Archive for September, 2005

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My head is going to fall off

September 27, 2005

I truly believe that we are all asked to do too much in this world and that it is catching up with each of us. It is stalking me like a screeching beast inside my head, behind my eyes, deep into my shoulders and back. I unleash the beast on others as well as bear its burden myself.

Good old fashioned exhaustion is not really fun. It might come after a long trek up a mountain (real or figurative) or it might come from straining and never being able to lift the weight in front of you. In either case, it just takes over the body like a swarm of locust, a fog of apathy.

I am leaving tomorrow for another trip, this time to Rome. I really want to be excited about going, as it is someplace I have never been and is one of the foundations of modern civilization. But, I am just too tired. Perhaps once I am on the plane it will be more exciting and some of the exhaustion will lift. Perhaps not.

Nothing more particularly clever to say. My apologies to readers expecting brilliance or at least entertainment.

At least my iPod nano is coming with me.

And, I spoke to Cingular again today. She promised me the charge has been removed from my bill. Promised!

And, this afternoon (after I had spoken with Cingular) I got an automated collection call from Cingular.

And, there was another past due notice in the mail this evening.

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Yes, another bill from Cingular came in the mail today

September 22, 2005

And, have a I mentioned the other phantom “account” I have with Cingular (used to have with AT&T) that generates a bill for $0 each month? Has been doing so for more than a year.

It costs Cingular a lot each month to ensure I am frustrated (or amused).

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Google, Microsoft, Reality

September 18, 2005

I am a little annoyed by this story in Business Week. Although factually correct about many things, it paints a very skewed picture of the situation for most employees. Frankly, I think it is a little insulting to many of us that work at Microsoft.

It is never a good thing when a company loses valuable and productive employees, but it is also not good for the company to keep people that are completely out of alignment with the current state of the organization. The best superstar employee might not be the right person for the job, and sometimes they can cause more harm than good when they stick around.

Yes, Microsoft has made some changes to the benefit package. However, the benefit package is already so much better than 95% of the companies in America that is is trivial in the grand scheme of things. Unfortunately, many of the employees at Microsoft have never worked in another industry or had to realize that the benefits we get are amazing by the standards of most working Americans. People are up in arms because the company wants them to get generics instead of name brands? Give me a break. Go take a look at the cost of health care for the poor, the elderly, even the working middle class in this country. Go take a look at the health care itself in other countries. Now see if I have a single iota of sympathy because someone has to pay $40 for a name brand scrip instead of $0 for the equivalent generic. Yes, that is correct, $0 co-pay for prescriptions.

Microsoft is a $40 Billion company with 60,000 employees. If anyone thinks that Google will be able to continue to offer the salaries and bonuses they are currently offering 10 years from now they are really out of touch with the realities of corporate finances and growth. You can be as idealistic as you want, but the harsh reality is that no company in history can maintain such high double-digit growth forever. The economics of it just don’t work (do the math — do you really think Google is going to be bigger than Wal-Mart 15 years from now?).

I may not love everything about Microsoft, but I am never forgot just how good a package I have. I would love to make more money; who wouldn’t? But, I value stability and consistency and a future of real opportunity more than anything else.

For the record, I have worked at Microsoft for less than 3 years, so I am not a long-timer sitting on a fat stack of stock. I have also worked at enough start-ups to know exactly how that model works. I have made lots of money on any IPO but have had far more worthless options come and go.

Good luck to Google. I hope they are very successful.

I already know Microsoft is successful and has stood the test of 30 years.

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Cingular customer service

September 15, 2005

This is one of those blog entries where I actually take a company to task for being so incredibly bad at customer service that it enters the realm of the absurd. Cingular is one of those companies.

In fact, Cingular now holds a place of honor in the pantheon of bad customer service.

Yes, Cingular customer services sucks. (just in case any search engines have failed to pick up the topic here, I will repeat “Cingular customer services sucks).

The story is actually too long and convoluted to describe here, so I will just give you a quick summary.

