Friday, December 28, 2007

A Successful Rental Car Experience

I went to south Florida for a little Christmas vacation this past week, and to spend some time with Jaimi’s family. All in all, it was a great trip. Full of good times, and even better bargains. I enjoyed an abundance of delicious, home-cooked food - for free. And I got a few pairs of fabulously and deeply discounted designer jeans at the nearby outlet mall. When I tried these jeans on I just knew - it’s as if I was poured into them.

But perhaps the most spectacular part of the entire trip - the highlight as it were - was the smooth-revving, sleek and powerful Pontiac Grand Prix rental car, from Alamo. Here’s my review of the experience:

Arriving in West Palm Beach, I quickly the noted the convenient location of the rental car counter. Its proximity to the baggage carousel allowed me the benefit of remaining within shouting distance of my travel companion, while I got the rental car and she waited for our bags. Not a bad start.

Next, the rental car lady was super nice. I had booked the rental through a UK site (best decision I’ve ever made) and was worried that they wouldn’t honor the pre-paid reservation once I got to the airport. The price I paid was literally one-third the price of any American travel site. It’s insane, I know. And so I kept waiting for the catch. “Sorry sir, we’ll need to see your UK passport in order to give you this price.” Or, “Sir, you’ll need to swear on the eyes of the Queen that you are a subject of the British throne before we can give you this low, low rate. Also, you must be uncircumcised to receive this special price.”

Despite my non-English heritage, the catch never materialized, and the transaction went off as smoothly as clotted cream on a crumpet. I even got an upgrade to full-size for an extra 8 dollars a day. I didn’t want to drive no stinking 4-cylinder vehicle. I need the power of a V-6. I knew I’d be spending a good deal of time accelerating around slow, elderly drivers, as they meander between two or three lanes at 20 miles per hour on their way to Bingo.

Hey Gramps, please try to keep your vehicle on the hard part of the road. Meaning, stay off the grass, and out of the water alongside the road. Also, get out my way when you see the Grand Prix looming large in your rearview!

The convenience of the experience only continued, and even increased, as the rental car shuttle picked us up right outside the baggage claim area. A well-groomed driver helped with our bags, even though I tried to do it myself. He seemed an expert at seizing your bags away from you, and scurrying up the two or three steps into the bus. All you can do is follow.

The rental car lot was divided into several rows, each one corresponding to a different class of car: Economy, Compact, Regular, Full-size, Grande, Venti, and Minivan. We were given our choice of any car in the full-size row. The keys were waiting. All we needed to do was choose and drive. It wasn’t easy.

There was the Chevy Monte Carlo 2-door - a big, heavily-muscled beast of a family sedan in cherry red. 2-door? No thanks. What if we need to transport passengers? Four-doors is more our style on this trip. A Chevy Malibu sat off away a few yards, looking lonely in its copper-colored skin and outdated styling. This was not the new, hot Malibu. This was the old boxy Malibu of potential brake-failure recalls, and surprisingly poor gas mileage. Or something like that. In any case, I hadn’t heard anything good about this car. So we passed.

Then it struck me like a debilitating deluge of Mahjong tiles. A shimmering, slightly unusual paint job. Almost like molten chocolate swirled with emerald dust and covered in protective clear coat. It wasn’t exactly beautiful. And it wasn’t exactly interesting, or pleasant to look at. But it was a Pontiac - a Grand Prix to be exact. As anyone born this side of the pond will tell you, they build excitement. Pontiac. We had a winner.

One word describes this marvel of high-performance engineering: Totallyawesome.

I inserted the key and gave it a twist. The motor fired up immediately. No lag. No hesitation on the part of this powerful beast. The interior was ensconced in a pleasing dark cloth-like material. Obviously durable, and obviously standard attire for this car. It still had that new car smell, which I love.

Driving Impressions: The steering wheel of the Grand Prix (pronounced “Grand Pricks”) was unusually large, and took a bit of getting used to. Turning radius seemed to be normal for an unnecessarily large, American sedan. Response and road feel were acceptable. The wheel did not shimmy at highway speeds. So far so good.

Starting Impressions: Acceleration was brisk and smooth from a standstill. Jaimi got a little nauseous when I’d accelerate too hard, so I let her off easy and kept it light on the gas. Although the Grand Prix really wanted me to air it out. I could tell it was begging for more action, and would have much preferred that I create a gas pedal sandwich as often as possible - substituting my foot and the floorboard of the vehicle for bread. The pedal being the metaphorical meat, or cheese and veggies if you prefer.

