Book Review: Fan Fiction

Fan Fiction, by actor Brent Spiner, is a very unusual novel. It blends day-to-day actor life with L.A. noir, overlayed with an insider’s perspective of early Star Trek: Next Generation. It’s simultaneously true and clearly not true. It’s ambitious, funny, and silly. I loved it.

Would I recommend that you read it? No. Get the audiobook instead. It’s read by Spiner (which increases the surreal fictfactigous nature of the story). It also features a delightful array of guest voice actors — including Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Gates McFadden, and LeVar Burton — all playing themselves in this unusual, rollicking, shaggy dog, bio-fantasy-fanfic tale.

Did I mention that I loved it?

I’m opposed to spoilers, so I’ll let the publisher’s description carry the weight of more details, but if you want a spoiler-filled second review, see this NPR story. (But, keep in mind, I contend that the audiobook is likely superior to the printed edition.)

I listened via Audible, but of course, the Amazon has all the mediums you might want.

How to lose a customer, the Amazon eero 6e way

Oh, eero, you disappoint me. I’ve been a customer since before you were assimilated into the Amazon. I even upgraded my original system to your “6 Pro” models. And, I’m an eero Secure subscriber, despite the hassles it causes with overly aggressive site blocking and nonsensical “new client” alerts.

When you recently enticed me to upgrade to an eero Pro 6e system, I took the bait and spent $600 (with discount and trade-in) for your latest models. Boy, do I regret it.

The new Pro 6e stations refuse to recognize each other, and they complain about being placed in the same locations as the stations that I’m replacing, I dutifully tried moving them closer to each other. Then, when that failed, even closer. I tried starting fresh instead of using your “replace an eero” option. Nope. Nope. Nope. These pretty white half-cubes are steaming piles of shit.

Fortunately, I was able to reinstall my “old” 6 Pro stations, which immediately worked perfectly in the same locations where the new ones failed. I wasted nearly three hours of my life trying to accomplish something that should take ten minutes. Something that did take ten minutes the last time I upgraded.

I’ve returned the new system, cancelled my eero Secure renewal, and I will eventually find some 6e stations by one of your competitors. Thanks for the memories, but don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

How to lose a customer, the Physician’s Mutual Insurance way

I was sitting in my dentist’s waiting room, waiting for a follow-up visit after a pricey root canal, when the Hallmark Channel played a commercial for Physician’s Mutual Dental Insurance. That’s how they got me.

Admittedly, I was an easy mark, both situationally and financially. My dental coverage from Aetna had barely paid anything for my procedure, and given my age, I anticipate more work in the future.

I visited the Physicians Mutual Insurance website and requested an information packet. When it arrived, it seemed like much better coverage than Aetna, although I wouldn’t be eligible for any big-ticket reimbursements during the first year. I decided to bite anyway (see what I did there?) and enrolled online.

Oddly, while setting up my account, I was unable to elect spousal coverage. I assumed I could add that later. (If you’re keeping track, this is my third mistake of the story.)

Immediately upon signing up, my credit card app pinged. They had already charged my card, but they gave me an empty promise (spoiler alert) to send me the policy and membership information via snail mail.

Nearly every day after I signed up, I received spam email from them, asking me to sign up. At my post office box, I received at least 10 mailings also asking me to sign up, but no policy or membership card. The policy and membership card, in fact, never arrived.

I emailed their customer service to add spousal coverage. I received an email response with an encrypted message. To read the message, they wanted me to install some shady-looking app on my computer. Unless, the message said, I was using a “mobile device,” in which case I needed to forward the message to a third party who would decrypt it and send it back to me. (I am not making this up!)

I replied to the message, telling them I could not read the encrypted message. They replied with another encrypted message. This exchange was repeated twice more until I finally had enough. I called them to cancel my policy.

The customer service person asked for my membership number. (Which I didn’t have because it’s only provided in the membership packet, which I hadn’t received, despite it being nearly 30 days after I enrolled.)

I explained all the problems. I could hear the representative shrug their shoulders on the other end of the line. I asked that my policy be cancelled. The only way to do that, I was coldly told, is via mail. Snail mail. He gave me the info to do so. I asked for a refund for the first monthly payment that they had taken within minutes of my enrollment. He said, “put that request in writing, too.”

One month after I mailed the cancellation and refund request, I received a paper check (hello, 1995 called) refunding my payment and confirming my “disappointing decision to end coverage.” (I would use a different adjective.)

Two weeks after receiving the refund, my policy and membership card finally arrived, which I happily dropped in the shredder.

Book Review: Sidewalk Oracles

This 2015 book by Robert Moss is subtitled “Playing With Signs, Symbols, and Synchronicity in Everyday Life.” It’s an easy, first-person read built upon the premise that “the world speaks to us through coincidence and chance encounters.” But only if we are listening.

gordon meyer holding book

I’m not typically hooked by a book’s title, but this one grabbed my attention. Largely because I once bought the charming “Professor Pam’s Urban Divination Deck” from an Etsy shop, and one of its archetypes is “the mysterious puddle” — a phenomenon that happens on our front sidewalk. Furthermore, a life-changing book I’ve read is Coincidance: A Head Test, written by personal saint Robert Anton Wilson. Given these two signs from the universe, how could I resist this book? After all, there’s the old saying that “coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.” Clearly, this book had something to teach me.

