Friday, July 30, 2010

Reach Out To Yourself!

I want to reach out to all of you folks about the phrase "reach out," the latest corporate buzzword.  It's getting to the point where when anyone says this, my brain translates it to "retch out."

Let me provide you with a couple of examples of this:

Back in November, 2008 in my blog posting "Alien" a gentleman from Time Warner Cable said, "I asked, internally, if you could be put on a list for the new tuning adapters and was told that someone would be reaching out to you." (italics are mine)  This really didn't result in anything special.  In fact, I don't think I ever had someone contact me regarding the adapters until they were shortly released to any subscriber who needed one (I was called in the course of obtaining service).

A representative of a very large network equipment manufacturer (guess), in talking about a ridiculous hardware maintenance issue, and my suggestion that he meet with me and my manager, said, "I will reach out with [manager's name] next week to set a time for an introduction.  I look forward to it."  Reach out with?  I don't want someone to "reach out" to me.  I want them to do their stinking job and solve my darn problem ("issue"...if you will)!

I imagine that the "reaching out" comments partly originate from at&t's old "reach out and touch someone" slogan, and partly from the concept of one person seeing another person in need of help and would reach out to that person to help (such as if I'm drowning).  In the latter case, the term implies this is a charitable effort, something that is above and beyond the call of duty.

When someone in a business is providing me with customer service, they are not reaching out to me.  They are doing their job.  They may feel that they're giving me charitable treatment, and if they are then I really need to think again about whether I want to continue to do business with that organization.  I'm not a charity case - I'm a customer for heaven's sake.  Doesn't that mean anything in today's society?  Provide me with quality goods and services at a fair price, and if you screw-up somewhere, then just fix it!  Don't reach out to me!  I'm not drowning!

This may really be a sign of the times, though.  It seems like businesses are more motivated by short-term profits than long-term customer relationships.  Surely profit is important, but without customers you have no profit (unless you're running a dishonest or unethical business).  If I'm subscribing to cable service and it isn't working properly, and you use a lot of business buzzwords like "reaching out" to say you're trying to fix it, it is an insult to me.  Properly working cable service is what your business is supposed to provide.  If I contact that certain very large network equipment manufacturer (let's just call them "C") because they told me that two $100,000 routers have reached end-of-life and couldn't be covered under a maintenance agreement even though the same equipment is allegedly still for sale on their web site, then I want answers and what I can do to maintain my employer's $200,000 equipment investment.  If I told you, my readers, what C's account manager finally provided as an answer to this problem your head would probably explode.  They can fill my e-mail with all the business buzzwords in the world, but if they don't ultimately deliver, then those words are meaningless.  The term "reaching out" has become a meaningless phrase to me at this point.

The whole idea of customer service has become a joke.  Businesses don't even take it seriously as they feel it is such a secondary part of what they do that it is frequently outsourced to people in other countries.  Most people groan at the idea of calling customer support, because they know that the person on the other side is generally just trained to pacify the customer and read solutions from a scripted text.  I don't feel like an important customer, I feel like an irritation to the business...and frankly, I think that's what I am in their eyes.

Now to pay attention to Judy's request to say something positive.  I recently had a positive experience with Hunter Douglas window coverings online customer support.  The mechanism that opens and closes two of the blinds on my windows at home broke (the part that the "wand" attaches to broke because it wore out after 14 years).  The part (called a tilter) didn't have a part number and all I had was a vague description of the part.  Within a couple of days, someone responded to me, sent me a PDF document with a picture of the various tilters that looked like the one I described, and asked me to identify it and let them know what the part number was next to the picture.  When I did respond, in a day they replied and told me they would replace the part for free.  Hunter Douglas window coverings are expensive, but having a response like this is worth the expense.  While I'm sure the part is only about $15 or so, I actually felt like a valued customer.  I felt like these blinds were manufactured by a company that stood behind the quality of their product.  This is a company I would continue to do business with.

