March 2006 Archives

Take action

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I hate to mention this given light as to what I posted last night about our friend, but please take a moment to urge the Canadian government to stop allowing the slaughter of baby seals during an annual seal hunt. I'll spare you the gory details - please click the link below and send your thoughts to the Canadian Prime Minister. Thanks.

Click here to end the slaughter of innocent seals.

Goodbye Vern

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Just received news that a close friend of our family, Vern Wanish, has passed away after a long and valiant battle with cancer. Vern (and his wife Nancy) was a very good friend of my parents, and was a Godparent to my sister.

Some favorite memories of Vern (and the Wanish family) include: spending afternoons and/or evenings together at each other's house playing games; going to Shakeys Pizza; going to Badger football games (usually against Iowa); spending chilly fall Saturdays chopping wood with Vern and my Dad; seeing Vern and Nancy at my wedding; being surprised by Vern and Nancy as they knocked on our door one summer afternoon in 2002 - they were traveling and literally "were in the area," so they dropped by to say hello. We had a great chat, and it was the last time I saw Vern.

Vern was a stand-up guy, with a fabulous sense of humor, and I'll always remember him fondly. Godspeed, Vern. We'll miss you. Best wishes and positive thoughts to the Wanish family from Amy and me. There are tears in my eyes as I write this - this is truly a sad day.

Too Little, Too Late

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I wish companies would put as much effort into their everyday customer service as they do in trying to get you to come back to them after you give them the 'ole shove off.

DishTV has called me several times now, wondering why I've cancelled my service. They "value my opinion" and "want to know how to get me back" as a customer. They're "sorry to see me leave" and "want to do anything to make things right" by me. Yeah, right...

I just got off the phone with a wonderful young lady from Dish. She called to see why I cancelled, and I explained to her that I loathe outsourced customer support, and that I refuse to support a company that can't keep its jobs here in the US of A. She assured me that Dish had seven call centers in the USA, and that she was calling from Texas. I didn't doubt her.

I told her that every time I called Dish for help, I got someone in India or the Phillippines, and that those people were less than helpful, that they didn't deviate from their scripts, that they didn't understand my statements and that I couldn't understand them. There were clicks/pops/echoes and delays on the line. And no matter how hard I tried to reason with them or to explain that my problem wasn't related to a surround sound setting, they never once stopped to consider it.

She offered me 50% off my bill for life if I'd return as a customer. And again, I told her, "You could offer it to me for free, and I'd still be more happy to pay the cable company $1000 a month for service. Get your support back to the USA, and we'll talk."

She then said that Dish was "helping" these countries like India by giving them jobs, and that with 12-million customers, a "significant" portion of their customers appreciated the Indian support... yeah, right. I asked her how she'd feel if Dish outsourced her job, and she confessed, that she was now doing follow-up calls because her old call center was "relocated".

God, I feel sorry for those people. You had a job as a tech support person, and lost it to someone overseas, and now you have to call people like me and hear us complain about how much we loathe your outsourced support. Wow.

She asked, "What would you like me to note for your primary reason for leaving DishTV?" And I said, "Outsourced support. It stinks that Dish doesn't realize the damage it is doing to itself by trying to svae a nickel with outsourced support. As long as Dish outsources its support, I will never be a customer. Never."

She thanked me for my time, and I wished her well - I threw in a, "Hope this job doesn't get outsourced" as a parting comment, and she laughed - sort of - and then said, "Me too."

I'm so not worthy.

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Click the link below to read more.

Tax Refund v.2005

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I swear I'm going to move to Zimbabwe. I just got back from my wonderful tax appointment with H&R Block... the good news is that they only charged me $297 this year to do my taxes (instead of $335 from last year). The bad news is that I owe a whopping $948 in taxes.

I left the car website company last year in April. And, shortly there after, I put more attention toward my consulting business, which netted me a fair amount of additional income. My day job made less money than the website job paid, and Amy's income went up just slightly from the previous year. All in all, we were up about 15% from my 2004 income.

