Monday, April 27, 2009

Things I Learned From Madison Square Garden

Today at work, I had a situation arise where I had to stop someone's test due to their having taken a "bathroom break" for over forty minutes (the cutoff time is apparently fifteen minutes gone before we stop their test; its never come up before, so I wouldn't know). The student, upon returning just as I was leaving for the day and finding out what happened, got extremely belligerent, demanding to know my name and all this other nonsense. I finally got the student to go to the office, where the student apparently went ballistic as well. Since I'm confident I did nothing wrong, I don't feel particularly stressed out about it, although I will likely have to face the student again in the future.

Another reason I'm not too stressed out about the whole incident is because of some critical lessons I learned from working at Madison Square Garden for a year as a tour guide. That job prepared me for almost anything; I had to deal with everything from extremely rude school groups to screaming Spanish (as in from Spain) people that caused members of my tour to fear for their safety to a shadowboxer who almost roundhouse kicked someone in line for tickets before security threw him out. But beyond the crazies, from helping what was probably over a thousand people during my time there, I learned a couple of non-intuitive, golden rules of customer service.

1. If you acknowledge people that are waiting in line while you help someone else, they will be infinitely more patient.

This one isn't necessarily counter-intuitive, but it's amazing how well it works. All you have to do is let people know that you're going to help them in just a bit, and they'll instantly calm down and even be nice when they get to the front of the line. It always works. I can't tell you how many times this has helped me in the proctor room.

2. If you've never had a problem with 500 people over a certain issue or rule, and then one person has a problem with it, that one person is wrong. Another way to put this: The customer is NOT always right.

People have quirks. We all have them, and that's fine. It's what makes us unique and interesting. And the mark of someone good at customer service is respecting people's special needs and accommodating them as much as possible. I know I'm good at customer service; I've always been highly complimented as a tour guide (and gotten some crazy tips), and I've gotten several personal notes from students thanking me for making their proctor room experience as pleasant as possible. I know I'm a good people person, and that in general, I get along well with people.

However, if someone does something that just stretches common sense, is offensive or in terrible judgment, or goes against a rule that I expressly stated earlier, then respect starts to go out the window. Just because you weren't able to make everything perfect for the customer doesn't mean you were at fault for not breaking the rules. When someone starts to get angry for no tangible reason or make crazy demands or excuses, they are in the wrong. No questions asked. You have to draw the line somewhere.

This is of course the rule that applies the most to what happened to me at work today. I have personally proctored hundreds of tests. I have had to take a test from a student a grand total of twice. One time was because I caught the student blatantly cheating. The second time was what happened today. To get angry and to argue over a rule that NO ONE ELSE taking a test in my presence has ever even been aware of because it was never an issue before is ludicrous. To leave for even thirty minutes in the middle of a test, in any situation, is insane. I had to draw the line, and if the student got angry because of it, so be it. It is NOT my problem that they did something unreasonable. This wasn't even a judgment call on my part; they just flat out broke a rule, and an unspoken one at that.

3. Rules are rules for a reason. If people start questioning them for arbitrary reasons, you need to explain that the rules are the rules, and that if you don't like them, then perhaps this particular experience or place is not somewhere you would enjoy. If they don't take to that, kick em out. :)

I learned this from maybe my least favorite coworker at the Garden, but he was the most experienced of all of us, and had some great words of wisdom, including this one. He likened taking tourists around the Garden to having guests enter your house. Everyone has some quirky rules in their house you wouldn't have in yours, like not going into a particular room, or taking your shoes off. They don't tend to be offensive in any way, and you accept them as a guest in their place. I've always really liked that analogy.

For example, we have a rule in the proctor room that people need to place their backpacks in a particular corner of the room. Quirky rule, but one that we uphold, is non-offensive, and one that people respect 99% of the time. Occasionally, someone will get upset about it, and I instantly get my guard up. I'm doing you a big favor, and you argue with me? Not the way to get on my good side.

One of my favorite examples of this was someone on one of my tours at the Garden getting extremely agitated that we couldn't walk onto the court while the crew was working. He finally just walked on the court, in defiance of my telling him not to do it, and I contacted security. He sprinted off the court, and security made him aware that he wasn't welcome back. Needless to say, he was quiet and sullen the rest of the tour. Sigh.

4. It's never about you.

You don't know the people that you help. For a brief moment in time, you connect with someone, help them however you can, and then say goodbye, often forever. It can be a wonderful experience, or just an ordinary one. But both you and the customer have absolutely NO reason to have any heightened emotion towards each other. Sure, there could be something like instant physical attraction (which happened on one of my tours in college to the point where the girl asked for my number on the tour...right in front of her father!) or just general excitement about the upcoming experience (which happened a lot at the Garden).

