Great Customer Service

I have to hand it to Apple, they do customer service right. Two recent experiences made me appreciate it even more. Last weekend we went into the Apple Store at the mall to see about an armband for Amber to use when working out. After finding the one she wanted, Amber turned to a girl in blue and asked to check out. She responding by asking if we knew we could check ourselves out through their Apple Store app.Turns out, you can buy accessories with your phone. Just scan the bar code of your item and enter your iTunes account password. If you know what you’re there for, checkout is a snap and you don’t even need to talk to anyone. Awesome!

I’ve been having problems with the earpiece on my phone for at least a week. Calls connect and the person on the other end can hear me, but I can’t hear them. Switching to speaker phone or using headphones works fine. So I scheduled a Genius Bar appointment to have Apple check it out. I got there right on time and used their app to check myself in. A few minutes later a guy came out and we discussed the problem. He disappeared into the back room for a few minutes. He came back out and asked me to try a call, which still did not have audio. He immediately offered to replace my phone and did it on the spot. I was in and out in under 30 minutes. No hassle whatsoever, no accusatory attitude about what I might have done to it, just genuine helpfulness and an immediate replacement phone. There’s a good reason I always buy AppleCare, and it is totally worth it.

Kitties!

Wow! It has been too long since we’ve last posted and a lot has happened since then. But the main highlight is that 2+ years after it began, the puzzle is finally finished! And with that done, we were able to expand the family by 2!

We present to you:

Alley Cat

Alley

w/o Calvin

Hobbes

Hobbes and Alley are brother and sister born on April 26, 2011. When we brought them home on Aug 14 they were not quite 4 months old and two of the cutest little peanuts!  They took well to their new home, exploring all of the nooks, crannies, and hidey-holes, giving us a quick lesson in childproofing a house. They were both pretty quick to make themselves at home.

Hobbes enjoys finding new places to hide:

Hobbes under the coffee table

Where'd he go?

Shhh!!! I'm hiding...

Hide 'n Seek is awesome!

And Alley enjoys finding Hobbes’ hiding places:

Hobbes, your not that slick...

He'll never find me here!

This is all mine, now!

Hobbes and Alley are both very active kittens.  They enjoy chasing balls and all things shiny!

Fetch!

Oooo, shiney!

They also love to climb, pounce, and…

Going up is the easy part!

I'm gonna... GET YOU!!!

…WRESTLE!!!

Take that!

and that!

and this!

But, at the end of the day, they are all cuddles and complete adorableness.

 

iMac Repair

The hard drive in my iMac died several months ago. Replacing a hard drive normally wouldn’t be much of a task, but the iMac is a single well-crafted unit with no obvious way to take it apart. I wasn’t really sure where to start, so I just switched to using my laptop as my primary machine and put off making a decision about what to do with it.

About a week ago, I finally decided I wanted to sell it to help pay for the next gadget. Selling a dead iMac would be more difficult and significantly less lucrative than selling a working one with a big new hard drive, so I decided I’d bite the bullet and try the repair myself. I found a guide online for a 20″ iMac and figured it was close enough to get me through it. After picking up some additional tools and a new 1.5TB drive, I got started.

As it turns out, a 24″ iMac (at least this one) was fairly different from the 20″ but not so much so that I couldn’t’ figure things out.

  • It was tricky to tell if the front bezel latch was actually released; I’m starting to think this model doesn’t really have any latches like the guide shows. It wasn’t really clear to me if the latches are connected to the front bezel or the rest of the case. If it’s the front bezel, there were no latches.
  • Mine doesn’t seem to have an EMI shield, at least not a big one covering the lower components. Individual components seem to have their own shielding.
  • The display screws were T9 instead of T10.
  • I realized I don’t have any small magnetic screwdrivers. I had to use a magnetic screwdriver bit and a paper clip to retrieve the display screws.
  • The inverter cable was not under the display as I expected; it was completely visible once the bezel came off. It could have been disconnected before attempting to lift the screen.
  • The placement of the components inside the case was quite a bit different than the guide pics. The hard drive was horizontal across the middle instead of vertically on the left.
  • The drive itself is held in place with pins on one side and a compression bracket on the other. It was a really easy transition to the new drive.

Taking everything apart took about 3 hours. I wanted to take my time so I wouldn’t do something stupid. I also made sure to separate each set of screws into a labeled envelope so I wouldn’t’ get anything mixed up. It was probably took another 30 minutes to put it back together once I got the new hard drive inside. Now I’m working on installing OS X so I can make sure I got everything reconnected correctly. Anybody want to buy an iMac?

