The Customer Must Always Be Fleeced

Verizon's Head of Customer Service

Last week I went online and agreed to pay a little more for faster Internet. There are three adults in the house, and we all make pretty regular use of the ‘net for a variety of activities, so it seemed worth another $15 a month for a 50% faster connection.

We don’t have cable TV. My connection from Verizon is an ethernet connection, not cable. So this should have consisted entirely of my checking a box indicating that I want to pay more, followed by something in one of their data centers telling something in my house to operate at a faster speed.

But there are lawyers involved, so I had to click through 4 or 5 screens and check off at least four boxes because lawyers that work for tech companies make a lot of money by slowing things down and making them more complicated.

And this was Verizon, so after telling me that faster Internet would only cost me $15 a month more, they sent me an email saying “Your order has shipped!” I didn’t know what they were talking about.

I lied. I did know what they were talking about. I immediately knew that they shipped me a new router.

As I mentioned earlier, I have no cable connection; only a network connection. Since paying Verizon $10 a month or so for a crappy router would be silly, Verizon’s network cable is plugged directly into my expensive and very fast router.

So why would they send me a new one? I called, suspecting I knew the answer.

Their customer service person claimed that they sent it in case the equipment I have cannot handle the faster speed. This is male cattle feces. They have the ability to check their connection to my equipment and ensure that it is fast enough. They could do this automatically as part of the sales process.

I asked if I would pay a monthly fee for the router.

Yes. If I didn’t return it, I would.

I was right. That’s why they sent it!

So, since the package was not sent requiring a signature and I did not have a chance to refuse it, I went to the Verizon store to return it the day after it arrived.

Fun fact: you can’t return FIOS equipment at a Verizon Wireless. Never mistake them for one-stop-shopping business for cellular, Internet, and cable.

I didn’t open the box for the router. I had to open the shipping box because it since it didn’t say Verizon on it anywhere, but once I realized what it was, I left the router box sealed.

At the store, the customer service rep immediately opened the router. He had to scan a barcode on it to get my account info, apparently because the packing list inside bore no information about the device or why it as shipped.

Once it was open, I got a good look at the router. It was for cable service. I couldn’t have used it if I wanted to.

So, either Verizon doesn’t know what equipment I have, or they were hoping I would just throw the unused equipment on a shelf and pay a monthly fee for it.

While I was there, I overheard a conversation. I have paraphrased it below.

Service Rep: “Can I help you, Ma’am?”

Customer: “Yes, I would like to upgrade to the new cable boxes and faster Internet.”

Service Rep: “Can I have your phone number?”

Customer: (provides her number) She beckons to her husband, who was admiring the 65-inch display TV that was in desperate need of adjustment. 

Service Rep: “Your contract is expired.”

Customer: Looks at Service Rep as she doesn’t understand why she should care about this, she just wants those things she asked for when he asked her how he could help.

Service Rep: “You’ll have to get a new phone number.”

(In the interests of space, I won’t try to recount the Customer’s husband proceeding to lose his composure. I’ll summarize. Add your own histrionics.)

Customer’s Husband: “You have to port the number. It’s the law.” (He’s right.)

Service Rep: “That’s only between companies. We don’t have to when it’s inside our business.” (He’s also right, but in a very unhelpful way.)

Then the rep spent some time poking around on his computer and discovered that they could keep their number.

For a $22 fee.

I live in an area that’s lucky enough to have two cable monopolies instead of just one. I can only imagine how much more petty and abusive it is when there is only one.

This business model is based on abundance; clients are willing to sustain an abundance of abuse from the only company(s) that provide the service they need.

At some point, that abundance will run out. The FCC will eventually take the steps required to let broadband wireless providers become viable. This will be at least four years from now because the rather modest progress we’ve made with policing Internet providers is rapidly being undone right now. (#MAGA!)

My only hope is that I am still around when it happens so I can happily switch to one of them and watch these thieves recede into irrelevance and bankruptcy.

Baby Driver

Most movies tend to include pretty terrible music.

There have been some great soundtracks from composers like Henry Jackman, Hans Zimmer, and Howard Shore, but when it comes to pop and rock well, bleah.

The Guardians of the Galaxy films have been a rare bright spot, and now we have Baby Driver, a movie named for a deep cut from Simon and Garfunkel, and that I may hit the theater more for the music than the film itself.

I’ve embedded the soundtrack below, from Spotify. If you are running an adblocker you may need to whitelist my site. I don’t run ads. Promise.

Being Like Fezziwig

It’s a couple of days after the Fourth of July, so what better time for a post I wrote last and saved for later? Last year, during the holiday break, I watched A Christmas Carol starring Patrick Stewart and then, within a couple of days, listened to Neil Gaiman’s reading of the original text.

The Gaiman reading, by the way, really is the original text. He read from a copy of the book that Dickens himself used when he did performances here in New York City.  The New York Public Library has the book in their collection. The reading is worth a listen. I’ve embedded it below. Gaiman starts about 10 minutes in.

