Feb 28, 2007

The Plane Truth, London Heathrow

[This was originally written on 2 July, 2003. Still catching up...]

"If you haven't missed at least one flight in the last year, you're getting to the airport too early."

--Steve Hayman

This isn't a plane truth story in the sense that I sat next to someone famous, interesting, or with 2 left arms and a martian finger growing out of her forehead. This is a story of a month of insane travel, sleep deprivation, and how I got home at the end of it.

June was a bit of a crazy month for me. I finished May by doing a three day tour of Ontario CA, Newark NJ, and Lincoln NE. June started with a week in Atlanta, a week at home, a week in Cupertino, 3 days in Santa Cruz, and a week in San Francisco for WWDC. I ended up leaving WWDC with a Friday flight that landed in Chicago at 6:00PM, allowing me 13 hours to get home, unpack, wash my clothes, pack, and get back to the airport for a 9:00AM flight to Heathrow. Joy.

Mind you, I slept in my own bed for a grand total of 6 nights in the month of June. That is to say: I didn't sleep very well at all. I can sleep just about anwhere, but hotel beds may as well be made of scrap iron and watchsprings for all I can sleep in them. So a big fat 8 hour time shift is just what I needed to help me sleep at night. Hellooooooooo jet-lag.

And thus begins my story:

Total amount of sleep Friday night: 4 hours

I get into London at about 10:30PM and into my hotel at about midnight (the hotel is near Apple's office about 3 miles from Heathrow, which becomes rather important later in the story).

Total amount of sleep Saturday night: 3 hours

I spend Sunday wandering around downtown London trying to stay awake and soak up the sunshine to help kill my jet lag as I have 2 long days ahead of me where I have to train a bunch of people from Apple Europe. Nothing inhibits sensical lecturing like massive jet lag and a serious lack of sleep.

Total amount of sleep Sunday night: 5 hours

Monday is my first day of training. Even after a pot of tea and 3 cups of coffee, I still feel like I'm talking through a mouth full of novocaine. My veins are full of warm caramel. Everything moves in slow motion. Charlie Brown's teacher sounds like JFK next to me.

Total amount of sleep Monday night: 2 hours, 30 minutes

Tuesday I finally start to really get into the sleep deprivation thing and hit my stride at about 2:30 in the afternoon--a full hour before my class ends and 21 hours before the return flight home. Perfect.

Tuesday night I go over to a friends place in London for dinner. He cooks a *phenomenal* dinner which consists of a profound amount of homemade Indian food, great dessert and a couple of tasty BudVar "Budweiser" beers. Stuffed full and well past exhausted I get back to my hotel at around 11:45.

I have every intent of packing and getting totally ready so that in the morning I can just shower, get dressed, have a nice leisurely breakfast, and make my way to the airport with plenty of time to spare. You may recall that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

I decide I might as well watch some TV before packing, so I sit down on the bed in my clothes, but not before setting my alarm for 6:30 AM just in case I somehow pass out while watching TV.

My flight to Chicago is at 10:30AM the next day. This, like the location of my hotel, is also a rather important detail.

I double check my travel alarm to make sure it's set correctly. I set the alarm clock on the desk across the room as I'm famous for beating on any alarm clock within arm's length and falling back asleep (instead of getting up, gaining consciousness, turning it off, and going about my day).

I settle in for a little late-night British television and manage to watch about 15 seconds worth before falling soundly asleep.

Packing just isn't going to happen tonight.

I have a very vague memory of waking up, looking at the LED clock on the television, acknowledging that it's 2:00AM, brushing my teeth, taking my jeans and Apple shirt off, putting on a T-shirt, and climbing back to bed. I leave the television on for company.

I wake up on my own accord (no big surprise there) and try to fall back asleep with no luck. I roll over and watch a little television, and as my eyes began to focus, I try to make out the clock on the television. It says




I get up, walk across the room, bend down and look at the clock so closely that it fills my field of vision.


I look at my alarm clock to make sure the television hasn't gone haywire. It too reads


And the alarm had somehow been turned off.

Total amount of sleep Tuesday night: 9 hours, 9 minutes.

Babies don't sleep this well.

"OK," I tell myself, "Don't panic, we can work this out. We'll make the flight."

I think about it for a moment, and then decide to give myself 30 seconds to panic.

I panic, and then I spring into action. In that 30 seconds of panic, my body dumps every available gram (not ounces--remember, they use the metric system in the UK) of adrenalin into my bloodstream. I become as focused as a laser beam. I see through walls. I have A Plan.

Call the hotel front desk. Order a cab:
"I'd like to order a Taxi to Heathrow, please" "And when would you like it, Mr. Fitzpatrick?" Thinking "An hour ago.", I reply "In 10 minutes."