...and Hunter Douglas didn't even need to reach out to me.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Postponed

This is going to be short.  I am postponing the trip to NY due to...being chicken.  Seriously, though, I started thinking about the magnitude of the drive, and figured it was something that requires a smaller trip first, to see how I'd handle that kind of trip by myself.  I keep forgetting that I'm getting old.

Disappointing...yes.

I do plan on taking a week of in August though, and will likely get out of town for a bit, so there should still be something to write about...

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Planning a Trip to NY

Well, I've almost fully convinced myself to do something that probably will fit into the "insane" category, and that's a road trip to NY to visit my parents.  For those reading this without fully comprehending that statement:  I am looking to drive 1,700 miles (each way), by myself, from Texas to New York (and back)...and to further the insanity, it is very likely that I won't really stop overnight anywhere along the way (perhaps coming back, I may stop and do some touristy things, who knows?).

There are a few reasons for this trip:  The first is that I hate going through airport security and get treated like I'm a criminal.  In fact, the entire process of getting to the airplane is unpleasant, and not a good beginning to a trip.  Second, I need an adventure of a good kind.  The idea of getting into a car, navigating the roads, and seeing sights I haven't seen before (or, in some cases, not in at least 20 years) seems interesting.  Third, whenever I fly to visit my parents I am generally grounded in their house without a vehicle for the whole trip.  Yes, I could rent a car or borrow my parents' car, but the former hardly seems worth the money and the latter has a bunch of unwritten caveats attached.

My reservations are whether my body and my car can survive the trip.  The car is in good shape, and I really think that any concern about a breakdown somewhere is just my brain going through every negative scenario trying to prepare for the worst.  My body, on the other hand, I'm a bit more worried about.  I haven't taken a trip anywhere near this long in a very long time, and 30 hours is a long time to be continually doing the kinds of tasks that are needed to be a safe (defensive) driver.  It is also going to require that I take more than just a week off from work.  There's no way that I'm going to drive all that way, just to turn around and go back right away (particularly considering that one needs a day or two just to unwind from a drive of that magnitude).

Right now I've been glued to Google Maps looking at my route options.  The most direct is I30/I40 going eastbound, and then I81 through the Blue Ridge Mountains going north.  Alternatively, the eastbound part can be replaced by going I20 to I59, and that goes through a few additional states (the other route is mostly Arkansas, Tennessee, and Virginia).  The other route is to use I20 eastbound, but instead go through Georgia and take I85 to I95 up the east coast.  I have a close friend's family and an uncle along that route that could be a potential stopping point if I needed it.  However, I95 is almost always under construction somewhere, and the tolls and traffic in the Washington, DC and Baltimore area are a hassle.  I've driven that part of the route before, and I just don't like it much and it can get really boring.  Going the I81 route through the mountains is more interesting, but it's through the mountains, so the road requires more attention and there are no larger cities to stop in if I get too tired.

I did find an interesting site during my research.  The National Motorists Association (http://www.motorists.org/) has a great chart showing the state speed limits and some important information about the different state traffic laws.  While the NMA seems like more of a driver advocacy group than informational (like AAA), I am happy to see a compilation of reputable information about state traffic laws, given that I haven't driven much outside of Texas in the past 20 years.  Check out their web site sometime.  They actually are doing some really sensible things.

Of course, if I decide to take the trip, I will definitely report my experiences via this blog.  Looks like a good reason to invest in a new digital camera...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Google is the Government - News at 11

As I sometimes do during lunch, I voluntarily submit to rotting my brain cells listening to Alex Jones spew his conspiracy theories.  Why?  Because while I feel that most of it is excrement, there are some bits and pieces of factual information that make you go, "Hmmm..."  This posting is not about the factual information.

