March 29, 2007

Posted in NFL and other lesser sports at 8:47 pm by loolar


The Onion

Tank Johnson, Pac-Man Jones Killed While Arguing Over Who Inspired NFL Code Of Conduct

Unfortunately, every now and then the Onion is too close to actual truth to be funny.


March 28, 2007

The woeful state of health care

Posted in Customer Lack of Service at 12:42 pm by loolar

So my new job as a teacher for the LA Unified School District gives me wonderful benefits – supposedly.  We’re with Blue Cross now, and when I was buying my own health care, I was also with Blue Cross, and they’re pretty decent.  Of course, then I was with a PPO, and now I’m with an HMO.  And therein lies the dilemma.

My doctor of six years, Joe Pachorek of Pasadena, will no longer see me because of the switch.  They’re “full up” of HMO customers, you see.  So, have a nice day, you’re someone else’s problem now.  His office manager basically shrugged and didn’t even offer me a good luck.  Six year relationship?  Whatever – you’re just unwanted paperwork.

This is the state of our semi-socialized medicine system.  Broken.  When human relationships mean nothing, and the quality of your care is based on which club you join.  Many people stay with deplorable jobs for the sole reason of staying with existing health care, due to a pre-existing condition or a doctor who actually understands their needs.  What kind of solution is this?

I predict a not-too-distant future where doctors will actually be eliminated from the equation.  In true HMO bureaucratic style, you will call an automated line, and you’ll be overnighted a pill.  “For allergies, press one now.  For chronic pain, press two now.  If you are in danger of bleeding out and dying, please stand by; an operator will be with you shortly.  We are experiencing high call volumes.  Your estimated wait time is three hours.  Please call back another time.  Thank you for choosing Don’tCare.”

Seriously, why have a doctor at all?  People don’t matter anymore in the medical profession.  Just overnight my pill and move on to customer #438612.

March 27, 2007

Asking for directions

Posted in World of Warcrack at 12:39 am by loolar

Okay, so I’m a sufferer of the addiction known as World of Warcraft, or Warcrack, to us junkies.  Just today I cramped up my wrist trying to bottle feed my son at the same time as I played one-handed using only the mouse.  Hey, that poor prisoner really needed my help escaping.

And, like most things, much as I love it, it could use some improvement.  The great thing is that, as players of the game know, the developers do change and redesign as needs dictate.  Hopefully this post will get to them.   Perhaps I should set more realistic goals.  Hopefully this post will get to anyone.

At any rate, the game has a fun mechanic wherein, as you discover the world, a map interface gets filled in.  You can “discover” new areas, which in turn are rendered complete on your map.  Helps you to see where you’ve been, and how to get back home.

Except in the places where such a map would arguably be the most useful – dungeons (or “instances” as they’re known in the game, since your group enters the dungeon and thereby creates a single “instance” of its existence, accessible only by your group.  Keeps down the griefing from other players, and allows you to actually accomplish the quests without competing with hundreds of other players at a time).

As any intrepid explorer knows, it’s a lot easier to find your way when you have landmarks like mountains.  But once you’re digging around in someone’s burial crypt, the landmarks are hard to find (“I’m sorry, was this your femur?”).  Why not have a similar system, where the instance map “fills in” as you progress?  Enterprising players have already used a combination of screen capture and amateur rendering to create virtual maps you can find online – why not have it be part of the game?

I think the game should offer sections of the instance maps as you accomplish goals or overcome challenges.  Don’t give me the map until I’ve “been there and done that.”  But afterwards, it sure would be nice to be able to see how it works – and how the heck to get out.

I’d also like some sort of virtual “breadcrumbs” to mark paths through dungeons.  Real life spelunkers will use chalk or grease pencils to mark paths through the depths; it makes sense that adventurers might do the same.  The game already allows you to toggle symbol tags on monsters (helps groups coordinate tactics, as in, “get the diamond first, then the club, then the heart”); a similar system for the environment would be just as useful.  Especially in Sunken Temple, which is a rubik’s cube nightmare of spatial orientation.

Of course, maybe they intentionally left these features out, wanting you to get more lost in the dungeon and therefore spend more time “there” (read: playing the game).  After all, that’s what they do in Vegas, right?  There are no maps in casinos.  Hmm… maybe that addiction analogy just got creepy.

Better go play some more.

March 21, 2007

Door checking receipts (WalMart, Costco, Best Buy, Target)

Posted in Customer Lack of Service at 6:23 am by loolar

Since I’m up at this obscene hour with what seems to be my first onset of “hay fever” allergies, I may as well assault you, gentle reader, with another dose of vitriol.

