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Privilege vs. right Fri, Jul 27, 2007
A home-schooled 16-year-old from Illinois was denied the option of playing high school football for the reason that "participation in extracurricular activities is a 'privilege' and not a 'right'".  While I dislike that argument, it's totally true.  There are a lot of things that we as humans (or probably more accurately, we as Americans) think are our God-given rights.  We have the right to vote.  We have the right to bear arms.  We have the right to play high school football.  We have the right to drive.  But actually, those last two aren't rights at all.  They're privileges.  Privileges can be taken away because of bad behavior or not granted in the first place. 

I think this has a little to do with this article about how Mr. Rogers ruined the world by telling everyone they're special.  A San Diego State University psychologist noticed that many Asian-born students accept whatever grade they're given; they see B's and C's as an indication that they must work harder, and that their superiors assessed them accurately.  American students, on the other hand, often view lower grades as a reason to "hit you up for an A because they came to class and feel they worked hard".  I can identify with this idea because I've done it many times.  I think it shows that I (and we) feel like I'm owed something.  We have the right to go to college, and we have the right to get good grades for doing our work.  The SDSU professor said he wishes more parents would offer kids this perspective:  "The world owes you nothing.  You have to work and compete.  If you want to be special, you'll have to prove it." #psychology

Sprint fiasco Fri, Jul 27, 2007
I referred to this earlier, but I think I'm ready to spill my guts and tell all.  Apparently it helped solve this guy's problems.  This is the story of my ongoing fiasco with Sprint. 

I used to have a contract with Cingular, but right as it was about to end, I decided to switch to Sprint because of their faster data network and their lower prices.  I ordered a phone from Wirefly and filled out a form to port my number.  A few days later I got my phone and called to have it activated.  They gave me a temporary number at first because the porting takes a few days, and that was no problem.  However, after a day or two, I was told my number couldn't be ported to Sprint's network.  Since I've had the same number for the past 4 years, I didn't feel like going through the process of telling everyone I know I have a new number, mainly because I can't remember who has my old number (and I'm extremely important; I get multitudes of phone calls per day; yes, multitudes).  Plus, the problem sounded like a technical glitch, not an actual legitimate problem.  ("Our system says your number won't port."  Well, fix your stupid system.)  After talking to several different customer service people, I was told there was nothing they could do, so I was all set to give up and hold a lifelong grudge.  As a last ditch effort, I went to a local Sprint store to see if they could help, and the guy at the store said he had the same exact problem with his personal number, and he would just need to send an email to a person he knew.  Several days later he changed his story and said he didn't know what the problem was, but he escalated my case to a group in Sprint called "Employees Helping Customers" (Who exactly was I dealing with before this?  Employees not helping customers?).  After several weeks, my case was put into the hands of the local Sprint store's manager, who was still "waiting to hear back from EHC".  It has been exactly 6 weeks and 3 days since this Sprint fiasco started, and I still have no solution as to where exactly my old number is and why I'm not able to use it. 

So Sprint CEO Gary Forsee, fix my &*$%ing problem.  As of this point in my sure-to-be-wonderful 2-year contract with your company, I've had nothing but problems.  Your customer service is pitiful.  Your technical support is a joke.  Your whole company seems to be a winding maze of "let me transfer you to that department" and "I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do about that".  I would've been better off sticking with Cingular or switching to Verizon. 

Now for an extremely detailed chronological breakdown of events: 
June 12:  Received my phone in the mail.  Called and had it activated with a temporary number. 
June 13:  Called customer service several times to start using my old number instead of the temporary number. 
June 14:  Called customer service several times to start using my old number instead of the temporary number. 
June 15:  Called customer service several times to start using my old number instead of the temporary number.  Went to the Sprint store and was told my problem would be solved. 
...
June 22:  Emailed Sprint store guy who said he'd get back to me by 4pm.  At 7:38pm, he said a network ticket had been logged and that he should hear a final answer by June 26 at 5pm. 
...
June 27:  Emailed Sprint store guy.  No answer. 
...
June 28:  Sprint store guy handed me over to Employees Helping Customers and told me I'd hear from them by June 29 or July 2 at the latest. 
...
July 5:  No word from anyone.  I emailed the Sprint store guy to see what the problem was.  No answer. 
...
July 10:  I'd had enough, so I was willing to just sign up for a new number.  Emailed the Sprint store guy and said I was coming in.  He said calls to my old number would be magically forwarded to my new number for the time being.  That never happened.  The Sprint store guy said I'd be dealing with the Sprint store manager from now on.  Progress was made by giving me a new number. 
...
July 12:  New number stopped working.  Went to the Sprint store, and progress was made by fixing it.  I was told I'd be contacted by EHC to get my issues sorted out.  I never heard from them. 
...
July 24:  Emailed Sprint store manager asking about any updates to my 6-week long saga.  No response. 
July 25:  Emailed Sprint store manager asking about any updates to my 6-week long saga.  Response:  "Still waiting to hear."
...
August 7:  Emailed Sprint store manager asking about any updates to my 8-week long saga.  Response:  "There's nothing we can do."  I emailed again later asking for a refund for the early termination fee for my old number.  Progress was made by refunding the money I didn't owe in the first place. 

