Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Mock Outrage’ Category

Shut the forecast up

That steel smell fills the air again, the kind of smell that belongs only to winter. It’s dry and cold and hard, and you can sense it seconds after stepping outside. Breathe in deeply and it will clear your sinuses, or at least make your nose sting, like a good horseradish. It is also the lingering signal that snow is on the way.

That steel smell fills the air again, for a…well, I’m not sure how many times it’s snowed this winter. I’m not sure I could count them all: the major storms, the small accumulations, the sleetings, the flurries that don’t even bother to build up. I don’t want to count them all. But many flakes have fallen, too many inches have been counted, and what we’re left with now now is a massive foundation of the stuff. We’re done building.  We are all weary.

And yet, each time a storm threatens to pass over the area, the grinning weatherfolk spring into action. “Welllllll, Philadelphia, have you had enough this winter? Because we’re looking at another two inches at least, and up to eight if the storm hits just right. Expect snowfall to start early [whatever day] evening, then tapering off by early morning. Let’s toss it over to the traffic desk to see how this will irrevocably fuck up your day, but not before I tell you we have another storm coming down the pike. Don’t put the rock salt away just yet!”

This is all they do.

It snows every winter, but every winter, every storm is 100-pt headline news. SNOW ON THE WAY. PEOPLE BUYING SHOVELS BY THE SHOVELFUL. REGION PUMMELED BY SNOW.

And, just, ugh. I don’t want to hear about it anymore. I don’t want to hear another weatherman telling me how massive this next storm is going to be. I don’t want to hear a family member or friend telling me how this next storm is “supposed” to go. That’s always how it’s phrased — “I hear we’re supposed to get X inches.” What is this, fucking whisper down the non-plowed lane? Who gives a shit how much we’re supposed to get?

How about this new policy? Everyone get a shovel, get some rock salt, get some boots. Weatherpeople, you tell us when it might snow, and we’ll wait. If it snows, we’ll shovel, we’ll deal, and the individual civic areas will hopefully plow. No one will run out of milk and bread because no one ever runs out of milk and bread. But please, for the love of god, cut out the snowstorm hype.

To illustrate my point, here is a very incomplete and off-the-top-of-my-head list of things I would rather hear than people talking about snowstorms:

  • A baseball argument about the value of batting average, or grit.
  • A 15-minute vintage Neil Young guitar solo.
  • A War and Peace book on tape, as read by Gilbert Gottfried.
  • An endless loop of Tanya Roberts screeching, “James! James! Don’t leave me!” as from the Bond classic, A View to a Kill.
  • An endless loop of people baby-talking to horses.
  • 23 consecutive Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials.
  • 24 consecutive hours of WIP sports radio callers. Or any sports radio callers, really.
  • Sarah Palin, the broadway puppet musical

Anyway, you get the idea.

Now, you may be sitting there thinking, “Come on, Mike, that’s a bit absurd isn’t it? Isn’t that meteorological knowledge something worth having? Isn’t it better to have an idea of how much snow you’ll be getting, rather than be surprised by a foot of snow? Wouldn’t you rather have that idea than sit there anxiously, wondering if this will be a dusting or a big, big storm?”

And I would say damn, theoretical person, that is a lot of questions. But yes, it is fairly absurd. About eighty percent of my motivation for writing this stems from my personal distaste for snow and winter, so I’m as biased as a Pepsi fortune heir filling out a cola survey.

Beyond that, though, I would find forecasts and snowstorm discussions useful if they were conducted with precision. If a TV meteorologist told me, “We will get 5.5 inches of snow in the 10 hours between 6 p.m. and 4 a.m,” that would be fantastic. That would also be somewhat revolutionary because that never happens. In reality, a week or so before a given storm hits, weatherpeople start cranking that hype machine by telling the public a snowstorm is coming. Then, three or four days out, they’ll guess how much snow will fall and sort of when it will happen. A day before, they’ll make slight adjustments, but the predictions are never exact. Then the storm turns into a traffic event.