But if someone gets needlessly angry at you, and you've been doing your job, it is NOT about you. Something has happened in their lives, or they know they messed up and are insecure and trying to cover it up. This is why I almost never get stressed out because of things that people say to me while I'm trying to be a guide or a proctor or anything like that; I know, in the end, it has nothing to do with me personally. This is the same reason that I take critique well; it has nothing to do with me personally, and in fact is often designed to try to help. No sweat.

So there you go. We'll see if there's any fallout from this, but somehow, I doubt it. And if nothing else, I know I can take the student in a fight if I need to. I've only got 4 inches and about fifteen pounds on them. :)

Friday, April 24, 2009

I get fan mail

I would just like to note that, two years after writing a couple of guides for GameFAQs, I STILL get fan mail about them. In just the past couple of days, I've gotten emails from places like Norway and the Phillipines. Pretty cool. :)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

This Can't Be A Real Headline

Man pretending to fall off bridge actually falls off bridge

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Police said a 23-year-old man is in stable condition after he pretended that he was falling off a bridge over the Minnesota River, then actually fell off the bridge. Police got a call just before 5 a.m. Sunday from a 21-year-old man who said his friend fell off the Highway 77 bridge and into a marshy area about 30 feet below.

The caller said he was driving north when his friend, who he said had been drinking, told him to pull into the bridge's emergency lane so he could urinate.

The 23-year-old stood eventually climbed to the ledge of the bridge, then looked at his friend and pretended to fall. "He then in fact fell," reads a press release from the Bloomingtin Police Department.

Police from Bloomington and Eagan responded, and the Eagan Fire Department used a chair lift to retrieve the man. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center where was treated.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A quote from Carl Sagan on Earth Day

"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.


The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known."

- Carl Sagan.

[thanks to Wil Wheaton]

One of the coolest little tools I've ever seen

This is amazingly addicting, especially for someone into music. It's user-friendly, fun to use, and you can create some really nice sounding pieces. Check it out.

Lake Chargogg... oh, never mind

From the Associated Press:

WEBSTER, Mass. – Officials have agreed to correct spelling errors in road signs pointing to a central Massachusetts lake with a 45-letter name. Lake Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg in Webster has one of the world's longest place names. It's been spelled many different ways over the years. Some locals have given up and simply call it Lake Webster.

But after researching historical spelling combinations, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester said local Chamber of Commerce officials agreed that some signs were wrong. There was an "o" at letter 20 where a "u" should have been, and an "h" at letter 38 where an "n" should go.

There are many stories and legends about the origin of the Indian name. One popular myth — later debunked — holds that the name translates roughly to 'You fish on your side, I fish on my side, and nobody fish in the middle.'

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Return

So sorry about how long it's been. I was on a whirlwind trip to New York last week. I also may not be able to update for a while starting in May; there's a chance I'll be on a jury in a criminal trial, and if that's the case, I want to play it safe. But for now, I can happily update.

Here's a video I love; Craig Ferguson's recent intro to his show. The song is by Michael Franti and Spearhead, and it's just so funny and endearing. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Inspired by a Facebook tag: My Favorite Albums

I've never done the Facebook tag thing, but I just might this time. If nothing else, I'll post my expanded list here, and yes, these all made me stop and have to listen to them for days. The theme is this:

"Think of 20 albums that had such an effect on you that they changed your life or the way you looked at it. They sucked you in and took you over for days, weeks, months or years. These are the albums that, no matter how they were critically received, shaped your world."

So here we go, in no order. And again, way more than 20 here.

