Deirdre Saoirse Moen

Sounds Like Weird

Deirdre Receives Followup Email

10 August 2005

Dear Deirdre,
We hope you enjoyed your trip to Glasgow, and would love to hear your feedback

Heh.

How about: gee, thanks for marking my ticket not only as non-refundable, but also as non-changeable even though that was not a requirement of that fare code? This created sufficient hassle that an Embassy official had to be on hold for 40 minutes to handle your screwup.

I’ll have to think of something pithy.

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Glasgow: Rick's Departure

10 August 2005

As posted by Rick to the Irish Linux User’s Group social mailing list. Note for Americans: as of the time of this incident, 1 (UK) £ = $1.90.

I got a close look at yet another effect of the Bush Junta’s idiocy, this past few days over on that neighbouring island to your east.

My wife and I were visiting Glasgow for Interaction, the 63rd annual World Science Fiction Convention and 2005 Eurocon, and had an absolutely lovely time — as expected — right up to my ghastly realisation on Friday that my USA passport was suddenly missing.

I’ve been a frequent traveller for mumbledy-mumble decades since the age of 5, and have never lost a passport. I take the matter extremely seriously, expecially (but not solely) since stolen ones can be used to commit some rather horrific crimes. So, the very first thing I did was report the loss to the Strathclyde police, such that the passport would no longer be regarded as valid. For the same reason, I also attempted to telephone the closest USA consulate, in Edinburgh. Three times I called; three times I was dropped into voice-tree hell, and told “The operator is not available. Good bye.”

As the US Department of State Web site for that consulate (misleadingly) claims (http://www.usembassy.org.uk/scotland/) that the Edinburgh consulate can handle passport matters, my wife and I took the train to that town. I marched across town to a photographer who can meet the Department of State’s bizarre and exacting standards for passport photos, paid him ten quid for an instant set, marched back to rejoin my wife, and walked with her up to 3 Regent Terrace.

It was fortified like a bunker with concrete barriers closing off the (otherwise picturesque) street to vehicular traffic. Sufficient comment about Bush Junta policies, right there, I think.

We knocked on the door; Alan, a local employed at the consulate, answered, and said the consulate could not help us at all. We persisted, pointing out that the Web site claimed otherwise, that the office could not seem to bother answering its telephone, and that something needed to be done prior to our booked international travel home to near San Francisco, leaving 11:05 AM Monday from Glasgow International Airport. Alan left us for a moment, and checked with a consular official within. Time at this point was about 2 PM.

Soon, Alan beckoned us inside, had us run our bags through an X-ray machine, and then showed us to a waiting room fronting onto a bulletproof-glass wall separating us from the consular official, who in due course showed up there to talk with us. (I didn’t catch her name, but she was a young Yank, possibly in her 30s, with not a lot of international experience.)

The official apologised for the telephone troubles, which she said had been reported locally to the telephone utility but not yet fixed. She provided paperwork forms for passport replacement, but disclosed that the new passport could be issued only by the offices in Belfast or London, which alone have the required machinery. I pointed out that she could issue a letter of transit, permitting me to get home. She said that consulates were no longer permitted to issue those, and that airlines would no longer permit anyone on a US-bound flight without a passport. (The latter was obviously disingenuous: It’s very obvious that the airlines have implemented that requirement at USA insistence only, so attempting to pass the buck to them was somewhat dishonest.)

I pointed out that it was not possible to reach either the Belfast or London offices before their Friday closings. Passport service was not available on weekends, so the next opportunity would be Monday, 8:30 AM. And it would be wildly unlikely for me to complete that errand and then return to Glasgow in time for an 11:05 AM departure.

She said that I’d simply have to reschedule my flight. I pointed out that the booking was non-changeable, by its contract terms — but that airlines will generally waive that restriction if telephoned by a consular official and informed that the passenger needs to reschedule because of a passport replacement. She said she would immediately telephone the airlines and also e-mail the London embassy to tell them to expect my visit.

On Sunday, we telephoned British Airways to reschedule my flight, only to be told that they had _no_ record of any call from the consulate, and could help me only upon my paying an additional £900 or so for a new, one-way ticket: The consular official had evidently not bothered to call as promised. In some shock but no huge surprise, we declined the new-sale offer. Attempts to call Edinburgh again achieved no more success than before.

