On Patience

May 5, 2008

Patience is a virtue.

I could do with a little less enforced virtue right about now.

It all began with an Amazon order.  You may (or may not) recall that I’ve posted about Amazon a few times in the past.  Generally speaking, I’ve been pretty happy with their selection and service.

This is starting to shift a little bit.

I ordered some products a little over a week ago.  And as a nerd, I’ll come clean; I ordered a memory card for the PSP, a game for the same, and a book.  You see, I have some travel coming up and I wanted to have some things to help pass the time on the plane and in airports.

TruckThis order — placed over a week ago — still has not shipped, which effectively means it has no hope in hell of getting to me in time for my trip.  This is annoying.  I wrote Amazon about it, and the response was a courteous version of “You chose the super saver shipping.  This basically means we can dick around with your order for the next week and you just have to smile and say ‘thank ya kindly.'”

Which got me thinking: the only way to get this so-called “super saver shipping” is to place an order of $25 or more.  If you do this (with certain products) it means you qualify for free shipping.  But that doesn’t mean that they give you free shipping; it means you can now choose secret shipping option #3, which gives Amazon the right to take obscene amounts of time to ship, let alone deliver, your product.

So why not just offer this up front, without the minimum volume limitation?  I mean, if you’re basically just pooling shipments and achieving efficiencies in your logistics, why use this to punish the customers who purchase higher average orders?  If I’m spending a lot of money on your site, and you’re going to promise “free shipping” for doing so, shouldn’t this actually mean that I get my product shipped free of charge, rather than that you’re now going to use the slowest, cheapest, most crap-assed way imaginable to get it to me?

Just a question.

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On pizza and taxicabs

April 16, 2008

There are two things that Jersey City just doesn’t seem to have figured out yet.  One is how to make a good pizza.  The other is how to drive a cab.

Let’s start with pizza.  We’ve been here about six months, and while we don’t eat pizza incessantly, we do order it a few times a month.  And we have had abysmal luck at finding good pizza parlors.

This was particularly surprising to us, given that you can scamper a half-mile across the Hudson to Manhattan, where there is no shortage of really, really good pizza.  I would have thought that some of that might have been smuggled over to the Jersey side, intentionally or otherwise.  I would have thought wrong. 

We’ve tried a number of places: some recommended; some located online; some pulled at random from a phonebook in a moment of desperation.  Of all places, it turns out Pizza Hut is the only place we’ve found that serves up a palatable dish.  No offense to Pizza Hut, but if that’s the best pizza in a neighborhood, then the neighborhood has some ‘splainin to do.

2111012249_38496a6292_m We have also had pretty bad luck with cabs.  Again, unlike Manhattan, cabs are not plentiful throughout all areas of the city.  In certain places, at certain times, you can hail one if needed, but generally you’re going to have to call ahead if you actually expect a car to be anywhere within a hundred blocks of your position.

Given that I travel to and from the airport on a fairly regular basis, I’ve been experimenting with different cab services.  Not because it amuses me; because I keep having such crappy experiences with each place that I vow never to use that company again.

Why not just use the taxis that are waiting at the airport, you ask?  Three reasons: they’re stupidly expensive; the experience of being lined up and herded into them at the airport makes me envy cattle at a stockyard; and the safety standards in the cars themselves are suspect, at best.

So I keep trying the different companies around the area.

A few weeks ago, on our way back from one trip, my wife and I called for a car as soon as we got off the plane.  We went and picked up our bags at baggage claim, then went outside to wait for the car we’d called.

That was our first mistake.  Evidently someone ahead of us had elected not to bother waiting, and had just hopped in our cab and taken off.  We found this out when we called the taxi company to inquire as to where in the dangling hell our cab was, and were told that the driver had already left, and they were going to have to send someone else.

Could you please have the driver make sure that they’re actually picking up the right person this time, I asked?

I’ll call your cell when the car arrives, responded the dispatch.

I was not reassured.

So we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

As chance would have it, a car from another company was waiting there.  He’d been there almost as long as we had, and was coming to the realization that whoever had booked his cab had long since taken off.  After a quick discussion we realized that we were in a position to help each other: we needed a cab, and he needed passengers.  Done and done.

About halfway home, my phone rang.  The cab we’d ordered in the first (or second) place was finally pulling up to the airport.  I let the phone ring, pulled out my little black book, and added yet another cab company to the ever grown list of places I will never call again.

Image by Phillie Casablanca.


Why my blog doesn’t have pictures

March 22, 2008

Quite frankly, it’s because I can’t get them to work.

Every attempt follows pretty much the same pattern.  I go to Flickr, find a photo I like that’s under the Attribution License, and download it.  Then I fire up a new subject, upload the image, and copy it to my post.  The picture shows up, happily, in the upper right corner of the post.

That’s when everything heads south.  For some reason, as soon as I try to wrap text around it, the image just disappears.  The HTML tags around it don’t, but the image itself pulls a Batman and vanishes.  No amount of clicking, editing, raving, or swearing will bring it back.

I begin Googling.  The first time I went through this exercise, I was pretty confident I’d have a solution in a few clicks.  Not so.  I’ve been to Lorelle’s excellent and informative post on adding images to a blog, and to a host of other sites that mention, however briefly, the challenges of having an image appear on your post.  But I’ve yet to find a mention of this particular issue.

It should be noted that I am using WordPress.com, rather than WordPress.org, which means I don’t have access to many of the funky features and plugins that are otherwise available.

Frustration mounting, I begin threatening my computer, WordPress, and the internet in general with dire consequences if this image does not properly appear.  I plead.  I bargain.  I promise gold and a universe full of fame.  It has no effect.

