Businesses I use Kudos – April 2013

Print Friendly

With the economy the way it is… I can feel the crunch hurting businesses… some cut frills some seem to cut service or staff quality. Given some of the bad choices being made, there are a few businesses I want to recommend.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance & Virgina Mason

My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer this winter.  We are blogging about it at www.boobsofsteel.com   If you read the blog you will find that Virgina Mason’s parking acted as a distracting nuisance I could blow off steam with and we have some communication issues with the cancer team early on, but looking back and reading what others around the nation have had to go through… I am in awe of the speed we were given access to world class testing and diagnosis and from what I can tell the overall treatment plan is very much what we will be getting at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.  VM has gotten many national awards and I see some very well defined business process applied to their medicine that streamlines visits etc.  but I never saw anything that skimped on the medicine.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is an interesting beast.  The are very proactive in their marketing and the only complaints I read about them is that they are proactive in billing.  To be honest that is what keeps a business going in this economy.  But I have to say that our cancer care team and our visits there are always just full of compassion, clear communication and respect.  I know there is a pervasive idea that health-care should be free and no one should profit from it.  Frankly when your wife has breast cancer, health care should be excellent and whatever motivates the creation of better care is fine by me.  My wife’s cancer appeared from nowhere.. less than 12 months after her annual mammogram and doctor’s breast exam a baseball-sized tumor was removed.  The typical waits to see doctors and get tests in places like Canada would have killed her.  I  have a real respect for SCCA, its run like a successful tech company, using marketing, partnerships and service to offer great heath-care for one of the best cancer care systems on the planet.  No free or government run clinic could match what they are doing, I thank God for them often.

MXGuarddog

From cancer to SPAM. Working a contract at Microsoft currently and having worked on the Forefront team, I wanted to use the MS service to filter spam on my small home email server, we just moved to Comcast Xfinity service and they block all port 25 traffic.  The Microsoft Exchange Online Protection service is well priced for what we needed, but only works on port 25.. so I had to walk away.  Google has pretty much ended their Postini service forcing you to buy into Google Apps to access the service.  I was almost to the point of moving our family email system to Office 365 and may still someday.. Then I found MXGUARDDOG.

Can a free spam filter for email servers work?  After several weeks I am pleased.  There is not a lot adjustments to the SPAM picking functions to change the filtering level.  But it seems to do well and there are easy to use tools to white-list and black-list senders, domains and IPs.  You can have tagged spam delivered so your email rules can collect it or have it kept on the MXGD server and a report is emailed to each user with easy click-to-deliver the rare false positives.  They replaced my MX back-up service too for the nearly free price.  The have four MX servers, only one showed up on one SPAM blacklist service (probably for bounced messages. some spam black-list services are overly aggressive) The rest of the servers are clean and well run.  So far I have had to tell my server not to block their reports and have had to domain white-list two vendors we subscribe to that use ConstantContact.com.

You can buy credits for a small fee or get credits for placing a link on a web site.  I am more than happy to promote a well run business with a great service on my own website.

Seattle Coffee Gear

Turns out something on my birthday list for my wife, was also something she wanted. S0 we bought as a mutual anniversary gift: a Breville BES840XL Espresso Machine and a Breville grinder.  Seattle Coffee Gear has a top notch website, good use of web and social media and an out of the way but well run local show room near our home. Their video reviews are both fun and very useful in choosing both large ticket gear and accessories.

If you love coffee and want to buy gear from people who test and know what they sell… go to Seattle Coffee Gear.  Sometimes their prices are competitive and sometimes less so.  But they are not chasing the discount customer, they are serving the customer who appreciates passion and expertise in coffee making.  They not only sold me a great machine, when I had problems and I went back.  They moved a floor machine to a place we could test it and practice the right way to use our new machine.  Their 15 minutes of customer service after the sale was the difference between us being frustrated with a new machine and loving it!

