And the prize…

for the only customer service agent at Harper Collins who actually does her job goes to Wilma, who sent me this today:

Thank you for contacting the HarperCollins online store.

We apologize for the inconvenience that this issue has caused you.

Please be advised that the eBook can be downloaded on Kindle Fire.

In order to get the HarperCollins e-reading app on your Kindle Fire
tablet you’ll need to download it outside of the normal Android
marketplace by following these instructions:

If you are using an alternative e-reading application you may be
prompted to create an Adobe ID if you haven’t already done so. Follow
the instructions and use these credentials to open your e-book in your
non HarperCollins e-reading application.

Please be aware that the product that was ordered is ineligible for a
refund. This is outlined in our refund policy, located at:
Thank you for your patience and understanding.

So the upshot is that if you don’t have a Kindle Fire, you’re still screwed because they will not give you back a dime of what you spent  (How hard can you make that penny squeal, Rupert Murdoch?) even though they don’t bother to tell you ahead of time that to read your ebook you HAVE to install their application.

Why don’t I want to?  First, I don’t want to read the book on my computer.  I just don’t like to do that.  Second, I don’t want to install a whole new app just for one book.  That’s a waste of space.  And finally, frankly I’m not sure I trust a company which essentially withholds information from you in order to get your money, and then refuses to refund it when you complain.  I haven’t even downloaded the book yet, and I figure they know that, so it’s not like they think I’m trying to steal it.  Hell if it was hard copy I could read it overnight and take it back to the bookstore for a full refund.  I’d have a lot more respect for their position if they were upfront about how you have to download their app to read their ebooks.  Then I’d have been able to make an informed decision.

Yeah I know, this is a lot of fuss about a book.  But it’s a symptom of something bigger than just one disaffected consumer.  It’s the arrogance of a big corporation like News Corp which is HC’s parent company.   They’re essentially telling me, “We’ve got your money, we don’t need you anymore.”  They won’t get any more of it through their website, but I don’t think that much matters to them since I’m only one person.  And they also can pretty much assume I’m going to go on buying books in the future, and that inevitably I’m going to want some that are published by them, so they probably won’t be losing anything.

My opinion has no cash value.





Seeking trainable monkeys for customer service position

Remember my post from yesterday?  About Harper Collins’ customer service reps?  Well here’s today’s answer to my reply:

Thank you for contacting the HarperCollins online store.

The ebook you purchase can be downloaded on your kindle. You may need to
download the app or the reader first. You can download the app from the
link below:
When the download is complete, you will be asked to register the app.
Please follow the on-screen prompts in order to complete the
registration process.

If this is the first time you’ve used the HarperCollins App, you may be
prompted to log in with your HarperCollins credentials. Your login name
will be your email address and your password will be the password you
selected during the purchase process.

Please note that the app needs to be downloaded and registered prior to
downloading the eBook or it may have difficulties locating your
download. You may need to re-download the eBook if you do not see it in
the app after registering it.

To download your eBook, go to:
Look up your order using either your order number and password or your
email address and the last five digits of the credit card used to
purchase. When the order summary appears, click on the Download link
next to the product name.

Please note that all products that are ordered through the HarperCollins
online store are ineligible for a refund. This is outlined in our refund
policy, located at:
We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused you.

You don’t need to refer to yesterday’s post to compare, it’s the exact same text.  Well done to you, Harper Collins, you’ve finally found a way to use trained monkeys to do human jobs.  You must be so proud.

Customer Support Personnel Wanted: Must be able to cut and paste

Harper Collins had a special on Richard Kadrey‘s Sandman Slim books yesterday.  I have all of them except for “Kill City Blues” so I thought I’d take advantage of it.  I went to the site and clicked on the link, duly entered the discount code, and yes I did wonder why there were no options to choose the ebook format I wanted, but I figured that they’d let me choose later in the process.

Yeah, you know what’s coming, don’t you?  I got all the way to the end, paid for my book, and then discovered that I had to read it on the Harper Collins reader.  I SO want another ebook reader on my computer.  You have no idea how much that thrills me.  So I emailed their customer service immediately — didn’t download the book because I didn’t want them to say “Well you’ve got it now, you’ll have to keep it.” — and I said this:

I want an ebook that I can read on my Kindle.  If this book doesn’t work with Kindle format, I don’t want it. I have not  downloaded it.

Simple, right?  I thought so.  Direct.  To the point.  Said exactly what I meant without actually pointing out that they might have explained that there was only one format and it wasn’t compatible with any known ebook reader.  So today I got this reply:

Thank you for contacting the HarperCollins online store.

