Monday, August 28, 2006

Customer Disservice

"Effective right now, in an effort to cut talk times, cut a ticket rather than engage in lengthy troubleshooting.

You are providing better customer service by answering and documenting the call than by not answering the call"

It's not that we are not answering calls, it's that the users are waiting in the queue for so long that they hang up and call back later. Of course, the number of people that do that is actually very low. By contract, we need to keep it below 7% but typically it's closer to 4 or 5%. The theory is that by giving them slipshod service, opening a ticket and then making them wait for a few hours until second level support decides to take care of them is better than having them wait a little bit longer in the queue, having their issue addressed properly and maybe resolved right away.

I don't buy it. I never have. This is not about providing good customer service, it's about tweaking the helpdesk numbers when we have a high call volume. Recently that high call volume has been caused by the help desk's inability to hire and keep qualified people. Being short-staffed, the wait times are going to go up. Sure, a few user's are going to get fed up with the wait and hang up but is it good customer service to shortchange the other 95% of the callers out of proper troubleshooting, making them wait hours for second level support to contact them about something we could have taken care of in a few extra minutes? I don't think so. Management does. Are there any actual numbers to show what is really going on? From what I know of the metrics and the way statistics are gathered, those numbers don't exit.

In the meantime, I'm simply going to keep doing things the way I always have, taking the time I need to troubleshoot an issue I feel I can resolve.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Performance enhancement

As part of my League of American Bicyclists membership, I received a subscription to Bicycling magazine. It's not something I would normally buy because it is geared more towards the harder-core riders. Some people would call me a hard core rider because I'll put 14 hours in the saddle to get from Pittsburgh to Cumberland in one day or ride the trail till three in the morning but I do that all at a very modest 10mph. I'm not a racer. I don't climb hills well. I'm just an Energizer Bunny that can keep going through force of will.

In any case, some of the things in the magazine are relevant (the article on breakfast nutrition before a big ride) or current (The Floyd Landis/Tour de France doping scandal) but much isn't ($3,000+ bicycle recommendations). Something I did notice was in the advertisements in the back. There are five pages with columns and blocks of ads; bike clothing, equipment, racks, panniers, tours, all the things you would expect in a bike magazine. But there were two that didn't fit the pattern. One was for That grabbed my attention because I once had a Liberator bicycle seat from Terry. This ad was not for a bicycle seat but was for "Bedroom Adventure Gear." The other ad was much less subtle, advertising a "Swedish Sex Formula. Natures answer to more intense climax."

Surely, there's plenty of other advertising throughout the magazine, but even the car, camera and even the beer ads use cycling or the outdoors as a hook. These sex ads seem fully out of context. Are they aiming for the macho professional cyclist looking to prove his manliness in the saddle? Using performance enhancing drugs to boost testosterone and win races isn't enough, they have to enhance their sexual performance as well?

*click* *click*

Some of the furniture is intriguing to look at but not on my list of things to purchase. I'll enhance my performance the old fashioned way: with practice.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Orcish Grenadier

Many years ago, I was involved in a Rolemaster RPG and had one of my favorite characters killed when I couldn't attend a gaming session. Borg the Sledgehammer, a big, dumb hammer-swinging brute made interesting by the fact that he resisted magic at three times his level, was suspicious of magic and magic users and was in a party made almost entirely of spell casters. Everyone went to great lengths to conceal their magic use and be friends with Borg. Once Borg was killed, I wanted to come up with an equally interesting and unique character and I hit upon the idea of an Orc Grenadier. Unfortunately, the Gamemaster wouldn't allow it for practical reasons. Simply put, the society of the world would not tolerate an orc walking into town.

Well, now it looks like I have a chance to revive the character concept. A friend of mine is starting up a game set in a fantasy 17th Century. Originally, he was going to run using the 7th Sea game, a fantasy pseudo-Europe. But he wanted Native Americans for some reason, so he's added Northern Crown, a fantasy Colonial America using the D20 system. He also threw in Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition to have fantasy races like elves and dwarves.