In both performances a scene that I hadn’t paid much attention to before caught my ear:

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not! He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

Obviously I noticed the scene before; it’s the moment where Scrooge finally “gets” what Fezziwig did for his apprentices and starts to understand what Christmas means. The Spirit gives him a little dig about how little the Fezziwig’s famous celebrations cost and Scrooge, the man whose very name has become synonymous with penny-pinchers, snaps back that it’s not about money.

But the phrase Scrooge uses stuck with me this time:

He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil.

The Patrick Stewart version is very faithful to the text, and it was Stewart’s delivery that hit me. Gaiman’s brought it back to mind the next day.

I love Dickens. I love his use of the language. This is not a universal opinion: it’s pretty fashionable to point out that he was paid by the word (even though that’s not the case) and that he tends to be verbose.

I love the verbosity. I wish I had the guts to use ten words when seven or eight would do.

Fezziwig is a happy guy. Ian McNeice does a great job conveying that in the Patrick Stewart movie by the way. (And Joel Grey rocks the Spirit in this scene.) Part of Scrooge’s point is that Fezziwig’s attitude is what made working for him a pleasure.

What struck me here was the lesson about happiness, though. Fezziwig had the power to make them happy or unhappy, but they had that ability too.

Happiness is up here. (Points to head.)

At the end of A Christmas Carol, Scrooge wakes up. He discovers that only one night has passed and not the three that Marley’s ghost had predicted. Scrooge is happy and proceeds to have a wonderful Christmas.

Who made Scrooge happy?

He had a choice. He could have decided that he was screwed since he had led a miserable life. He could have decided he was being punished for being a good businessman.  But he decided to be happy. He decided to be Fezziwig.

I saw the movie and heard the podcast deep in the throes of “OMG Trump!” and a spate of celebrity deaths. I wasn’t happy. As a matter of fact, watching the movie was part of an attempt to make the holiday feel more like, well, a holiday.

Of course, it’s easy for me to “decide” to be happy in the face of our country being run by a bigoted blowhard. I’m white, I live in a large metropolitan area, and I work in an industry that has already reacted to his election by celebrating.

Caveman Politics

This video describes Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and how it relates to his theories of government and his Theory of Forms. It’s also a video with TED Talk branding that doesn’t have a twentysomething single hipster telling you that you should quit your day job and follow your dreams because it worked for him, which is odd, but I digress.

Plato’s Cave can also be used as a metaphor for a debate that has gripped our nation for years: media bias. We’ve been discussing media bias for decades, but the debate has taken on a sense of urgency in recent months, for obvious reasons.

We’re all chained to the ceiling of a cave. In most cases this cave is self-imposed. We limit ourselves to the things we want to see. If you’re reading this from what most of us call “the Western World” you have a variety of choices in news and entertainment and what you chose is based on a combination of convenience and taste.

None of these choices are perfect. The first step in media savviness is realizing that everyone is their own unreliable narrator. All media have some degree of “bias” based on ownership, editorial staff (which is chosen by the owner(s) of course,)  and who the news is written for. (Again, decided by the ownership, but many owners are more than happy to sell something they would never personally choose.)

So we’re chained in the caves we choose. Perhaps a cave with a cable tv host that is careful to only rant about stories we want to hear, or with a website that only has stories critical of one President or complimentary to another, or a Facebook timeline that tunes itself to keep us just angry enough to keep scrolling.

One of the things that makes “the Western World” the western world is government staying largely out of these choices. Americans like to think our First Amendment makes us special, but it doesn’t. Freedom of Speech, which means a free media, is a part of every functioning democracy. Each nation has different wrinkles, like Britain’s less media-friendly libel laws, Germany’s restrictions on some parties, and the U.S’s silly puritanical streak, but a free media is always there in some form.

For the first time in a long while the U.S. has a government that actively and visibly has its collective fingers on the media scale. Politicians always play favorites and always have an influence on media by deciding where, when, and who to talk to, but what we see now is different. We’re seeing open hostility to any venue that reports unwanted news, combined with a concerted effort to game the system via changing the way press briefings work, who is permitted to attend them and, of course, “going around” the media.

This strategy is possible because a significant number (but not a majority) of Americans are already hanging in caves that are amenable to telling only what they want to hear. Their caves have shadows cast by media that are friendly to the new government and outright hostile to media that disagree.

I’m a bit of an optimist. I think this whole mess is going to collapse eventually, maybe even soon. But I am also enough of a realist to recognize that while the people hanging in government-friendly caves at the moment are not a majority, a majority of people are still living in caves of their own. When people resist now, is it because they don’t want the government to interfere with a free press, or because they hear things that conflict with the shadows on their walls?

I’m often afraid of what the real answer is. It’s easy to assume that the other guy is stupid, especially when he’s in a different cave.

The Propaganda Model

I find Noam Chomsky hard to like for a lot of reasons. I won’t go into all of them, but a TL;DR summary should mention, the “New Left,” a desire to tear down without providing a viable alternative, and being full of crap with regards to how humans learn.

But he does have his moments, and putting together the Propaganda Model is one of them. The idea of manufacturing consent wasn’t new when Chomsky described it, but putting together a model than can be used to evaluate media is very useful.

The book I am working on right now will touch on this, but only lightly. It’s starting to look like there will be a sequel though, and it will touch on it very heavily.

The video above is worth warching at least twice, since the animations are pretty distracting.