Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A Customer (Lack of) Service Rant.

Since this business is stumbling toward making this situation right, they shall remain anonymous. However, the stupidity involved in this Sega is breathtaking and probably good for a few laughs as I unwind this romp with incompetence.

I'm cat sitting for some folks who have been traveling for the last 5 weeks. I responsibilities include: signing for packages, picking up mail and answering expected telephone calls. Not difficult, correct? Well, no. By-the-way, these folks are in Italy, as in out of the country and are 8 hours ahead of us time wise.

On my first week of duty I get a recorded message from a store reporting that the item sent in for repair is ready. They have five days to claim it, or it will be assumed abandoned. Well, this could be a big ticket item, I didn't know, but figured a quick call to the store would update the customer file. When my employers returned in a month, they could pick up said repaired item. (ignorance can be bliss).

Upon calling this establishment I ran into a 20-something dweeb who refused to update the customer file unless he was speaking directly to the customer. (Delivered with a vibrato which could have won an Academy Award. Patiently, I explained the situation about how silly it would be for these people to call from ROME ITALY. I again requested he simply notate the file, so the item would not be disposed of.

This clown then LECTURED me on how my employers: "should have taken care of this before leaving. Don't ya think?". Frankly, this tactic stunned me into silence. I didn't think to request a supervisor. So, I had to call Rome, Italy. (Joy).

Just a brief aside. I know from many lovely experiences with The Marriott Corporation, that it is possible to have a central file on a customer. This file is filled with reservations, reward points and preferences. For example, they know that I always call down for extra coffee. Magically, when I call the front desk, they not only know who I am, but in a friendly way inquire if I'm ready for more coffee!. If a HUGE Corporation spread all over the WORLD, can manage a filing system which is able to be updated from different locations and departments, why can't a national chain store manage the same feat?

I tried to call Rome from the employer's phone, but needed an "access code" I didn't have. Great, I'll buy some Skype Credit and do it through the computer. (Oh what a tangled web we weave, when we try to succeed)! Again, this should have been a simple transaction. Oh yeah, simple, sure.

Skype was easy and my debit card went through to a security system at my bank. Good, I'd waited until 12:30 PDT to call Rome, as not to scare the life out of the travelers with a 3:30 AM long distance call.

I had been through the bank's security system just a few days earlier when I'd set up Skype for unlimited Us and Canada calling. I knew my password and everything. For once I'd written it down and shot a copy to a web document. BUT since I was using a DIFFERENT computer, the bank denied the transaction!

I finally called customer service at said bank. This bank is extremely good at making you feel cared for while doing nothing for you. (I'm sure this is again a security measure). I like my bank, even when they try to sell me things I don't need instead of solving my problem.

I noticed I had another payment option with another source. I took it and got the required service, avoiding the bank's protection option. I shudder at how easily my information could have been used fraudulently, but thank God I was able to use my information NOW.

I put in the long distance call. The lady in Rome was very nice, but I had to spell out my message! By the time I got through this ordeal, I wanted to scream! Of course my people weren't at the hotel at the moment.

The next morning PDT, I get an email explaining the following situation. This is so amazing!
Before they left for Rome, they'd sent in a camera to be repaired. Store didn't manage to repair it, but damaged it instead. So, since they were leaving for Rome in a week, they RENTED a loner camera from this same store!

Am I crazy, or should this fact not have been noted in the file for the camera they were still trying to repair? I know, I'm using logic... The repair department and the rental departments have different files, which are not the same as the call center's file. Yeah, and for security, the call center people aren't given permission to update files anyway.

As I said, this business is attempting to redeem itself. My employers left no doubt that they would "deal with them... when we get back". So now I have to wait for a UPS package that requires a signature, hopefully to arrive today. I hope they will accept MY signature.

No Virginia: stupidity knows no bounds.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Pleasure Of Creativity.

Lately I've been branching out and doing new, daring things. I feel more alive and willing to do the "hard" stuff, then I've ever been before. What is happening to me?

Being willing to work with uncomfortable feelings in a psychiatric group has helped me get used to having moments of being uncomfortable without quitting an activity altogether. I'm accepting the uncomfortable feelings as just part of the process when doing something new.

I strive to explain what I experience, so you all can follow me, or even run ahead of me on this journey of recovery. I'm passing through a new stage of human development. Maybe Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs?