So, now I have an opportunity to have an Orc Grenadier. And the concept I am working with is based on the Jagermonsters of the Girl Genius comic series by Phil and Kaja Foglio. Girl Genius is a gaslamp fantasy 19th Century with mad scientists and the Jagermonsters are some sort of hybridized soldiers that are very strong, very tough and typically used for comedy relief. Read the webcomic and you'll get the idea.

Once I had the character concept, I need to flesh it out a little bit. Germany at the time was still fractured after the Thirty Years War so my character would be an unemployed German mercenary looking for adventure. In a fantasy Europe with Orcs, I would imagine them being from the mountains and that, of course, must be Bavaria. That lead to a skill bonus in brewing.

He needed a name. I tried a few first names and settled on Kurt. For a last name, I was looking at several combinations with Sturm because it sounds cool. The GM had made a joke about the skill bonus also applying to baking bread and thus making pumpernickel bread, noted for its flatulence producing properties. With a little help from BabelFish, that leads me to consider the family name Sturmblähung.

I rolled very well on the social standing table, and thus earned myself gentry rank. If he were English, he could put an esquire after his name. The German Junker (young lord or country squire) have the right to put a von or zu in their names. Kurt von Sturmblähung.

I am searching for illustrations of German military uniforms of the mid- to late-17th Century so I can get Kurt's look just right. Perhaps I'll make it part of his character to be in search of the perfect hat.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006


I'd been thinking of getting myself an iPod and a friend of mine sold me hers on Saturday.

Problem #1: Going to Apple's website, the iTunes software was only available for Win2000 and XP and I'm still running Win98 on my home PC. So, a search of the internet found an application called XPlay that will work on Win98.

Problem #2: Xplay software has a one week trial download but if you want the full version it'll cost you $30. A search of Bittorrent found a pirated version with the crack.

Problem #3: Installing it on my PC seemed to work but then I realized that I had forgotten to turn on my external USB drive. When I turned that on I received the Blue Screen of Death (tm) and crashed my system. This external drive had caused me problems when I bought it but I had been able to work through them. But now turning on the drive with the iPod plugged in threw fatal exception errors. Plugging in the iPod after the drive was turned on threw fatal exception errors. I uninstalled drivers, reinstalled drivers but could not resolve the problem after several hours and a score of reboots. The alternative was to install the iPod on my laptop and then pull the music into it through the household network. Not an ideal solution as it would be extremely slow but I don't have so much music and I'm not adding to the collection fast enough for it to be a regular hindrance.

Problem #4: My laptop couldn't find the drivers. On my desktop, it found them just fine but for some unknown reason, the laptop couldn't get them off of the same Win98 CD.

Problem #5: Apple doesn't have drivers available for Win98. Another search of the Internet found a site that had them be wouldn't let you download them unless you paid a "donation" of $5. Somehow I think that if you must pay then it's no longer a donation. Continued searching found another location that had the drivers for free. They installed and now the iPod appears as a drive in the My Computer folder.

Problem #6: The XPlay software said that the version of software wasn't compatible with the iPod. OK. I had an update in the folder I downloaded but after installing that I still had the same issue. Windows Explorer could see the iPod folders and files but I couldn't navigate to the Music folder. Ahhhh. The problem was that my iPod was configured for Mac. So it was back to Apple to download iPod Updater to re-format the iPod for PC.

Problem #7: iPod Updater didn't recognize that there was an iPod connected to the system even though it shows as a navigable drive in the My Computer folder. On top of that, making the attempt with Updater was freezing my machine. To run Updater, I installed it on my daughter's WinXP machine. That installation went OK and the Updater restored the iPod.

Problem #8: After the update, the system screen said to plug in using a wall outlet so the iPod could reflash the memory. Except that I didn't have an AC adapter for the iPod. But, I knew a coworker was sure to have one. It'd be an easy matter to ask him to borrow his for a few minutes.

