Before i Forget : Simon Jones's blog

October 2005

GeneralMonday, October 31st, 2005, (2:36 pm)

Call centers are the spawn of Satan I’m sure of it. I hate calling them. It’s bad enough when it’s a toll free number, but when you have to call a call centre on a high cost phone number it becomes all the more annoying.

A lot of companies now outsource call centers to far flung places like India where they can pay staff a pittance compared to what they have to pay locally based staff. The benefit, they tell us, is passed on to you the customer, however as true as that might be one should not forget that there are of course shareholders in that little love triangle. Plus, they are assuming that having some person speaking Indaglish or Frenglish to you is actually a benefit, when in practice it is often anything but.

I recently had a call from British Telecoms billing assistance team (debt collections). The operator announced his name was Darren which seemed questionable to say the least. he then went on to ask me if I had gotten my telephone bill okay. The problem was I had to ask him over and over what it was he was saying.

“Iwurz watering iv yooovbin abling to reviwing your telecom beal thank you please.”

Ah yes, now I understood him. “Ah yes, sorry, I meant to pay that. Can you take my details now?”

“Thank you please emble tuak your cowabanger et hisyme thank you please.”

I pause for a moment. Wondering what it may have been that ‘Darren’ had just said. Rather than try to actually decipher the Indaglish I thought more about what ‘Darren’ would have actually said given the context of the conversation and who he actually was.

“You want my card number right?”
“Yezum thank you please thank you.”

I look for my wallet and find my debit card then begin to tell Darren it’s a Smile bank account that i will be paying from.

“Ezyit a weezayelta?”

I’m quite fluent in Indaglish these days, and I know this translates to “Is it a Visa Delta?” To which the answer is yes. I read the card number to ‘Darren’ and he then confirm it back to me. However I can’t make any sense of what he is actually saying at this point so I just say that the number is correct. A few moment later he can “cunferming yet dyapaymenting has yumyoo, thank you please.” Yumyoo is presumably a good thing as he wishes me a “fond day” and hangs up.

Now I don’t want my annoyance or frustration with such call centers to be mistaken for racism in any degree. I just think that companies should at least expect their call centre staff to pass some kind of understandability test. How can it be customer service if the very communication itself is almost too much hard work?

In the past I have had to actually hang up on Apple and SBC Yahoo because the telephone help-desk operator was speaking in an accent that made communication impossible. And both times these were support staff trying to tell me settings and the such.

I’ve decided to enact a new policy which while it might seem overly grumpy, may help in illustrating the problems many of us face when dealing with ‘phone drones.’ I’ve decided that from now on I will simply record all calls I have to make to companies where communication with their staff is difficult. This way when mistakes are made (as they so often are) I can at least bring up actual evidence of the conversation.

Having said that of course actually talking to someone in a managerial position is often times simply impossible because of the layers of drones one has to go through to get to a decision maker.

And here’s a little challenge for you. Listen to this excerpt from a call I made to 1and1 internet. And see if you can decipher what the guy is actually saying. It’s worth pointing out that this guy is speaking to me from a call centre based just outside London UK!

What did he say? Indian call centers may not be worth the trouble
Indian call centers suffer a storm of four letter words

PoliticalWednesday, October 26th, 2005, (8:27 pm)

For a war that President Bush victoriously declared over back in May 2003, this weeks grim body count milestone must surely come as an tragic embarrassment.

No doubt the Bush administration is disappointed that the weeks other milestone in the region, the successful referendum on a draft constitution, came on the same day that a 2000th American soldiers body was wrapped in a body bag and prepared for the the final flight back to America, this time in a coffin draped in the stars and stripes.

With a recent Ipsos/AP poll suggesting that his public support is at an all-time low of 39% for two straight months, President Bush told Americans that no-one should underestimate the difficulties ahead and that they should brace themselves for more casualties. He went on to say “each loss of life is heartbreaking” but stated that he felt the best way to honor the dead soldiers was to “complete the mission and lay the foundation of peace by spreading freedom”.

Of course the number of troop casualties is dwarfed by the number of Iraqi’s who have been killed and injured since the war began. Various estimates put the figure anywhere between 20,000 to 30,000. Though with the country still in disarray the actual figure may never be fully calculated.

