All blog posts, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted to the Author (that's me) and may not be used without written permission.

Search This Blog

December 28, 2011

Birds of a Feather

I was percolating for awhile in my head an idea for a super-hero story. I was originally going to write something, and then an opportunity presented itself to create it instead as a roleplaying game. However, I did not have the idea as fleshed-out as I would have liked, and I could not sustain the story. I have since then continued to percolate on the idea, hoping to gel some things and go back to it, again as either a story or a gaming experience.

The gist of my story ideas were:
  • A central city in America (using Chicago as basis; wasn't sure if I should use the actual city or have it be a stand-in for city of my naming)
  • An event occurs which creates the mutation in people that allows for super powers to form. It is extremely rare.
  • Powers manifest through some sort of extreme event in the person's life, if they have the genetic conditions and survive the process. Most often, the triggering events are traumas, but sometimes even puberty can cause them to come on. I called these events Awakenings.
  • It is soon after the event, and people are adjusting to the new reality of super-powered individuals being in their midst. Governments are taking stand (around the globe), industry is taking notice, the population is trying to adjust. Groupies and churches spring up around the super-hero/villain models, there is some stratification of "worthwhile," "worthless," and "spot on the wall" variety powers.
  • Trying to show real-world physics and applying them to super-heroic powers.
I had a hard time sleeping last night. I grabbed my Kindle and starting looking for a book to read to help lull me to sleep. I found one that looked interesting, "Wearing the Cape" by Marion G. Harmon. As I read the book, the similarities startled me:
  • It takes place in Chicago.
  • It is 10 years after an Event caused some people to have "breakthroughs" and gain super powers.
  • The world is adjusting to the new realities caused by having super-powered individuals in it.
  • Real-world use of physics, mass, speed, etc. when discussing using super-powers.
  • There are groupies and stratification and classification of power levels.
I was even using "The Sentinels" and variations on that concept as my main super-hero group for the world. This author has the protagonist joining the most well-known super-hero group called The Sentinels.

It was eerie to read. Now, I'm not in any way, shape, or form suggesting this author somehow plagiarized or stole my idea. The concepts are similar, but generic, enough that many people have had them. It is the similarities in small details that surprised me as I read it; same city, same hero group name, the use of real-world physics, even the author's use of opening statements from news sources, journals, and scientific community reports (something I was mulling over doing, but didn't when I changed from a story to an RPG setting).

While the writing was a bit uneven, the transitions between scenes and chapters were sometimes a bit jarring, and the author did not seem sure of his audience at all times (all indicators of a first-time author), I found Harmon's self-published novel entertaining and a fast read. I enjoyed his female protagonist's growth as a character and will be interested to read more in the future. I am once again energized to try to create a new super-heroic story or game environment, but frustrated that I feel the need to change directions and create something newer and different, something of my own.

December 21, 2011

Bell Mobility Being Tricky Again

My wife and have followed through on our plan to replace her old, pink, flip-style phone with a newer smartphone. We are also transitioning this phone to be primarily my phone and she will continue using her Blackberry as her main phone (which is what she uses 90% of the time anyway).

We got the phone on Monday, and I've been slowly setting things up and configuring it to work with our home network, etc. I noticed yesterday and asked my wife today about the fact that, although we had no data plan for the phone and I had turned off the wi-fi connection, I was still receiving data information. In particular, it was updating with new emails and notifying me of them, even though it shouldn't get that data.

This concerned me enough that I called Bell Mobility's customer support and spoke with a nice, well-spoken woman about the situation. She informed me that, unbeknownst to us, we were given a "free" week of data and that data connection was turned on in the phone so we could see what it was like. At the end of that week, the free trial would be over and... the connection on the phone that allows data would be left turned on and each piece of data sent or received would then be charged at the exorbitant rates for those without a data plan! I told her I wanted to turn all of that off.

"But why would you want to turn off that data connection now? You have a week for free! You could set up a reminder," she cajoled.

"Yes, but I'll tell you what will happen. I'll forget to set up the reminder, or I'll turn it off and forget to reset that data connection option, and every little thing will be charged to our next bill and we'll have an outrageously high cell phone bill. No thank you. You can show me where that is now, I'll turn it off, and I'll simply use the free wi-fi connection available through our house if I need data on the phone," I said.

To her credit, she understood my reasoning and did walk me through it, so it is now off.

Now, let's extrapolate what might have happened had I not noticed that: It is $.15 a Megabyte for data and, since I'm in the "learning to use and setting up phase" of the phone, I'm likely to be downloading many new applications and trying them out. I'm setting up and learning to use the Instant Messaging and Emailing capabilities on the phone, etc. That next bill after the first week of "free" use may have been astronomically high due to all of that fiddling. And me telling them "But I got a plan with no data! Why did you allow me to send and receive data when specifically got a plan without data?" would be no excuse and I would have to pay that bill.