At 3 AM Monday morning, my wife and I rose and went to Glasgow International, so that I could get the very first flight (cost: £187) to Heathrow. I landed at 7:15, then ran for the Piccadilly Line Underground station, took that to Hyde Park Corner station (much unplanned delays), then ran for the embassy at Grosvenor Square, arriving around 8:45.

The London embassy was even more of a concrete-barracaded fortress than the Edinburgh one: They have a constant police patrol in addition to street closures, metal fencing, and the security checkpoint for visitors is out at the sidewalk, away from the building in a small trailer. After the security check, I walked in and faced a larger version of Edinburgh’s bulletproof-glass waiting room. I presented my paperwork and photos, paid US $97 for the application fees, and stressed to the (British-national) clerk that I still needed to have a consular official telephone British Airways.

He asserted that the embassy could not perform that service, which I knew to be untrue. I persisted; he admitted that he spoke only for what the passport-replacement staff could do, and said he’d ring someone up from Consular Services to talk to me. They had no record of any e-mail from Edinburgh.

Around 9:30 AM, a young woman arrived to talk with me through a different bulletproof glass window, and I explained that the call would be vital to not only my travel but also my wife Deirdre’s, as she was attempting to follow our original travel plans while I attempted to split mine off on a separate Passenger Number Record (PNR): If the matter were not handled correctly, Deirdre might find her connecting flight reservation cancelled because I (but not she) had failed to show up for the first leg.

The official was willing to call BA, and did so… only to be put into a voice waiting queue without any indication of projected wait time. Fully 40 minutes later — well past 10 AM — a British Airways reservations clerk finally came on. The official made the plea, which BA accepted, and passed the telephone over to me to arrange details.

BA were unwilling to change my routing, so I would have to return to Glasgow. Moreover, I would be unable to travel until the next 11:05 AM daily flight, Tuesday. However, BA waived all change fees, for which I was quite grateful. They were unable to reserve a seat for the second leg of my travel (Chicago to San Francisco) on American Airways, as it was booked full, but told me I could attempt a standby reservation upon arrival in Chicago, and meanwhile booked me on an available, similar flight four hours later.

The BA clerk admitted that she had inadvertantly deleted my wife’s reservations information despite my plea that she carefully avoid doing that and please, please split the PNR. However, she claimed that she’d fixed this problem by the time our call was done at around 10:40. (This turned out to be incorrect: Deirdre found out in Chicago that they’d cancelled her reservation and claimed they couldn’t fix their problem: She insisted, and they eventually did.)

I thanked the BA clerk and Consular Services official, walked up to Marble Arch, and hiked about 8km along Oxford Street, Holborn, Holborn Viaduct, etc. out to Liverpool Street Station, where I took the Stansted Express train to Stansted Airport, then took EasyJet (cost: £ 90) back to Glasgow International, took the bus back into town, helped Interaction pack out everything and then helped finish those troublesome supplies of Real Ale at the closing parties, then took the airport bus back at nearly midnight, slept (fitfully) on the chairs, and read Iain [M.] Banks novels and tourist brochures until 11:05. Chicago O’Hare airport lived up to my low expectations: Amercian Airlines could not fit me on any planes in the first few hours because they had oversold all their flights (as usual). At around 20:10 Tuesday, I was finally allowed to board the delayed 19:20 flight I was booked on, and (finally) fell asleep in my seat.

Some minutes later, the pilot announced that the plane seemed to have hydraulics problems, and that everyone would need to debark and march to the other end of O’Hare’s domestic-flights terminal, to await a replacement plane. Half an hour later, the pilot announced that that plane had a suspicious smell of burnt electrical components in the back, and we’d have to wait some more. Another 30 minutes, and he said they’d given up on fixing that plane, and we’d have to walk to a third gate. An hour later, we were finally able to board. Further delays followed, and I reached San Francisco International around 1:30 AM Wednesday — having been up almost all of two days straight.

Despite all this brouhaha, we had on balance a wonderful time in Glasgow, and look forward to returning — perhaps for the 2006 Eastercon in April (the 57th British National Science Fiction Convention). ILUGgers might consider doing likewise, for a change of pace.