This posting is about, (and I'm paraphrasing here) according to Alex Jones and one of his guest cronies, indicating how Google and the government are somehow linked (it was difficult to tell whether Google was controlled by the government, or vice versa, or even both).  As such, Google's acquisition of data for "street view" is really a front for collecting all sorts of data for the government about people and their communications devices.  They also allege that Google manipulates search engine results based on government directives in a purposeful manner so as to distract people from what's really going on and redirect them to drivel such as Lindsay Lohan's jail sentence.  They also state that YouTube videos are manipulated in various ways as well.  I had enough of listening to this junk on the radio in the hot car, and came back inside where it's cool.

So my feelings?  I really wish conspiracy theorists and talk show hosts, whether it's Alex Jones or Rush Limbaugh or any of the other people out there, would stick to what they know and stop spewing out fear mongering comments concerning things about which they do not know.  Time and time again, I've heard Alex blab out during his show about how one should go out and Google something about the government doing something dreadful to kids, and mentioning how many hits come up.  So is this part of the conspiracy?  Enough already.  So what about Adobe, huh?  At what point are you going to attack Flash, because (as everyone knows) that I would find entertaining...interesting even.  Here you have a single company that has incredible proprietary control over web content now, even Alex's content, and not a single word about that.  Maybe that's why he hasn't addressed that issue.  It's far easier to point fingers at Google and instigate mistrust in them than to look at the crap he's using to build his own web sites and consider the possibility that there's a conspiracy in that too.  Good grief.  He doesn't know about computers and Internet technology.  Please, for heaven's sake, talk about something you actually know about...like getting arrested trying to take pictures of police officers.

Now I won't say Google are a bunch of angels.  They have their own set of skeletons in their closet, probably even ones we'd rather not know about.  It also wouldn't surprise me if the US Government hired Google for their data mining expertise.  That isn't because Google is in bed with the government -- that's because Google is good at data mining.  You got ghosts, you call Ghostbusters.  If you want to collect lots of data and figure out how to search through it efficiently, you call Google.  Yeah, the government gathers lots of intelligence.  Is that a bad thing?  I don't know.  If you look at their actions over the past, say, 20 years or so, it strikes me as a bunch of people who can't get their heads out of their butts and the only thing we need to fear is that they'll do something incredibly, unbelievably stupid and we'll suffer the consequences.  Most of the time it's all with good intentions, and as we all know the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  It's why I lean toward the government keeping their fingers out of stuff the Constitution didn't intend for them to be messing with.

In short...I should probably find something else to listen to during lunch when I'm bored.  There's a lot wrong in the world today, and somehow I don't think contemplating conspiracy theories are going to help.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

R.I.P. Smokey

For those who don't already know, my feline pal of 19 years had to be put to sleep this past Thursday (July 15, 2010).  A week prior, he decided to stop eating, which wasn't immediately alarming since he had been eating less as of late.  Within a week, he was becoming depressed and more lethargic, and I could see in his actions and condition of his body that the end was near.  The vet confirmed what I already knew:  Basically, his kidneys had almost completely failed, his body was no longer able to take-in water (even though he was still drinking), and that he was effectively starving himself to death.  I felt that it was inhumane for him to suffer like this, and made the decision to end his life...which, as in any case like this, is not one that is easy emotionally.

In the past 19 years, this little guy was a big part of my life...
  • I got him from a neighbor when he was just a few weeks old (the result of the same neighbor not getting their cat spayed).  They brought down the kittens in a paper bag, and asked if anyone wanted one.  I picked Smokey up, and he ran up my arm onto my back and wouldn't let go.  I remember saying, "Well, I guess this one's mine!"
  • He lived in 8 different places and two cities over the course of 19 years.  Yes, that's how many times I moved.  Ugh.
  • When I got Smokey, I was doing Geographic Information System (GIS) software development at a GIS software/hardware company for a living.  He was with me through my transition from that, through a layoff, and to my current career as a systems/network administrator.  That is a lot less trivial than it sounds.
  • I've had some of my darkest moments and some of the best times during the past 19 years.  He's been by my side through all of them.  I sometimes wonder if he would have continued to put up with me if he hadn't been held captive...but then again, I'm sure he thought the same thing sometimes...
  • Smokey was, indeed, a "Native Texan."  Unlike his owner...but his owner "got here as fast as he could..."
  • During his final years, I actually had guests over somewhat regularly and he became more well-known as the host than I did, always circulating through the group and making sure everyone was doing fine.
I'm not sure that I can say that everything I know about life I learned from my cat, but I can say that I did learn an awful lot from him.

