Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Customer Service. Now With Continuing Randomness.

Almost three weeks ago I wrote about a company living deep inside a dark pit of evil.

All monopolies seem to go this way. Qwest is no different. I had a problem on April 6. Sundays are exempt from customer service according to this company's principles, so I had to wait until the next day.

On Monday I talked to three people, the last two of whom promised me new replacement equipment the following day. Not absolutely bad. A problem on the 6th and new, free equipment on the 8th, to keep as my own. Yeah, right.

On Wednesday the 9th after no news I called again, and was assured that my equipment was on its way and would arrive that very same day, by 5 p.m. Heh.

Thursday I finally bought my own DSL modem, then called Qwest again on the 18th. Since it was a Friday the two people I talked to (a nice guy and his nice supervisor) guaranteed that my equipment would arrive, a little slowly, but definitely on Tuesday, April 21. I had decided that if I could get my hands on it I could resell and get back the cost of my purchase. Waiting, tick, tick.

Today is April 30 and I am waiting in silence for my next bill. I want to see that they're still charging me rent for the defunct equipment I sent back. Then I'll go to the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the Utilities and Transportation Commission, and finally to small claims court when they don't come through with a refund.

How cool would it be to get a judgment of $5 against a huge multi-state corporation and then put a lien on their property? And then do it again the following month, and the month after that. And then keep it up forever. Until they try to sell a shed somewhere and find that they have to pay me first.

Meanwhile I've had another experience. One not bad but not great. It worked out OK, but like a situation I got into over the winter, it could easily have gone the wrong way. For me it would have been an annoyance, maybe an infuriating one, but for the company I was dealing with, well, a few screw-ups can be a major hit to viability.

I've been waiting months until the Shuttle KPC small form factor PC became available. I wanted to take another whack at Linux, and this baby looked good. Really good. Small and sexy.

Finally, the day came. It was available. I found a place carrying it, ZaReason, a small assembler of Linux systems. But configured the way I wanted it (fairly minimally) it amounted to more than I really wanted to spend. Good luck though. ZaReason had another box, a bigger one, but a lot cheaper even than the Shuttle. Deal.

A quick check turned up lots of good customer reviews. So within about two hours I went from never having heard of this company to feeling really good about it. I want to say feeling good about "them". I felt that there were real, ethical people working there. So I ordered a custom built box and a smallish LCD monitor for $624, plus $19.24 in shipping. I couldn't believe the shipping charge. To prevent unwarranted hyperventilation from suspense, let me say that both the cost and the shipping charges were true.

Ubuntu/Kubuntu Linux 8.04 was due in a few days so I asked them to wait for it. Then began waiting for them. That was on April 15, 2008.

By the end of the following week there was no news from them, and nothing showed up under my account when I logged in to my account. I thought it might be time to check in so I waited through the weekend and late Monday the 28th sent them a query by email. I got a nice answer, but wasn't actually able to read it until after the computer and monitor arrived the next day.

In the interests of continuing to defeat unwarranted suspense, I have to say that everything was OK. All fingers and toes accounted for.

So why am I such a whining fool? What's the point of all this crap?

Well, I like them. They got lucky. So did I. Things worked out, but that's not a good way to run a business, as I found out earlier this year when I decided to send my sister two late Christmas presents.

Her birthday is December 9, and she's been shorted her whole life, getting one present at Christmas and never anything for her birthday, so I bought her two presents. One was some good chocolate and the other was some good coffee.

I wrote about this before in "Customer Service, Where Ha' Ye Gone?". But I'm still bugged by it, so I gratuitously sent the innocent at ZaReason's shipping department a page-long email on customer service. I might have been just another insane raver to him but tried to use a cheery tone. Tried to be helpful They could use a bit. Only a tiny bit, but I'm really on their side and wanted to be useful.

Maybe the company is too small yet. Who knows, but for them I had to contrast what happened to me with Chocosphere, of Portland, OR and Batdorf and Bronson of Olympia, WA.

The latter company had an insane online ordering system that completely mangled the information I entered. I had to log on to send them a message -- no simple email for them, no siree. Then they sent me a paper invoice through the mail, and I then heard nothing about my order.

Eventually after much fuss my sister ended up with two coffee shipments. The first one had temporarily disappeared and the second one got sent by Batdorf and Bronson to make up for the first one. Most of the shrieking and hair pulling was my fault. I'm like that sometimes. I could have been avoided it if Batdorf and Bronson had simply sent me a UPS tracking number. Which they did on the second, free order. For some reason. Maybe to kiss and make up. But though I'll buy coffee from them as long as I live here I'll never order online from them again as long as I live, period.

