Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gun Control

With every gun-related tragedy comes renewed vigor to ban guns.  I have been individually responding to people's Facebook and blog posts and figured it's just easier to put my thoughts and feelings all into one place.  The short answer is that I'm pro-choice with regards to guns.  If you want one, get one, if you don't, don't - but don't stop me from having one.  The long answer is a little more complex.

In thinking back through my life, I can't think of a time where I didn't like guns.  A slew of squirt guns, cap guns and things that simply resembled a gun shape moved in and out of my life.  I wasn't obsessed with weapons (sure, as a teenager, I loved the idea of dangerous things), a gun-shaped item is merely the most efficient shape in which to deliver something ELSE a distance from me (water, noise, and yes, bullets).

By the time I got to military school and learned to shoot competitively, I found that I enjoyed shooting as a form of relaxation.  It takes skill to put a small projectile through a dot on a piece of paper 25+ yards away.  At Olympic-level events, you have to control or account for everything, even air temperature.  And I have found that when I'm shooting, if I focus on it properly, everything else melts away.

But I didn't own a gun until I was 30.  Now I have several - securely locked away from curious fingers.  I own them for personal/family protection in addition to target practice.  And while I've given a great amount of thought to the Second Amendment, I don't know whether I really believe that individual gun ownership was intended by the Constitution.  For now, however, the US Supreme Court has ruled that it is and does.

Now, this doesn't mean that I believe that just anyone can own a gun.  As with other things in a polite society, we have reasonable rules and regulations surrounding ownership.  In North Carolina, you can acquire a handgun in one of two ways:

  1. Purchase a gun permit - which requires subjecting yourself to a background check, including validation against the FBI's fingerprint database that you're not otherwise prohibited from gun ownership (i.e.: a former convicted felon).  You can buy a maximum of 5 at a time.
  2. Complete the "Concealed Carry Handgun" program - which is an 8 hour course on handgun safety, laws and shooting and then allows you to, within the boundaries of the law, have a handgun on your person that is not visible to others (in NC, open carry is permissible without a permit - you just can't carry to the "terror of the public").  With this permit, you can purchase a handgun without an additional gun permit.
I have purchased handguns under both methods.  In both cases, the federal and county/state government knows who I am and that I own at least one gun.  Unlike others, I am actually ok with them knowing.  Why?  Because I don't plan on doing anything illegal. (Yes, I understand that this is a slippery slope argument and can be used to support government-run surveillance, etc.)

Overall, this means that I don't want ex-cons, people with psychological disorders, or people with a history of violence (of any kind) to have guns.  In addition, I don't think that the average individual needs to have automatic weapons - and, generally speaking, probably doesn't need to own dozens of weapons either (collectors notwithstanding).

Even on a god awful day like yesterday, though, it's not the gun that killed a single individual.  It was the person who was using the gun.  If he had left the guns in his car, the guns themselves wouldn't have done anything.

The problem in blaming the guns is that they're merely implements of destruction.  They no more kill someone than a car kills someone.  And as far as killing is concerned, cars are the mode of nearly 3x more death than violence (guns, but not just guns).  In 2011, the World Health Organization statistics showed that vehicular death was 2.98% of the total, violence (again including, but not limited to, guns) was just .98% (so guns were responsible for even less).

Yet you don't hear anyone suggesting that we ban cars.  Heck, we can't even figure out a way to stop repeat offenders from driving under the influence.  So why argue to ban guns and not cars?

Well, I suppose it's because people believe that a gun's only purpose is to kill and does so when operated correctly, whereas a car is meant for transportation and kills when (usually) operated incorrectly.  But it's the operator, not the implement.  Let's find a way to fix that instead.

[BTW, I welcome healthy debate in the comments below.  But I want real debate - not strawman arguments, emotional pleas, etcetera.]

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Time Slips

Time slips away.  As John Lennon said, "life is what happens while you're making other plans."

Since Cam's birth, I've barely had time to think, let alone to write.  The result is that I've not worked on any of my books, haven't really written any articles (business or otherwise), haven't felt "productive".

But the truth is that my job, today, is to raise my child.  Which means that all of the other things that I thought were important, just aren't.  So I don't write, unless it's to record stuff about him.

Life, though, is DEFINITELY happening.  Since the last post we've moved and I've switched jobs.  More importantly, Tina and I shuffle things around on a daily basis to make Cam's life better.  My life is just about making his better.

And I love it.

I wasn't sure I could do this parenting thing.  He didn't come with an instruction manual and I was hard pressed to understand why they would let us take him out of the hospital at 4 days old without any kind of certification, training or guaranty of our ability to keep him alive.  But they did, and we have.

It's taken lots of long, sleepless nights... and more money than one could ever contemplate.  But it's totally worth it the moment I hear him get up in the morning and ask Tina for "Da".

Friday, November 25, 2011

Black Friday

Just in time for this holiday season comes the latest tale of retail negotiation success.

I've been lusting after a new TV for awhile.  Since our move, my old big-screen just hasn't been right.  Could be the five flights of stairs it traveled in the move.  Could be the two years of storage about a year into its life.  Could be the massive amount of evening TV I watch.  Whatever.  In any event, the TV repair folks told me that the cost to repair substantially outweighs the value.  Lucky (sorta') for me, the deterioration causes visible problems that are driving Tina batty.  Hence my ability to actually look for a new TV.

The actual TV I'm interested in is irrelevant, so rather than bore you with the specifics, let's just call it X.  X has been on sale recently, down about 45% from it's suggested retail price.  I've been watching it on Amazon and at Best Buy and Amazon has beat BB by about $200.  So I was still debating the merits of X with Tina when I looked online this morning and saw it for another $150 off - essentially 50% from its MSRP.  Woo hoo!  Time to buy!

But I had to get final approval so I couldn't click through quite yet.

A few minutes later and I was ready to go.  I clicked 'Add to Cart' and just before I clicked Buy, I noticed that we were back to the pre-Black Friday price.  Woah.