Brush my teeth, wash my face, apply a double helping of deoderant, get dressed into the same clothes I was wearing yesterday, and put on my Cubs hat.

Rip the bedspread off the bed and use the bed as a staging area: put my roll-aboard and my laptop bag on it and start throwing all of my stuff (which is of course scattered all over the room) onto the bed.

Start packing my bags. Jam everything in. Jump on the bag to help it zip. Zip my fingertip into the bag. Swear loudly.

Leave the room.

Checkout and pay the bill at the front desk.

Exit the hotel to discover the taxi waiting for me. Excellent. I explain my plight to the cab driver who narrowly misses running over 4 pedestrians trying to get me to the airport as quickly as possible. I Remember to tip this guy well.

Arrive at Terminal 3 and spot the American Airlines curbside checkin. Pay cab, sprint to checkin and fumble my passport at the clerk.

"I'm on the 10:30 flight to Chicago."

Clerk looks at her watch. Clerk looks at me. Clerk blinks loudly.

"I don't have any bags to check."

Clerk makes "Ahhh" look, takes my passport, checks me in, gives me my boarding pass, my passport, and a handful of cryptic directions to the security checkpoint.

Done with checkin. 45 seconds flat.

Get in queue (no lines over here--just queues) for the security checkpoint.

Set off the buzzer as I pass through the metal detector. Get patted down by a guard who enjoyed it a bit more than etiquette dictates he should.

Reward myself by browsing the duty free stores for the next 15 minutes.

Walk to my gate.

Arrive at my gate and wait in line.

Step foot onto the plane, exactly 1 hour after waking up.

So I made my flight after all, and with plenty of time to spare. I slept through takeoff, landing, and most of the next day.

And that's the plane truth.

Feb 27, 2007

Customer Service Take 2

[This was originally written on 10 July, 2002. Still catching up...]

After my delightful experience with Griffin
, I'm well on my way to a hat trick considering
this exchange with SmartDisk. This is
another example of what an individual can do to make their
company look great (at least in my eyes).

I'll let the emails tell the story...

From: B. W. Fitzpatrick <fitz@apple.com>
To: SmartDisk Technical Support
Date: Tue Jul 30, 2002
Subject: Problems with 3GB Firewire Pocket Drive

This drive worked fine for the first year I had it, then
started giving problems. Whenever I would attempt to read or
write a certain file, it would hang the Finder. I upgraded the
firmware to the latest (using the VST 2.3.1 Format Utility). I
did a low-level format. I reformatted again.

I talked nicely to the drive and explained that my job was to
put files on it and that its job was to keep those files and
return them to me on demand. I took it to the zoo to see the
animals. I even took it shopping in the hopes that that would
cheer it up.

However, the drive still has not seen the light and will work
fine reading and writing until a certain point, at which I get
the Spinning Pizza of Death and the Finder locks up. I bought
this drive about 2 years ago. Please tell me you can replace
it or convince it to do what its supposed to do.


And Ian responded:

From: Ian
Date: Tue Jul 30, 2002
To: "B. W. Fitzpatrick" <fitz@apple.com>
Subject: Case # 15686

Hello Brian, thanks for contacting us. I thoroughly enjoyed
reading about your relationship with the drive, although it
does seem like the sparks between you two are dying. So

Unfortunately it sounds as though the hard drive mechanism
itself is starting to die. It doesnt sound like an extension
or software problem. The only real solution is to replace
the hard drive mechanism which sits on the firewire
interface board. We do not do out of warranty repairs so you
will need to do this yourself or take it to a repair
center. It uses a standard laptop size IDE hard
drive. Please let me know if I can be of further

SmartDisk Corporation Technical Support

And I responded...

From: B. W. Fitzpatrick <fitz@apple.com>
Date: Tue, Jul 30, 2002
To: Ian
Subject: Re: Case # 15686

What is the warranty on the drive? I take it it's less than
2 years?.


PS, One of my friends here suggested that Firewire drives
prefer the beach, so I'm guessing the zoo thing didn't


...and back to Ian...

From: Ian
Date: Wed Jul 31, 2002
To: "B. W. Fitzpatrick" <fitz@apple.com>
Subject: RE: Case # 15686


The warranty is 1 year from the purchase date. If the
drive is out of warranty, I might recommend contacting
Huong <name removed>, (pronounced like Hong.) She
can be reached at 978-555-1212, her e-mail is, <address
removed>. She works at Teleplan International which we
have given our blessing to do out of warranty repair
work. Please let me know if I can be of further


PS Maybe if you took the drive to a Robot Wars showing
you could intimidate the drive into working. :P

...and back to me...