It's cliché to say that I couldn't replace Smokey with another cat...but in this case, that is really the truth.  This was a feline with great personality and a great presence.  He made friends with people in just about any situation, even people who didn't like cats much.  For now, I plan to set aside getting another cat so that I can take some time out from that responsibility and take care of myself a bit (something that has been neglected for a while).  I still plan on volunteering down at the Humane Society (doing cat socialization), and will probably take one home eventually.  While I don't enjoy the sadness that accompanies the loss of a good friend, I am trying to see the positive in all this.  None of us live forever.  There are a lot of cats that suffer as strays, feral cats, or cats that have cruel, irresponsible, or just plain stupid owners.  Smokey had a great 19 years (even though we had some fights of our own occasionally).  Not only did he have a good life, but a life longer than many cats do.  This is the important thing.  Yeah, I guess that's another thing I learned from my cat...

Consequences Will Never Be The Same

I'm really not that up on the whole Internet culture thing these days, except for when I can somehow grok it through my own old-school glasses.  Every once in a while, though, I accidentally stumble upon a piece of that culture, and after I finish laughing, it kind of makes me go, "Hmmmm...."  Or, maybe, "Epic Fail."

Such as the case of Jessi Slaughter aka. KerliGirl13 aka. Jessica Leonhardt (per Know Your Meme). In short, this 11-year-old girl got on the Internet and kind of pushed the envelope looking for attention while affiliating herself with music groups and cultures that are, to be kind, "way out there."  The graphic in this text is taken from her piczo page (which may or may not exist by the time you read this).  In any case, apparently she got razzed by some people on YouTube and she played the tough gal and inadvertently attracted further razzing.  Along comes Dad, sees his daughter all upset, and decides he's going to make an example of these punks.  He gets onto a video with Jessica crying and starts yelling into the video with such comments as that he's "backtraced" the people who did this and they've been reported to the "cyber police and the state police" and that if they go after his daughter "the consequences will never be the same."  Uhhh....okay.  Dad, let me give you a bit of a lesson from an old-school Internet nerd who got mercilessly teased in school before there even was a such thing as the Internet:  You just made matters worse.  No, really, you did, for several reasons:
  1. In the old days, you could say such comments and the kids would run past your house and mock you.  Today, kids take the video of your full-of-rage rant and mix it to music (or otherwise parody it), then put it back on the Internet for the whole world to see.  You'd be surprised how many people see it, too.
  2. It's understandable why you'd be a bit upset to see your daughter crying because a bunch of kids made fun of her...BUT...did you realize you just threatened a bunch of people who you don't know.  You don't really know what these people are capable of.  You made the same mistake your daughter did, except you're expected to know better.  Worse, though, imagine one of the kids you just threatened ends up dead somewhere, and they "backtrace" only to find that this kid was somehow associated with teasing your daughter.  Do you understand how quickly your ass will land in jail?  I'm sure you only got online to teach the "little pricks" a lesson by scaring them a little, but in the eyes of the law these days, understand you're guilty until proven innocent in this kind of situation.
  3. Most importantly, you reacted without looking at the kind of stuff your daughter was putting out there on the Internet.  You didn't supervise her use of the Internet (an adult resource, by the way).  You didn't take any time to understand the music groups and the culture your daughter was affiliating herself with.  You were not being a parent.
To Jessica...  Hey, there...  Do you actually have any idea what half of the terms you have in that graphic I included really mean?  You think you're so grown-up and really have a belief system that is so much more real than what everyone else is and does.  Surprise.  Maybe you should consider the meaning of the words you profess to be what you believe.  Why?  Well, in your father's words, because "the consequences will never be the same."  Or something like that...

