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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Voicemail Lady

This weekend we replaced our voicemail system here at Stanford for all Medical Center phones. I just got a call from a doctor in the Med School who was having a bit of trouble accessing saved messages on the new system. He wasn't actually certain what a web browser was, so that the change was tripping him up wasn't a really big surprise.

We worked through his basic problem with some saved messages, and then he admitted to having another complaint. The new voicemail lady just wasn't as nice as the old voicemail lady. She seemed more abrupt and pushy.

This isn't the first time we've heard this complaint. I said that we'd heard the same thing from other folks, but that unless we wanted to rerecord every system prompt using someone here at Stanford, then we were limited to using the voice the company gave us, and that we'd already approached the powers that be about such a thing (and what it would cost) when they made the same complaint. The dollars just couldn't be justified, so we keep the voicemail lady we've got. This actually seemed to make him feel a lot better about it.

It's just interesting to me because though I agree with him, I couldn't put my finger on why it's true. It's such a tiny, subtle difference between the voices, but it's enough to make lots of people think kindly of the old system. Is this a unique expression of the usual change management problem - they hate the old right up until the moment they're forced onto the new system - or is it something totally different. Is the new voicemail lady just slightly bitchier, enough that people perceive her as brusque rather than neutral? And what does that imply about how subtle perceptions are about our own words and tone?

Friday, February 19, 2010

I Love My Cute Boy

So there's a restaurant in Davis that makes a dish I love. We're not often in Davis anymore though, and rarely contemplating dinner out when we are. So the Cute Boy decided to look up a recipe for my favorite dish. Then he spent the next two days preparing the meal. This involved grocery shopping and marinating meat and picking an ungodly number of cilantro leaves from their stems. Meanwhile, he also fixed my drippy shower AND got us a compost bin.

So I head home last night and come home to the entire house smelling like kitchen-heaven. The dish is a Firecracker Pork Fusilli, so it's pork and pasta and there's a brown glaze made from a reduction of the marinade, plus a habanero-cilantro pesto, plus a dollop of sour cream. It turned out really well. Also, he made manly sized portions, so I took some to work for lunch today, keeping the pesto and sour cream separate. I heated it up and then added the pesto and sour cream. Add to that a slice of leftover pie and I'm eating like a princess today.

Oh, and he got a teaching gig for the spring at Foothill College, continuing his unnatural streak of job interview = job offer. I'm so keeping him.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Beautiful Day

I went over to the command center for the voicemail rollout earlier and couldn't believe what a beautiful day it is. So, I came back to my desk, grabbed my soda cup, and headed for the Clark Center. Up and down and up and down and up and down later, I grabbed a soda. It is just gorgeous outside, totally belying the tragedy a couple of miles away and the power outage that will stretch into the evening. Nope - from here it's just a beautiful early spring day, 65 degrees and sunny with trees just starting to bud and bloom.

Why?

Why do environmental activism organizations send me the most paper? I got calendars from 3 different orgs this year (with the usual pleas for money) and I have to say, any org that's shipping out that much paper isn't an org I'm going to send money to. Next they'll be sending my "I support hypocrisy!" bumper sticker. Sheesh.

Living the Happy Life

There's an odd poll published by Gallup about the areas that are happiest and have the best sense of well-being. Where I live tops the list for big metropolitan areas. I'd tend to agree. Most folks here work hard and play hard. We apparently rate especially high in both "Healthy Behavior" and "Physical Health." Well imagine that - our veggie-eating, exercise-loving, no smoking in public places lifestyle makes us healthier than average? Nah! Anyhow, can't say whether the impression maps to actual reality (survey responses vs. actual health stats), so that would be interesting, but this is a weird window on our self-perception.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Healthy Eating

I made a lovely dinner last night for girls night. First we had veggie samosas and spinach salad with blueberries, cherries, walnuts and dried edamame. Then we had Erin's fresh baked bread and veggie stew. The stew is:
- 1 bag of frozen black-eyed peas
- 1 bag of frozen corn
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 jar of Classico Organic Tomato Herbs & Spices Pasta Sauce
I boil the peas first in a bit of salted water, then sautee the onions a bit, then throw it all together in a pot and let it simmer for a half hour or so. A little cracked pepper and parmesan cheese on top and it's tasty.For dessert I baked a blueberry-blackberry-raspberry pie. Sure, we had butter on our bread and a dollop of whipped cream on our pie, but no one can argue we didn't get our full servings of very colorful fruits and vegetables yesterday!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Vampires, Demons, Zombies, and Classic English Literature

It all started innocently enough. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was perfectly amusing. It was a rollicking way to tromp through the old pages once more, with a special twist.

But now there's a prequel: Pride and Prejudice - Dawn of the Dreadfuls. And there's a sequel (of sorts) from the same publisher: Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. And another publisher has gotten into the act and now there's Mansfield Park and Mummies.

But then it gets even wackier. The original author of P&P&Z has moved on to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Someone else has penned Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter. Perhaps they'll team up to hunt down Mr. Darcy, Vampyre or the undead Jane Austen of Jane Bites Back.

