Sunday, December 28, 2008

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Legend, Billy Holloman

The Legend re-surfaces! B3 Organ Player Billy Holloman just showed up on my radar for the first time in a few years. I had the pleasure of helping to produce (along with Kenny Horst) an album featuring Billy back when he led the Tuesday Night Band at the Artists' Quarter. It's still one of my faves, and I really miss both the AQ and the chance to see Billy play on any given Tuesday evening. Those were the days, man.

It was great to get a message from Billy and hear that he's still out there, doing his thing. I imagine we're going to hear more from him in the very near future, and I'll be sure to mention it here and elsewhere. Mean time, find him over at his MySpace page, linked from www.billyholloman.com.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I-GO First Try

Well, I reserved a car last night, for just two hours, to drive myself down Howard to Best Buy, to pick up an order I placed online. Last night's adventure was interesting, but I'm not going to call it a success.

First, when we got to the parking spot for the I-GO car (at Morseland), the car wasn't there. I called I-GO and explained this fact to them. They called the person who was supposed to have checked in the car by now, then calls me back. "Sorry, running late due to weather, ETA 10 minutes. Do you want to switch to a different car?" No, there's only one car at Morseland, and other I-GO cars are a bit of a walk, so we'll wait it out. I-GO extended my reservation by 30 minuets, and credited me the additional time, so I'm effectively not paying for when I'm not driving. The person with the car shows up just about 30 minutes late.

OK, we're not off to a great start. First, I had to call I-GO. Would have been nice if they had actually called me and told me the car wasn't ready. That's a few blocks from home and it's cold out. Thankfully, we can go stand in Morseland, if need be. But, OK, not their fault that the last user of the car kept it longer than she said she would. Maybe she was supposed to call and tell them but did not. I hope she gets nailed with some sort of overage of fine.

So we get the car. The car is fine, I've ridden in it before, as my girlfriend, who is already an I-GO member, has rented it before. Takes a bit of figuring out to drive it, because it's a hybrid, and has a lot of buttons. It all works and we get on down the road to the Best Buy on Howard.

That's when the best/worst part of the adventure takes place. I go into Best Buy, with my printed out order pickup email ("Your order is ready for pick up", the subject line screams at me) and I queue up in the customer service line, behind people with broken laptops and people who bought the wrong iPod.

Sure enough, I get to the counter, only to find that my order is not actually ready for pickup. It's not sitting in the pile of gadgets also awaiting pickup, and the customer service rep doesn't know what it is or where it is. He looks it up and "RSS" says there is one in stock, so he hunts down somebody to go look for it on the shelf or in the warehouse. Fast forward another 15-20 minutes. Nobody can find it in the warehouse or in the store. Guess I'm out of luck, and they inform me of such.

OK, please let me speak to the manager. He pages an "MOD", and while I'm waiting for that person to never show, I call BestBuy.com customer service, who is suprised that the product isn't available. I hand the phone to the customer service rep in the store. He explains to the call center rep that he was surprised that the online site allowed the order, as RSS was less than 3 (I think this means "confirmed stock is less than 3 items"). He also says that the store does not carry this item. Which is odd, because from the context, it sounds like the inventory system says there's one in stock, but it sounds like they just simply have no clue where it's sitting, and they decided to give up on it.

OK, fine, cancel the order, thanks for nothing. So, I rented a car for nothing, to buy an imaginary thing from Best Buy that doesn't actually exist. Fail.

Oh well. I'm going to try again later today, with Circuit City instead. Hopefully the car will be ready for me when I walk over to Morseland in today's brutal cold.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

That Blago, He's a Charmer

From The Smoking Gun:

During a wiretapped November 10 call, a frustrated and financially strapped Blagojevich referred to Obama as a "motherfucker" and said that he would not appoint an ally of the President-elect to the Senate vacancy if "I don't get anything." Referring to Obama, Blagojevich exclaimed, "Fuck him. For nothing? Fuck him."

The affidavit does not specifically name the six prospective Senate candidates discussed by Blagojevic, Harris, and the governor's aides, it appears that several are easily identified. "Senate Candidate 1" is Jarrett. "Senate Candidate 2" is Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. Emil Jones, an Illinois state legislator, is "Senate Candidate 5." And "Senate Candidate 6" appears to be J.P. Pritzker, a wealthy Chicago businessman. Additionally, Rahm Emanuel, the incoming White House chief of staff, is referred to in the affidavit as "President-elect Advisor." (21 pages)

Rogers Park Carless

Well, I can't call myself Chicago Carless, because that moniker is already taken. But I can be Rogers Park carless!

