October 24, 2009

Visiting Amsterdam for the Big Three-O

Filed under: Events,Friends,Places — Cory @ 4:30 pm

This past summer as my thirtieth birthday began to creep up on me I decided that I wanted to have something fun to look forward when the day finally arrived. I decided that I wanted to celebrate the occasion in Amsterdam.

Prior to this trip I had only spent one day in Amsterdam, when Jason and I visited there in June of 2006. I remembered that the city was beautiful and the people there were very nice.

By way of VRBO I found this great place to stay in the heart of the city called the Amnesia Apartment. It’s a standard Amsterdam style house – tall and thin. The Amnesia is five stories with a room per floor and a jacuzzi on the top floor. There is a tiny, tiny staircase in the back of the building that goes from the kitchen in the basement to the 4th floor bedroom.

Tate and I arrived on Monday morning, October 12th, and Sandy arrived the next day. Once she joined us we starting seeing the sights and eating at some great restaurants. Tate created a Google map of the places we visited during our stay. Here’s a rundown:


  • Sama Sebo – This is incredibly good Indonesian food. The guy who picked us up from the airport was half Indonesian and recommended that we eat here. Here’s a picture of us with the spread.
  • Japanese Pancake World – This is where we ate dinner on the night of my birthday. It came highly recommended from a friend of a friend who lives in Amsterdam. He was right, this place is amazing! Pictures here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
  • d’Vijff Vlieghen – This was a more upper scale Dutch restaurant that Sandy had heard about. Evidently Franklin Roosevelt, Walt Disney, Elvis Presley and many other notable people have eaten here (and they can now add us to the list as well). The food and service were both fantastic. Pictures here, here, here, and here.
  • Belgisch Restaurant Lieve – On our final night we ate at this Belgian restaurant near our apartment and it was incredible as well. Tate and I ordered beer pairings with each course. I still think Belgian food is my favorite of all. Pictures here, here, here, and here.


Other stuff we did or saw while we were there:

The trip worked out even better than I could have planned it. The weather was wonderful for almost the entire week we were there, and the apartment turned out to be exactly what we wanted and in an excellent location. Amsterdam is such an incredible place. Everyone is so friendly, the city is beautiful, and it’s very easy to get around and communicate with people. All the pictures from the trip are available in my gallery.

Great friends, great place, great time!

• • •

June 28, 2008

Louisiana Falls Further Behind in Education

Filed under: Idiots — Cory @ 4:29 pm

Louisiana passes first antievolution “academic freedom” law

The bill has been opposed by every scientific society that has voiced a position on it, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science. AAAS CEO Alan Leshner warned that the bill would “unleash an assault against scientific integrity, leaving students confused about science and unprepared to excel in a modern workforce.”


• • •

February 24, 2008

World’s Most Bizarre Burglary

Filed under: General,Idiots — Cory @ 3:46 pm

Friday evening around 8pm I walked out to the office parking garage, started my truck, and wondered why it was suddently so loud. As it turned out, someone stole the catalytic converter from my truck. On one side of my truck was a Lexus, on the other, a Porsche. Both were untouched.

The catalytic converter is a small device that sits between the engine and the muffler. Without it, your car or truck is loud. Really loud. I only had to drive about 3 or 4 miles home, but it was an embarrassing 3 or 4 miles. In the picture on the right you can see where it is missing.

It’s about $60 – $120 to buy a new catalytic converter for a Nissan pickup truck. Honestly though, I would have preferred that they just asked me for the cash to buy one if they needed it so badly.

Burglar: Hey, I was gonna slide under your truck and unbolt your catalytic converter, but I’m feeling lazy. How about you save us both the trouble and just give me the $100?

Me: You got it.

At least then I wouldn’t be inconvenienced and have to deal with this.

Apparently, there was a period when Cadillac bumpers were a hot item, and then later truck tailgates were a frequent target. But everyone who I’ve told about this agrees that it is a pretty weird thing to steal.

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• • •

January 4, 2008

Big Hat to take on the Devil

Filed under: Idiots — Cory @ 11:34 pm


The Pope has ordered his bishops to set up exorcism squads to tackle the rise of Satanism.


“Too many bishops are not taking this seriously and are not delegating their priests in the fight against the Devil. You have to hunt high and low for a properly trained exorcist.”

