Monday, July 28, 2014

Ballston Common in Arlington VA could make parking chargers "consistent" with a programming fix


Here’s a modest proposal to improve customer service at a parking garage, requiring some programming.  The Ballston Common Parking Garage in Arlington VA, effectively used for the Ballston Metro stop although belonging to the County and not to Metro, raised rates on weekends in 2013.  It also drops to a flat $1 after 6 PM until midnight all days.  The problem is, if you park even one minute before in order to go into DC for the evening, you pay the full hourly rate.
   
If you arrive at 5:59 PM, you could pay $5 for an evening, but would pay just $1 if you arrive at 6:00 PM. 

Why not do the job and program the system to charge fairly.  At 6 PM, break the fare into the sum of two periods if the total stay is 3 hours or less.  That’s a pretty simple “IF  … else …” statement.  So in the hypothetical example, here, if you arrive accidentally too early, you would pay $2 instead of $5.  That would sound reasonable and fair.  
  
The ad shown is in the Ballston Common Mall. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Year Up" provides internships, employment boot camp for disadvantaged young adults


CBS “60 Minutes” has aired a report on a job internship program in New York and Boston (and Chicago, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, and Providence) called “Year Up”, where underprivileged students can earn $23000 per year at major companies in internships at the end of an “employment boot camp”.
The CBS link for the video is here. The embed code doesn't seem to function on Blogger.   

Year Up has an eye catching phrase on its website, “an opportunity divide”, link here., founded by Gerard Chertavian. 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Following up on customer service problems with Bank of America ATM's during "unexpected" construction; also, Starbucks


Well, a full week later, the two outdoor terminals at the Bank of America in Ballston (Arlington VA) are still closed, and there is only one terminal indoors, which has huge lines.  I asked the “doorperson” and she said, the landlord only gave them five weeks’ notice of its intention to do exterior remodeling construction (that seems unnecessary) and that “it’s their fault”.  She said it was to be finished in one week (or, a week and a half).  I asked her why they didn’t put in at least a second ATM indoors, where there is still plenty of room (and it’s more secure), and she said, “Oh, a second one will come in December.”  It takes five months to get an ATM?  To the bank’s credit, it opened another teller line for the queue at the one terminal and stayed a little past the 5 PM closing tome. 
  

Presidential Bank’s terminal, one door down, seems to have stayed open.  And other businesses were not so affected. Starbucks stayed open – and busy -- during the construction.  There is a Starbucks on Stuart Street, and another one two blocks away in the Ballston Mall, and both are always packed on weekdays.  But, again, customer service, the Stuart Street location generally has only one of two registers open to keep the customer line going.  

If the landlord thinks that exterior beauty matters so much, it might wonder why an interior escalator (often used by Metro customers) was out of commission for over a month. Both Bank of America and the property management dropped the ball as far as customers are concerned on this one.

Note: Starbucks is considering a smart phone app to allow pre-order before arriving at store to cut down on lines.  That's a good idea! 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Paid paternal leave is getting more attention as a "need": should the childless subsidize it in a salaried workplace?


The Washington Post Business Section Sunday heads off with “Pushing for dad time: as millennials choose caregiving over a company job, employers are pressured to expand paid paternity leave”.  Online, the title is “More than a paycheck:  New dads want paid leave to be caregivers,” story by Brigid Schulte, link here
  
The article also, on the other side, reports that 1 in 5 companies required to offer at least unpaid leave to fathers don’t. It also reports that fathers are still less likely to want to try to take it in many instances where it is offered, even overseas.
  
The article does discuss the importance of the issue for same-sex male couples raising children (like “Will and Sonny” on the NBC Soap “Days of our Lives”).  It does not appear that being married is essential for the benefits to be offered.
   
However, it gets to become cold water time.  What is the impact on those do not have children?  In the IT workplace, many people are salaried.  Particularly in on-call situations, the childless mind wind up working time for free for those who have children.  In the 1980s, this was hardly ever an issue as in the old mainframe world programmers tended to be responsible just for their own systems, and the responsibility was pretty absolute.  As systems became more distributed and as the Internet and client-server gradually became more important in the 1990s, the picture started to change.  Responsibility for code was shared a lot more.  My worst situation happened in 1993, where I worked on call a whole weekend free when someone else was pregnant, but I did get a large raise later than I would have gotten.
   
With hourly workers, the company simply has to pay others to do the work.  But it has to factor the likelihood that the leave will be taken in setting up wages, and in union situations, the politics could get sensitive, depending on cultural factors. 
   
   
Elinor Burkett had anticipated some of this in her book “The Baby Boon” back in 2000.  Whether the childless need to share responsibility for other people’s children, when they have less choice in the matter, is a basic discussion we need to have, given an aging population. 

Some people will argue that paid family leave can be paid for out of corporate profits or public tax funds. That hides the debate.  Ultimately, we have to decide when we need to pay for things and sacrifice so that some can do what matters most for the "common good".  

There's not a problem when a company decides to do this out of its own best interest.  One can imagine slightly shorter standard workweeks for those with any dependents (including pregnancy).  But there's a downside: that makes other employees "cheaper" and could make other employees (childless) relatively more secure during downturns.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Corporate management (banks, utilities, cable) doesn't think through customer service problems in advance very well


Well, some more gripes about customer service.

Last December, the Bank of America moved a couple block in the Ballston area of Arlington, saying it was forced out by a landlord.  Consumers had to close safety deposit box accounts, and that defeats the purpose of having them.  What’s ironic s that the original space remains unleased. 

Then, the bank put only one ATM inside (secured entrance) and two outside.  Now the new landlord does construction on the outside of the building, making two of the three unreachable.  I was chased away this morning, but fortunately the one remaining one was free. Why didn’t the bank anticipate this problem by placing more terminals inside?  That sounds like a security issue.

