Unhappiness

No cute picture this week.

Sorry, I’m not feeling the toe bean love. Or the sleeping cat, cat in a small space, or, indeed, any other cuteness.

A family of coyotes–mother and four or five pups–has moved into the neighborhood, and is hanging around the area outside our fence.

All the cats have gone into hiding. Hell, even the damn Trash Pandas have made themselves scarce.

We’re doing our best to annoy the coyotes into leaving, making loud noises and throwing pine cones when we see them. And we’ve moved the Backyard Bowl to a somewhat more protected location. The felines sneak out when things are quiet, grab some food, and vanish back into hiding again.

We saw MM late Wednesday night.

Tuxie hasn’t been seen in more than a week. This is not good.

We’re clinging to the hope that someone else saw his charm and charisma, and has given him the indoor home he’s been angling for. It could be. We know he’s been visiting more people than us, and the last time we saw him was a couple of days before the first reports of coyote sightings.

But it’s hard to maintain optimism, especially knowing he’s got a microchip registered to us. Surely if someone had adopted him, they’d have taken him to the vet for a checkup, right?

Or maybe someone spotted the coyote and gave Tuxie some temporary shelter. That could be too.

And there are still other cats around. We’ve caught glimpses of a black cat from across the street and an unknown black and white critter.

But they’re not our buddy Tuxie.

So, no pictures today. Maybe next week.

Customer Dissatisfaction

We’ve officially become cord-cutters.

No, we haven’t dropped our land line. Cell service around here has improved over the past few years, but it’s still spotty enough that we’re not ready to depend only on that.

TV, though, is another matter. Strictly speaking, we haven’t been corded in more than a decade: we’ve been getting our television service from Dish. And, quite honestly, we’ve been happy with the service–and the customer service. Our only complaint has been with the cost; the add-on fees for equipment rental, insurance, and a bunch of things I couldn’t begin to explain came to almost as much as the actual service.

A couple of months ago, we decided that the amount of TV we watched wasn’t worth the amount we were paying, so we switched to Sling. I’ll have more to say about Sling another day; for the moment, I’ll just note that we’re okay with the decision. Note, by the way, that Sling is owned by Dish; we didn’t change corporate overlords.

What I do want to talk about is the process of canceling the satellite service, because it’s an impressive example of what I’m calling “Customer Retention by Intimidation”.

The saga begins with a phone call to Dish Customer Service. You can’t cancel online. There’s no way to deselect all of the programming packages on your account, and the only pages on the website I could find regarding service cancellation were related to moving to a new house, i.e. canceling at one location and starting at a new one.

Nor does the phone menu have a choice for cancellation. So I chose the “other” option and wound up talking to a gent who identified himself as Anthony. He did not, by the way, have an Indian accent, and his word choices when he went off-script suggested American English was his native language.

When I explained that I wanted to cancel the service because I wasn’t watching enough TV to justify the price, he immediately offered me a “customer retention” package at half the cost. Of course, the additional fees wouldn’t have changed, so it would only have represented a twenty-five percent reduction in the total cost. It also would have trimmed my channels by two-thirds, and the cuts would have included the Giants’ games. I turned down the offer.

The next offer was for a fifteen dollar a month discount for two years. That would have let us keep the ballgames, but we would have saved even less money. No thanks.

Somewhere around that point, I mentioned that I was moving to “your Sling subsidiary”. That got me an obviously scripted warning that net neutrality was doomed and I might not be so happy with Sling when my ISP started charging me more. Which was, honestly, something we considered, but I told Anthony I’d worry about it if and when.

We were about fifteen minutes into the call, and I said, “Look, I’m not going to change my mind. Go ahead and check off all the boxes showing you tried to convince me, and if anyone asks, I’ll swear you made the offers, okay?”

Either Anthony was a bored as I was, or he’d run out of inducements, because he moved on to the mechanical details of canceling the service. He reminded me that the hardware was leased, and I’d have to ship it all back. “We’ll send you boxes. It’ll take seven to ten days and you’ll get an email when they go out.” And then he walked me through what needed to be sent back–including something he called the “LNBF”. That, it turns out, is part of the roof-mounted equipment.

“Climbing on the roof isn’t part of my skill set,” I said.

“Fair enough. I’ll see if my supervisor will waive that return,” he replied and put me on hold for five minutes. When he came back, he said the supervisor had agreed. Hooray.