Stopping Impressions: Braking was smooth and confidence-inspiring, with very little fade even under repeated hard acceleration followed by hard deceleration. This is all relative of course, as I rarely got over 40 miles per hour, and typically slowed down from 40 to zero over the course of about 2 minutes. Still, the pedal felt nice on the bottom of my flip-flop.

Final Impressions: Usually, I beat the hell out of my rental cars, and return them as mere shells of their former selves. But the Grand Prix took what I gave it, and handled it with a smile. The trunk swallowed our luggage easily. It wasn’t too thirsty at the pump. It’s design was inconspicuous enough so as to appear almost invisible to the State Police.

I highly recommend the Pontiac Grand Prix rental vehicle from Alamo.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Do Nice Guys Finish Last? Week 8

(The saga of my fantasy basketball team, composed of nothing but the sweetest, most generous gentlemen of the NBA - a weekly feature on The Love of Sports. We're not in first place, but we're not in last. We're somewhere in the confortable middle. This week I attempt to shatter my theory that this team of good guys can continue their solid play.)

Week 8 of the fantasy basketball season, and as I’ve mentioned before, it’s been a season of ups and downs. My team, “The Centerfolds”, again experienced a temporary fall from grace. We lost 6-3, getting thoroughly pummeled in rebounds, points, and steals. Our opponent played a superior game on many levels - and my guys simply didn’t deliver.

But it’s a long season. 82 games in the real NBA, and 21 weeks worth of madcap fantsy basketball action. There’s plenty of time for me, as the fantasy manager, to cure all the diseases that ail my team.

Speaking of diseases, we have something called plantar fasciitis festering in the fantasy locker room right now, spreading like the swine flu pandemic of 1919. I looked up this malady on WebMD, and it turns out it’s not a communicable disease or pathogenic infection of any sort. It sounds a lot worse than it is - it’s just a soft-tissue foot injury. Basically, it makes the bottom of your foot hurt a lot.

Still, with LaMarcus Aldridge as the latest victim, and Yao’s toe also hurting this past week, I fear it could be from some kind of airborne or direct foot-to-toe contact. I’m not taking any chances. All fantasy players must wear special antiseptic, Teflon booties over their feet at all times. No bare feet anywhere in the clubhouse or locker room.

Despite being bitten by the injury bug as of late, and suffering through a subpar performance this past week, I’m still very excited about my team’s prospects - as 2007 irreparably rushes to a close.

Now remember, this fantasy basketball season has been something of an experiment all along. Something never before attempted, but something that needed to be investigated – much like the first moon landing. Can these nice guys of the NBA succeed on the court as a fantasy team, just as they’ve succeeded off the court in their personal lives? So far, so good. We’re in 4th place out of 12 teams, with about one-third of the season behind us.

My hypothesis has always been that “The Centerfolds” will be able to compete at a high level all season long, with nothing but kind and well-mannered NBA gentlemen on the team. However, every proper experiment requires that the scientist/fantasy basketball manager introduce certain variables into the laboratory. If I add an outside element to the team, and if the results of the experiment remain the same, then I’ll need to revise my hypothesis. If, however, that uncommon element appears to alter the results of the ongoing experiment, then my hypothesis is strengthened.

As a necessary part of this season-long experiment, I’ve decided to mix things up now, as a way to ring in the new year. Now what, you might ask, could possibly shake up a fantasy team that seems so rock solid. “The Centerfolds” are emotionally stable, with strong leadership (me), and a tireless work ethic.

You’re probably thinking that the addition of some sort of bad influence in the fantasy clubhouse, like an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet, or an all-night casino/strip club would offer an interesting challenge to the harmony and well-being of the team.


What about something even more pernicious than gambling, alcohol, and trans-fats?

What could possibly be more distracting and destructive than all of that?

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

Yeah, you probably are: We’re getting Stephon Marbury.

Believe it or not, Hogbury is a free agent in my league, and I decided to put in a waiver claim for him. And this is the perfect time. What better Christmas present for my team than a gift-wrapped, walking, talking, ball-hogging, full-grown crybaby?

