Odd Hotel Signage

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You’re staying in a strange hotel, and as you pass the registration desk you notice a cheap sign that says “Confessional.”

What the? “Confessional”? In a hotel? Perhaps the lodging establishment is hosting a super-heated trade conference where spouses routinely stray, and therefore the hotel offers a soul-cleansing confessional as a necessary service?

Or, more likely, is the strange hotel the site of tryouts for some new, idiotic reality show , and “confessional” refers to the one-on-one camera time where a participant bares his soul about his goals and speaks earnestly about how he views Celeste as his principal competition?

Either way, it’s unsettling for the boring business traveler. And, I must confess, it makes me look with some skepticism on the other people in the elevator. Business travelers who need a “confessional” are not to be trifled with.

On The LaGuardia Approach Vector

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I don’t care how many time you’ve flown into LaGuardia, even the most jaded traveler has got to enjoy the approach that takes you right past downtown Manhattan and over the Brooklyn Bridge. Even on an overcast day, it’s one of the greatest sights in the world. Of course, it helps if you are on the skyline side of the plane.

Fake Wireless Network Names

If you’ve got the wireless function activated on your smartphone, occasionally you’re going to get pop-up information boxes asking if you want to link to some random wireless networks that happen to be operating in the vicinity.  Usually the network names are generic and instantly forgettable, like “mywireless” or “Millerguest.”

Recently, however, my cell phone listed a wireless network name that stopped me in my tracks:  “FBI Surveillance.”

For all I know, it really was a network for FBI agents who were checking things out nearby, but I’m guessing it was a razz by a fellow American who is tired of the government snooping on our every activity and thought such a wireless name might cause the rest of us to develop  enhanced awareness of threats to our liberty.  If so, it worked.  It also got me to thinking:  what are some other fake wireless network names that might give the random cell phone user whose wireless search function is on a bit of a jolt?  Here are some suggestions:

mobileebolatestinglab

123KGBSleeperCell

Satan666

joebidensexden

DronePilotNet

HackMyNeighb0r!

KochBrothers$$$$

Your suggestions are welcome.  C’mon, America — let’s call an end to lame wireless network names!

Blind To The Obvious

The Urban Outfitters/Kent State sweatshirt controversy seems unbelievable to me — but maybe I just don’t realize how little companies know about the schools whose names get put on the front of products those companies sell.

In case you missed it, Urban Outfitters was offering a faux vintage Kent State sweatshirt that was daubed in red paint smears and splots.  Of course, anyone who knows anything about Kent State and its history would immediately think that the sweatshirt was referring to the shootings that killed four Kent State students and wounded others on May 4, 1970.  Not surprisingly, people were outraged by what seemed like a sick effort to profit from a terrible American tragedy.

Urban Outfitters claims, however, that it “was never our intention to allude to the tragic events that took place at Kent State in 1970 and we are extremely saddened that this item was perceived as such.”  Which is worse:  trading on a tragedy, or being so obtuse and insensitive that you don’t recognize that a red-spattered Kent State shirt would inevitably be thought to allude to the May 4 shootings?   It’s a close question in my view.

Urban Outfitters is one of those stores that tries to portray the most hip image possible.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who designed the offending sweatshirt had never heard of the Kent State shootings.  If you treat everything as just another “brand” and make no effort to understand an institution or its back story, this kind of embarrassment inevitably is going to happen.  Urban Outfitters should be ashamed.

The Known Versus The Unknown

On Thursday the people of Scotland will vote on whether to dissolve their ties with England and become an independent nation.  After an early history of bloody wars, Scotland and England settled their differences and have been part of the United Kingdom for 307 years.  All of that could end on Thursday if the Scots vote yes, and emotions are running high on both sides of the referendum campaign.

As part of the United Kingdom, the Scots have experienced the glory of being part of the world’s most powerful nation and won two world wars, but many of them are chafing under the restrictions that come from the current arrangement, where Scottish aspirations might be subjugated to the votes of the English.  Independence, and a sovereign nation that will consider only Scottish interests, therefore is a tantalizing prospect.