Chocosphere is kind of the opposite in most every way. They have a pretty crappy web site, like late 1990s, but it works. It's easy to use. Smooth. The site may look amateurish but its processes are great. They even have a temperature range option so chocolate orders don't melt en route. You can say "ship no matter what", "ship only below x degrees", or let them decide. They care.

I got immediate email confirmation following my order.

When the order shipped I got another email with a UPS tracking number. I let my sister know when to look for her package. When it arrived she was right there. Then I got another email from Chocosphere confirming that my order had arrived. I already knew that, but I felt even better about the company. It was obvious that they cared about what was happening, and what I thought.

I don't have enough money to keep ordering chocolate, unless I want to blow all I have and die in a diabetic coma. I'll have to think this through. It might be worth developing diabetes so I can die in a pile of chocolate wrappers. But only the good chocolate. And I'll buy it from Chocosphere.

It's kind of funny overall. The good, responsible and reliable businesses like Chocosphere are easy to forget about. You order a product, you get it, you forget.

Dealing with an inept system such as Batdorf and Bronson had (here's hoping they've fixed it) makes you obsess. You want to keep poking your finger into the wound. You want to keep proving it's really as bad as that, because you have trouble believing that it is. You begin muttering to yourself, then waving your arms and having screaming arguments with yourself. Even in public. You can get to a point where it's the only important thing in life.

This is a lot like any other job performance. Do your job throughly and well, get it done the first time, have it stay done, and you become invisible.

If your work blows up, creates all kinds of havoc, those are the people who stick in your mind. All too often they get thought of as smarter and more valuable, for a while at least, because they are obviously doing harder work. If not then it wouldn't blow up, would it? Sometimes they can keep doing that for years.

With an online business life isn't quite so mellow. They can't be the boss's pet, or get second or third chances, because they're basically vending machines. Pull the lever, lose your money, and that's it, baby.

Which is why I wrote my email to the folks at ZaReason. They're better than that. They sent me a good product at a good price. They already have a good reputation, and some really happy customers. They deserve a friendly heads-up. They're just a little too close to the edge right now, when a simple automated email or two could guarantee that even if something goes horribly wrong during order fulfillment, they will stay on the bright side of the line.

There's nothing better after all than dealing with people who try hard, get it as right as they can, and then follow through gracefully when the monkeys get to wrenching around. As they do from time to time.

With ZaReason I'll order again, as soon as I need a Linux laptop. You betcha. And I hope they listen to me too. Because I'm on their side.


Batdorf and Bronson. In Olympia, WA. Home of great coffee.
Chocosphere. In Portland, OR.
Customer Service, Where Ha' Ye Gone?
Shuttle KPC.
Tom's Hardware, "First Look: Shuttle's Bargain KPC"
Tom's Hardware, "Shuttle's New $99 KPC Review"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Dreaming Of Socks

This is going to sound strange, but pay attention. There are lessons here.

A few days back I discovered a new web site. Well whoop-de-do, you say. Who hasn’t? At least one a day. Or more. True. One point to you, but who’s keeping score? That wasn’t the main idea anyway, just the intro.

Here’s the deal. This site has a lot going for it, a lot of things everyone can learn from, and it’s worth investigating, especially so if you are a woman or know one. (How universal is that?) So if you want to stop reading here and do your own looking and thinking, go right now to Sock Dreams. Whether or not you come back is your decision, as they all are.

Here’s what I see that makes an impression on me.

First, the site is distinct, unusual. In a good way. You won’t accidentally mistake this site for another, although its basic structure is pretty average. There is a big banner at the top with a navigation bar just under it. Main content is placed vertically along the left side. On the right is access to the shopping cart, to a search option, and a menu listing more specific product categories.

There is nothing unusual about this, but the graphic designer made it look special. The colors on the navigation bar don’t quite “match” in a way we’ve all gotten used to. They aren’t all the same, or shades of one color marching in a steady procession from one end to the other but they work together to make a person curious about where they lead.

The type flows. The home page is full of curves, inviting. There is white space. No crowding. What you see first is “Welcome Sock Lovers & Dreamers!”, and then some clues about what kind of place you have found: “Female owned & operated in Portland Oregon since 2000. We’re not your usual sock shoppe, nor do we intend to be.”

There is a large logo under the introductory text. For me this is a little too big and a little too flashy, but it is distinct, and helps establish the site as a non-corporate sort of place.

