How Not to Do Customer Service

Number 31415926 in an infinite series.

As I write this Monday evening, the GoComics website is down. It was down when I tried to read my usual morning batch of strips on Saturday morning. It has not come back up. So it’s been down continuously for at least 60 hours.

The website simply says “The requested service is temporarily unavailable. It is either overloaded or under maintenance. Please try later.”

Not exactly helpful or informative.

In the early going, whoever was running their Twitter account tried to lighten things up by tweeting comics. However, a small, apparently random selection–although several of the later selections referenced people or things being broken. Hmm.

Finally, Sunday evening–48 hours into the outage–they posted an official statement.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Since then, the account has been silent. Reports are that their communication on Facebook is identical.

Granted, lack of access to comic strips is a first world problem.

But the people being inconvenienced are, one way or another*, paying customers.

* Some of us paying with actual currency, some by being exposed to advertising (while being tormented with repeated demands that we fork over the aforesaid currency).

And the only reason they can get away with ignoring paying customers is because they’re a monopoly. Some of the strips show up on the websites of newspapers that run the strips in their print editions. But no newspaper carries all of the hundreds of GoComics strips; some of them are even online-only, making them totally inaccessible during this outage.

And every moment that passes without an update, or even a “Geez, folks, we’re really sorry. We screwed up big time,” makes the pool of ill will deeper. Darker. Colder.

Never underestimate the ire of a Garfield fan denied their fix.

Late update just before posting: GoComics is back up today. I didn’t get a chance to check it last night, but it was down Tuesday morning, so the outage lasted 72 hours or more.

The Twitter account? Still no new posts. So much for status updates. So much for belated redemption. So much for actually appreciating your customers.

I Hadn’t Planned to Go Here…

…but once the press got involved, I didn’t feel I had much of a choice.

In last week’s post about the end of the Jodie Whittaker Era, I mentioned that breaks with established continuity tick me off.

I’ve just learned that there’s something that ticks me off even more.

One of those continuity breaks–the most prominent one–was David Tennant appearing in his own clothes, rather than in the outfit Jodie had sported for the last three seasons. Every regeneration to date has left the new Doctor wearing the previous Doctor’s outfit; part of the fun of the next episode has always been learning what the new actor will be wearing and seeing where the outfit comes from.

I’m sure there will be an in-show rationale for the change. Maybe it’ll even make it into a script.

But the real reason? Well, maybe “real” reason? According to showrunner Russell T Davies, it was done to avoid offending the transphobic and the bigots. Yes, the same idiots who have been offended for the past three seasons. Which, okay, we don’t want to get excoriated in the press any more than we have to. I can see that. But…

The other reason, Russell says, is to avoid offending the drag community. “To put a great big six-foot Scotsman into [a woman’s clothing] looks like we’re taking the mickey.” Fair enough. A better reason than the first, IMNSHO. But…

What about Sacha Dhawan? In the very same episode, Sacha, as the Master, forces a regeneration on the Doctor, effectively reshaping her body into his. Wearing–surprise!–her clothes.

Clothes which, I’ll point out, while tailored for a woman’s body, do not include a skirt, dress, burka, sari, or any other item of clothing that is not normally worn by men in Western European derived cultures.

Are the bigots or the drag queens going to be less offended by a five-foot-seven man of Indian descent wearing “women’s” clothes than the aforementioned six-foot-one Scot? Actually, the bigoted probably would be less offended by it. But if that’s also true of the LGBT community, that says something about that community I’d rather not know.

And yes, I’ll grant that Russell knows the British press far, far better than I do. But really, something’s just not adding up here.

I’m sure there was a good, valid reason why David didn’t wear Jodie’s clothes, but I’m equally sure the official explanation ain’t it. It smacks of a retrocon, and a particularly clumsy one at that.

Given that Jodie is only five-foot-five-and-change, it’s not impossible that the seams gave out when David tried on her pants (though a long jacket–and a well-prepared wardrobe mistress*–can cover a multitude of wardrobe malfunctions). Or maybe there’s some other innocent explanation.

* Is there a generally accepted gender neutral title for this role? My quick web search didn’t turn up any thing.

