Friday, February 26, 2016

Get $100 off DirecTV

If you're signing up for DirecTV, you can get $100 back with this deal. So will I.

We both win!

Here's how it works. 

1. Call (855) 822-4388 or go to

2. Give account number 2328390 when signing up

That's it! 

You will get $10 off your bill every month for 10 Months.

This is a member referral. You save $100, I save $100.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Los Angeles Times subscription phone telephone number 800-528-4637 (800-LATIMES)

Los Angeles Times main phone number 213-237-5000

Subscriber services Los Angeles Times 800-LATIMES

Los Angeles Times phone telephone number 213-237-5000

Los Angeles Times main phone number 213-237-5000

Subscriber services Los Angeles Times 800-LATIMES

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Book review: "Never Cry Wolf" by Farley Mowat

I didn't expect "Never Cry Wolf" to make me laugh so much.

The cover on the edition I read featured a serious-faced adult wolf  shepherding a pup through a grass-and-rock landscape. On the back, an excerpt from a review called the book "an intimate casebook in wolf sociology." There was nothing there that shouted "funny."

Also, in my mind, I confused this book with Jack London's "Call of the Wild," a not-very-funny story of suffering, struggle and death among Alaskan sled dogs.

But "Never Cry Wolf," a 1963 book by Farley Mowat, finds plenty of room for humor.

"Never Cry Wolf" is Farley Mowat's description of his year studying wolves in the barren wilds of Canada at the behest of the government. Trappers and others living in the northern lands had claimed that bloodthirsty wolves were devastating the caribou population, so Mowat was sent to assess the situation.

Mowat finds his rigid, and sometimes clueless, government overseers to be ripe targets for sarcasm. Later, he finds that the Eskimos he encounters have difficulty fathoming his peculiar research (who boils mouse skeletons?).

There are great moments. There are the residents of Churchill, Manitowba, who find Mowat's story of heading into the wilderness to live with wolves such a ludicrous idea that they conclude he's really a CIA spy. There are the puzzled reaction of Eskimos trying to figure out why Mowat is dissecting the feces of animals. There's the image of a naked Mowat chasing wolfs through the grassy hills, alarming local natives who figured that the white man -- once again -- had lost his mind.

Observing courting and sex by a male wolf he named Albert, the author is too much of gentleman to tell all :

"My notes on the rest of this incident are fully detailed but I fear they are too technical and full of scientific terminology to deserve a place in this book. I shall therefore content myself by summing up what followed with the observation that Albert certainly knew ho to make love."

For all the humor, there are touching moments as Mowat illuminates the personalities of the wolves. They're not mindless killing beasts, he finds, a conclusion that puts him at odds with his bosses. That part is not funny.


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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Book review: "The Wimpy Kid Moive Diary" by Jeff Kinney

Let's not blow this out of proportion, but "The Wimpy Kid Movie Diary" is pretty good.

This book shows how the movie "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" was made, using a mixture of pictures, drawings and text.

I'm not saying this is great literature, but it's fun to read and you do learn some things about how movies are made. For instance, remember the gross, moldy cheese that lies on the playground in the movie and is the focus of the dreaded "cheese touch"? The filmmakers put a lot of effort to make sure that cheese looked properly gross and moldy.

There's good stuff about how the clothing ("costumes") were chosen to reflect each characters personality and how they used a few computer tricks to do certain shots.

There is a "cheerleader" element to this book. You're not going to learn any dirt about arguments or temper tantrums on the set.  They want you to like the movie, the actors and the crew.

Still, it's an enjoyable book and the blending of the pictures and cartoons with the text is nicely done.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Book review: "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown

There are a lot of good things about "The Boys in the Boat," the 2014 book by Daniel James Brown. In fact, there may be too many good things.

In this book, Brown brings alive the story of how nine American college boys from humble backgrounds ascended to to top of the U.S. rowing world and into the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

Brown has a terrific eye for detail and his writing can be so vivid you would swear that he must have been an eyewitness to the events he's describing (he wasn't).

He describes female college students "wearing flower skirts and ankle socks" while "the first violet-green swallows of the year swirled among the spires of the library." For a young man working on a new dam, "sharp chips and shards of rock flew up and stung his face" while "sweat dripped from his back." Watching a race, a coach "sat alone in silence, methodically chewing a piece of gum, looking out intently from under the brim of his white cloth cap."

Still, for all of Brown's descriptive strength, there seems to be no storyline, no matter how tangentially related the main plot, that he can resist telling.

While this is purportedly a book about the sport of crew, there's a lot more in it: Brown tells us about Hitler's obsession with making the 1936 Olympics a showcase for German superiority, He explains the relationship between German filmmaker Leni Riefinstahl and Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

He talks about the building of the Grand Coulee dam, the Great Depression, and the Dust Bowl on the Great Plains. He explains the hardships of life in the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s and 30s. Mostly, the book is the life story of Joe Rantz, one of the rowers, and it is a story that involves a lot more than crew.