Meanwhile, Quirk Classics, the publisher who started it all, is not content to leave their doings to 19th century England. Attention turns to Russian lit with Android Karenina.

I am at once bemused and aghast. I see a fascinating new genre growing into form and I suspect I'll actually get to be selective about which ones of these I opt to read because they won't be strictly novelty, but will have varying degrees of quality from which to choose. That's kind of cool. Literature, history, and fiction mixing it up and creating new from old? Yeah, I'm down with that.

Warmth, Competence, Respect, and Geeks

Every day, we judge everyone around us based on their warmth and competence. Reading this article reminded me that while an impression of competence is easy enough to maintain via actions, I can tune how warm I appear to others, and should definitely be aware of that in meetings with new colleagues and clients. My life will be far easier in the long run if I'm perceived as both competent AND warm.

That dovetails nicely with this ComputerWorld article about managing geeks. If you get the geeks to respect you, anything is possible, but without a manager that exudes competence and warmth (and especially competence), you can't get respect, and then things fall apart.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Movie Meme

Rules: Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen films you've seen that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall -- they don't have to be the best films of all time.

1. Mary Poppins
2. Pump Up the Volume
3. Clue
4. Dead Poets Society
5. The Princess Bride
6. Heathers
7. Star Wars
8. Gattaca
9. Romeo + Juliet (Baz Luhrman)
10. Moulin Rouge
11. Princess Mononoke
12. Rocky Horror Picture Show
13. Serenity
14. Singing in the Rain
15. Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Other contenders for that last slot:
Ghostbusters
Toy Story
Some Like it Hot

AT&T Addendum

Kevin rightly points out that my cell phone is still via AT&T, but thankfully, due to their unbelievably poor integration, I haven't had problems with Cingular AT&T Mobility. In fact, through all of this, I still get that bill via eBills on Wells Fargo as that bill is completely separate from my residential phone service and DSL bill. I actually really like their rate structure. The rollover minutes concept saves me a lot of hassle.

Still, come the end of my AT&T iPhone contract, I will be looking into the Nexus One offerings at other providers.

AT&T Infinite Fail + 1

Remember back in October when AT&T randomly started billing me for "Enhanced Billing Services" without my consent? Well, since then, I've gotten to spend hours on the phone with AT&T at least once a month. They have:

    - allowed this other company to bill me without my consent
    - said they'd fix it
    - didn't fix it
    - told me I needed to fix it by contacting the other company
    - billed me again, even after I'd called and fixed it with the other company
    - randomly stopped sending my bill to Wells Fargo eBills (Wells Fargo says "Discontinued by Biller")
    - this caused my bill to go unpaid for a month, leading to a late fee
    - the late fee was waived by a nice human I talked to when I called again (fourth time now!)
    - after re-enabling e-billing on Wells Fargo's site, AT&T sent email demanding a verification, and sent me to a website my account type (not U-Verse!) cannot access to verify
    - I tried calling during my time off, but was told that the AT&T offices were closed, though it was late-afternoon on a Saturday
    - got another call from AT&T saying they needed me to verify my request or it would be canceled

That's where things were when I started dealing with this a bit before five o'clock on January 7th. Then I:

    - tried to remember again what mysterious email address AT&T has assigned to me, because they won't let me define the email address I should use to log in, but instead picked a random email account they created and I have never ever once logged in to review
    - jumped through hoops at that web site answering a bizarre list of "security" questions (my choices being either "Who is your favorite actor?" or "Who was your childhood hero?")
    - got to a page that said I'm in the wrong place
    - tried calling to fix this
    - got hung up on while being transferred around
    - got hung up again while waiting on hold after 17 minutes
    - called back to wait on hold again for another 25 mintues
    - got passed around to tech support and after waiting on hold for another 22 minutes was told that I needed to talk to billing or that maybe I should try live chat
    - started live chat and had him transfer me to billing
    - did live chat while waiting on hold and found that Unica, my chat support rep, could not help
    - Unica recommended calling the tech support department
    - talked to billing, who said they couldn't help with web site problems, and couldn't enter a verification over the phone because they couldn't access that
    - got passed back (without my consent) to technical support
    - at this point I requested he send me to service cancellation instead
    - the cancellation department is apparently encouraged to transfer you anywhere else, so they transferred me back to tech support, again without my consent or acknowledgment
    - waited another 20 minutes and learned a deep hatred for AT&T's hold music
    - I talked to tech support again, now exhausted, and the chap went and got his supervisor (I'm pretty sure I'd talked to the same tech support dude an hour earlier, so he knew what was coming)
    - Supervisor apologized, but said there was nothing he could do, but recommended sending an email via the web site since the department I really needed didn't actually have phone support, so that was the best way
    - I submitted an email form, which went to a blank white screen rather than any submission confirmation

Over two hours later, I still couldn't verify that I wanted to get eBills via Wells Fargo, and my blood pressure was through the roof.