Oh, and then there’s the whole having-sex-with-one-of-the-Knicks-interns-in-the-back-of-an-SUV incident. Charming stuff, Stephon.

I look forward to this next phase of “The Centerfolds” experiment. I definitely want my team to keep winning, but I can’t say I’ll be rooting for Marbury on any given night.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

And Then There Were Three - The iMac Completes The Trifecta

iPod. iPhone. iMac.

So functional. So modern. So easy to use. So Apple.

I now own all three. Proudly.

I picked up the shiny, new iMac up from my local shiny, new, glass-staircase-having Apple Store earlier this week. The computer's almost as cool looking as the store!

I haven't had much time to play around (see my last post on holiday party time for explanation), but as of today, I've figured out how to turn on the computer, click on various on-screen items using the "mouse" (included!), type words into text boxes using the keyboard (also included!), and power down the computer. It's all so easy. And just like the iPhone and the iPod, I am a cooler and better person for having purchased one.

Shadows created by the sultry glow of the iMac's brilliant 20-inch screen shroud my face as I write this blog post. I got the cheapest model available, but it still makes me feel and look like a million bucks.

Really though, I needed a new computer bad. My 3.5 year-old HP laptop was giving me the blue screen of death every other time I booted her up. "Ol' Bessie," I called her.

What could be worse than writing a perfectly amazing blog post, and then before you had the chance to click "SAVE NOW" the computer craps out on you? Nothing could be worse than that. Nothing in the whole world.

So I decided to switch back to Mac after 10 years of tooling around on Microsoft's unstable operating system. Now, I'm no Microsoft-hater. Bill Gates gives a ton of money to charity, after all (albeit only 0.00002% of his net worth).

But Macs are so sleek and beautiful. They're carved out of a solid block of aircraft aluminum, and sprinkled with pixie dust. Then Steve Jobs carefully kisses each and every Macintosh computer as it leaves the assembly line, in China - at the rate of 40,000 kisses per day by my estimation, and Apple's recent sales figures. Steve's lips must be chapped raw, and coated in aluminum dust.

So far so good. I hope to continue to explore my iMac's functions, and learn how to unlock its mystical secrets. I've found an Apple users' blog that claims a certain code entered at just the right time while launching just the right multimedia application will enable the iMac to reanimate the dead and/or see into the future. I don't know about all that. And quite frankly, the thought of zombies in my apartment scares the shit out of me. Although seeing into the future could come in handy, particularly during football season. The sportsbook is where the big money is in Vegas, after all.

I'll probably just stick to word processing, photo editing, email, and fantasy sports. But no porn or illegal music downloads. I respect my new iMac way too much for any of that.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Season: Too Many Parties. No Time To Write.....

Or something like that. Tis the season to down massive amounts of eggnog/beer/vodka with one's coworkers/clients/friends. This is my excuse for not writing any posts over the past week - several holiday parties that I felt obligated in one way or another to attend.

That, and another one of Jaimi's friends got married, and I went along for the ride. This time in Puerto Rico. You mean The Shining Star of the Caribbean? Yeah, that Puerto Rico. It was nice to get away from the frigid Northeast for a couple of days, but it wasn't long enough.

However, as I believe all things have their bright side, I've found that my lack of writing and increased drinking has allowed me to plan ahead for my New Year's resolutions. I've created a much longer list than in years past - although nothing written down because, as I said, I haven't had time to write. In fact, I think that will be the subject my next post. Not the memorization of lists vs. writing them down. No, I'm talking about New Year's resolutions. And what they mean to me and to you. And why they're stupid. And why I always promise myself that I'll drop those extra 2 pounds, but can never quite get there. At least my iPhone loves me for who I am, and not how much I weigh.

Anyway, I will revisit this topic at a later date, as it is getting late.


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Do Nice Guys Finish Last? #6

(Yet again, my weekly column from The Love of Sports. Follow along as my fantasy basketball experiment continues. This team is composed of nothing but upstanding citizens. The table manners of a perfect English gentlemen. The hushed tone and demeanor of an elderly librarian. The honor and courage of a U.S. Marine. The height and strength of a mythical Titan. Roll all of these things into one sleek package - or, rather, 12 sleek packages - and you'd have my team.)



Week 6 of the fantasy basketball season came and went with few surprises. My team, "The Centerfolds", won our weekly match-up for the fourth time, this one by a score of 6-3. We again dominated in rebounds, blocked shots, and points scored. And our only deficiencies were shooting and free throw percentage, as well as a narrow loss in the 3-pointer category.