But clumsy attempts to cover Lady Godiva in a mantle of controversy avoidance? Nah, not buying it.

It’s That Time Again

Halloween is over. Yes, the calendar called it Monday night (or Tuesday morning, if you prefer).

And that means it’s time to turn our attention to the next major shopping eventholiday. No, not Thanksgiving. Many retailers have announced they’ll be closed on Thanksgiving again this year–and huzzah for that small bit of sanity. No, I’m talking about [insert ominous chord here] Black Friday.

More intriguing than the Turkey Day closings are the announced opening times for Black Friday. So far, per blackfriday.com, very few national retailers are planning to open in the middle of the night. The most common opening time so far looks to be 6:00; Big Lots, Home Depot, and Jo-Ann are among those who’ve picked that time. Nearly as many stores are going with “regular hours”: Walgreens, Marshalls, and Half Price Books, for example. Only one major retailer–JCPenney–has announced an earlier opening, and that’s 5:00.

Granted, there are still plenty of announcements to be made (or non-announcements to be leaked). But so far, at least, it’s looking like significant numbers of retail employees will get to spend Turkey Thursday with their families, and still get a good night’s sleep before reporting for work Friday.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that, according to RetailMeNot, more than half the U.S. population is looking forward to observing Black Friday in the traditional in-store fashion. That said, however, the self-evidently biased survey doesn’t say anything about whether the public is clamoring for middle-of-the-night openings. That doesn’t have to be part of the equation, right?

I say not. I’ve got no problem with deeply discounted loss leaders to drag spenders into stores. No issues with people paying more than they can afford when they miss out on the doorbusters–after all, they can always return the goods the next day for a refund; retailers expect that and budget for it. And I’m already on record as being willing to allow monthlong sales.

But the quid pro quo here has to be an end to making employees arrive at work at dark o’clock and forcing them to wade through crowds of would-be shoppers who’ve been lined up since even darker o’clock.

If a few weirdos want to line up at midnight, let ’em. But don’t open the doors until your regular Friday opening time. Let everyone else sleep in. Remember: a happy, well-rested customer is one who doesn’t block the registers while they fumble around writing a check, screaming at a clerk because they couldn’t find the gizmo they wanted, or* corralling the store manager to complain about “that kind” being allowed to shop in the same store as “decent people”**.

* Or, goddess and gods help us all, “and”, not “or”.

** Based on current headlines, I figure it’s inevitable we’ll get at least one mass shooting at a store predominantly patronized by non-whites and/or non-Christians.

Let’s not aid and abet. Sleeping later won’t change anyone’s mind about their fellow Americans, but it might just help them suppress the impulse to “do something about them“.

Further Rejoicing

Was it really just last week that we declared the COVID epidemic a relic of history?

Sadly, yes.

I say “sadly” because apparently the Federal Government agrees. The program to provide free in-home tests is shutting down Friday because it’s out of money. Get your orders in quickly, folks.

Actually, wouldn’t it be interesting to know how many tests get ordered this week, compared to the past three or four weeks? I doubt we’ll ever see the numbers, but I’d love to be proved wrong about that.

If you want to try and sneak in an order–I did Tuesday afternoon and it went through just fine–the URL is https://www.covid.gov/tests. Actually, the order went through so smoothly, I’m taking it as additional confirmation that the American Public as a whole has moved on to the Next Great Crisis.

And my apologies for whatever influence my post might have had in encouraging that migration.

I really do need to stop reading the news*. It only depresses me, and then I have to spend an hour or two cruising Love Meow to restore my equilibrium.

* To be fair, the local newspaper isn’t as bad as Google News. I could do without the endless 49ers stories, now that football season is upon us, but I don’t find them depressing, just boring. And–fair’s fair–I’m sure the football fans find the endless Giants stories just as useless. (I think we can all agree that the endless stream of stories about the Athletics trash fire of a stadium quest are both depressing and hugely entertaining.)

Apparently, the Google Assistant on my phone has figured out that pattern in my actions. For the past couple of weeks, every time I’ve looked at the news feed (swipe left from the Home screen), it’s included a Love Meow story halfway down the screen. I’m considering it a palette cleanser.

