feel faster, even if it wasn't.

I'm sorry to say that AT&T 3G is not ready for prime time, at least not here in my neighborhood in Chicago. Back to the store it goes.

Update: And back to the store it went. I was an AT&T customer for slightly under 24 hours. The people at the AT&T store were helpful and polite on both trips. It's a shame their network speeds just didn't cut it. After returning the AT&T modem, I went to my local neighborhood Radio Shack and picked up a replacement Sprint modem, which I am now using and happy with.

Greetings from the Chicago Office

Well, I got the office space situation under control. A couple of false starts later, and I am now with my own office, located right near the corner of Sheridan and Lunt. Great little area, though I have to admit, I prefer Starbucks' hot chocolate to Ennui's. But, Ennui has good food, and the proximity to the office can't be beat.

I got the keys to the office space on Thursday, and have spent much of the time since then moving in furniture and making trips to the hardware store and Ikea. To move some random furniture that wouldn't fit in my car, I rented a hand truck from Clark-Devon Hardware. Worked out perfectly. It had a strap to hold furniture on, and an extra set of wheels to make rolling it the few blocks (through the alleys) pretty easy. Not a bad way to go, and I got a pretty good workout.

For internet, I have a Sprint wireless broadband modem. Latency when connecting to Google-hosted services (Gmail, Blogger, etc.) today has just been awful. Quite a few timeouts and etc. Not sure what I'm going to do about that. I'd hate to have to break down and get DSL or something, when I've already got the Sprint modem.

(ETA: I later broke down and got RCN cable internet.)

Ubuntu on the Eee: Way Cool!

I’ve been having a couple of nagging problems with Xandros on my Eee. It’s probably what you’d call “power user stuff” that nobody except me is going to run into. So, I decide to give Ubuntu a try instead.

I had actually tried loading Ubuntu 7.10 on my 12” Toshiba laptop, but there is some bug preventing audio from working, and I got fed up with fighting with it. I thought to myself, if this is the kind of trouble I’m going to have with Ubuntu, historically considered the “easy” Linux, then I’m in for a world of hurt.

But, I did a bit of reading, and found that a bunch of other folks are running Ubuntu on the Eee just fine, and there’s a website chock-full of info on how to get it installed and running.

The installation process was pretty easy. I have an external CD-ROM drive, so I downloaded the normal ISO disk image of Gutsy Gibbon (7.10) and installed it via their normal installer. Afterward, I copied the Ubuntu Eee script to an SDHC card, and ran it, to tweak everything that requires tweaking. (As the instructions suggested, I had to re-run it after loading a bunch of updates…and I did have do those mod probe commands before everything completely behaved.)

After all that, I’m up and running, and very happy.

I can tell that Ubuntu (or Gnome) is putting a bit more load on the Eee than Xandros/KDE was. I may try loading Xubuntu instead and seeing if that makes it slightly more responsive. But even accounting for that, I’m very happy with the results. I have a fully working system, don’t have to worry about filling up the drive space as quickly (by, say, upgrading OpenOffice without the old one taking up space on the default UnionFS partition), and lots more unixy-stuff “just works” without having to tweak it or work around Xandros/Eee customization issues.

I’ve been using the computer with Ubuntu on it since Thursday or Friday (today is Monday), and have even been using it for work today. I work for an internet company, so we’re all about web applications and Outlook. I’m using Thunderbird instead of Outlook, and that’s working just fine (though I have to login to the webmail interface to get at my calendar). Firefox is just Firefox, like on every other platform, and I’m having no issues there. Same with OpenOffice…all working excellently.

A Strange Adventure

What a strange and wild ride it’s been through the land of UMPCs and ultralight laptops.

I’ve been through a gazillion different laptops over the past few years. Here’s just a few highlights. (And this isn’t even accounting for normal size laptops/work computers provided by employers/etc.)