For those who belong to Costco, the following scenario is commonplace and recognizable.  Unfortunately, it seems to have made it to WalMart, Best Buy, and Target.

You go to the checkout with your cart full of consumerist booty.  Items are scanned, bagged, and ultimately, purchased.  You thank the cashier, load the bags back into your cart, and head for the door – but wait!  Here to block your progress is some prepubescent teen or kindly septuagenarian brandishing a highlighter like Obi-Wan has just introduced them to the Force.  And they don’t want to know how long you’ve owned these droids.  Nope, they’re here to…

Mark your receipt.  They will make a cursory examination of your cart, check your receipt, and then expertly apply a colored slash.  As if a five second inspection is actually going to correlate the contents of my cart to my receipt?

This is a ridiculous circus of a policy.  Oh, of course you’ll hear technical sounding terms like “loss prevention” and “shrinkage oversight,” but honestly, this is a feeble show that provides no actual enforcement against theft – but immeasurable big-ass boatloads of aggravation to the 99% of customers who actually paid for their purchases.

To use the same metaphor as my earlier post on customer service, this is like gun control – it mostly punishes those who obey the rules.

Now I can see posting someone at the entrance to stop would-be pilferers from leaving “out through the in door.”  I can even see posting someone at the registers just to observe customers who might “accidentally” slip the latest issue of the Weekly World News into one of their shopping bags.

However, subjecting customers to TSA inspired inspections of pointlessness is an indignity and annoyance.  It’s plainly obvious to both the customer and the poor sap assigned to the duty that they aren’t remotely able to actually match my receipt to what’s in my cart.  And when even the Emperor notices he’s naked, it’s time to dump the policy.

March 20, 2007

Booting the bad apples

Posted in NFL and other lesser sports at 3:25 pm by loolar

Don Banks of SI reports on the upcoming decision of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on the conduct of Adam “Pacman” Jones here – and I can’t wait.

The players are finally realizing what a detriment to the game these younger “punks” are. They have no respect for veterans, coaches, fans or the game. I have said for years that I am repulsed by the example pro athletes like Terrell Owens set for youth – and it’s an example that I have to spend laborious hours trying to counteract, both in the classroom and at YMCA summer camp. Like it or not, pro athletes are heroes to youth, particularly to inner city youth who see so few adults in their lives who can teach them acceptable behavior. When they want attention, they see how the pros act, and, surprise, they do the same things.

The NBA has already started to crack down on conduct, and I can’t be happier that the NFL is following suit.

Overtime after time

Posted in NFL and other lesser sports at 2:55 pm by loolar

The current NFL rules for overtime are just a crime. Peter King of Sports Illustrated goes into it in depth in his Monday Morning Quarterback column here and the Tuesday reader mailbag edition here, but I don’t think he goes far enough.

Basically, for those not familiar with NFL rules, if regulation ends in a tie score, a single extra quarter is played, with sudden death scoring; i.e., whoever scores first, wins. The quarter begins with a coin toss to determine who gets the first possession.

The trouble is, there is an overwhelming trend that whoever wins the coin toss wins the game (more than a third on that first possession). After all, you only have to get into field goal range (for most kickers, the 30 yard line is within reach – this yields a 47 yard attempt, 10 yards for the end zone and 7 yards for the ball to be hiked back from the line of scrimmage to the holder).

The current tweak – and I do mean tweak – to the system under consideration by the NFL competition committee is to add five yards to the opening kickoff position. So instead of kicking from the 30, kicking teams would kick from the 35, ostensibly pinning the receiving team farther back on the field, and forcing them to work that much harder to get into field goal range.

So what? Boring.

Now, one of King’s readers said that if championships are won on defense, then defense should be able to win in overtime. I don’t disagree. But does that really preclude an enforced two possession overtime? Why not give both teams the ball at least once? This would motivate teams to go for touchdowns, because the second possessing team could far more easily tie the game again if you only get a field goal.

The real solution is getting both teams the ball once. Make overtime count – and not a matter of tossing a coin. If neither or both teams score, then they continue, back and forth. If it ends in a tie, the game is a tie, same as the current rules (if no team scores, there is no subsequent overtime).

Change your change

Posted in Customer Lack of Service at 2:34 pm by loolar

Customer service isn’t just the big things – responding to needs and clearly communicating – it’s made up of a ton of small things, like gestures, body language, tone of voice, eye contact, and those little things that can make a transaction smooth – or irritating.

This may be my pet peeve, but here’s one of the little things. When paying cash (I know, how quaint!), we typically must get change back. Most of us put our coins in a different place than our bills. And since the chaos factor for coins is much higher than bills (coins are given to sliding and rolling around), it stands to reason that coins ought to be placed in the most stable location for handling – e.g., the palm of your hand.