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Glasgow, the Departure

09 August 2005

We arrived at the airport at 4 a.m., in part because Rick’s flight to London (to go to the Embassy to get a replacement passport) left at 6 a.m. Just before 8 a.m., the queue opened for my American (codeshare with BA) flight home.

And then the problems began. In order to check my luggage, they had to split Rick off the PNR. Catch is, the lady at the terminal wasn’t a SABRE expert and didn’t know how to do it. I was too rusty to remember the commands off the top of my head, unfortunately. She flipped through her pages of notes, but finally called for help.

She managed to get both segments split off, my baggage checked through and my boarding passes printed. I happen to know that couldn’t be done without properly splitting the PNR, so I wasn’t worried.

I arrived in Chicago without incident, went through immigration, picked up my bag, went through customs, gave my bag back to security, got on the train, and schlepped from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3.

When I arrived at Terminal 3, the lady was busy telling everyone that if they had a seat assignment NOT to check at the desk. So I sat down and waited for boarding. Thankfully, I asked for pre-boarding as I was so stiff I could barely walk (my first flight having been 7-1/2 hours). The ticket beeped. I had to go see the pissy woman at the counter anyway.

Oh joy.

She said the flight was oversold by 10 people and that I’d have to take the next flight.

I asked her, “and your inventory management issues are my problem because?”

She said that I had an invalid connection, therefore they moved me to a later flight. I pointed out that SABRE wouldn’t let one book an invalid connection as a pair of segments; I happened to know from my earlier conversation that it was booked as a segment pair. The minimum connection time in ORD is only 1:15 from International to Domestic; the connection was longer than that. She seemed floored that I knew that.

Then she said that the issue stemmed from the fact that the PNR was improperly divided. I pointed out that if it hadn’t been properly divided, my boarding passes and baggage claim wouldn’t have printed. As a result, I knew she was lying. [Given later information from Rick, she may have been correct, but that would have occurred after it was correctly divided. In any case, when an airline screws up, it’s supposed to make good, so it doesn’t matter that BA may have mucked up the res.]

She started to feed me another fib, and I said, “Save it. I used to be a res agent for Expedia.” She shut her mouth. Dang, I’ll have to remember that. 🙂 (Yes, I really was a res agent for a division of Expedia, but that’s another story)

I said, “look, I’ve been traveling for 17-1/2 hours and I had a valid ticket on this flight and a window seat. I have your name and, because you’ve been in my booking, Management will know exactly whose head to chop. You can get me a first class seat on the next flight and two round-trip tickets to Hawaii, or you can get me a window seat on this flight.” She furrowed her brow, looked into it, and voila! An aisle seat magically appeared.

“I’ll take it.” I was feeling cranky, but not so cranky that I wanted to deal with her later.

I hate aisle seats because I’m prone to bruising. My right leg now looks like a poster child for domestic violence — but it’s American Airlines’s fault, not Rick’s.

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Glasgow, Sunday

09 August 2005

Sunday was my last day in Glasgow. We did some errands related to following up on Rick’s missing passport in the morning, then headed off in time for me to see a noon panel. I got into a conversation, so I didn’t actually get to a panel until the 1 p.m. Peter Weston presentation on Making the Hugos. Somehow, even though I’d read about the process before, I hadn’t realized it was Peter Weston who was responsible.

Anyhow, he was great fun. I stayed and gabbed in the fanzine lounge and fan area for a while, then went off to see another couple of panels.

Then, finally, the Hugo awards. Not being on the ballot (but finally having been eligible to be on the ballot), I wasn’t too stressed about who won, though some of my favorites did. I’m pretty sure we didn’t vote Battlestar Galactica first (I think we saved that honor for Lost), but it was a good choice. The people who won for the dramatic presentation categories sounded like genuine SF fans who were genuinely thrilled to receive the awards.

Susanna Clarke won for best novel. I know that her novel was selling quite well (it was on the register steps at Kepler’s, always a good sign about sales), but I hadn’t read it yet.

After the Hugo awards, the nominations list was promptly published, which is what I was actually waiting for. Out of 113 people nominated for the Campbell Award, I placed 13th (tied with two other people). I’m thrilled. To paraphrase Sue Mason, it’s an honor.