Back in August, when we lost our paid parking space, we decided to drive the car up to my father's place in Minnesota. As I mentioned then, it was a trial run, of sorts.

The trial was mostly a success. One caveat: Parking the car at my father's home was a pain in the ass. That just wasn't working out, for various reasons. So, in early November, I took the train up to Minneapolis and drove my car back down to Chicago.

Parking the car on the street here in Rogers Park throughout November was a real pain. We had to park a good 8-10 blocks away, and of course, you're supposed to move it every three days. That sucked.

I have no desire to keep a car in the city at this stage in my life, so I hatched a plan to sell the car to a friend of mine in Texas. We drove down to Texas over two days, Thanksgiving day and the day after. Boring drive, but easy, and kind of fun.

Spent the weekend in Dallas, met up with various friends, ate a lot of good food. Flew back to Chicago on that Sunday.

I still owed a couple of dollars on my car loan, so I paid that off with the money my friend paid me for the car, and the clear title arrived today. I took it out of one envelope and dropped it right back into another envelope and mailed it to my friend in Texas.

As soon as that was done, I called my car insurance company (Progressive Direct) and canceled. Since I actually like them, I wasn't jerky to them on the phone and politely answered their questions. Assuming we ever buy another car, they'd definitely be my first choice for car insurance. It's always been painless dealing with them.

So now, I'm free of a car payment and free of an insurance payment. I'm free of a car, and it feels good to be carless.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Are CTA Trains Designated Homeless Shelters?

Mike Doyle's on a crusade to stop harassment of the homeless. What form does this harassment take? The CTA has posted signs, and intends to enforce, riding guidelines that say you have to exit the terminal at the end of the line. Meaning, you can't ride back and forth on the trains all day long. Mike indicates that this is an attempt by the CTA to kick the homeless out into the cold. And at Christmas, no less!

Actually, what they've done is reinforce the point of the el: it's to get people from point A to point B. What this highlights is that the el is not a homeless shelter. If we need more/better shelter for the homeless (and I don't doubt that we do), then that's the problem we need to fix. Not to try to misuse (or allow the misuse of) public transit infrastructure to store the less fortunate. It's a poor fit, and everybody loses.

I think the CTA is right, and Mike Doyle is wrong. And it's a bummer to see Mike's once-excellent Chicago Carless blog reduced to a one-note trumpet of hysteria-- seven of his nine most recent posts are on this issue.

What does the CTA have to say about this? From today's Sun Times:

"While our trains may serve as temporary shelters, they're not good shelters for anyone," said [CTA President Ron] Huberman. "We're going to try to make sure individuals who are homeless who are on our system can at least have access to people who can help them find safe, more comfortable housing."

Gaffney said 229 people were taken from the CTA to "appropriate facilities" by outreach workers in the last year.


But this is a small part of the thousands who are removed from trains for "continuous riding."

The article also states that the CTA also partners with the city's Department of Human Services, which works with the mental health services provider Thresholds. Outreach workers have 24-hour access to the CTA, and they enter the trains looking for people who need help.

Mike may have a point if he means to say that signage on the CTA isn't going to solve the homeless problem. I just don't think the signage, or enforcement of this policy, hurts people, or the homeless, and it appropriately reflects what the el system is actually for.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

A Slow Saturday


A small dog is bored.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Breaking Out of the Script

I just learned something very powerful and useful, something that I know others will benefit from. I'm sharing it here with the hope that you'll find it as useful as I do.

If you're like me, you dread calling companies to cancel service. The cable company, phone company, whoever, they're going to debate with you about canceling. They'll offer up discounted or free service. They'll want to try to talk you out of it. If you want to keep the service, that's great. If you're just looking for a better deal, we all know that what you do is, you call up and threaten to cancel. But for me, by the time I've decided to call customer service, I've made up my mind. I'm done. I want out.

How can I break out of that script when I call to cancel, I wondered to myself. What if I just stopped cooperating, and simply, politely, declined to cooperate. Stop answering their questions. Just pretend they didn't even ask them. Do something, anything, so that I don't have to refute the posited merits of keeping my account active when I've already made up my mind.

So that's what I decided to do. No more aruging. No more verbally exploring possible alternatives to canceling. And, in two short days, Kate and I have used this three times. It has worked great, each time.