For the longest time, I had an Averatec 3200 series laptop. It was a bit slow, but the price was right ($999 new when I bought it, back whenever that was), and it ran like a champ. It was tiny. 12” 1024x768 screen, only a few pounds, very tolerable for hauling around. I did much of my blogging on that laptop. I rarely traveled for work back then, so I didn’t take it on the road with me very often. The furthest I got with it was the Starbucks down the street. I’d still have that laptop today, but the power supply connector slowly came loose from the motherboard. I wasn’t up for soldering, so I gave the laptop to a more technically-inclined friend, who repaired it and gave it to his mother.

I replaced that with a Toshiba U205. 12” widescreen, 1280x800 screen resolution. When the Averatec finally died, I decided I needed a replacement 12” laptop immediately, so I dragged my girlfriend to Best Buy and picked this one nearly at random. The laptop base is very thick, which makes it less fun for transporting it around. (It just barely fits into a 12” MacBook sleeve, one that would probably held two of the Averatec laptops.) And, this laptop was my first experience with Vista, which made me want to poke my eyes out. I ended up buying a retail XP license and downgrading it myself. After I went to XP, everything was golden. Until recently, it’d been my workhorse, every day, Powerpoint, Word, Outlook, etc, laptop. The screen is bright and gorgeous.

Beside the huge annoyance of Vista, I also had to deal with the huge annoyance of Best Buy – I had to argue with two employees and a manager about how no, I did not want to buy antivirus from them, no, I did not want to buy an extended warranty, no, I am not interesting in hearing more about why I’m wrong. They had a whole script worked out and they weren’t planning on “letting” me buy the laptop lest I invested in security software and a warrantee. I should’ve gave up and left at that point, but instead, I raised my voice and let them know, very loudly, that we can either stop talking and just sell me the laptop, or I can leave. They shut up and sold me the laptop at that point. That experience, combined with all the stuff I read about various other Best Buy shenanigans (read the Consumerist sometime), pretty much guarantees that I will never step foot into a Best Buy store ever again. But I digress.

I’ve still go the Toshiba. But, I wasn’t finding it suitable for travel. So, in my quest for smaller, lighter, more easily transportable, I bought an OQO Model 02. I tricked it out. Max RAM, max disk, Sprint EVDO built-in, docking station, spare battery, rugged case, tablet pen, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, etc. Every appropriate piece of kit I could think of, all to help maximize my OQO experience.

I ordered the OQO Model 02 back in May, right after it became available. (I think shortly after people found their pre-orders getting filled.) After using it, here’s what I found: The OQO Model 02 is a piece of garbage.

I had nothing but problems with the integrated Sprint EVDO modem (and I have had Sprint EVDO for a long time, so I know what I’m doing). I’ve had the thing brick for no reason. (Thankfully, I had the dock with DVD drive, so I could reload it.) I’ve had simple flash animations in Firefox hard freeze it. I’ve had the thing decide it doesn’t want to start up for no reason. I even ended up RMA’ing the first one. OQO Support has been very helpful and kind, but even replacing the unit didn’t really make things better.

I gave up and cancelled the Sprint service and went back to using an external EVDO modem, because it works a thousand times better. Talking to other geeks who have EVDO built into their laptops, I found that they seemingly never had issues – only I did.

I was traveling all the time for work, then. The point of having the OQO so was that I could catch up on emails or work projects while sitting bored at the airport. Or on a train. Or on a bus. Or at a cafĂ©. But the EVDO connection flapped intermittently, seemingly right in the midst of me trying to fix some important problem while logged in to work. It drove me nuts. I had visions of throwing this thing out of the window off the train a number of times. And beyond that, something about the CPU speed, bus speed, backplane, or something else, is just too painfully slow for everyday use in Windows. And keep in mind that we’re talking XP – not Vista!