The book includes many of the author’s personal stories of synchronicity, which I wasn’t so fond of, as it’s often like reading someone else’s overnight dreams. But he made them as interesting as possible and justified their inclusion by quoting Mark Twain — “I do not wish to hear about the moon from someone who has not been there.”

Thankfully, the bulk of the book is not about the author’s experiences with synchronicity. It’s about recognizing and discovering your own meaningful coincidences. And the book is filled with interesting exercises you can use to tune in to "messages from the universe.” One of these is bibliomancy, or “book-dipping,” which is a basic way to put this whole bit of nonsense to a test. But, fair warning, sometimes you learn what you need, not what you want.

Just a few of the many snippets that caught my attention:

  • The term synchronicity is a modern invention of Jung’s. He coined it because people have a hard time talking about coincidence.
  • The term kledon refers to something you hear, such as a snippet of conversation. Or, I suppose, from a spirit radio. See wikipedia for more.
  • The term kairomancy is the author’s coined word that refers to divination by recognition of meaningful moments.
  • Every so often a synchronistic event is simply a rhyme, rather than an obvious coincidence.
  • The term weird has a fascinating etymology.
  • If you’re of a scientific mind, consider that synchronistic events (and déjà vu) may be related to happenings in parallel dimensions. (See time-reversed interference, which is an actual subject of study.)

If you’re going to read a book like this, I highly recommend that you give yourself permission to imagine — a sadly repressed trait among contemporary adults. (See another review I wrote for more on this.)

I bought my copy from the Amazon. Your local woo-woo shop will likely have it, if not another half-dozen books by this prolific author.

Resolving the HomeKit can’t find accessory error

I’m adding a new camera system to my automated home. I chose the EufyCam 2C Pro system, partially because it’s made by Anker, but mostly because it supports HomeKit Secure Video.

However, it was a major headache getting the system configured to use HomeKit. The issue is that the process of adding the HomeBase2 as a HomeKit accessory would fail. I tried doing it in HomeKit directly, and I tried doing it through the Eufy Security app. Adding the HomeBase2 would always fail.

Making it even more frustrating, each attempt took several minutes, and seemed to work until the final step. HomeKit found the HomeBase, it asked for its location and camera names, and so on. It wasn’t until the final step when it would eventually timeout with a frustrating “Accessory not found” error. Well, FU HomeKit, you found it just fine five minutes ago when I started this process!

How did I finally resolve it? By (inconveniently) connecting the HomeBase directly to the router. (I previously had it, like everything else in my home, connected to a switch. A professional-grade switch, I might add, not some cheap Amazon Basics crap.) Once I moved the connection, adding the accessory was fast and smooth. Apparently, the HomeBase (or maybe HomeKit) doesn’t like being behind a switch. Word to the wise.

How to lose a customer the CenturyLink way

If a company can’t provide at least minimally competent customer service before delivering the product, take that as a sign that you should bail on the deal. I did.

Here are the highlights of how CenturyLink makes it hard to be their customer:

  1. Require a long lead-time to install residential fiber Internet service. Your competitor, Cox, says they offer next day installation. But screw that, make people wait nearly a week.
  2. During that week of waiting, pester the customer with multiple email and text messages, insisting they need to come to a website for the latest installation updates.
  3. When the customer comes to the website, give them a garbled summary, so they won’t know what time to expect the installer.
  4. centurlink buggy scheduling
  5. On the day of install, have your tech entirely ignore the instructions they were given by the community’s security guard so that the tech will be unable to access the customer’s neighborhood.
  6. Have the tech call the customer, seemingly to obtain the instructions already given, but when the call drops before either party can utter a word, turn around and leave the area. IMPORTANT: When the customer calls you back, don’t answer. And never, ever respond to the voice mail left by the customer.
  7. Mark the installation order as ‘location unavailable,’ and reschedule it for more than 40 days in the future. But do not tell the customer you’ve done so. Let them call dispatch and ask WTF is going on.

Book Review: Who in Hell

Sean Kelly and Rosemary Rogers are the authors of “A Guide to the Whole Damned Bunch,” which is probably the most unique book on my reference shelf. (Where it stands between the Oxford dictionaries of Superstitions and Euphemisms.)

gordon meyer holding book

The best way to describe this book is that it’s a “Who’s Who in Hell,” but I’m guessing the publishers couldn’t use that analogy for trademark reasons. Not only does the book list countless known and identified demons, but it also lists people infamous for their mortal sins, all of whom surely now reside in the fiery pits. Politicians, popes, actors, murderers, and all walks of life are represented. Each with a discussion of the actions that damned their souls.