Overall the site works, and well. It is quirky, unusual, unique even. And that is good. The site is colorful and well organized. There is a good use of Flash, normally the bane of web sites. Usually Flash is applied with a shovel by inexperienced designers gone amok, eager to show cleverness and ignorant of business needs, but here, in one small pane on the home page, it works, simply and unobtrusively. This one little view displays a few rotating product shots without either locking up the whole site or driving visitors away, screaming.

So right up front this site establishes what it is about and what you can expect. It looks simple but isn’t. There nooks and hidey-holes, surprise turns, several ways of getting to products and information about the products. Come in through the main menu and peruse general products. Then click on an image somewhere and pop up inside a whole line of similar products, or a line of products from one manufacturer, or somewhere else again. It’s all good.

Exploring here is like being in a funhouse, a friendly one. You don’t care about getting lost or being abandoned at some dead end, and you aren’t. This is rare.

Images, images everywhere. Though I can’t find it now, I believe I saw a statement that the owner, Niqkita, does most of the photography. Whoever does it, it is stunning. These are not standard catalog shots. They are not socks pinned to the wall. Each image is unique. Each one is interesting. The models and sets vary. Many are outdoors. Each color of a sock has its own image, with the model in a fresh pose. Nothing stale here at all.

I know exactly how a guy sees the product shots, and I can understand why the name of this business was once “Fetishize Me”. I can almost guess how women see them. Almost. It must be fun. But not kinky. This isn’t a sex shop, but more like a playground. Or a party.

There is a lot for young spicy women, but also for every other woman, and for every girl you can imagine. That is made clear. The owners and staff are obsessed with socks and things (anklets, arm warmers, foot care products, footie socks, garter belts, gloves, half socks, knee highs, leg warmers, leggings, midcalves, over the knee, petticoats, scarves, sock garters, t-shirts, thigh highs, toe socks, washing supplies, wrist bands...and more).

The “About” page is personable and interesting. It is clear. It is easy to read. It was not written by a software program, a lawyer, or a corporate drone. The story begins with “Years ago there was a girl whose feet were always cold”, and goes on from there to tell the story of the business and the sock faeries who work there. You end up dead certain that you will be dealing with real people.

Want to know about shipping and payment policies? Just go to the pages that deal with them. There is no need to enter into a transaction just to get to the buried shipping options page, only to find that they can’t deliver to you anyway. Many, many other sites get this wrong. Many of those sites belong to large businesses, and they all deserve to close.

Not Sock Dreams, which also has a simple and interesting FAQ page, with photos, and easy links to more information. Again, it’s all up front, well written, sprightly, and easy to get to.

One feature I stumbled on, one that isn’t openly linked to, is a weblog (the “Sock Journal”). This illustrates two more good aspects of this site. First, it is focused. The blog does not have long rambling stories about vacations, or recipes, or politics, or relatives. It’s about socks, and illustrated. Every post leads back to the store somehow, but with a soft sell. It is all lighthearted and full of photos. Once again, the quality of the photos is fantastic and they help breathe more life into the products.

Second, there is an ongoing dialog between the owner and her customers. They share their experiences and their exuberance for socks. Sounds silly, but the customers go nuts for it. They love socks and the shop. The owner loves socks and loves helping her customers. And it keeps the store thriving.

The overall approach of this site is humble and playful. It represents a business but one with heart. Each part of the site is focused. The owner makes it clear that she does not and will not carry every product, and gives her reasons. You understand. It’s about socks and she wants to keep it that way. And you end up agreeing.


Sock Dreams
Sock Journal

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Playing With The Dead

I have finally succeeded in finding someone weirder than I am.

I am not weird. I am unique. I am special. I am fun, and inquisitive, though I have secrets. Very special secrets that I will not tell you about because that would make me just like you. And maybe I don't want to either like you or to be like you, and maybe not have you like me either. Also, being honest here, just why would you be interested in any of my secrets anyway?

Are they really secrets or am I just being private? Is that allowed anymore?

Maybe that's enough, the just wanting privacy thing. People think that if you like being anonymous and quiet and sort of staying over there at the edge where things are calm and no one asks you to do things you don't want to, that you have a disability, a "secret", and then they want to "know" it, and bug you about it. Which ruins all the fun of either being private or having secrets, or of both having secrets and keeping your own thoughts in a carefully tended garden where they can play without being loudly hooted at by boors with bad breath and sticky fingers.

