liz writes stuff down

Revised icebreakers for nicer New Yorkers

You go to a friend's party, attend a work event, or just find yourself out and about. You meet someone new, and you're inevitably asking and being asked three questions:

  • Where do you work?
  • Where do you live?
  • How much is your rent?

Okay, you don't always encounter that last one, especially outside of NYC, but there's a sinking spidey-sense when it's about to pop because you've run out of places to go with the other two.

Let's ditch that template for these improved icebreakers.

What have you been up to?

Work is a weird topic because not everyone loves their job at any given moment or generally feels like it's their main identity. If it is, they still can discuss it in response, but this question invites a much wider range of topics than asking about work directly. If they have something more relevant to talk about at the time, or just something they think will be more interesting to you, they can talk about that instead.

What's something you love about your neighborhood?

This opens the conversation up to so many more possibilities than "Where do you live?" and even covers that information along the way anyway! If there's not a natural lead towards this question, you can talk about how cool it is that there are so many different neighborhoods where you live and so much to explore.

If you find yourself in their neighborhood later, you can check it out! Maybe, if the conversation goes well and you want to get to know them better, you can suggest what they mentioned as a thing for you to do together.

I deliberately worded this as "What's something you love about your neighborhood?" instead of "What is your favorite thing about your neighborhood?" because trying to pick out your favorite can be overwhelming on the spot and the easiest beloved thing to talk about might not be that anyway.

Don't talk about rent.

Just don't. It's awkward, but more importantly, it's rude.

Talk about all the nifty things you just learned about them instead.


Uber’s robocall blitz to NYC landlines

Uber was robocalling me about Mayor Bill de Blasio's plan to place a cap on the number of vehicles they could operate in New York City. Uber has robocalled my home phone number - not the mobile number they have on file for me - four times to ask me to lobby on their behalf. This number has never been tied to my Uber account, so I asked them about the calls on Twitter.

(At the time, I had forgotten that I took an Uber last November with friends while traveling in San Francisco.)

I followed up with Uber over email a few minutes later at 10:08 am on Wednesday, July 22 to ask where they got my number:

Date: Wed, 22 Jul 2015 14:08:55 +0000
Subject: Stop calling my number
From: "Liz A. Denys"

Hi Uber -

You have been robocalling my *non-published* phone number*, [number elided], to talk about De Blasio's changes to NYC livery rules. I do not wish to be contacted by you by phone, especially at a number that is not even tied to my Uber account. Further, I have not used your service under any definition of recently (Nov 2013 was the last time), so you should be respecting my number's entry in the do not call list.

If you'd like to give me information about how you obtained this number and why it was included in your business calls, I'd like to know.

*I verified this last night with my provider.

-Elizabeth Denys

Uber responded three days later:

Date: Sat, 25 Jul 2015 18:16:35 +0000
From: "Josh from Uber (Uber Support)"
Reply-To: Uber Support
To: "Liz A. Denys"
Subject: [Uber] Re: Stop calling my number

Hi Elizabeth,

Josh here, Uber Support. Thanks for reaching out.

Sorry to hear about these unrequested phone calls. It looks like there is another Uber account (not in your name) that has registered this phone number. In order for me to remove this phone number from the account that's using it, I will have to verify that this number is in your possession. This can be most efficiently done by sending in a screenshot that shows your full phone number (most often found in the settings section of your phone). After that, you should no longer receive this type of communication from us.

Again - I apologize for any inconvenience. I am happy to help if you have any other questions.

All the best,
Josh from Uber

I had been curious to hear how Uber had found a number that shouldn't have been available, but apparently, Uber believes that someone else signed up with my number! This is interesting, because Uber uses your mobile number and you have to confirm your mobile number over SMS. Last I checked, my landline couldn't do that.

Wondering how to get my landline out of their system, I replied:

Date: Sat, 25 Jul 2015 23:24:42 +0000
Subject: Re: [Uber] Re: Stop calling my number
From: "Liz A. Denys"
To: Uber Support

Hi Josh and Uber Support,

This number is not a cell phone, but a landline; there is nowhere to take a screen shot. How should I proceed?


Uber was nonplussed that I have a landline[1]:

Date: Sat, 25 Jul 2015 23:40:57 +0000
From: "Josh from Uber (Uber Support)"
Reply-To: Uber Support
To: "Liz A. Denys"
Subject: [Uber] Re: Stop calling my number

Hey Liz,

What an odd situation! I have removed this number from the account in question, regardless, so you should no longer be receiving those phone calls. Please reach out if you experience any further issues.

All the best,
Josh from Uber

I was happy that Uber probably wouldn't call my number again, but that still doesn't explain something else about their calls - that they knew I lived in Stephen Levin's district. (He sponsored the bill against Uber.) I reached out again:

Date: Sun, 26 Jul 2015 01:47:09 +0000
Subject: Re: [Uber] Re: Stop calling my number
From: "Liz A. Denys"
To: Uber Support

Hi Josh and Uber Support -

It does seem a little odd to me that someone was using my number for Uber since Uber needs a mobile phone number, not a landline, right?