I can’t decide if I’m pleased that my phone is trying to take such good care of me or depressed that my phone thinks I need cheering up. And yes, I’m well aware of the irony in Google Assistant feeling compelled to counteract the effects of Google News.

For the record, as I write this post on Tuesday afternoon, Google News is showing eleven stories on its “New” home page. Mikhail Gorbachev’s death–which I’m largely neutral about–is the top story, followed by the impending heat wave on the West Coast (depressing), the water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi (very depressing), Biden calling out Republicans over gun control (about damn time, but depressing that it’s necessary and unlikely to go anywhere), and the latest on the Ukraine/Russia war (very depressing). That’s four out of five depressing.

Local news has stories on a shooting, senior housing, and school vandalizations (one depressing, one mildly enlivening, and one mixed–depressing that the local schools need nearly $100 thousand to repair the damage, cheering that it’s being donated by one of our corporate overlords (Chevron)).

The only real cheer is in the “Picks for you” section. Google is keeping the orange-faced asshole’s social media app out of the Play Store, Albert Pujols is getting close to passing Alex Rodriguez (spit!) on the all-time home run list, and an opinion piece on the rumored iPhone 14*. Two happy stories and one neutral? I’ll take it.

* The phones will probably be announced at an Apple event next week. Expect my usual Wednesday post to be delayed a day so I can bring you my usual totally unbiased coverage of all the announcements.

Rejoice!

Apparently the pandemic is over.

You didn’t know?

Well, nobody’s said it’s in the past, but judging by the way people are acting, we’re in the post-COVID era.

Social distancing in queues is non-existent and barely present elsewhere. I actually heard someone say they’d given up on keeping six feet away from the person in front of them in line “because it makes the line too long.” Never mind that it takes the same amount of time to move through the line regardless of spacing.

Mask wearing is at the lowest level since February of 2020. And I hear more and more maskless people saying some variation on “Oh, am I supposed to wear a mask?” or (even more annoyingly) “Why are you still wearing that thing?”

Even the people wearing masks take them off at any opportunity. I’m even seeing an uptick in people taking off their masks because they can’t hear what people are saying. What? You’re not wearing your mask over your ears, you know.

Vaccination rates continue to drop, along with semi-plausible excuses. One hardly ever hears “I’m waiting for the Omicron-specific booster,” any more, or even “Am I eligible for a booster?”

I’m surprised we haven’t seen any lawsuits alleging that widespread masking is harmful to “the children”.

I’m not even hearing much about annual COVID vaccinations to go along with people’s annual flu shot.

Remember back in 2020 when everyone wanted to know what the “New Normal” was going to be? Apparently this is it.

The sad truth is, though, that COVID is still around, infecting and mutating.

Mutations aren’t necessarily less deadly than their ancestors. Yes, over time, less-fatal strains of viruses tend to dominate. After all, parasites that kill their hosts have less time to spread themselves. But they do spread and they do kill before they die out.

Even without a deadlier variant emerging, we’re still seeing hundreds of deaths a day in the US.

But here we are.

America has collectively decided they’ve had enough of the pandemic, so they’re declaring it done.

COVID-19? Darling, that’s so last year.

I do what I can. I still mask up in public. I wash my hands religiously and use way too much disinfectant for my skin’s health. But I’m just me. Nobody’s taking their cues from what I say or do.

For a while, I thought a few high-profile deaths might motivate people to start taking precautions again, but I think we’re past that point. I’m pretty sure Donald Trump, Lindsey Graham, and Ron DeSantis could all fall victim to COVID-19 simultaneously, and the public reaction would be a collective shrug and “It’s no worse than the flu.”

COVID-19? It is this year. And at this rate, next year too.

Sedalia 2022

So, yes, Sedalia.

The festival came off, despite three musicians having to cancel due to COVID-19. Alternates were found, programming went on, and a good time was had by all. Or all in attendance, anyway. I won’t speak for those who were stuck at home. And more than a week after returning, I remain symptom-free, nor have I heard anything suggesting widespread post-festival infections.