The chart to the right is from Wikapedia:

While I have a sense that, for the most part, I'm getting closer to the last two stages of this pyramid, it really doesn't reflect what I'm longing to express. In studying this chart, keep in mind, this is more of a general outline, not a hard and fast list of what you have to accomplish before moving to the next level. I believe we'll be working on some of these things until the day we die.

I feel like I'm almost leaving childhood. Perhaps I'm doing some kind of personality sprouting. I have continued searching for an explanation of what I've been experiencing lately.

There is an organization called TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), on the internet. I listened to a presentation by Mihaly Csilszentmihalyi. Below is the lecture discription.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: Creativity, fulfillment and flow
Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi asks, "What makes a life worth living?" Money cannot make us happy, he says -- instead, he looks to people who find pleasure and lasting satisfaction in activities that bring about a state of "flow." Watch this talk >>

This talk is about creativity, fulfillment and flow. The first chart was showing that income alone doesn't predict happiness. I'm sure I am not alone in learning this painful lesson.

Once basic needs are met and there is enough money to be comfortable, more money no longer contributes to being happy. I was surprised that happy people are only 30% of our population. That number is disturbingly low in my opinion. That means 70% of people are unhappy! Thus 7 out of 10 people you meet aren't finding fulfillment in life. That fact is very sad.

The part of this talk I found so energizing was a chart he showed about "skills" and their relationship to each other in terms of reaching a state of creativity and flow.

What he calls "skills" I think of as emotional states, especially anxiety, arousal and flow. I think of flow as another way of:
"following your bliss", from the work of Joseph Campbell. Flow can also be finding total enjoyment or contentment while doing something.

On the chart, notice the skills directly across from one another:
  • Flow -- Apathy
  • Arousal -- Boredom
  • Control -- Worry
  • Relaxation -- Anxiety
The left-hand list are all positive skills, while their opposites (Apathy, Boredom, worry and Anxiety) are all negative skills, or as I prefer to think of them, emotional states.

It is easier to change from being anxious then it is to pull yourself out of boredom. Boredom is not being interested in or engaged with anything in your environment. At least if I'm anxious I care about something in my life.

When people are really having a good time doing something there is a point where they forget themselves. Sometimes I forget where I am, time seems to stop and the task seems to almost complete itself. My entire being is working on something I am thoroughly enjoying.

Csikszentmihalyi theorizes that we only have so many concentration units, say 100, in our brain. Most of the time we are using around 60 concentration units. This leaves 40 concentration units to notice our bodies. In a boring meeting, it is easy to get distracted with how uncomfortable the chair is, for example. When we are in flow however, all 100 units of concentration are focused on the project. This is why being in flow gives the sense of forgetting yourself. There aren't enough concentration units left in our brain to track yourself, as there are under normal circumstances.

The people in this study were people who were accomplished in some field. Most people feel it takes about ten years to gain enough knowledge and experience with something to get into the flow mode. That place where the story writes itself, or the design pieces just seem to fall into place. This state of mind is not constant, but when one is in flow, time no longer matters and doing the task feels almost effortless. Flow is a place of intense satisfaction.

I got so excited watching this lecture. I can't count the number of times I have been carried away into a state of flow creating a church bulletin, reading a book, or learning something new. I pray we all go out and bring that happiness statistic up, one person at a time.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Recovery: The Garbage Stops HERE!

I remember a day in therapy when I realized I had to turn and face the monster in the closet, who was slowly killing me. I screamed out at my therapist:

"Why the hell do I have to do therapy? THEY made the mess!" I was referring to my life, as the mess. My doctor remained quiet, as he knew I was arguing with myself. Something broke lose and I made the decision. I made the commitment to turn around, open that awful closet door and fight formy real life, against the monster. I refer to all my abuse collectively as "The Monster".

Because I knew the mental illness which turned my mother into a sub-human zombie was in me, I refused to have children. People would coo at me: "Your mothering instinct will take over. You'll not hurt your own children," I knew that was not true. My mother truly didn't want to do what she did, or be what she became when she'd lose it. Her mothering instinct went away when her raging fits came forward.

I told my therapist I was in it for the long haul. It was MY problem and I needed help to get well. This was the beginning of real recovery for me, back in 1983.

Check out this magnificent post from Dad-O-Matic. This is heroic, beautiful and miraculous.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Recovery: Working Through Uncomfortable Emotions.