So, forget that. The OQO became rarely used. For a while, we hooked it to our living room TV, and used it to run Slingbox (which it could barely do) or play movies I had converted to XVID format (which it also could barely do). Laughably, the thing has an HDMI port on it, yet it struggles to handle higher rez video. I’m not talking about running Adobe Premier, I’m talking about simply playing back an already compressed widescreen movie. I have no clue why they though to put an HDMI connector on it; all I ever did was end up converting it to VGA. It would’ve been much better to have a VGA connector on board, for PowerPoint warriors to use on the road. The thing is just absolutely not suitable to drive an HDTV.

Office 2007 was unbearable on the OQO, so I ended up rolling back to Office 2003 instead. It worked alright, and it did come in handy to have Outlook in my pocket while traveling. With two batteries, the thing can last all day long, which is neat. It comes in handy when you’re at a conference, sitting in the audience, and don’t really have the room for a full laptop.

But overall – with the problems I had – I’d call my OQO experience negative. I had always wanted an OQO since the first ones hit the street way back in 2005. Finally, I could afford one, and I could even get it with EVDO built in. Boy, do I regret that purchase.

I ended up selling everything to a friend at a substantial loss. I was pretty frank with him that the Asus Eee was cheaper and way better. But, he really wanted it, so I gave him a good deal. There’s been no complaining since, so perhaps it’s better suited to what he wanted to do with it.

I even consider my Sony U750P UMPC better than the OQO. I’ve had the tiny Vaio for years, and will likely never sell it. Mostly, we use it as our bedroom TV. It’s an excellent companion to a Slingbox. It’s only got an 800x600 screen, but that’s more than enough for simple web surfing or watching videos. If it had a built in keyboard, I’d probably still be using it as my work computer, to this day. When I worked in an office and had to go to meetings constantly, I had my employer set it up as my work computer. When docked at my desk I had a large monitor and keyboard. When in a meeting, I had just the touchscreen and a stylus. I've since then left that job and taken another one, where I travel quite a bit more. Without an integrated keyboard, I just don’t find the Sony suitable for travel, so it stays at home. (It has a neat, foldable USB keyboard. But it’s not really something you can successfully wrangle on a plane or a train.)

And that brings me to my current primary work/travel computer: The Asus Eee! I love this little guy, and have spent endless hours tweaking settings and fiddling. It’s working great for work, it works great for blogging or surfing while traveling (with my external Sprint EVDO modem), and I’ve even used it as my sort-of-cell-phone, using Skype over hotel wifi or my EVDO connections.

Laptop Magazine calls the Eee, “pound for pound, the best value-priced notebook on the planet,” and I couldn’t agree more. I added a 2GB RAM stick to mine, and a 16GB SDHC card, and it does everything I need to do, easily. The keyboard, while small, is suitable for travel. I wrote a blog post on an airplane recently. I’ve never been able to do that. There’s just not enough room and not even a 12” laptop fits in there well enough to allow you to touch type. But the Eee did!

The Eee has a few rough edges here and there, stuff I’ll likely talk more about in follow-up posts. But overall, my experience has been extremely positive since I bought it back in November. We actually ended up a three-Eee household for a bit. My girlfriend saw how much I was using my white Eee, that she ordered a pink one. When the pink one arrived, it dawned on me how neat it would be to have one in some other color, so I ordered the Galaxy Black 701. Now the Eee has gone from “neat” and “cute” to just amazing looking – it looks really great in black, and I’m very happy.

I’m selling the white one to a friend.

Office Space Hunt

I've been on the hunt for office space in our fair neighborhood lately. I had an office downtown, which was in a neat location, but it was an interior office with no windows, very tiny, and not all that cheap. I figured that up 'round these parts it'd be easier to find something at a reasonable price that was much nicer. Also, I like Rogers Park, like the idea of supporting it more, and like walking around the neighborhood. We frequent neighborhood stores, restaurants, and bars often. The area just feels like home.

In my hunt, I've looked at a few different spaces. I have a strong lead on one place that, if everything works out, I'll go for. It's right by the coffee shop Ennui, which would be nice for my morning coffee and snack needs.