Buca di Beppo

Our family has been going to Bucca for years.. and you can watch how the crowds change and how they adapt.  I would say that based on the open seats at dinner last Friday and the light traffic 2-3 days a week when going to work,  we have already entered another bad recession… When things are good Bucca is fun, has good food and is filled.  When things get tight it is a luxury.  I was there for a dad and daughter night.. since my wife is out of town.  The food and service is good.  They have even added the idea of introducing staff by name as we pass.  To save costs and I expect turn tables a bit faster, they went from the fancy ring bound many page menu to a large single fold menu where you can see everything.  You lose the great images of the food, but the menus are clearly lower cost to change and produce and it does make choosing the entire meal easier.  For a company to improve service and reduce costs where few will miss it makes Buca di Beppo one of my smart business stars.

 

eBay Negligence and a 22 Year-old Twinkie

Print Friendly

What I want to discuss here, is how a company can create failure by turning over too much to automation and off-shore support.  That failure can hurt its customers.

Today, I learned eBay has some serious flaws in its business processes.  In this case they truly affected the probable success of a charity auction.  This level of automation and seeking to avoid hiring people to do a job real people need to do, is where eBay is failing and in my opinion negligent.

Even as I wrote this I realized what makes this story of eBay so frustrating, is that they actively promote people putting their businesses and charities online.  They tell us to promote our auction listings.  So while each listing may carry the weight of a business or organization’s hard work, eBay has a system that throws away listings like they are worthless.  There is no undo or trashcan we an recover the listing from, both software technologies are over two decades old. When they end an auction even by mistake it is incinerated, destroyed with all the bids and extenal promotion work for that listing.  They do not value their own service, yet we are suppose to.

A Historic Theater and a 22 Year Old Twinkie

The story begins with the 111 year-old Historic Everett Theater, that needed to raise some funds if it wanted to continue to show films.  Its half-century projectors work fine, but Hollywood is ending the distribution of movies on 35mm film.  They will need a digital system or they will have to stop showing films.

Enter the 22 Year-old Twinkie.  Matt Terry, the unpaid, passionate Film Coordinator for the theater, in 1990 bought a box of Twinkies and put one away in a wood box to see how long it would last.  Given the sad demise of Hostess and the fact that Matt had just kicked off a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter.com the idea of using a 22 year-old Twinkie auction to raise some money and gain publicity for the theater seemed perfect.

I am Matt’s brother-in-law.  I have worked on marketing programs for Microsoft and I have done online work for small businesses and non-profits.  The idea came on Thanksgiving, but we didn’t just rush out and put the Twinkie online.  We did hours and hours of preparation (unpaid.)  We followed the entire process eBay outlined for setting up a 501(c3) account on eBay so the auction funds would go to the Theater and not fees etc.  We did everything right.

We used our website 22YearOldTwinkie.com to anchor the part of the campaign.  Set up a Twitter account and Facebook page. We started the hard work of building “buzz.”  With the hope of hitting a viral goldmine and getting the funds for the theater.

We did everything right, except we trusted eBay to be a professionally run business, which it clearly is not.

It was working.  One of the area’s largest radio stations KIRO FM recorded an interview, in which Matt discussed the end-time of the Twinkie auction.  The Everett Herald was writing a story about the Twinkie and the fund raising for the theater.  I even invested $120 of my own money to pay for a professional press release through PRWeb. That was scheduled to go out early December 5th.

By Tuesday evening, December 4th a week before the auction close, we had nearly 300 views and 3 bidders.  That is a terrific start for an auction.  We were building Buzz locally, with the hope it could go national.  The auction listing had 4 days of maturity to validate the idea when the Press Release went out.

Tuesday evening, PRWeb sent me a note about what edits I need to make to our press release, for it to receive full distribution.  I noted this process clearly meant a real person reviewed our content and made clear helpful suggestions.  I made the edits and resubmited for a Wednesday morning release.  All is good, I went to bed.  It’s nice doing business with people who value their customers. You can see the final press release here.

We did everything right, except we trusted eBay to be a professionally run business, which it clearly is not.

How Trusting eBay Damaged Our Charity Auction

Again eBay was NEGLIGENT with its customer’s asset and destroyed real value we had created with hard work and planning.

At 7:30 am I get up and start checking all my Twinkie sites for problems or new traffic etc.

To my shock, our eBay posting been removed!!  Gone was the link we had tweeted out all weekend. All those tweets are broken and will have to be deleted.  Gone are the nearly 300 views we had that helped reinforce the buzz for our auction.  Gone are the very early three bidders we had that validated that this was a real auction for a real item that had value.