In fact, even if you took all the rowing portions out of "The Boys in the Boat," you would still have a pretty substantial book.

I'm almost a perfect target for this book -- like these young men, I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and I rowed at the University of Washington. I am familiar with many of places and the names in the book. Yet, even I got tired of Brown's frequent sidetrips onto other topics, no matter how interesting.

Rather than zipping through the water like rowing shell, this book meanders like a canoe on a lazy river.

That said, for those of us familiar with collegiate rowing, this has got to be the best crew book ever (OK, how much competition is there?). It captures the incredible interplay of muscle, brains and teamwork that it takes to move a wooden rowing shell through the water at high speed. Brown helps readers understand how each of the personalities in the boat combine to form one entity.

In may seem hard to imagine today, but as Brown outlines, crew was a major sport in the 1930s. Some 80,000 fans showed up to watch major races. A thousand fans and a marching band showed up at the train station to see the crew off on road trips. Big races got national radio coverage.

I liked that the publisher inserted the photos into the appropriate place in the story, rather than stuffing them altogether in the center, like some books do. It also has a very good index.


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Sunday, February 7, 2016

The dark hole of Tracfone customer service

Tracfone just sent me an email asking me to rate its customer service. Thanks for asking, Tracfone!

Unfortunately, Tracfone's online survey consisted of exactly one yes or no question, and didn't allow me to say what I really thought of their customer service, which is: It sucks.

Tracfone excels at offering very cheap cellphone service -- I've looked around and I can't find any other company with such low prices. I pay just $7 a month for my cell service.

Unfortunately, such prices come with a cost: If you need help, you're going to face a lot of barriers before you can talk to a human.  And there's a fair chance that their "help" will actually hurt.

I called Tracfone recently for what should have been a simple request. Instead, it turned into an ordeal of six phone calls, and three hours lost from my life that I'll never get back. And when it was over, I was worse off than when I started.

All I wanted to do was to transfer minutes from my son's deactivated phone to my phone. I know this can be done because I did it before with a different phone.

But the first customer rep I spoke to -- after I had waded through the numerous phone menus Tracfone erects -- seemed puzzled by my request. He said it couldn't be done because my son's phone was deactivated,. He said I would need to spend $11 to buy an "airtime" card, temporarily activate my son's phone, then transfer the minutes.

This didn't seem quite right to me, but I figured $11 wasn't too much to spend to get the 590 minutes on my son's phone. I spent 35 minutes on the line with the rep repeatedly putting me on hold, and mumbling a lot of things in Indian-tinged English that I couldn't quite get.

The rep said all would be taken care of once I reactivated my phone -- wait,  what? All I had to do, he said, was wait 10 minutes after the end of our call.

Except after 10 minutes and "reactivation" my phone didn't work at all. Another call got me to a rep who asked me three times in a row to state my phone number, and no matter how many times I explained it, never did seem to understand why I was calling. At one point, he wanted to completely reset my phone, a step that would have deleted all my photos and contacts that I had built up for the past two years. I declined. That call cost another 40 minutes.

After that, I did get my phone to work -- but they had erased the phone number I had used for 10 years, and given me a new one. And while I now did have the 590 minutes from my son's phone, I had lost all my minutes, texts and data (1000 minutes, 59 texts, 135 mb of data).

To say I was angry is an understatement. My third call got me to a gentleman who told me that there was no way I could get my phone number back -- but when I insisted, he found a way to get my phone number back.  As for my missing minutes, he said, oddly, "Don't worry about those." This call took another 40 minutes.

My fourth call, which was 30 minutes long, went to a woman rep. After explaining the situation, she dutifully tapped away on her keyboard and promised that my minutes would be restored once I did some "reprogramming" steps on my phone.

Except they weren't. Nothing changed.

A fifth call went nowhere when the rep I spoke to said the department I needed was closed.

I arose at 5 a.m. the next morning to get on the phone, this time, strangely enough, with a customer service rep who actually knew what she was doing. In about 15 minutes, she had restored my minutes/texts/data without any reactivating or reprogramming of my phone.

I gave up trying to get the minutes from my son's phone, since that just led to problems. And I didn't even try to get back the $11 I spent for service that I never got.

If there is a tiny silver lining to all this it's that Tracfone gave me its "hotline" phone number. Check here to get it.


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Friday, February 5, 2016

Get a human: Tracfone's "hotline" phone number

If you've tried to call Tracfone customer service, you know you have to wade through a thicket of menus and spend a good deal of time on hold just to reach a human.

And even then, the service isn't very good.

I recently had to go deep into the scary place that is Tracfone customer service, and one thing they shared with me is their "hotline" telephone number.

It is 866-806-1840. When it asks for a code, enter 013132.