So rather than Buy, I called Amazon's customer service line.  Invariably, I found "Peggy" (a person of obvious foreign persuasion, pretending to be in the US "for my comfort").  It only took her 10 minutes to verify my account because she couldn't spell, couldn't validate my physical address and for whatever reason, would ask me the same question over and over.  But hey, once we got through that, I was confident that I would be able to explain my complicated issue to her and get resolution.

As Wayne Campbell might say "shah - and monkey's might fly outta' my butt!"  But hey, I'm nothing if not patient.  So I tried.

Twenty-five minutes later, we were no closer to resolution and nearly half that time had been spent with me on hold while Peggy tried to work things out on her end.  Her eventual response?  That I needed to talk with the folks in the "large items" area.  But, of course, they were closed (it was only 8am ET, so I was agreeable).  Peggy offered to take my phone number and have them call me back in an hour.

Perfect.  No problem.

Five hours later (after we were back in the car, having spent the day at the Zoo), I still hadn't received a call, so I called back.  [Now, what I didn't tell you was that I periodically called and after being on hold for 20-30 minutes at a time, decided to simply try later.]  This time, I almost immediately got through.  This support person was a native English speaker so we quickly got to the large item desk.

They explained that Amazon doesn't guaranty prices until you actually Buy.  They also checked and told me that what I saw earlier in the day was "Sold by Amazon" and the one that was now in my cart was "Sold by" someone else, so Amazon had no power to make any changes.  If I wanted X, I was going to have to pay the higher price.  Grrrrr.  No deal (at least not yet).

I finished driving home and checked my e-mail.  Waiting for me was a "how'd we do" e-mail from Amazon.  Ahhh... revenge.  Only, I didn't want revenge, I simply wanted to say how things were for me.  And, in my opinion, it wasn't great.  So I gave the experience a bad grade.  Amazon's automated process then asked me if I would be willing to let them take another chance to make it right - enter my phone number and let them call me.  So I did.

A few seconds later, I get a call from Mike at Amazon.  I explain the situation and he reiterates the earlier explanation of why they really can't do anything.  So while he's considering what he might be able to do, Cameron is yammering in the background.  This gives Mike the ability to be friendly... and for me to connect with Mike on a personal level.  He's a dad, a grandfather and has been at Amazon for awhile.  He was able to see that I've been an Amazon customer for more than a decade (they keep the entire history).  We commiserated over the advances in technology and retail.

In between, however, I hear an opportunity - that if there's a TV that *Amazon* sells, Amazon can budge on price.  I quickly locate the model of X that Amazon does sell - one model more advanced (this one has 3D, even though I don't need/want it), let's call it X+.  Unfortunately, it's also a little more expensive.  I give Mike the updated model number and he pulls it up on his end.  I ask him if he can "work with me".

While he's checking (as he realizes I've asked for a pretty significant discount), we keep chatting.  A few minutes elapses.  He tells me that no one has responded to his inquiry, so he's going to go ahead and do it.  A few seconds later, I get X+ for the earlier advertised price of X.  Schweet.

Effective savings:  >$300 off retail.  >$1000 off MSRP.
Cost:  3 phone calls and some schmoozing.
Totally worth it.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Customer Service Craziness Magnet

Some people are magnets for bad boy/girlfriends.  Others are magnets for "trouble".  I'm a magnet for poor customer service.

I don't know why that is, exactly.  Generally speaking, I'm friendly and I get along well with others who show me some modest level of respect.  So why is it that I tend to find the people who don't know what they're doing, don't know how to help me and don't ever seem to satisfy what I've asked for?

Part of it, I think, is that I DO know what I'm doing, most of the time.  So by the time I call for help, or by the time I look for additional information, I'm not a newbie.  I don't need to be walked through the basics.  I don't need to be told to "make sure it's plugged in" or to "check to verify xyz".  I've done those things long ago.  I've also tried about a dozen potential solutions.  I've spent an hour or more on the internet looking to see if other people have had the same difficulty and how they resolved the issue.  I've done my homework and now I'm calling "the expert" for assistance.

Oh, and need I mention that at one point in my life, I was a first-line tech support guy, too?  So I've seen it all from both sides of the fence.  Take it from me, customer service is lacking across the board.  But I hear the complaints about stupid customers, stupid management and god-awful policies.  I understand that you are constrained.  You have limits to your abilities to help.  You can only do so much with what you're given.

So, customer service experts, here are some suggestions on how to satisfy your next customer without going crazy yourself, but still meeting the needs of the person coming to you for help (because even in sales-related customer service, you're still providing "help" of some sort):

  1. Assume that I know what I'm talking about.  You can use a few base questions to figure out if I really do or if I've only got a surface-level knowledge about the topic at issue.  But don't start from the "you don't know anything" position.  This shows respect and you might find out that I actually DO know what I'm talking about.  Heck, you might even learn something about your area of expertise as a result.
  2. Listen.  I know, I know.  Trite.  But yet so true.  You have to listen to me.  Which means that you can't be talking at the same time or trying to tell me something about anything other than what I am asking you to address.  It's kinda' funny that I'm saying this, for with legal-related issues, I know that I tend to ask questions about what appear to be unrelated topics.  But if you have to ask a question that makes it sound like you've not been listening and are just going through a checklist, explain the reason for the question.
  3. Respond to what I'm asking.  If I ask "What's your lowest APR available today?" - don't tell me the benefits of your company.  Tell me the lowest APR.  If I say "I want to buy THIS computer." please don't try to sell me something different.  And if I ask "Can I use any receptacle for my outdoor plugs or do I need a GFCI plug?" don't provide me with the history of the discovery of electricity.  Answer the friggin' question.
  4. I don't need to know how smart you are.  I'm already coming to you for your knowledge.  You don't need to prove that you know more about the topic than I do.  You simply need to apply that knowledge to solve my problem.  I admit that I stumble on this one as a consultant all the time.  I forget that they already know I'm an expert and I sometimes feel the need to prove it.  Don't.
  5. Answering "I don't know" to my question is fine - so long as you follow it with "but I'll go find out for you."  Nuff said.
Anything I've left out?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Copyright Oddities

Copyright is a weird animal.  It's one of the few constitutionally-mandated personal rights and it serves as the basis for the vast majority of the things people do online and in their daily lives (everything from this blog to your tweets and FB status postings to anything you write as a result of your job.... to photos you take while on vacation).  Yet it's so fundamentally misunderstood that it's almost a joke.