Can a Computer or Someone in India Understand the Value of a 22 Year-old Twinkie?

There are messages in our eBay inbox telling us because “they suspected”, not that “we reported” suspicious activity on our account and it had been suspended.  Not because WE did anything wrong, but they wanted to confirm IDs.

That’s like shooting a possible victim at crime that never happened!!

From what they tell me this is an automated process.  There is no way a computer could know how to look at the listing, see all the back-links to that theater’s websites etc. and know all was fine.  eBay didn’t do the proper thing and flag it for review by a human, and if they did that person clearly was not trained well enough.  The computer just canceled a 4 day old listing with active bids, and suspended our account until we called back.  eBay was negligent, in that they turned over a customer account and customer asset of value to a machine to manage.

When I called, I was talking to a very nice man in India.  He was very professional, bcause I was yelling mad, I had no clue how betrayed and cheated I felt until he answered.  I don’t use profanity. But I was loud and upset, I have worked tech support lines and I was a nightmare call.  Because I didn’t want to hear “I’m sorry”.  As a customer and a charity customer, I need to hear.. “We are ready to fix our mistake.”

That never came.  After three supervisors.. I am still told there is no way, even though we passed the ID check, to turn back on our original listing.  It’s gone, destroyed by an automated process with no clue the work and timing that went into the creation.

Again eBay was NEGLIGENT with its customer’s asset and destroyed real value we had created with hard work and planning.

Even after talking to the supervisor’s supervisor, they have no access in India to any technical support people who could help them do one of two simple things, recover our original posting. Or at least help us repost with the same end time. [We have had to repost after losing a full day, the day our press release went out.  The new posting is set to start at 7PM PST December 5th and end one day later than before]

eBay acts like they have no ability to manage their own system. Or is it just they save money by routing calls to India, and not trusting those people with the ability to serve the customer and correct errors?

I don’t yet know where this will go, I will never know the cost to the charity when bids were canceled and people saw our press release but ended up with a removed item error on eBay, instead an auction with three bidders and almost 300 views.

That’s like shooting a possible victim at crime that never happened!!

I do know:

  • That we lost 4 days of momentum on our auction. We lost bids and validation that comes from planning and getting page hits.
  • Our first charity auction was made to look like it was dishonest so our reputation was damaged.
  • And I have lost all trust for eBay, it a poorly designed and run business, which has the monopoly on a useful service by being there first.
  • I do know that eBay doesn’t value the importance of their service as much as some of us made the mistake of doing.  If they did, they wouldn’t destroy auction listings so easily.

At some point eBay and other business need to understand to destroy customer value with an automated process is not efficiency it is negligence.

One more note: eBay promised me a call back, and they NEVER did.  Again you can be poorly run, and still make money.  That is sad.

Windows 8 Install on my 8440P Elitebook

Print Friendly

DisclaimerI am currently not working at Microsoft.  I do however have a long history of working for them, for partners and as a contract staffer.  What does that mean?  It means I understand that Microsoft is full of hard working people. Its not some giant boogeyman.

NOTE: Updated info at end including how owners of um2000/um2420/um2430 cards can get 100MB a month of Free Broadband!

During my last stint at Microsoft, I was not using the pre-release software.  But as I prepare to go back in the next few weeks I knew I needed to get caught up.  Microsoft is pretty good about putting its staff first on beta software and then the current release.  This provides a large user base that gives them extra insight into any issues that might pop-up.  While many businesses will wait a year or more before moving to the newest version of a Microsoft release.  Microsoft puts large numbers of its people doing important business on pre-release software.  I always respected this about them.

Diving in Early

So this week I picked up a copy of Microsoft Windows 8 Pro.  In the past, I ended up in with Windows Vista early because of software needs, but found the first 6 months to be frustrating until the hardware drivers got better. After that it was clearly better than XP.  I did Windows 7 much sooner and it was good.  I have not used Windows 8 even in pre-release this time.  I had read the mixed reviews, but as I expect to be back at Microsoft by January. I knew I needed to get up to speed. So decided to set up dual boot on my notebook.