“Thankfully, Benedict XVI believes in the existence and danger of evil – going back to the time he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”


The Vatican is particularly concerned that young people are being exposed to the influence of Satanic sects through rock music and the Internet.

Kinda reminds you of that other big religion that is concerned about the corrupting influence of rock music and the Internet.

Gotta love the big hat though.

• • •

June 5, 2007

Uhm… No?

Filed under: General,Idiots — Cory @ 10:35 pm

Google is typically pretty good about the suggestions it makes, but this time I am a bit confused. Since when have I ever shown any interest in what an attention grabbing, spoiled, billionaire daddy’s girl is doing?

You know, he’s right.

• • •

April 23, 2007

Is Providing Good Customer Service Really So Hard?

Filed under: Business,General,Idiots — Cory @ 12:26 am

For the past few years I have been paying a lot of attention to customer service. I’ve always cared about customer service, but when I became a customer of Rackspace almost 5 years ago I experienced what it was like to really love being a customer of a company. I told everyone about Rackspace, and recommended several people to them. Finally, I decided I wanted to work there since I thought this company was so great. How many companies affect their customers so much that they actually want to become employees? I am not the only one, I know of 4 other individuals who worked at Rackspace that got there by being customers first.

This post isn’t about Rackspace, it’s about the other end of the customer service spectrum. This is about the companies, big and small, who just do not get it. So, the following are a few experiences I have had lately.

The Unremarkable

Sapore’s Pizza

A couple weeks ago in San Antonio Sandy and I were trying to think of places to eat, and I mentioned Californa Pizza Kitchen. Not the best pizza restaurant, but not too bad either. Sandy suggested instead that we eat at Sapore’s Pizza since it was a small operation run by an Italian man who seemed to do everything there. “Sure”, I said, since I prefer to support small businesses anyway.

We got there at 8pm on Friday night, and noticed they closed at 9. There was a sign advertising “pizza by the slice,” so Sandy asked for a slice of some specialty pizza they had on the menu. She was told that it was too late, “sorry.” This was somewhat understandable since it was late, but they should probably mention that on their menu. Since I just wanted a cheese pizza, we decided to order their $8 medium, half cheese and half with the four toppings that Sandy wanted. He rang it up and the total was $14, which quickly made me suspicious. It turns out that the toppings are $1.50 each, and she ordered 4 of them, so $6.00. I said “but she’s only getting half a pizza of the toppings, shouldn’t that be half the amount for the toppings?” His response was “sorry, no.” I asked again, hoping maybe that we had only had a misunderstanding, but no, they wanted to change $1.50 for covering half of a pizza with basil! Now, I could understand if I had not pointed this out to the guy, but not only had I brought up the issue, but I asked him twice if this was correct. Simply acknowledging the ridiculousness of the situation and taking $3 off the pizza would have made me really happy, and probably a returning customer. Instead, for $3, I will never return there, and I am making it known that Sapore’s Pizza deserves to be overrun by the competition.

Sushi King

Shortly after moving to Houston I discovered a few sushi restaurants in town, and after my first visit to the Sushi King on Kirby and Richmond I decided that I liked the food there the best. Several weeks later I returned with Sandy, after telling her how much I liked it there. On my previous trip I had ordered a tuna sashimi and when it arrived I noticed that it was cut quite a bit thick for my taste. So, this time I ordered it again, but asked that it be sliced a little thinner. The waitor seemed a little confused, and said that he would have to check with the sushi chefs to see if this was ok. When he returned he told me that there would be an additional $1 charge for it to be thinly sliced. A $1 additional charge on an already expensive $18 order! I wasn’t asking for more food, I was just asking that they slice it thinner! I have not been back to Sushi king since then. All because of $1. The funny thing is, if they had have just baked the $1 cost into the price of the sashmimi to begin with, I would never have had a problem with it. It would have just simply been priced at $19 on the menu rather than $18, and I would have probably ordered it anyway.

Blue Fish House Sushi Bar

I had a similar experience at the Blue Fish House Sushi Bar on Richmond Avenue in Houston. I ordered tuna sashimi thinly sliced, the waitress asked the sushi chef, and they refused to do it! Not only were they turning down the opportunity to make an extra buck like Sushi King did, they simply told the customer “No.” Again, I have not been back since.

