Archive for the 'Misc' Category


Friday, October 31st, 2008

My apologies to the trick-or-treaters on our road between 6 and 7pm tonight, who were disappointed to get no candy from our house. Let me explain.

We live on a relatively short cul-de-sac, with 22 houses and dozens of small kids. For the past few years, most of the parents and kids would trick-or-treat on the street together, with the parents at the upcoming house running ahead to be there to answer the door. While we were all out, we’d leave our trays of candy outside the front door with a sign, in case anyone came by and we missed them. At least 12 of the houses had trays loaded with candy in front of them at some point.

This year, a couple of high-school kids caught on, and almost every single tray on the street was emptied while we were out. As we were all returning from the far end of the street, I overheard another family complain “another house with nobody home and no candy!” I felt terrible as I ran in the back and headed to answer the door, where our tray was completely empty. My 3-year-old was not to happy with me grabbing a handful of her candy to hand out – I had to make a couple hasty promises that I’m sure I’ll regret. Later I raided the kitchen for raisin snack packs to fill the tray, and while most kids were good-natured about it, I’m sure a few won’t be back next year because they didn’t get candy.

Mostly, I’m ticked off. I brag that I live in a neighborhood where the neighbors all know each other and look out for each other, and we can more-or-less leave the door unlocked. When something like this happens, as small as it is, it reminds me that the real world isn’t like that. Bummer.

Frontier comes through again

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

Frontier Airlines came through again for me last night. Here’s the story.

I was on United 595 from Denver to SFO, departing at 5:54. On the takeoff roll, the plane started to shudder violently, and even the seasoned passengers started to look a bit alarmed. We climbed out successfully, but it was obvious that as the pilots increased power, the vibration returned. Unsurprisingly, about 10 minutes later, the pilot announced that we were returning to Denver.

After deboarding, the craziness began. They had two more flights to SFO that night, but both were pretty full, and both were hours late. They apparently found another (smaller) plane for us, but couldn’t find a crew (it wasn’t a 767, so our crew couldn’t fly it). After several hours of dithering, they finally canceled the flight for the night, and started getting hundreds of people hotel rooms.

I hustled over to Terminal A to see if I could get on the last Frontier flight out, at 9:35pm. They had one seat left, and the gate agent was extremely nice, allowing me to purchase a ticket and managing to get me a great seat. It looked like my colleague Jeff was going to get left behind, but she offered to write down my credit card number, so if they could find him a seat at the last minute he wouldn’t have to be held up by getting the ticket bought first. Sure enough, one of the seats freed up, so they got him on the flight, then processed the purchase of his ticket. That’s going above and beyond.

I appreciate that the United folks had a nightmare on their hands, but they really didn’t handle it very well. So it just highlighted the contrast when the Frontier folks were nice and competent. I will be flying Frontier more often.

Frontier Airlines Customer Service

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

No, that’s not an oxymoron, although a few hours ago I would have said otherwise. The web seems to abound with stories of disgruntled and unhappy customers, and this was almost one of them. But this story has a happy ending.

I bought a salad in the airport, to eat for dinner on the 5:50pm Frontier flight from DEN to SFO. Unfortunately, I left on the seat next to me at the gate. I remembered it just as I boarded the plane, but the flight attendant refused to let me leave the plane to go get it, citing “security”. WTF?

My salad was about 20 yards away. There was 20 minutes before departure. I and the salad had both passed security screening. What possible security problem could there be? I was stunned. The plane wasn’t even full, there was no backup on the jetway. I even went back to the front after everyone was on, with at least 5 minutes before the door was shut, and was not allowed to get off for the 60 seconds it would have taken to get my salad.

I was hungry and pissed off for the first hour of the flight. I composed the first draft of this blog post, ripping them a new one about “security theatre” and other crap. Then the flight attendant who had refused me dropped a folded note on my tray table (I was working and had headphones on). The note said on the outside “My Apologies”, and inside read:


After reviewing the regulations regarding passenger deplaning and reboarding, my interpretation was not correct.

Please accept my apology, and use these free DirecTV coupons to help pay for the dinner you left in Denver.

What’s more, he even signed it with his full name and employee number. Wow! I have to say, I really appreciate when people have enough self esteem to question themselves, do some research, and then own up to being wrong and try to make it right.

I am now a big fan of Frontier Airlines, because not only have they trained their people to provide genuinely good service, but they seem to foster a culture of learning from mistakes. And while in any customer service training course you can read stories like this one, they don’t happen as often in real life as they should, and they should be rewarded. I look forward to flying Frontier again!

Doctor Bob passes away

Friday, January 19th, 2007

My absolute favorite teacher from high school passed away recently, and I’m surprised at how much I actually cared. I wrote a condolence letter to his widow that I’m sharing below. If you have a favorite teacher, do me a favor, and write a letter or reach out, before they pass away.

Dear Ms Ballard,

Please accept my deepest sympathies for your loss. I do not normally write condolence letters, but “Doctor Bob” had a major influence on me, and I felt compelled to express that to you.