Pink Floyd- Dark Side of the Moon
Jimi Hendrix- Electric Ladyland
Bob Dylan- Blonde On Blonde (lots of other Dylan could go here)
Seal- Seal I (Seal II is also damn good)
REM- Automatic For The People
Counting Crows- August And Everything After
Frank Sinatra- Songs For Swinging Lovers
Frightened Rabbit- The Midnight Organ Festival
The Beatles- Abbey Road (any album from A Hard Day's Night on, but AR is my fav)
George Harrison- All Things Must Pass (I like this more than most Beatles albums)
Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (I also love A Ghost Is Born)
The Blue Nile- Hats
DJ Shadow- Endtroducing
Miles Davis- Kind of Blue
John Coltrane- A Love Supreme
Nick Drake- Five Leaves Left
U2- The Joshua Tree (War, The Unforgettable Fire, and Achtung Baby could go here)
Prince- Sign O' The Times (lots of other Prince could go here)
Marvin Gaye- What's Goin' On
Eric B And Rakim- Paid In Full
Crowded House- Woodface
Bob Marley- Legend
Sufjan Stevens- Come On! Feel The Illinoise!
Talk Talk- Spirit of Eden
Woody Guthrie- Dust Bowl Ballads
Del Amitri- Change Everything (Waking Hours could go here too)
Joni Mitchell- Court and Spark
The Beach Boys- Pet Sounds
Sam Cooke- Live At The Harlem Square Club, 1964
Dave Matthews Band- Crash(I was a huge fan back in the day; Remember Two Things also)
James Brown- Star Time (yes, it's a box set)
Stephen Sondheim- Sweeney Todd OST (I know, this doesn't really count)
Eels- Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
Wu-Tang Clan- Enter The 36 Chambers
Nas- Illmatic
Jeff Buckley- Grace
The Clash- London Calling
Talking Heads- Remain In Light
Big Star- Third
Eagles- Hotel California
Big Country- In A Big Country
Bruce Springsteen- Born To Run (several other Springsteen albums could go here)
Led Zeppelin- IV (really, the first four could go here, but IV is my fav)
The Who- Tommy (I like it more than Quadrophenia)
The Band- The Band
Chicago- Chicago II (Chicago Transit Authority and III are also very good)
The Flaming Lips- The Soft Bulletin
The Doors- The Doors
Green Day- American Idiot
Michael Jackson- Thriller (Off The Wall is also excellent)
Fela Kuti- Confusion/Gentlemen

More to come!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Game Recommendation: Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars

Time for another videogame recommendation, and surprise surprise, it's another game for the DS. I think I said this before, but the DS is honestly one of the best investments you can make if you're a gamer; there are TONS of great games for it, and they're relatively cheap.

The newest Grand Theft Auto game, Chinatown Wars, is exclusively for the DS, and it's kind of incredible. It's top-down, just like the old-school GTA's before 3 came around and revolutionized gaming, and yet doesn't feel compromised in the slightest. It has a huge story, even huger city, and a great variety of missions and random things to do. It also has a solid soundtrack, very funny writing (I'll list the best line later on),and the graphics are very good for the limitations that the DS has.

The most important thing though is the gameplay, and this is where Chinatown Wars really shines. Because of the stylus, the game becomes way more involved than any other GTA game in terms of the technical side of crime (in one mission, you actually have to assemble a sniper rifle left in pieces for you on a balcony), and the driving and shooting and targeting has all been streamlined in a very logical and smooth way. Again, the variety of missions is excellent (in one mission, you escape a police chase by stealing a dragon outfit and parading down the streets of Chinatown dressed as said dragon, following an exact order of steps so as not to arouse suspicion), and there is a new, incredibly fun and involving aspect of the game called drug dealing, where you buy drugs from various dealers throughout the city and try to make a profit based on what the market is for certain drugs at certain times.

All in all, this is a huge, extremely fun game that feels like what the old GTA's (1 and 2) should have been. You really don't notice that it's top-down at all, which is a testament to the developers. I can't recommend the game enough. Also, how can you argue with a game that features this line from a Chinese mob boss after you complete a mission:

"Though you've got a really dysfunctional personality and could do with a good beating, you have shown some talent today...and for that, I nearly admire you. Thank you."

The Fast And....

This is one of the funniest movie parodies I've seen in a while. I also LOVE the announcer for some reason.


Sorry for not posting for a while. I'm starting to realize that I don't have a huge desire to post on weekends, so that may not be happening with any regularity. But anyways, just a quick update on the V-Diet. There will probably be more posts tonight.

Well, I lasted two and a half days on the V-Diet. My body just completely rejected the diet midway through the third day (I won't go into detail), and I discovered that I had lost, in two days, 7 pounds! That can't be healthy. So I decided to stop the diet and start eating normal food, and to my complete shock, found that my taste for food changed.

I now crave healthy food like salads and fruit, and am much more conscious of what I'm putting into my system. As a result, my energy levels have been consistently high for days, I feel stronger and more alert, my vision is sharper (I was having some vision problems for a little while) and my running performance has noticeably improved. Yesterday, I went on a three-mile run, which is a distance I haven't gone in a long time, and felt fantastic, better than I 've felt running in a very long time; I could have easily gone a couple more miles, but decided to take it easy.

The biggest thing I've been avoiding is sugar of any kind, which has worked out great and is easier to do than I thought it would be. Restaurants also tend to offer a lot of healthy choices, so being more conscious about that has been great too. Overall, even though I couldn't handle the actual diet, I would say it was a rousing success in the way I wanted it to be the most; changing my dietary habits. Thumbs up!