We show that your order is complete and ready for download.

To download your program, please follow these steps:

There are 3 main steps to start reading your eBook: 1) Download the App,
2) Register the App, and 3) Download the eBook.

Instructions for obtaining the app will vary depending on the device you
are using the reader your book. Please go to the following URL and use
the instructions listed under your device type:
STEP 2: Register App
When the download is complete, you will be asked to register the app.
Please follow the on-screen prompts in order to complete the
registration process.

If this is the first time you’ve used the HarperCollins App, you may be
prompted to log in with your HarperCollins credentials. Your login name
will be your email address and your password will be the password you
selected during the purchase process.

STEP 3: Download your eBook
Please note that the app needs to be downloaded and registered prior to
downloading the eBook or it may have difficulties locating your
download. You may need to re-download the eBook if you do not see it in
the app after registering it.

To download your eBook, go to:
Look up your order using either your order number and password or your
email address and the last five digits of the credit card used to
purchase. When the order summary appears, click on the Download link
next to the product name.

I used to be nice about stuff like this.  I used to write and say, “I’m sorry, maybe I didn’t make myself clear,” and then restate my issue in different words.  Usually more of them, too.  But this happens all the time.  I mean almost every time I contact any customer service or tech support via email.  So I asked myself, “What would Stark do?”  The answer was very satisfying, but unworkable simply because of the large amount of blood and mayhem involved.  So I settled for this response:

Okay so clearly nobody actually read what I wrote, so I’m going to try again.


I have NOT downloaded it because I’m not sure if it will work with Kindle. Your site seems to imply that it won’t. I think the site could have been clearer about what formats you offer before you get money from people, but I guess that’s as difficult as actually reading a request.

Look, either say “Yes, you can put this on your Kindle, no problem” or give me my money back. This isn’t difficult.

Your move, Harper Collins.

Review: LG 55EC9300, an extraordinary television

I was fortunate enough to be invited to an event hosted by LG to introduce bloggers and reviewers to their OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) televisions.  Since it was a tech event, and I’d been told that the target group was tech bloggers and reviewers I’d feared that it would turn out to be something of a sausage fest.  Recent events such as #gamergate and the death threats against Anita Sarkeesian, have put me very much out of sympathy with mostly male tech groups so I did honestly wonder if I wanted to go at all.  But I was promised cocktails and a gift, so I thought what the hell?  And Glinda kind of pushed me out the door anyway, so going was easier than making up an excuse about why I was sitting at home missing the free drinks.

Turns out that the group was mostly women.  Though there were a number of men there, I discovered that at least some of them were +1s (I didn’t know I could bring a guest!)  I got the impression that though it wasn’t actually said, the target group was actually female tech bloggers and reviewers.  The atmosphere was pleasant.  I ended up sitting with a columnist for Go Girl  Travel Network, and we had a very nice chat.  Kudos to LG for taking women in tech seriously.

(Please be aware that the photos I took can not come close to showing how good these TVs are.  They’re simply here to show you what I saw.)

LG EC9700

After a brief presentation explaining the technology, we were shown the same programs on four televisions, two of which were the LG OLED TVs (The EC9300) The others were LCD televisions. The difference was apparent almost immediately. The standout quality for me was that the screens showed true black. Someone, I think it was Kelly Freas, once said that there are 12 degrees of blackness, and all artists are looking for the 13th. Well these TVs go to 13. The black wasn’t washed out looking or splotchy the way it was on the the other TVs. It was a deep, consistent black.  Why is this important? Because the right degree of black is what makes all the other colors pop. If you have washed out black, no matter how good the other colors are, they’re not going to have the same intensity. Against these blacks, the colors glowed.

Now wait, you say, when colors on the screen are too intense, they bloom and wash over everything else. An intense color will bleed all over everything else. Well that’s true of most TVs, but as bright and vivid as the colors are on the OLEDs I never saw them be anything but honest. They didn’t bloom or bleed, but remained fixed within their objects. Every color was discrete and it was true. The skin tones were true. They were so true and so accurate that they were not entirely flattering to some of the people on screen. We were shown a short clip from Desolation of Smaug, and the detail I could see on Smaug’s horde was startling. And it looked like gold. It wasn’t coppery, it was the color of honest-to-god gold.

Color has emotional content, there’s no question that it does.  So when we’re not seeing the right colors on a screen, we’re not getting the full impact of the program.  Now admittedly this isn’t as important to sports events or news programs, but there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be as accurate as our favorite movies or TV shows.  We’ve all watched TV with funky color and for the most part our brains translate what we’re seeing into what we figure we’re meant to be seeing.  It’s only when you actually see how true color can be on a screen like this that you recognize the importance of not having to translate images.  They’re already what they should be.

