Archive for June, 2009

Verizon: You’ll Take It and Like It

June 5th, 2009


I can’t tell you how overjoyed I am that my local phone company, Verizon, has made a generous gift of a peachy keen new voice-mail system. I can’t tell you because I am not.

Nearly everything wrong with such near monopolies comes with this announcement, one which offers no alternative. That is, there is no alternative except to find a new phone service. This is the catalyst to drop the land line entirely or go with someone’s package deal of net, phone and maybe TV.

Living in Boston, I don’t have many choices. The city gets payoffs generous rebates from some suppliers, like Comcast, for permitting monopolies. Suburban chums have options of several cable companies and several phone companies. Verizon even provides their pretty damned good FIOS packages to most of them, including a free HDTV to one wavering chum for taking a low-cost package.

Not in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. In fact, they won’t even offer DSL. That’s not because it’s technologically impossible. Rather, they just won’t switch my phone to the nearby central switching system. They route it many miles away to a different neighborhood and say, “You’re too far away to get DSL.”

slaves.jpgSo, for the voice mail?

The imperial and gutless Verizon left voice mail. On the home machine, each box had the identical, infuriating message. They’d replace our existing system with a new one. By the way, none of the greetings, settings, passwords or existing messages were coming over. At a time of their choosing, the old system will suddenly die and you must reprogram every aspect of system yourself. Your sudden last voice mail will say reprogram it or you don’t have voice mail.

We were get a letter, which has subsequently arrived, with the new and different commands to use. There is still no date for the transition and, of course, no alternative. We’ll do as they say and be grateful that:

  1. The main access number for the whole system remains the same
  2. We get a few trivial features that we didn’t want and didn’t request

The letter ends, “We value your business and appreciate the opportunity to serve your local telecommunications needs. Thank you for choosing Verizon.”

Having written on staff for business and management magazines for years and been a technical communicator for many more, I am stunned and amused by their arrogance, deceit and incompetence. In this century, placing nearly the entire burden for migrating to a new system on the customers is unbelievable. Moreover, spinning it like a benefit and a choice completes the corporate dunce dance.

Having been involved in software and telecommunications systems development too, I know better. Real companies who care about keeping customers happy — or keeping customers at all — automate software upgrades. They do the work and let the end users customize.

Whether their new voice-mail technology was internal or from a vendor, part of the specification and migration process should certainly have been in how to capture and move the existing accounts. Sine qua non, as we say in the Latin biz.

Instead, on a schedule of their choosing, Verizon suddenly notifies customers of the pending changes. They tell us to wait and act like trained monkeys when the (yet unannounced) time arrives and we hear a sudden voice mail saying our voice mail is hosed. They add that it’s our responsibility to go through the tedious process to return our voice mail to what we had before in effect.

I’m checking my options and Verizon is not on my list.

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Xièxiè, Kwai Chang

June 4th, 2009

Saturday evenings when I was a young bachelor in the West Village included Kung Fu. To this day, I don’t know what triggered and maintained my fetish with and enjoyment of David Carradine as the improbably and alleged half Chinese wandering martial-arts monk.

grasshopperTruth be told though, the women I dated in the early ’70s knew that on Saturday nothing started until Kung Fu finished.  That meant there’d be no 8 o’clock curtains for Broadway, off-Broadway or off-Broadway theatre that night. Dinner reservations depended on Kwai Chang Caine strolling off to the wooden flute theme.

I felt a tug reading today that 72-year-old Carradine was dead. Initial reports are that he hanged himself in his Bangkok hotel room. He was working on yet another film. We don’t know yet if he had intractable troubles — health? money? gambling? drugs?

We do know that his TV character would not have committed suicide. Kwai Chang was imperturbable, the deep well of sangfroid.

Actually, 72 is a decent life span. He did much and remained active. He didn’t fade away in a home, with as my mother used to say she didn’t want “somebody wiping my butt.”

I’ll watch casually with a little interest for the details. Meanwhile though, I recall the implausible dialog and hero/villain action of his first show. Thanks, Mr. C.

Next Day Follow-Up:  Published tale now is that he may have died during auto-erotic play. That could move the associated feeling from pathetic to dumb. However, he still has a place in my memory.

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Ogled by Google

June 4th, 2009

Google maps meI’m not sure how I feel about the inclusion. Google’s van has been around my neighborhood and made street-level pix of my house. Is that intrusive, flattering or just inevitable?

This morning, I got directions to the Mass Mutual convention center in Springfield. I’m headed to the state Dem Party convention Saturday. I’m  not a delegate, rather leading a workshop on blogging for the real delegates.

I often find Yahoo maps to give better directions, but I started with today. Suddenly there was the house across the street, for the first time. Sure enough, clicking the directional arrows, I was looking at my wife’s not so old van and my old car in front of our house.

Zooming in was fuzzy quickly, but the locale and accessories were unmistakable. From the looks, the image was pretty recent.

Previously, views of our neighborhood near the bottom of Boston  were overhead and not too definite. Now it’s personal. We live in what we locals would identify as the Woodbourne section of the Forest Hills area of the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. We don’t have points of interest like government buildings or even restaurants. We were understandably low on Google’s image-acquisition itinerary.

I think I liked that, being under the Borg’s radar. Now you can cruise up and down all the streets in Boston with the string bourne in them.  We’re there and you and tout le monde can peek at us.