How Cingular customer service sucks:

  • Cingular sends me, a happy AT&T Wireless customer, a piece of direct mail encouraging me to switch my plan to the Cingular network now that the acquisition is done. This is good for Cingular since they have way too many customer databases they are trying to maintain (I know this because I used to deal with both Cingular and AT&T Wireless as customers). This is good for me because they are offering a good rate deal and some free phones.
  • I call Cingular and discuss making the transition. This is the first of many many conversations I will have with these people. I try to explain to them how I want my AT&T plan transitioned and what I want in my Cingular plan. They don’t get it. (I have a very customized AT&T plan dating back to the first introduction of the GSM system and the fact that I use a lot of data and regularly made AT&T give me better deals).
  • After considerable conversation, they say “done! your new phones will arrive soon and you are now part of the happy Cingular family of customers. have a nice day and thank you for calling Cingular Wireless.”
  • I check the next day on their handy online system to see when my phones will ship to me (I am eager to get some new phones). The handy online system tells me the order has been cancelled and will not be shipping. I am puzzled. Instead of doing something useful with my time, I call Cingular again.
  • The new service rep says “hmmm, don’t know how that could happen. Let me check.” And he checks and checks (I am on hold a lot.). He finds whatever was causing the problem and says “All fixed.”
  • I check the next day on their handy online system to see when my phones will ship to me (I am eager to get some new phones). The handy online system tells me the order has been cancelled and will not be shipping. I am puzzled. Instead of doing something useful with my time, I call Cingular again. (sound familiar?)
  • Seems that my order did not go through right, says the rep. I am now frustrated. I begin to pressure him with the fact that I am a great customer and have been for many years with AT&T. I don’t want to move to Cingular system anymore, I want to stay where I am. Plus, I want some new phones.
  • We chat for a long time and get me back onto the AT&T system, but with the better rates of the Cingular plan. Since the phones they offered me to switch can not be used on the AT&T network, I have to choose from some others. I look at the list and say something like “sucky”.
  • Meanwhile, I am looking through the discount offers my company gets for employees (we are a very big technology company and score great discounts). Seems that T-Mobile is offering a better plan than Cingular and will give me a Motorola RAZR for $49 with a contract. Cingular wants me to pay $149 (with their “best” discount). Hmmmm
  • I now start pressuring the rep with this info and tell him I want Cingular to give me a RAZR (two actually, since this is for both me and my wife) for $49. He laughs. I tell him I am flipping to T-Mobile and will file a complaint through our corporate rep about the trouble Cingular has already cost me. I pressure and he puts me on hold.
  • “Oh boy, we can offer you the RAZR at $49” says my Cingular rep. In fact, with the additional discount I get through my company plan it ends up being about $44. He can’t believe he is able to do this, but so he is. I say “sold” and my account is now all set-up and two RAZRs are on their way.
  • All is right, a RAZR arrives in a couple of days. Where is the other one?
  • Oh, another box a couple of days later! Must be the RAZR! Open the box…
  • Inside are the two phones I ordered twice and cancelled twice as discussed above. That’s right kids, Cingular decided to send them to me anyway.
  • And, the other RAZR arrives a few days later.
  • I now have four phones.
  • I call my friends at Cingular again.
  • They are puzzled, to say the least. But, he swears all will be well and he will send me some return labels and I can send the phones back.
  • I get said labels and send phones back. Meanwhile, my wife and I are enjoying our $44 RAZRs.
  • Things are now good and settled and I can forget about Cingular.
  • A few weeks later a bill arrives. From Cingular. For the two phones I did not want, were cancelled twice, and were returned after receiving.
  • I call Cingular. I know the music by heart. My heart aches.
  • Oh well, says the first rep. Can’t help me with this, have to call credit department to get the bill put on hold pending investigation. She gives me the number (why they can’t simply transfer me I will never know). I call the credit folks.
  • The nice lady in credit says “oh no, I can’t help you. You should call customer service at this number (number I dialed in bullet point above). I am really angry now. Really.
  • I call customer service again. I explain again and again. The friendly Cingular rep has to hunt and find out what has happened. He has to call warehouses and other people and maybe even check with FEMA (early warning that they are not in good shape). Finally, they find that my phones are in a warehouse and once they are “processed” (which takes 2 weeks, god only knows why) then my account will be credited. I add one more tracking number and rep name to my long long list.
  • I am at ease. All is right.
  • Until another bill arrives telling me my payment for the phones I did not want and do not have is now overdue and I will have my account cancelled and be charged a $35 re-activation fee if I do not pay immediately.
  • Yes, this is for phones I do not have for an account that does not exist.
  • I am really really a glutton for punishment. I call Cingular. The friendly rep essentially has to go through the entire process the previous rep went through — finding the phones in a warehouse, talking to other reps, calling FEMA — and we spend a pleasant 45 minutes together. Finally, he assures me that the account I do not want using the phones I do not have is cancelled and I should not worry about the bill.
  • That was this morning. How long before I am billed again?

The total amount of time spent in the pursuit of phones and non-phones is in excess of 6 hours. Fortunately I make the calls while doing email in my office in the morning. I am on hold most of the time anyway. I can’t really work without those Cingular ads playing in the background anymore.

