Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Magpies on parade

Despite a bounty of sightseeing opportunities (mostly focused on things that are very old, and in some cases, also large), we spent very little of our vacation (excuse me, "holiday") time on sightseeing today. We did spend a little while exploring part of the walls of York, which date back to the mumblety-mumble century. (The plaques should actually say that. No one can actually say which pieces date to which century, but bits of it are from various centuries all the way back about 2000 years.) So I've now peered down a murder hole at the helpless would-be victims milling about between the stores (excuse me, "shops") below.

Otherwise, most of the day was spent wandering between shops looking at their windows, plus planning out tomorrow's full platter of activities. Shopping, it turns out, is slow when done with no list, no objective, no idea what's in what shop, and a pair of women who revel in looking at everything and reading every menu, and are distracted by anything shiny or colorful (excuse me, "colourful"). But that's okay. That's what the day was about. It could be boring at times (however, see yesterday's post concerning the abundant opportunities for a different kind of sightseeing) but it was also relaxing.

Less relaxing were our ongoing struggles with the Internet access. Ultimately, the guys at O2 were unable to get Siobhan's netbook to work with their dongle, and refunded the cost. However, in doing so, they dug us into a little trap. Remember how they'd refunded £10 off the price of the dongles to help make up for the data plan costing £14 more than it was supposed to? The way that yesterday's guy did that made one of the dongles show as only costing us £10 instead of £20, so that's the one they wanted to refund. This would mean we ended up paying the whole increased cost for the change in plans, plus another £4 for the two days (one per dongle) of service we paid for on Siobhan's netbook but never got, for a total loss to us of £10 (my service being £6 over the weekly plan, plus £4 for those two days).

I had to argue with the guy there about it and I don't think he ever really understood how it all added up -- but he did give me another £10 just to shut me up. I feel a little bad about it -- he certainly didn't deserve to be the one yelled at, plus I only reinforced the stereotype of Americans as brash and rude (ironic given how I am really far less so than most). But he didn't really accept my apology, and that's all I could offer. I know the refund we got is actually the right amount, and O2 is still making £34 for one week of slightly dodgy and slow Internet service for me, so the deal is fair for both parties. I just feel bad that I couldn't get there through a reasoned discussion, and I made that guy's day a little worse, after he tried so hard to make it all work.

Back at the apartment (excuse me, "flat") I spent an hour trying to get the one connection we did have to be shared so Siobhan and Suri could get to it on their own netbooks, but ultimately I found this was impossible. The special O2 Connection Manager rebuilds the network connection every time, so any settings I adjust on it, such as sharing it, get reset before they can take effect. So we fell back on plan B -- actually, originally plan A. Siobhan's subscribed for five days to BTOpenZone. Our signal strength here is a little inconsistent, but so far it's working out for her. Her Internet's probably a lot better than mine, in fact. (But mine should keep working on the road tomorrow, where hers wouldn't.)

Incidentally, my mad hacker skillz [sic] helped me get my phone fixed. While the magpies browsed the shiny things at the visitor information center (excuse me, "centre"), I took over their kiosk, which normally just shows their website, and browsed out to the AT&T website, logged into my account, perused the knowledge base, and made some changes to the features on my account. I turned on international dialing, and then turned on and off a $6/month extra roaming plan. Then I returned the kiosk to the York website just where I found it. My phone is now connecting effortlessly to the UK cell (excuse me, "mobile") networks. And I didn't even have to make a long-distance international call to AT&T to make it happen. Sometimes, I rock.

Tomorrow's full day will include us renting (excuse me, "hiring") a car, since it turns out to be only a few pounds more than taking the bus to Castle Howard, even adding the cost of gas (excuse me, "petrol"). But with our own car, we'll be able to go to the castle, and through the scenic moors, and the seaside, and Magpie Café, and a good supermarket. (The supermarket we got to today turns out to be actually smaller than the convenience store, and thus quite disappointing.) We just have to deal with driving on unfamiliar roads; but I think we can manage it, with good maps and navigation help. Even if we get lost and have to backtrack, we'll still save time -- the drive should be about a third as long as the bus trip, so there's plenty of slack to still come out ahead.

Oh, plus we have to deal with driving on the wrong (excuse me, "left") side of the road. Guess we'll just have to be careful.

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