I've so had it with this big old dinosaur that doesn't seem to be able to tell it's tail from it's feet. The biggest problem here seems to be that none of the departments have effective cross-communication and that different service offerings (like U-Verse vs. AT&T/Yahoo DSL vs. regular old phone service) seem to be incredibly poorly integrated. I think the email I got was for a web page only U-Verse users could access, but I don't have U-Verse, so it was rejecting me, and there was no way to report or resolve the problem once it started. Not merely a dinosaur; a dinosaur with acromegaly.

So then I logged onto the Comcast site. I could order internet there, but just to check in I decided to call to take care of some other business like changing my phone number to something other than my land line, which now it seemed unlikely I'd be keeping.

I talked to a nice young man who said he could set that up, wondered if I wanted the cable guy to come out for installation for $25 or if I wanted to get a self-install kit for free. I said I was thinking of picking up a cable modem at Fry's on my way home. He asked what variety. I gave him a model number for one I had checked on their list on their easy-to-use and informative web site that I had found on the Fry's web site for in-store pickup. He cross-checked it on their list and said that would be fine, so he could have the technician turn it on now, and I'd just need to call and give them the MAC address when I got home and plugged in the modem. I said, "... Now?" He said, "Yes, it's all set." I said, "I love you!"

I then hung up and changed all of my contact numbers for PG&E, credit cards, Wells Fargo... everything! Now everything is calling Google Voice to reach me.

Since then I've set up a cable modem, reset the wireless router to manage that connection, ended DSL service less than a week later, and kept the land line just long enough for The Woodbury to deal with some EDD issues without burning through every minute on his cell phone. Last night, I called to disconnect the land line a couple minutes before 6 p.m. After wandering through 10 minutes of phone tree interactions (including being placed on hold), I was told by a recording that this department was closed and that I needed to call back during normal business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Riiiiiiiight. Interesting how I can't disconnect service via the web or via email or anything else, and I can only do it during hours that most everyone is at work. (Oh, and just for giggles, I tried filing an email form on the web last night, but it again goes to a blank white screen because their web site is so very broken.) So, this morning I called back and disconnected it.

Farewell Pacific Bell SBC AT&T! After too many years being a thorn in my side, I can only say, "Good riddance!"

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

La La Love You

So there's this article in Scientific American about some research behind falling in love. What is it that creates intimacy exactly? The article starts with one of the single most depressing facts I've ever read: "About half of first marriages fail in the U.S., as do two thirds of second marriages and three quarters of third marriages." Yikes. But it goes on to talk about how looking at someone creates intimacy. Reading through the "Soul Gazing" experiments, I started getting weird set of butterflies in my stomach.
Full MoonSee, for years, Belle's home position was to gaze lovingly up at Ebenezer. So reading this research, I suddenly started feeling a little guilty. I guess I'd been sort of artificially creating intimacy with the gents who played Scrooge. Oops. Two failed relationships later (one apiece), I find myself dating (well, um, living with, planning a future, etc.) my former Mr. Scrooge. From a theatrical/character perspective, it was totally the right thing to do, but I have to say, knowing what I know now, I probably would pick a different way to express that. EDIT: Which is not to say that I dislike how things turned out for me!

And it turns out, we can further mold our partners into their best selves by wishing them to be so. I hope Erik can help me grow into my best self. Lord knows he says I've been influencing him of late (for better or worse - he's started to like Diet Coke!). He keeps telling me I'm awesome, so I hope to be able to live up to that.

Valentine's Day is coming up. In our typical geeky way, we're off to DunDraCon, because we say I love you by kicking each other's ass in a game. Oh yah.

Tab Closing

There's a lot of random tabs open. I've been waiting for a consistent theme to emerge, but it hasn't. It's just random.

The article that's had me pondering most in recent history was The White City. I've got friends who've moved to Portland. I've got friends who talk about moving to Portland. It's even a joke in Stuff White People Like. Hell, I loved it when I was there last year. It's a great town. Now why does that make me feel all... wrong... now. Hrmmmm. Ah to heck with it. Ali and Mark and Anyanka live there and that's good enough for me. Harumph. (Plus the food is really good. And Powell's is the best thing ever. And... aw crap. Yeah.)

In other news, apparently radiation is what turns your hair gray. Go figure. I can't say what that means for me, but I can say I'm about 70% gray these days. That runs in my family, but man, it's not fun. I'd love to just grow it out and not dye it all the time, but I'd have to be really horribly ugly for quite some time while it grew out and I don't wanna. Blame it on the radiation. Or genetics. Or something.

Anxiety, OCD, heck even Tourette's... could it be related to that Strep Throat you thought you got over a while ago?

Do you ever get stuck in those weird discussions where someone cites solar flares as the cause for global climate change or says it used to be warmer in the Middle Ages? Scientific American rebuffs climate contrarian darlings in this article. My opinion: global climate change - it's going to be really expensive to deal with the effects, so why not do a little to head it off, eh? Of course, the generation most likely to doubt climate change is also the generation that has saddled me with an enormous national debt to pay off, so why would they want to help head off a problem rather than letting the next generation deal with it?

Well that was depressing. As it turns out, people who are clinically depressed lack endurance. Interesting.

That's all for now folks!