This doesn’t relieve anxiety. People go completely bonkers over snowstorm rumor and speculation, mostly because they can’t speak with any certainty or authority. And so you start to hear people — even newspapers, for crying out loud — giving snowstorms nicknames. Sooner or later, people start talking about snowstorms like office workers talking about raises.

“Well, I hear we’re going to get one in April.”

“The bosses are supposedly giving a little salary bump at Christmas.”

You know what snowstorm I enjoyed most this winter? The one that dumped more than a foot of heavy snow on the region. I believe it was the largest storm of the season, but I didn’t mind because news forecasters completely screwed the prediction. They underplayed the amount and botched the timing, so people couldn’t build it into anything. It just…happened. And once the snow stopped falling, I got out there and shoveled, because that’s what you do, however much you hear you’ll get.

Read Full Post »

Earlier this evening, I discovered that I had six dollars in my checking account. I knew it would be low, because I still needed to deposit my latest paycheck, but not six dollars low. So I check the charges and see one for about 75 dollars.

Had someone stolen my checking card numbers again? That happened a year and a half ago, somehow, and the person who took the numbers tried to buy hundreds of dollars of Kangol hats and a subscription to eHarmony.  It was bizarre. Maybe LL Cool J was broke and looking for love.

Luckily, the card and its numbers had not been stolen. The charge was from Norton, of anti-virus fame. I didn’t remember purchasing anything, and best I could figure, it was an automatic renewal of services. I have very mixed feelings about those automatic renewals, or changes to agreements of service. People sign up for a lot of things — credit cards, auto insurance, health insurance, software, magazine subscriptions, gym memberships, shopper’s clubs, warranties. Keeping track of all the terms can be tough. Sometimes, a credit card company instantly raises rates, because it reserved that right, in very small print, on the document you signed. Other times, people forget about an annual service, and I think that was the case here. I didn’t need, have, or want Norton on my computer. So I sought a refund.

One of the great joys of big business is getting in touch with the company. It’s not like, say, a bike shop. If a mechanic at my shop torques a bolt improperly, or messes up the threading while installing a bottom bracket, I know where to take the problem. That’s why I love my local bike shop. It’s never messed up anything, but if it did, it would fix the situation.

With banks and other companies, whose headquarters are many miles away and whose services aren’t necessarily tangible, this task becomes tougher. With Norton, I had two choices — wait on the phone listening to bad music, or wait on my computer for a service rep. I decided to wait online, and this is what happened:

Mike has entered room.
If you get disconnected, click the link to reconnect to the same chat session.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.
We are experiencing higher than usual service times. Please wait and an analyst will be with you shortly.

Well, there were about 60 people in front of me, so I had to wait, and wait, and wait. I would like to meet these people in front of me, mostly to figure out if they, too, wanted to toss their laptops across the room.

Abhilash has entered room.

Oh! At long last.

Abhilash
You are being transferred to Abhilash.
Abhilash>Hi Mike, my name is Abilash from  Norton Support. how are you doing today?
Mike>Okay
Abhilash>Thanks for your patience, I am sorry for the delay. We have more people contacting us than normal.
Mike>That’s fine, I just want to get this sorted out.
Abhilash>Just in case I need to call you back, can I please have your phone number with the country and area code?
Abhilash>Sure.
Mike>XXX-XXX-XXXX, country’s USA
Abhilash>Mike, I see that you are charged for automatic renewal and need refund ?
Mike>But I wonder what you can tell me about this renewal of services. I was charged 75 dollars on Saturday for, I presume, a renewal of anti-virus software.
Mike>correct

It was fun learning that the same cross-conversation problems of instant messaging applied to customer service chats with Norton. I find it amusing. I’d never walk into my bike shop, listen to a mechanic ask about my gnarled wheel, and then say something like, “You see, I have this problem with my wheel. It’s mangled.”