20141015_203737We were shown  a number of clips from soap operas to newscasts to sports events, all of which illustrated a different facet of the OLED.  I was startled to see how true the textures seemed — the grass on the football field was clearly grass not astroturf –, and how crisp the background images were.  I could see the wood grain on a door in the background of one shot.   The newscast in particular highlighted the true skin tones, and the crisp, clean contours.  Next to the OLED the details on the LCD TV looked soft and sloppy or showed odd, highlighted edges that were distracting.   The very fast refresh rate on these TVs give them extreme clarity even during fast action.

Because of where I was standing, I could see the drawbacks of a sharp viewing angle with LCDs, but couldn’t quite see how good the OLEDs are even at very sharp angles until we were shown the EC9700 (Not yet on the market.)  While this photo doesn’t do it justice, you can get some idea of how well the screen image can be seen  even at an extreme angle.  The crispness and color were as true as if I’d been sitting in front of the television.

We didn’t get much in the way of sound during these demos because we were listening to the reps, but I understand that they all have good sound systems, and the higher end ones have Harmon Kardon systems.  Later in the evening, someone turned up the sound on the Hobbit demo and even from well across the meeting room, I could hear it clearly and knew exactly who was speaking.

20141015_203748One of the things that impressed me the most was the actual size and weight of the televisions.   The screen itself is about as thick as a pencil, and the fifty-five inch 9300 weighs just thirty-six pounds.  Let that sink in a minute.  Thirty-six pounds.  For all that, the base is broad and seems quite well balanced.  I doubt you’d have to worry about the possibility of it tipping.

These are smart TVs and they come with LG’s WebOS which includes such standards as Netflix and Amazon, and some unusual features such as Skype, and the ability to switch inputs directly from the OS.  They have multiple HDMI and USB inputs as well as the standard composite and component ones.  It’s really virtually everything you need for your own home theater unless you want to go with some ginormous sound system.

I’m really very impressed by the OLED TVs and am looking forward to the day I can actually afford one.  They’re beautiful, technically advanced, and they’re really high end.  If you love movies and TV and can afford one, I really recommend them.


Domesticity, Take Two

So today I decided to test the moon cake molds on sugar cookie dough.  The results were less than felicitous.  In fact, they were just sad.  The few that I managed to stamp without having the dough stick to the (oiled) press completely flattened out.  To put this in some sort of perspective:

This is a moon cake:

Mooncake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is what my cookies looked like:  

English: This is an image of one of the cookie...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Am I going to try again?  You betcha.  But I’m going to do two things.  First I’m going to try actually making moon cakes.  They seem like fun.  I just have to get the ingredients first.  I don’t normally keep lotus seed paste in my pantry.  Second, I’m going to find a cookie that doesn’t spread when it  bakes, and try the stamps on them.  
Stubborn?  Why yes I am,  Why do you ask?
In the end I had a roll and three quarters of sugar cookie dough left, and I wasn’t about to toss it, so I made one batch of sugar cookies with crumbled peppermints on top.  They ended up looking like this:

The bag in the back is holding some Nikolajs.

And finally, after having spent much of the day at a loss about what to do with the last bit of dough which was already rolled out, I sprinkled it heavily with garam masala, rolled it up, rolled it back out again and cut it into balls which flattened out nicely.  Just before they were going to come out of the oven, I pressed one of Glinda’s glazed, spiced pecans into the top of each one.  This is what they look like:

And this is what they taste like:
Tonight’s dinner is chili that’s been cooking all day.  Our evening’s entertainment will be “The Return of the King.”  
A Danish Cookie

Domesticity, thy name is Those 2 Nice Girls Next Door

The view from my bath

Glinda, Jim and I went out to dinner last night at Afghan Kabob one of our favorite restaruants.  Glinda and Jim had been to the David Bowie exhibition at the MCA yesterday afternoon, and Jim decided to stay for dinner and take us to do some grocery shopping afterwards.  All of which meant that today and tomorrow are pretty much free for domestic pursuits.

Glinda and I started the day by sitting over coffee and cinnamon rolls for several hours.  You might think we lack ambition, but trust me, we were marshaling our energy and resources for the all-out effort that began when Glinda’s cats pooped on her floor rather than use their litter boxes, and Leo sent my last cup of coffee flying, smashing the mug and spraying coffee all over my wall.  

