On buying Taylor Swift tickets -- 1989 tour

For the last hour before they go on sale I'm at my computer with the Ticketmaster page open, doing other stuff. Then when it gets closer to the time I shut down other programs except my browser, lest they freeze and slow things up. The last ten minutes in particular are tense. Finally the countdown reaches zero and the page automatically reloads to something else, except it takes forever to do it. Then finally there's a page where you have to input the special code we got by email and it works the first time but the page doesn't. I input it again and it DOESN'T work and I'm worried that this is it: we'll never get the tickets. I input it again and again and again, and finally it's accepted. Then I input how many tickets I need and I select "best available" and it starts working. There's also a captcha at some point, which is hard enough on the best of days, let alone now. Then loading, loading, loading, and finally there's a timer telling how long the wait is, and it bounces around from 10 minutes to 5 to 15 to 9 to 4 and finally, after maybe a half hour of all this, the page loads and I'm offered tickets. I have two minutes to accept them and all the while I'm terrified my computer will just cut out. I accept them, but then I have to pay for them, and there's another timer, and I'm glad that I made an account the other day because inputting my credit card number would be hard right now. I hit submit, but it tells me I haven't put in the CCV code. More time is passing. My computer could still die at any moment: it did the other day, three times in a row, so this isn't (just) me being paranoid. I hit submit, and it says it has to take me offsite for Visa to verify the card. Jesus God! This is more time with the clock ticking and God knows whether there will be a problem with the new site and I'll have to start over. But the site loads and the card is verified and I choose the various options--print at home delivery, no charitable donation. And finally I've got the tickets, and I keep checking and rechecking to make sure that I've bought the right number, right stadium, right date. It's all good.

My review of our Whirlpool refrigerator; or, am I being muzzled?

So, here's the background. In May we bought a new Whirlpool refrigerator, and it was delivered on May 30th. It's mostly been great, but there are a couple of problems. I addressed one of these in a review I submitted to Home Depot's site--where we'd bought the refrigerator. About a week ago, I got an email from Whirlpool inviting me to review my recent appliance purchase, so I dusted off the Home Depot review and updated it with remarks about the second issue. I submitted the review on the site and that was that. Or, that would have been that if I hadn't just received another email from them:

Our staff has read your review and values your contribution even though it did not meet all our website guidelines. Thanks for sharing, and we hope to publish next time!

Thanks again,
Perplexing. I went to the site to see what these mysterious website guidelines might be, but I didn't see anything. Specifically, when I clicked through as though to write a new review there was no link to any guidelines that I could see. Then I clicked the "contact customer service with questions or concerns" link at the bottom of the email, but it just led me to Whirlpool's main site. There's a support form there, but I didn't feel like filling it out (again; see below), in part because I suspect they would be unlikely to provide any meaningful information about the status of my review. Their operators are likely primed to deal with questions about the refrigerator's operation rather than the website's operation.

So why was it rejected? I jumped to the conclusion that it's because my review is somewhat negative, but I saw at least one negative review on the site while looking for guidelines. If it's not that--and that sort of selectivity would make me angry--I can't imagine what the problem is.

At any rate, I am of course posting my review below, with a photo, because information wants to be free, and I take it ill when my voice is muted.

Great features, but buyer beware

Overall, the refrigerator is great. It's roomy and the layout is great. The shelves both in the fridge and in the doors are nicely designed. The freezer is big and easy to access. I'm really very happy with the purchase. However, be very careful if you decide to buy this with a stainless steel surface. Seventeen days into my purchase I noticed that the left door was very scratched up. No, no one had been scraping it with anything. What happened was I had two refrigerator magnets on the door holding up an envelope. They weren't being moved or scraped across the surface by anyone, but they must have moved around a bit when the door was opened and closed.