I itemized everything, and had about $20k in deductions. I made quarterly tax payments on my extra income. But, if you're "self employed" our wonderful government (I thought the Republicans were for lower taxes and less government...funny, it doesn't seem that way - they talk a big game about how they do this and that, but in the end we still take it in the shorts) socks it to you at the end of the year, in addition to the quarterly payments you send in. I sent in over $7k in estimated payments, and I still owe another $1k at the end of the year? Ugh.

So, while all of my friends are getting nice refunds, I get to pay in. Lovely.

Charities

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Amy and I donate some money to various charities - most of which are related to animal welfare.

I just stumbled across this site:

Charity Navigator

The link I provided is to the top 10 least efficient charities -- very interesting. Anyway, if you're interested in donating to a charity, check them out in the navigator. It will tell you how efficient they are, what their CEO owns, and how they redistribute funds.

Pass the Dish

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Dropped DishTV this week, and went back to cable. I'll definitely miss being able to get Chicago TV stations from Dish (The Chicago feed had all of the Packers games, unlike Cox, which always has the Cowboys), but Cox offers more HD channels, and with any luck, my theater won't suffer from a ground-loop hum (like it did with Dish).

But the primary reason I got rid of Dish was due to customer service. Dish used to have excellent service - top notch. Whenever I'd call with a question or a problem, someone would answer promptly, and would solve my problem within minutes. They were intelligent, they listened to your question, and if necessary, they'd deviate from their "script" if they knew what the problem/solution was.

Now, however, all of their support is routed through (drumroll) India.

I've had an annoying hum/buzz in my home theater ever since I added HD service from Dish. And I called Dish 4-5 times to ask them to send someone over to fix the hum. The hum started immediately after they installed a new Dish component. It wasn't there until they came out and "fixed" my system. But, no matter how hard I tried to explain that to Sanjay and Rahib and Akhmed -- I'm sorry -- I meant to say, "Dave," "Eric," and "Greg" (actual names from Dish support guys in India) they wouldn't deviate from their script, and I was able to understand, at best, 8-10 words from them over 20 minutes. They wanted me to check my surround sound settings, and I did, but it never fixed the problem - I swore to them that the problem was related to the recent installation work. But they never, ever, deviated from their script... "Sir, please check your surround setting for stereo." Ugh...

When I called to cancel, my conversation went like this:

Dish India (in heavy Indian accent, with an echo, a delay, and lots of mumbling): "How can I help you?"

Me: "I want to cancel my Dish subscription."

DI: "Ok, why do you want to cancel?"

Me: "Because your customer service is horrible. It's gone completely downhill. I can't stand it. Cancel me."

DI: "Ok, let me tell you about cable versus Dish."

Me: "No, don't. Just cancel me. Now. Cancel me, please."

DI: "Ok, cable prices have risen over the past 5 years at a rate of nearly 20%. Dish has not raised its rates in the past 3 years despite our-"

Me: "Cancel me. I don't want to hear this. Cancel me. Now. Please. Cancel me."

DI: "Sir, let me explain. Cable prices have risen over the past 5 years at a rate of nearly 20%. Dish has not raised its-"

Me: "Stop reading your script, and cancel me. Now."

DI: "Ok, listen to what I am saying. Cable prices have risen over the past 5 years at a rate of nearly-"

Me: "STOP. Cancel my service. I don't care about the rates. Cable could cost me $1000 a month and I'd pay it because I wouldn't have to call guys like you. Cancel me. Get someone on the line who can cancel my service now."

DI: "Ok, but I must tell you that cable prices have risen over the past 5-"

Me: "Great. I heard you the first 500 times. But I'm telling you, I can't understand a word you're saying. The line has a horrible delay and an echo, and I can't understand your Indian accent. Get me to someone in America now, who can cancel me. CANCEL ME!"

DI: "So you wish to cancel?"

Me: "YES! NOW! CANCEL ME!"

DI: "One second while I get someone who can cancel your service. May I help you with anything else?"


