Thanksgiving 2015

My favorite holiday is upon us. No decorations, no cards, no annoying music, nothing you’re expected to lie to kids about. Just get together with the food you like and the people you love, and remember what a sweet deal it is to have food you like and people you love.

Hey, that almost sounds like something you could do even without a holiday.

See you Monday! (Unless I don’t.)

I <3 Whirlpool

Mediocre customer service is so common, and so often complained about, that when a company does something really amazing, I want to run through the streets like Ebenezer Scrooge, casting aside my humbugs and proclaiming the good news to the entire Internet.

Let me tell you a story.

Betsy and I bought a Whirlpool washing machine five years ago when we got the house. It worked perfectly until several weeks ago, when it started having problems that made it basically unusable.

Now, we had never registered the product with Whirlpool. We had never bought a warranty. And it’s not like the product was brand-new anyway. So Whirlpool didn’t really have any obligation to fix this. I called them up, hoping – at best – for some over-the-phone troubleshooting and an estimate for someone to come look at it.

Here’s what happened instead:

  • A woman carefully wrote down all the details of the problem. She also made a point of asking whether anyone had been hurt.
  • She transferred me to someone else and also transferred the details I gave her. It’s astounding how rare that is.
  • The second woman asked a few more things, then scheduled a local appliance company to come inspect the appliance for free.
  • She then gave me her name, told me she was personally responsible for my case, and gave me a phone number to reach her directly. I’m not sure I can remember a single other time that’s ever happened.
  • The inspector came, inspected, and decided it was fixable. She ordered parts for free, and returned a few days later to fix it for free.
  • The washing machine is now working perfectly.

Whirlpool rocks, pass it on.

Friday Links

NPR has portraits of a few of those killed in Paris. A chance to look at the people and not just the numbers. I saved that article days ago, but only now read it carefully enough to notice that the girlfriend of one of the victims shares my last name (Polina Buckley).

I don’t want to end the week on too dark a note, though.

Here’s a great photo of Einstein I just found this morning.

Einstein slippers

Have a good weekend.

Men, Women, and Washing Machines

Our washing machine has been on the fritz, so last week I was on the phone to have someone come and look at it.

Afterward, I was telling Betsy that in spite of all the stuff we say about gender equality, I still assume – if I hear a woman’s voice – that she’s probably going to schedule the inspection, and – if I hear a man’s voice – he’s probably the one who will actually come look at the appliance. Betsy said she assumed the same thing, and we were laughing about that a little.

Not that we think men or women are more or less competent at either job, or “should” have either job; we don’t. But we do make assumptions about which job a man or woman is likely to have.

And these are not unreasonable assumptions, generally speaking, as long as you keep that word probably in there. We all know that many jobs, statistically, skew heavily toward one gender or the other (whether we’d like them to or not). In such cases, you might wish that the odds of a woman having one job vs. another are 50-50. But if you think the odds actually are 50-50, I’m afraid that says less about your ideals and more about your mathematical ability (or lack of it).

So Betsy and I were laughing about how, stereotypes aside, we both knew that the person who came to inspect our washing machine would be a guy.

The appliance guy came yesterday. She was, of course, a woman.

Friday Link

Let the soothing dulcet baritones of Ben Trube wash over you like the autumn tide as he describes how Starbucks has declared a War on Fractals. Remember, keep the “act” in “fractal.”


This Actually Happened Today

Our story is set at 6:58 a.m. The characters are my wife and me.

And – action!

Betsy: (standing in hall, wanting to know my opinion on the shoes she’s wearing for work today)

Me: (genuinely thinking about it rather than giving a knee-jerk answer) (being pleased with myself as a husband ) Good! Those look good.

Betsy: They’re different shoes.

Me: (getting on floor and squinting to verify the difference) Yes they are. (pointing) That one.

Betsy: (silently re-evaluates her life decisions)

I tell my clients I am “precise and detail-oriented,” so don’t spread this around.

The Unnecessarily Difficult English Quiz!


1. The symbol ¶ indicates a new paragraph. In MS Word, it is also an icon that turns formatting marks on or off. What is this symbol called?

2. Today, “dilemma” refers to any difficult situation. But traditionally, this word had a more precise meaning, which some writers still maintain. What is it?

3. When is it acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition?

4. Does “inflammable” describe something that can be set on fire, or something that can’t?

5. Which is correct?
The man who we met yesterday is secretly a robot.
The man whom we met yesterday is secretly a robot.











1. The symbol ¶ is called a “pilcrow.”

2. Traditionally, a dilemma was a choice between two bad options (e.g. Sophie’s Choice) rather than just any difficult situation. If you observe this distinction, then the question “How can we raise $5,000 for the Fractal Appreciation Society?” is a predicament, but not necessarily a dilemma.

3. There is nothing bad whatsoever about ending a sentence with a preposition, and there never has been. This has always been a faux “rule” enforced by generations of misguided pedants. Among serious grammarians, this rule has about as much authority as a “No Square Dancing” sign in Austin.

4. In its original meaning, “inflammable” described something that could be set on fire. However, this was very confusing, because the “in-” prefix often means “not” (e.g. “indestructible”). This was especially unfortunate considering the possible consequences of getting those two mixed up. It’s much better to avoid the word altogether and use the unambiguous terms “flammable” and “nonflammable.”

5. According to the rules of formal grammar, the sentence should be:
The man whom we met yesterday is secretly a robot.
“Who” is a subject, and “whom” is an object, very much analogous to “he” and “him.” But although “The man whom we met yesterday” is the subject of the sentence, “whom” is an object within that clause, and that’s what counts.
Of course, this distinction doesn’t really matter, and English is gradually shifting toward using “who” everywhere, which is a good thing.

Also, if you met a man who is secretly a robot, grammar should probably not be the biggest thing on your mind.