I was dismayed that the packaging did not say “upgrade” anywhere in the branding.  Even the fine print about upgrading it uses the word “if”.  So after putting in a spare hard drive and doing a clean install over an old copy of Windows 7, I made the mistake of doing a custom set up and wipping the drive.  Again the box never said upgrade only, nor did the set up warn me that wiping the drive would create problems activating Windows 8.  After installing it and doing updates and putting a couple of hours into the process, I did an activation.  It failed with an error that I could not use my key for a clean install.  Trust me I have discs and keys for several older versions.  But there was no option to validate it this way either.  In the end I did find a trick out on the net that did work.  [not linking this trick, in deference to my ongoing association to Microsoft]

In the end after making some mistakes in playing with driver and software installs I decided to roll all my learning into a new install.  I was able to “update” my Windows 8 to Windows 8.  There is an option there to update and “Save Nothing” It does a pretty clean install.  If you have folders left by companies like Nvidia or HP in the root, they stay.  But all Windows and installed software related folders are moved to a folder C:\Windows.Old.  You can then use disk clean-up tool to delete that folder.  So you can do a clean install, but it has to be to a drive that has Windows on it when you start.

For me as someone who does work in marketing, I see the error as not being clear that Windows 8 Pro is an upgrade only package.  Sure if you know the new product versions you know that it is the System Builder version that is for clean installs.  But to me that’s like saying “Take a turn where the old gas station was before they tore it down.”  If you are not aware that “System Builders” are for clean install, there is no indication that you can’t do it on the Windows 8 Pro Package and no software warning as it lets you wipe a drive during setup up.  Microsoft needs to look at that, and I would be surprised if it doesn’t cost them some support calls and much harsher worded posts over the coming weeks.

About My System

I have an HP Elitebook 8440p that is fully loaded with Blue-tooth, WAN 3G card and finger print reader.  My other dismay was with HP.  I bought this machine in December of 2010 and it is by far the best notebook I have ever owned.  It even came with a three year standard warranty.  Except HP says on its website that is has no plans to update drivers to Windows 8 for machines bought before November 2011.  Really?  I have a three year warranty on a machine that HP is making a “driver orphan” after only 2 years.  The even sadder aspect is that with a few tricks I have all my devices working on this device perfectly.  The core drivers work fine with Windows 8.  Its the HP installers that do other things along with the drivers like installing complex security apps that have a problem.  I should mention that I am running Windows 64bit on all my machines at this time.  While I can see HP not doing a full software update of all the tools they add to the system, every core hardware device they sell with the machine should get a Windows 8 update.  From what I can tell it may just take some simplifying of the installs of the current drive set.

Getting Windows 8 Working on an HP 8440P Elitebook.

The clean install of Windows 8 works pretty well.  While HP is not updating their downloads officially to Windows 8 to make it easy for us.  It’s clear that the Microsoft driver library has nearly a full set of  drivers for this machine’s hardware. Right off the bat within an hour it was clear to me that Windows 8 is much more like Windows 7 in being ready to use unlike Windows Vista was.  There are a few small hiccups I will discuss, but the driver support is there and the release build is solid and stable.

What doesn’t work after Windows 8 is installed

After installing there were  a few “unknown devices” listed in Device Manager.  At some point in the future it would be nice if Microsoft had Windows change this to “unsupported NAME” and there were basic names like “card reader” or “blue tooth” to give us a clue.  Writing this from memory the three unknown devices that come up are:

  • The Ricoh based SD card slot
  • The HP Blue-Tooth adapter, that is based on Broadcom technology
  • The Validity finger print reader

Not listed in Device Manager, but not working / installed after initial setup.

  • HP um2420 internal 3G wan card
  • Some of the control buttons and hot keys for screen brightness etc.
  • While the Audio works fine, the mute button stays orange but works (it should only be lite orange when muted)
  • HP 3D drive protection, that parks the drive if it feels the machine start to drop more move too fast

Easy Driver/Software Installs

The first step is to visit the HP Download Site for the 8440P  I have not reinstalled all the software etc for the machine.  This machine ships with a lot of interesting pre-boot tricks etc. After the first few weeks I disabled those and have never installed when doing updates.  It also has some pretty complex security software.  For now I am not installing that, I will explain more later. Below are the devices and tools that install perfectly into Windows 8.