Abhilash>May I know the date of charge and the amount charged ?
Mike>1/15/2011, and for $74.19
Abhilash>May I know the reason for the refund ?
Mike>I didn’t request the service. At least, I don’t remember ever requesting the service, and I’m not even sure what it’s for.
Abhilash>Can I put you on hold for 2 or 3 minutes while I look into this for you?
Mike>sure
Abhilash>Thanks, your case number is XXXXXX176, please write this down.
Abhilash>I would like to assure you that I will help you with the refund.
Mike>ok

Now, at this point I was pretty pleased. I wondered if I could have fibbed about the money, and I also wondered how Abhilash knew who I was in the first place. Presumably Abhilash did, and should have known about the charge.

Abhilash>Mike, we’d like to keep you as a customer and what we we’d like to do for you is to install Norton 360 on to your new computer and provide you with an extra year onto your subscription at no extra cost. How does this sound?

It sounds fucking terrible is what it sounds like, Abhilash. Keep me as a customer? I just requested a refund. I don’t want to be rude, but that sort of implies I am rejecting your company’s services.

Mike>Wait, what?
Mike>First, I’m confused about this in the first place. Is Norton still running on my computer, and can you tell that it is?
Abhilash>Could you please check and let me know whether you see any Norton icon in the computer ?
Mike>I don’t see one
Abhilash>It is not in your computer.
Mike>And there’s no Norton/Symantec program in the programs list
Abhilash>Then you do not have Norton Program in the computer.
Mike >There is a Symantec LiveUpdate icon in my Control Panel, though
Mike>ok
Abhilash>Live Update is used to update the virus definitions.
Mike>ok

Abhilash>May I install the program for you ?

Mike>wait a second, no
Mike>I don’t want it, which is why I was requesting the refund
Abhilash>The refund will be processed within 2 to 3 business days and it will show up in your next billing cycle (within 10 working days depending on your bank). Would you like me to go ahead?
Mike>No, please do not install anything.
Mike>I appreciate getting the refund, and would just like to end the business relationship there.
Abhilash>I am not installing anything and I am processing the refund.
Mike>Okay
Mike>that sounds perfect

This exchange illustrates why clear communication is so important. After Abhilash asked if I wanted the year of Norton 360, I never said no, but I also never said yes. That’s why I found the question — “May I install the program for you?” — so bizarre. I imagine that Abhilash had an installation button beside the keyboard, and was waiting for the final go-ahead before launching that missile. But for all the waiting and the last-minute sales pitch, I was glad to get a refund without much hassle. It was a good resolution. But I was curious.

Mike>I am curious, though
Mike>How were you able to ascertain my account information/banking information?
Abhilash>Mike, I have processed the refund for the automatic renewal and have disabled the automatic renewal so that you will not be charged for the same in future.
Abhilash>It was a pleasure assisting you .Is there anything else I can do for you ?
Mike>Thanks. Would you be able to answer the question about account/banking information?
Abhilash>Sure, since you have registered it when registering the Norton Account online.
Abhilash>The refund will be processed within 2 to 3 business days and it will show up in your next billing cycle (within 10 working days depending on your bank). Would you like me to go ahead?
Abhilash>We include the auto renewal feature on our online store because a lot of our customers don’t want the hassle of remembering to renew their subscription every year to keep their PC protected. But it’s totally optional, and I can update your account to make sure you aren’t charged automatically in the future.
Mike>That would be great
Abhilash>Mike, I have processed the refund for the automatic renewal and have disabled the automatic renewal so that you will not be charged for the same in future.
Abhilash>It was a pleasure assisting you .Is there anything else I can do for you ?
Mike>But as far as identifying myself, did you use IP address, or email?
Abhilash>Email address.
Mike>Ah
Mike>Thanks for that
Abhilash>Before we finish today you will be receiving the refund with in 2 to 3 business days, would you like me to send an email confirmation on this?
Mike>That would be great
Mike>I appreciate the help
Abhilash>Mike, you will get an email notification of the refund and can also have the case number for future references.
Abhilash>Thank you for contacting Norton Support.  Have a great day!
Abhilash>Bye!