And so, with a mightly flourish of whispered profanity, I strip out the image and publish the bland, black-and-white text to my blog.  I vow that this time — really, this time — I am not even going to bother trying to include images in my blog anymore.

I keep this vow for a week or even two.  Then the superior graphic nature of the blogs about me begins to weigh on my mind, and I find myself once again drawn to try, just once more, to get a simple bloody image to work.

As you can see, I have still experienced no success.

Update: About 2 minutes after I posted this, Lorelle shed some light on the issue, as reflected in my next post.


Why do companies insist on focusing on the short term?

March 1, 2008

It’s easy to sit in my home office and lob criticisms over the wall at various and sundry companies out there, but I really do need to ask this: why are so many of them determined to capitalize in the short term, at the expense of long-term viability?

What set me off today was my Verizon phone.  I, like about 95% of the people that live in this area, have a Motorola Razr.  Honestly, the thing is absolutely ubiquitous.

Anyway, I snapped a couple of pictures with it the other day, and decided this morning that I’d like to move them over to my PC.  I figured that would be simple enough.  Hook up the mini-USB cable I have, copy the pics across, and away we go.  Yes?

Nope.

Verizon, it seems, does not want me to have access to my own photos on the phone.  Instead, they insist that I either pay them for a special program that supports this, or else email the pictures to myself, where standard messaging rates apply.

I hunted around on Google this morning for other options, but without downloading drivers from shady websites or hacking into my phone, I haven’t found any way to just get the pictures I took onto my PC.

Fair enough.  I’ll just email them to myself.  The whole reason I wanted to avoid this is because the clunky interface on the phone makes it truly annoying to try and email, but if that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I have to do.  Only it doesn’t work.  I keep getting “service unavailable” messages when I try to send the images to myself.

So now I have these pics that I took that are trapped on my phone, because Verizon feels it should control what I do with my own content once it’s on a device connected to their network.  The kicker in all this is that I’ve already signed up for unlimited text; forcing me to send this message over Verizon’s network won’t make the company an extra penny.  What it has done, though, is take a customer who was previously perfectly happy with Verizon’s service and made them truly, deeply annoyed.

It reminds me of Mike’s post on Techdirt, about how they choose to send the full content of their blog posts out via RSS, rather than sending snippets out and forcing people to come to the site.  In the short term, forcing people to the site puts them in front of the ads that generate revenue.  But in the long term, it makes it more difficult for people to get to your content, and that makes them less likely to bother with you in the future.

We should also call attention to the Streisand effect, where people try to have content they don’t like removed from the web but only serve in making people more aware of it.  Short-term gain, long term catastrophe.

And, of course, no conversation about short-sightedness is complete without a reference to the Doug Morris interview in Wired.  Morris is the Universal Music CEO who stated that giving up $1 today to make $100 in the future meant that someone, somewhere was taking advantage of you.  Mike has already done a pretty solid job pointing out huge, gaping holes in Morris’ reasoning, so I won’t repeat his arguments.

Why do companies do this?  Why are they willing to infuriate and drive away long-term customers to make an extra 3 cents on the dollar now?  I don’t know — and I’m not sure a good explanation really exists.


And now, a topic on which I have absolutely no authority

February 28, 2008

A friend of mine, who teaches high school, sent me a message a while ago about Professional Development days.

As it turns out, those PD days that we loved as kids, because they meant a day off, do not carry quite the same lustre for teachers.  No, instead the teachers use that opportunity to develop their professional skills.

So far, so good.  Self-improvement, continuing education, dedicated time devoted to development — I’m all for that.

Then I read the list of professional development activities that were available to choose from:

1. Having your dreams interpreted
2. Going for a run in the community
3. Playing co-ed Volleyball
4. Participating in a Yoga class
5. Fitness with an exercise ball
6, Scrapbooking (small fee required)
7. Card-making
8. Basketball tips and workout

I need to ask you to ponder that for just a minute.

Of all the skills imaginable that a professional teacher would want to or might need to hone… would dream interpretation be at the top of your list?  Proper exercise ball technique?  I have no problem with these things as hobbies, or interests, or electives — but this is what teachers are given as their professional development?

If I knew my high school teacher was spending a Friday afternoon boning up on card-making, one of two things would happen: I would become deeply afraid of him or her; or I would become completely unable to look them in the eye without wincing.  It might even be a combination of those two.

I feel for teachers.  I really do.  It would take a far braver person than I to face a high school class if I were armed with naught but mad yoga skills.


Fashion

February 14, 2008

Christina Binkley has an article in the Wall Street Journal today that brushes on a question I’ve asked myself many times: why do fashion shows flaunt designs that nobody in their right mind would ever wear in public?

I should clarify that I am in no way a fashionista, so take these comments as coming from the layperson whose interest in fashion is purely pragmatic.  I want my clothes to keep me from being naked, keep me comfortable, and make me look good (insofar as that is possible), and in that order.  So when I’m flipping through channels and hear the thumping music announcing a model’s strut down the runway, and see a waif on the brink of starvation emerge from the fog wearing a truck tire held up by jumper cables, and hear the announcers talk about a designer’s bold choice of material and the clever commentary they’re making on the environment, I have to stop myself from banging my head against the coffee table and lamenting the global collapse of intelligence.

Clearly, these fashions weren’t designed for me.  But I have to ask – were they actually designed for anybody?

At least the article in the WSJ highlights some designers who are making clothes that could be worn somewhere other than the catwalk.

 There.  That’s my rant for the day.