I'm in a group learning basic social skills. I requested help with my social skills in groups larger than three, counting myself. I get so frightened, I either withdraw completely, or force too much attention on myself by putting on a "show". Neither place is truly me. I am tired of being ruled by fear.

I don't understand why I get so scared. I suspect it was just the years of "shaming" I experienced in my crazy childhood. I know I don't understand a lot of "people" things and I'm so afraid of making a mistake. I finally had to admit that prayer by myself wasn't solving the problem.

After several weeks in this group I am learning how to accept times of having uncomfortable emotions. I realize, with proper medication, my emotions are not crippling to me anymore. I don't get swamped and overwhelmed anymore. I have never learned how to just "experience" feeling mildly uncomfortable, until being in this very special and supportive group.

Different mental struggles cause us to need help being with people successfully. Sometimes it is Schizophrenia, where the person is learning to distinguish reality from their own thoughts. Some are paranoid and have to realize that everything in the group is not directed at them, or caused by them. Some people labor with learning difficulties. I am learning how to work with uncomfortable feelings for the first time in my life.

I approach this group of between six and ten people like a "white-knuckle-flier". I grip the arms of my chair as if I will levitate to the ceiling unless securely connected to the chair. My mouth dries up and after our session I gulp water like someone returning from a desert. There is great haling in this strange process. As I force myself to participate and interact, I reprogram myself to function under emotional discomfort. What a concept.

We meet once a week. I have total respect for the other members of the group, because I comprehend how hard they are working in the group. I am thankful for my set of problems, others seem to be laboring with things so much more difficult than I. I love the supportive atmosphere. This is not a group that needs confrontation, or tear-down. This is a group which is learning how it feels to be supported and gently taught new sets of skills. It sounds simple, but for people laboring with severe forms of mental difficulties "socalizing" is a tremendous challenge.

Our group leader is a psychiatric nurse. We have to "check in" giving a quick run-down on our week, or day. She shares parts of her life with us to model how to "check in". We then are asked who said what. If we don't remember the person's name, we can gesture to them and request their name. I find this part most troubling, emotionally. I want to run and hide, but I force myself to admit I don't remember a name and then tell what I remember of what the person shared. Sometimes it is very difficult to hear people speak, as they are so scared, they have trouble speaking much over a whisper.

Then we are led in mild physical and mental exercise. These exercises are math or logic problems and some gentle physical movement. We can ask questions of the group and sometimes our leader asks a group member specific questions about an interest, or activity they've mentioned. We wrap up the group with a fun exercise of telling a story. It doesn't have to make sense, or hang together. Again, just forcing us to open up and communicate.

Why the exercises? They are to help us reduce stress and gain physical and mental balance. Exercises also assist us in concentrating on the world around us, instead of being locked into our own thoughts.

I aways feel like I've been refreshed after group is over. I'm somehow lighter inside. I pray for all the members of our group. I am glad I'm getting some perspective on my fears. I hurt for some of the struggles I see members going through as they fight to overcome their fear. I am extremely grateful for the compassion of our leader and our HMO who provides this group. This group is a chance to challenge years of self-imposed isolation and self-hatred. A way to overcome our fears and emerge into thew sunshine of life with other people.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Counterfeit Life Part two: Mistaking "insanity" for "equality".

The government bail-outs haven't worked and our economic system may be in collapse. I heard the author of The Fourth Turning state that out of disaster comes new systems that work, while the old dead wood is swept away. Even though I might be one of the victims of the next "depression", I say: this fire will burn up the missteps of political correctness, THANK GOD!

This generation is beginning to wake up to our "Great Depression of 2008". Using back-of-the-envelope figures, I'd estimate the stock market has lost around 40% of its October 10, 2007 value. For every $100 you had in 2007, you now only have $60. It looks like our world as we've known it is about to become globally centralized and geographically nationalized.

How did we get so screwed up financially? Noble desires were made into ridiculous laws. Its not fair that poor people are denied the "experience" of home ownership. It is also unfair that people who are severely disabled are prevented from the "experience" of a mainstream education. So, laws were drafted to "right" these "wrongs".

Enter the law of "unintended consequences", or the "oops" factor.

Laws went through forcing institutions to lend money to under qualified applicants. Laws were also passed to force most disabled students into the main stream school system. For the world of finance we now have loan swaps, which have brought Wall Street firms to their knees. In the school system, entire classes are disrupted for the sake of the "rights" of a single student, who by common sense should be in a different educational situation.