  • The Ricoh Card-reader driver
  • The HP IDT HD Audio Drivers   (This gives more audio processing features and fixes the “mute button always orange problem.”
  • HP 3D DriveGuard
  • HP Quick Launch Buttons
  • HP Wireless Manager OR HP Connection Manager (must use version 4.21 and this is only needed if you have a cellular card installed)
    [If you install the Connection Manager, do it AFTER you deal with the WAN Cellular card driver outlined bellow then come back to it]

Drivers That Take Creative Problem Solving

The Blue-tooth Adapter was a pain, but also was the one that taught me some tricks that I suspect will help with other Windows 8 driver installs.  Windows Update offered a driver for this that failed to install.  The error for one of my installs suggested I go to the maker’s site.  The HP install AND the Broadcom install both fail.  The most common error was “access denied”  The trick is to install the basic drivers and avoid the HP and other installs.  When HP installs an update it creates folders named SPnnnn under C:/Swsetup.  For the blue-tooth on my machine this was labled  sp46063 [Link]. To get the blue-tooth working.  After letting the HP install make the folder and fail. Uninstall the the device from device manager to clear out any fildercarb.  Then for my system I opened up the “Win64″ folder under the SP46063 folder.  I ran the set up from that folder. It completed and I have a working blue-tooth adapter which I paired with my PCCARD slot mouse/pointer.

The Finger Print reader is a different issue. The HP driver appears to install fine.  Then you can install the HP ProtectTools and all seems fine.  But at least with the machine tied to my Live.com Microsoft account.  I could not get fingerprint log-on to work.  That is the main thing I do with the reader for now on this machine.  I was able to set up the fingerprint pre-boot security just fine.  But I still had to type my password in to log-on to windows.  This is even though after HP sets up it up it acts like there is a fingerprint log-on option, but it doesn’t work.

To get the fingerprint logon ot work, don’t install the HP version of the drivers.   Go to the Validity site and download the 4.3.100 Windows 7 driver. And install everything, you need the digital persona software to enroll the finger prints.  It is not marked for install by default for some reason.  What you will notice is that this install activates the Windows Control Panel Biometric control.  The HP install suppresses this as you are suppose to use their ProtectTools to manager the reader.   After teh driver is installed.  Turn on the logon function in control panel, enroll your finger prints, reboot and then you will see a small Sign-in option link under the password. here you enable for the account, finger print logo on.

HP um2420 Celluar Modem Card, based on the Qualcom GOBI 2000 chipset was much easier because of what I learned from the bluetooth adapter.  Download the Qualcom drivers from the 8440P drivers page.  Start the install so it creates the SP53068 folder.  I went into the Qualcom folder and tried to run the GobiInstaller file.  I got an error saying it couldn’t access a file.  So I dragged the Qualcom folder to my desktop and ran the GobiInstaller from there and it installed perfectly.  The WAN connection option showed up under the network connections options (you llist from the systray icon).  But I had no settings for how to connect.  So then I install the HP Connection Manager 4.21.  That let me choose a provider and try to register.  [I am not quite ready to pay Verizon $35 to activate since I can tether my phone]  But I was able to get the WAN modem talking to the registration pages over celluar wireless..  So we have success there.

See below for info on free data program from HP.  HOWEVER, I have learned that once you turn off power using Connection Manager 4.21, you may not be able to turn it back on inside the program.  Workaround is to keep HP Wireless Manager installed OR in Connection Manager preferences set it to power on all devices when it starts and then fully exit CM and restart.

Final Tips and Thoughts

For now if you have the version of the 8440P with the Nvidia chipset.  Use the drivers Microsoft provides.  The Nvidia beta drives will not play videos in the App Mode versions of Netflix or XBOX video App. I am seeing problems with the screen shimmering after it sleeps in the Microsoft drivers.  This was an HP issue a driver update in Windows 7 fixed, which is why I tried the beta.  I am hoping Nvidia will get the new Windows 8 drivers ready soon and they deal with the shimmer issue.

Some things I will try later. 