Interspersed throughout are pithy and memorable quotes, such as “Hell is a pocket edition of Chicago” — a quip from antisemite, prohibitionist, and Englishman, John Burns.

Like all good reference books, every time I look up something, I experience serendipitous delight. For example:

  • As of 1996, 85% of Americans believe Hell exists
  • According to Papal decree, unbaptized babies and Protestants go to Limbo, not Hell. This implies that hell is populated with Catholics.
  • Iya is a Sioux malevolent spirit whose foul breath spreads illness
  • Divel was the common spelling of devil in the 1600s.
  • Adrian IV, the first and only English-born Pope, ceded Ireland to the English, causing no end of trouble.
  • While looking up John Dee (whose mortal sin was sorcery) I noticed the listing for Pierre David. David was a mid-1600s priest who committed blasphemy by issuing dildos to the nuns of his parish and insisting that they attend mass in the nude, à la the Garden of Eden.
  • The demon Hael causes gossip, and is known for teaching the art of writing letters.

Another interesting discovery was Belphagor. He’s an Old Testament devil, known for sloth and carnality, who was worshiped by the Moabites. This entry caught my eye because, while I knew the name of the imp guarding my book cabinet, I knew nothing of his story.

statue in gordon meyer book shelf

I bought my copy of “Who in Hell…” second-hand at a local Half Price Books (a great place to find reference books), but if you would rather not depend on happenstance, you can find it via the Amazon too.

Book Review: The Library of the Dead

This is one of the most fun and entertaining novels that I’ve ever read! (Well, technically, I listened to the unabridged Audible audiobook.) The setting is one of my favorite places in the world — Edinburgh — and the many geographical references stirred warm memories and a true sense of place. Never mind that the setting for the story is after some unspecified future worldwide turmoil, and that Scotland is seemingly once again independent and ruled by a King. (That’s all gleamed from the by-and-by, the story is not at all about politics.)

The author, TL Huchu, is a male Zimbabwean, but he has convincingly written the narrator as a teenage girl. She’s smart, funny, and due to the excellent voice acting, sometimes as much of a puzzle as listening to an actual Scot. This definitely increases the fun and intrigue of the story, at least for Americans. (Who knew that a “float” is a small truck, for example?)

In very brief terms, the protagonist can see and speak with the dead, and she hustles a meager income by conveying messages between the departed and the living. There are some other supernatural elements at play too, but the story remains grounded in gritty, familiar realism in nearly every other way. There’s a definite cyberpunk feel to it, too, which I really enjoyed.

This is the first volume in the “Edinburgh Nights” series, and I’ll certainly be continuing with the second. Check them out at Amazon.

The Case of the Counterfeit Nivea

Don’t be confused by the title of this piece, it is not another review of a teenage mystery novel. It’s a cautionary tale of the cesspool that Amazon has become.

A couple of years ago, in Europe, I tried a men’s deodorant made by Nivea. I liked it, but it’s not widely distributed (if at all) in the USA, so I have ordered it several times since, always in bulk, from Amazon.

When the last set that I ordered arrived, I quickly noticed that something was wrong. One of the bottles was broken open. Then, I noticed that the bottles were made from plastic, not their usual heavy glass. ‘OK, an unfortunate change in packaging,’ I thought to myself.

Next, I found that the bottles had a label that was haphazardly stuck over another label. Under the first one, the labeling was entirely in Spanish and declared that the contents were made in Mexico. The glass bottles from my previous order were labeled differently, and the country of origin was Germany. ‘OK, an unfortunate consequence of globalization,’ I thought to myself.

But things were starting to stink. Literally. The gooey liquid leaking from the “unscented” deodorant had an overpowering scent. ‘OK, something is not right,’ I thought to myself.

Either Nivea has lost their mind and made some radical changes to an established product, or Amazon just sold me a box of counterfeits. The latter seems most likely. I’ve heard that Amazon has a huge problem on their hands with regard to fakes, but fake deodorant? I suppose it’s possible.

I’m returning the broken, leaky, fake bottles to Amazon for a refund. Also enclosed in the package will be the last vestige of trust in the retailer.

Why do I blame Amazon for an insidious and difficult to police issue? I used their “Buy It Again” button to order these, an expedited checkout process that, I have since deduced, took me to an Amazon-approved vendor that was different from whom I had placed my previous orders.

Additionally, Amazon has no process for reporting a vendor who is supplying questionable merchandise. The only option is to return the order and select the reason for doing so as “merchandise not as described” — which is technically true for a counterfeit, but doesn’t help the company identify the actual problem.

Finally, I attempted to post a review of the product to alert other buyers. Amazon rejected my review saying their “community standards” don’t allow reviews that mention the vendor. This prevents me from alerting others that Kyli Commerce sold my poorly packaged and possibly fake products. My previous orders were sold by Wiki Deals and those were genuine. However, having been burned, I’ll just go back to buying lesser American deodorant from the corner pharmacy conglomerate and not risk more Amazon nonsense and hassles.