For a further chuckle, see the following link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvAZKbkVvMg ("Play Jessi Slaughter's Family Off Keyboard Cat")

DYSCLAIMER:  I don't agree with anything in that graphic with Jessica's comments above.  I just included it for reference...

PS: Yes, I know I spelled "disclaimer" wrong...  That was on purpose.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

More Movie Reviews

For some positive stuff today, here are some movies (or other stuff on DVD) I have seen to talk about...

The Notebook -- I have been told that this is the quintessential "chick flick," but really it's a plain good movie.  Yes, it deals with relationships, deceit, and infidelity, and the ending is kind of predictable, but the story keeps you kind of glued to your seat.  This movie asks the question, "What do you want?" when one is presented with a decision based on family pressures.  What happens when you make the wrong decisions along the way, and now have to make a decision to hurt one person or another?

Avatar - It really is as good as you've heard.  Amazing special effects, lots of action, romance, and the usual "greedy people destroy the natural beauty of a world to obtain something that's financially lucrative."  I found myself wrapped up in the fictional world in the story feeling as though it were real.  While obviously imaginary, the special effects brought the alien world to life.  Love conquers all, good conquers evil, and so on.  This is a long movie and very intense, but was well worth seeing.  If you can catch it on Blu-Ray, do so (I didn't, but it would have made the amazing scenery even more amazing).

Assume the Position with  Mr. Wuhl - This is a two-episode miniseries that is the actor/comedian Robert Wuhl lecturing at a college history class in NY City.  Think Penn & Teller/Bulls**t meets history class, challenging commonly held beliefs about events in history in a very humorous way.  The first episode was excellent, keeping my attention and causing mucho laughter.  The second episode felt a bit strained, taking foul language and sexual innuendo a bit further than necessary (again, think Penn & Teller).  There were two things that I walked away feeling:  First, I wasn't sure whether what was presented was actually true.  If so, it's time to get some of this into public schools for sure.  Second, I really was itching for another episode.  I remember Robert Wuhl from his part in the movie The Hollywood Knights.  He's really a funny guy.

My Father the Genius - An biography of Glen Howard Small (an odd architect) by his daughter Lucia.  This is an independent film that I found extremely well done.  I call Lucia's father "odd" because he is:  On the one hand a man that is a "visionary" of sorts (but I would call him more of an idealist).  At the same time, he's a man who struggled with any true understanding of women and neglected his family in pursuit of his architectural dream world.  Lucia's presentation in this film shows these things in a tastefully frank manner, while at the same time showing how understanding her father was both a frustration and labor of love.  Lucia Small is another of those people I would really enjoy meeting in person someday.  Her father, not as much, but he's interesting in his own right..

Revolution OS - Okay, any Linux guy must have seen this once before, and yeah, this was a repeat for me.  I remember the first time I saw it, and I don't think much differently about it now.  While there is some interesting history of the open source movement in this film, I found that some of the facts presented were not entirely true.  It was hard to say whether this was simply a different interpretation of certain events from what I understand, an attempt to water things down so the average Joe could understand it, or if they just changed things around to sensationalize them.  It's not an outwardly bad movie, but I think it covers too many different aspects of what has happened with computers.

TiMER - What if you could purchase a device that was attached to your body that would tell you the exact time that you would meet your soul mate?  This is the premise behind TiMER.  Note that your "timer" doesn't start ticking until the other person gets their's.  Okay, obviously a fantasy, and while it raises some heavy questions, this is a more light movie.  I enjoyed it somewhat, but it seems to fall a bit short and the family dynamics are not entirely believable (even as fiction).  It's a romantic comedy drama with a touch of fantasy.