Update: Everything seems to have gone well except that the iSight camera was not connected correctly on the first try. Luckily it didn’t take much effort to get to it and fix the issue.

So Close

The bowling team has been doing well in the first round. We came into the final week, the position round, in second place and down just three points. We’d be playing the first place team, so we had an excellent chance to finish the round in first. With seven points possible per night (two per game and one for total pin count), we needed just 5 to force an extra game or make the playoffs straight away.

Unfortunately, we had trouble fielding a full team. One regular was already traveling for work when another got asked to go a on a short notice trip as well. None of our subs were available and our roster is technically full. We really didn’t have any good options to field a full team, so we bowled with four. That means the fifth man automatically gets a calculated score of his average minus ten pins.

The whole night was pretty frustrating. Bowling without a full team seems to throw everything off just enough that nothing goes quite as you’d like it. We lost the first game by a wide margin – 94 pins. But we came back and took a commanding lead in game two (over 100 pins at times), only to watch it slip. We still won by 28 pins, but we didn’t make up as much of the differential as we would have liked. We also won game three, but only by 41 which wasn’t enough to get us into an extra game. We fell 25 pins short even though we won two games out of three. That slim a margin over three games…so close.

Back to Normal

We’re back at home, safe and sound. After a lazy day of catching up on (some) of the TV we missed while in Italy, it’s back to work tomorrow for both of us. We’ve got several posts from the last days of the trip in various stages of being written. We’ll be putting them up over the next day or two and back date them appropriately.

More Airport Fun

Dealing with customs in New York wasn’t too bad. We weren’t originally sure if we were going to have to retrieve our bag and recheck it since we were likely switching terminals like last time. The customs agents confirmed that we would, but all of that process went quickly. We walked to the other terminal building and found the Delta check-in counter. I used the self service machine and got our boarding passes, so all we had to do was drop our one bag. For whatever reason, the agent couldn’t get the ticket to print, so we had a slight delay. Nothing major yet.

From there, we hopped in the security line. Everything for the entire terminal was filtering through two X-ray machines and a single metal detector. An agent off to the side was calling for people with earlier flights and pulling them out of the main line and into the priority line so they could make their flights. “Finally, someone doing something smart.” Our flight was scheduled to leave at 3:55. She started by asking for 3:30 departures and earlier. Next was 3:45 and earlier. Finally, she was calling for 3:55 and earlier, and when we jumped the line we still moved ahead of about 10 spots in line. No major problems at security this time, but our flight had already been boarding for a while.

It didn’t take long for us to realize that our gate was actually in yet another terminal. We needed to take a shuttle bus to get there (at this point we had about 25 minutes before the flight was scheduled to leave). We found where the shuttle was supposed to board, but they were telling people to take a seat and we’ll call you when it’s ready. They finally let us on and the shuttle drove to what seemed like the far end of the airport. It was interesting to be down on the tarmac level, but I couldn’t enjoy it much due to the circumstances. By the time we reached the desk at our gate, they were announcing that all ticketed passengers needed to board now for an on time departure (ha!).

We finally made it to the plane and found our seats occupied by a father and his two kids (probably three and four years old). He somehow managed to get three entirely separated seats, plus I just realized that his wife is up in first class. Between us and one other passenger, we were able to put him with his kids and keep Amber and me together.

Once we were all situated, we proceeded to sit on the tarmac for an hour because of “evening congestion.” Our nice long layovers today are both going to end up being annoyingly short. My least favorite thing about air travel – hurry up and wait.

Oops…

The morning started off well enough. We got up early to give ourselves plenty of time to get our stuff packed up and make it to the train station, then the airport. We caught the Leonardo Express train to the airport, but it was delayed more than 10 minutes. It wasn’t a huge problem because we had allowed ourselves plenty of time, but perhaps we should have taken it as an omen.

We got to the airport and made it into the correct terminal. As we searched for the correct check-in counter, we were directed into the longest line in the airport. It was moving along OK, but we waited at least 30 minutes to reach the counter. When asked how many bags we were checking, we proudly proclaimed, “None” (more on that in a minute). We grabbed our boarding passes and headed for the security line.

Their security setup is something I’d like to see in US airports. When each bin comes out of the X-ray machine and gets emptied, you just place it on a line of rollers that sends it back to the beginning of the security prep area. No staff needs to be involved carting them around and they only needed about a dozen bins for each line. We also didn’t have to take our shoes off which was nice.