We managed to get four hours of sleep before having to get up for the airport.

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Glasgow, Saturday

09 August 2005

First, a spot of catching up. I’d mentioned earlier that I was very amused by the HSBC ads, and that something had added to that. Specifically, Rick had gone to the opening ceremonies, which he liked a lot, and brought back the WSFS Armadillo souvenir book, which had several parody ads. They looked just enough like my memory of the the HSBC ad that I actually stared at it a moment before realizing it was in jest.

neighbours

Saturday morning, I looked at the sky and realized the picture I wanted to take wasn’t going to happen with that day’s weather. Specifically, I wanted to take a picture of the peace globe in Bellahouston park.

Giving that up as a morning activity, I set off for the convention centre, where I saw a few panels. In the middle of an afternoon panel, I became so groggy that, despite my interest in the subject at hand, I could no longer keep awake. The room was cold enough that usually I’d have been fully awake, but not this time. I elected to go back to the hotel and get some work done; Rick stayed and went to the masquerade.

Later, we ventured out for some of the post-masquerade parties, which were quite a lot of fun.

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Glasgow: Friday, An Unintended Trip to Edinburgh

06 August 2005

Friday, after I finished my exam, we had an unintended civics lesson in Edinburgh.

About the time I was hunkering down on the last of my Photoshop exam, Rick came to realize that his passport was missing. I knew something was going on by the mad rummaging through drawers, but a) I know better than to ask Rick questions at such a point; b) I was trying very hard not to be distracted from what I was trying to finish.

I looked online to find out what our consulate and embassy choices were. From the web site, it appeared that the consulate in Edinburgh handled passport issues. From looking at the train schedules, a train left every fifteen minutes to half an hour; the train took about an hour (depending on which stops it made). A round-trip ticket was quite reasonable at £8.20 for each of Rick and myself.

We called the consulate, but kept getting hung up on by their phone system. “No operator is available. Exiting the system. Goodbye!” I wish it hadn’t sounded so bloody cheery about the whole thing.

Shortly after noon, we arrived at Glasgow’s Queen Street station for our train. The trip was short but scenic, featuring many low-rolling hills, and lots of long sprays of small purple flowers.

I sat at the train station while Rick got his passport photos taken. When he returned, we set off for the consulate. Alas, it turned out to be up a rather steep hill; we’d set off in a downward direction in error. While the climb was brutal on my legs, we discovered a lovely shady patch that was easily twenty degrees cooler than the hot sun we’d just come out of. We emerged onto Regent street, crossing it onto a small side street that was marked “Road Closed.”

When I saw why it was closed, I felt sick: the American Consulate had put up concrete and gated barriers across the street in front of it, closing off the street for everyone else. If we hadn’t made ourselves so unpopular in the world, we wouldn’t need to inconvenience everyone else, would we?

We rang the bell for the consulate; the guard informed us that passport appointments were on Tuesday afternoons. We pointed out that we had a lost passport issue and that we were leaving on Monday.

The guard let us in, x-rayed our bags, then led us into a small reception area, where we talked with a lady who said that they didn’t issue passports there; we’d have to head to London or Belfast (later, I discovered that the latter may not be accurate; Belfast is also a consulate, so why would one issue passports and the other not?). She said that she’d call the airlines and let the London office know, but that nothing could be done until Monday.

When I pointed out that we were flying Monday, she said, simply, “Well, you’ll just have to change your flight,” as if such things were simple during the height of tourist season.

On Sunday, when we finally had exhausted further options on locating thee missing passport, we called British Airways — only to be told that no one from the Consulate office had called them. And, unless someone did so, there was nothing BA could do to help me. We had a non-modifiable ticket and Rick would simply have to purchase another.

Great.

One of my fears in all this would be that I’d be on the original itinerary home, arrive in the states for my change of flights, then discover that the modification to the reservation had been done incorrectly and managed to cancel my reservation for my own two flight segments. As a former reservationist, I can speak “split PNR” to people, but I won’t have that opportunity as I’ll be “in transit.”

But I digress.

We took the next train back to Glasgow, then walked Buchanan Street. By the time we’d barely gotten off Buchanan, I hurt enough that we took a break in the first restaurant we saw, which happened to be American 50’s themed. It was ort of disconcerting, really, but the food was fine.