Let's extrapolate further to the new grandmother who was convinced by her grandchildren to get a new smartphone for free so that they could more easily keep in touch with her. She lives on a fixed income and doesn't understand any of this, but goes along to stay in touch with the family. How big is her first bill, as she video conferences with her family at holidays, sends and receives pictures from them, and doesn't think about how fast that $.15 adds up, or doesn't think it will add up because she chose a plan without data, and she doesn't understand the technology, so assumes that all of this is not "data," or why would she be able to use those features? Do you think Bell is going to be any more sympathetic to her plight?

It is just these items and features that corporations need to tell people about, but are exactly the ones that they do not, because those extra fees that people incur by not knowing help keep the business going. I find it despicable.

December 17, 2011

In Medi-Trust I Do Not

My wife called Medi-Trust today to refill some prescriptions. The person to whom she was speaking made a comment about how most of my prescriptions were lapsed or no longer valid. She politely disagreed with him, tried to discuss the situation, but he said the last time they had a refill for me was last year.

Step in the angry American. I had been in to see my doctor in mid-October and my wife had written me a note to make sure I got the doctor to write scripts for all four of my current medications. We then, together, went down to the pharmacy because there was an issue with one of the (existing) prescriptions. During that visit, I gave them the script with all four new prescriptions on it, and the female pharmacist and the counter girl did what they felt they had to in order to fix the one prescription. My guess is that they then filed the script without inputting the other three updated prescriptions.

I thought telling him this provided him with more than enough information for him to put the time and date into context, give him ideas on how best to provide customer service, and suggest a mutually agreeable solution.

He said, basically, "I don't know what to tell you, we don't have it. You'll have to go to your doctor and get these renewed." This is not an acceptable, mutually agreeable solution. And it is lazy and self-serving. This completely ignores everything I just told you. Time to ramp it up and get angry.

My responses was, "So, I did everything right, I went to my doctor, I got my scripts, and took them to you, and you screwed up, so now it is my responsibility to fix it? I don't think so."

We argued back and forth for a minute or two more, with him trying to pass the buck to me and me not accepting that buck. I finally asked, "Don't you keep the old scripts in a file somewhere? Can't you find it and fix it?"

"I can go try to dig through our files," he responded, as though to do so would mean losing a child or killing kittens.

"Do that," I said, "I'll wait."

It took about 6 minutes of dead air time on the phone before he came back. Sure enough, I was right and he was wrong. He sounded angry that he had found the script, angrier that it wasn't done correctly, and angriest that he had to admit that I was right.

Living where I am now, I'm sure that his initial "you have to go back to your doctor" is usually met with an "okay," even if the person is pretty sure they are right, and he goes about his day. CSRs here are used to those they deal with being much more 'go along to get along' than I am. I feel that this leads to CSRs who will not work with you, who don't want to listen when you suggest they (or someone in their company) have done something wrong, and who rarely expect someone to come out swinging and make them do their job.

When my wife politely asked the question about files, why didn't this gentleman simply respond in the affirmative and go check them? If he had, he would have found the old script and could have figured it out without me getting on the phone and getting angry and forcing him to do his job. Barring that, when you have someone else get on the phone and give such a detailed description of when they brought the script, who they spoke to, and what occurred, why not give them the benefit of the doubt and check their story? Once he refused this second opportunity and I got angry and demanding, why didn't he immediately offer to continue looking for the script, which would have led him to the solution and avoided the angry verbal engagement he and I went through? My wife and I, basically, gave him multiple opportunities to provide us with customer service that he ignored or refused, resulting in him having an angry exchange, being proved wrong, and having to apologize and fix it anyway.

Customer service has been on a downward track for some time now. What confuses me is that this is one area where companies can make the biggest difference and, by providing good support, get more business in return for minimal investment.

The old adage "the customer is always right" is not always accurate but it is always true. What the adage means is that the words that the customer is saying may not be accurate, but if they feel they are wronged, the business needs to right that wrong. The business can right that wrong in a mutually beneficial way such that the business doesn't lose a customer or its shirt in correcting the mistake. The business can present the customer's error in such a way that the customer doesn't lose face and the business doesn't lose the customer. Either way, the customer is satisfied, the business keeps the customer, and both gain from the experience.

December 14, 2011

Spirit Guides

Those who know me well know that the majority of my dreams are dark, harsh, and full of violence and death. That has been true for as long as I remember. I've had these types of dreams since I was a small child, and they exacerbate my sleeping issues, as I rarely want to rush to sleep because of what awaits in my dreams. My dreams are so nightmarish, that I rarely share them with others and I have slowly taught myself to quickly forget them upon waking up.