It started thusly. Yesterday, I called and canceled my XM Radio service. I sold my car, and since XM Radio sucks nowadays, so I have no intent of keeping my home receiver subscribed. I called up XM Radio, and let them know that I wanted to cancel my service. Why would you want to do that, the front line representative asked me? I decline to answer that, I say. In response, I hear back nothing but a few seconds of silence. I've stymied the rep! I pulled him off the script! There's nothing for him to latch on to, to try to convince me to stay with XM Radio. Okay, he responds, and he transfers me over to the retention department. (As I am aware is the standard process, from reading various blogs.) The retention representative tells me how sorry he is to hear that I wish to cancel my service. Can I tell him why I wish to cancel? I'm sorry, I reply, I cannot. Do I have a favorite channel, or do I miss a particular channel? I'm sorry, I decline to answer that. I simply wish to cancel service. Ohhhhhhhhhhkay, responds the rep. Your account is paid up through December 20th. Service will cease on that day. Have a good one.

SCORE! No debate, no trying to talk me out of it, no having to listen to them struggle with the big words they'll find in the script specific to whatever reason I give them. I'm done. I'm out. On the phone for six minutes total, and that includes talking to two reps, and a bit of hold time. Done and done.

Today, I took the day off of work, and Kate and I went downtown to do some shopping. She's been thinking of switching to T-Mobile for a while now, and wants to get a phone like mine. (I have a T-Mobile G1.) She decides to pull the trigger, so after lunch, we stop in to the T-Mobile Store at Water Tower Place. We start the process, and the T-Mobile salesperson says she needs to know Kate's Sprint account number. Kate doesn't have that, so she dials 611 on her Sprint phone to get it. The sales rep warns Kate not to mention that she's canceling, and I smile to myself when I hear that, because it's good advice, and Kate and I had already had a similar discussion a couple hours prior. (As I told her then, and you could consider this the moral of this entire story: Stop tipping your hat to big business, because all you get for offering up your opinion is an entry-level English-challenged idiot trying to debate you out of your choice via a script.) Kate reaches a Sprint rep, and has to repeat her phone number two or three times, as she does every time she calls them (I've witnessed it), because they can't hear her or don't understand her. After she's convinced them she's who she says she is, she asks for her Sprint account number. "Do you mind if I ask why you would like that info?" asks the rep. "Yes, actually, I do mind," replies Kate. That shuts the rep down, and elicits an apology. Kate says it's fine, no worries, you're just doing your job, but I'm just declining to give a reason. OK, no problems, Kate gets her account number, and away we go.

Just a few minutes ago, I decide to finally follow through on my plan to cancel a credit card. One that I hadn't used in many months, one that has a painfully low limit, such that I've long since replaced it in my wallet with a better card from a better bank. I work my way through the phone tree, and reach a representative. I wish to cancel, I explain. May I ask why, she asks? No, I reply, I do not wish to give a reason. The rep tries twice more, finally apologizing and saying that for the bank to be able to give better customer service, she would like to know what I can tell her to put down as the reason for cancellation. I understand, I reply. Please go ahead and write down, "Customer declines to provide a reason." I say that a bit forcefully, as I'm tired of playing, and she needs to stop trying to drag me back to the script. That does the trick. She understands that I'm not playing the game. The account is closed, lots of schpiel follows about how they thank me for my patronage, and hope I'll consider them again, etc., etc., etc. Thanks and have a nice day.

Total time on the phone? Two minutes and fifty five seconds. To cancel a credit card. I've never had that take less than ten to fifteen minutes before. I'm a rock star.

So, my advice to you is this: Don't give the company a reason for canceling, if you've already made up your mind and want to cancel your service. When Kate and I were discussing Sprint earlier, she mentioned that she thought it would be wise to let Sprint know that she was jumping to T-Mobile because Sprint doesn't have an Android phone. In response to that, I pointed out a couple of things. First, Sprint's CEO is on the record as mouthing off about how Android sucks. He's just trying to make his company seem less foolish for not more openly embracing the Android bandwagon, even while Sprint is probably secretly working on their own Android phone as we speak. And also, do you really think Sprint's CEO gives a shit what you think? Let them figure it out by the number of phone numbers ported to T-Mobile. Sure, the cancellation reason data collected by telephone customer service representative probably does trickle up to management, eventually. But, clearly, the primary purpose of that information is to for customer retention. It's to talk you out of canceling. And Sprint is not paying you for that time or for your insight. My time is valuable to me. Isn't yours? Yet Sprint or XM Radio, they want to spend that time freely, engaging you into a script-driven negotation over whether or not you really want them to do what you called up to have done in the first place.

If they really cared what you thought, they'd send you a survey in the postal mail, or have a survey firm call you a few days down the line, and keep the process completely separate from customer retention. And if they want me to respond, they can staple a five dollar bill to it.