From: B. W. Fitzpatrick <fitz@apple.com>
Date: Wed Jul 31, 2002
To: Ian
Subject: RE: Case # 15686


Thanks a million for your replies. It's always nice to find
a human being behind a big company.

> PS Maybe if you took the drive to a Robot Wars showing
> you could intimidate the drive into working. :P

Alas, I fear that it's time to retire the drive to that great
bitbucket in the sky. Perhaps it would make a good projectile for one
of the other robots.


Take care,


...and back to Ian one last time.

From: Ian
Date: Wed Jul 31, 2002
To: "B. W. Fitzpatrick" <fitz@apple.com>
Subject: RE: Case # 15686

It's nice to have a customer that is understanding and

Before you off up the drive as a sacrifice to the Great
Bitbin, I would suggest opening the drive up by taking the
plastic casing off. If you hold it under a heat lamp (or a
blow dryer) the glue will heat up and you can take the
plastic casing off. There will be 4 screws that hold the
case together (very easy) and then you will see the Firewire
interface board and the IDE hard drive. It really is a
simple design, which is great. You can definately put 30 gig
hard drive on the board (I am unsure of anything higher, but
I would imagine you could). The interface card is really the
expensive piece to the device and you can use any brand of
hard drive on the card. So I guess what I am saying is, I
would suggest at least taking the drive apart. You could
even get a cheapo drive from ebay. I know you probably paid
a hefty price for the drive and I would hate to see it
turned into robot projectiles after 2 years. If you have any
questions during the process, please feel free to ask!


Thanks again Ian.

Feb 22, 2007

Dear Craigslist Seller...

Dear Craigslist Seller who sold me your used DirecTV Tivo,

I feel that it is my duty to share with you a few tips on selling a used Tivo:

1. You should really reset your Tivo before selling it. Since you neglected to do that, I got to peruse your fascinating choice of Oprah episodes and Adam Sandler movies. Cute.

2. While I greatly appreciate the $25 you saved me by including the access card in the Tivo, for future reference, your purchase history is stored on this card, and no amount of Tivo resetting will clear out these purchases, so I'll get to see just what your taste in soft porn is. Just in case you've forgotten, here's your purchase history:
  • Amateur Strip Night: Bare it All ($14.95), purchased Sun, 7/17/2005 @ 3:00PM
  • Boxing: Gatti vs. Mayweather - Live ($44.95), purchased Sat, 6/25/2005 @ 8:00PM
  • Hot Body: Booty Camp ($4.99), purchased Thurs, 3/3/2005 @ 2:00PM
  • Voyeur Vol. 1 ($4.99), purchased Thurs, 3/3/2005 @ 12:30PM
To summarize: Next time, consider resetting your Tivo and selling it without the access card. But thanks for sharing.

Added 2 April, 2007:

Dear Time Warner: Looks like you could use some help too.

Feb 21, 2007

Pop Olympics

[This was originally written on 21 February, 2002. Still catching up...]

Ever since I was a kid I've loved the Olympics. I can remember camping out in front of the television years ago and watching them for hour after hour, from the opening ceremony to the close, like some out-of-control Jerry Lewis telethon. It all seemed so magical--the excitement of the events, the highs of the medal ceremonies... the anticipation alone warmed the cockles of my (even then) couch potato heart.

Even now I love to watch the Olympics. Those of you who know me are probably wondering "Who the hell is writing this crap?" Yes, for the most part I'm not interested in sports, but for some reason I could sit down for days on end and watch skiing, bobsled, skating, and yes, even curling. And I have to confess that I love the figure skating. Something about the Olympics just turns me into a blubbering sap. So shoot me.

I don't know what it is--There's just something about watching these massively dedicated people pit themselves against each other and the clock that fascinates me. And that single moment when an athlete wins the gold medal makes me go all mushy and rubbery inside. I get this sympathetic emotional charge coursing through my body as though I was actually there.

But here's the kicker. I want to watch the events. I mean all the events. I want to see Austria vs. Canada in curling. I want to see Italy match up against Mexico in the frozen cow-chip toss. I want to see Burkina Faso take on Martinique in the two-man three-legged cross-country dodeca-athlon. I want to see the Olympics.

Instead, I get to watch Bob Costas trying (and failing spectacularly) to be funny. I get to watch the Daytona 500. I get to watch vapid hollywood gossip shows. And God forbid we preempt a soap opera for something as boring as the Olympics.

Aside from the sparse coverage on MSNBC and CNBC, I get 3 hours of commercial-packed Olympics at prime-time from 7 to 10 each night. And if that's not bad enough, an hour of that is taken up following American athletes around asking stupid questions like "Are you going to try for the gold?", "Are you excited to be here?" etc.

"No, I'm bummed to be here and I'm really hoping to walk away with the zinc medal. My motto is 'strive for mediocrity', Bob."