Bonus: The people who answer this phone are sharper than the typical Tracfone minion.

I don't know how long this number/code will last, but it works as of today.


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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Hotel review: Hyundae Resort and Spa

It's one of the saddest hotels I've stayed in.

My family stayed at the Hyundae Resort and Spa in Desert Hot Springs for one night in January 2016, and it was a rather depressing place to be.

The thing is, this hotel looks like at one time it may have been a fun and enjoyable place to stay. But the owners have neglected it to such an extent that today it's just a sad shell of its former self. 
Entrance to Hyundae Resort and Spa

First, calling this place a "resort" or a "spa" is stretching both terms beyond plausibility. This is a three-story hotel that has a hundred or so rooms arrayed around a central pool and two hot tubs. There's a ping pong table and a billiards table. That's it. There's not even a place to eat. That's a resort? A spa? 

Arriving at the hotel, the first thing you'll notice is the faux rock motif that features fake boulders outside and a cave-like setting inside. At one time, I suppose, this might have been fun, but today it just looks old and weird.

The desk clerk barely cracked a smile as we checked in. The elevator only intermittently ran -- the doors might close, or they might not. We asked for additional pillows and the clerk told us that -- in a hotel of over hundred rooms -- they had only one extra pillow.  Loud music from pool area blared into our room when we first checked in, but the clerk turned it down when I asked

There were some positives. The hot tub we used was, indeed, hot. Our sheets were clean. The shower provide hot water. That's about it.

The room had cracks and gaps on the walls and ceiling. Wind whistled through an opening at the window's edge. One of the two sinks required you to slam the handle hard to one side to get any water. There were just two bath towels in a room for four people. The blankets were thin. 
 The TV, while seemingly new-ish, somehow cut off the bottom inch of the picture. 

Throughout the hotel were signs of better times. A closed restaurant and tavern had a sign that it had been shut down by the county. The reason: "Never permitted." 


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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Book review: "The Accidental Genius of Weasel High" by Rick Detorie

"The Accidental Genius of Weasel High" falls into the category of "Diary of a Wimpy Kid" wannabes.  Both books are told from the perspective of an adolescent boy whose life features unusual characters and where many things go wrong. Both books feature comic illustrations throughout.

In all, "Accidental Genius" is, well, just OK.  It's not bad, but it just doesn't have as many outright laughs as "Diary of a Wimpy Kid."

Main character Larkin Pace, age 14, is certainly likeable and I can see how boys that age could relate to his issues and problems. In fact, I might say that author Rick Detorie has made "Accidental Genius" maybe a little too realistic.  The problems Larkin faces with an annoying sister, troublesome classmates and doing chores for an older lady all sound pretty plausible.

But most young readers aren't looking to see real life repeated in a book; they want something different. Detorie needed to throw in a some truly outrageous events to really grab readers and get us laughing.

Trying to give money to Los Angeles court is not so easy

I got a citation on the Blue Line train in Los Angeles. Bummer. So I felt I should make things right, pay the ticket promptly and get it over with.

Let me repeat: I wanted to give Los Angeles Superior Court money.  You'd think in this day of tight budgets that any government entity would welcome this and make it easy to pay. Think again.

I figured I would soon receive something in the mail telling me the amount of the fine and where to send the money. But more than a month passed without receiving anything. I also checked the court's online system for paying tickets, but mine did not show up.  I decided to call the court.

In this case, the particular court is Compton Court, and conveniently,  the phone number is right on the citation. I called that number and a woman answered and said, "St. Joseph's Hospital." Had I dialed the number wrong?  I started to stammer an apology when the woman said, "Do you want the Compton Court? Yeah, we always get their calls."  When your number is printed on thousands of tickets, yep, I bet you get a lot of calls.

The number she gave me was (310) 603-7177.  I called that number and I got a long recording that gave the court hours, parking information, and phone numbers for calling the civil and criminal departments, but nothing that could help me.

Digging around on the Internet, I found another number, (310) 603-7777. I dialed this and a woman answered, saying "facilities."  In fact, this was the court, and after I explained my issue, she transferred me to a man who didn't seem happy that he had to talk to a member of the public.

I gave him my citation number and, indeed, he couldn't find it in his system either.  I asked him if it seemed unusual that after 35 days the ticket wasn't in the computer. No, he said.  "They have a year to submit the ticket, and you have to keep checking back." He seemed exasperated that he had to explain it. Because, of course, it's so obvious. I said thank you. He hung up.

A month more passed and I still hadn't received anything in the mail, nor was there anything online. I went to the court.  After going through security -- take your jacket off, throw your wallet in the bin -- I got in line.  I waited about about 12 minutes before reaching the front of the line.

The woman at the counter said the same thing I'd heard on the phone. My ticket is not in the system.  "The officer has not submitted it yet."  Isn't that unusual? "No, it isn't."  Check back later, she said. "You have to check back for a year."


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