Which is interesting given that the penalties for violating copyright are pretty severe.  Forgetting the civil penalties (those that can be levied against you by the actual person you harmed), the criminal penalties can go up to $250,000/copy + 5 years in Club Fed.

One of the nuances of copyright is that in order to have a copyright in something, you have to have created the work covered by copyright (and it has to be a work that can be granted a copyright) ... or you have to have acquired the copyright rights from the person who created the work.

Which makes the situation around the photographer who had his camera lifted by a monkey ... and who then proceeded to snap a wonderful self-portrait .... so damn interesting, especially to those of us interested in copyrights.

In fact, as soon as I saw this image, I went to make it my Facebook profile photo.  Which, of course, I shouldn't do - I don't own the image.  And it took Facebook reminding me of this fact for me to actually stop from doing it.  But the question is:  who holds the copyright to the image?

The ownership of the photograph itself is clear: it's the photographer (and perhaps the wire news service that paid the photographer for the photo).  But copyright doesn't automatically transfer with the ownership of the tangible item - again, copyright is a weird creature and unless you're willing to dive down the moral rights rabbit hole with me tonight, just accept what I tell you as fact and look it up later.

Copyright, however, requires an "author" ... and per US law (17 USC), an author can only be a "natural person" or a "juridicial person" (a corporation, etc).  A monkey (or other animal) doesn't fit into either category and is thus unable to hold copyright.  The result is that there now exists a legal quandary.  Who (if anyone) holds copyright?

The law is pretty clear at the moment (and, in fact, is being used as yet another example of how copyright law is outdated and needs to be revised for the 21st century - but really, do picture-taking monkeys only exist in the 21st century?).  However, the news agency seems to assert that copying is at least uncool if not illegal.  Which is going to prompt someone to eventually sue.

This is one to watch, folks.  The outcome could get interesting.

Monday, July 04, 2011

House Dating

In case you haven't seen my posts on the topic before, Tina and I are looking for a new home.  Cam's getting to the age where he needs more space (and I would like an office that isn't also a bedroom).  So we've spent the better part of a year fixing the things that needed fixing... and making the house a curb-appeal rockstar.

Meanwhile, we're sorta' looking, too (no, we're not dumb enough to want to try to have two mortgages - no thank you).  But if we get an offer, we need to be prepared.  So we've keep a running list of a few potential properties that we'd like to go see in the event things work out for us.  A few days ago, things started to look like they would.

So we took 3 hours out of our realtor's Fourth of July weekend to go house hunting yesterday.  I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed overall... and I think it has to do with some central tenants/laws/rules about selling homes that really closely pair with rules for dating.

1. Set expectations properly.  When you're dating, especially online, the first thing most people show is their photo.  As a guy, I can tell you that if you are looking through a screen of women and all you see is a head, the first question you have is about the body.

Homes are the same.  If you show the inside, but no exterior shots - my first thought is that there's something wrong with the outside.  Additionally, when you DO show photos of the outside, don't take a photo from a weird angle to use some form of forced perspective to make it no longer appear that you have a 200' vertical elevation drop from the street to your garage.  The minute I see that in real life, I'm not even going to look inside your home (which will become more important to you, the seller, in a minute).

Also - if you post a sign or have a request that I take of my shoes when entering, you'd better well have your place looking like a "no shoes" home.  By that, I mean:

  • you'd better not be a smoker and have cigarette butts outside or smoke smell inside
  • your floors had better be immaculately clean (my white socks will tell me the story in a minute)
  • you probably shouldn't have a dog - especially one that requires food and water bowls in the kitchen AND in your master bathroom... and where you've picked up the slopped food around the bowls, too
All in all, if you ask me to remove my shoes, I will have enough respect for you to do it - even though I don't know you.  But if you've wasted my time AND I've felt just a little weird walking bare or stocking-footed through your home, you can bet I'm not putting an offer on your place.

So, set expectations properly.

2.  Know your price range.  Look, I know that nobody wants to admit when someone is "out of their league" but the truth of the matter is that not everyone fits well with everyone else romantically.  Try as hard as you might, but Penny and Leonard just aren't meant to be together long term (besides, Pria is a better match).  Granted, I have NOTHING against Penny.  She's just not going to be able to hang with Leonard's crowd (or vice versa for that matter - even though Leonard really wants to).

For houses, if you price your home based on what you feel it's worth, and not based on what it's actually worth given its location and condition, don't expect to get what you want out of it.  Real estate is already incredibly volatile and fickle.  Our current home was headed on a 5+%/year increase trajectory at the point when we bought it.  Which means that today, I should be able to get 128% of what I paid for it.  Wanna' guess if that's what the housing market says it's worth?  Of course it's not.  The market took a header and down went my hopes of ever seeing the 100% increase prior owners of this same house did.

When you price your home and then scoff at the offers that come in, take a moment to think about whether the home is worth what you're asking.  What makes it worth that?  Is it immaculate?  Does it have a big backyard with a fence?  Is it on a quiet street in a good neighborhood?  Does it still have any builder brass or builder slab fixtures?

I'm not going to pay for potential.  I'm going to pay for what is.

3.  The corollary to #2 is: Don't believe your own hype.  Yes, I know you're awesome and your mother thinks you're awesome, too.  What does your ex-girlfriend/boyfriend think?  Would they start your personal ad with all caps: "STUNNING HOME (guy/girl) IN & IS PICTURE PERFECT"?

No?