I like the HP Support Assistant.. so may install and test that.  I would like to get the fingerprint reader set up to fill in web passwords.  So I will look to see if the HP ProtectTools will run along with the version of the drivers that allow Windows Logon via fingerprint.  There is not much more of the HP software I really care about.  I have to say that after a couple days playing with Windows 8, I am liking it more on this non-touch machine than I thought I would.  This may well end up being the main OS I keep on this machine as long as I get all my odd Astronomy and Telescop tracking tools to work with it too.

Since Windows Vista stablized with the hardware makers getting the drivers right, my opinion of Windows 8 is the same as I had for Vista and Windows 7.  In general if your machine is working with what you have,  no need to upgrade.  If you are looking at a machine with Windows 8, I think you will like it. However there is about a 1 -2 hour intial period where long-time windows users will question the the UI changes, but its not as bad as some of the rants on the Internet would lead you to believe and I am now finding it is faster for somethings.

I will write more later is week if I have time.  But I felt that sharing my Saturday’s worth of trial and error would help others looking to upgrade to Windows 8 on this HP Notebook and I suspect several other machines.

[I am sure there are typos I will fix later.. Promisde to go to the market today so amposting my first draft here]

UPDATE: 

The Nvidia 306.97 WHQ Driver from the Nvidia site which is release is the best choice.  It works with App based video AND after being installed about a day and having several hours of off time, reduces the hard shimmer coming out of monitor sleep.  There is some but it goes away much faster with this driver.  The Windows 7, posted fix for this talks about powering down the machine and even taking the battery out for a few hours this seems to help with the new driver too.   For some reason the auto-detect on the Nvidia website offers the beta not the release, driver.  Do not install the beta driver.

FREE CDMA 3G/4G Broadband!!

HP um2420 / Gobi 2000 Is working great with Windows 8.  HP it appears heard its customer frustration with the poor support for its internal 3G/4G adapters (um2400/2420/2430).  Providers have silly activation costs, extreme price premiums over tablets etc. for doing the same thing.  So HP has created HP Datapass that is a prepaid system offered over the Sprint Network.  The good thing is that for the first 10,000 that sign up, before end of December 2012 get a year of 100MB per month free, no credit card needed cellaur broadband. 

I can tether my phone in most cases would use my shared Verizon data that way vs pay the silly $20 a month + $35 activation.   But if the battery for my phone is low, or I need to talk to someone while online.  I can use my free data and even add some pre-paid data off the HP Datapass.  If you have played with your Gobi card like I did but never completed a registration, the data may need to be reset.  The HP Datapass support line is excellent and have a tool to reset the line.  If you have this function but never turned it on because of the cost.  Try this new HP data program.

 

NBC’s Revolution: Welcome to Salon Punk

Print Friendly

It’s a warm lazy Saturday afternoon near Seattle.  I should be mowing the weeds, or cleaning the office, or… just about anything but mindlessly surfing Hulu Plus on my Roku player. But that is what I am doing, looking for something comfortable to watch while I consider cleaning the office.

[There will be spoilers]

Salon-punk is a fusion of what has sold in Sci-Fi and what they are selling in the commercials.

Normally I would be looking for Firefly, Stargate or Dr Who, all comfortable with a hint of humor.  Today, I come across the pilot of NBC’s hyped “Revolution.”  A series set in a near future where the world has lost all electrical power, and evidently almost all the intelligence to build batteries and generators.

I know before the show starts that the premise is weak.  I suspect early testing tells NBC the same, as they recently added LOST favorite Elizabeth Mitchell to the trailers and to 2-3 minutes of flash-backs in the pilot. It is one of the reasons I even considered trying out the new NBC series. Her before-the-first-commercial demise was a solid disappointment.  Face it, NBC understands good Sci-Fi like President Obama & Newt Gingrich know humility. Its a wonder that their SyFy channel turned out quality like Star Gate, Battlestar Galactica and Eureka.

Within five minutes of watching the show, I realized this was a new genre. Where steam-punk fuses Victorian design sensibilities with anachronistic technology and creates a fun past in which to play with the future.  This show fuses the post apocalypse with excellent grooming. I call it Salon Punk!

It’s a world where there is no technology, but new designer clothing and unseen hair salons are clearly easily found.  We get to explore a stark future with mostly good looking people dressed from the 90s.   Well-styled hair and clean clothing improves the post apocalypse like two tablespoons of sugar improve 2 oz of espresso.