So finally, I got "Christopher" at Dish, who seemed like a really nice guy, and he was in the USA. I told him that I hated the Indian support and I couldn't take it any more. I loved the Dish product, but their service was awful. I explained the ground-loop hum, and he offered to send someone out the next day to check it out. I told him it was, "too little, too late." I'd tried 4-5 times prior, and the Indian guys wouldn't budge from their script, nor would they schedule an installer to come out and troubleshoot my hum problem. One of the Indian guys even told me that Dish didn't send out technicians after the installation.

At that point, he offered me service for 50% of what I was currently paying. I got mad, because he just told me I was overpaying for my service by 100%. I told him, "no thanks - just cancel me so I don't ever have to deal with those Indian guys ever again."

He said that he'd heard a lot of complaints from people about the outsourced phone support. I told him their service used to be incredible - the best I ever experienced - but now it was painful and useless. He basically agreed, but couldn't really say so because I'm sure his call was being monitored or recorded. He did say, "I feel your pain, sir."

So, I got the service cancelled. I then called Cox and spoke to a great guy who was in Fayetteville. He cut me a deal on the new service because I was coming over from Dish. He offered to have the service installed the next day, and told me how to get my receivers and how to activate them once I picked them up from the local office.

Man, what an improvement. I used to loathe the cable company, but at least their service is local, and their people are helpful and knowledgable.

Price difference? I'll pay about $5 more per month than I did with Dish, but I also get more HD channels, I have 3 HD receivers and 2 DVRs (vs. 1 with Dish). So, it's a good deal. And, I don't have to deal with "Eric," "Dave," and "Greg" from India... :-)

A tail of two animals

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It's raining cats and dogs at the geeky household. We've got two new additions to the family - one will most likely remain a permanent resident, the other is just staying here (for a few years).

Meet Ernie and Homer.

Ernie is a cat that we will most likely adopt. He has a special skin condition, wherein his skin tears extremely easily. If he rubs too hard against something like a door opening or a piece of furniture, he tears his skin. If he scratches at himself too hard, he can tear his skin. As such, he's had all of his claws removed :-(

Ernie is a lovable dude, but he's a bit mischevious. He loves to play, and as a result, we have to watch him closely around the other cats, as they all have their claws. So far, so good, though - no incidents or injuries.

Ernie loves to get into things that he's really not supposed to, and he's not afraid to check out anything. Here's a picture of him sitting "inside" an air mattress:

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If you look really closely, you can see him peeking out from inside of the mattress. Kramer was observing, but is far too chicken to try such a thing himself.

Here are a few more pictures of Ernie:

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If you look at Ernie's face, you'll probably notice that it's werid and puffy. One of the side effects of his condition is that he has a ton of extra skin, especially near the front half of his body. If you were to try to pick him up by the nape of his neck, the skin would just stretch and stretch and stretch, and eventually would tear. I believe they call this skin condition "Butterfly skin," because the skin is as delicate as a butterfly's wings. Amy knows more about it than I do - direct any questions about it to her, please.


And here's Homer (or "home-boy" as we call him). Homer is a dog from the BVAS that has had a really rough life. He's been adopted out a few times, and they thought they found a forever home for him, but his owner got called off to Iraq. So, he (the owner) left Homer with his Dad, but now his Dad doesn't want Homer, and was going to give him (Homer) away to someone. So, the shelter stepped in and took him in...

Unfortunately, the shelter is extremely full, and Homer has been 'abandonned' so many times, that we felt it would be best for him to have a stable home environment until his owner returns from Iraq. Homer is a dream - he's the nicest dog, and he doesn't mind the cats or the bird. He's a bit of a scrounger hound, though, and has been known to open a refrigerator or two and eat all of the contents... we'll see how things go here. :-)

Here's Homer:

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Getting a drink of water, while Ernie checks him out.


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That's all for now... the carpet cleaning guys are coming tomorrow to steam clean the carpets, work is going well, and everything else seems to be fine.