any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice

(An actual letter I just had to send to someone who almost certainly did not deserve it.)

Dear Ms. [Elided]:

My apologies for the intrusion.  My friend [elided] was kind enough to share your contact information with me, and after close to a month of getting the run-around from Clipper customer service both over the phone and in person, I’m willing to try just about anything.

What follows is probably way too verbose.  The nutshell version: my card was blocked on 10/10 because my credit card number changed causing an autoload to fail.  I updated my account with new CC information on 10/11 and autoload began to work again, but the card is still blocked and nobody on the phone or at the clipper service booths have been able to unblock it.  The card serial number is [elided].  Any help you could offer would be deeply appreciated.

The long version:

Sometime in late September, my Visa card was cloned by someone in England.  Visa’s fraud detection department noticed it immediately and reissued my card.  They assured me that any recurrent subscription payments would be automatically migrated to the new card number, and with one glaring exception that was true.  You can probably guess what the exception was.

On October 10th, Clipper tried to autoload a new BART pass onto my card, using the old Visa number.  The transaction was of course declined, and Clipper immediately blocked the entire card.  (As a parenthetical, there was still an active ~$15 e-cash credit for MUNI from the last successful autoload for that product, but apparently clipper’s system can’t distinguish such things and the card was locked on all transit systems.  Which is awesome.)  They sent me an email message informing me of this, and I immediately logged into the clipper website and updated my credit card information.  The website accepted the new CC info, and on Oct 11th I was cheerfully informed via email that in three-to-five days my card would be unblocked.  Which seems like an odd time lag compared to the instantaneous blocking after an autoload failure, but so be it.

Five days later, my card was still not unblocked, but I was about to take a trip to the east coast so I didn’t pay it any mind.  I returned from new york on the 20th, and the card was still blocked.  There followed a series of increasingly hilarious interactions with clipper support:

On this Monday the 24th, a young man cheerfully informed me that there was “an unlock in the system” for my card, and that I would be able to use it again on the morning of the 25th.  This was not true.

On Tuesday the 25th, a young woman answered the phone, got about halfway into stating her name before she dropped the receiver.  After some fumbling around, a second young woman said “hello”.  I said “hello” back, and there was then an awkward silence.  After some prodding, she admitted that she was in fact a Clipper service agent.  After looking at my account, she insisted that what I needed to do was go to a BART fare gate, tag my card, and when the screen flashed the red “See Agent” message, to do exactly the opposite of what it instructed: stand still and hold the card on the reader for another ten seconds.  This, she assured me, would definitely unlock the card.  I had and still have a suspicion that she was yanking my chain, but I figured nothing ventured nothing gained, right?  To the intense annoyance of the people in line behind me at Montgomery station, I tried this, not once but three times: it of course did not work.

Yesterday, the 28th, a young man informed me that actually it wasn’t the BART fare gate that I needed to tag against, but the ticket collection machine.  Possibly the red SFMTA one instead of the blue BART one.  And if that didn’t work, I should take the card to the Embarcadero service booth, since obviously it was damaged.  This of course also did not work, and the BART gate agent at my station assured me that the card was not damaged, just blocked.

Today, I left work early and took my card to the Embarcadero service booth ($3.50 round trip, but what’s a few dollars when I’ve already wasted several hours?), where a very friendly gentleman attempted first to unblock the card himself, then to call Clipper HQ to get more information, and then lastly to attempt to issue me a new card.  As you’ve probably already guessed: Clipper HQ couldn’t tell him anything more than they’d told me, and the system would not let him issue me a new card.  He confessed to me as he handed me the card back that his personal recommendation was to never ever use AutoLoad, because “this is always what happens when anything goes wrong with it.”

So here I am: the Clipper website insists that autoload is working, and in fact has helpfully charged me roughly $60 to top off both my BART pass and my MUNI e-cash.  But the card still doesn’t work, and nobody at any level of Clipper customer support seems to have any idea how to unblock it.  Probably the smart thing to do at this point would be just to cancel the account completely, dispute the last autoload transaction with Visa, happily resume using BART’s paper tickets, and regale friends at bars with this story for a few months in hopes of having them buy me drinks out of sympathy, but literal-minded sort that I am, I find myself thinking that if the card was blocked from the central office with no interaction with me needed, surely the card can be unblocked remotely just as easily without me having to do some sort of complicated dance between multiple card readers.

Please feel free to contact me via email or the phone number below if I can offer any more useful (or at least funny) information about this.  As above, any help you could offer would be deeply appreciated.


-Doctor Memory, Esq, PhD, OTO, OGS, etc

  San  Francisco, CA

rest in peace, you beautiful crazy bastard

Thank you, Steve.

decade of aggression

Ten Fucking Years.
Not wiser, just older.

a well-regulated metal militia

(Hoisted from, of all things, a discussion of the cultural significance of Def Leppard’s “Hysteria”, and slightly expanded for clarity.  Reposted here mostly because I’m amused by the idea of a deep metaphysical similarity between Bret Michels and Camille Paglia.)