NBC wanted something grand with impressive visuals for the previews like jets falling from the sky missing both power… and inertia!   NBC wanted a show their executive team would watch, so physics and high-school-science-class engineering are forgotten, but designer clothing and precisely groomed hair are the rule.

Its obvious NBC is hoping for the next “Lost.” The characters in “Lost” were shifted to the attractive end of the bell curve, but not all perfect.  They were sweaty, dirty, tattered and clearly 2000 miles away from SuperCuts and TJ Maxx. 

Salon-punk is a fusion of what has sold in Sci-Fi and what they are selling in the commercials.  It doesn’t work. This well- styled post apocalyptic world is doomed to a slow death on Monday night because it doesn’t have any attention to detail about how a culture would really decay if the power went off for everyone.  Well almost everyone.

Save your time, the creators assume the viewer is too stupid to know that a scary future is also dirty, sweaty and tattered.

I will be waiting for Castle to return to Mondays at 10 pm.

[Update:  I have since seen trailers for SyFy's "Defiance" coming April 2013.  Clearly a better understanding of the gritty nature of the end of the world. ]

 

Amazon models how good customer service should be

Print Friendly

This is a repost from something I posted on an astronomy board.
http://www.astronomyforum.net/off-topic-forum/115473-amazon-makes-good.html#post1057324175

———————————————————————————————————————————–

So on Sunday.. I decided to use my AMEX points of pay for most of a Celestron 8-24 Zoom.
(Using for projection AP as it has T-threads)

On the same order from Amazon I ordered a couple of smaller items from other sellers on the Amazon system.

As of this evening, 2 items had arrived one item was in transit. The EP which was ordered directly from Amazon, had not shipped!! Continue reading

Netflix.. Is a 50% increase in price a Mistake?

Print Friendly

In our house Netflix streaming has been a game changer in entertainment.  My 7 year old loves it. She has access to hours of her favorite shows. For over a year we have had the one DVD/Blu-ray w/streaming for $11.99.  Last night I got an email saying that prices were “going down”, but the plans were separated to $7.99 for streaming and $9.99 for one Blu-ray at a time by mail.  This is an increase of  50%, spun as price reduction! It is  this kind of double-speak that gives marketing a bad name.

It is my belief that this is a bad move for Netflix and will cost them money and goodwill that is expensive to recreate.  Here are my reasons.

The combined streaming and disc-by-mail Netflix offered had no real competition, especially at the price levels.  When you separate them out, each service has to compete on its own. 

For $2 more a month than Netflix’s new pricing, I can get Blockbuster’s disc-by-mail plan with games and 5 same day swaps at the local store.  Blockbuster also gets new titles sooner than Netflix.   I can get a movie at Redbox the day I want it for $1.   That is 8-10 ten movies a month before it cost me the same as a Netflix system that at most can get me 10 movies a month if I watch them the same day I get them and mail them back that day.  In my opinion Netflix disc-by-mail plan is a poor value compared to both Blockbuster and Redbox.

Netflix for our needs is the best all-you-can-eat streaming for older content.  Problem is some people may want fresh content from Hulu or Amazon.  Amazon Prime has a growing all-you-can-eat plan for about $6.50 a month that also includes free 3 day shipping for the year too.  Amazon Prime at Christmas could make the streaming free!  So I am sure more than a few people will find that with higher prices, another streaming service fits what they want better.

My feeling is that the marketing team that owns this pricing model is going to be under fire inside Netflix very fast.  Yesterday we were happy customers, endlessly paying $12 a month for streaming and one disc at a time service that we hardly used. 

Less Happy and More Expensive Customers

Today I am a disgruntled customer looking at all the new competition Netflix has AND I that just cut my monthly payment to them by $4 a month!!  All of us that were willing to pay $4 more a month so we could get the occasional Blu-ray are going to leave.  Those that they will keep the service at the new rate will be the heavy use more expensive users.  So while at first blush, it looked like a good way to increase net revenue per-account, what will happen is that those who were light usage on the disc-by-mail side are gone and they are now paying less.  So the average revenue per account may stay pretty level between those that pay the new price and those that go to streaming only.  But the cost per account will go up, as the only ones paying more are the ones using it the most.  Netflix disc-by-mail service makes no sense if you have a Blockbuster or Redbox location nearby and it make no sense unless you are using it a lot.  Netflix just learned how to remove all the lower cost accounts and keep the higher cost accounts. 