Glinda went up and changed her litter boxes while I vacuumed and washed the bathroom and kitchen floors.  Here’s a shot of the point where they meet.  (That black spot is paint; I’m a messy painter.)  I kind of like my pink tiles but whoever decided that white tile was good for the kitchen and hallway really needs a talking to.  The whole house smells of Method lavender all-surface cleaner now, and I’m thinking about going over the whole thing once more with the steam mop.  I never get my floors clean enough to make me happy.  I’ve actually gotten down with a toothbrush to scrub the grout.  I can be a little compulsive about cleaning.  When I can be arsed to do any at all that is.

Glinda’s pecans

Anyway, the next thing I knew, Glinda was down here with a handful of spiced, sugared pecans made from a recipe that she got from Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz.  (Her copy is autographed and everything.  David, if you’re reading this, Glinda is your soulmate.  Trust me on this.)  Man these things are good.  They’re crunchy and spicy with a touch of heat, and sweet but not too sweet.  They spurred me to do what I’ve been meaning to do all week.

I’d gotten all the stuff I needed to make my Nikolajs (which if you don’t recall from a previous post, are a variation on the NTSC, or Never Twice the Same Cookie cookie, and so-named because they’re Nikolaj Coster-Waldau naked good.  No, really, they are just that good.  Recipe to follow.)  The thing is I’m almost constitutionally unable to make these cookies the same way twice, hence the original name.

This time I just didn’t feel like cutting up a bunch of apricots, so I only used cherries.  I didn’t have cocoa nibs, so I put in about an ounce more chocolate chips.  I used a 10-grain cereal instead of rolled oats, and just pecans, no almonds.  What I got was a less refined cookie that tasted wonderful, but was heartier, though softer and less chewy.  It wasn’t quite the cookie I was planning to make, but it’s pretty damn good anyway.

I can’t begin to tell you how good the batter was at the stage to the left.  I could have spread this on a cake as a frosting it was that spectacular.  This is the butter, almond butter, two sugars, eggs, vanilla, and lemon juice.  Yes, I know you’re not supposed to eat raw batter like this, but look, I’m 62 years old and it hasn’t killed me yet.  If I die from eating raw batter then I’ll die happy, okay?

To the right, the batter with the cherries, chocolate chips, pecans, and coconut added.  It’s so stiff it’s nearly impossible to mix at this point.

I got three dozen good-size cookies out of this particular recipe.  Some are going to the neighbors, some to Glinda’s office, and many of them are staying here.  (I apologize for how shitty the photos are.)  And no, these are not pretty cookies, unlike their namesake, but they more than make up for that in flavor.

No really, they taste way better than they look.
So tomorrow I am going to be making sugar cookies.  I don’t normally do that, I’m not nuts about sugar cookies.  But I have to review a set of Moon Cake cookie molds.   I’d never even heard of these things before I got the review request, but they’re fantastically pretty, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do to sugar cookie dough.  I’m not actually making up the dough.  I picked up a couple of rolls of pre-made dough yesterday.  It’s just easier that way.  I hope I’ll have some decent photos to share.
All this?  This is how I get out of making dinner.  We’re ordering Chinese tonight, and I plan on ignoring the sink filled with cooking dishes as long as I possibly can.  I expect that several generations of fruit flies will have been born, reproduced, and died before I load the dishwasher later tonight.

And just so you know what I mean when I  talk about how good the Nikokajs are…

The Nikolaj  

1 cup butter
1/2 cup almond butter
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
4 eggs
2 T vanilla extract 
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup rolled oats
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon or more
1 tsp ground cardamom or more
8 oz bag semisweet chocolate chips
4 oz chopped pecans
4 oz chopped almonds
8 oz shredded coconut
4 oz dried cherries
4 oz chopped, dried apricots
2 T cocoa nibs
2 T flax seeds

Cream butter, almond butter and sugars together until fluffy.  Add eggs and beat until they’re blended.  Add vanilla and lemon juice, then the flour, baking soda, and salt.  Mix well.  Then add the cinnamon and cardamom.  You really need to flavor these to your taste.  I used a lot of both, probably more than a teaspoon of each.  Use your own good judgment here.

Then the fun really starts.  Toss in the nuts, coconut, oats, dried fruit and chocolate chips.  Then add the cocoa nibs and flax seeds.  By now your batter is getting stiff, so you may have to blend with a spoon at the end.

Bake on parchment @ 350 for the best results.  You want a mound about the size of half an apricot, maybe a little larger.  This batter doesn’t lend itself to small cookies.  Just go with it.  They’re usually done in about 13-15 minutes, and will be a bit golden around the edges.  They’ll make about 4-5 dozen lovely, chewy cookies.