Just past the metal detector is where our problems started. As we were standing in line, I realized that we’re carrying two nearly full water bottles. I chugged part of mine, but we dumped the rest in a trash can. I had left my belt on (including my hidden pocket), hoping that the buckle and remaining change wouldn’t set off the detector. Wrong. I had to take my belt off and send it through the machine – you know, because you can hide so much in a fabric belt. As I went through the detector the second time, it went off again. An agent patted me down and gave me the OK, but that’s when I realized that Amber had her own problem. Another agent was telling her that we couldn’t carry on the bottle of Brunello we bought in Montalcino. Duh! It’s more way more than 3oz (100 ml) and we didn’t buy it in the airport after we passed through security. I’m not sure how I failed to think that through. Our only choice was to check one of the bags to get it home.

At that point we had about maybe 10 or 15 minutes until our flight was supposed to start boarding. We weren’t sure there would be enough time for one of us to go back and check the bag and get through security again, but we also didn’t want to lose the most expensive bottle of wine from the trip. I told Amber to head back and I would wait. We grabbed a couple of items from one of the backpacks and she rushed off to the check-in counter. She was able to jump into one of the priority lines and get someone to help, although she royally pissed off some other Americans in the process (they were late for their flight – not our problem!). When she got back to the security line, she was able to cheat up the side and to the front of the line. She didn’t really have any stuff with her, so it wasn’t bad getting back through.

When they checked the bag, they took her original boarding pass and gave her a new one for some reason. It didn’t seem like a big deal, except that it didn’t have a seat number on it. When we got to the gate, they were already boarding, so we waited to get to an agent (they have two levels of people checking passports and boarding passes). Amber asked the first lady about where she was supposed to sit, but she didn’t seem to know for sure, although she indicated it may have been the seat beside mine (the one she originally had). When we reached the second guy, he informed us that the flight had checked in full and gave her yet another boarding pass with a seat in a different row. Not cool; a 9+ hour flight and we’re going to be separated.

When we boarded, we were both pretty upset. The plane has two seats on each side, and three in the middle. I had seat 18E, smack in the middle. “If I’m sitting between two strangers for the entire flight, this is going to suck.” Amber found her seat 24G to be occupied by an idiot (and his wife) who didn’t know how to read a seat diagram. She ended up sitting on the other side in 24D. The seat beside me (18D) remained open for almost the entire boarding process. I almost wondered if they had locked up two seats for Amber by mistake. She finally moved up to that seat, just in time for the guy with that seat on his boarding pass to show up. Fortunately, he was nice enough to swap and take her assigned seat back in row 24.

We separated items from the checked backpack in a rush. How many things did we leave in there that we’d like to have on the plane? Let’s see…there’s Amber’s neck pillow. There’s the granola bars we could have eaten two hours ago. There’s the Advil that could have relieved Amber’s headache. We’ll probably think of a few other things before the day is over.

Our departure was delayed by at least 30 minutes. First, we had unexplained delays at the gate. Next, we had to wait in the takeoff line because they had dropped down to a single runway due to the wind. We finally got into the air, but we both were starving. We’d been up since 5:15 and hadn’t eaten anything (it was about 11 when we finally took off). Now it’s 1:30 Rome time and we’ve finally had a snack and a “meal.” Amber’s choice of “pasta” was actually a cheesy mushroom risotto. My choice of “meat” was a rosemary beef stew that wasn’t stew. Neither was very tasty, but they served their purpose to quell the hunger pains. Only 6.5 hours to go…

Ancient Rome

Ahhh, this was the best morning of the trip: we slept in! However, the slower morning did result in fewer options still available for breakfast. But never-the-less, it was totally worth it!

After breakfast we started our day of Roman History Education. We began with a metro ride under Roma and emerged at the front gate of the Colosseum. To enter, we walked past the long lines, swiped our Roma Passes and walked right in! Once inside, we pulled out our Rick Steve’s audio guide and instantly became confused as it seems that the set up of the entrance has changed since the audio guide was recorded making it very difficult to follow along. After a bit of confusion and frustration, we gave up on the guide and started to explore and enjoy the scene on our own. The entire space is very humbling when you think about the ingenuity that it took to create the tunnels and pulley systems under the Colosseum floor as well as the stability of the multiple seating levels that are still visible. It’s hard to believe they used to flood the whole place to stage sea battles or raise scenery and beasts through the floor for elaborate game hunting. It was cool that they had reconstructed a portion to look like it might have hundreds of years ago.


From here, we explored the Arch of Constantine and meandered our way over to Palatine Hill.

Here we once again used our Roma Passes to skip the lines and zip inside without delay. Despite a really confusing map, we managed to wind our way through the ruins. We didn’t really know what we were looking at most of the time, so it was a little difficult to get excited about any of it; this is one of the few instances where I wish we would have had a formal guidebook to explain the sites.