I’m not sure when I gave my e-mail address to Abhilash; maybe when I requested to chat on the Norton site. I did enjoy Abhilash explaining that the reason Norton has an auto-renewal feature is because many customers don’t want to remember to renew the anti-virus service every year. I’m just the opposite, of course. I’d rather have a company ask me before taking 75 bucks out of my checking account. I’m in the process of saving money, so often don’t have a lot in my checking account, and might have been staring at an overdraft fee. While I can appreciate Norton’s stance, I think customers are just as likely to forget the automatic charge as they are to forget to renew the service. Perhaps Norton could automatically send an e-mail as a reminder to renew, rather than snatch money.

But Abhilash provided a decent customer service experience. I went into the chat in an adversarial state of mind. I expected to argue over terms of an agreement, but Abhilash made it easy. It’s just too bad I don’t want the product.

Read Full Post »

Snow makes it hard to do a lot of things and gums up the processes of day-to-day life during the winter. The sky dumps six inches of snow on the ground, and suddenly you’re budgeting time to shovel, wearing boots to work, re-mapping your driving routes to avoid big hills, worrying about your car getting plowed in, or worse, someone taking the parking spot that you spent half an hour clearing. Respect the folding chair, goddamn it!

It’s actually a little like a poison ivy rash — everything will be fine, but it’s a pain in the ass for a week.

Snow also makes it hard to stay active if you’re a road cyclist. I can handle the cold, but rock salt, slick compressed snow, and narrowed roads definitely increase injury risk. But this is convenient, because I’m sick of my bike by the time winter rolls around and don’t want to get burnt out. So I reduce saddle time to let my body rest, and challenge it in new ways. A great place to do this is at the gym. The only problem is, gyms can be expensive.

Luckily, there’s a moderately priced chain of gyms, a fitness oasis splashed in purple and yellow accents — Planet Fitness. It’s quite a bargain at $10 per month, about half of what I’ve paid at other gyms, which also tried to sign me up for a personal trainer on a regular basis.

Planet Fitness doesn’t do that. Instead, it presents itself like self-checkout at the grocery store. Sure, it’s a little impersonal, but you have the freedom to go in, get what you need, and get out. And if you have no idea how to work the machine, someone’s available to show you.

Above all, Planet Fitness markets itself like the anti-Gym, and I capitalize G because Gyms are what drive people crazy — the personal trainers, the grunts coming from the free weight pit, the juice and nutritional shake bar. They’re usually packed, and they’re usually packed with people who are very serious about fitness or very serious about getting fit.

Planet Fitness, on the other hand, seeks to remove the pressures of Gyms. Muscle shirts are discouraged, for instance. Every location has a Lunk Alarm, which sounds when someone’s making too much noise. The company also has an official, registered-trademark philosophy of being the Judgement Free Zone. According to the company’s website, this means, “members can relax, get in shape, and have fun without being subjected to the hard-core, look-at-me attitude that exists in too many gyms.”

That’s cool. No one likes facing all kinds of pressure from staff members while trying to improve fitness. To the company’s credit, or at least to the credit of the staff at my particular gym, the approach works. I’ve been a member for a year or so, and have seen only one person judged openly — he was grunting like Maria Sharapova while grinding away on an elliptical machine. And that works for him, even if it makes people around him nervy.

Something about the place’s marketing has always bugged me, though, specifically the Judgement Free philosophy. Planet Fitness markets itself like this easy-going, breezy place to get more fit, like a person saying, “Hey, man, you want to get more fit? Awesome, awesome. Well, we’ve got all these machines and stuff, so go for it. Right on.”

But doesn’t Planet Fitness still judge? It has deemed that people being too serious about fitness — grunting, wearing muscle shirts — is a bad thing, something that shouldn’t happen in its Judgement Free Zone. That seems like a judgment to me.

When I went a few days ago, a new banner hung above the entryway. I said something to the effect of, “If you need two hands to count your abs, this is not the place for you.” Well, why not? Because you’re too fit? It is possible for someone to be fit and not be an asshole about it.