The music was, as always, excellent. The upgraded Pavilion venue is a rousing success. And good fellowship ran rampant—unsurprisingly, variants of the phrase “it’s great to be back after two years” were heard everywhere. Arguably, heard a bit too much. Mad props to Taslimah Bey for being the only person* to refer on stage to those we’ve lost over the past two years, whether to COVID-19 or other causes.

* Granted, with three widely separated stages going at once, it’s possible I missed someone else making note of our losses during the outdoor sets. But she’s definitely the only one to comment during the concerts when—theoretically—everyone was present in one place.

I believe attendance was down—unsurprisingly—but there did seem to be more local residents attending than in years past.

One of those unable to attend, regrettably, was Bill McNally. Since Bill is the director for the Ragtime Kids Program, I was worried about how it would work out, but he pulled it off remotely. Both of the Kids did stellar turns—highlights of the festival IMNSHO. Leo Roth’s symposium was well worth getting up for* and Tadao Tomokiyo’s performances drew rave reviews.

* Why does the festival only schedule symposia in the morning? There always seems to be at least one I’d like to attend, but can’t quite drag myself out of bed for. Time zones suck.

The presentation of the Ragtime Kids at the Friday afternoon concert—you can see the whole event on YouTube—went smoothly. Those long, skinny things we gave them are inscribed piano keys; part of their loot bags, which also included posters, books, and their honoraria.

All in all, the festival was a success. But being in Sedalia was, well, uncomfortable. The inhabitants don’t think the same way as us West Coasters. Which I knew going in, but it was still a bit of a shock to see and hear it.

Case in point: over the four days we were there, we went into six restaurants. One had removed tables to allow more space between patrons. Only one—a different one—had added outdoor seating. No locals were wearing masks. And the drugstore we passed every day had a sign out front begging people to drop in for COVID-19 vaccinations (around here, you need an appointment, but apparently even that’s too much to ask of a Sedalian.)

Nor does there seem to be any recognition of climate change. As we were driving into town, we noted a significant paucity of corn fields. When we mentioned it to locals, the response was a shrug and “It’s been too wet to plant corn this year. Now that it’s drying out, we’re planting soybeans.” No one seemed concerned about next year.

But the biggest barrier to understanding between the edges of the country and the center? Gas.

My local gas station has the lowest prices around. When I passed it on my way to the airport, the price per gallon was $6.139. That day, prices everywhere between Kansas City and Sedalia were between $4.129 and $4.159. Over the course of the festival, the price rose to $4.549. When I got home, the California price was $6.359.

Sure, there were some grumbles about the high price of gas. But not the sort of “this is outrageous” rumblings that are driving Californians—and other Coasters—to buy hybrids and electrics. Why should they worry? Filling the tank doesn’t require a bank loan.

If the EPA really wants to drive adoption of alternatively powered vehicles, they should push for legislation setting a single price of gas across the country. Never fly, of course; the oil industry would love the short-term profits, but they’re smart enough to know the long-term effects would kill off their business. A pity.

SAST 20

One thing I didn’t mention in last week’s Google I/O comments was the Chromecast with Google TV. That’s something else you can blame Google for: they didn’t say anything about the gadget.

Quite a disappointment, actually. The CwGT is what the original Chromecast should have been. Though, in fairness to Google, the software wasn’t there at the time. See, unlike the Chromecast–which was designed as a single-purpose device to stream video under the control of your phone–the CwGT is a general-purpose Android device. Yes, it’s only output is via HDMI, typically to a TV, but it’s got the full Google Play Store, so you can install all* your favorite apps. Games, alternate video players, messaging apps, or whatever. All controlled via a simple remote with voice support or any Bluetooth gadget you want to hook up.

* Usual caveats about not all apps in the store are available for all devices apply.

I love mine. I’ll skip the ramblings about why, since this is an SAST post.

But.

It does have some shortcomings. Many people find its storage limited (can anyone really survive on 8 GB today–especially when the OS uses half of it?) and the hardware video decoding support lacks a few recently popular formats. And then there’s the fact that the last software update came out back in October.

So the newsrumor back in January that a new model was on the horizon was greeted with great fervor. Even the thought of the new model being intended as a lower-end option didn’t dampen the enthusiasm much. Because of course Google would slip in a few under-the-hood improvements to make up for the maximum resolution of 1080p, right?