I talked to another guy at another space on Morse. He showed me the space, I liked it, but didn't want to make a rash decision, so I thought on it overnight. In the mean time, he had even called me and offered to drop the price. Great! Definitely was within my budget. So I called him back the next day to agree to make a deal, and I received a strange, "Uhhh, I'm not sure if I can rent it now," reply from the guy. He indicated that somebody else had called him and is negotiating to lease the entire space. Could I wait a week and see if that falls through? If we had that discussion in person, he would've seen me roll my eyes. Tell ya what, I'm gonna keep looking. If you still have space next week, you feel free to ping me and offer it up. Strangely, that same day, he put up a new ad on Craigslist, asking for more money. Maybe he had second thoughts about what he offered the space to me for?

Anyway, that space was right by where people keep busting out windows these past few days. And I was fonder of the next space I looked at.

Anybody have any other leads on office space in RP? Need a one man space, maybe internet, maybe phone (or depending on the space I can use my sprint card and cell phone). I work for an Internet company and just need a quiet place to work. Ennui and Starbucks work for short periods, but not for the long haul.

(ETA: This content is from an previous site and comments were not saved.)

Flying on American

Lately I've grown to have an affinity for train travel. Big seats, power for your laptop, and a comfortable ride. Not to mention, you can get up and walk around.

If I want to go from Chicago to San Francisco, though, flying is pretty much my only option. Unless I want to spend two or three days straight on a train. I'm sure it'd be more relaxing overall, but who's got the time? As a result, I'm currently on an American Airlines flight from Chicago's O'Hare airport on my way to San Francisco.

The airport experience was fine. Checked in online the night before, and utilized curb side check-in at the terminal. The curb side check-in booth I was in line at was staffed by one very, very, very slow guy with too many people to handle, so I started to itch, worrying about making my flight on time (or more specifically, about my bag making it on the flight). Another airport employee noticed me on the verge of jumping up and down and helpfully directed me to the next door down, where there was no line to check a bag. Worked out great, and it very nice of him to point that out to me.

Got through security uneventfully. I was kind of wondering if I'd get questioned – I have all the gadgets in the world with me. I've got an iPod, my Nokia N800, my Windows Mobile phone and two tiny laptops (an OQO Model 02 and an Asus Eee). I'm selling the OQO to one of my friends when we meet up out in California, so it was necessary to lug it along in my messenger bag.

Nobody seemed to care. We'll see if my luggage was searched – I'm sure it looked weird that I had somewhere around six power supplies packed in the luggage. (And a spare battery, which supposedly they're concerned about nowadays. I'm sure it was under the size limit, though. And I was careful to put it in an ersatz carrying case (also known as a #10 envelope), as supposedly loose batteries are verboten.

Waiting at the gate, I noticed a standby list of 25+ for our flight, which was full or nearly full already. Maybe American had cancelled some other earlier flight to San Francisco. I know the weather was iffy inbetween here and there. Indeed, we sat on the tarmac for perhaps 20 minutes, our departure delayed due to weather west of us. Eventually they got it figured out and we got on our way.

We're on a “Super 80” jet with five seats across. There are signs indicating that there are DC power plugs under the seat. I'll have to figure that out after my Eee DC power adapter arrives.

Nobody's tried to squish their seat back on to me, and I can't hear a screaming baby for miles. This is as near to bliss as I'm ever going to get on an airplane, I suspect.

Terminal 3 at O'Hare is newish and generally clean, but like all airports nowadays, is completely overrun with people and none of those people are happy to be there. This goes for the employees, too. Nobody I've ever bought a magazine or McChicken from has ever showed the slightest hint of a spark that suggests that they enjoy life. But can you blame them? Their life is dealing with people at the airport all day.

Flying used to be a situation where I'd sit back, have a couple of drinks, and try my best to nod off and not think about landing or takeoff. I guess lately I've gotten to more of a zen place where I can sit and just force myself to relax. Lately, I tend to bring a chocolate bar and a large bottle of water, and that alone for food and drink in the air. It seems to help keep me calm.