Maybe it was my friend Arnie who first clued me in to this. It is my first memory of the difference between me and normal people. I was still in grade school, the lower grades, and hence very young in today's terms, since today is several decades farther on. Arnie was over at my place one day. Come to think of it now, we moved out of that place around the time I was 10, and I don't recall my sister, who was born when I was eight, so we're looking back through a long time tunnel.

Arnie and I were playing Chinese checkers and eating candy. I think I noticed that some of the marbles were sticky. Arnie did it.

Right there, that was it. He had sticky fingers. This is something that I have strenuously avoided my whole life, even then. I could not believe that he would let his fingers get sticky, or put up with it once it happened. He said it didn't bother him, so I tried it. I got so sticky that I could hardly spread my fingers. You could almost hear the velcro rip as I pulled the fingers apart, then allowed them to magnetically back together again, and then repeated the cycle.

I think that Arnie did wash his hands before he went home, but I did it almost immediately, after 15 minutes or so of trying on stickiness for size. It didn't work for me then and doesn't now.

I don't like getting stuck in things, especially the thoughts of others. Don't like ceremony or routine. My most hated word is "should", most hated phrase is "supposed to". I like taking a clean look at things and coming to my own conclusions, which is one reason I didn't do any research papers in college.

Luckily I was able to get by. No one really demanded any, but it was an option. I preferred to go the other way, to do my own reading directly from original sources, do my own thinking, and then write down my thoughts. Good thing that I was in literature instead of sociology or history. Not like today, when teachers demand research, and students then pay others halfway around the world to whip up something, or cut and paste from Wikipedia. There was cheating way back when, but I never saw the point. I was paying for the pain, might as well attain the gain. No one ever came close to pretending that I ever, ever could have stolen words elsewhere. Because they were original. That was obvious.

Because they were weird.

That's another word I hate. Weird. My sister gets a pass. She can say it. She has paid her dues, and I owe her apologies for many things, so she gets in free. If you say it you might go home with a bloody mouth and swollen lips. Just because. Just because you're an idiot. At least say something that requires a few seconds of thought. Please. It will be easier all around. And I won't have to go to jail to get my point across succinctly.

So there I am, being original in my own sort of way, a legend in my own mind, which is not too bad considering that people will get all freaky if you tell them you have enough clothes to do laundry once a month. How stupid are they?

And this one wasn't my idea, it came from a friend who once confided that he'd bought enough socks and underwear to go two weeks. A month is a whole lot better, so I customized his method. Sometimes I can stretch to five or six weeks with a bit of judicious hand laundering. Once you've stopped spending two hours every week doing laundry you gain a new perspective. One month's laundry takes maybe two and a half hours. Compare that to about nine hours the old way.

But an idiot will say, of course, "That's weird". Which is equivalent to saying, "I'm a total idiot and I've never had a thought or emotion unique to me. All I know is what I see on TV, so I'll go ahead and bray now", or of just standing there and drooling while staring at the wall, waiting for instructions.

So if you (yes even you) go off half cocked, fully cocked or otherwise and do something not even remotely original but only uncommon or even unexpected, then you will see the whole flock pivot to face you and quack and gabble in unison, "That's weird", and then stand there, waiting for you to burst into flame and quit annoying them by being not what they all are.

Which is a good reason to keep to yourself. Which will inspire more unique thinking. Which will trigger more idiots to gabble and drool.

Which is tolerable in a way, but they can be dangerous in groups, if challenged, or if simply startled too suddenly by originality.

This is the story of my life. But now we have the internet, so now it's possible to run across things that force you to admit that there are people out there more original and more creative, harder working, odder, stranger, more wonderful and scary than you could ever be. And they even provide (1) photos, and (2) stepwise instructions.

Right now, I can honestly say that I have no idea how I found the mouse mouse. Maybe it was a couple of weeks ago when I was searching for video clips of how to make and use lightweight backpacking stoves for my other blog. Somehow I can't quite remember the connection, but bing! there was a picture of a mouse with a mouse inside it.

This was the interface of electronics and taxidermy, of computing and biology, of irony and butchery. Someone stuffed a dead mouse with a computer mouse, and posted the results for the world to see.

I wouldn't have done that, probably, but I sent it to my sister. She needed to see it.

Hey lookee, kid, I didn't do this, but someone did, and they're weirder than I am. I'm not weird if you'll recall but in case you need proof again, here it is, kid.

I haven't heard from her. I'm sure she liked it in her own way. I didn't dig through the details but only looked at the photos and she probably never visited the Instructables web site, but she had proof. One or two photos included with the email would have been enough. Remember now, I'm not weird, right? I know I'm your brother and I spook you every now and then, but lookee here, this is really weird, right? I mean. Look, eegh.