Most people who are really into fitness don’t care all that much about fitness that is not their own. And anyway, I’m pretty certain that if an ultra-fit person at another gym was intimidating other members with fitness, or constantly annoyed because a less-fit member was using a desired machine, that person would be told to calm down or leave.

I suppose you could argue that a beginner surrounded by really fit people might become intimidated and stop going to the gym. This happens in cycling a lot, when advanced riders don’t give a beginner the time of day and yank the hope rug from under the newbie’s cleats.  I lucked out and was part of a club led by some fantastic people.

But that argument doesn’t fly in this case, because gym-goers are a lot more autonomous. And those people with gallon jugs of water, with fitness notebooks, with training regimens? They still exist at Planet Fitness. A lot of gym membership intimidation stems from the atmosphere and the staff itself, not other members.

Besides, Planet Fitness doesn’t actually prevent really fit people from joining, and I’ve never seen a person kicked out for having a defined midsection. What Planet Fitness really has here is a marketing approach targeted at fitness beginners who don’t want to spend a boatload of money on a gym membership.

So I applaud Planet Fitness for cutting out a lot of the bullshit about gym membership, and for figuring out a way to make it appealing to everyone. It’s a very chill atmosphere, it’s pretty inexpensive, and it works for a lot of people. And really, all that I typed above isn’t that big a deal, and it would be better for everyone if everyone stopped making stupid judgments and adopted an inclusive attitude, and I realize that complaining about marketing that slams fit people ranks about 15,000,000 places below important. But just maybe tell your marketing department to cool it on making judgments. At least spell the word correctly, for Christ’s sake.

Read Full Post »

Apples and Oranges

Here’s one thing I’ve never seen: a person in a grocery store, holding a Braeburn and a navel, one in each hand, muttering, “I can’t. I just…I just can’t. It just can’t be done.” Of course, that’s taking the idiom too literally.

I get the point, even if it also seems a little silly that this saying exists at all. If the idea is that you can’t validly assess Item A and Item B by the same criteria, you’d think the person who thought it up might choose the apple, then turn around and find a vegetable or legume or something. After all, it’s even more ridiculous to compare an apple to celery or walnuts, unless you’re making a Waldorf Salad. [/FawltyTowersnerd]

But then, it’s really pretty easy to dump on the orange, isn’t it?

You can’t simply eat an orange. Unlike pretty much every other standard fruit, you can’t just pick it up and be set. You have to peel it, which can take anywhere from 10 minutes to 10 years. You have to be able to wash your hands. And even after all that, there’s no guarantee you’ll have a tasty, juicy piece of fruit.

You’re on the go? Congrats, now you look like a jackass because you have nowhere to go with your peel shards, and everything you touch is sticky and smells like citrus.

And if you don’t feel like peeling it, you’re left with slicing it into wedges, making the purchase basically fraudulent. It’s like biting into a water balloon — splash! All over your mouth. Trying to grab a napkin before the orange juice runs from the chin all the way down to your neck is a fun race. You might as well bite into the side of a juicebox.

How about PR? What are oranges good for? Preventing scurvy? Sounds appealing! And anyway, green peppers can do the trick just as well. Oranges certainly sell, but mostly as juice, for Chinese restaurant chicken, and as wedges.  It’s a multiple-step fruit. At least bananas have the good sense to perforate their peels and make for useful practical joke props — no, this really does work, as an unfortunate soul learned walking across the dining hall floor during my freshman year in college.

How about the fact that nothing in the OED rhymes with orange? Hundreds and thousands of words…and not a goddamned one. At least purple turned into a people eater as revenge for creating a word that can’t easily fit in a couplet.

And then we’re back at the idiom — It’s like comparing apples to oranges.

It’s like comparing apples…

…of which there are eight million varieties of varying crispness, sweetness and tartness

….which you can eat whole, slice up, don’t have to peel, can turn into sauce or juice.

….which even have a patron saint, Johnny.

It’s like comparing apples, the mighty apple, to…

oranges.

And who would want one of those?

Read Full Post »