After again offering me the fifteen dollar discount, Anthony processed the cancellation, told me what the final bill would be, and reminded me again that if I didn’t return the equipment within thirty days, they’d charge me several hundred dollars. “Oh, and when you ship it, let us know–just give us the last four digits of the tracking number–and we’ll credit you for the return charges.”

Total time of call, thirty-eight minutes. Five on hold while Anthony spoke to the supervisor, about the same covering the equipment return process, two minutes for the net neutrality warning, and the rest trying to persuade me to accept one of the retention offers.

Half an hour later, I got an email telling me the service “will be cancelled effective” that day and reminding me about the return fee I’d just been charged. I checked, and the service had already been shut off.

The next day I got a call from Dish Customer Retention. I spent fifteen minutes assuring the caller that yes, Anthony had offered me the customer retention package and the two-year discount, and that yes, I was still determined to leave. The call ended with another warning about the multi-hundred dollar charge I’d be facing if I didn’t return their gear within thirty days.

A few minutes later, I got an email asking me to take a customer service survey about my talk with Anthony.

The next day, I got a follow-up email, again asking me to rate Anthony’s performance.

A week after the initial call, I got yet another email informing me that “You have disconnected” the service and “A return kit…will be shipped” and that I had to return “your equipment”* “within the next 30 days” or be charged. Note that “will”. A week after the service was turned off, they still hadn’t sent the box. When exactly did the thirty days start: when I canceled, when they said the box would be shipped, when they actually shipped it, or when UPS delivered it? I still don’t know.

* If it’s my equipment, why are they demanding I return it? And why were they charging me rental fees for more than a decade if it was mine? Poor wording by some corporate flunky.

Included in the box was a letter assuring me Dish was “willing to do ALMOST ANYTHING to get you back.” Apparently, “almost anything” means “give you the same fifteen dollar a month discount you’ve already turned down three times”.

Anthony had said the box would arrive in seven to ten days, and, sure enough, they showed up ten days after I spoke to him. I loaded the equipment and took the box down to UPS the next day. Let them worry about the thirty day deadline.

Then came the fun of letting Dish know I’d shipped “my” equipment. Dish Customer Service does not have an email address. All of the emails I’d gotten were from accounts that don’t accept incoming mail. I wasn’t going to call and get stuck with another round of discount offers. I finally used the online chat function.

Marlon seemed puzzled about what I wanted, and warned me that I needed to return the equipment within thirty days. To his credit, he didn’t try to sell me on the discount offer, and once I explained that I’d already shipped the equipment, he processed the credit for the return fee. “It’ll take seven business days to get to your credit card company.”

The next day and the day after that, I got emails asking me to take the customer satisfaction survey for my “experience” with Marlon.

Two days after the last email–four days after I spoke to Marlon–I got an automated call from Dish telling me the credit had been processed and to allow five business days for it to get to my bank. (It took four calendar days to get to the bank and be posted to my account. Clearly my credit card company is more efficient than Dish believed possible.)

This kind of foot-dragging, intimidation, and relentless hounding must work. They wouldn’t spend money doing it if it didn’t work.

And the tactic is spreading. Case in point: we get a daily call from the American Red Cross asking for blood, money, or both. We’ve told them repeatedly that we’re not going to donate and asked them multiple times to stop calling, but the calls continue.

It’s counter-intuitive that you might be able to annoy people into donating time, flesh, and funds, but again, it must work, because they wouldn’t keep paying if it didn’t.

I’d start a campaign against such annoyance tactics, but how would I fund it? Repeatedly call people until they toss me money to make me go away?

I’m Back. How Are You?

Hi, folks. I’m back from vacation and getting caught up on what’s been going on while I was gone. Thanks to all of you for playing nice. I’ll be going through the accumulated spam comments shortly after I post this, and then catching up on the real comments.

One bit of housekeeping: This blog is hosted at WordPress.com, which is run by Automattic. They’ve updated their privacy policy in accordance with the European GDPR. You can review the policy at the link; I’ve also turned on a feature to display a notice below the comment form. This isn’t strictly necessary, since I’m not in Europe, but I figure it’s not much of a burden, and probably worth doing if only for the sake of those of you who are in the EU.