I'll continue to update this with "waiting to hear", "sorry we can't do anything", and "we're the worst company ever in the history of the universe; here's all your money back; oh and here's the past 6 weeks of your life back" and things of that nature. 

Final update:  By mid-August, the results were in.  I lost my old number for unexplainable reasons.  I got a new number.  I got a refund for all the money I didn't owe (such as double billing and incorrect early termination charges).  My old number is now in the hands of a teenager with Verizon service.  Not sure how that happened.  All in all, my switch from Cingular to Sprint was as painful and inconvenient as it possibly could've been, correctly representing Sprint's deplorable reputation and abysmal customer service. #technology

Transformers Fri, Jul 27, 2007
Transformers is an awesome movie, partly because of the prolific robot violence, but also because of the cool sound effects.  Hearing that wahnt-wahnt-wahnt-wahnt-wahnt takes me right back to 1989, sitting on my neighbor's couch on weekday afternoons, preceded by G.I. Joe and other amazing cartoons.  I just learned that the voice of Optimus Prime is actually the voice of a human named Peter Cullen.  I always thought it was some sort of electronic effect.  But like Hal Douglas and Don LaFontaine, he's just a guy with a cool recognizable voice

On a related note, there's an adult-sized Transformers helmet that electronically alters your voice when you speak through the microphone.  It doesn't sound much like Optimus Prime, but it's mildly close. #entertainment

Online product reviews Thu, Jul 26, 2007
I'm a geek.  I buy gadgets.  Before any major gadget purchase, I look for product reviews.  Most times, Google doesn't do a very good job of finding product reviews.  It usually finds a few comparison shopping websites where Average Joe writes about his terrible experience buying it online and the subsequent time it took to collect the number of pieces formed when the product was dropped off a tall building onto a rock.  Average Joe is an idiot.  I don't drop my gadgets off tall buildings onto rocks.  I'm good with my gadgets, so I usually want a product review with a little more intelligence.  A great place for good online product reviews is CNET.  They usually have a pretty thorough writeup done by someone with more than half a brain.  The best part about it is that they'll say if a product sucks.  They're not the kind of company that's just happy to get free products from manufacturers so they'll give a good review no matter what.  CNET is big enough to not care about giving a product a bad review, and I've often found that I'd rather know why a product sucks than why it's great. #products

Sony Thu, Jul 26, 2007
I was looking at digital cameras at Best Buy today, and despite admiring a few of the Sony models, I almost certainly won't buy one.  I've mentioned this before, and I'll say it again:  It's really stupid for a company to create its own data storage specification, making it incompatible with any other device on earth.  To use a Sony camera, I need a Sony MemoryStick.  That MemoryStick won't fit in any other device I own, including my phone, my laptop, or my desktop.  All those devices use Secure Digital cards, which really should be the de facto standard for portable media storage, in my opinion.  Sony's choice probably has something to do with their overseas market or something like that, but to me it just looks like a way to make more money. #technology

Menial work Wed, Jul 25, 2007
I realized something about my job today:  I like the fact that it doesn't have any of that nonsense work I had in past jobs, including making copies, filings things, sending faxes, moving furniture (except for one time), and other busywork given to me by people who seemingly have more important things to do.  I like the fact that I'm treated like an "adult", despite the fact that I hardly act like one.  It's not so much that I didn't like doing menial tasks, it was more that I didn't like being treated like a lesser being.  This isn't to say that people who do those kinds of things are lesser people.  It's just that the mindset of the people who assign that kind of work is very off-putting. #business

Disappearing bees Wed, Jul 25, 2007
It appears a microscopic parasite is the cause of the disappearance of millions of honeybees in Europe and the Americas, not cell phones or cell phone towers.  "... bees use the angle of the sun to navigate and not electromagnetic frequencies."  That's good. #nature

Cell phone carriers Wed, Jul 25, 2007
It's hard to get honest and useful opinions about cell phone carriers.  What do we expect -- we're overcharged for an unreliable, poor-quality service.  But it's a service most of us would rather die than be without.  While that sounds like a stupid statement, it's at least partially true.  I've been having some cell-phone-company-switching issues lately, and I concluded, "I'll just go without a cell phone for now."  But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that if any life-threatening event were to happen to me, it would undoubtedly happen when I didn't have a cell phone.  Damn those stupid little radiation-emitting gizmos! 