Right.  Why?  Well, first, all caps is shouting.  But beyond that, people won't describe themselves as perfect (and usually not stunning).  Which is why, in real estate, we have agents.  House Pimps.  They're there to market the heck out of something that isn't all that.  And, like lawyers, we tend to dislike all of them other than our own.  [Speaking of which, our agent is awesome.  If you ever need someone in Raleigh, let us know and we'll connect you.]

But when you believe the House Pimp Hype, you're forgetting that there's a reason why you no longer want to live there.  Part of that forgetting allows you to move... the other part makes you want to sell for more than it's worth (See #2 above).  More importantly, however, it creates a disconnect between reality and fantasy.  At the end of the day, I'm buying a house and I'm going to have to work to turn it into a home.  Drop your hype and figure out what it is about the house that lends itself to becoming a home.

The same, of course, is true for dating - you become a great catch when you realize what you have that's useful to someone else.  But this is really the subject of a whole other post (and a book that I'm working on).

4.  Don't waste my time.  Actually, all of these rules come together to support this final rule.  If you waste my time, you're never going to get my interest.  If I have to figure out the "real you" in dating or the "real deal" on the house, that's wasting my time.  And given the amount of technology at our disposal these days to find out a lot of the story early on in the "relationship", don't be surprised that if you try to fool me to get me close and when I am and see you for what you are ... that I run.

Yesterday, we saw the 200' vertical drop house in person.  Photos made it look great, but there was no way that we would ever make it up and onto the street in a Raleigh winter with a little ice or freezing rain.  So we didn't bother to even look inside the house.  There was no way to fix this issue.

Some people probably don't care about things like that (heck, the house isn't brand new, so theoretically, several people haven't been bothered by it).  But deceiving me enough to drive out to BFE to see it in person just pissed me off.  So I cancelled my showing slot.  Which, if you're like me, meant that you had been forced out of your house during my slot and now have nothing to show for it.

On the flip side... don't make a showing appointment with me and then cancel mid-way through the time.  I've had to pack Cam into the car... maybe even wake him from a nap a little early.  All told, a huge inconvenience.  I've been completely honest in my listing and photos so there's nothing unexpected about what you'll see when you arrive.  So don't bail on me now.  Because, as with dating, I can find out who you are (or who your House Pimp is)... and I can promise that if you call back later, I won't be pleasant to deal with.  :)

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Fear Factor

I like writing about funny things.  Recalling the moment of humor and the setup for how it all transpired is incredibly satisfying when I can do it so that others find the funny, too.  Life, of course, isn't always fun and games.  As a parent, the feeling I feel when looking at Cameron more often then anything else, second only to unbridled joy is abject terror.

Which, if you know me, isn't like me.  I'm not really afraid of anything.  Snakes, spiders, the dark... even buying feminine hygiene products alone.  Nothing bothers me that much.  But I worry about Cameron.  I worry about him getting sick or injured.  I worry about his life and his future.  I worry about whether he'll have good friends.  I worry about whether he'll want to have a family of his own and whether, once he's grown up, he'll look back on his childhood with fondness.

I suppose these are the worries any parent has with regards to their children.  But with only a 16mo old, I don't really hear anyone else talking about it.  Granted, that could be because I work out of my house and all of my coworkers are hundreds or thousands of miles away.  It could also be because Cam's just too young for me to stress out about these things quite yet.

However, I don't think I'm really stressing.  There's a difference between stressing and worrying.  I don't lay awake at night.  I don't get cold sweats.  I don't hyperventilate.  At least not yet.

I don't stress because I know that he's got a loving home.  He's got 2 parents who will do anything for him.  He's got 6 grandparents that love him, too.  He's got a nanny who smiles as big as he does every morning she walks in the door.  And he's got a large family and friend network that he doesn't even yet realize is there, too.

On the other hand, I worry because I want to be a good dad.  Sure, I want to be the cool dad.  But I also want to be the dad that he can come to with serious questions and discuss deep topics without fear of judgement or ridicule.  I want to be the dad he wants to bring to show and tell.  I want to be the dad he wants to play with.  I want to be the dad and man he wants to eventually be.

When Cam was born, his grandma gave me a laminated poem.  It was written by John Wooden, late coach of the UCLA Bruins.  It's a wonderful reminder for both dad's and mom's and sets a great expectation.  I hope I can meet it.

The Little Chap Who Follows Me
A careful man I ought to be,
A little fellow follows me,
I do not dare to go astray
For fear he'll go the selfsame way.

I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whate'er he sees me do, he tries;
Like me, he says, he's going to be,
The little chap who follows me.

He thinks that I am good and fine,
Believes in every word of mine
The base in me he must not see,
The little chap who follows me.

I must remember as I go,
Through summer's fun and winter's snow,
In building for the years to be
The little chap who follows me!

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Baby Crack

A few days ago, I wrote about Cameron and baby crack.  These are the talismans for every parent.  Things that they can do that will instantly affect their child's behavior (usually to distract the kid from whatever has currently got them wound up).

For Cam, one baby crack item is Elmo.  He just loves the voice (the PoE).  Curiously, he hasn't yet put together the voice and the image.  So when we took him to the mall a week or so ago and he saw a wall of Elmo's - no reaction at all.  But press Elmo's hand on one of these digitally-enhanced stuffed animals and poof: a smile on Cam's face that simply beams.

But Cam has a few other items that are just as transformative.  And in our house, you can guess that it didn't take long to figure out that the telephone is one of those things.

You all know that I'm a geek.  Including work-related numbers, there are five different phone numbers you can dial right now that will ring on either my left or right hip (no, please don't try).  So it should be no surprise that I have my cell phones on me almost constantly.  Add in Tina to the mix and there are now several phones that tempt Cam with their bright buttons.

Cameron, of course, pays attention to them.  Almost from birth, he's just a little more tan than any other child his age from the proximity to the glow of a Blackberry or iPhone.  We didn't actually intend for this to happen, of course... but we use our phones a lot for work and I have my own addiction to my iPhone. The result is that he wants what we pay attention to... and besides, isn't a Blackberry just a cool device to play with?