For good measure, and in the interests of providing balanced coverage, and also to prove that compared to the rest of the world, even to little girls, I'm pretty harmless after all, I sent another URL and another photo or two on mouse taxidermy (amateur, home-style, kitchen table hacking) showing a young girl holding up two dead and dried mice in costume.

She seems pretty happy about it. The girl in the pictures, not my sister, who still hasn't responded. She seems to think it's normal and fun, the girl.

This could be true where she comes from. Who can say?

I myself, having thought it through have decided not to call it weird. (What in hell is that word even supposed to mean anyway?) But to think of it as possibly gruesome and perverse (which can be a fun way to label other people), or maybe only as unnecessarily strange. I say "strange" as in unfathomable.

I like little things. I especially like rodents, and kept hamsters for years. But live, playful, healthy and happy hamsters, and respectfully buried them when they wore out. Given that keeping a pet often involves imprisonment, especially for small animals, I always regarded keeping a pet as involving a sacred contract. In turn for imprisoning a hamster, who would gladly have run off to be suddenly eaten if given the chance, it was my responsibility to give it the best and most solicitous care that I could, first to make up for the evil that I did by keeping it in a cage and then because it deserved the most interesting life I could imagine for it in payment for depriving it of its natural entertainment by running free and dying young.

None of this, in my book, involves killing an animal, hacking it up, and stitching it back together around a miniature computer mouse. Or stuffing if full of LEDs and batteries. Or dressing its tiny dead body in tiny crude costumes and playing house.

So OK, there they are, playing with their dead things. I hope my sister is happy now.


Mouse mouse.

Mousy dressup.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Qwest That I Have Sucked At

I believe that I have joined the crowd. I get 84,100 "qwest sucks" hits via Google. That might be a total, or 84,100 per hour, if what I read about the company is consistent with my experience.

I hate AT&T so much that even though the company was bought by SBC Communications in 2005, and then SBC Communications changed its name to AT&T (brand recognition), I would still never do business with them again even though the company with the AT&T name is not the one I dealt with.

Even if no one cares, I'm doing the writing here, so I'll whine, and I now feel the same about Qwest.

I once had dialup internet access. It was through AT&T. At first they billed my credit card once a month. I did not like that but it worked. Someone at my office said they were OK, and he was OK, so I tried it and it worked. AT&T was good.

Later they had the ability to bill me monthly and I changed my account. Everything was sunny in my happy valley for a couple of years. Life on dailup was slow but good.

Then my connection began dropping. And again, and again. I had my modem set to auto redial. Once it dialed 135 times before I was able to get a solid reconnect. Usually the connection would fail, my modem would redial, I'd get a connection, and then after three to five seconds the connection would snap again. And the modem would try again.

This was not fun. At least for me. You might have liked it but I had other things to do than count the number of times my faithful little modem would let itself be kicked in the diodes and still, despite the humiliation, try, try again. It was my little electronic buddy.

AT&T, wherever, whoever, whatever, was like a surly elevator operator.

Maybe you've never had the pleasure. Elevators used to have drivers. A surprise to me, most of them liked standing in a metal box all day, having their bowels churned by acceleration. Most of them were people persons. One of the benefits of living in a slow place was visiting the North Dakota capitol, the highest building for hundreds of miles in any direction, which had elevator operators until way late.

Eighteen stories, the building. Built in the 1930s to impress. Actually a masterpiece of late Art Deco. Lots of brass. Right at the balance point of Art Deco and Bauhaus. Pretty cool, really, at 241 feet, 8 inches.

And I walked on the roof twice. Once when my uncle, a minor muckity-muck, took an out of town cousin and me on a tour, and later when I worked next door at the State Historical Society of North Dakota and we were out rummaging around for some reason or other. I looked over the edge both times.

The KVLY-TV mast in Blanchard, N.D. is still the world's tallest structure, at 2063 feet, soon to be surpassed by the United Arab Emirate's Burj Dubai ("Dubai Tower"). Since 1963, no less. Let's hear it for North Dakota, America's Forgotten Wonderland.

Anyway, not every elevator operator is a happy soul, and a sour one giving you a tongue pummeling can remind you of why you want to stay in school so you never have to be one. What can you say to a guy who has to stand there all day and yank a lever either up or down? You play turtle, pull in your head, fight the fatigue, and have a shower when you get home.

Dealing with AT&T was like that.