Nice theory, anyway. But not a word at Google I/O about the CwGT or a successor. Shades of the late not-so-lamented Nexus Q media player.

Moving on.

A few days ago, I was listening to SiriusXM’s 40s channel on my way to work and–as I tend to do when I’m alone in the car*–absentmindedly singing along with most of the songs. Because I’ve been listening to Swing Era radio stations for more than four decades, I know most of the lyrics. Well enough to sing them, as long as I don’t try to think about what I’m singing. If I think about about it, though, I start trying to rewrite the lyrics and it all goes downhill from there.

* I’m not going to inflict my singing voice on anyone. I’m not that cruel.

Anyway, I was cheerfully semi-oblivious until a verse yanked me into conscious thought.

Halfway through the Martha Tilton/Harry Babbit version of “Let’s Get Away From It All“, there’s this verse:

Let’s spend a day at the White House

Pay Mr. Truman a call

We’ll visit the Veep there*

See Congress asleep there

Let’s get away from it all

* There’s a joke here: there was no vice president for the first several years of Truman’s presidency. And, as the song suggests, I’m not sure anyone particularly noticed or cared when Alben Barkley got the job in ’48.

Don’t understand why my tongue tripped over its metaphorical feet?

Consider: There was a day within living memory when common citizens could take a White House tour and have a chance, however microscopic, of seeing the president. Sure, the song is exaggerating for humor; I doubt anyone would have dropped in expecting meet Harry T.–much less sit down with him over coffee–but see him? Sure, could’ve happened. Not today.

More: Also within living memory, you could make fun of an ineffective politician or two without being branded a traitor, excoriated in the press, and buried under massive piles of letters blaming everything on the other party.

The Forties had plenty of problems, it’s true. And regrettably, most of them are problems we still have today–starting with racism, sexism, a World War, economic disruption, etc., etc., etc. And granted, politics could get vicious, but they were accessible to the concerned individual. Yes, the canonical smoke-filled room, but anyone* could get into politics at a local level and make himself a place in that room. He might have to buy his own cigars, but even so.

* Okay, any male person. Who was white. And not too obviously…you know.

I regret that we’ve reached the point where politics can’t be played by amateurs.

Welcome to May

As the Beatles said, “I read the news today. Oh, boy.”

All in all, four thousand holes just about anywhere would be an improvement.

I’m not going to say much about the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion, but I do recommend you check out Charles Stross’ post for a quick rundown on other rights that are on the chopping block if the opinion stands as currently written.

That said, I find it interesting that none of the stories I’ve seen have even speculated about how the draft was leaked. I saw one passing mention of the leak being “unprecedented”, but not Word One about how it got out*.

* If you value your sanity and your breakfast, do not read anything Fox News has to say. The pieces I dipped into explicitly state that the content of the decision is unimportant; what matters is to find and punish the leakers before ‘The Left’ can turn them into heroes. I’ll leave what the commenters are saying to your imagination. Trust me, it’s worse than you might come up with.

Anyway, what I found most interesting, and least predictable, was the other main topic of reporting. Suddenly, over the past few days, the papers* are full of stories about suicide.

* Including the all-electronic ones. Which raises a question: what do we call those sources of information and information-like content? “The electrons”? Might be overbroad. But I digress.

To the extent that they focus on suicide prevention, this is a GoodThing™. But I find the timing interesting. Yes, there have been several high-profile suicides lately. But when has that not been true? What makes this batch so significant that so many news sources feel the need to cover the subject in depth?

For the record, I’m not suggesting that it’s anticipatory of an upswing in abortion-related suicides. I refuse to believe that knowledge of the impending leak could have been that widespread in newsrooms without the general public hearing about it. No conspiracy theory here.

I don’t have an answer to “why”. Why does anything become a trend–or a fad, for that matter?

But whatever the reason, I’m hoping the trend continues. With everything else in the news these days, we’re not going to see a reduction in the suicide rate without positive action.

That Felt Weird

Maggie and I did some socializing last week.

