adventures in customer support

My wife works from home. Her office is on a different floor than our router, and she struggles mightily with speed and connection issues. (All the rest of our wi-fi stuff works fine.) We decided what she needed was a dedicated connection to the Internet. So I contacted Comcast Support via the online chat service.

When asked to categorize my problem, I chose “Internet (Other)”. Here’s how the chat began:

Comcast > I understand that you want to add a internet outlet, am I right?

Steven > I think so :­). Wife needs more speed/smoother experience, wifi is not doing it for her, she works on a different floor from our main router.

Comcast > I see, let me connect you to our SALES Team to further assist you.

After an extended discussion with a member of the SALES team, the following ensued:

Comcast >  Since your wife is getting a slow wifi connection, I will be referring you to our Internet Department. Would that be okay with you?

Steven > ok ... I think they're the ones who sent me to you :­).

Comcast > As I have checked, Steven, the one who sent me to you was from another department but not our Internet Department.

So off to the Internet Department I went (again?). The first thing the new support person said was, “It's a privilege to have you here on chat and I am looking forward to provide you excellent service!” Then:

Comcast > I understand that you are having a slow WiFi connection and want to add a coax outlet to get a wired connection, did I get that right?

Steven > Yes. It may be as simple as my wife's workstation being in a bad position in the house, but she definitely has speed/connection difficulties when she is working. The other wireless stuff in our house works fine. She thought if she was able to get her own wired connection, it would solve the problem.

Comcast > I see, Steven, you are wrongly transferred to Internet troubleshooting department. Let me connect you with our sales department who will set up an appointment for technician visit to add the additional coax tap, however, there will be some charges for the visit. Would that be fine with you?

Steven > well ... I was transferred to you by the sales department :­) ... but yes, it's fine

Finally, this occurred:

Comcast > Let me connect you with the concerned department for best assistance. Please stay connected while I transfer this chat. Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst.

New Comcast Support Person > Analyst has closed chat and left the room.

This took about 45 minutes.


temporary thing

Just a note: my computer is acting up, I'm worried the hard drive is dying, so things will be a bit spare around here for a bit. Yes, I know, I missed Music Friday, which was partly blog burnout, but also computer anxiety.

To make up for yesterday, I'll attach a music video to this post. Hadn't intended it to be this one, but I'm inspired by the title of the post.

 


maybe it's just that my brain is broken

Today I watched a soccer match between AC Milan and Inter Milan. Matches between these two are called the “Derby della Madonnina” (here in the U.S. it’s just the Milan Derby). This rivalry dates back to 1908. The two teams are historically very good. What makes this rivalry especially noteworthy is that both clubs play their home matches in the same stadium, the San Siro.

AC Milan’s home jerseys look like this:

Inter Milan’s home jerseys look like this:

I’m not sure why Inter, the “away” team in this match, wore their home jerseys, although I guess they were playing at their home, the San Siro. Whatever, the players looked like those jerseys for the match, with Milan in red and Inter in blue.

As I often do, while the match went on, I had the WhoScored website up in my browser. They offer real-time stat updates. The screen for Milan-Inter looked like this:

whoscored

I hope you can see the problem. On WhoScored for this match, Milan was in blue and Inter was in red, although those colors were switched for the actual players’ jerseys as I watched my TV. What was worse, in the first half, Inter was going from left-to-right on my screen, Milan from right-to-left. I hope you can see how this was a problem, as well.

My brain couldn’t handle all of this. Even though I’ve seen these teams play many times, I kept getting confused about which team was which as I watched.

I’m sure the brain scientists can explain why this was so frustrating. Or maybe it’s just that my brain is broken.


we tweet, therefore we are

It hits like a flash mob. You’ll have your Twitter feed running in the background, you’ll check it periodically (the length of the period depending on the level of your obsession), and you’ll see the usual stuff coming at the usual speed. Twitter allows each of us to create our own set of people to follow, so each feed looks different, but we all know what a “normal” day looks like on Twitter for us. In my case, I get lots of stuff about sports, and stuff about television, and stuff from friends. Then, suddenly, one of the people you follow takes part in some instant meme, like #RuinAKidsMovie. Let’s see, in the last hour, I’ve seen Beauty and Bestiality, Bowel’s Moving Castle, Mary Poppin Pills, Sex Toy Story, Shitty Titty Gang Bang, Scat in the Hat, and Lady and Her Cramps, among others.

Your Twitter feed becomes overwhelmed with these jokes, some of which are great, but in totality, they make Twitter an awful place to visit. Luckily, the flash mob moves on eventually, and things return to normal, until the next meme strikes.