The war in Iraq has recently been re-branded as ‘the front-line’ in President Bush’s ‘war on terror’, despite his earlier insistence that the two wars were not in the slightest bit connected. Iraq was initially invaded in order to find and destroy President Saddam Hussein’s amassed collection of WMD’s (weapons of mass destruction). No such weapons nor any evidence of them were ever found, so the war was re-branded ‘the liberation of Iraq.’ Elections were held and victories in liberty were declared, but still the star spangled coffins keep returning the the United States.

History will be the better judge of President Bush and his efforts to do whatever it is he’s actually trying to do in the Middle East. Personally I wonder whether the number of young men and women willing to strap explosives to themselves and detonate them near American and other western targets has actually increased since the invasion of Iraq?

Some say the situation there is better than it was before, and who knows maybe they’re right. But I don’t think we’re anywhere near being far enough away from the epicenter of this most unholy of wars to make a fair assessment of whether any of this will have been worth it in the end.

I hope that history will remember President Bush as a man who brought stability and peace to a region historically torn by bitterness and bloodshed. I fear the reality will be nothing of the sort.

GeneralWednesday, October 19th, 2005, (10:34 am)

After my car broke down and my friend took me back to his house (see post below) I joined another roadside recovery company. However, one of the best value ones had an aweful website, so I took the time to tell them in no uncertain terms. Now I look back on the email I think maybe they got the brunt of how I was feeling at the time due to other things.

RE :

Looking at your website I have to say I am shocked at just how bloody awful it is. What on earth were you thinking. It looks like it was designed by a spotty 17 year old for the price of a new Barry wing for his Corsa.

I was in the market for cover and looked at various websites. The RAC and AA were both, as expected, very clean and well designed. However, I would have thought yours would be at least somewhere near the same quality. Instead I am presented with a website that has all the elegance of a pile up on the M40.

While your roadside assistance maybe good value and top quality I have to do what many MANY people will do, and draw some kind of reference as to the quality of service I will receive from europ-assistance from the appearance of your website. In this regard you have just lost my custom.

Please find the web designer, take him outside and shoot him. The web will become that tiny bit safer.

With thanks

Simon Jones AA (Automobile Association)

GeneralMonday, October 17th, 2005, (8:08 pm)

I’ve not been around much recently as you may have noticed. It’s down to a cocktail of reasons made up of a few shots of work, a drizzle of laziness, a of dash of ooh la la, and a pint of pure bad luck.

It started a couple of weeks ago when my iMac decided to crash and then consume vast quantities of my already allocated time on what turned out to be a problem that had even the cleverest of Mac people perplexed. In the end it turned out to be a errant cron job running at the very unix heart of the Macs soul, and believe me, i probably know about as much about what the heck that is as you do!

The following weekend I decided to go ‘down south’ to see my Yogi (family nickname for my grandma) and my mate Darryl. On the way I was due to make an overnight stop at my friend James’s place whereupon we would celebrate his sons 17th birthday party with the extended family and friends.

The following morning I was struck down by the most hideous hang over I have had in years. Red wine and James’s sister were the culprits, though I was now paying the price for the things we had gotten up to the night before. By 2pm I was about ready to get off the couch and drive the 50 something miles to Essex (outside London) to see Yogi. This time, unlike quite a few previous attempts, I was successful.

I reached Essex without incident or excitement and spent a good hour or so talking with Yogi. Actually she did most of the talking, I just nodded and tried desperately to conceal the heavy cost of the previous nights activities. Eventually the need for some fresh air forced my departure. The weather was beautiful though, so I decided to put the roof down and take it some clean air while I headed to Chelmsford to spend the evening with one of my oldest friends, Darryl.

It was his Birthday the weekend before so I had told him that I would take him anywhere he wished to go and the entire nights fun would be on me. I was pretty sure this wouldn’t involve strippers and beer because as wild as Darryl has been in his days, he’s just coming out of a pit of depression so he isn’t yet ready to have some half naked lovely wave her wobbles in his face. And besides I wasn’t feeling like I could handle another drink… ever again! and true enough, we ended up in fairly low key place not far from his house. Chalk up £60 ($105) to my tab for the meal and a couple of drinks.

The next day I headed down to the mouth of the River Thames that winds its way through the capital city. My brother and his wife have an apartment down there and I was talking Pete out for a slap up dinner as it was his birthday too. His wife was laid up in bed sick, so we got some brother time, which was actually really fun. Chalk up another £68 ($119) to the tab for the meal and a couple of drinks.