I will predict that this cynical attempt to raise prices will cost Netflix revenue and will energize it’s closest competitors who’s main weakness was they didn’t include an unlimited streaming program with the disc-by-mail service. 

Most of all, it made a lot of happy customers who raved about the service into mad customers who are now complaining on Facebook and Twitter about the service.  In one day the Netflix blog entry about new pricing maxed out at 5000 comments with most being very negative and that at midnight they had over a 26 minute wait time on the phones. This tells me Netflix was clueless about the damage this will do to their customer mindset. 

In my mind, Netflix went from  a useful innovator to a greedy and not very smart company all in just one email!

Project Managing the Writing Process

Print Friendly

Finally, let me share about my writing.  Since getting back to that was the motivation for starting this blog.

I have several books in progress, some more than 20 years.  No excuses that is sad.  It is because writing has been a “someday” after “I have the finances better” or when” I can take time off from work.”  Excuses, Excuses.

One of the skills I use with my work is managing projects and some of them are managed over several months.  So it occurred to me last April, that I need to manage my writing this way.  I am proud to say projects I manage do well even when they have hard deadlines, so why not bring this success to a part of my life that has had very little focus until now.

Successful project management has four distinct features to it:

  1. A solid attainable goal.
  2. Distinct measurable milestones that can be met
  3. Clear process that moves you to each milestone
  4. Accountability

If you start here you can complete anything on a schedule.

For now I am not focusing in the idea of priorities, which for events and software is key. Knowing what can be cut and when it needs to be cut will save a project.  When does a priority warrant a change of a milestone deadline vs. removing that item from the project to keep the schedule?  This is where many projects fail, people are not able to agree to a change and than act on it and they miss deadlines or deliver projects that have an unfinished feel because they rushed at the end, vs removing a task for a later date of just eliminating it.

Our book right now is more about sustainable progress towards a goal that can be moved, but progress must continue.  I have developed a project process that is doing that. Continue reading

Fast Food – Customer Service Done Right

Print Friendly

If  you read my recent post “Beware O0ps Pricing“ you will see how Papa John’s Pizza failed miserably to do customer service.  So it is with great pleasure I get to give kudos to Jack-in-the-Box.  This last week I took a break from my normal home-packed sandwich to get a guilt pleasure.  In this case it was a Jack-in-the-Box Sirloin Burger. 

Sadly it was terrible.  I don’t remember them being terrible, but this one was badly made with too much sauce, a meat patty that was falling apart, and sad bit-o-lettuce.

A few hours later, I got a call!!

It was so bad, when got back to my desk I filled out a feedback form on the Jack-in-the-Box website.  I gave them an email address and phone number and told them how bad the burger was.  I figured that was it, maybe someone would read it.  I might even get a “We’re Sorry” email.  However! a few hours later, I got a call!!  Someone has the job to read those feedback forms as soon as they come in and contact the customer.  The result was they wanted details on why the burger was bad, and then offered to send me a coupon so I could try one again in them.

It’s not that hard people!  Papa John’s had people staffing the phones, just no process to take care of the customer.  Jack-in-the-Box has the process in place and clearly showed they value their customers more than saving a buck or two.  Good Job Jack!!

Beware “Oops! Sorry” Pricing

Print Friendly

I am not giant on conspiracy theories.  I tend to think that most of what happens that is bad is the organic result of humans being part of the process.  As a matter of fact there are times that I would find a grand, global conspiracy a bit comforting, because it might mean someone knows how to keep the whole “thing” from melting down, falling apart or just not reaching the worst case.

However, I am a firm believer in watching for patterns.  Is is possible that 90% of the programmers writing computer systems that manage inventory and pricing them accidentally only put in bugs that charge me more?  Could be, but I doubt it.  How often do you get a better price at the check-out scanner than was posted on the shelf?  How often does an error save you money on your utility bill, vs charge overcharge you? Continue reading