Also, did I mention the gadgets? Nothing beats toys to play with while cooped up on an airplane. I have a pair of fancy-ish Sony noise-cancelling earbuds, which bring a cone of silence down and around me with a push of a button. Hooked them up to the Nokia, then caught up with a couple episodes of one of my favorite TV shows. Now I've got Miles Davis on the iPod, while I sit here and type this in OpenOffice on my Asus Eee.

The Eee has really turned out to be a traveler's best friend. It's the only laptop I've ever had where I can actually manage typing just fine on a seat back tray table. I might not be the only person who thinks so – I can see at least one other passenger typing away on one a few rows ahead of me.

Greyhound? No thanks.

So, I took the Greyhound bus back home to Chicago from Indianapolis, today.

It was.... about what you'd expect. Lots of stupid people who don't know how to travel and don't care about being courteous to others.

Where do I begin?

There was the guy who was mad that I sat next to him. "You're sitting on my pants!" Uh, your pants are very baggy and they're half over on my seat. Move 'em. He got mad and went and sat somewhere else. No idea where, since the bus was just about full.

Then there was the guy in front of me who was determined to take up as much space as possible. A woman asked to sit next to him and he was rude to her. "Maybe you should look somewhere else first." She said, no, scoot over. And asked him a number of times to do so throughout the trip. He kept getting angrier about it, and kept insisting he was over as far as possible. I saw him. I got to watch his bald spot for four hours. He kept sitting at an angle. I'm sympathetic that he doesn't want to put his ass to sleep, but this ain't first class, and he WAS taking up too much room.

And he had his seat tilted back the entire time. And he had a giant pillow the entire time.

There's no way I could've had the laptop out, even the tiny laptop. He took up all my space. Then when we arrived in Chicago and were waiting to disembark, he turned into chatty Kathy and wouldn't shut up. He apologized about the seat being broken. Dude, I'm not dumb. It wasn't broken. You unlatched it so it would lean back, then you latched it back forward at the end of the trip. Then he kept asking the kid who sat next to me about his medals. (The medals were from marching band.) Oh. I like the drum lines. What do you play? (Trumpet.) Oh. Uh. I think the kid sitting next to me was probably right around 17 and it I couldn't tell if the idiot talking to him (and me) was just subtly developmentally disabled, or looking for a date.

The bus had lots of screaming kids, and lots of people carrying their lives along with them in garbage bags. It was, I have to admit, a slice of life I'm fine not experiencing next time. Classism? I suppose, but it is what it is. I just want a quiet place to sit without people talking to me or throwing stuff at each other.

The Chicago Greyhound terminal is nice, though. Large, has food, seems busy. I assume that's an important hub for them.

The Indianapolis side is quite a bit sadder. It's a terminal shared with the Amtrak, and since there's only one train going each way every day, it's not much of a destination.

I avoided taking the train back up to Chicago this time around because it leaves earlier in the morning than I'd care to rise. I may reconsider that for next time (or take the Megabus).

Amtrak: Empire Builder from Chicago to Minneapolis

Last week, my girlfriend had to go to NYC for business. I didn't go with her, and because I had nothing else going on, I decided to go visit some friends up in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

It's only an hour on a plane, but when you include getting to the airport, parking (or transit), security, waiting, delays, weather, etc., it becomes a big ordeal. I'm not a huge fan of flying, though I am certainly grateful that I live in a big city (Chicago) with two airports and affordable flights just about everywhere.

But, since this was going to be for fun, I wanted a more relaxing way to travel. So, I turned to Amtrak. I took the Empire Builder train from Chicago to Minneapolis-St. Paul last Wednesday.

It turned out to be a lot of fun. The train left around 2pm and arrived around 10:30 pm. After boarding from the "first class lounge" at Chicago's Union Station, I was ushered to my Superliner Roomette, a tiny cabin with two comfortable chairs that fold down into a bed (and there's another bed overhead). The accommodations were amazingly comfortable. There was free bottled water, and an offer of free champagne (which I declined; too early in the day for me).