Problem #9: He didn't have the AC adapter with him on Monday so he agreed to bring it on Tuesday. No big deal. But he called off of work on Tuesday so I had to wait until Wednesday. Sure enough, it took only a minute for the iPod memory to flash and it looked like I was back in business.

Problem #10: I plugged the iPod into the laptop once I got home and Xplay recognized it. I started up the external drive on the desktop machine, shared the drive and started downloading. Except that after a few minutes the drive wasn't responding and the download crashed. I've noticed before that the external drive will hesitate, sometimes for minutes at a time, when I am copying large volumes of files. For the desktop, it's just a pause but for Xplay the pause is too long and the connection fails. I was forced to copy things in smaller increments. One folder at a time.

Whew! Finally, after four days I have it working.

Burn Rate

Heading back to my cubicle after filling my 52oz mug full of ice water, I ran into a coworker in the hall.

"Let me ask you something," I said. "I'm in my cube all the time so I don't see much of what's going out on the floor. I look out there and see a lot of empty seats. What happened to that troop of people they hired mid-July?"

He told me half of them had quit because they finally learned that there was no chance of promotions, salary increases or benefits. Most of those that had been hired in the group before that had also left. This is, of course, just the thing I had warned management about over a year ago when they were talking about changing the training regimen. "Hire people on the cheap and don't properly train them and they will jump ship at the first opportunity." They dropped me as trainer, went ahead with their scheme and got exactly what they paid for. So, they've hired yet another batch of people that I see training out on the floor. I wonder how long it is before they realize they've been duped and punch out.

There was an application update that went bad for the financial services group so our morning was filled with people calling. We spent half an hour opening tickets for groups of people before there was a master ticket chosen. We then spent another hour telling callers that it was a known issue that support working on before support came back saying they had resolved the issue and users need to re-login.

About an hour after that we received an email from the team rolling out the update saying that they were going to be rolling out said update and there could be some calls. This was several hours after the update had already rolled out and failed.

Come on, people, do you think you could tell us this BEFORE it happens?

And finally, the official directive is that for the Tuesday and Wednesday after Labor Day everyone is to start an hour earlier, meaning I will need to start at 6:30. And I'll have to work until my normal time so I'll be getting two hours of overtime that week (in addition to Holiday pay). Now, we always have an increased call volume the day after holiday weekends because people can't seem to remember their passwords after three days off but the calls never start to pick up until about 8:00. Why the hell do they want me in at 6:30? Well, it's because they are short staffed because the new hires are quitting. That, or they are desperate to come up with a solution other than actually hiring the appropriate number of people, training them properly and scheduling them at the times they would be needed.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Read banned comics.

The Web Fascists at The Bank have been busy this weekend, adding nearly two score of the webcomics that I read regularly to their banned list.

Wapsi Square
Sore Thumbs
God Mode
Mystic Revolution
Todd and Penguin
Abby's Agency
The B-Movie Comic
Spare Parts
Suburban Jungle
No Room for Magic
Courting Disaster
Yuusha Hime Kalibourne

They've also blocked the NANACA†CRASH!! flash game

I still cannot understand the process that leads them to delete these websites while allowing forty others on my regular read list to remain.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Impersonal greetings.

Geis: Help Desk, this is Geis. Can I have your login ID, please?
User: *******
Geis. Is this ********.
User: Yes, How are you doing today?
Geis. I've been sick.
User. Good. Here's my problem . . . .

This user wasn't being uncaring on purpose. She was responding to the Pavlovian conditioned call/response of empty greetings. People have become so used to hearing someone respond "OK" or "Fine" to the question of how they are doing that they don't even pay attention to what the answer actually is. In some cases, I've heard people greet each other in the hall or on the elevator, each asking how the other is doing and neither actually giving a answer. "How're you doing" has replaced "Hi" and "Hello" and carries so little meaning that it's no longer actually a question. But, that's OK because the person doesn't care about your answer anyway.