No single individual at Cingular did anything bad. They just never did anything good.

This is all the result of the absolute inability of corporations to merge their technology infrastructures the way they merge their legal and business infrastructures. Cingular has multiple systems, agents dedicated to specific systems, and no way to make it all work together. Cingular is busy moving accounts from one system to another, regardless of the fact that customers get screwed along the way.

I have a nice RAZR. Maybe I should call Cingular and see if I can get it upgraded?

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Some good things

September 11, 2005

Sometimes just a category of good things is enough to make the blog entry worthwhile.

Here are some good things in my world recently.

Apple iPod nano
You can choose to scoff and you can choose to ignore, but do so at your own peril. I remember being a kid and so deeply immersed in science fiction and the world I had waiting in the future. I had my 1970s and 80s gadgets and thought they were so cool (I doubt anyone reading this remembers Superscope cassette recorders — they were the Apple of their day and the hottest thing I had for a good many years growing up). I always imagined that the future would be filled with devices that could be carried around and do all sorts of things quickly and easily. Yes, Star Trek was an influence on my vision as well. There was something beckoning from tomorrow, and I so wanted to capture it.

The future has arrived. The nano breaks through a number of barriers, both real and Psychological, to create the perfect device of the true 21st Century. Unlike the original iPod, or even the mini, which both had a substantial “thickness” to them, the nano actually feels slim. This feeling of it being slim, something my RAZR barely achieves, is an amazing experience. Somehow, the dimensions are just so that it no longer feel like a “device” but feels more like a piece of information.

Add to this size factor the amazing color screen and the black body (black is clearly the new black) and without even knowing what the device does it is already something to desire. The fact that it plays music, carries pictures, has a set of world clocks (perfect for travelers), and even some simple games is almost beside the point. The nano is a key to a doorway. The doorway opens to the future.

Men’s Vogue

Yes, I am a certified over-35 metrosexual fashion slut. It is not enough that I already read the existing men’s fashion magazines, I once had my own subscription to Vogue itself. I love seeing the clothes, reading the stories, seeing the clothes, admiring the watches and shoes and briefcases, and seeing the clothes. I am not ashamed. I am their target.

Luis Martinez at Liberty Tattoo

The man rocks and did an amazing job on number three for me. Ask me if you want to see and I might oblige.

On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of he Kitchen — Harold McGee

Nerds who love to cook (and to eat) are a coveted target demographic lately. This book is the bible of this new religion of food elevated to transcendental consumption. Amazingly enough, I really had not paid attention to the existence of this book until recently. It was being whispered about in many other things I was reading, but never surfaced loudly enough for me to focus. My loss.

McGee explains everything that can be consumed. He does it beautifully and with both depth and breadth. End of review.

London

It is a city. Visit it. Stay at St. Martins Lane. Eat at Maze and Hakkasan. Buy a shirt at Ted Baker.

Oh, I did that already this week.

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The simple truth

September 9, 2005

I am not known for being overly optimistic. I am also well known for being a bit obsessive.

Taking that into consideration, I am really torn up about the whole Katrina disaster. It is devastating to us as a nation and beyond devastating to the individuals who have lost lives, homes, and all means of support. It is a political nightmare, for both good and bad reasons, and will likely do far more damage than simply sully the already dirty record of a lame duck President. It is a sign of hope in the outpouring of donations from citizens, companies, and other countries. The amount of space left in the American heart to help with tragedy is truly amazing. Our brothers and sisters should always come first.

But, we can not turn our backs on nature forever. It sometimes feels as if the entire civilization we have constructed is a gossamer layer of illusion stretched across the trees. New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen, and we all know that. Every time we build and put up the walls and dams and levees we are claiming sovereign rights over something we can not really control. Yet, we build our fortresses because it is easier to construct a wall than to move a mile left or right.

I was in New Orleans back in 1994 or ’95 for a conference. During the first day there is started to rain. By the time we all left dinner that night, the city was filled with water above my knees. Walking from the restaurant to our hotel was an exercise in fear, with the possibility of being swept down an open drain a genuine reality. People were scared.

The next day the convention center roof was leaking and everyone was going home. It was a scramble to get out of the hotel and to the airport. It felt as if I was no longer in control of my fate.

This was a mere inconvenience, although one that could have turned to tragedy quickly. The harsh reality for the citizens of New Orleans and Biloxi and other cities is far worse. It is a tragedy. It is also a tragedy that we never seem to realize that nature always wins.

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Watch me

September 8, 2005

GREEN DAY’S WAKE ME UP WHEN SEPTEMBER ENDS VIDEO