Tired and discouraged, we slept for a bit before heading downstairs to the party floor. We’d arrived back in Glasgow just in time to see the “Lucas Back in Anger” production, but were just too demoralized to take a cab to the Armadillo.

Nevertheless, we did enjoy the Norwegians throwing a party for all, and we did make a token appearance at the League of Evil Geniuses party, though most of the parties were winding down by the time that we finally arrived.

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Glasgow, Thursday

06 August 2005

I finished my Javascript exam in the morning, then headed off to the SECC to get all the registration sorted out and see the convention. Enroute, I ran into Liz Mortensen and Ed Green, then James Stanley Daugherty. Eventually, I did manage to get to registration, where they managed to get my name correct on the second try (a lot of people seem to think Saoirse is just syntactic sugar rather than the first half of my last name).

First, though, I need to digress into an impression from Wednesday. When people found out that we were visiting Glasgow on holiday, they seemed rather stunned. “There’s nothing to see here, really,” one public servant said. And Glasgow is definitely lacking something on the city pride level. None of the “I (heart) NY” crap, at least, but it’d be nice if they respected their city a tidge more.

While in the convention center, I ordered a hot dog without a bun. “Just the sausage then?” the lady asked incredulously. I said I was allergic to wheat. “You’re really in the wrong place, then. We even batter fry pizza.” I wasn’t sure she was being serious.

Later, I was sitting at a table with James Stanley, with a UK fan, Martin, sitting at the table reading his own stuff. I was telling JSD about the comment from the lady at the hot dog vendor, wondering if they really did fry their pizza here or if she was just joking.

Martin interrupted, “When it comes to fried food in Scotland, they’re dead serious.”

“They fry their pizza? Really?”

He assured me that they did.

I’m not sure I fully believe it yet, but I’m not going to order it just to see.

I didn’t actually get to any panels on Thursday, in part because I still had a brutal amount of homework and exams to finish and turn in. As a result, I spent much of the day in the concourse borrowing power from the Internet Lounge while working on my homework.

Rick and I returned to our hotel for a nap, then went back to eat dinner at the same place as the night before. This time, I asked them not to batter the sausages before frying. The food was wonderful.

When we came back to our hotel, we tried to find the ceilidh, which was well underway. A woman in the lift was attempting to lure the unsuspecting into the ceilidh. She turned out to be quite a good dancer.

“Have you ever been to a ceilidh?” one of the gents in the elevator asked.

“Yes, but only to ones spelled with fewer letters.”

He caught on quickly. “How do the Irish spell it?”

“Without the dh at the end.”

“That dh is always a pain in the arse,” he opined. I’m not sure about Scots Gallic orthography, but in Irish, dh usually comes out sounding like a j.

After a small quantity of partying, I returned to my room, finished up yet more homework, getting to bed around 4 in the morning. Despite my best intentions of sleeping longer, I woke up when Rick got up at 7:30. By the time my alarm went off, I was already as awake as I was going to get (not very). I finished up my Photoshop exam, leaving only one thing left to do.

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Glasgow, the Arrival

04 August 2005

When I thought about having to take a ten-hour flight (one of two legs), I very nearly thought about not going to Glasgow at all. I don’t travel well, though I love the experience of travel.

I would have been an idiot not to go, of course.

The ten-hour flight, except for the length, really didn’t seem any worse for my travel weariness than a five-hour flight. British Airways has individual screens for each seat; I had my choice of 18 video channels plus 18 audio channels, not to mention what I’d loaded onto my iPod Shuffle.

When we flew over Greenland, I stood up, went over to the rear window (where one could lean on a ledge and look out) and stared out over the snowfields and frozen lakes.

We arrived at Heathrow without an event more disastrous than my seatmate (since BA had decided to rearrange our seats, Rick and I were not able to sit together) having to use her airsickness bag as we approached Heathrow.

When we arrived, cleared immigration and customs (with our single checked bag checked through to Glasgow, yay), Rick had the brilliant idea to visit Terminal 3 in order to visit the AmEx exchange office. So we schlepped. I whined, but managed to get there without more than feeling overly hot and sweating. I drank a half-litre of water, but couldn’t find a faucet for a refill. And, since we hadn’t changed currency, I couldn’t get more from a shop without putting it on a credit card, which seemed absurd. The water in the bathroom was horrific. Ugh.

