Monday, September 30, 2013

How to get $29.99 per month and no initiation fee at L.A. Fitness

Update on this topic: Want a deal on joining L.A. Fitness? Call Paul
For about two and a half years, people have come to my blog to get codes they can use to get a membership at L.A. Fitness without paying a initiation fee.

Unfortunately, L.A. Fitness no longer offers those codes. But an anonymous reader on this site sent in this idea:

Here is what I did which worked. Call them at (949)255-8100 and ask to talk to sales. Tell them you want to join and they will pitch you on the $29.99 per month with the $99 initiation fee. Ask them if they can waive the fee, they will say yes for $39.99 per month with no initial fee. Tell them you are ready to join today if they offer you $29.99 per month and no initiation fee or you are not going to join and ask them to text you the code. This worked for me. Time to hit the gym!

Great suggestion! Not only do you save money, but you don't have to deal with the manipulative salespeople at the gym. You save time, too; it just takes a few minutes on the phone.

See also: "How to save money joining L.A. Fitness."
"Want a deal on an L.A. Fitness membership? Ask Kay"

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Book review: "Tell Them I Didn't Cry: A Young Journalist's Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq"

"Tell Them I Didn't Cry" is a well-done book as long as you accept it for what it is.

Jackie Spinner gives a first-person account of covering Iraq for 10 months as a reporter for the Washington Post, and describes how this experience affected her. She tells the story well, filling it will careful detail, showing compassion for the suffering of the Iraqis and honestly revealing how the experience wrenched her emotionally. Near the end she says, "I had gone to Iraq to find a story. Coming home, I became the story, a battered, beaten half soul of a human."

But while Spinner bemoans the problems in Iraq, she makes no attempt to provide a broader understanding of the situation there. She offers no history, nor does she try to explain the political and structural obstacles to peace. She sticks, rather narrowly, to recounting her own day-to-day experiences. This is not really a complaint, but simply a warning to readers who might be looking for something more.

I enjoyed this book largely because it offered such a detailed look at how American journalists work in a place where few people speak English and many want to kill or kidnap them. She describes how every outing had to be carefully planned, the route chosen to avoid dangerous intersections, sometimes with a second car following along in case of a kidnapping attempt.

She describes how she tried to dress like an Iraqi to blend in. When coming to inspection checkpoints on the road, she hid key documents in her bra, knowing that no matter what no Iraqi would search there. At some checkpoints, she pretended to be asleep, so inquisitors wouldn't know she spoke English.

Spinner spends much of the book describing the Iraqi staff members who were critical to the Post's operation: drivers, guards, cooks, translators. She bonded with them deeply; it was like a family. The Americans were far from home and had no one else; the Iraqis lived semi-secret lives since they couldn't tell their friends that they worked for Americans.

She fills the book with interesting details. When she was nearly kidnapped, she tried to remember how to say "I am a journalist" in Arabic, but in a panic blurted out the phrase meaning "I am a vegetarian!"

In describing the unbearably hot Iraqi summer, she notes, "I discovered something new about myself. I get cranky when the thermometer reaches 130 degrees. Pam and I took turns sleeping in the one cool spot in the office. I took the midnight to 3 a.m. shift and then from 6 a.m to 8 a.m. I found that I could stay somewhat cool by taking a cold shower every thirty minutes or so. I'd take the shower in my clothes and, because it was so hot, they'd be dry in no time."

Spinner had never been a foreign correspondent before and her greenness probably works to the advantage of the reader. As she discovers the difficulties and surprises of this unusual life, she shares them with the reader. She takes us on the journey with her.


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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Book review: "Aku-Aku" by Thor Heyerdahl

Near the end of "Aku-Aku," one of the archeologists working with Thor Heyerdahl admits to being astonished at yet another unexpected turn of events.

"I never knew archeology could produce so many surprises," he says.

Indeed, anyone who thinks that archeology is just about digging in the dirt will be surprised pleasantly by "Aku-Aku."

In this account of his 1955-56 expedition to Easter Island and other Polynesian islands, Heyerdahl presents a series of mysteries: Where did the great stone statues on Easter Island come from? Who made them? How did the makers move them? Where are the hidden caves of Easter Island and what secrets do they hold?

Heyerdahl is not a great writer, but he is usually good enough. His weakness lies in portraying people; even the most prominent character of the book Easter Island's mayor comes off as just a simplistic caricature. An odd quirk of the author is that he refers to some characters almost solely by their jobs "the photographer," "the skipper," "the doctor." After awhile you begin to wonder if these people have names.

But Heyerdahl is passionate about his work and his enthusiam shows as he presents and, mostly, solves mystery after mystery. He is relentless, for instance, in trying to get the natives to reveal their secret caves, even when it means he has to eat a chicken tail, strip to his underwear, and climb down a sheer cliff without a rope.

(The caves are a curious form of secure storage on this island that seems to lack locks. Note to self: Open self-storage franchise on Easter Island.)

A couple ethical issues occur to me, although I can't claim to have the whole picture from just one book. Did Heyerdahl adequately reward the islanders for the artifacts they gave him? He mentions some gifts but it's unclear whether all of them received something and how much. Also, he resorts to some trickery to get the natives to give him things is this fair? (I'm sure Heyerdahl would argue that he had to immerse himself in the natives' world of superstition and ghosts to communicate with them successfully.)

The bulk of the book is about Easter Island but the last two chapters discuss the expedition's visits to other islands. The story of the dig on Rapa Iti is particularly good, and I would have enjoyed a bit more on these other islands.


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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Book review: "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail"

This isn't a perfect book. Like the author's hike along the Appalachian Trail, "A Walk in the Woods" has its ups and downs. But Bill Bryson has such an easy and inviting writing style that you can't help but be carried along, chuckling, sympathizing, understanding. This is the kind of book you might pick up and before you know it an hour has gone by.

Bryson is witty, observant, and succinct. Unlike some outdoors writers who feel they have describe every leaf in the forest, Bryson shows that much can be told in short, colorful passages. When joined on the trail by his sometimes-hiking partner Stephen Katz, Bryson's narrative is at its best (we need more Katz!).

Even in mundane settings, at cheap motels and muddy camping shelters, the author manages to have interesting encounters and describes them well. Along with the pains and travails of his hike, Bryson mixes in some history and an occasional lesson in natural science. He reminds us that much of what we take for granted is fragile, temporary and fleeting.

He even manages to make the theory of continental drift entertaining: "The continents didn't just move in and out from each other in some kind of grand slow-motion square dance but spun in lazy circles, changed their orientation, went on cruises to the tropics and poles, made friends with smaller landmasses and brought them home."

I do have some quibbles. Sometimes, Bryson goes off on an opinionated tangent (e.g., the National Park Service stinks) that doesn't fit in well. Also, some of the dialogue is just too perfectly funny; I have no doubt that he used plenty of literary license. Those are minor complaints, though. The book is a pleasure to read.


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