I regret that I never took the time to write to Dr. Perrin to tell him how profoundly he affected my life. I took several classes from him, including relativistic physics, and a special math seminar in advanced algebra with only one other student. He infected me with his love of both physics and math, and along the way gave me tools that I still use today. I have a very clear memory (from over 20 years ago) of him trying several ways of explaining a complex math concept, until I finally cried “Bingo!” as I got it.

Doctor Bob made a substantial difference in not only my attitude towards these sciences, but also for literally generations of students. The world needs more like him. He will be sorely missed.


Tom Shields, Andover ’85

Robert Perrin Obituary

Sugarbowl gets computerized

Monday, January 8th, 2007

My family and I headed to Sugar Bowl for a few days over the holidays. The snow came a bit late this year, and they only finally got enough coverage around Dec 21, so by the 23rd they were slammed. Ski areas live and die by the snow levels, so they were financially unable to bring on most of their personnel until the 22nd or 23rd, so virtually everyone we interacted with was on their first day of the year.

To add to the craziness, this year they decided to put in a new computer system with complete customer tracking. Since nobody had been trained on the system, the end result was complete chaos and crazy lines. They never did find the reservations for ski school that we made, so we got entered into the system twice. The ski school snacks were missing, so our kids got a cup of water for snack. They also had eliminated some of the discounts, like savings for having your own equipment, and a 10-pack deal for ski school.

So, I called Sugar Bowl to register my unhappiness. I talked to a couple of the more experienced folks: Laurie at the ski school, and Kate in special tickets. They both were unfailingly helpful, apologetic, and informative about what was going on. They gave me a discount on my next ski school trip, and gave me a bunch of tips on navigating the system. One was to get my ski school reservation number so they can more easily find it.

We then went one more time to Sugar Bowl, and had a wonderful experience. The lesson here is that the provided great customer service, and a commitment to address the problems and continue to improve. I think Sugar Bowl will end up far better with the new system despite the startup problems. And I will continue to go there. Kudos to them.

The Ultimate Blog Post

Sunday, September 10th, 2006

Best part is the perfect blog posts for a bunch of blogs. Captures them perfectly – it’s been a while since I laughed out loud at a blog post.

The Ultimate Blog Post


Tuesday, August 8th, 2006

We moved down to the Peninsula in 2001, while expecting our first child. We were convinced that the market was at its peak, but we decided to buy anyway, to get “in the game” and start building value. We found a beautiful new home in Burlingame, built to the maximun 3200 sq feet, on a typical Burlingame 6000 sq foot lot with a postage-stamp backyard. Mainly we loved that it was only a few blocks from the Broadway downtown area, and that there were 5 other families with young kids on the street for instant playdates. However, after 5 years, we really wanted a little more space, and a bigger backyard.

Read the rest of this entry »


Monday, March 20th, 2006

A while ago I Tivo’d (well, actually ReplayTV’d, but it’s not quite as well-known a verb) a special on Ella Fitzgerald called Something to Live For. She was a fascinating person, driven to perform and succeed, and I really enjoyed the story and especially the music, as I am a great Ella fan. One line I will always remember was mentioned by a contemporary of Ella’s while she was being interviewed about how Ella got her start. She described a club in Harlem, where Ella went to perform. She recounted how Ella didn’t wear fashionable clothes, nor was she a beautiful girl, but relatively plain and poorly dressed, so when she got on stage, she was actually booed. But then the music started, and she opened her mouth to sing, and the room quieted down. By the end, everyone was so transfixed, “you could have heard a rat piss on cotton!” What a great line! Ella really was something special.

Getting things done

Monday, December 19th, 2005

It’s the end of the year, so I’m spending a little time reflecting on the past year and what I might do differently next year. One perennial resolution is to “get more organized”. This time, to prepare, I read Getting Things Done, and I like a lot of the ideas. One problem is that I use a Blackberry, and there aren’t good systems for GTD that incorporate a BB.

Another major issue is dealing with email. I found the below article useful in thinking about this problem.

Critical Section – The Tyranny of Email

Language Games

Saturday, November 26th, 2005

An article in a recent Economist talks about some interesting language research that involves requiring two people to cooperate in a virtual world through a computer interface that prevents them from using known symbols to communicate. They end up inventing their own “language” over the course of the game. The game is not well explained, but it was apparently invented by Bruno Galantucci.

A couple of interesting points:

Having observed winning pairs at play, Dr. Galantucci says that communication is established as soon as one player decides to copy the symbols proposed by his co-player, rather than impose his own. At that point, the pair’s chances of finding each other jump. As soon as there is imitation, he says, there is common currency.

And the best one, in my opinion:

One strength of Dr. Galantucci’s experiment that does not exist in the real world, however, is that he is able to interview his subjects afterwards. What is striking, he says, is that a pair can be successful even if a symbol represents something quite different in the virtual world to each player – as long as they agree on what they should do when confronted by it. In other words, people only need to convey a small amount of information to communicate effectively, and they can do so while holding fundamentally different ideas about how their language describes the world.

Economist article (pay required)