As you can imagine, I was quite upset when I discovered this. What bothers me particularly is that there was no warning anywhere in the packet of materials we get that magnets shouldn't be used on this surface. I actually wrote to Whirlpool about this to complain, but got nowhere. I can't believe that they can sell something that will be damaged by the slightest use of magnets--which everybody uses--and not provide a warning to customers. This thing wouldn't survive a day in a house with young kids. Basically, if you buy the stainless steel version, you can never hang anything up on the front. (Happily, the surface on the side is different, so we're able to hang stuff up there.)

So, consider yourself warned. If I'd known this prior to buying I would have stuck with white.

UPDATE: There's an issue we've experienced in which the freezer sometimes loses cold. Ice cream starts to melt, for example. It's not clear what's going on, whether it's because a lot of food has recently been added or if this is somehow related to the appliance's self-defrosting mechanism. It eventually seems to correct itself, but it's troubling.



It Was a Dark and Stormy Tweet

I've got a new book out in Kindle and paperback versions! Announcing:

It Was a Dark and Stormy Tweet
Five Hundred 1st Lines in 140 Characters or Less

Kindle | paperback (US)
Kindle | paperback (UK)

Debra Hamel has been tweeting the first lines of books since 2007. To date, she has posted more than 7000 first lines on her Twitter accounts @TwitrLit and @KidderLit. IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY TWEET is a collection of 500 of the best of these. The first lines in this collection are culled from a wide variety of genres and from children’s books as well as books written for adults. Some of the titles excerpted will be familiar to readers. The first lines of Fahrenheit 451 and Slaughterhouse Five are included, for example, and Jane Austen and Charles Dickens both merit mentions. But readers will find a lot here that’s unfamiliar. The book is intended to introduce readers to new books and authors, so that they’ll come away from the collection itching to get their hands on an armful of new titles. Here’s a sample:

"Benny Rhodes loved his own bald head more than anything else in the world he could think of." (John A. Miller, Coyote Moon)

"I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday." (John Scalzi, Old Man's War)

"A dead man fell from the sky, landing at my feet with a thud." (Gary Corby, The Pericles Commission)

The lines included in this collection are grouped into different categories, with chapters such as “Once Upon a Time,” “Dead People,” and “Pregnant Amish Men and Other Surprises.” The book also includes three quizzes so that readers can test their first-line savvy.

Steps in, but worn out

I left my steps until far too late in the day tonight. Still, I managed to finish. Now I'm sitting at my computer waiting until I have enough energy to climb the stairs.


Screen shot 2013-11-03 at Sun. November 3 | 8.59.42 PM

Fitbit stats: October

I've been using a Fitbit to track my walking for years now. If you're unfamiliar with Fitbit, it's a small, wearable device that tracks your walks, stairs climbed, activity level, and even sleep patterns. All the data is backed up onto a web site, so you can see your stats going back as long as you've had the device. Here's my public profile. And here are my steps walked in October:

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at Fri. November 1 | 7.55.41 AM

As you can see, I consistently met my goal of 13,000 steps per day. 

I don't pay a lot of attention to stairs climbed, so they jump around wildly:

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at Fri. November 1 | 8.02.59 AM

The most flights climbed in October was 26. (Fitbit tells me that I've climbed 25 flights of stairs a total of 36 times.) Climbing 24 flights, Fitbit says, is the equivalent of climbing the La Dante Pyramid in Guatemala.

Update: DIY charging station

I decided to paint my charging station. Here's the finished product.

Update: DIY charging station

DIY charging station

I've been yearning for a charging station of late to make some order out of the chaos of cords and plugs in my kitchen. After looking around on the web for ideas I decided to try making one myself. There were a few limitations. I have minimal skill, for one thing, and minimal tools. Importantly, I didn't want to go into the scary part of the basement to get my jig saw, so everything would have to be done pretty much with a power drill. Plus, I didn't want to spend too much money.

The result isn't too bad. Certainly serviceable. Here's a breakdown of the cost:

  • wooden craft box: $5.99
  • velcro cord straps: $2.98
  • 6-outlet surge protector: $13.47
  • spade bit for making 1.5" holes: $6.47
  • stuff from around the house (felt feet; plastic doohickeys): $0.00

TOTAL COST: $28.90

Of course, if I hadn't needed to buy a surge protector, it would have been cheaper yet.