Now, Cameron greets most toys with an open mouth hug.  Phones are no exception, which is good for neither him nor the phone itself.  But after the initial desire to eat it comes the desire to push the buttons - especially on Blackberries (he is just now realizing the iPhone has a reactive screen).  And he does so with aplomb.

This is troublesome because phones aren't cheap.  So I figured I'd get him his own to play with.  Visiting the local Verizon store, I was informed that they don't have any old demo phones that they can give away.  Apparently all of theirs are real and have to be returned upon retirement.  But the Verizon rep said that he'd worked at Radio Shack and that they always had dozens of non-working examples in the store that were no longer on display.

Perfect.

So the next time I was near Radio Shack, I stopped in.  Unbelievably, the Verizon rep was right.  This store had more than 30 phones for me to choose from!  Picking a Blackberry that looked like mom and dad's but wasn't exactly the same color, I thought this would give Cam the best of both worlds:  something he could play with and something that wouldn't use my cell phone minutes to dial Antarctica.

I brought it home and proceeded to bathe it with Clorox wipes.  Figuring that it had been held by hundreds of people who didn't wash their hands after going to the bathroom, I almost decided to dunk it in bleach.  But I wiped it and let it dry about a dozen times (not exaggerating).  I then made sure that it was completely solid and nothing could come off it (the battery door was already glued shut).

Approaching Cam's room where he was playing with his nanny, I called out "guess what Dad got you?" as I walked into the room holding the Blackberry in front of me.  Cam stopped what he was doing when he saw it.  Momentarily frozen in place with sheer excitement, I could see the facial transformation as his smile lit up.  In what I think was as close to a run as he could get, he charged.

Grabbing the Blackberry out of my hands, he proceeded to press the buttons with such rapidity, I thought for a moment that he was a crazed rat in a Skinner box looking for a food pellet from an empty chamber.

I let him have the Blackberry for about an hour before I decided that it was too much.  He wasn't letting go.  He wasn't playing with any other toys.  He wasn't responding to verbal enticements from his nanny or me.  He appeared not to be interested in food, either.  All he wanted was to press the buttons.  Baby crack, indeed.

So now I've got Cameron's Kryptonite.  I just don't know how I can ethically use it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shibboleth

A few years ago, I blogged, asking for the secret password to get past Tier 0-level customer service "technicians".  In fact, I'd even really forgotten about posting this request until I was revamping the site for my current return after a year+ hiatus.

Randall Munroe over at xkcd, as usual, read my mind:


Oh, and if you don't understand the shibboleth reference, watch this clip from my favorite TV show, The West Wing (sorry, couldn't embed).

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Meltdown

There are a lot of things you do as a parent that, had someone told me I was going to do before Cameron was born, I would've never believed.  Singing, dancing and talking in a high-pitched voice are just the beginning.  Changing explosive diapers (you never saw poo like this before) is another.  But perhaps the most challenging thing as a parent is getting your child to be calm when they're losing their cool.

Interestingly enough, most parents learn to tune out their own child's particular brand of whining.  It's a defense mechanism, I suppose.  If we weren't able to ignore it, there would, unfortunately, be more incidents of infanticide.  Cruel?  Absolutely.  True?  You betcha'.

In fact, there was event a recent study done that whining is, in fact, the worst sound known to mankind.  Thankfully, it is at those moments when you also get to see parents at their absolute best.  The creativity can be astounding.  For the most part, though, they'll cajole, convince and yes, even bribe.

So what can you do with a 16mo old who barely understands what you're trying to tell him?  Well, you start with toys.  It's ugly, but bribery is first on the list.  Core to this is the belief that the child's frustration is centered on the desire for something they don't currently have.  So you think it's a toy and you'll give them ANYTHING if they'd just stop screaming.

Driving down the highway with Cameron in his carseat today was no different.  He started to fuss and without taking both hands off the wheel (and without looking at him, either - a learned skill I never really thought I would need), I reached back, grabbed one of several "car toys" and placed it in his lap.  You could hear it a few seconds later, bouncing off the back of the seat in front of him.

Nope... that wasn't the toy he wanted.

No problem - I'm prepared.  I have more.

Thud.

Crap.  Not that one either.

OK.  Maybe I can tickle him to take his mind off whatever's got him frustrated.  Still driving one-handed... still always looking at the road, I reach back and start with his feet.  Tickling up his leg and onto his chest, I'm not getting any love in return.  In fact, the screaming is getting worse.

Tina finally decides that maybe he just needs to be entertained (Yeah, remember Tina?  She was sitting in the front passenger seat the whole time.  Would've been nice if she'd helped the driver.  But whatever.  She was helping now.).  Her idea?  A napkin.

Somewhere, in the distance, I heard a 1950's comedic rim-shot.  A napkin.  Pshaw.

Do you know how many problems there are with giving a little boy a napkin?  The first place it's going to go is into his mouth.  Then we've got wet napkin.  Wet napkin in the car, on his carseat, in his mouth.  Which leads to wet napkin in his hair, under his fingernails (yes, they have them), probably in his nose, too... in short, everywhere.  Tina realized this after a few seconds, too, and decided that perhaps she should use the napkin to entertain Cameron.

Her plan?  Napkin Ghost Puppet.

Napkin Ghost Puppet

Holy crap.  It worked.  I want to make fun of it, but I can't because it solved the problem.  You don't even need me to tell you it was successful - you can simply see it in Cameron's face.

Flash forward a few hours later and we were back in the car.  As it was close to dinner time and Cam again started the slow burn to complete meltdown.  Given the time of day, we know this could get really ugly.  So, we went straight for the jugular.  We pulled out the baby crack and fed it to Cam like candy.  Of course, I'm talking about the little red monster himself:  Elmo.

I don't know what it is about the voice, but Cam could be (and has been) in full temper tantrum mode and Elmo's "la-la la-la" is the same as whipping out a Snausage in front of a golden retriever.

Crying?  Over.
Volume?  Silent.
Motion?  Still.

And apparently parents everywhere know the Power of Elmo (PoE).  From a recent episode of Cougar Town:



You just can't argue with the PoE.