The seats recline and were quite comfortable. There's not a lot of room to stand around, but that's okay -- a private room is a private room, and a quiet place to relax is to be cherished. There was a volume control for the train announcements, a power outlet for a laptop or razor, a heat control, and a tiny closet that could barely hold my coat. They leave you a couple of bottles of water, and there's kleenex and a garbage can in the room as well. That's about it. The restroom is down the hall, and I have no idea where or if you can shower if you stay in one of these overnight. I'll figure that out on a future trip.

I have a Sprint USB modem, so for a long while out of Chicago I was online checking email, listening to streaming radio, and killing time on IM as I watched the sites roll by. Lots of farmland, but it's still fun to watch. The internet lasted for somewhere around the first half of the trip, then started dropping out too much to be useful. I suppose we were outside of a major Sprint coverage area.

Booking a room apparently entitles one to a meal, so I had what I jokingly refer to as a "train quality steak" for dinner. It was perfectly fine. Not quite Morton's, but it was good and did the trick. The only downside to a sit down meal on the train is that you don't know who you're going to sit with -- the seating is communal, and you will end up sitting and talking to people you don't know. I don't consider that much of a relaxing experience, and it doesn't help that the trains are full of people who want to meet people and hang out and chat. I fended off questions about my job and what I actually do (you work with the computers?) while having dinner with a couple of random gentlemen, one of whom was older and probably not very technology savvy.

After dinner, I stopped in the bar car for a drink, which I brought to my cabin. I then watched a few recorded TV shows on my laptop to run out the clock until we got to the Twin Cities. It was quite relaxing.

After we arrived at the stop in Minneapolis-St. Paul, there were ample cabs available, and it was a short ride to my hotel in downtown St. Paul. (More on the hotel in a subsequent post.)

As far as booking my trip, I was hedging my bets because I wasn't sure what the train experience would be like. So I had only booked a one way trip. I was happy enough with the experience that I booked the train for the return trip the next day.

The eastbound train is supposed to come through very early in the morning (by my reckoning) -- it leaves at 7:50 AM. On Sunday morning, I dragged myself out of bed, had a minor freak out when a cab took forever to arrive at my hotel, then made it to the train station around 7:30.

When I go there, I found no train. The train should have arrived already and been there waiting for us. There were buses sitting there, which I didn't think anything about. I went inside and up to the counter, and found out that the train had been delayed far west of us, due to an avalanche. The train wasn't expected at Minneapolis until 3:30 pm, and I had no clue what to do.

It turns out that Amtrak had a plan -- they procured buses for us. They split us up based on destination, and then we left on big "Greyhound"-style buses instead of a train. On time, even. What can I say? It was disappointing. I was really looking forward to a private cabin and a quiet nap on the way back to Chicago. Instead, we're crammed into buses instead, with no room to stretch or walk around. Sitting next to some random stranger, trying not to elbow them the entire time.

On top of that, I forgot my book and my headphones back at the hotel. Meaning, no iPod, and no book to read. Nor was my laptop battery very charged, as I had intended to plug it in on the train, if needed.

Somewhere in the western side of Wisconsin, the bus stopped and changed drivers. A bit further down the road, at Wisconsin Dells, the bus stopped and Amtrak bought everybody lunch at Burger King. Then, we were back on the road, and straight through to Union Station in Chicago. We actually got to the station a bit faster than if we took the train, and as always, it was easy for me to catch a cab from Union homeward. I would've taken public transit, but I had luggage and was tired.

I was quite bummed that I didn't get to ride the train home on Sunday. However, I am amazingly grateful to Amtrak -- they had a contingency plan, and they executed on it perfectly. We left on time, they provided a meal, and we made it into Chicago safe and quickly. It wasn't my favorite traveling experience, but we were not left stranded or hungry. We weren't even delayed.

Verdict: I'll take Amtrak to Minneapolis again! Maybe with a contingency plan of flying home if the train is delayed.