"Now wait a minute Scott," you may be shouting aloud to your computer screen right now, "didn't your team lose last week in a close competition? If I recall correctly, the score was 5-4, and you seemed concerned that your players weren't really 'bringin' the noise and bringin’ the funk' as the teenagers like to say nowadays."

Yes, that's true. I was concerned about my team…..For about one minute. Then I took a good look up and down my roster and noticed nary a weak spot. We're rock solid top to bottom, and left to right. Front to back and side to side. And....Well, you get my point. I knew that these guys could bounce back from their near victory of 2 weeks ago - and bounce back they did.

Kevin Durant, Andrew Bynum, Yao Ming, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Miller provided the points, rebounds, blocked shots and assists. Ray Allen and Shane Battier again provided "The Centerfolds" with the necessary veteran leadership. Yi Jianlian did nothing, but more on that later.

If one were to ask in regards to my fantasy team, "What are your weaknesses?" I'd respond just like I do whenever I'm asked the same question in a job interview: "I have no known weaknesses." But every time I answer that question, I know in my heart of hearts that I'm lying just a little bit. Everyone - and every fantasy team - has a weakness or two. My own personal weakness is that I have no discernible weaknesses. Oh wait. There I go again. Actually, I'm a bit of a procrastinator. There, I said it. Now you know my weakness.

But in the case of "The Centerfolds", that weakness is a bit easier to locate and define. His name is Yi Jianlian.

Yi's a nice guy, don't get me wrong. In many ways he belongs on this team: He translates when Yao gets too excited and can only speak in Mandarin. He's great at making balloon animals. He cooks a mean Belgian waffle. The list goes on and on. But there are also a few things that he doesn't do, such as: score points; rebound; block shots; have fun.

My number one rule is "If you're not having fun, then you're not helping anyone." And this doesn't just apply to fantasy basketball. Come on, people. Life is a game.

Once I recognize your lack of fun-having, your days are likely numbered on my fantasy team. I knew it from Yi's shallow breathing and furrowed brow. He slouched during fantasy team meetings. He wouldn't even crack a smile at one of Yao's hilarious Barbara Bush impersonations. I didn't think it was worthwhile explaining to him why he was being dropped from the roster. He had to serve as an example. So I sent him a fantasy email, and told him to clean out his fantasy locker. A new player would be taking his place in the morning.

That new player? By his name alone, you'd assume that this guy couldn't possibly be a member of the nice-guy-infused Centerfolds team. He sounds more like a James Bond villain than a basketball player. However, after a look at his stats - and a quick FBI background check - I picked up Travis Outlaw and plopped him directly into Yi's old spot in the lineup.

It turns out that Travis is as nice as guy as you'll ever hope to meet, or have on your fantasy team. He'll help with the dishes, score 20 points and grab 12 rebounds, and then pick the kids up from soccer practice. Definitely an upgrade in the power forward position.

Sorry Yi Jianlian. There's a new kid in town. And his name is way cooler-sounding than yours. Travis Outlaw, welcome to “The Centerfolds.” I hope you make yourself comfortable and stay a while - and a score a massive amount of points and grab an insane number of boards while you’re here.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Me And My iPhone

I got an iPhone for Hanukkah this past week. Thank you Jaimi!

It's pretty much the best gift possible. Here's why:

It makes me smarter, cooler, more interesting, and easier to reach via email, text message, or cell phone. It's easier to reach me now not because the iPhone gets a better signal than a regular cell phone, or works underground. Rather, I never let the thing out of my sight for even a second. Basically, I'm in love.

I reviewed the iPhone when it first came out back in June of this year. Unfortunately, my review was written from the point of view of someone who had never actually seen an iPhone in person. That made it marginally difficult to judge the merits of its many revolutionary features, or to discover inconsistencies and flaws in its user interface or physical design. That being said, my previous review was quite positive. And even now, I stand by that entirely uninformed review.

The thing lives up to the hype, and then some.

I could sit for hours and play with the photo viewer, shrinking and enlarging the pictures by dragging my fingers across the screen. The internet also looks ridiculously good on the iPhone. You get to see the whole goddamn web page, and not just a crappy mobile version that's available on every other cell phone out there. But just as with viewing the photos, the coolest thing about browsing the web on the iPhone is zooming in and out by using your fingers. It's insane. Right out of Star Trek.