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of Elmo on my iPhone.  It's my one iDevice I didn't have the full range of Elmo already installed and we really needed it.  Do you know what happens when you give a baby crack addict a taste of the good stuff and then don't have any more?  Yeah, it's not pretty.  Luckily we were close to home and got him fed and in bed just in the nick of time.

So I'm off to go load the rest of our Elmo collection onto my iPhone.  In the meantime, if you have other baby crack items that you're willing to share, we're willing to try them out.  Put them in the comments to share.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

My kingdom for a seat

I'm flying a lot these days for work. I actually love to travel - and even love the "airport experience". So it's not the huge inconvenience that others find it to be. When I started traveling more, I purposefully chose Delta to be my air carrier of choice. I wanted to rack up frequent flyer miles and eventually achieve "status" - that little thing that helps get you upgrades and other perks for being seen as a truly "frequent" flyer.

Sho' nuff, it only took a few months before I'd reached Gold Medallion status. This is the second of four tiers in the Delta Medallion program. I've got nothing on the folks who have Platinum or Diamond status, but getting a first-class upgrade every now and again is pretty nice. But it doesn't always happen, and it surely doesn't happen on planes where there is no first class, such as my flight the other day returning from St. Louis.

The plane was a CRJ-50. If you've ever been on one, you'd know. People over 6' tall have to stoop to walk the aisle. People more than 2' wide have to virtually walk sideways. The seats are all leather, which I suppose is alright... but they're not exactly made for large individuals, either. It was with extreme fear that I saw a large gentleman moving towards my row and a confirmation of that fear as he pointed to the window seat next to me.

These days, that's the indicator that you (the person in the aisle seat) has to move to make way. No "hey, I'm sitting there, can you please move?" or "Hi - looks like I have the seat next to you." Rather - it's just a point and a grunt. But ok. Whatever. I can understand traveler sign language (TSL).

As I stood up, I dropped the armrest between the seats. This is also TSL - it means: you stay on your side of the row and I'll stay on mine. Or, in other words: DON'T TOUCH ME. I knew we were going to have a problem as he lifted it out of the way as he moved into his seat.

Actually, he didn't have a choice. He was now using 100% of his seat... and 25% of mine. Ugh. This was going to suck. 2.25 hours from St. Louis to Raleigh. I wanted to move - and I thought about going up to the flight attendant and suggesting that I should get 100% of my seat for the price I paid for it. But remember those small aisles? Well, between the other passengers boarding and my desire to get home quickly, I simply didn't want to make a stink. God knows that the person who complains is more likely to find themselves a guest of the TSA for a little while.

So I kept my seat - leaning into the aisle the whole trip home. I was getting more and more pissed off at each passing moment. Upon arrival at RDU, I found the gate agent and asked for the Station Manager. This is the person who has ultimate control of all things airline-related at your particular terminal. The gate agent informed me that the Station Manager wasn't present (it was, after all, 9:30pm), but that they were a red-vest and could handle whatever issue I threw at them.

I said "ok" fine - I wanted compensation for the trip as a result of not getting the full seat that I'd paid for. I was forceful, but calm. Direct but not demanding. I simply indicated that I didn't believe that I should have to pay for a full seat when I didn't get one.

RedVest's first response was that I should've let someone know before leaving STL.

"Wait. It's MY responsibility to tell you when I clearly don't have my seat to myself?", I asked.

Well, he said... sorta'. He explained that I should've asked the flight attendant to reseat me and that had they been unable to do so, that they would've asked the other passenger to get off the plane or buy a second seat.

I was nonplussed. I again suggested compensation. RedVest offered a $50 travel voucher. I demurred and suggested that there was a) more that he could do for me; and, b) that I wasn't going to leave until he was able to do something more - as I knew that while he suggested I call Delta Customer Service when I got home, that leaving the airport was giving up leverage. So I stayed put and started talking with him in a more collegial tone. Commiserating about the crowds, stupid travelers, "real" problems, etcetera.

Finally, he asked to look up my account to see what he could offer. I was a little shocked (though I shouldn't have been) at the amount of data he had access to about me. He asked if I was going to be taking any more flights in the near future and I said I was, but I hadn't booked them yet. So he pondered his navel for a little while and then suggested that he could offer me some frequent flyer miles.

In the Delta system, there are two types of miles. Miles you can use to redeem for future stuff... and miles that count towards your Medallion status level. I, as you can imagine, am not really interested in redeeming miles for more time on airplanes. So I asked him in a good natured way whether they were Medallion Qualifying Miles (MQM's) - their official term for the "good" miles. He gently laughed in commiseration with my assessment of the situation as he indicated that they weren't. Bummer.

Again, he went back to contemplating the nature of the universe and suggested that well, perhaps he could do miles plus something else. "Like what?", I asked. He then told me that he could do a one-way class upgrade that I could redeem for any future flight - guarantying a first-class seat when my normal status didn't/can't get it for me (such as on virtually any flight from Atlanta). OK, now we're getting somewhere.

So I said, ok... let's do a package. Make it work for me. And he proceeded to print out the materials granting me the one-way upgrade.

Then we turned back to the miles. He offered 5,000. I said come on... how many miles does it take, at minimum, to get somewhere? 25,000. Right... so 5,000 gets me what? Nothing. He responded, ok... how about 7,500. I paused and said, point blank "We need to hit 5 digits. You can do 10,000."

It was his turn to pause. "OK... 10,000. But I can't do anymore." He printed out the card granting me the 10,000 miles (which I think we're going to use to go to London... but that's a story for another day).

Right as he handed it to me, I said, "OK... now we can do that $50 travel voucher."

He was taken aback. "What? I can't do that."

"Sure you can... we were talking about a package. I just spent 2.25 hours leaning into the aisle, getting hit by the flight attendant EVERY SINGLE TIME SHE WALKED BY. You can do the voucher. Give me the package.", I said, almost invoking the Jerry Maguire "Show me the money." tone.