But anyway, it's hard to find out which carrier is the best.  If I surveyed a few people and read a few things online, here's what I would discover: 
  1. Sprint sucks.
  2. T-Mobile sucks.
  3. Cingular/AT&T sucks.
  4. Verizon has the best coverage.
I've found that most opinions include the word "suck", and even the best one doesn't necessarily "not suck", it just has the best coverage so you can get the same "sucky" service in more places. 

A lot of these opinions are based on data and secondhand opinions from several years ago.  These days, the major companies are all generally the same in terms of coverage because they share towers (Verizon/Sprint, Cingular/AT&T/T-Mobile).  So if you can't complain about the service, complain about something else.  The thing most people mention in their criticism of cell phone companies these days is that the customer service is terrible.  I personally haven't had many good experiences with customer service; I thought that was the deal:  You waste the company's money by calling customer service, you don't deserve good customer service.  Actually, the one time I called Cingular customer service, I had a good experience.  I think it was a fluke.  Several years ago, I dealt with Verizon's customer service, and even though it was a hassle, they fixed my problem.  My stance on customer service is that there's really no need for it as long as everything works the way it's supposed to.  And most times it does.  But the times your phone doesn't work and you have to subject some poor idiot to your angry tirade against "the man", it's a big deal.  I'm currently going through this with Sprint.  For that reason, I don't recommend Sprint.  Maybe I'll change my stance if they finally fix my problem.  So in terms of customer service,
  1. Sprint sucks.
  2. I don't know about T-Mobile.
  3. Cingular is pretty good.
  4. Verizon is ok.
Again, I don't recommend Sprint to anyone that doesn't want to deal with a problem that takes more than 6 weeks to get resolved.  If that's your thing, go for it.  I personally would rather avoid it. #technology

Bald eagle Wed, Jul 25, 2007
On June 28, the bald eagle was taken off the endangered and threatened species list.  Perhaps if I paid attention to major news networks, I would've known about this sooner. #nature

Bird-related mystery (1) Thu, Jul 19, 2007
I came home from work on Monday and stumbled upon a mystery I can't solve.  It involves cats, birds, windows, feathers, and blood.  Here's what I know: 
  1. I walked in the house and spotted several (10-15) small (1-2 inch) gray feathers on the ground.
  2. I walked upstairs and found a fairly large (4-5 inch diameter) hole in the window screen near the bed.
  3. Two cats live in our house, and the boy (Dilbert) has been known to furiously chomp on raw meat and chase stray cats.
  4. I brought Dilbert upstairs to see if he recognized the hole in the screen, and he acted like he was seeing it for the first time.
  5. I gathered the feathers into a pile and put them on a table to show Wendy.  Dilbert cautiously approached them and fearfully sniffed them as if he'd never seen anything like them in his life.
  6. The cats' food dish was completely full when I got home, despite being full all day.  Most other days, there's little to no food left when I get home.
  7. The next day, Wendy spotted a streak of blood on the floor and two spots of blood on a cardboard box the cats play on.
  8. I searched the house and found no other remnants of a dead bird, including blood, guts, bones, or anything else.
  9. Our house doesn't smell like a dead animal.
  10. No partially digested animal parts were found in the litter box, though a full and intimate inspection was not made.
I can really only think of a few possibilities regarding this mystery, and they're all unbelievable. 
  1. A bird flew through the screen, shed 10-15 feathers, and flew out again.  The feathers mysteriously traveled downstairs and were gathered into a relatively close area.
  2. A bird flew through the screen, Dilbert caught it and ate it whole, eating all but a few feathers and leaving only a few drops of blood as evidence.
  3. Dilbert saw a bird right outside the window, so he tore a hole in the screen, grabbed the bird and ate it whole, eating all but a few feathers and leaving only a few drops of blood as evidence.
  4. A bird flew through the screen, flapped around the house for a while, left some feathers in a specific area, and flew into an unknown part of the house to hide.
  5. A bird flew through the screen, got batted around by the cats for a while, left some feathers in a specific area, then escaped and crawled under the stove to die.
That's all I can come up with.  If anybody has any ideas, please leave a comment. #nature

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