Grand Lux Cafe

Recently Sandy and I went to Grand Lux Cafe for brunch, and had a pretty good meal. In fact, we were so impressed with the food that we were anxious to come back to try other things on the menu. So, today we returned for brunch.

Grand Lux Cafe is a chain owned by the Cheesecake Factory restaurants, and it has a similar feel inside. Like Cheesecake Factory, Grand Lux seems to care about maintaining a high level of service. As I have noticed recently, its easy to make it seem like you have great customer service while things are going as planned, but the real winners stand out by how problems are handled.

Our service today at Grand Lux was so-so, and the waitor just did not seem to pay attention to us as guests. We were seated at a table for 4, but were only on one end of the table, facing each other. This is minor, but twice when the waitor brought things to the table, he moved our drinks out of our reach to the other end of the table so that he could put a plate or basket in front of us. Imagine two people sitting at one end of the table, and their drinks at the other end. Fine, so he was oblivious to small things like this, I can live with that.

After we finished eating he returned to the table and begin stacking all of the plates on top of each other, without placing the spoons, forks and knifes together. After the third plate was placed on top the stack became really wobbly, and a spoon full of raspberry sauce fell on my shirt.

Now, as someone who has waited tables in the past, I understand this, and sympathize, especially since a lot of people get angry and make a scene. I wasn’t upset, I just sort of sat there to see how this would be handled. He apologized and then ran off to get a glass of club soda for me to clean my shirt with. When he returned he told me that the manager had been notified and would be coming by the table shortly to work things out. He also took the opportunity to say that “it isn’t really a big deal,” and that it was “just a mistake.” Hum… strike one. When the manager comes by a few minutes later he says that we have two options, either:

  1. I can get the shirt dry cleaned, and they will pay the bill, or
  2. They will remove the cheapest item from our bill.

I am not really interested in getting a t-shirt of a filthy Stewart Gilligan Griffin dry cleaned, and I tell the manager this, and also that I would prefer that more of the $30 meal be comp’d, rather than the just the $6 appetizer. He repeated the two previously mentioned options. I asked what would happen if they paid for the dry cleaning, and the stain didn’t come out, to which he replied, “we would need to see what happens with the dry cleaning first.” Strike two. So, in reality there are three options:

  1. They pay for dry cleaning that might not be able to remove the stain, and the fate of this situation is left in the hands of a guy who has already proven he doesn’t understand customer service,
  2. I take the $6 credit for the appetizer, or
  3. I argue with the guy over an additional $9 credit to my meal

I prefer not to make scenes, especially over $9. I also don’t want to deal with dry cleaners, receipts, trips back to the Grand Lux, dealing with the manager for a credit, and everything else that would be involved in getting this thing dry cleaned. So I end up with the $6 credit. And it is clear to the manager that I am not happy about this. Again, here is a situation where the manager had the opportunity to do something that would make me a loyal customer for life. All he had to do is credit my entree, and if he wanted me to tell my friends about how wonderful the service at the Grand Lux was, he could have comp’d the whole meal, a measly $30. Instead, he chose to take the cheapest thing we ordered off our final bill, and leave a customer obviously not satisfied. Strike three.

You Say I Expect Too Much

No, I don’t think I do. I realize that there has to be some point where the customer is being ridiculous. You can’t give the customer anything they want, because there are unreasonable people who will try to take advantage of you. I also don’t think I was being unreasonable in any of the above situations. In each case, the person I was dealing with had the opportunity to make the situation remarkable, as Seth Godin would say. (I really enjoy reading Seth’s blog, as he frequently gives examples of the good and the bad of customer service). In every case it would have been very easy to do something so good that I would tell my friends about it. Instead, they did something bad enough that I am telling the whole world about it.