Of course, I'm still running behind the impersonal curve by actually answering people when they ask how I'm doing. And, on top of that, actually answering honestly.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Workin' on the chain, gang.

For years, whenever I had problems with my chain, whether it started
slipping or became corroded, I would take it to a bike shop only to be told that I should change the freewheel as well. They said that both the chain and freewheel would wear out and if I just changed the chain then it wouldn't work right on the now worn freewheel.

I didn't fully believe that. Back when I was going to school, I owned a Schwinn Sierra that I would commute with from Forest Hills to Oakland every day. Seven miles each way. 3,000 miles a year. I would overhaul the bike each spring, repacking the bearings, changing cables as necessary and changing the chain. In the 13 years I rode that bike, I don't recall changing the freewheel more than once or twice. Putting on a new chain would slip for a day or two but then settle in and provide thousands of miles of solid performance.

So, once I got a new bike I started running into more problems. If the chain got rusty or started to slip I would take it to the shop and have the techs again say to change both the chain and the freewheel. I would change the chain only and it would work fine for one change. After that, changing the chain wouldn't be good enough, the chain would slip and I'd be going back to get the freewheel changed. I was going through 3 or 4 chains a year and a two freewheels.

So I asked, "How often should I change the chain?"

"300 miles."

What? An inexpensive chain costs $8. A freewheel will cost $30. That's as much as a full tank of gas and I'll get 300 miles out of that. You mean to tell me that I have to regularly spend as much on hardware for my bike as I do getting gas for my car? Madness.

Well, the last time I had my bike repaired, it was at Iron City Bikes in Oakland. The tech there explained chain wear to me, unlike the other guys at the more high-end shops who just told me I needed to change both chain and freewheel. The chain wears, of course, and that will wear the freewheel but not at the same rate. If you go too long without changing the chain, the freewheel will wear more to the point where the worn freewheel will wear the chain faster than normal. If you change the chain properly, the freewheel won't show significant wear and won't need to be changed with the chain.

"OK. So, again, how often should I change the chain?"

He didn't know. Too many variables, I suppose. But he had a chain tool that would measure how much wear was on the chain. When it reached a certain point, that was when to change the chain.

Now, one would think, what with the chain being the part of the bike that requires the most maintenance and needs replacing most often, that the bike catalogs would have the appropriate chain tool on their front page. But you'd be wrong. I regularly receive Performance Bicycle and Nashbar catalogs in the mail and neither one had either the simple Park Tool CC-3 Chain Wear Indicator or the more elaborate Park Tool CC-2 Chain Checker. One could find the wear indicator in tool sets but never individually. Nor could I find any on the shelves at any of the upscale bike shops in the area.It's like there is a grand conspiracy to keep these simple and most likely to be used tools away from your average consumer. This forces them to go to bike shops and over-pay for maintenance and fund the shop owner's $5000 composite frame bikes.

It's been 18 weeks since I had the chain replaced and a new freewheel installed with about 1200 miles in the meantime. My new chain tool ordered online indicates that my chain wear was at just about the 1% wear mark; the point recommended for the changing of the chain. It's so simple. Walk in, buy a new chain and I'm good to go for another 1,200 miles.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Unwanted resident.

I've been noticing this past week that my mouse has developed a skip and jump. Now, I have worked at tech support long enough to know that the vast majority of the time when someone calls and says they need a new mouse, they just need to clean it properly. Turn the disk. Remove the ball and look inside at the three rollers; one that looks like a wheel the other two like little rods. Flakes of skin and dirt have been picked up by the ball to deposit a ring of waxy gunk around the rollers. Reach in with a fingernail and scrape that crud off and, nine times out of ten the problem will be solved.

Except that I have an optical mouse.

So, after a week of noticing this and just discounting it because that kind of thing doesn't happen to an optical mouse, I finally picked it up and looked.

In the depression housing the LED, a tiny spider had taken up residence and its gossamer web had been disrupting mouse performance.

My basement is like "Kingdom of the Spiders". They are everywhere. Not that it's a bad thing because there are seldom other kinds of insects to be found. I just didn't expect one to take up residence inside my mouse.