And as it was printing, RedVest lamented that he was going to get a call about it in the morning. As I walked away, thanking him for his help, I just told him to tell his boss that he was dealing with a professional negotiator.

What I think I really need is a tagline I can say after I've gotten my way. "You've been negotiated..." just sounds too cheesy.

Monday, September 14, 2009

You don't want to be a BB&T customer

Over the last 4 or so years, I've had a pretty non-eventful relationship with BB&T as they serviced my car loan.

But I'm at the end of the loan now, and while my account has been on autodraft for the ENTIRETY of the loan, I received a post card the other day telling me that the last payment couldn't be made via autodraft and that I'd have to "pay the amt due to avoid extra charges."

The following is my attempt to pay:

  1. Looked on the postcard for an address to which I could send payment. Nothing here.
  2. Looked on the postcard for a phone number to call to ask about payment. Nothing here.
  3. Called the 800# on the BB&T website. No option to talk with a CS rep.
  4. Called the 800# on the BB&T website and tried to use the account info area to break through - but I don't have a PIN (haven't needed one for the entirety of the loan). So I can't see what other options might be available to me. No dice.
  5. Called the Loan-specific 888# on the BB&T website. Nope, still need the PIN.
  6. Looked online to see if I could pay the last payment that way. Nope.
  7. Called the 800# again to see if there was a "request a PIN" option. Requested a PIN - it'll be sent via US mail in 7-10 days. So effectively, nope.
So tomorrow I'm going to have to GO TO A BRANCH to pay off this loan... and believe me, I'm going to pay it off in full.

I expect that this is a tactic to:
  • get additional interest fees from unsuspecting customers
  • force customers to come into a branch to get an upsell
What's it's done is SO turn me off of BB&T that I vow to never use them for anything else ever again ... and encourage you to transfer anything you have with them to another more attentive, customer-focused bank.

Oh, and if any of my readers happen to be BB&T employees - feel free to pass this note along to anyone SVP or higher in charge of customer service. This was EXACTLY the type of experience that causes people to hate banks!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Photos

Well, after some hemming and hawing, I decided to finally upload some of my favorite photos that I've taken and combine them into a photo blog of sorts.

So, visit http://photos.jeffreygordon.net and see what my camera can do.

I don't claim to be a professional, but some are pretty good, if I do say so myself. :)

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Don't eff with Jon Stewart



Thanks to QuizLaw for this.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Catch 22

So, in the Star Trek series, the red shirt-wearing folks are the ones who invariably die on every mission.



But what would happen if it was an away mission where they were fighting the Star Wars Storm Troopers, who seem to be unable to hit the broad-side of a barn?

:)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Awesome

Mad Simpsons

I love the AMC show Mad Men. I don't know what it is really... the 60s outfits, the fact that people are pretty much allowed to do anything at work or the cool opening sequence... I think it's the opening sequence. Which is why the Simpson's spoof of the opening for their Halloween special this year is awesome:

Saturday, October 18, 2008

TSA and Travel

I travel a lot.

This freaks me out - and it's what *I* think about when I'm sitting on the runway, hoping I successfully make it to my destination and back.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Embarq Advertisement for Free TV

I'm sure you've seen it or heard it. I'm talking about the Embarq advertisement for free TV.



Obviously it's a popular ad.

But what's the appeal? I simply don't know. What bugs me most, however, is the little ditty "they don't call her Queen Tut, for nothin'"

It's about her being made of gold and calling her Queen Tut. Anyone else see the problem?

RIIIIIGHT. It's King Midas who was tied to gold, not Tut! So "Queen Tut" doesn't make any sense at all. Even the fact that King Tut was buried in a coffin made of gold doesn't validate the ad. I wouldn't buy Embarq now if for no other reason than their misappropriation of history. Get it right if you're gonna' hang your hat on it.

So, while I'm hip with the various dopey yet catchy freecreditreport.com jingles, the Embarq one just irks me.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Kevin Smith Protests Dogma

OK. So regardless of what you might think about Kevin Smith, or Dogma, the movie he wrote and directed (and played Silent Bob in), this is pretty funny:

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Updates on a few of the things I've written about

Well, it's not like I'm some sort of prescient person and know what the world is really thinking about... but there have been a few instances of things I write about in the last few months actually capturing some amount of world-wide attention. So this post is simply a note to the file on what happened.

Randy Pausch
Remember the post from a few months ago about the Last Lecture? Randy was diagnosed with cancer, fought a hell of a fight and along the way, delivered what many people consider to be the greatest inspirational speech of all time. He died on July 25, 2008. It's not only a tragedy for his wife and children... but also for the millions of people he was able (and will continue) to inspire.

McFly Nikes
Much less important than Randy, Nike actually responded to the cultural request of my generation and has released the Hyperdunks's. Here is info. And more info. And even more. Awesome. Now people are working on the auto-lacing mechanism.

Pandering to my Generation
Songs from the 80s continue to permeate the current cultural zeitgeist. Which isn't really saying much. In fact, with the Olympics on TV, I get the same round of commercials over and over and over and over and... oops, sorry. Stuck in a loop.

Anyways, what I was saying is that I get to see a lot of the same commercials. One of them is for JC Penny. The commercial's background music is Simple Minds' classic "Don't You (forget about me)" from one of my favorite movies, The Breakfast Club. The kids in the commercial are reenacting several of the scenes from the movie - and I turn to Tina and ask - "so, do you think the director had to explain to them: OK... now I want you to run down this hallway really fast, then do a floor-slide past the turn and run back towards the camera? Or do you think he just showed them the movie?"