The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra -  Best way to describe this movie:  A spoof of 1950s sci-fi/horror movies that is unmistakably a spoof.  The entire movie was purposely made to look like a low-budget black-and-white "B" movie.  All the characters are over-the-top bad (again, purposely).  The plot:  You have three different sets of characters trying to obtain atmospherium from a meteorite that recently hit the Earth.  Now, sit back, turn off your brain, and enjoy the ridiculousness that this movie basically is.  If you're a fan of old sci-fi/horror movies, then you'll find this a riot.  If not, then base your interest on how much tolerance you have for silly movies.  I didn't dislike it, but it isn't a movie I'd really want to see again for a while...

Friday, July 9, 2010

Rebirth

I have been asked by several people to resurrect the blog.  It seems that there actually has been some value to the information and commentary posted here.  Along with those requests, I have received numerous comments/suggestions:
  1. Aim to post something positive every day (or, post two positive comments for every one rant).  This is an ideal to shoot for, but I doubt that it will be this way.  That said, I will attempt to achieve a better balance.  I can't promise this, but the attempt will be there.
  2. Allow people without a Google login to comment on the blog.  Unfortunately, this isn't something that will work long-term because of the amount of spam.  See more on this below.
  3. Move blog to a different service, such as WordPress.
  4. Use Facebook or similar service instead of a blog.  I don't like Facebook much, and it is extremely difficult to restrict certain discussions to certain groups of people.  The good part of this blog is that the only people who know who I am are the people who I have told and can generally trust.
  5. Stop complaining about Flash.  Not gonna happen.  In fact, of all the rants I have had, it seems this is the one that is starting to catch-on.
  6. Comment more on various road trips.  Most of the trips I take are very uneventful by design.  I also need to be discreet about disclosing my identity to the entire world.  I am perfectly happy owning-up to what I say, but there are certain individuals who can use what I say out-of-context in a harmful way.  If you don't believe me, take a look at some people who have lost their jobs because of some pictures they posted or something they said on Facebook.
I am considering some changes here, but have not yet decided what to do.

One advantage of Blogger is that its integration with various Google services means that the content is quickly indexed for Google searches, and photos can be transparently stored in Picasa (which doesn't yet require Flash, and has a reasonably large storage space).  Blogger is also easy to use and customize without any additional fees.  The downside of Blogger is that it is not easy at all to create tabular formatted content necessary for some technical presentation.  People who are familiar with Tom's Hardware (http://www.tomshardware.com/) are familiar with the kind of format I am talking about.  Yes, I could move the tech talk elsewhere, but to me one of the advantages of a blog format is the ability for others to comment on the material and effectively extend it.  Blogger has no ads.  That all said, a change is in the works, but I'm not sure what it will be yet.  I'm not sure I want to move everything to WordPress right now.

 Some potential things I have been considering:
  1. Moving to WordPress.  The key reasons for doing this are that there are a number of plug-ins that allegedly can address the comment spam and allow some additional features that could be useful.
  2. Reformatting the Blogger layout used here so that the presentation is wider, and would be better suited to technical presentation as well as what you are reading now.
  3. Running my own site, so I can customize it down to the code level.  Each time I consider this option, the brakes are usually applied once I consider the numerous security issues I would have to deal with...
  4. Breaking the blog into multiple blogs.  I'm not a big fan of this because it requires people to need to check multiple blogs.
In any case, all this is in the works.

Note that one change that has taken place is that all comments here are currently being moderated.  This is strictly to eliminate spam.  I think everyone here knows by now that I will always allow a differing opinion to be presented in the comments as long the comments are constructive (and I have allowed a very wide latitude on that).  To date, the only comments I have removed or refused to post are clearly "comment spam."

I will also attempt to respond to a few comments made during my hiatus.

So, anyhow, I'm back.  Look out world.