Also, due to the timing of my vacation, there won’t be a snarky recap of Apple’s WWDC this year. If you feel the lack, you can re-read last year’s. Based on what I’ve seen of the mainstream coverage, not much has changed.

Moving on.

Sedalia was, as expected, hot and humid. Despite that, the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival was successful. The music was good—not that I expected otherwise–and this happened. I’ll have more to say about that next week. And on a more personal note, I did sell most of the copies of The RagTime Traveler I brought, and even signed a few.

I wouldn’t be so crass as to post my recordings from the festival. Those are for my personal enjoyment–and, while I support the musicians by buying CDs, I couldn’t force anyone who watched the videos to do likewise.

But not everyone is so conscious of the artists’ wishes. As usual, a YouTube search for “Sedalia Ragtime” or “Joplin Ragtime Festival” will turn up samples.

That does raise an interesting point, however.

Most of what’s been posted from this year’s festival so far has been from one group, the Holland-Coots Jazz Quintet. Which, as their name states, isn’t actually a ragtime ensemble.

Programming the festival is a balancing act. Purists would prefer three days of nothing but ragtime. But the general public’s reception of that would be dire. Not a good thing when you’re trying to expand your audience. So the organizers experiment, bringing in some performers who aren’t ragtime, but broaden the potential audience of the festival. The Quintet was one of this year’s experiments, and they were justly popular. Except among those who want all ragtime, all the time, of course.

Unfortunately, budget constraints made for a smaller festival this year. That always makes for trouble; this year, IMNSHO, it meant an imbalance in acts with ragtime sometimes feeling like an afterthought. The organizers are well aware of the issue–the “Holland” in the Quintet’s name is Brian Holland, who also happens to be the festival’s Musical Director–and will, I’m sure, lean back the other way next year.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoyed the heck out of all of the performers, ragtime or otherwise, and my CD purchases included the Quintet’s offering.

But if you attended the festival for the first time, or are looking at online videos and considering attending in the future–and you should–be aware that the contents of this particular cereal box have settled. It still contains a full serving of ragtime–nothing says you have to eat all of the side dishes.

Sachiko Beans

Sachiko idolizes her big brudder Nookles.

She follows him around the house, sits next to him on security watch, and tussles with him when she’s bored.

And she looks like him. Similar markings, right down to the little speckles of white in the otherwise unrelieved black fur of their flanks.

So it should come as no surprise whatsoever…
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That she’s gone in for the two-tone toe bean look.

Pink and black.

Just like Big Brudder Nookles.

Yuki Beans

Continuing with our tour of the local toe beans, we come to Yuki.

One of Yuki’s greatest selling points is his inexorable consistency. Precisely at dinner time, he’ll begin knocking on the door to Maggie’s office and announcing his imminent starvation.

Ten minutes after lights-out, he drapes himself across my shins.

And he’s just as consistent physically as he is in his habits.

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Floofy and black above.

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Floofy and black below. Right down to his toe beans.

Oh, one other bit of consistency: Whenever a camera is pointed at him, he gets very wiggly. This is one case where you can definitely blame the quality of the photos on the model instead of the photographer.

And he’s not a bit sorry.

SAST 11

Time for another Short Attention Span Theater. This one’s brought to you by the combined efforts of the local trees copulating furiously and the local felines all attempting to drape themselves across my body simultaneously. This is not a combination of events conducive to deep, restful sleep.

First up is your official notification that I’ll be taking two weeks’ vacation beginning Monday. There will be Friday posts continuing our current survey of toe beans. There will probably not, however, be any other posts. Enjoy the peace and quiet.


Let’s get the awkward item out of the way. If you’re sensitive to a certain four-letter expletive–the one beginning with “F”–I suggest you skip ahead to the next item.

Still here? Okay. This license plate and its handmade addendum were spotted in a mall parking lot.
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I’ll note that the mall in question contains–in addition to a supermarket–a martial arts school, a musical instrument store, and several restaurants that actively court families as patrons. Not, in other words, a venue where most people would consider such language appropriate.

That said, I have to wonder if the owner of the car was the one who amended the license plate, or if it was done by someone who was annoyed by the owner.

The car didn’t have the dinged-up look one expects on a vehicle that frequently behaves rudely in traffic, so I doubt the sign was contributed by someone who’d been cut off entering the lot.

Perhaps it’s an attempt to foil license plate cameras? But those usually target the rear plate.