However, over and over again, I see cashiers putting the bills on a customer’s open hand, and then dumping the change onto that obligingly flat, smooth, BMX racing-style ramp surface, where the coins roll all over the counter and the floor. Thanks!

Put the coins in the palm first – then they’re going nowhere. Then the bills can be handled with a thumb and forefinger. Instead, most folks now need two hands to deal with their change, thus holding up the line.

Now I have no illusions that your average cashier is reading my blog. At present, actually no one is reading my blog. But I am hopeful, that somehow, perhaps like a flesh-eating virus, my ideas will spread out to the world of people who receive change (ahem, you), and you will speak up and gently urge those cashiers to adopt the more efficient and customer-focused practice.

On the other hand, it might be akin to hoping all the schmendricks who drive 45 mph in the left lane will hear the comedians that ridicule them. Those who need to know about their behavior are usually the least likely to hear it.

iTunes and copywrite protection

Posted in Customer Lack of Service, Music at 2:05 pm by loolar

Mike Torres talks about this in much greater depth and with much more authority than I can muster (here is just one example).

So I am a fan of a now defunct band Ednaswap. One of their more recent incarnations is the band AnneTenna (read about them here and on wikipedia). At any rate, back when I could find it, I was able to download their album for free (for whatever reasons, Capitol Records has shelved it).

Last weekend, one of the other 13 surviving Ednaswap fans and I got together to do a road trip to Santa Barbara. He was keenly interested in hearing the album, and lacks the computer that could have obtained it when such a thing was possible. So we loaded up the iPod to the monster FM transmitter cord, dialed up the band, and – wait a minute. Where is it?

Not there.

The album has never synced to my iPod. I just tried manually. Nope. Won’t take it. No explanation, nothing. I can only assume some arcane copywrite protection software gremlin is in the works, cackling with glee and rubbing its hands.

Why? Let’s leave aside the obvious complaint – that the album was available for free, so who on earth cares if you share it with reckless abandon? Oh my god, people might actually discover the band.
But what about law-abiding, regular folks? The arcane method through which you have authorize machines, and the limited number of authorizations – what does it really accomplish, besides ill-will and annoyance aimed at recording companies (although hey, they deserve all they can get), artists, and computer companies (in this case, Apple)?

Copywrite protection is like gun control – it works wonderfully if your goal is to annoy the people that are already obeying the law. I am a high school teacher, and very one of my Title I (government assistance), inner-city students has the computer savvy of Matthew Broderick in WARGAMES. Do you really think stuff like this stops them? Nope, but it annoys the hell out of me.

Understand, I love my Mac (have an iBook and an iMac) and my iPod. But stuff like this – like most idiocy in the world – is politically motivated.

It’s time to switch to a Canadian style system – a subsidy to recording companies is included as a tariff on any device or media that may be used to copy and distribute copywritten material. They understand that people may decide to use that blank CD and computer to – gasp – burn music. So give the recording companies their pound of flesh up front, and be done with it. Don’t create a system that demotivates consumers and requires involuntary consumer participation. It will never work. It doesn’t work.

A blog is born

Posted in Other Stuff at 12:33 pm by loolar

This is it – I’ve joined whatever century this is (21st?) and started a blog.

I have very few illusions about my own importance in the world (just one or two cherished ones), so I won’t advertise this blog as yet. If you stumbled on it, how the hell did you get here? For now, I will use this in the initially conceived manner – a log on the web.

I expect to be writing on, in no particular order:

1. The English language and teaching (I’m an English teacher – brand new last year, 2006, so excuse any grammar foibles – it turns out they’ll let just about anyone have a classroom nowadays).

2. NFL football (and the New England Patriots in particular) and Arena Football (and assorted other sports from time to time).

3. World of Warcrack, er, Warcraft, that is (and the occasional video game observation).

4. Cooking (simple recipes for dumb guys).

5. Hiking/camping/fishing.

6. Music (I expect these observations to be largely irrelevant to the public at large).

7. Toys (Star Wars and Transformers in particular).

8. Health care (or lack thereof).

9. Fatherhood (as of November 24, 2006).

10. Role playing games and rules creation.

11. And a huge section on CUSTOMER SERVICE, or the lack thereof.

In fact, one of the big recurring themes that made me want to start a blog was to have a platform upon which to hurl my impotent vitriol at the corporate schmendricks that mostly make our lives more difficult – in hopes of using the web to reduce the “impotent” part.

With that in mind, on to my next post – the first “on topic” post, whatever that means.