When I have a dream that is somehow positive, or, at least, not ultra-violent, it stands out and I do not forget it when I wake up. Even rarer, however, is when I have a dream that sticks with me for days afterward and fills me with a sense of peace and contentedness.
I was in the desert. It was a warm, sunny day, but not overly hot. There was a slight breeze blowing. To my mind, a perfect day in the desert. Out of nowhere and apropos of nothing there was a tortoise. This tortoise, however, was the size of a giant sea turtle, or one of the giant Aldabra tortoises, but colored just like one from my home desert. It was large enough that I could climb onto its arched back and ride it without impeding its movement or making it struggle at all. It had the placid, serene face that all tortoises seem to have. It was just there, slowly making its way in the desert on this beautiful day, and happened upon where I was.
I found some cactus, pulled out the thorns, and fed it to the tortoise. I then found a small field of daisies and plucked them and fed the tortoise. While its face and expression did not change at all, I felt happiness and joy from it and simply knew that I had done the right thing in that moment. When it seemed to have its fill, I climbed back onto its shell, and it set off for some unknown destination. We both simply basked in the moment, in the beautiful day, in the odd pairing, and the sense of unhurried, directionless movement and togetherness.
Ever since having that dream, when I think back on it, I get the same, if more momentary, sense of calm, peace, and contentedness that carried through during the dreaming. In a dichotomy, I wish both to have the dream again (to experience it first-hand once more) and to never dream it again (so I can use the recollection for peace and inspiration in the future).

Turtles are a good avatar for me in many ways. I'm a generally calm, grounded, earthy person. I tend to be shy around new people, to like being alone or with only a few others, to enjoy warmth, and to move at my own pace. I watch a lot, stay quiet, form my own opinions, and move toward my own goals. It makes me wonder if this is, in the American Indian sense, my spirit animal.

Have you had a dream like this? One that stuck with you, filling you with a sense of peace?

December 5, 2011

The Straight Poop

In the vast majority of houses I've been to the person living there has something on the top of the tank to their toilet, items on their counter, and/or some sort of shelf or storage container above the toilet. Because of all of this, I am surprised at the number of people who leave the lid of their toilet up. Do these people never drop or knock anything off from one of these locations into the open toilet?

I will grant that having the seat down makes the hole smaller. But the hole is still there. Because of the number of times I have knocked items off of the counter or tank, or dropped things I was retrieving from the over-toilet storage into the bowl, I always insist on a closed lid. On top of this, human beings have a wide variety of excretory issues that can complicate the cleanliness of the bowl and not everyone cleans their bowls regularly. So having the lid closed is also good to help the overall look of a bathroom to the casual guest (or simply the inhabitant), prior to next use/cleaning.

And, frankly, if the lid is down, the seat is down. In households with a woman, that means the seat is always in her preferred position, another benefit. Yes, she has to lift the lid to use the toilet, but that seems fair... most women prefer men to lift the seat to minimize the chance they urinate all over the seat anyway. This way, both sexes have roughly equal amounts of work; she has to lift the lid and he has to lift the lid and seat (which can be done in one action). Fair's fair, after all.

Lastly, many areas have water issues that cause stains on the bowl, water discoloration, and even scum growth or animal issues. Leaving the lid closed keeps these unsightly issues from view immediately upon entry into the bathroom, and can help keep creatures out of (or inside!) the toilet in those specific cases.

In the end, the bonuses to leaving the lid down seem to outweigh the one advantage to leaving it up. I don't understand why so many restrooms I have visited always have the lid up.

December 2, 2011

Quick Thoughts: Oil and Gas Prices

The vast amount of oil is transported via ship. At any given moment there are dozens of ships on the seas transporting the crude to refineries. It takes these ships from days to weeks to go from their points of origin (North Sea, Africa/Middle East, South America) to America for production. It takes days to refine the raw crude into various oil and gas products, and then ship it via tanker truck to all regions of the US.

Yet when something happens to a pipeline in Saudi Arabia or a coup happens in Venezuela, the price of gas changes immediately (the same day or next day, at the latest) at the pump, even though it will take a minimum of a week, and more like two weeks, before the interruption the issue caused would actually reach oil refineries and the gas pump in America. When the issue is resolved, it takes weeks and sometimes months before the price of gas declines back to pre-issue levels as the flow of oil resumes unabated.

And, of course, this doesn't even mention the home-source, Canadian, and Mexican oil that also is part of the processes and is not interrupted by whatever "hiccup" is "causing" the gas prices to go up.

Add to this the fact that the oil companies continue to make record profits even during a world-wide economic recession and it is no wonder that people think there is some form of collusion going on.

How stupid do they think we are?

The gas companies could, today, right now, change the price of gas to $1 per gallon (and equivalent in litres) and still make vast profits. They have learned that they can charge what they want and no one will question them and they can make world-shattering profits, so why wouldn't they?