And here's what I did. 

1. I bought a wooden craft box (with lid) at Michael's craft store. It's a bit wider and taller than your average shoe box, but not by much. I would have preferred a longer box, to accomodate a larger surge protector, but this was the best I found.



2. I wanted to put the cover on upside down, both to make an edged platform and to make it look like something more than just a box. Because of this, I needed to insert something into the lid that would hold it in place when put atop the box. I initially tried using some metal shelf supports, then settled on the aforementioned plastic doohickeys. I drilled at each of the corners and pushed them in.




3. Then, I drilled a big hole in the side toward the rear, and a bunch in the top. Afterwards, lots of sanding to make things look reasonably decent. 



4. Then it was time to pack in the cords and put on the top, feeding the wires through the holes in the lid. I also printed out labels to attach to the end of the cords to make their identification easier. Not shown here, I added felt feet to the bottom of the station to raise it off the counter a little bit in case there's ever any spillage.




Here's the charging station in situ!


Book stalking

Book stalking Book stalking Book stalking

Another Kindle article, and a list of my publications available on Amazon

I've now published another article on the Kindle, which makes three articles over the last month. That's going to be it for now. So I wanted to mention this latest and also just give a summary of what I've got available on Amazon now for anyone who's interested. The list is in reverse chronological order.


The Peloponnesian War was fought between Athens and Sparta from 431 to 404 B.C. It was a long, brutal conflict that ended with the defeat and humiliation of the Athenians: the Long Walls that connected their city to its harbor were torn down to the music of flute-girls while the enemy rejoiced. 

During the twenty-eight years of the war, cities loyal to both sides were razed, the lives of the men, women, and children within surrendered to the mercy of their armor-clad victors. Combatants were captured as well, those lucky warriors who escaped death on the battlefield but who, hindered by the weight of their shields and slipping in the muck of blood and churned-up earth, could not outrun the enemy. "Prisoners of the Peloponnesian War" takes a look at what became of the combatants and noncombatants who were captured during the war—whether they were executed or imprisoned, for example, enslaved or ransomed. The article also considers the means by which prisoners of war sometimes regained their freedom after a period of captivity. 

(ARTICLE: 4600 words. “Prisoners of the Peloponnesian War” is a revised version of an article originally published in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.)

The Military Heroics of an Iconic Intellectual

Socrates may be a household name, but few could tell you much about him beyond the fact that he was a Greek philosopher who died from drinking hemlock. And very few people indeed would be quick to associate Socrates with military heroics. In that, however, we are doing Athens’ famous gadfly a disservice. As Socrates’ friends knew well, the philosopher, in his younger days, was an able and courageous soldier. 

“Socrates at War” discusses Socrates’ military career and the courage, stamina, and presence of mind he reportedly demonstrated while on campaign. On one occasion, for example, Socrates saved the life of a young cavalryman, Alcibiades, who would later become famous throughout Greece as a general, politician, traitor, and all-around rake. Other topics addressed include Socrates’ bizarre habit of standing transfixed in thought for hours while apparently oblivious to external stimuli. The article closes with a look at Socrates’ death and afterlife: even among the heroic dead, it seems, the philosopher earned a reputation for bravery in battle. 

(ARTICLE: 6000 words. “Socrates at War” is a revised version of an article originally published in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.)

The Liberation of Thebes and Other Acts of Heroic Transvestism

The subject of Greek warfare conjures up a certain image. One thinks of armor-clad titans stabbing one another through the neck, javelins glancing off their breastplates, shield crashing against shield. But war in ancient Greece had more than one face: sometimes Greek warriors wore dresses. 

In 379 B.C., a band of exiles snuck into Thebes in central Greece and assassinated a number of the Theban oligarchs who had colluded in Sparta’s suppression of the city. Their coup resulted in the liberation of Thebes from Spartan control. The exiles’ plan was a daring one, not least because some of the conspirators disguised themselves as women in order to get within sword range of their targets. “Ancient Greeks in Drag” tells the story of the exiles’ liberation of their city and discusses several other ancient accounts in which beardless Greek males reportedly dispatched their enemies while masquerading as women. 