I'm also curious how your voice messages knew that I lived in Brooklyn, if it wasn't tied to my account. I was even more confused that Uber's voice messages mentioned that I specifically live a district with a council member sponsoring the bill in NYC Uber was concerned about. (I assume you are referring to my council member Stephen Levin?)

Do you have any more information on this matter?


Uber has yet to get back to me.

I personally know other New Yorkers who have received calls from Uber at their landlines about the bill - including some who have never even created an Uber account or stepped into an Uber vehicle.

These are the voice messages Uber left me. I've added the dates and phone numbers from caller ID into the transcript for reference.

You have 4 old messages.

Thursday 3:32 pm [July 16, 2015 from 347 695 8537]

You spend your whole life unable to get a cab home, just because you don’t live in Manhattan. Now, de Blasio wants to make it harder for Uber and other apps to help you get home - just to take care of his buddies with taxi medallions that give him lots of campaign cash. But your council member should stand up for you. Call your council member and tell them to protect you, not the taxicabs who snub their noses at you every day. You deserve better. Paid for by Uber.

Saturday 2:07 pm [July 18, 2015 from 607 385 2105]

Hi, it’s Molly with Uber, and we need your help. Uber ended the days when you couldn’t get a ride home because cabs didn't want to leave Manhattan. Now, Mayor de Blasio is trying to bring the bad old days back because his millionaire taxi donors are telling him to. But why on Earth would your council member ever consider voting for something like this? He should stand up for you!

Monday 2:55 pm [July 20, 2015 from 718 690 9407]

Uber ended the days when you couldn't get a ride home because cabs didn't want to leave Manhattan. Now, Mayor de Blasio is trying to bring the bad old days back because his millionaire taxi donors are telling him to. But why on earth would your council member ever consider voting for something like this? He should stand up for you, not take orders from the mayor. Your council member is sponsoring this bill, and we need your voice.

Tuesday 11:44 am [July 21, 2015 from 914 775 7597]

Hi it's Derek with Uber, and we need your help. Uber ended the days when New Yorkers had to worry about being able to find a reliable ride home. But now, Mayor de Blasio wants to cap the number of drivers that can partner with us, ending Uber as you know it just because his millionaire taxi donors are telling him to. The Daily News has called de Blasio’s cap on Uber, quote, disingenuous and a bad deal for New Yorkers. Please call your council member and tell them to oppose the anti-Uber bill, because --

End of messages.

[1] To be fair to Uber, my friends are also nonplussed when I mention my landline.


A separate serving

My blog has a tendency to cover topics that run all over the place. It's come to my attention that it's currently reaching at least two completely different audiences. One of them is almost exclusively interested in my food posts.

To handle this, I've created a separate food blog, My Quaint Dutch Oven Family, and moved the food posts from this blog to that one. The name pays homage to my favorite kitchen helpers. Links to food posts at this address now redirect to their new locations on the new blog. I also get to better categorize my food entries on the new site.

I hope the split will encourage me to blog more. I'm exactly the kind of person who will become frustrated as their latest post dates get stale, and I'm excited about how that will make me want to write more.

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L’Insurrection qui vient

I can trace different periods of my life back to the music with which I decided to fill my ears and the stories towards which I let my eyes venture. Rereading tends to bring a part of me back to previous points in times, and occasionally, I partake in this.

But there are few books I revisit often. Because only a few books are composed of words that affect me differently during each read.

The Coming Insurrection book covers

L'Insurrection qui vient (The Coming Insurrection) is one of those books. I picked it up just over a year ago at the MIT Press Bookstore on a whim. Little did I know that the book would get so much attention a few weeks later: an impromptu book-reading in New York attended by the police, condemnation on a Fox News broadcast as "the most evil a long, long time", and accusations that it indirectly caused massive raids with helicopters and anti-terrorist police.

The Coming Insurrection examines the tenants of Western politics, philosophy, and lifestyle—and immediately dismisses them. It's not a light read, but it's playfully worded. Even if you are so rooted in your beliefs that the book won't change them, it will shake your way of looking at them because you probably will have never before confronted a view so staunchly opposite that of your upbringing in every single way.

Each time I've read this book, I've been alarmed, confused, put off, you name it. (Even when reading it in the poetic original French.) But even though the words are clear, strong, and ever the same, it pushes me differently each time.


Recruitment is hard, part 2: goals and values

I spend a lot of time thinking about recruitment issues these days. This could be because I'm involved in a few student groups that have been spending a handful of time talking about it lately.

While a good portion of discussion about recruitment is (and should be) focused on "selling" your organization to newcomers, just as much of the discussion should center on clearly defining your organization and what it offers to potential members. A common line of questioning to many of my groups has been the following:

If we claim we are chosen based on values or work towards a set of goals, but we do not display these values or further these goals, then what were we chosen based on and what are we working for? Will others understand the purposes and goals of our organization? How will we "sell" our organization as something based on these values or working towards these goals?

People often don't like to think about this issue because it approaches the "recruitment problem" with "sticks" more than it approaches it with "carrots". I take issue with these concerns because I feel like they put organizations on pins and needles out of the fear that any misstep will ruin their image.

I suggest taking this line of questioning as a basis for discussion, instead of as something requiring the development of new policy.