Once at the top of the hill we had a great view of our next stop, the Forum. We had another audio tour that started us at the Arch of Titus. Just like the rest of the big arches, we weren’t actually able to walk underneath it. After the arch, we were lead down the right side to the Basilica of Constantine. This was one of the most impressive structures of Ancient Rome. The three remaining arches represent just a fraction of the original size and stature. These arches were once mirrored on the opposite side, with even larger arches spanning the space in between. It’s hard to get a feeling of the sheer size by looking at a picture, but being there was pretty awesome. Although there is little left of this once magnificent space, it is still easy to imagine the great baths, empirical meetings, and local counseling that once took place on this site.

From the Basilica we moved down the paths that were once traveled by Constantine, Caesar, and other Ancient Romans, past the green church doors (which we couldn’t find), and through to the far end of the Forum.  At this end, we could see the House of the Vestal Virgins, the Temple of Caesar, and the Temple of Saturn. By the time we made it this far we were both pretty pooped and ready to start the up hill trek back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner at a rooftop restaurant.

Before calling it quits for the night, we did a quick Skype session with Carson’s parents and eventually with Momma (Daddie was outside working on the car).

Finally… BEDTIME!!!!

Food in Orvieto

We finally made it to our B&B after dark and we were more than ready for a hot meal and a good night’s sleep.  After checking in, we made our way up the cliff and into town in search for a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves. We finally found it only to be disappointed that it was not open.  Therefore, we started walking the main street through town trying to find a place to stop.  Carson finally noticed a sign that pointed us down an alley towards the sound of clanking silverware and laughter.  So we stopped in, only to find George and Connie at one of the four tables inside.  The host/server/owner insisted that we sit with George and Connie for our meal. This turned out to be a lot of fun!

Aside from the conversation, the food and wine were also very enjoyable.   Carson had a plate of meatballs, I enjoyed another delectable bowl of gnochi (I have got to learn how to make this stuff!), and we shared a liter of the house red.  Part way through dinner, a woman came in and our host shut the front door.  We didn’t really think anything of it until a bit later when another couple inquired if the restaurant was open and they were turned away! Apparently, we later learned, the woman that came in was our host’s girlfriend and they decided to close when she showed up so they could dine together.  At this point, the only people in this small restuarant were George & Connie, Carson & myself, and our host, his girlfriend and his mother.

This fun night came to a boisterous ending about two hours after it started when we signalled the host that we were ready for our checks and he came to our table and asked if we were ready for more wine :) (he was as tipsy as the rest of us)

The following day started with a simple, yet delicious, breakfast at the B&B that consisted of cereal with yogurt (instead of milk), toast with an assortment of mystery jellies, and more orange juice that is really red and does not taste like oranges. This was one of our best continental breakfasts of the trip.

After breakfast, we climbed in the car and started our day of exploring the Tuscany hill towns.  By the time we were ready for lunch, we had meandered our way to Trattoria Latte di Luna in Pienza. Here we split one of the best bruschettas of the trip! The freshly diced tomatoes on a bed of sea salt drizzled with smooth olive oil all culminated for a to-die-for bruschetta. After our starter, we both enjoyed homeade pastas with marinara sauce.

After lunch, we finished our tour of Tuscany and made our way back to Orvieto and cleaned up for a fancy, birthday dinner. I found a resaurant in our Rick Steve’s guide that sound increadable so we descided to give it a try.  Once again, we arrived at the restaurant, only to discover that it was not open. No worries yet, it was still a bit before seven, so we descided to walk around town and give the place a chance to open.  By 7:15 it still did not look open so we descided to go in and ask if they were open. Ah Ha! Yes, it was open! So we accepted a table and ordered some wine.  After a few minutes, the waiter came back around and informed us what our options were (they did not have menus) and we each asked if we could have a sampling of everything he had described (he described only two meals). This turned out to be a great decission! Our meal consisted of a crape filled with fried onion, mushrooms, and light sauce and fettucine with truffles and other mushrooms. Both were very delicate and savory; well worth the wait!  If we ever make it back to Italy, this place is on my list!

The next day started with another breakfast of cereal and toast at the B&B and another hike up the cliff.  Lunch consisted of a couple of salads at the internet cafe in Orvieto.  Carson ordered a cold seafood salad and I had a warm penne salad with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, nothing too exciting.

By the time that we finished lunch, we finally realized that we hadn’t had any gelato since we arrived in Orvieto! We could not leave with out at lease one taste. So I had a cone of berry and Carson mixed it up a bit by ordering one scoop of chocolate and one scoop of pistachio.

Our stomachs are going to miss Tuscany!