Enroute, I admired some of the HSBC local knowledge ads. For those of you in the US, HSBC recently purchased Household Bank. One of my favorites of said ads was the Grasshopper ad:

grasshopper

In the US, grashoppers are considered a pest. In China, a pet. In Northern Thailand, an appetizer. Little did I know that my enjoyment of these ads was to be, umm, enhanced during the convention….

We managed to get back from Terminal 3 just as our flight was boarding. By that time, I was hot and thirsty enough (and dripping wet) that I was suffering from heat exhaustion. I berated myself for not packing potassium tablets in my carryon (though I did bring them with me), as that’s one of the things I typically need when overheated.

Again, Rick and I were seated in different rows, though we both got window seats, so it’s all good. The only problem was that the plane needed to wait for a truck to give it a boost to get the engine started (standard procedure, nothing unusual), so the air conditioning wasn’t running. I started to wonder if I should ask for something, but just as I was about to page a flight attendant, the engines started and cooler air started circulating.

Somewhere during that flight, I realized that I was going to be in a place where I might be able to get bangers and mash. I love bangers and mash.

The trip to Glasgow was uneventful, though I was still feeling a bit thirsty even after having water on the plane. I saw a water fountain, but there was a red stripe in front of it that said Do Not Enter — it was in the security clearance area.

I laughed, because it seemed so stereotypically Scottish: put the free water in a place where someone likely to need it can’t get to it. After tasting the water and verifying that it was significantly better than Heathrow’s, I filled Rick’s water bottle.

Oh… even after the trek to and from Terminal 3, we didn’t get our money changed in Heathrow. Seems the airport charges more if you don’t have a pre-order for your money. So, instead, we went and paid for a T-mobile hotspot session, made a reservation over the web, then picked the £ up in the AmEx office in Glasgow. Had we had any UK change, we could have called a number — or even had our T-mobile phones had any signal (we’d set them up for usage in the UK, but they had zero bars of signal).

We got tickets for the airport to city bus (£10 for two people round-trip, which is an extremely good deal), then walked to the hotel. Did I mention that I was tired?

The doorman, David, was extremely friendly and, once we told him that we didn’t just like Star Trek, but also liked J.K. Rowling and Iain Banks, he began to understand that maybe he liked science fiction too.

By that time, I needed a bath and a nap. Rick relaxed for a bit, then did a couple of hours of recon, during which he walked to the convention centre, picked up his badge, then walked back via a route he felt would provide interesting places to eat. He was successful, so we went off to, King’s Cafe, a small place he found. While it was mostly take-away, it had some diner-like booths. For £13, we had dinner for two. I got my bangers, but alas they’d battered and fried them (!). The potato I’d ordered in addition to the bangers was more than I could eat, alas, though it was good.

Guilt crept up on me: I had a java class final to turn in and I couldn’t even start on it until about 11 p.m. local time. When we returned to our room, I worked on some other stuff for a bit, then got the final started. I finished at 4:51 local time (it took me almost two hours; I just didn’t start right away). Because of this, I slept in until about 10:30, especially since the convention didn’t start until noon.

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Mail Update

03 August 2005

So, in googling on other people who’d had the same Mail problem, it became evident that disk space wasn’t an issue. The only solution is moving the Mail directory and creating a new one, importing every single mailbox in turn.

Ugh.

I never had that kind of issue with pine or mutt, y’know?

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A Tiger Showstopper

02 August 2005

Grr.

Mail cannot update your mailboxes because your home directory is full.

You must free up space in your home folder before using Mail. Delete unneeded documents or move documents to another volume.

This is one of the least informative messages I’ve seen for several reasons.

  1. My hard drive less full than it was yesterday when Mail worked.
  2. The error doesn’t tell you why Mail needs all this space all of a sudden.
  3. The dialog doesn’t tell me how much space to clear. 10 megs? 1 gig?

If you should be so unlucky as to need an fsck on Tiger, the other least helpful error message is that you can’t log in — but it doesn’t tell you to remain calm or what it’s doing.

I’m an adept *nix person, but geez, even I was ruffled by the dialog.

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