Sorry, pal. This is your eviction notice.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Be unafraid. Be very unafraid.

The recent issue of National Geographic had a one-page display of the odd of dying of various causes:

1 in 5 Heart disease
1 in 7 Cancer
1 in 24 Stroke
1 in 84 Motor Vehicle Accident
1 in 119 Suicide
1 in 218 Falling
1 in 314 Firearm assault
1 in 626 Pedestrian accident
1 in 1,008 Drowning
1 in 1,020 Motorcycle accident
1 in 1,113 Fire or smoke inhalation
1 in 4,919 Bicycling accident
1 in 5,051 Air/space accident
1 in 5,134 Accidental firearm discharge
1 in 9,968 Accidental electrocution
1 in 10,048 Alcohol poisoning
1 in 13,729 Hot weather
1 in 56,789 Hornet, wasp or bee sting
1 in 62,468 Legal execution
1 in 79,746 Lightning
1 in 117,127 Earthquake
1 in 144,156 Flood
1 in 340,733 Fireworks discharge

(these are numbers for US residents)

With all the hoopla over terrorism that's been going on, I was curious how concerned I should actually be about bombings, poison gas, snipers and the like. I found a Cato Institute article in Regulation Magazine that, while it didn't give the actual odds, stated the risk this way:

"Even with the September 11 attacks included in the count, the number of Americans killed by international terrorism since the late 1960s (when the State Department began counting) is about the same as the number of people killed by lightning, accident-causing deer or severe allergic reactions to peanuts."

Look at the numbers. Americans are more likely to be executed by their own government than they are to be killed by some foreign extremist. So, who are the terrorists here? And when our leaders stand at the podium and ask us to give up our constitutional rights, who should we be afraid of?

The answer is that we should fear our own government because they seem to be utilizing our un-substantiated fears to erode our rights and secure more power for themselves.

Gen. Richard Myers, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was telling a television audience that if terrorists were able to engineer a catastrophic event that killed 10,000 people, they would successfully "do away with our way of life."

The National Institute of Health says that 280,000 people a year die of complication caused by obesity. That doesn't seem to be doing away with our way of life.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Crossing a petroleum threshold

Today was the first time that I had to purchase gasoline for over the dreaded $3 a gallon. Three-quarters of a tank cost me $30.

Now, I'd like to gloat that by riding my bike I'm saving a couple of bucks a week. At least, that's what The Gas Saving Calculator suggests. But I still do a significant amount of other driving and until my daughter owns a car of my own she still drives it from time to time. It doesn't take long for that to absorb any financial savings I might accrue from biking. But I get much more benefit than just the money. The exercise helps to counter the detrimental effects of my sedentary workplace and metatarian diet. When I don't ride, I notice it physically.

I'd like to ride further for my commute but doing that would require riding more on the roads and, in Pittsburgh, that isn't much fun. If the trail groups could come to an agreement with Sandcastle, using the South Side Trail into Homestead could safely add 50% to my daily commute.

Is it weird to think favorably about making one's commute LONGER? Not if your riding a bicycle.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Last night, I slept upside-down in the bed so that my head and torso would be in the direct path of the breeze created by the window fan. When I started out in the morning it was a foggy 74 degrees. Then, at the end of the workday I stepped out of the climate-controlled office building into the downtown 94 degree inferno for a 7 mile bike ride on city streets and blacktop. Add the humidity and it feels over 100. Home again, I tried to avoid going upstairs because I knew it would be hot but I wanted to change out of my bike shorts. My bedroom temperature was 89 degrees. I've taken to turning the computer off to keep it from overheating because even the basement is hot. It's the kind of long-term, oppressive heat that makes me wish for snow. Of course, I say that remembering not that many months ago when it was bitterly cold and I was wishing for global warming. Oh, the irony.

More of the same tomorrow but forecasters predict temperatures will
moderate later in the week.High Temperatures, 1 August 2006