But there are risks in independence — and opponents of a yes vote are describing those risks in gory detail.  Major players in the Scottish financial industry, like RBS, have indicated that they will relocate in the event of a yes vote, and supporters of a continued United Kingdom argue that a yes vote will hurt Scottish universities and — horrors! — the Scottish whiskey industry.

The key question raised by opponents of independence is whether Scotland’s economy is sufficiently large to hold its own on the world stage, or whether its budget would be out of balance, interests rates would rise, and businesses and academic brainpower would flee the country.  Proponents of independence say that such concerns are simply scare tactics ginned up by the English, who fear how they will fare, economically and politically, if they are forced to go it alone.  Would an independent Scotland struggle — as has been the case in Iceland and Ireland — or would it be a sturdy economic engine like Switzerland?

Of course, it’s impossible to say what the future holds — so the vote boils down to a classic choice between the known and the unknown, comfort and risk, old and new.  Scotland’s great poet, Robert Burns, spoke of fear of the unknown in the first stanza of his poem A Prayer in the Prospect of Death:

O THOU unknown, Almighty Cause
Of all my hope and fear!
In whose dread presence, ere an hour,
Perhaps I must appear!

We’ll find out whether the Scots elect the known, or the unknown, on Thursday.  People throughout the United Kingdom are holding their breath.

Liking Mike Pettine

Okay, I know it is just the second week of the NFL, and I know the thrilling last-minute win over the Saints today is just one win. I know that it is a long season and, the Browns being the Browns, many bad things — horrible things, unspeakable things, impossible things — can and inevitably will happen.  I haven’t totally lost touch with reality (I think).

But, I’m willing to declare this:  I’m liking what I’m seeing of Mike Pettine, the Browns’ new head coach, so far.

I liked the way Pettine handled last week’s first half debacle against the Steelers, and the way the and his staff got the team turned around and ready to play the second half.  When the Browns came roaring back he kept his cool, and he maintained his composure even when the team lost a heartbreaker.  That’s not easy, but it’s essential in pro football.  The coach has to keep a level head, and Pettine looks like he has that ability.  Today we saw more of that.

We also saw one other crucial thing:  players making key plays at critical moments.  In pro football, the margin for error is so slim that one play can be dispositive.  Today the key play was a third down sack that kept the Saints out of field goal position and gave the Browns a chance to come back.  In past years, for whatever reason, that play doesn’t get made.  This year it did, and the Browns then didn’t implode in the two-minute offense.  I credit the coaches for the team’s ability to execute when the chips were down.

Pettine not only keeps his cool, he looks cool, with the shaved head and shades.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he might finally be the head coach we’ve needed.

Paying In Advance For A Restaurant Reservation

Cancelled reservations are a curse for restaurants.  Reservations get made, the diners-to-be never appear, and a perfectly good table goes empty on a busy night while people wait impatiently at the bar or in the foyer, or leave altogether.

One restaurant in Chicago, called Next, decided to address the problem by replacing reservations with tickets.  You buy your ticket in advance for a table at a particular date and time, and the tickets are non-refundable.  Next’s website explains that “[u]nlike an a la carte restaurant with many walk-in customers and dozens of menu items, Next is creating a truly unique dining experience and doing so at an amazing price. By eliminating no-shows, requiring pre-payment, and varying the price by time and day we are able to create a predictable and steady flow of patrons allowing us to offer a great deal more than would otherwise be possible at these prices.”

Requiring diners to buy tickets dramatically reduced the number of no-shows; Next experienced only five full table no-shows last year and the number of tables where the full party didn’t come fell sharply, too.  Other restaurants are beginning to adopt the practice, so it may be coming soon to a restaurant near you.

I would be perfectly happy with this system at high-end restaurants on busy nights.  If I like a restaurant, I want it to succeed.  If cutting out the lost profits from reservation no-shows helps a great place to stay in business, I’m all for it.

I also think, however, that the reservation/ticket process should be a two-way street.  Kish and I aren’t the no-show types — our problem is showing up at the designated time and having the restaurant tell us that the table isn’t ready yet.  We had a bad experience at one restaurant where we waited for a long while and the hostess just shrugged it off.  If we buy a pre-paid, non-refundable ticket and the table isn’t available when we arrive, we should get a free drink and a significant discount.