I finally figured out that my computer was not the problem, and I had really tried to find one. I got lots of advice from coworkers who knew all about the fiddly bits, the hardware and the wires and things, the hanging parts, the ugly stuff, and where my computer might be mucked up. I was not a guts and innards person, but I asked those who were and went off troubleshooting and my end turned up clean.

Then a hiking friend clued me to a small local company providing internet service. I signed up and switched over. Perfect. Still dialup, but considering that, as good as it gets. I was happy. Next step: get off AT&T.


Couldn't do it. I searched. No web page to terminate service, no email address, no phone number. Evil, evil incarnate. It took me about three months to work it out, and I had to bear with it right up to the point that they were going to turn it over to a collection agency. Somehow or other I got through to the one single last human working for the company and somehow or other he fixed it.

Some time later I switched to Qwest DSL service. Worked fine. Zoom.

And then one day it stopped dead. I called Qwest and got a barely human person. A guy who sounded like he was eager to move from fifth to sixth grade so he could be appreciated as a grownup. Clueless tyke. Like a noisy puppy bouncing around happily, who tears things up and poops all over. Kind of interesting. For a minute. Didn't know they still made these things, you think to yourself right before you get terminally annoyed and consider homicide by phone.

Anyway, Qwest said A-OK, so it must be my internet service provider. Have a nice day!

Um, no.

My ISP was able to tell me why it was Qwest's problem, and exactly where in the system the problem was. Unlike the Qwest people, who simply said they were really, really sure that the internet thingy and my ISP thingy were at fault. Just because.

This happened a few times. Usually the outages were brief and suddenly service was back for no particular reason. And then I stopped having outages. Everything was fine for about two years.

Until Sunday. Things were working, then they got slow, and then they were not working. At all. Forever.

I went through the drill. Being smarter now, I called my ISP. No problem there, as usual, so I called Qwest. But this time they had no people on their end. Just a robot system. I had to go through a list, back and forth, question and answer, and then the robot finally said it would connect me with technical support, at which time I got a message telling me to call back during business hours. From Monday through Friday.

Cool. I pay for seven days a week of phone and DSL service, 24 hours of each day, and their priorities do not include providing service when they would rather go home and forget about customers who pay for their big buildings.

I called back several times, trying to get more info, and tried pressing zero all the way through the "conversation", but this trick didn't work. No luck. I called back on Monday.

Monday, Monday, ah, Monday.

First, I had to get up at 3 a.m. to drive some friends to the airport. Luckily I slept well, but also kept waking every hour. This is a rare trick. I wish I could reproduce it at will. I was deathly afraid that I'd wake up at 6:30 and have to wear a wig, a dress, and move out of state, quickly, and live under a bridge. My friends were on their way to Turkey and they needed me for the first leg. I came through. Started at 4:30 and got them to the airport a hair after 5:30 and they were pleased. Even paid me.

Back home again, I called the robot. Same robot. Always the same robot. A pleasant guy but with a plastic soul. He always stuck to the script. There was no way of derailing this guy, so I played along. OK, so we get to the last step where he turns me over to technical support. It is about one minute before 9 a.m. on Monday. Another voice comes on the line and says that I should please call back during business hours and then I have been disconnected. Bang. That's it. How nice is this?

Without internet service I was also cut off from my calendar and missed a medical appointment on Monday. That's the last time I do not write myself a paper note.

So I called back, and went through the whole tedious robot routine again. But this time the system did not hang up on me. I went on hold. How lucky was I? Feeling? A nice voice said that my estimated time on hold was one minute. Six minutes later I was talking to "Paul". He had an accent. Good old Paul. Our relationship didn't last long because he wanted me to go play with my computer, and it was across the room, so I had to say goodbye to Paul.

At least this proved to me that I couldn't contact my DSL modem (a.k.a., DSL gateway). Now at least I knew that this was not my ISP's fault or Qwest's fault, but a simple hardware problem. The modem was dead.

So I called up the robot again. He was cheerful and courteous. He asked all the same questions again, in the same sequence, in the same tone, and I could not run around his ends. He was all enveloping, all knowing, all encompassing, all B.S.


Back to the humans, "53W Val" this time. Same foreign accent. Thrashed around a lot with her. She seemed very nice but kept charging way ahead. I had to keep asking her to repeat herself. Cut to the short hairs: she gave me a thrill. By saying that my rented modem was obsolete and would be replace for free, with one that they would give me to keep, forever and a day. For my very own.