And Now For The Praise

Houston’s Restaurant on Kirby

Saturday night Sandy and I decided to try dinner at Houston’s Restaurant on Kirby since Nathan keeps recommending it (and that guy knows food). Although the food was pricey, the service here was excellent. As you can tell, I notice a lot of little things (moving drinks out of reach, etc), and I noticed something like this at Houston’s as well. I typically use a Discover card for most purchases, and occassionally I come across a business that does not accept Discover. Normally it goes something like this. In other words, they say something like “We do not accept Discover” in the same tone that they would probably say “your card has been declined.” However, the waitor at Houston’s had much more tact and politely asked “oh, do you happen to have another card?” This was a completely different way of getting the same message across, and I appreciated it. I imagine if someone at Houston’s had spilled raspberry sauce on my shirt, they wouldn’t have taken the cheap way out.

Osaka Japanese Restaurant on Westheimer

Friday night we wanted Sushi, and since Sushi King and Blue Fish House are out of the question, we decided to go to Osaka. I had been here a couple times before, and it seemed pretty good. I ordered a sushi roll, edamame, and miso soup, and Sandy just ordered a roll. After a while the sushi rolls came out, and after we had finished eating those I flagged a waitress down to ask about the edamame and miso soup (which would normally come before anything else). After bringing this to the attention of our waitress she literally ran to the kitchen to get them for me. Afterwards the manager came over to our table and offered us each our choice of ice cream, on the house. Yes! Osaka is my new favorite Sushi restaurant! See how easy that was?

Even The Best Have Bad Days

I also realize that even some of the best screw up every once in a while. One of my all time favorite restaurants is The Tillerman in Las Vegas, and every time I have been there I have had amazing experiences, both for the food and the service. I have taken friends there, and they were equally impressed. Last fall a friend was out in Vegas and after hearing me talk so much about The Tillerman he decided to go there with several friends. I was shocked to find out that they had a horrible experience, with both the food and the service. I love this restaurant so much that I personally felt hurt that they didn’t enjoy it, and I just couldn’t understand how they could have such a bad experience. I guess it is possible that some of the bad experiences I have had were just bad days for the restaurants, but that’s too bad. “There’s an old saying in Tennessee — I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee — that says, fool me once — shame on — shame on you. You fool me, you can’t get fooled again.”

It’s Everywhere!

This lack of acceptable customer service isn’t just limited to restaurants either. I had a horrible experience with the U.S. Post Office just this week (although that isn’t too shocking). A couple months ago we stayed at the Hotel Valencia in downtown San Antonio. We weren’t planning to check in until around 6:00, so I called about 3:00 to make a reservation at the hotel restaurant. I got a recording saying that the restaurant was closed from 2-5pm, and to call back later or leave a voice mail. How hard would have it been to forward the phones to the front desk and let them make the reservation?

It just doesn’t seem that anyone at these companies is spending any time trying to see things from the customer’s perspective.

Or maybe I just spend too much time thinking about these things.

• • •

April 16, 2007

Ripped Off at the Checkout

Filed under: General,Idiots — Cory @ 9:58 pm

Recently I have been paying more attention to how much money I spend at restaurants, coffee shops, and the like. Since I have been trying to cut back on my expenses, I have been putting more thought into what I buy, and what the total amount should be. What I have found is a little scary, and has made me pay even more attention to my receipts.

I’ve been keeping an eye on these things for about a month now, and it seems that about 1-2 times per week I catch a cash register attendant overcharging me. The first time or two it happened I thought it was just a simple mistake. But then it kept happening, and now I notice it a lot. Whenever I am suspicious I ask how much each item costs, and typically the attendant seems to know right away that there was a problem, act(?) dumb, and say something like “oh, I must have touched an extra key.”

I wonder how much I have been overcharged for in the past?

• • •

February 13, 2007

Who Needs Cancer Research Anyway?

Filed under: General,Idiots — Cory @ 1:02 am

From the article:

Funding for the National Cancer Institute had been going up steadily for a decade, but now President Bush wants to cut the funding for the second year in a row — this time by $40 million.

In other news,

Another way to get at the $1 trillion cost of the Iraq War is to note that the Treasury could have used the money to mail a check for more than $3,000 to every man, woman and child in the United States. The latter alternative would have an added benefit: Uniformly distributed and spent in this country, the money would have provided an economic stimulus that the war expenditures have not.

For example, it would take almost three decades to spend a trillion dollars at $1,000 per second, and if spending at this rate occurred only during business hours, more than 120 years would be required to dispense the sum.