For the first time in two years. Which makes us sound anti-social by traditional standards, but these days, it’s, well, the New Normal. Rather a depressing thought, isn’t it? Sorry about that.

And, to be frank, I wasn’t sure I was ready to spend an evening with other people when none of us would be masked. Even though everyone was vaccinated, boostered, and had taken a rapid test. But the payoff would be huge, so I went.

I mean, given the chance to hang out with our godkittehs…


…why in the name of all that’s furry would I decline?

And after all the build-up, and wary anticipation, the strangest thing about the evening was how normal it felt.

I mean, I’ve seen a number of my cow-orkers unmasked, and they looked really weird. There has been a significant quantity of staff turnover, to the point where I hadn’t ever seen some of those people without a mask. Others, I’ve only seen with their masks on for two years.

Discovering they have mouths is disconcerting at best. Disturbing in some cases. I didn’t know one of them had a beard.

But everyone at the gathering last week–even the bipeds–was face-naked. And it felt perfectly fine.

Maybe the difference is that I’ve never seen them masked. But then again, at work I see customers without masks–people I’ve never seen masked before–and they look odd. What’s that pink, flappy thing where the mask should be? Is it supposed to be there?

Now what? Even though I’m no longer required to wear a mask at work, I’ve been continuing to do it, because it makes me feel more comfortable. Should I take a hit to my comfort level and do my part to push a return to the Old Normal? Or look at the rising caseload in countries like Germany and China and do what I can to establish a new New Normal–one where masking is acceptable, even when not required?

I’m open to going mask-free. Not eager, perhaps, but I’m willing to consider it generally or on a case-by-case basis. And there’s one very strong argument for keeping the mask on for another couple of months when I’m outside the house: I don’t know about you, but my hay fever has been much less of a thing than usual the past two Springs. I find I like not sneezing uncontrollably whenever trees throw reproductive material at me.

So, for right now, the mask stays on, with exceptions for special occasions. Like visiting Patti and Forti.

And now I have to do is hope there’s no major backlash coming. We don’t–really, really don’t–need anti-mask mandates. But I have this sneaking suspicion they’ll be coming soon to Florida, Texas, and other states that ought to know better by now.

While We’re Waiting

No baseball.

Yes, I know. We’ve got college ball. We’ll have minor league baseball shortly. Odds are, if MLB doesn’t give us any signs of progress, we’ll get Korean and Japanese baseball on TV.

But for many of us, that’s all methadone. We want the full-on MLB experience.

Maybe not every little bit of it. I, for one, could do without the outrageously expensive tickets, the TV blackouts, or the looming threat of robot umpires. Which probably gives you some idea of which side of the labor strife I’m on.

Not that I think the players are blameless either. But I’m sympathetic to their desire to make the most of their skills.

I had a dream. No, not literally. That was last week.

But I dreamt that Congress found something to unite behind: revoking MLB’s anti-trust exemption. With that and a few other changes, a rival league could rise up. Maybe one of the independent leagues could catch major attention with a retro approach, rolling back all of the oddball experiments MLB has inflicted on us. Or go the other way, trying a bunch of experiments to see what really works–like the original XFL, but with a dose of sanity.

Of course, none of that would work without access to players. So the other half of the dream is to free up the players, which would require additional legislation. The goal would be to break the bonds that tie players to a single team from Day One. So, block the draft and require that MLB contracts be subject to “At Will” requirements.

A software engineer at Google can over to Apple–or go independent with her own startup–without Apple having to send Google two QA Analysts to be named later. So why can’t a ballplayer with, say, the Phillies, send a note to the Orioles–or the Austin Weirdos*–“Hey, I hear you’re looking for a second baseman. I’m having a breakout year; what’s 6 WAR worth to you?”

* Currently in the Pecos independent league. But in a new regulatory regime, who knows?

Obviously, there’d need to be some limitations. But any league could set their own rules: no player hired after such-and-such a date can play in the playoffs, for example. Or in our hypothetical XBL, maybe players hired in the last month of the season or during the playoffs have to wear flat shoes instead of cleats.

None of the above is ever going to happen, of course. MLB is too good at defending its turf. But our current freedom from MLB means we’ve got some freedom to make our own 2022 season.