Or maybe the owner is just an asshole. If so, I’ll just note that there are any number of sites offering information about license plate owners. A quick search turned up several which claim to provide names, contact information, arrest history, and more for as little as three dollars a plate. Something to consider next time you feel the need to insult someone from the supposed safety of your four-wheeled fortress.


I spotted this in a recovery room after a minor medical procedure.
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I have to say that the germ doesn’t look nearly evil enough, nor does it look sufficiently annoyed by the threat of handwashing. Maybe a few soap bubbles would help?

The real question, though, is how many people ask? Not just asking to be obnoxious, but because they’re seriously concerned that the person offering them a juice box might not have washed recently.


24-3What in God’s name are we teaching our kids?

That it’s appropriate to wear a mask at the dinner table? That plagues are equivalent to super heroes?

I won’t even get into how difficult it would be to eat with some of those masks on. But shouldn’t the manufacturers have asked themselves whether there was any value in masks so non-representational they need to have identifying labels?

Apparently I’m not the only one questioning these things. This was in the remaindered/closeout aisle at the local supermarket a few days after Passover.

Which raises another question: Should religious education really be left in the hands of a commercial enterprise?


And finally…
24-4What in God’s name are we teaching our kids?

That even multi-millionaire superheros have to get day jobs to live? That pole dancing is an aspirational career path*?

* No offense intended to those who choose pole dancing as a livelihood, whether or not they remove their clothing while dancing. But I suspect even those pursuing the option would admit that, in terms of long-term income potential and retirement savings, it’s down at the bottom of the list with working the counter at a fast food restaurant.

That one needs a fortune in technological wizardry to swing around a pole? Or is that point? Is there an epidemic of stripping on our nation’s playgrounds, and this is part of a discouragement campaign? If so, it’s a little bit better than cracking eggs in a frying pan.

Is it just me, or does anyone else think Bruce Wayne would be likely to earn more as a stripper than Batman? I mean, I’d find those boots, gloves, and utility belt a real turnoff.

Can’t Satisfy Everyone

Some days you just can’t win. Also known as “you can’t please everybody”.

Case in point–and I’m making no assumptions here about how tuned-in you are to the current news: On April 29th, a couple of black men were hanging out near Lake Merritt in Oakland. They had a charcoal grill, but they were in an area of the park that only allowed non-charcoal grills.

This is not what most people would consider a major breach of the law.

On seeing such depraved behavior–charcoal grilling in a gas-only zone–the average person would probably shrug. At most, she’d go over to the scofflaws and say, “Hey guys, you can’t use that grill here.” If she was an optimistic sort, she might even point them to the nearest area where charcoal grills are allowed.

And at that point, the outlaw grill-meisters would either move or they wouldn’t. Either way, the supporter of the law would feel a modest glow for having done her duty.

That’s not what happened in this case.

A white woman confronted the men and called the police. She then stood nearby for two hours until the police arrived, at which point she accused the men of harassing her.

Needless to say, this didn’t go over well in Oakland. A protest was organized. Fortunately, it was not a march through the streets. Historically, those haven’t turned out well in Oakland, with vandals and looters using the marches as cover and excuse to make matters worse.

No, this protest was appropriate to the situation: a mass barbecue in the same area of the park, complete with a city permit, local corporate participation, and a voter registration drive. Thousands of people showed up, and by all reports, a good time was had by all.

Except, one presumes, the woman who originally confronted the men.

The punchline here, and the reason I say you can’t please everyone:

As it should, the SF Chronicle ran a story yesterday about the protest. Today’s paper included a letter to the editor from a reader in Palo Alto who was deeply offended by the story. She said, in part, that she “found it upsetting to read of the carnage required to make this protest.”

Yup. She’s hijacking a protest against racial injustice to protest to expound on the moral superiority of vegetarianism and promote animal rights.

With all due respect to the letter writer, this is exactly the sort of mission creep that dooms projects of any sort. Focus, solve one problem at a time, or work in parallel. Don’t undercut the work of others or insist that they work for your cause as well as their own.

Unless, of course, you’re more interested in protesting for the sake of protesting, rather than achieving a goal.

‘Nuki Beans

We took a close look at Tuxie’s toe beans last week, and now I’m in a bean mood.

So let’s move from a faux tuxedo to the real thing.