In short order we will all have to handle problems we'd only read about in history books. All the "fluff" of our economic and spiritual lives will be squeezed out of us due to harsh financial realities. It won't be easy, or pretty. But after a natural ground fire in a forest, burning away the excess undergrowth, new life emerges from the ashes.

We tried to argue with what the 1929 survivors of The Great Depression learned. They realized that completely unregulated anything was a bad idea, as there is always someone who attempts to defraud, and or is dangerously reckless. They focused on their financial system and erected barriers and restrictions to prevent a repeat of what they'd just come through.

We also decided that, since our generation was somehow more far-seeing and noble, to throw out what used to be thought of as "common sense" business and educational practises. If you didn't have a certain amount of real money and a good credit track record, you couldn't get a loan for something huge, like a house. If your disability was so severe as to require one-on-one attention, you were placed outside the average classroom environment.

This fuzzy-thinking got all mixed up with another concept. The very real and different problem of prejudice. If a black family and a white family have the same amount of assets and the same good credit record, both should qualify for and be able to purchase a house. If not, prejudice is involved. That is immoral and has rightfully been legislated out of  "official" existence.

If a person's disability can be managed in such a way that the general learning environment isn't destroyed for the rest of the class, that disabled person should be allowed to attend a regular school classroom. If that qualified disabled person is banished to some other type of learning environment, prejudice has reared its ugly head and rightfully, legislation has been passed to right this particular wrong.

But now enter fuzzy thinking. The white family has an unfair advantage over the black family due to our dreadful past history of "sort of" civil rights. Therefore, ANY family, even those with few assets and a poor credit track record should be given the chance to have a house anyway! This is business suicide. Experience taught business what an average "bad credit risk" does. They usually end up in default. That means the bank doesn't get paid back and they have to re-sell the home at a loss.

The fuzzy thinking in education now mandates that All people with disabilities, with very few exceptions, shall be mainstreamed. So a child who is emotionally unable to control his tendency to scream is put into a 30-student classroom where an overworked and totally frustrated teacher, attempts to "teach". This is insanity, not equality. Sadly this issue has been swept from public consciousness due to our current financial woes.

What were the lenders supposed to do with this "mandated" bad debt? It was now law to run their businesses in a "risky" manner. Someone figured out how to gather a groups of mortgages together in a loan package which could be resold. There were "some" bad loans in the package, but most of it was "good" debt. With deregulation, the overall package was rated AAA and everyone ignored the small amount of bad debt that came with this thing called a Loan Swap.

Because old limits and restrictions had been removed, banks who used to be prevented from playing around in speculative markets with depositor's monies, now could roam free. It used to be that there were two different kinds of banks. A depositor's bank, where you put your money in a checking or savings account and when you want to get your money back out of the institution, at any time, you got your cash returned to you.

The other type of bank was an investment bank. This bank worked in a riskier environment and people who had brokerage accounts at this type of institution realized the difference. This bank had investment accounts instead of deposits. These investment accounts purchased stocks and other "investments". Once you were in play in this arena, you generally moved your money into and out of different stocks, making and losing money as the market ebbed and flowed. It was possible to lose all of your money.

A depositor, on the other hand, was protected from the problem of going to his bank and being told that his money was gone. With the evaporation of former barriers, basically, all hell broke lose, when the bad debts started cascading through the system. Because the bad debts were mixed in with good debts, nobody could accurately estimate how much bad debt they were carrying on their books. This is what caused the banks to stop trusting each other. The interest they charged one another began to skyrocket and then the markets went into free fall.

As of today (Friday, October 10, 2008) international leaders are seriously considering shutting down markets, world wide and re-writing the rules of investing. Instead of a bank "holiday" we may be looking at a Market Holiday. All of the "fixes" tried so far have not stopped the worlds markets from crashing.

I know the next months and possibly years will be difficult. I also know that a lot of our former fuzzy-thinking will be burned away with the current financial ground fire. Once again, whether in finance, or education, our generation will come to understand what past generations painfully learned. The harsh realities: "No, this time won't be different", "wishing don't make it so" and "people have to be protected from excesses".

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Business Week Gives Fluky Technology The Bird.

My friend back East has chided me for being immature and over wrought when COMPLAINING about software, hardware and customer services which DO NOT WORK!

Well, nuts to you! Listen to what a business owner and CPA had to say... (God, this made my DAY!)

Again! Tech that doesn't work won't let us work - BusinessWeek