You've gotta be kidding me.

We get to see the American athletes competing for their medals. Condensed, tape-delayed snippets of various events, sanitized and liberally sprinkled with background and local-color segments are spoon fed to us, Nielsen point by Nielsen point. If an alien dropped into my living room and watched the Olympics as presented on NBC, they'd think it was the USA against a bunch of other mouth-breathers who just happened to luck out and win an event once in a while.

Now I understand that NBC needs to make money off the Olympics, and I don't begrudge them that--I'm well aware of the world that we live in. But come on, NBC should be ashamed of itself. They complained two years ago when the Summer Olympics was in Australia that the huge time difference was going to reduce viewership because they couldn't show events live at 4AM. But this year, with no time difference at all, we get to watch our events tape-delayed (and edited down). This kind of behavior is below even an Enron executive (OK, maybe not, but you get my point).

Let's set the way-back machine for summer 2000. I spent the entire duration of the Summer Games working at a client in Switzerland (Believe me, it's not always this good). And I'll bet you that I saw more of the Olympics than anyone in the US did that year. There was a channel called Eurosport that showed the Olympics 24 hours a day. They showed live Olympic events all night long, and when the Olympic day ended, they showed the rest of the events that happened that day, interspersed with reruns of the live events. Maybe they would squeeze in a medal ceremony if there was time. Commercials were short and painless, and we didn't get to hear from Jane Swimmer's aunt's gardener's cousin's wife about how Jane wanted to be a swimmer ever since her mother dumped her into a drainage canal at the tender age of 2. I saw the Olympics that year.

So, for crying out loud, couldn't we sacrifice a cable channel somewhere to show the real olympics instead of this watered down drivel? I mean, can't we live for two weeks without the "Hairless Cat Channel," or the Infomercial channel or something? NBC can still show their version of the Olympics, but at least those of us who are interested would be able to watch the real Olympics.

Feb 19, 2007

Customer Service is Not Dead

[This is the second post in a series that I'm doing just to get some old stuff that I wrote up onto my blog. This was originally posted 25 October, 2001, and I still think happy thoughts when someone mentions Griffin.]

Although I've thought for years that customer service in the technology industry was dead, I recently discovered that it's alive and well and spending its afternoons over at Griffin Technology

I've had an iMate USB to ADB converter for almost 2 years now. I use it at work with my Maltron keyboard (which doesn't have a USB model). Not only do I use it with my desktop, but I take this keyboard (and the adaptor) with me on the road with me from 5 to 15 weeks a year, so they get abused regularly.

The other day, in the process of trying to reseat a loose wire in the iMate, I ripped two of the four wires right off the solder pads in the dongle. At first try to fix, I soldered the wires on backwards, so I decided to see if I could get a hold of someone at Griffin before I completely cooked the thing.

I went to their website. I found a phone number to call in less than 30 seconds.

I called the phone number. A human being answered on the third ring.

A human being answered the phone. On the third ring.

He introduced himself as Vance. I explained my dilemma and that I was trying to solder the iMate back together. Without flinching or chastising me about warranty violations, he asked me to hold for a second while he went to find another iMate. Less than a minute later he came back on the line. He cracked his iMate open and told me which wires went where. And then... and then, he told me that if I couldn't fix it to give them a ring and they would send me a new one.


Mind you, the one I have is almost 2 years old and I'm attacking it (rather ineptly) with a soldering iron. And he offered to replace it. Free.

In this day where you wind up in voicemail jail for 20 minutes just to get to some half-wit who can't even remember what products his company sells, this was, needless to say, immensely refreshing.

I told Vance that if I couldn't get it to work I would buy two of them from Griffin.

I did get it to work. I also bought a new iMate, just in case.

Feb 3, 2007

A Chat with Netscape 4.5

[This is the first post in a series that I'm doing just to get some old stuff that I wrote up onto my blog]

This is an ancient rant that I wrote a long time ago. Unfortunately, it pretty much summed up my relationship with Netscape Navigator.

From: "Brian W. Fitzpatrick"
Subject: A Chat with Netscape 4.5
To: devel@onShore.com
Date: Tue, 01 Apr 1997 09:06:04 -0600
X-Windows: foiled again.

Me: exec netscape

Netscape: OH, OK.

Me: surf

Netscape: OK

Me: surf some more

Netscape: OK

Me: surf some more

Netscape: OK

Me: leaveAppletPage

Netscape: thankYou

Me: surf

Netscape: OK

Me: surf

Me: surf away from JavaScript

Netscape: *whew*

Me: surf to plain html page

Netscape: freakOut(inABigWay)

Me: power cycle computer
hit wall (hard)
yell and scream