Hopefully nobody gets hurt over there because Veterans Face Consecutive Budget Cuts:

The Bush administration’s budget assumes cuts to funding for veterans’ health care two years from now – even as badly wounded troops returning from Iraq could overwhelm the system.

But at least its for a good cause:

For example, the president proposes just a one-year patch for the growing problem of the alternative minimum tax, which is whacking more and more middle-class families who thought they were beneficiaries of the Bush tax cuts.

And this:

“We were looking for the president to elevate the funds, but he eliminated a number of programs that affect the [Chesapeake] bay,” said Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat. “If it became law it will be very bad news for the bay.”

And this:

A program that protects more than a million acres of trails, wilderness and historic sites in the West would see another cut under President Bush’s proposed 2008 budget.

Sadly, this could go on and on and on.


• • •

January 1, 2007

New Year’s Eve in New York

Filed under: Events,Friends,Places — Cory @ 10:57 pm

After spending the holiday week with our families, Sandy and I met up in New York for a few days to see friends and celebrate the New Year.

We arrived in the City Friday evening to meet up with some of Sandy’s friends for dinner. We ended up hanging out at really great bubble tea place for a while, and eventually meeting up for a nice dinner later. I can’t remember the names of these places, or find websites for them, but they were both in Chinatown and were really good. Afterwards we headed up to Rockefeller Center to see the famous Christmas tree.

Saturday we took our time and walked around the city, which included my Pilgrimage to the 5th Avenue Apple Store. Later that night we met up with Sandy’s cousin and her husband for dinner at Yakitori Taisho, an amazing little restaurant that was packed full. We got there early, and were able to get a great table in the back. You know the food has to be good when a place that is this tiny has a huge line out the door in the winter. After dinner we walked around and ended up at Veniero’s Pastry for dessert and coffee.

On Sunday we decided to see the American Museum of Natural History, which is where we spent most of the afternoon. This is a really cool museum with lots of different types of exhibits. I spent a lot of time at the physics/space exhibits, but there were also some really interesting displays with animals, primates and such.

Afterwards we headed down to meet up with some of Sandy’s other friends for our New Year’s Eve dinner at Guantanamera, a Cuban restaurant on 8th Avenue. We had a great meal (at least I did) and dessert, before heading out to a friends apartment to hang out until midnight got a little closer. Around 10:30 Sandy and I left for Central Park to find a nice place to watch the fireworks. We ended up at a terrific spot with a perfectly clear view of the sky. When the fireworks started at midnight, they went on for 10 minutes and were some of the most spectacular fireworks I have ever seen. Everyone makes a big deal about Times Square for New Year’s, but I cant imagine a better place to be on New Year’s than in Central Park.

Overall, it was a great trip and reminded me how much I love New York City (especially the smells of the food from the street vendors).

• • •

November 26, 2006

Fishing near Cocodrie, Louisiana

Filed under: Events,Friends,Places — Cory @ 11:17 am

Thursday morning I drove over to Covington, Louisiana to spend Thanksgiving with the Taurman family. In addition to a wonderful meal, they had also planned a fishing trip for us to go on the following day. Friday evening 5 of us piled into Chad’s truck and headed down to Cocodrie, Louisiana.

We had a room reserved at Boudreaux’s Marina, a nice little place operated by Andre Boudreaux and his family. After getting a little sleep Friday night we woke up before 6 am and had a nice breakfast at the marina. As soon as breakfast was gone we piled in the boat to head out into the marsh and start fishing. Normally there are several different fishing guides who can take groups out, but as it turned out, all of Andre’s guides had taken the week off to go hunting, so he took us out himself.

It didn’t take long before Choose was reeling in the first fish, a speckled trout, and pretty soon we were all pulling them in. We caught lots of trout, red fish, and black drum and by the time we went in around 1pm we had caught enough food for everyone to have dinner. We also couldn’t have asked for better weather for the trip (I took this video while we were fishing, its 22 secs, 21 MB).

Andre Boudreaux is the real deal, no question about it (with a last name like “Boudreaux”, how could he not be?). He also gives guided tours for those who want to catch alligators, and his stories about those trips are pretty funny as well.

This trip reminded me of how much I enjoy fishing. Sadly, I haven’t gone much since I moved away from Virginia.

Thanks to the Taurman family for a great time!

• • •
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