(ARTICLE: 5000 words. “Ancient Greeks in Drag” is a revised version of an article originally published in MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History.)

A Guided Tour Through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History

Debra Hamel’s book is a lively introduction to The History of the Persian Wars, Herodotus's account of Persia's expansion under four kings—Cyrus, Cambyses, Darius, and Xerxes—and its eventual collision with the city-states of Greece.

The History can be a long slog for modern readers, but it is full of salacious tales about sex, violent death, divine prophecies, and cannibals. Following the structure of the original work, Hamel leads the reader through a colorful tour of the central stories that compose The History. She highlights the more interesting and important parts of the story while providing readers who are new to Herodotus with the background information necessary to appreciate the author’s wide-ranging subject matter. At once academic and cheeky, the experience of this book is like reading Herodotus while simultaneously consulting a history of Greece and a scholarly commentary on the text.

Unpacking an Ancient Mystery

In 415 B.C. the Athenians woke to find that during the night most of the herms in Athens (priapic statues of the Greek god Hermes) had been vandalized. The damage was too widespread for the act to be dismissed as a youthful prank. What was it, then: a conspiracy brewing against the democracy? Or merely a bad omen for their upcoming expedition to Sicily?

The so-called "mutilation of the herms" is an important episode in Athenian history. Nearly 2500 years later, basic questions about the crime continue to exercise scholars—who done it and why they done it. In "The Mutilation of the Herms: Unpacking an Ancient Mystery," Debra Hamel provides a comprehensible account of the vandalism and its aftermath.

This roughly 50-page work is written for an audience of general readers and students. No previous knowledge of the period is assumed. The text could profitably be assigned for undergraduate classes in Greek history. Topics discussed include the Eleusinian Mysteries, the role of drinking groups (hetaireiai) in the vandalism, Alcibiades' involvement in the affair, and Eva Keuls' feminist take on the episode. (ARTICLE: 13,000 WORDS.)

The True Story of a Courtesan's Scandalous Life in Ancient Greece

Neaira (pronounced "neh-EYE-ruh") grew up in a brothel in Corinth in the early fourth century B.C. She became one of the city-state's higher-priced courtesans while still a teenager. In the next decade she served as the sex slave of two former clients and endured an abusive relationship with a party-hopping Athenian. Finally, barely supporting herself in a sex industry depressed by the war then raging in Greece, she met Stephanos, an Athenian citizen, with whom she would live for the next thirty years or more. Neaira's life with Stephanos was far from tranquil: it was riddled with legal threats and lawsuits. On one occasion in particular the former courtesan herself was dragged into court. The stakes in the case were high, as Neaira's very freedom lay in the jurors' hands. . . . The story of Neaira and her appearance in court is well known to classicists, but Trying Neaira is the first book to tell Neaira's story to a non-specialist audience. The book serves also as a lively introduction to the larger world of fourth-century Greece, and of Athens in particular, in which Neaira's drama played itself out. 

Military Authority in the Classical Period

This study of the Athenian "strategia" is concerned with identifying the locus of military authority in the Athenian "polis," Consideration of the role played by generals in the deliberative and final stages of military expeditions and of the relationship between "strategoi" and their subordinates, colleagues, and the Athenian "demos" itself suggests that Athens' generals did not exercise significant authority over their city's military operations. Rather, the "demos" controlled its generals both by means of its direct involvement in decision-making related to campaigns and by establishing in Athens a climate of fear which was very often sufficient to dissuade generals from acting in opposition to the Athenians' will. This volume is important reading for anyone who is interested in ancient military history or the question of sovereignty in Athens.

Ancient Greeks in Drag FREE today!


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About the blogger: Debra is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece, including Reading Herodotus: A Guided Tour through the Wild Boars, Dancing Suitors, and Crazy Tyrants of The History. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.

From a random review:

The Sunday