On the one hand, there may be no argument in the world more intrinsically tiresome than “who is/is not metal?” On the other hand, props to UMD [another commentor] for making the case against Def Leppard without being a douche about it.

My 2 cents: if you don’t have an original manifesto to calibrate subsequent adherents against, you’re pretty much screwed when you talk about a “true” heritage of any cultural movement. This is why you can sometimes talk at least semi-intelligently about whether so-and-so is a Marxist or not, since Marx laid out his philosophy in a nice easy-to-digest way. Do you support worldwide revolution leading to control of the means of production by the class of industrial workers, a dictatorship of the proletariate and an eventual fading away of the state?  If yes, congratulations, you’re a Marxist. If no, you may well be influenced by Marx’s ideas, but a Marxist not so much. 

But much like feminism, metal didn’t have one single initial starting point, it had many overlapping ones: as a result, Andrea Dworkin and Sasha Grey could both credibly claim a legacy of “feminism”, and like it or not a whole bunch of wildly popular bands with ripped jeans and glossy production values could legitimately lay claim to a poppier “metal” sensibility that had its roots in Alice Cooper, AC/DC and Blue Oyster Cult in just the same way that Metallica grabbed the legacy of Sabbath, Accept and Motorhead and pummelled the mainstream into liking it…

snap judgement saturday returns

Worst-ever episode of your favorite (or close enough as to make no difference) TV series.  The one that you try very hard to forget ever happened, and which, if you think about it too long, makes you question your otherwise unhealthy devotion.

Don’t think too long about it, just go.

Oh, mine?  God, that’s all too easy: The Doctor’s Daughter, in which one of the cleverest bits of stunt casting ever in a 30-year-old tv series was wasted on a script that seemed to have been written by a 7-year-old.  Featuring Freema Agyeman’s absolute career low point, in which she has to fall into a mud puddle to loudly mourn the death of a man with a fishtank for a face, who she just met ten minutes ago.  Worst of all, they might yet bring the character back.

San Simeon trip

the purge continues

a purge of crappy sf

A quick purge of crappy sf/f paperbacks.  To borderlands we go!

Okay, obviously that’s slander: many of these are not crappy at all, but I don’t expect to re-read them and I need the shelf space back.

…well, except for the Piers Anthony.  Those are legitimately crap.

Oh, and “Preacher.”  Every single last one of you who recommended that rancid shit to me is FIRED.  Ahem.

(Yes, I’m still alive.  Hi!)

three hundred, sixty five

Three hundred and sixty five years ago, give or take an hour or two, Miranda and I pulled on our coats, grabbed a carefully pre-packed bag, and started what we thought would be a very short two block walk over to St. Luke’s hospital.  Forty minutes later, we finally made it to the ER entrance, having learned the hard way just how long it takes to walk two and a half blocks when one of you is having contractions every two to three minutes.

A few hours after that, a small human being emerged from my girlfriend.  The world has been spinning slightly askew ever since.  It’s been a hell of a year, and it’s only gonna get weirder from here on in.

Happy birthday, little girl.

(if the video above doesn’t play, click here.)

snap judgement saturday

(With apologies to Dr. Berube, who's "Arbitrary but Fun Friday" schtick I am mercilessly appropriating.)

Your snap-judgment question for the weekend is:

What is the best guitar solo in a rock song that is not by someone who's last name is Hendrix, Page or Clapton?

My answer: Kim Thayil's amazing breakdown in the middle of Soundgarden's "Like Suicide", from 1994's "Superunknown". 

The action starts at about 4 minutes 30 seconds in, but it’s worth listening from the top to let the effect build: the song starts as a slow dirge, with a simple three-note guitar lick woven in and out of Chris Cornell doing his usual Dio-cum-Plant vocal gymnastics… and then Thayil lets loose with a minute-long facemelter that’s part primal scream, part requiem and part epitaph.  For my money, it was Soundgarden’s high point as a band, and thus the de facto high-water mark for the entire “Seattle sound.”  (Cobain offed himself barely a month later, and it was all downhill from there.)  These days, I’m not much of a fan of guitar wank for its own sake, but this is still the one solo that I’ll cue up the track just to hear.

Your turn.  Go.  For the sake of the discussion, you can pick your own definition of “rock,” and you should consider yourself granted extremely wide latitude for a definition of “guitar solo” — assemblages of guitar samples could well qualify.  Links to audio appreciated, but not necessary.  And remember: no Jimi, no Jimmy, no Eric.

face the face

Reading the coverage of “The Social Network” has made two things apparent to me:

1. No amount of effusively positive reviews — hell, not even an effectively infinite number of them — is enough to make me even slightly interested in watching a movie about Mark Zuckerberg’s journey from douchebag Harvard student to douchebag baby billionaire.  Seriously here, I’m almost starting to think that this is some kind of carefully orchestrated prank by the world’s movie critics: “a movie about Facebook’s douchebag founder” (a movie about Facebook’s founder, for real) is like some sort of platonic ideal of “things which well-adjusted people should never care about.”

2. Only a small residual sense of propriety and decency was standing in between Jesse Vincent and becoming a multibillionaire.  There’s a lesson here, but I’m pretty sure I don’t like it.