Sometimes, it’s not a meme. It’s just the nature of the social media beast. ESPN is running an ad that claims during the World Cup, there is only one time zone:

Twitter is a perfect place for virtual hanging out with millions of like-minded folks. This is especially true during real-time events … when there is an earthquake, I always go straight to Twitter to see who else felt it … during political actions, participants and observers can report using Twitter … and, of course, during sporting events that create “only one time zone”, everyone can join in simultaneously.

You get mini-videos like this, showing worldwide Twitter usage during the match between Ghana and the USA:

GHA-USA

(If you didn’t know where Ghana was, that visual would tell you in seconds.)

If you are not a fan of the event taking place, this stuff seems like a nightmare meme. Instead of Sex Toy Story, you get “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!” tweets turning up a couple of dozen times on your feed within a few seconds of each other.

The excellent Rob Neyer, well-known baseball fan and expert (and apparently a non-fan of soccer), posted the following tweets in succession:

Wow, all the identical tweets after every goal have me hoping that U.S. gets eliminated quickly.

hahaha fun making a small joke and seeing which people think I should "go back to Russia"

Seriously, question to my friends: Why tweet exactly the same thing that thousands of others are tweeting? This is a professional matter.

We’ve all been there, at least all of us who frequent Twitter. And it’s annoying when we aren’t in on the party. But Neyer struck a nerve with soccer fans, who tend to have a pretty thin skin when it comes to their favorite sport. Hard to tell if folks were being tongue-in-cheek, but Neyer was told he “hates the country” and was labeled “Worst person today”. Finally, “KinnerMode” wrote, “The game-winning USA goal was amazing…but that doesn't make @robneyer wrong.”

Think about similar situations in “real life”. The neighbors are having a party, and people are enjoying themselves … the music’s playing, the conversation is happy, people spill out onto the back porch. You’re sitting at home reading a book. You might feel happy for your neighbors, but you might also think, “Damn, it’s loud!” Or you go to work on a Monday, and all anyone wants to do is talk about Game of Thrones, and you don’t watch that show. You might feel happy that your workmates have something to bond over, but you might also think, “Can we PLEASE talk about something else?”

That’s what Neyer was talking about. He’s checking Twitter just like any other day, and he probably has a lot of sports fans on his Follow list, being that he is himself a sportswriter, albeit one who specializes in baseball. All of a sudden … maybe he’s watching the Royals’ baseball game, maybe he’s thinking about the great baseball player Tony Gwynn, who died today … maybe he’s not paying attention to GHA-USA because he’s not a soccer fan, not even of the World Cup. And then … BOOM! John Brooks scores for the U.S., and Rob Neyer’s Twitter feed explodes with dozens, hundreds, thousands of frenzied fans, all tweeting some variant of “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!”

Maybe you are one of the many of us who rejoiced at Brooks’ goal, maybe you shouted your joy on Twitter or Facebook or Google+. And it felt wonderful to know there were all those other people watching the same thing at the same time as you, inspired to Tweet at the same moment that you were inspired to do the same. Twitter becomes our virtual pub.

But Twitter isn’t that place on the corner that people go to when they want a beer. No, Twitter is a pub in your backyard, full of people even when you are doing something at home.

After Clint Dempsey’s goal, 34 seconds into the match, one person tweeted, “Grateful not to be watching this in a bar.” And she is a fan! I knew just what she meant … sure, I jumped up and shouted and stomped on the floor at my house more than once during the match, and yes, I was happy to share those moments with people on Twitter. But I appreciated the virtual aspect of the camaraderie. And I don’t blame Rob Neyer if he experienced multiple simultaneous GOOOOOOL! tweets the same way I experience the flash-mob memes of #RuinAKidsMovie.

Meanwhile, there are still people who actually watch the games in public, and there are television stations there to report on it in real time, just like Twitter, only with pictures!

Local Reporter Captures USMNT Game-Winner Live, Has Priceless Reaction


so that's where those streams are coming from

I wanted to watch the San Jose Earthquakes take on Toluca in the CONCACAF Champion’s League last night. We have Comcast, though, and Comcast, in our area at least, does not carry any of the networks that were showing the game. So I did what most U.S. soccer fans did back in the dark ages before soccer took over our televisions: I hunted down an illegal stream and watched the game on the computer.

At halftime, I had to go out for a bit, but since the match went into extra time, I was back in time to watch the last 30 minutes. I went to the site with the links to the various streams, and chose one, but the connection didn’t work. No problem, there were other choices, and it’s common to lose the stream, anyway.

Except I noticed an explanatory note on the screen to explain why the match was unavailable. The Slingbox wasn’t working.

Understand, it didn’t mean my Slingbox … that’s not even connected. It meant that someone else’s Slingbox was offline for some reason.

Now, I don’t pretend to understand the technical aspects of this stuff, and I’m sure someone will point out how mistaken I am. But when I read that, all I could think of was that across the country, soccer fans were relying on some generous person using their Slingbox to send the signal our way.