Think about something else.  Some convenience stores have trouble checking out consumers buying lottery tickets or using food stamps, forcing those behind them to wait.  If you think about it, that can present a security risk to consumers in the store. 

More customer service issues:  Metro in Washington constantly sees escalators fail, and take a long time to be repaired.  There are many delays and mishaps, resulting in single-tracking and delays.  In New York City, on the other hand, there are rarely any delays.  Of course, the NYC transit may be more vulnerable to strikes. 

Amtrak service has not been as reliable in recent years as it used to be, with many trains delayed because of power failures, even in relatively stable weather (particularly between Baltimore and Wilmington).  In two of my last three trips to NYC there have occurred delays of at least thirty minutes.  That’s not good when you hold prepaid tickets in the city.

Electricity from Dominion Power in northern Virginia has been more stable in the past three years or so.  (The repair after the 2012 derecho took three days for me, and it’s a good thing I have the generator.)  But from about 2003 to 2009, there were lots of disruptions.  Before that (in a neighborhood in which I grew up) power failures were rare despite frequent heavy thunderstorms and heavy snows in winter.  Reason:  trees do get old and weaker, but the power company went through expansion with new customers without really caring for the system. Pepco has had worse problems. 

Comcast Xinifity has been pretty stable in the past three years, except for one software change in May that caused a complete failure of the cable (not the Internet), replacing a service visit and an amplifier replacement down the street.  But for about three years (2006-2009 or so) there were frequent stops and slowdowns during the day. 

When you retire, you expect the services you “pay for” to work and provide security.  But there is a labor issue, and an “idle rich” problem, perhaps.   Best source of stable jobs:  investment in infrastructure.  The Democrats are right about that. 



Sunday, July 13, 2014

College fires professor for allowing his picture to occur on a beer can; more on employee work-related driving


A recent issue of Business Insurance, which appears in my UPS box regularly, highlighted a couple of issues.
     
One is that people who have to drive their own cars for work (often in sales) but who are not professional commercial drivers ought to get defensive driving training from their employers anyway. Sometimes people wind up paying higher car insurance premiums for business use.  I had to do so when I worked for Census in 2011, and am still paying higher premiums despite leaving the job in Sept. 2011.
   
The other story that caught my eye was the firing of a professor, Paul Roof, from a Christian college, “Charleston Southern University” in S.C., for allowing his face (with a funny mustache) to appear on a beer can for Holy City Brewing.  Roof says he did not know his picture would be used this way.  So there can be other legal questions, like “right of publicity”, or even copyright.  Furthermore, the affair was supposed to be for charity.  There’s a writeup of the story at gawker, here. But the affair also echoes the “conflict of interest” problem that I faced in the 1990s and have presented before. You would expect to see a lot of this in social media, even personal accounts, and you do.  

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Job searches should consider smaller cities, with health care and non-profits


Fareed Zakaria’s GPS show Sunday offered some practical advice to job seekers:  consider moving to a smaller “boom town”.  The city of interest was Sioux Falls, SD (which I drove through a few times when I lived in Minneapolis).  Companies set up kiosks in the Mall of America near Minneapolis to find workers.  One reason for the book there:  deregulation of banking by state laws, so that almost all banks have jobs there.  But, of course, you have to be “socially” ready for smaller town life.  (I would wonder the same thing about Wilmington, DE, but I’ve only heard negative things about that place from recruiters in the past.) 
   
The Today show is mentioning some hot areas this morning:  health care, particularly as a compliance officer or employee with larger employers and insurance companies (and hospitals themselves).  Specifically, employers like older, mature, detail-oriented workers in these positions. Another area recommended this morning is non-profits (and there are many of these along K Street in Washington).  Do you want to work for a cause?  Do you feel the cause is yours, or somebody else’s? 
   

Wikipedia attribution link for downtown Sioux Falls picture  

Monday, July 07, 2014

Comcast advertises for home sales reps, raising questions about "sales culture" and the job market


Comcast Xfinity has been advertising for sales positions recently, showing employees in red uniforms saying, “Come show us what you’ve got”.  My own reaction is, I can’t show what I’ve got by hocking somebody else’s stuff. 

I don’t know if any of this is door-to-door (link ).   The actual Comcast page looks pretty upscale (link ).  There are jobs designing ads for home security and more expanded business services as well as home sales.  
   
But back in 2002, when I was living in Minneapolis and was repositioning after my layoff from ING (at the end of 2001), Time-Warner Cable had advertised for jobs up to $75000 a year.  But these were door-to-door jobs mostly in new real estate developments, sometimes city towhomes, more often in the distant suburbs. 

Comcast has a video, and, yes, it is door-to-door.  Average is to sell one out of eleven homes. 

I don’t like for unexpected persons to ring the doorbell.  One reason is security.  Home invasions are very rare, but it one ever happens, it’s catastrophic and perhaps life-ending.   So I typically don’t work with door-door salesmen, or with telemarketers.  That’s a problem, was we retreat into our own worlds, partly out of genuine security concerns, we become more insular, and others find it harder to make a living, and maybe social tensions only grow.

After my layoff, I had interviews for several “sales” jobs, and in general, some companies were surprised and disturbed at my total disinterest in manipulating others to do things, and my tendency to question things.  Some probably found interviewing me a necessary awakening experience. 

I think there is a profound cultural disconnect in our society over unsolicited sales calls, and on the legitimacy of making a living this way.  I have a feeling that Mark Zuckerberg doesn't like to buy anything from door or telephone salespersons.

 May own father worked in a different culture, as a manufacturer's agent for a glass manufacturer, selling to department stores.  He came of age in a different world than his son did.