Watanuki has the two-tone tuxedo fur, and he’s got two-tone toe beans to match.
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And it’s not just pink toe tips and black palms. Take a closer look at that back foot.
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Half and half!

Not as tasty as the dairy product, but a heck of a lot cuter.

Divine Wrath

It’s been a rough week for Seattle baseball fans.

It started with an ordinary aggravation: a rain-out, resulting in a doubleheader. Normally you take those in stride, but it came at an awkward time in the Ms’ schedule: a lot of travel and no off days, thanks to an early-season snow-out.

Then, the day after the doubleheader, Robinson Canó was hit on the hand by an errant pitch. Broken metacarpal bone, out for an estimated 6-8 weeks. A big hit to the team’s playoff hopes and overall morale.

Naturally, then, the Universe doubled down. Before fans even heard the specialist’s appraisal of Canó’s injury and expected recovery time, they found out it was largely irrelevant. MLB determined he’d taken a banned substance and suspended him for eighty games. Not only does that push his return into August, but it means he’ll be ineligible if the Ms’ manage to squeeze into the playoffs.

It’s especially vexing for the fans because of a lack of information. Canó and MLB say he took a diuretic which is on the banned list because it can be used to flush performance-enhancing drugs out of the system. Players don’t get banned for taking that medication; instead, there’s an independent investigation to determine the likelihood that it was taken to conceal PED use.

Canó denies there was any PED use, and that the drug was to control his high blood pressure–a legitimate use. MLB says there is evidence of PED use, but, for privacy reasons, will not discuss what the evidence is or what banned substances they believe he took.

Of course, the result is a persecution complex among Mariners fans, and the rise of conspiracy theories. My favorite says MLB is unhappy at losing the Cubs’ curse as a drawing card and publicity tool. As a result, the theory states, they’re taking steps to extend Seattle’s playoff drought–already the longest in all of the four major American sports–indefinitely. This, of course, ties in nicely with reports that Portland is in the running for an expansion team: how thrilling would it be to have a playoff race between the martyred Mariners and the Portland TBAs? One team trying to break their curse, the other trying to duplicate the success of the NHL’s Vegas franchise–now that’s drama (and ticket sales).

But I digress.

Picture those poor Seattle fans, already dealing with all that.

Tuesday–the same day Canó’s suspension was announced–Nelson Cruz, another key piece of the Mariners’ playoff hopes, was hit in the foot by a pitch.

A wave of fan suicides was forestalled when the team was able to give an update before the end of the game: no bones were broken, but Cruz will be out for several days, and a stint on the Disabled List is still a possibility.

You might think that was enough. But, no. Adding insult to the injuries, most of them couldn’t even watch Wednesday afternoon’s game. Not because of their work schedules, but because it was exclusive to Facebook, one of twenty-five such this season. No local TV, no MLB.TV. Closed your Facebook account in protest of the Cambridge Analytica? Too bad. Don’t want to sit in front of your computer for three hours? Sorry. Don’t have the Facebook app on your mobile device because you don’t want to give them access to your location and contacts? We weep great crocodile tears for you.

Ahem. Sorry.

How was the experience if you were willing to deal with Facebook?

Feh.

In fairness, they did provide a way to turn off the comments window and the stupid emoji scrolling on top of the video. And having the broadcast commercial-free was nice.

Other than that, though…

Even with Facebook comments off, we still got viewer questions and comments slapped onscreen and had to listen to the announcers read them and respond.

Instead of letting fans enjoy the lack of commercials by showing pitchers warming up, attendees singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”, and all the other enjoyable non-game elements of the live experience, we got historical moments only tangentially related to the current game and more inane viewer comments.

Let’s not forget the frequent use of split-screen, shrinking the actual game in favor of interviews with studio talking heads, players, and managers.

And, of course, several in-game reminders to buy MLB.TV and get access to “all out of market games”, conveniently not adding “except this one”.

Pardon me again.

So, yeah. Baseball on Facebook is better than no baseball–but that’s a given. If there were any alternative short of flying cross-country to watch the game in person, I’d recommend it.

Still, today is a new day. Mariners fans across the country are risking divine wrath by assuring each other that the worst must surely be over, and life will get better from here.

Game time is 7:10 Pacific, and it will be available through all the usual distribution channels. Surely nothing else can go wrong this week. Right?