BTW, he wasn’t offside. (Thanks to Ryan Rosenblatt, who I think was first to post this.)

gordon not offside


these are different times

Early this morning, I sent out the following tweet:

“These are different times: I'm watching Man City-Man U live in HD on Telemundo, Andres Cantor at the mic.”

There are a lot of markers packed into that sentence, to demonstrate how times have changed. I’m watching the top Premier League matchup of the week on television … live … in hi-def … in Spanish … with Andres Cantor … while on Twitter.

There was a time when I would never see Premier League matches live on TV, much less in HD, much less with Spanish-language commentating. (Further note on that: Cantor was joined by Sammy Sadovnik, another favorite of mine. And the English-language play-by-play guy, Arlo White, is also very good. And that’s another sign of changing times: good English-language soccer announcers in the USA.)

Meanwhile, as much of the soccer-fan universe was watching the same match, I noted Simon Gleave tweeting. I knew him from the days when Usenet was a popular place for online communities (another thing that has changed). In 1994, Gleave had put together guides to the World Cup and then the Premier League (“Shaggy’s Guide to the FA Premiership”). I can’t over-emphasize how valuable those guides were, especially for an American like me who had so little contact with soccer once USA ‘94 was over. MLS hadn’t begun yet … European leagues were never on our TV … mostly we got Mexican League matches on the Spanish-language channels.

Gleave has worked for Infostrada Sports for more than a decade as Head of Analysis (I think I’ve got this right), and is one of the most creative soccer analysts out there. I thought I could impress my nephew, who works as an analyst for the Earthquakes, if I found some evidence of me and Gleave from those bygone years.

I found a Usenet thread, Reading’s Goalkeeper, from September of 1994. The first message was from “Shaggy” (Gleave’s pen name in those days), telling us he’d seen a match that weekend, Reading v. Sheffield United, where he had found “a real star of the future”. It was Reading’s goalkeeper, Shaka Hislop. My contribution to the discussion was minimal … I was glad Shaggy had mentioned Hislop’s height, because the English wire services of the day always referred to Hislop as the “giant keeper”.

But this is about how times change. Shaggy may have overstated Hislop’s excellence, but Shaka had a pretty good career. He was in fact named Reading’s Player of the Year in 1994-95. He also played for Newcastle United, West Ham United, and Portsmouth, before finishing his career in MLS. And he made 26 appearances for the Trinidad & Tobago national team. Nowadays, you can find Hislop working as an analyst for ESPN.

In nineteen years, we’ve gone from few matches on U.S. television, information sparsely doled out, hanging out on Usenet, to a zillion matches on U.S. television, information at our fingertips, and Twitter allowing for real-time discussions.

Oh, and that part where I thought I could impress my nephew? When I tagged Simon Gleave in a tweet, he replied, “Are you related to Sean Rubio of San Jose Earthquakes fame?” I tried to impress Sean, and I ended up being the one who was impressed.

(Some things don’t change. I was listening to Cantor today, and I was listening to Cantor in 1994. The only difference is, he changed networks along the way.)


adventures in customer service

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I can be quite the procrastinator. I know, you’re thinking we’re all like that. But not as bad as we are. We went more than fifteen years without a porch light because it “didn’t work”, until one day a friend looked in the socket and found a part that wasn’t screwed in all the way.

At one point, we had three DVR boxes. I can’t even remember why at this point, although since we called one “Japan” I suspect it had something to do with the Slingbox. We quit using that box … well, when Katie and John moved from Japan, I’m guessing, which was about the time of the Fukushima thing, which was 2 1/2 years ago. We shut the box down and put it by the front door, so I could take it to the Comcast office and get it taken off of our monthly bill.

Well, today that box finally made it to Comcast, meaning we finally got it taken off our bill. Among other things, the monthly fee for those boxes had gone up … suffice to say, we likely spent $500+ on a DVR that sat by our front door.

While we were there, the service rep showed us how, if we signed up for Comcast phone service, our monthly bill would go down by $50 for the first year, and $30 after that. Even if we never used the phone. So we signed up.

Which means our next Comcast bill will be around $70 lower than the previous one.

They didn’t have any customer approval forms at the office, so I’ll say it here: Charlie from the Comcast office in Berkeley did right by us.


chromecast

The Chromecast arrived today. There’s not much to it, which is why this post will be short. It is pretty much as advertised, and it was only $35.

The good: it is extremely easy to setup.  You plug it into an HDMI port on your TV, attach it to a power supply (USB or regular plug), load the software onto your device (I stuck it on my Galaxy S3 and Nexus 7), take a few seconds for it to find your wi-fi, and you’re done. The video is 1080p, at least for Netflix and YouTube. That is better than either my cable box or my Roku box can deliver. As for the applications, they, too, are easy as can be. You load YouTube or Netflix or Google Play Music onto your device (say, your Android phone), start playing the media, and press a little icon that sends stuff through the Chromecast to the TV.