Stupid me, I decided to see if I could find one quicker in town, then thought better of it and called back. "37B Brian" was my man this time. You da man, Brian, how you be dude? We buddies, right? Cool.

He had a different story, basically the third telling of the same dream, from a third perspective. The modem would still be free but it would be a different model than Val had told me. Blah, blah. On and on. OK, finally, do it, once. Today is Monday and it will be here, surprisingly, by Tuesday, he says, 100% guaranteed. OK, finally, do it. Done.

Tuesday. Heh.

Wednesday, I call again, the robot and all. Somehow I think I give the wrong response somewhere and probably end up at sales rather than technical support and actually talk to "Tricia PLIMBUR" who is the nicest of the lot and has no accent (i.e., hers is the same as mine). So cool. Modem on the way, expedited. Will be here today, 100% guaranteed. Pronto. Today.

Thursday. Heh.

I decide not to call again. I go out and buy one. Hook it up. It works. Costs me ninety-seven bucks plus change. I gorge. Been without internet four days. My regular news sites have filled up with juicy new bits. I have 24 spam messages in my email account, which almost looks good. So familiar. I delete them with relish. One has leaked through the filter, the first time since the spammers have rediscovered my email address about a month ago, but hey, I'm back in the land of the living and I squash it without opening and hear its shell crack. Let's hope that was good enough.

Friday. Still no modem. How much do I now love Qwest? Oh, a bunch, kids. Lemme tell ya, a bunch.

First three very nice people who did ever so much thrashing around. Very nice, all of them, but basically all clueless. Three people with three different stories. Each one had to leave the phone and keep me hanging while they ran around and talked to someone else about what the heck to do, and then came back and told me. 37B Brian asked God to bless me. I may need that.

Tricia was nice too, and sort of clueless but she was a lot more helpful and a lot more real. I believe she actually cared. I regret not counseling her to get a real job. She should. Stay in school or go back to school, escape the corporate mire. Get off the firing line. They don't care about you, kid. You're only stuffing for the cracks.

Monday I spent about two hours talking with no effect whatsoever. I could have shoved a screwdriver into my head and done just as well.

Then Tricia gave me at least a half hour on Wednesday. Qwest must be paying them almost nothing. Figure it. What is the cost of losing a customer and also paying for technical support to guarantee that your customer hates you and will desert you as soon as humanly possible? The cost of "technical support" must be free. I wonder why they bother.

Basically I have been lied to by four people. Four people who are not really to blame as individuals, but liars nevertheless. I had a problem and had to fix it at my own expense and on my own time even though I am paying for that service from Qwest. Qwest promised me new equipment and it isn't here. I have been screwed again. I guess they think I didn't notice.

I did. They still don't care. I still lose.

One thing worked flawlessly. Returning my old equipment. "53W Val" gave me an RMA (Returned Materials Authorization) number. I had the original box, all the packing materials, and even the prepaid UPS return label. I wrapped up the sucker and dropped it off at the UPS store a couple of blocks from my home, and have even tracked it because the label had a built in tracking number. The RMA number is on the outside where they want it.Now to see if they keep charging me rent for the dead modem. I cringe when I read about what other people have gone through just trying to do things like pay their bills online.

Maybe this isn't over. It could get worse.

There is a reason that I get 84,100 hits on "qwest sucks" from Google. If necessary I can pull on a wig and a dress, leave the state and live under a bridge. They won't find me there. Or on the Appalachian Trail. It will be backpacking season soon. Maybe all this modern life stuff isn't going to work out after all.



How to get around automated telephone systems.

More suggestions.

List of tallest buildings and structures in the world.

North Dakota capitol.

Qwest Can't Get Wireless Working Because Macs Are "Practically An Obsolete System".

QWest Sucks More Than Ever.

Why Google returns 37,800 pages containing "qwest sucks" -or- How To Lose Your Phone Service Using Qwest's Online Bill Payment.

"Qwest sucks" on Google.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Tumbling For The Tiny, I

I don't know about you, but I'm small. Relatively speaking. Not that I care, or compare myself to others all day, but just in case you were wondering.

Not that I care, or compare myself to others, but I've always been a tad smug about this. Totally without reason. We are what we are and that's it. No reason to feel good or bad about it, but I like being this way all the same. I guess that works for me.

I first had this feeling in a really strong way while in the rafters of a garage. My family was renting a house from someone, and the owner had a bunch of stuff in the garage, up top, on plywood sheets in the rafters. I went up there a few times. Pretty rickety but fun. I felt good to be small enough to wiggle around and snoop in the boxes, and light enough not to bring it all down.