Also, I can't wait until they activate the function that allows you to use the iPhone as a stun gun. I heard it's in the next software upgrade. Steve Jobs is such a genius.

In the meantime, though, I'll still be able to use my iPhone to shock would-be assailants by way of its brilliant user interface, and stunningly beautiful LCD screen.

By way of example, here's a picture of me holding my iPhone with a picture of me on it:

Yes, that's a picture of me holding a picture of me. I took both of these pictures with the iPhone in my hand. Sound impossible? Think 'wormhole', which the iPhone was also able to open for me, along with local weather and sports scores.

If I were walking down a dark alley, alone and obviously vulnerable to attack, and someone jumped from behind a pile of trash - grabbed me by the throat and pinned me to the side of the dumpster opposite the big pile of trash - then I would simply whip out my iPhone (much like I'm demonstrating above) and let the goon check his/her email and play around with the iPod function while simultaneously checking stock quotes, and the current time in Bangkok.

Then, as the criminal was distracted by the astonishingly easy-to-use touchscreen display - and because the iPhone, when out of Wi-Fi range, accesses the internet via the relatively slow EDGE cell phone network - I'd have plenty of time to subdue my mugger with a combination of choke holds and heart punches. And as luck would have it, I would have learned these self-defense techniques via a Chuck Norris Podcast, just before getting out of the subway.

In other words, the iPhone just saved my life. And even without the stun gun function, it could save yours as well.

So yes, I'd say that my updated iPhone review (after having actually used one for a little while) remains quite positive.


Monday, December 03, 2007

The Mill's Refer-A-Friend Drive - Results Are In: Color Me Unimpressed

A couple weeks back, I decided to launch an exciting new promotion on my website. For no more trouble than you sending a few friends, colleagues, enemies, or relatives to my blog, you'd get the chance to win a free t-shirt. Did I fail to mention that this shirt would be free? And that you wouldn't have to pay for it? And that it's a real t-shirt that you'd win, and not just a digital image of a shirt? Was that not made clear?

Perhaps not. I apologize. The thing is, only two people referred anyone to the site who actually left a comment on my original refer-a-friend post (see November 18, 2007). That was the whole idea. If the referred individual didn't leave a post, I'd have no idea who referred them, or that they were even referred to the site in the first place. I suspect that no one else was referred.

So thank you to my Cousin Pam, and to my work associate Dennis for being the only people to participate. I will announce the winner at the end of this post.....Don't skip ahead unless you want to ruin the surprise!!

I suppose the contest could have been more of a failure. At least no one left any hateful comments. And so this whole ordeal leaves me wondering whether I should try again.

Was it the t-shirts? Are they lame? Even the dog would be embarrassed to wear it?

Would you rather have a key chain, or maybe a coffee mug?

How about a Nintendo Wii?

A snowmobile? Or a desk calendar? Seems to me a desk calendar would be more useful.

Let me know what went so terribly wrong, and if there's anything I can do to improve the response next time around - if there is a next time, that is.

And now to announce the winner of the 1st ever Mill's Refer-a-Friend race for the free t-shirt.

And the winner is........

But before I announce the winner, I'd also like to mention that I know it's hard enough for all of us out there in the real non-digital (analog?) world - what with the traffic and the high taxes and the crime and the lousy weather, etc. etc. So I understand if you didn't have the time, friends or thoughtfulness to participate in the referral-a-thon. I ain't mad at ya.

So without further ado. The winner of the November 2007 Refer-a-Friend drive to survive is none other than our wonderful friend Dennis Hui!!!!

That's right Dennis. Congratulations. You truly are an officer AND a gentleman. You beat Cousin Pam by one referral. Final tally: Dennis 2, Cousin Pam 1. Better luck next time. Especially to those of you who didn't participate. If you're lucky, you'll get another chance!

Dennis will need to let me know his preferred shirt size, style, color, font, and what he wants the shirt to read on the back. Alternatively, I've come up with a new design - more stylish than a t-shirt, and yet also much more comfortable. If you wear this while driving, you'll probably fall asleep at the wheel:

So Dennis, let me know if this is the design you'd like. Not sure if it's available in adult sizes, but judging by your recent luck, I'd say the chances are quite good.