The not-so-good: There aren’t many apps. I’ve already listed Netflix, YouTube, and Google Play Music. Add Google Play TV & Movies and you’ve listed everything you can run via the Chromecast. OK, that’s not quite right … you can also send tabs from your Chrome browser to your TV.

But there is, as of now, no Amazon Prime, no Hulu, no Pandora, no HBO Go … considering Roku has a gazillion choices, this is pretty important.

Also, there is, as of now, no way to send the audio through your receiver, so you are left with the speakers in your TV. (There may be some complicated way to make it work, but I haven’t seen anything practical.)

So, I’ve got a new $35 toy that doesn’t do anything my Roku box can’t do (other than Google Play material), with better video but worse audio.

Of course I love it.


google+: the beginning

Another quick one while I’m away.

Two years ago today, I offered up my first blog post on Google+. What has changed in two years?

So, what is Google+ and why should you want it? It’s a suite of applications that runs in your browser … the specifics of my descriptions might not be exact, hey, I’m not a techie writer and I’ve only been playing with + for a day. The key feature is Circles. You can create as many circles as you want … for instance, I have three family-related circles, one for the immediate family, one that adds my siblings and their families to the mix, and a third that adds my extended family. I also have circles for friends, really good friends, people from school … you get the idea. Why bother with circles? Because circles allow you to target the audience for your contributions. When you update your status on Facebook, or post a video, or write a note, every one of your “friends” can see it. You can create groups to manage this problem, but it’s clunky to do so. With circles, you just drag and drop. I don’t suppose it took me half an hour to sort all of my contacts into groups. Then, when I want to post something relevant only to my family, I’ll only give access to the Family circle. If it involves close friends, give them access. If it’s something appropriate for everyone, make it public. This kind of targeted posting seems like a v.good idea to me.

You get a Stream which is like your Facebook news feed. There is something called Sparks which needs work … it’s basically a search engine for a specific subject, so you can call one “Bruce Springsteen” and whenever you check it, you’ll get recent net posts about him.

The killer app, the one that inspired more than one person to say Google+ isn’t a Facebook Killer, but a Skype Killer, is Hangouts. Hangouts allows up to ten people to participate in a video chat. You can open up a Hangout and wait for friends to stop by, you can invite specific people, or you can join someone else’s Hangout. You can watch YouTube videos together. I’m sure this will have some kinks … so far, I’ve only tried a one-on-one chat … but it’s like Chatroulette, only selective instead of random.

There is an Android app that allows for group texting, so if four of you are going to lunch, you can use “Huddle” and save time. You can do some but not all of the web-based stuff on your Android phone (iOS to follow).

Google+ is enough fun, and is easy enough to use from the start, that I imagine most people will like it once they start using it. The question is whether it will retain value over the long term. Social networking requires people (duh). Facebook has the people; new attempts to conquer the social arena have to deal with that fact. Until Google+ gets enough users, it will remain a cult item. Still, despite the numbers, I feel like a lot of the Facebook users I know are always complaining about the thing. Maybe they’re ready for something new.

Google is also up against their recent past. Simply put, they have failed big time in their previous attempts at social networking. Google Wave was potent but inscrutable; Google Buzz debuted by making one of the biggest privacy-invasion blunders in web history. Both products had their fans, but there weren’t nearly enough of them to build a large network. In the last couple of days, I’ve seen and heard a lot of “experts” who have fallen instantly in love with Google+, but are wary of admitting it because they fear another Wave/Buzz.

Anything can happen when a product is only a couple of days old. Problems will arise that haven’t been anticipated. But my first take on Google+ is that it is delightful. To become more than just a fun toy, though, it needs people. So anyone reading this who is intrigued, get Google+ as soon as you can.

A subset of my friends and family use Google+ as often as most people use Facebook. The product itself keeps improving, and it is much more integrated into the Google experience. It is not the flop some people predicted (some people still think it’s a wasteland, but they have no clue). If I want to reach the largest audience, I still need to go to Facebook or Twitter. But I feel like I’m goofier on G+, or “gah-PLUS”, as Sara and Ray call it. An example: one day I posted a video of Air Supply, with a note that read “Confession: I once saw these guys open for Rod Stewart.” I got 8 +1s and a couple of comments from Air Supply fans. I was being ironic when I posted this … I am not an Air Supply fan … to bolster my rock cred, the next day I posted a video of Led Zeppelin with the caption, “Confession: I saw these guys in 1977.” Since then, I’ve posted a couple of dozen more videos of people I saw in concert, and the series is far from over. Gives me an excuse to post music videos while keeping an ongoing theme.

Here’s the Led Zeppelin video: