Saturday, July 27, 2013

"Bill-ing" 01 and 02 (two stories): Nothing in life is free (particularly customer service)

Here’s a little story about customer service, even if it doesn’t involve IT (part II does).  Actually it’s two stories about “”.   
I went to a movie screening at “Busboys and Poets” in downtown Washington DC tonight (link) and we could order food and meals in the little “auditorium”.  I ordered a salmon platter, and soon the waiter bought what looked like tapas filled with fish, and walked away before I could question him.  I had seen this dish at the Tapas on Charles Street in Baltimore (for the Maryland Film Festival).  I thought it was part of the meal.
Soon the hostess came by as the salmon was served and informed me of the mistake  But they wanted to charge me for the platter because it had been “eaten”   That seemed very important, to charge it.  They finally discounted everything deeply so they could still charge it and account for it.  That seemed important to keep everybody out of trouble. 
Who is responsible, the restaurant or the customer?   We could ask Liz on NBC4 Washington.

Here’s another little problem.  Most of the parking lots near the Washington area Metro belong to Metro and require a Smart Card for cashless pay.  The one exception that I know of is the Ballston Common Mall parking, near the Ballston Metro Station, a very busy station on the Orange Line in Arlington, VA.   (Lots of high rises and employers nearby. I used to work in the USLICO building neary, but it has been torn down and replaced by a bigger building occupied by George Washington University and Capital Hospice.  Virginia Tech is nearby.)  

At Ballston, you can park for $1 for up to 3 hours any time, and between 6 PM and midnight all nights (until 3 AM, when the Metro closes, Friday and Saturday nights).  But if you arrive at 5:59 PM and spend more than three hours, most of it in the evening, you get charged the full rate.  The computer programs aren’t smart enough to break the billing into separate segments, to make the charges “fair” to all consumers.  Why can’t they get their act together and fix this?

Here’s another thing. If you get back after midnight, the doors to the Mall are closed, and you have to walk all around to the vehicle entrance to get to your car.  Again, customer service?  
As for “ 01” and “ 02”, I’ve worked on billing systems much of my mainframe career:  member billing for Chilton Credit Reporting in Dallas in the 1980’s (we replaced the daily billing system), and salary deduction billing for USLICO (aka ReliaStar aka ING) in the 1990’s).  My nickname is "Bill" based on my given legal name ("John William") so I have been called "Bill Billing Boushka".  

 I'm not the first blogger or videomaker to turn his first name into a gerund.  I haven't yet taken on "Rainbow" as a last name.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Windows 7 hang has a "hot fix"; Windows 8 may have a small glitch with Toshiba

I have experienced an intermittent problem on a Dell XPS laptop purchased in 2009, converted from Vista to Windows 7 at the beginning of 2011. 

Occasionally, but only once in a boot cycle, the PC freezes on going to certain commercial websites tending to have lots of ads.  These particularly include Salon, Slate, and sometimes CNN.  Sometimes Google searches hang if they try to return previews of these sites.  Hitting the left click pad (underneath the tracking pad) on the laptop repeatedly for about thirty seconds releases it, but causes one or more programs to execute repeatedly (often Windows Media Player), opening windows that need to be closed manually.  Even if a wireless keyboard and mouse is in use, the computer can be unlocked only with the laptop click pad itself. 

Then the computer works normally until it has to be restarted again.

The problem can happen in at least IE, Firefox, and Chrome. 

I wrote about this problem also on the Internet Safety blog today (q.v.)

PC World reports that Microsoft has a “Hotfix” for a memory deadlock problem that can occur in Windows 7 (but not Vista) on some models.  The article by Rick Broad (Aug. 31, 2010) is here

I just got this back from Geek Squad, and the problem just happened again!
If anyone has fixed this problem at home with the Hotfix and can comment, please do so/  Why doesmt' Microsoft fix this with automatic updates?
I also had an issue on Windows 8 (a Toshiba Satellite) where, when checking the Geek Squad repair status (which can sometimes give an error when the status is in the process of being changed), the site hung for about thirty seconds and the Windows 8 machine seemed frozen.  But then it released itself with no programing.  This happened only in Internet Explorer 10.  I get automatic updates from both Microsoft and Toshiba on this computer (a Toshiba service pack update can take 40 minutes or so and be rather disruptive, but you probably have to do it/)  I have a feeling that this glitch is Toshiba-specific and would require research by G.S. with Toshiba to find the proper fix.  
A machine should never hang if all software works properly.  Unfortunately, there's too much "unsafe code" out there -- not malicious, just incorrect.   Programmers (like I used to be) are human and make mistakes.

Picture: That piano is in the Bethel Church (historic) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.    

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A tale of customer service: Trump would hire this young man

Well, I have to give a "you're hired" accolade for a young male employee of a Hardee's in Oak Ridge TN Tuesday, as he give me a salad without charge because I didn't have time for anything to be fixed, as I had to meet a tour bus immediately.

That is indeed customer service.  (The $1.49 was on the house.)

Of course, there's another customer service issue -- for the museum to work out convenient lunch delivery for people at the nearby museum so they don't have to drive out into surrounding streets to find food, like cats.

Donald Trump would have lectured about that on "The Apprentice."  At least I know who won the apprencticeship yesterday.  Thanks for the service.
I, for one, don't like to have to approach customers with aggressive courtesy.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Toshiba Satellite, under Windows 8, touchpad jerky

Have any people found the Toshiba Satellite (Windows 8) to have a slow and jerky touchpad if the machine is booted up in a cooler than usual room (about 64 degrees)? It was especially jerky at first, and when copying images from a camera.

  • It seemed to improve if I unplugged the power and let it run on the battery.  That's odd.  I found that suggestion in Yahoo! answers.  
  • Toshiba says you can adjust the touchpad setting, here.
  • I do find that wiping the touchpad with a dry tissue or toilet paper sheet helps.  You just can't work with any food grease on your finger tips at all!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Carbonite cloud backup tells me (on Windows 8) that my backup doesn't match its record

On my Toshiba Satellite laptop with Windows 8, I run Carbonite, which appears to back up every updated file once every 24 hours (if updated more than once in any one day).

It also backed up all of the operating system, taking time, even though I didn't ask it to.  I want only my own data.

I get  message on email about once every two weeks saying that the "backups don't match our records".  I don't know what that means, given that the backups appear correct.  It invites me to uninstall and reinstall.  Would that cause it to re-back up everything?  I don't have time for that.

Judging from other comments on the web, it seems like this problem has to do with Windows 8, and also appears on the Mac.  It has never happened on an older Windows 7 computer.

It may have to do with the fact that I turn the laptop off when it won't be used for a while, or when I am away.

Does anyone know?

Monday, July 08, 2013

American workers flunk vacation

Washington Post opinion writer Robert J. Samuelson, a little bit notorious for proposing “repeal” of the Internet last week  (that’s not as benign as repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell”), has another stinging op-ed Monday, July 8, 2013, p A17, “America flunks vacation”, link (website url) here

In Europe, governments require paid vacations, and regulate them.  In Norway, workers over 60 get an extra week, but in Austria, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, younger workers get more.  Plus, there is usually paid family leave and maternity/paternity leave (which might make sense because of falling birth rates).   Oh. In France it’s called “les vacances”. 

In the US, it’s up to employers, and sometimes unions.  The federal government is more generous than most private companies, but many offer an extra week of vacation with more years of service.  As I recall, I had four weeks during my last two years at ING-ReliaStar (2000-2001). 

But Samuelson points out that employers can’t offer much paid vacation without an effect on wages and the number of jobs.  The Europeans are finding that out the hard way, as do heavily unionized jobs in the US.
And it gets even harder for people to separate themselves from the office, given the Internet and connectivity.  One limiting factor that becoming increasingly important, though, is security.  It wouldn’t be cool (or legal) any more to let associates see customer data from their own remote connections. 

But in my own time, especially in the 1990s, I simply kept some printed listings (by then, usually laser on normal paper, rather than the clumsy greenbar)  “under the pillow” as proof that I had done my job and that things wouldn’t break when I was gone.  It wasn’t good to depend on such a crutch.  But the price of a misstep could be so great.  

Friday, July 05, 2013

Windows 8 Action Center Maintenance can hang some laptops in some cases

Today, my Toshiba Satellite Windows 8 machine froze while Windows Maintenance was running/  I had left it idle a while, and had been turning it off at night, so it hadn’t run at 3 AM, so it decided to run today.

The mouse or touchpad pointer left the blue circle spinning when the pointer was moved off the notification bar at the bottom.  The Windows key would not toggle back to the Windows 8 “tablet” screen.
I finally stopped it by hitting the power button.  I restarted.  It took much longer than usual to come back up, but it finally did. 

Through the control panel I got to the Action Center, and next to Security, found Maintenance.  I found that maintenance had tried to run.  About an hour later, I found maintenance had rerun, this time without incident.
I looked at the Reliability History and found that the program “News” had crashed about the time of the hang (and sent a report).  But it shouldn’t have locked the machine. I clicked on the little notification bar icon for details and could not get it to respond (without stopping and restarting).  

It’s interesting that Windows maintenance runs live, and can lock out the machine, in addition to the usual Windows 8 updates, most of which require machine restarts.  Sometimes Microsoft Office runs its own update, and locks out Word and other Office applications for a while.  I don’t like this.

Earlier versions of Windows don’t seem to do this step.

Microsoft has an forum answer on the Windows 8 freeze problem (link) .  It mentions the possibility that some antivirus vendors could freeze the machine (mine is Webroot, and I will check with the company) and also recommends an “SFC scan”. 

A couple other little things I have noticed.  Brothers laser printers warn on toner long before it runs out.  The touchpad on a Toshiba satellite is very sensitive but can stop working if any grease (from food on fingertips) gets on it at all.  


A little more investigation shows that the automatic Webroot daily security scan may have been running at the same time as Windows 8 Maintenance.  I don't know if this is a "no-no".  

Monday, July 01, 2013

The Golden Rule: thou shalt answer calls from phone banks (if you've ever worked in one yourself)

I’ve set up my charitable giving to happen automatically through a bank.

I’ve also become quite unsociable about accepting phone calls or house calls soliciting donations. 

Since I worked in 2002-2003 calling for the Minnesota Orchestra Guaranty Fund, and later worked for Arts Marketing, calling for the National Symphony in late 2003 after coming back to DC, I guess I’m not following the Golden Rule.

People working in phone banks, often at minimum wage (in 2003 if was $6 and hour in MN and $6.50 in DC) need to earn their commissions, right?

I also get calls from my “supported self-publishing” companies, either about an upcoming project, or trying to push sales of books that are over 10 years old.  Although, the Kindle price has made the latter a little more reasonable.

“Do not call” doesn’t seem to work at all.  The problem is that there isn’t time to talk to ten callers a day, and argue them off.  I wonder if some of the people I called when working for symphony orchestras got calls all the time from various places.

And at Arts Marketing, we had a young man come down from Toronto to help the staff increase sales.  He had been a music major.  Musicians want to compose and perform in public, not make a living with hucksterism.

In fact, I even got calls from a rock musician selling long term care insurance for a living.