But commercials aren't the only things participating in this recycling lifestyle. I actually saved money by getting digital cable the other day... which now gives me access to all of my favorite shows from my formative years. Emergency!, CHiPs, Quincy, Kojak, A-Team, Knight Rider (though the new series starts on 9/24!!!). But I realized that these shows, while all cutesily fatally flawed (it's really funny to see some of the "procedures" performed by John and Roy on Emergency! and compare them to what I learned as an EMT 19 years later), are really the genesis for almost all of TV today:

Emergency! is now ER or any other hospital/ambulance show
Quincy is CSI before they realized that people WANT to see the science
Kojak is The Shield; and Barney Miller is The Closer, Law and Order and any other cop show
A-Team is Burn Notice
Brady Bunch is now Jon & Kate Plus 8 (why invent what really exists?)
Knight Rider is now Knight Rider (some things have to be cloned exactly)

Friday, August 08, 2008

'llectuals

I grew up watching all sorts of shows about people my age trying to deal with life. The Facts of Life, 90201, then on to Melrose Place and Friends. Most of these shows had a fatal flaw. They were populated by self-centered, narcissistic, vapid characters.

Well, no more. Now's there's 'llectuals.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Toys

One of my favorite toys as a child (and yes, even as an adult), is Lego. The bricks are great fun for stress relief and they require at least some amount of imagination. I have sets back from the early 70s all the way to a pristine, in-the-box collection of all of the Harry Potter-related sets (I don't know why I'm keeping them in the box, other than to say I have them... maybe I'd let my kids play with them?).

But the toy villain from my youth has got to be the Rubik's Cube. They musta' released a billion versions of that thing in the 80s. And if 9 squares/side wasn't bad enough in about 10 different sizes (from microscopically small to desk-size large), the 12 square/side version (Rubik's Revenge, I believe it was called) was awful. Then they released them in ball-shaped versions, triangle-shaped versions... even a thing called the snake.

So I'm quite happy to see that someone took the time to build a Lego Mindstorms (computer-controlled Legos) set that is designed to solve a Rubik's Cube. It works by color-reading each side, generating a solution set and executing it. Check it out:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Flashpoint TV Show

There's a new show on CBS called Flashpoint. It's about hostage negotiators and snipers.

Now... I'm into negotiation, so you'd think that I'd love this show. I mean sure, the technology is cool - I wouldn't mind having someone assist every now and again with a voice in my ear while I'm in the middle of a negotiation... but the rest of the show just drags on.

To be honest, I was hoping for a little less talky-talky and a little more shooty-shooty.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Miss Universe Pageant Curse

So, tonight I was watching the 2008 Miss Universe pageant on TV (don't ask, it was the only thing on). Apparently, tonight was near the end, so there were 8 or so women left - evening gown competition time. Miss USA tripped down the initial step and fell flat on her butt. She was poised, got back up and kept moving as if it never happened.

Tina immediately wondered aloud how long it would take for video to appear on YouTube. So I went to look. Nope... not yet.

UPDATE (7/14/08): Video is now posted:


BUT, there WERE other videos of Miss USA 2007 at the Miss Universe 2007 pageant also falling on her butt.



So, two years in a row, the Miss USA contestant falls at the Miss Universe pageant during the evening gown portion of the event. Doesn't this qualify for some sort of curse, chant or other superstition?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More on Apple and customer service

About 2 years ago, I wrote a story about getting my PowerBook G4 fixed as a result of a hinge problem. At the time, I was indignant that Apple had a known defect in their product and wouldn't repair it for me. I spent some time in the AppleStore in Durham, NC (this was before the one in Raleigh opened) trying to see if they would assist under warranty... and they didn't. So my post was a result of my frustration at trying to get help for something I thought Apple should've taken care of, yet didn't.

However, I didn't lose my cool at the AppleStore, on the phone with Apple or anywhere else. If anything, I was mostly upset with myself and sad that I was going to have to pay a few hundred dollars for something I knew I was going to replace relatively soon.

Today I saw a post on Gizmodo about another guy who "Lost his S#?!" at the AppleStore in DC. It linked to a comic he wrote about the experience. (The comic is safe, but the comments afterwards are a little NSFW, so view this at home and away from young eyes).

Essentially, the guy had a very similar machine that I used to have... and he wanted to install a wireless card in it after purchase. He was upset that the screws on the machine weren't "standard" (they're TORX, which are, as you'll see from reading the comments, standard) and that he says he had trouble finding them at various stores (which people in the comments refute). He was upset that Apple wouldn't give him a screwdriver in the AppleStore to fix his own machine (for the same reasons that your auto mechanic won't let you use their tools to fix your car).

He ultimately lost his cool at the AppleStore and wrote the comic as a way to vent.

Now, per my other missives above, I do understand venting. I also understand being frustrated by a situation that I believe is somehow unfair.

But I do NOT take it out on others (Tina may disagree, since she hears me at home). So let me clarify... I don't take it out on the customer service person who really doesn't have much control over the situation.

[Update - about 3 seconds after hitting Publish]: OK... so I realize that by posting this little story, I'm probably perpetuating something that should just die. And, as Tina reminds me (man, I really love this girl) arguing with everyone I ever disagreed with isn't productive. Which, in turn, reminded me of one of my favorite comic artists of all time. So I'm converting this post from a semi-rant to a positive suggestion for you all to read XKCD.com on a regular basis. Here's one of Randall's drawings, completely on point.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Knight Rider GPS

If you were born in the 70s, grew up in the 80s and were male... you LOVED Knight Rider. The Hoff wasn't a dweeb yet (we had no idea he wanted to sing). KITT (the car) was awesome - and so was Bonnie. But I digress.

Mio just released their Knight Rider GPS - which comes STANDARD with William Daniels as the voice of this turn-by-turn speaking device.



Sweet! Hey Tina!!! I want one. My birthday is coming in a few months! :)

Friday, June 20, 2008

Followup on Stolen Credit Card

I waited a few months before writing this... mostly because I was busy, but partially because I wanted to see how it all played out.

The long-story-short version of the stolen credit card saga is that one of the drivers of the limo service we used in Orlando was the culprit. They used the card to charge their household bills on (not very bright)... and they confessed once cornered.

I still need to followup with the DA on the case, as I asked to press charges. So we'll see what happens. So far, no restitution or anything like that.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Again and Again



The new video for Again and Again by The Bird and The Bee. If you're not a Mac user, you might not notice all of the intricacies of the movement through the Mac operating system... but you should still find the video interesting.