So what the hey. That's just who I am, and as I said, I can't help it.

But somehow, for some reason, I've always been attracted to small things. I don't feel small unless I compare myself to someone else. Usually it's not feeling small but a form of amazement at how big the other people all are. Giant shoes. Basket-sized hats. How do they do it?

OK, 'nuff of that. It ain't the other people that are fascinating, it's the small stuff around me. Hamsters have been on my list for a long time. Cats are smaller than dogs, and maybe that's one reason I've always preferred them too. And when you see a dog smaller than your cat, it's still bigger in another way, the way some people are bigger than their physical size. Dogs are loud and jumpy and intrusive, and cats aren't. Smallness can manifest as silence and sleekness and efficiency and not only as tininess

Tiny-perfect is a phrase I've heard. Maybe it's a bit to precious, but there is a sort of perfection in many small things. Babies are special in a way not only because they're part of you (part of all of us) but because they're so physically tiny and helpless (another form of smallitude) but yet they have a kind of perfection about them that could not be replicated at a greater size.

Find stillness and calm, a quiet moment, and you find smallness and perfection. It all goes together.

So a day or two back I stumbled on a new web site. Now ain't that a revelation. For several years I've been pursuing ultralight backpacking, as in rolling around in the ideal and getting myself covered with its scent, and then backing off a notch or two to find the right blend of practicality and ecstasy. I even built a web site around the idea, and took to making my own backpacks, stoves, and shelters. Some clothing too.

One of my favorite places has been BackpackingLight. Following up on one of the forum threads by a guy who made his own ounce and a half backpack and seven ounce backpacking hammock, I saw a reference to UltraLight Living: "Ultralight: backpacking, clothing, homes, innovation, lifestyles, technology, transportation. Everything ultralight."

The idea is to take backpacking ideas and apply them to the rest of life.

This is right in line with the Green movement, the conservation ethic, and our new fear of the evil Dr. Carbon von Dioxide, Menace to the World.

The most interesting thing to me right off was the "UltraLight Homes" page. I like this stuff. Several years I stumbled on Tumbleweed Tiny Houses, and then a little over a year ago I found a piece in the New York Times on small houses. Some of these things are barely over a hundred square feet. Time to bang your head against the wall and howl, friends.

The Tumbleweed Tiny House Company is the one I'm most familiar with. You can get a feel from this quote: "My name is Jay Shafer and since 1997 I have been living in a house smaller than some people's closets. I call the first of my little hand built houses Tumbleweed. My decision to inhabit just 100 square feet arose from some concerns I had about the impact a larger house would have on the environment, and because I do not want to maintain a lot of unused or unusable space. My houses have met all of my domestic needs without demanding much in return. The simple, slower lifestyle my homes have afforded is a luxury for which I am continually grateful."

The idea: a small house can be thought out thoroughly and built well with good materials, be sturdy enough to stand up to delivery across public roads, and have wiring, plumbing, and appliances built in. Then it can be slid off the trailer, connected, and moved into.

"Most of our houses on wheels include a two-burner stove, an under-counter refrigerator, a bar sink, an RV on demand hot water heater, and a propane boat heater. We can certainly work with you if you have specific needs for built-in appliances."

Sounds good. I've always wanted a sleeping loft. Every kid has. Some lovers too. A place of many fascinations.

These pre-built houses are relatively expensive, relatively speaking, but they are built with good materials, and if you'd rather you can purchase plans and do the building yourself.

There are other outfits too, like Global Portable Buildings, Inc., which makes things from cargo containers (in either 8'x 20' or 8' x 40' sizes). They have 10 year structural warranties and can be delivered by container ship, plane, helicopter, truck or rail. Yow.

There is a lot more at UltraLight Living, and other places too, like the stray reference I bumped into at Nicaragua Living, about converting cargo containers in more of a do-it-yourself sort of way. I'm getting all tingly here.

The expats in Nicaragua tend to think of things in eccentric terms (compared to the rest of us). A lot of them are trying to get by with less, or with smaller things, or with simpler but sometimes more sophisticated things, so this general topic appeals to them too.

Make your life small and it's easier to handle. Check out the "UltraLight Homes" page at Ultralight Living sometime.


Alchemy Architects and the WeeHouse


Global Portable Buildings, Inc.

Nicaragua Living

Cargo container house

Think Small: New York Times on small houses

Tumbleweed Tiny Houses

UltraLight Living

Ultralight Living's UltraLight Homes page