EDIT: Just to clarify something, I did gain back about four pounds after eating solid food again. However, that still means I lost three pounds of fat.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

I now understand Arthur Kade

For some time now, my uncle, the best-selling author of the Imponderables series of books and all-around stand up guy, has been obsessed with one particular blog for some time now, namely the blog of Arthur Kade. Both my uncle and I discovered Kade's website through one of our mutual favorite websites on the internet, Hot Chicks With Douchebags, which correctly described him as one of the biggest douchebags of all time.

When you first go there, within five minutes you will discover three things:

1. Arthur often writes about things that no one would ever care about, except that his intense douchebaggery comes through even when describing completely inane things like his daily eating routines, and so it becomes easy to mock him.

2. He is delusional a la Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. He believes that all women find him gorgeous and that he has a marketable look and voice. In truth, he has a ridiculous nose and hair style, one of the most annoying voices I've ever heard (and I'm saying this as someone who has heard tons of bad auditions for voice over gigs), and women that he tries to hit on at clubs routinely go on the site and comment on how weird he is and how incorrect he is about how much they like him.

3. His shoulders are enormous.

Now, I looked through the site, being amazed at the douchiness, but tired of it quickly and now only go there every so often. On the other hand my uncle, and quite a number of others based on the blog's comments, have become obsessed with Arthur Kade, going to his site every day, leaving detailed comments and describing the posts as "great" and "unbelievable." Heck, my uncle recently declared Arthur Kade's blog his favorite site on the internet!

So why all the love for a two-bit delusional tool who posts once a day about things you'd be bored to hear about from your friends, much less a douchebag stranger? Last night, while watching his "dance" practice videos for an upcoming audition, it dawned on me.

Many of the douchebags on Hot Chicks With Douchebags are really just posing, dressing up and preening for the ladies at night while likely going back to menial office work by day. Are they still ridiculous? Of course. But if you sat down with them at dinner as a close friend or family member, away from the ladies and the cameras, they might be jerks, but they wouldn't be doing the kissy lips or talking like they were hip hop stars or flashing fake hand signs. Well, unless they were from New Jersey.

But Arthur Kade is somehow able to clearly be a douchebag even during boring events, and during events where there wouldn't be a camera, like his dance practice or gym workout, he makes sure to have one present. And the thing is, he doesn't have most of the ridiculous douchebag qualities. He doesn't wear his hats at a ten-degree tilt or pose with shades on in a club. He's from Philadelphia, not New Jersey. He doesn't flash stupid hand signs or try to claw women in every picture he's in. He just is....a complete tool; it's in his blood. Indeed, there will never be a more natural douchebag than Arthur Kade.

And there's something remarkably comforting about that, knowing that no matter how hard you try or how hard you might fall down the hole of douchebaggery, there is someone there that can't pick themselves up and recover and become an upstanding guy. There is someone out there who is, for lack of a better phrase, born to be douche. You will never be the biggest scrote; Arthur Kade already is.

So, I understand why Arthur Kade is so popular. He makes you feel good about yourself. No amount of therapy or snide commentary will be able to help him, so you can jest all you want with no consequences. And, because he is the most natural douchebag of them all, it's like watching Tiger Woods play in golf; it's fun and exciting to watch the clear master of something at work.

Personally, I don't feel a pressing urge to go mock Arthur Kade at every turn; I don't feel that down and out. But if I ever get depressed, or I feel guilty about doing something mean or insensitive to another person, I know where I can turn to realize that there's someone out there worse than me. So thank you, Arthur Kade. Thank you.

Best April Fool's post from yesterday

All the regular April Fool's jokes were done yesterday, like Google with CADIE, which was not one of their stronger efforts but quite elaborate, and IGN, which actually did a brilliant article on a fake video game, complete with a downloadable copy of the game which kept crashing every time you tried to do something in the game.

But there was also maybe the funniest April Fool's post I've ever seen thanks to the crossword world. Two of the major crossword bloggers, Rex Parker and Brendan Emmitt Quigley (BEQ is also one of the premier crossword constructors in the US), switched blogs for a day and parodied each other's writing style. Rex's parody of BEQ was very funny but one note. BEQ's parody of Rex, on the other hand, was sheer genius. It was so good that I didn't even realize that it wasn't Rex posting for a little while.

It isn't as funny if you don't do crosswords a lot, as it makes fun of a lot of the most common clues. Also, the theme that BEQ claims is the theme for the puzzle is decidedly NOT the actual theme; it's amazing that he was able to find a completely different, inane theme from the actual one within the puzzle. The writing is still quite funny regardless of how big a crossword fan you are, and if you're curious to see how good a parody this is, check out a normal post from Rex.

Great Dinosaur Comic from yesterday

I had no April Fool's jokes played on me yesterday, but when I was younger and used to get punked all the time, I often ended up feeling just like T-Rex does at the end of this comic.