I suppose the antarctic camps will be the last mapped.

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Bikes Spring Pointers

June 2nd, 2009

Like wheels attached to my butt, cycling has been a joy. I’ve been back on a bike for over a month following the broken leg/surgery and I’ve discovered a fab plain-folk cycling maggy.

I’ll grant my surgeons the doubt. Let’s say not that they were blowing smoke, but that they under-promised so that I could over-deliver.  When they told me I wouldn’t be able to be back on the saddle until September and that I wouldn’t want to spin the wheels until December, they let me prove them wrong.

I targeted May 15th for a ride to Boston’s City Hall Plaza for the Bay State Bike Week hooha.  In early April when I was just barely able to lift my repaired leg onto the stationary bike-like-object at the gym, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to do it, certainly not kick out of the pedals with my still shattered fibula. I had sent an email to our biking czarina, Nicole Freedman, apologizing in advance.

Well, I wheel more slowly than before, but I hit the road, figuratively, to the Blue Hills, Wellesley, downtown Beantown, and for arrogance and joy, every trip to the physical therapist. So, come that Friday, number two son and I biked downtown.

Nicole is savvy about promotion and passionate about biking. She was funneling folk with any kind of salable tale to Bill Nesson, who teaches visual and media arts at Emerson College. We got a chance to be simultaneously self-absorbed and bike enchanted. Maybe it was the endorphins from cycling in to the plaza. See one of our clips here.

Meanwhile, on that other coast, Momentum magazine is having way too much fun. Number one son found it first and talked up the Facebook group for it.  Join that to get their very frequent updates to online issues, features and events. For the Myers-Briggs S types, the print version is also widely available at bike shops. I grabbed the current one at Community Bicycle Supply in Boston’s South End Saturday.

Unlike the hardcore gear-head slick pubs, Momentum covers cycling in different towns, bike shop, books, safety classes, and a virtually any style of commuting, distance, off-road and other biking. It’s for people and not for pros or Peter Pan types in $200 jerseys. Good on ’em.

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Blossoming Humor

June 1st, 2009

Last evening, a child I’ve known since infancy came with her parents to dinner. She’s finishing her junior year at Boston Latin School. We are fairly connected, particularly in that her mom followed me as chair first of a church’s personnel committee and then as head of its board. I also solemnized her parents’ marriage.

Unlike a few years ago, the daughter has arrived at that wonderful point where she can be in the moment with adults. We aren’t such terrific dullards, necessarily. Sometimes our word plays are worth hearing and even enjoying.

I think of that apocryphal snippet attributed to Mark Twain, which he may have even said:

When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

While my 15 year old sat at  his computer at the far end of the long room, he was more like you might expect of his age. He feigned sophistication by eavesdropping and tossing the occasional riposte. Yet, he would not deign to join in.

Other teen guest though sat on the sofa between her parents. While not overly active in the conversations, she was physically present and paid attention. What I noticed was that at several points, she did chuckle. She had paid caught some of the adult allusions and witticisms…and enjoyed them.

There should be some awareness of that new maturity. The adequate frame of reference to assimilate adult humor, plus the willingness to participate ups the level of engagement. It’s a beautiful advance.

Glory of the Small

June 1st, 2009

thinwheel.jpgBob is unquestionably better at locating and extracting glass shards from tires than I am. Let us praise the specialized abilities of others. We can also hope that we offer such small talents that can help, but first, let’s us revel in these by another when we come across them.

During the Memorial-Day weekend retreat, we were off in a churchy clump cycling on the verdant and gentle Cape Cod Rail Trail. Right near the start, my rear tire went totally flat. I was not overly concerned, as I always carry a spare tube and pump.

After sending the horde ahead, I set to work, taking the tire off the bike and off the rim. I have done this before and knew to check the interior of the tire by eye and by running my fingers inside the tire. Over the years, I have located glass, an industrial staple and small nails in such efforts. I also checked the liner and rest of the inside of the rim. That was pretty quick as the bike used 25-mm tires with little real estate to check. I found no evil anywhere and reassembled it all with my new tube before pumping up and catching up.

Another seven miles away, I had second rear flat. Double damn. I had long ago caught up and as we were just short of the destination at Coast Guard Beach, I started work again beside the road.

Well, not only had I left my patch kit back at the retreat camp, I could not find anything to patch anywhere. Shortly after, I became away of kindhearted Bob’s special small talent.

He came back to help…with his patch kit. We agreed that it was odd 1) to find no cause for the flats and 2) that the leak in the tubes was almost on the rim side, like it came from a spoke head, although all those were well sunk and liner covered.

Bob’s talent showed that I was not as meticulous as I and others think of me. He opened the same tire I had searched several times in two locations. With great attention, he pushed from the outside as he turned what seemed a watchmaker’s eye to it. In about three minutes, he has located two minuscule glints. Each was a wee glass fragment, a tiny sharp shard.

One of them surely had snuck its way into the tubes and punctured them just enough for the leaks. Bob also had a knife with which he surgically popped the shards. Then we patched a tube and I returned to the camp, where I had and installed another tube and a new tire.

I do have an earned reputation personally and as a tech writer for attention to detail. Bob’s sharp eye and carefully inspection humbled me. I’m not sure that even if I had my glasses with me that I would have noticed those very small pieces of glass. He did and I was better off for it.

Let us praise the special talents of others freely given.

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