Rants and Raves!

I'm a proofreader and copy editor, an occasional writer, and a travel enthusiast (70 countries) who's interested in grammar, linguistics, funny quotes, quirky stories and bargain deals.

This is the place for rants about lousy service and atrocious quality, praise for things done right and funny or interesting items that wouldn't fit within Twitter's 140-character limit.

For quality results that even a curmudgeon wouldn't grumble about, hire me for your proofreading and editing needs. I'm Chicago-based, if the occasional in-person meeting is important to you, but I'm happy to work with customers worldwide.

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Third World Adventures with AT&T

Posted Friday, August 15, 2014
I am normally impressed with companies that are willing to hire the mentally handicapped. Unfortunately, I cannot agree with AT&T's approach, which is to place their mentally deficient into senior management positions.

With AT&T I get the chance to relive my Third World adventures without having to leave my apartment. For example, buying a train ticket in India can require standing in 5 lines before the process is complete. With AT&T, it can easily take being bounced around to 5 or more customer service reps around the country to resolve an issue.

But wait, there's more! AT&T employs technology to ensure that it wastes even more of your time than dealing with the bureaucrats in India. The automated phone system -- once you finally convince it to connect you with a live human -- is apparently designed to send you to the wrong person or place; this gives you the opportunity to chat with a large portion of AT&T's workforce over the course of an afternoon. Each of them, of course, ask you again for the phone number you were required to input to reach them in the first place and for your "security code," which can't be all that secure if you have to share it with the bulk of AT&T's staff every time you call.

To make things fun, about one time in 3, you'll get disconnected during a transfer and need to start from scratch. Best of all is when you actually find the right person to solve a problem and are almost finished when AT&T Uverse drops out temporarily, thus ending your call in mid-sentence.

The excitement never ends! Once you get your phone bill back to being close to the expected price, you can rest assured that the bill will go up a couple of dollars every month or two and then jump by as much as 50% if you neglect to get in touch with them for more than 6 months. Apparently, AT&T just loves to hear from you in person regularly, a half day at a time, so they can follow up your call with their customer satisfaction emails.

Sure would be something if they actually read those responses!

Tags: rants and raves, review, technology, Chicago, USA

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Green Eggs, Ravens and Markov Chains

Posted Saturday, August 9, 2014
What do you get when you cross Dr. Seuss with Edgar Allan Poe? Some very interesting ramblings, as you will see below. But first, let me give you a little background info.

Perhaps a half-dozen years ago when I performed a Google search, I would frequently find myself on a page that almost sounded normal but then would veer off bizarrely, as if the writer had been dropping mega-hits of LSD.

As it turns out, those pages had been created by math-savvy search engine optimization (SEO) experts to rank on page 1 for select keyword searches. The math used is called a Markov chain: you enter a block of text, each pair of words are compared and a probability table is created. A random word is first selected and then the probability table is used to select the next word in proportion to its representation in the original sample. Then the next word is selected the same way.

The SEO guys took a block of ordinary text, added a batch of keyword phrases and let the Markov chain generate text that was heavy in relevant keywords, which were distributed randomly. The process is easier to understand if you take two very stylistically-different blocks of text and watch the resulting copy wander back and forth sounding like one, then the other, then the first again.

When my programmer son was prototyping this blog page, rather than just enter traditional Lorem ipsum filler text, he decided to generate a Markov chain passage combining Poe's The Raven with Dr. Suess' Green Eggs and Ham. Below is the result:

Once upon the floor Shall be lifted - Let my chamber door. `'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my bosom's core; This I will let me be. I do not like them here; But, with a token of Lenore! Not with a goat! Would you came a train, Not in a demon's that Sam-I-am. Once upon a fox I sat divining, with a car! Sam! And in front of evil! - by horror haunted - Only this, and ham! And I scarce was blessed with a mouse. Would you like them in a goat? I do not like them, Sam-I-am.

I would not like green eggs and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore - For the rain? I do not like them in a tree. They are so plainly, Though its ghost upon the floor; And in a goat. You let me be! I do not like them anywhere. I do not like them, Sam-I-am. Would you eat them anywhere. I do not like them with a tree! Not with seeing bird beguiling my door!' Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Startled at my chamber door. `'Tis some one gently you came a box? Would you, would not eat them anywhere. I do not in a mouse I would not a mouse I said, `art sure no syllable expressing To the dark! Not in the raven, `Nevermore.' `Prophet!' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I do not like them in a box. I do not like them, Sam-I-am. I do not like them in that God we both adore - is sitting, still a feather then he fluttered - 'Tis the darkness gave no token, And so like them with a flirt and nothing more,' Presently my loneliness unbroken! - tell me be, I will eat them with seeing bird said, `Nevermore.' `Be that lies floating on the grave and there. I scarcely more than before.

`Surely,' said I, `thing of the dirges of sorrow - For we both adore - Whether tempter sent, or fiend!' I would not, in a bust above my heart, and there. I do not like green eggs and bust above my sad uncertain rustling of my door! Take thy crest be still is dreaming, And I do not eat them here or there. I remember it was sure I would not, could not, could you, in front of evil! - 'Tis the sculptured bust above us - here or there. I am Sam I will see. Not in the chamber door - `Get thee Respite - Is there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no syllable expressing To the rare and door; And I will eat them with a token of forgotten lore, While I will not eat them in a house. Eagerly I would not, would eat them with a tree!


By the way, Google has since figured out to ignore this SEO approach if you were considering using it.

Tags: websites, food and drink, SEO, applied math, technology, food and drink

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Review of Fernando's Restaurant, Chicago (2 Stars)

Posted Saturday, August 2, 2014
This is a place that seeks to underwhelm even the most modest of expectations. The food is pricy for the portions served, which are suitably sized for kid's meals. An $8.00 quesadilla appetizer consisted of two tiny quesadillas cut into thirds. The menu said 1.5 pounds of ribs for $17.99, which sounds like a fair price; unfortunately, they really meant ONE 0.5 pound order of ribs.

The food overall tasted slightly better than what I was served in my high school cafeteria, hence the very generous second star.

The waiter could have been French rather than Spanish; certainly, he was as friendly and helpful as your typical French waiter in Paris when you only speak English.

This might be the ideal restaurant to take a blind date you've already decided you never want to see again. Otherwise, I would stay clear of the place, even with a Groupon deal.

Located in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood: 3450 N Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL 60657

Tags: rants and raves, review, restaurant, food and drink, Chicago

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