I dropped Pete, made a little off schedule visit to an old familiar place (I’ll write about that later), then headed for the London Orbital Motorway, the M25. The plan at this point was to head North, stopping in the midlands overnight at my friend Will’s house, then back ‘up North’ and home on the Monday. However just after junction 21 on the M25 those plans came to an unexpected halt.

The car had been making a strange noise, like something was rubbing. But several inspections revealed nothing so I decided, wrong it now turns out, to soldier on and get back home then take the car to the shop. However, as I drove at a steady (very slow by London standards) 60mph along the M25, the water pump failed and somehow this in turn made the timing belt fail which in turn did something bloody terrible to the engine which made it stop by the side of the busy highway at exactly six o’clock.

After calling Green Flag (a AAA like service) I discovered that my cover did not cover a rescue of this type. Green Flag would only tow me to a nearby garage. So once there I called Will and asked him to drive the 100 miles to come and rescue me. Our original plan was to tow the car back that night, but after a failed attempt at that we decided to simply abandon the car and return a couple of days later after I join a different roadside rescue company and then fake the breakdown after a day or so. Doing this cost me another £70 ($122). Plus I then paid for Will and I to go out and eat the next day, £35 ($61) along with buying him a tank of diesel for his kindness, £50 ($87).

The repair to the car is a big one. I did a real good job of effectively blowing the engine so such a degree that it will have to be rebuild and much of it replaced. Bang goes another £800 ($1,405)!!

Then to cap it all, my mobile phone goes wrong. No problem, I order another one and this afternoon the courier delivers it. A shiny new Sony Ericsson K750i. Only it didn’t look like it had had a trouble free journey. As I opened the packaging I began to wonder if maybe I’d been cursed.

Oh, and to cap it all off nicely. I have a stinker of a cold and a sore throat too! :-P

GeneralThursday, October 6th, 2005, (4:37 pm)

I’ve had an interesting week. My trusty G4 iMac developed a very odd problem on Sunday evening that meant I couldn’t use the machine properly. I spent the best part of two days trying to fix it and work ‘as normal’ on my little PowerBook laptop.

I only ended up solving the problem today! Not good because that trashed most of my working week, and I am heading south tomorrow afternoon so it’s not really a work day and I won’t be back at work till probably late Monday or maybe even Tuesday.

The problem made me look at buying a new iMac in a hurry so as to get back up and running quickly. There looked like a few bargains to be had, but in the end the bargain iMacs on offer weren’t really that much cheaper than the newer ones available today. I was going to get one after Christmas, but maybe I’ll bring that forward a few months and get one next week. A 20″ all singing all dancing iMac. It’ll be nice to have a slightly bigger screen. But heck, I feel bad spending all that money. Still, it’s not me buying it really. It’s my company, and it is a need, but nonetheless I feel a little bad.

Am I the only person who feels a pang of guilt when I blow a small fortune on something like this? It’s going to be an expensive week too because I am going to buy a flight to the west coast of America for the holidays too.

This is going to sound very strange coming from me, but the other day I was listening to a sermon called ‘What to do if you’re rich (and you ARE rich).’ The sermon was preached by a guy called Brian Howard from the Copperhill Community Church in Valencia, California. I’ve been to that church a few time, my friend Josh makes me go, he says I have to “to honor his hospitality” and if you knew Josh you’d know there really isn’t any way you can get out of Church on Sunday morning. I’ve tried it all, illness, yard work, even offering to babysit their two young kids.

Anyway, Josh gave me a small pile of CD’s this summer and told me they would be my ‘homework.’ I of course didn’t do anything with them. But then one day I decided to put them on my iPod (yes I have one of those too – I already feel bad don’t worry) just in case I should ever get bored of the 38 days of non stop music I have on the little thing. I really had no intention of ever listening to them, but then the other day I found myself on a two hour drive and bored of my music, so I thought I’d listen to Brian.

Most of the time I have an overwhelming urge to thump preachers, but Brian doesn’t annoy me that much and I like the people at that Church, so it didn’t seem so bad selecting him on the iPod. Anyway, it wasn’t the best sermon in the world ever. the usual stuff you’d expect from a preacher. But it did make me think once again about how amazingly wealthy we are, and how we fill our lives with just about anything to distract and amuse us, if only for a short while.

I have a nice little (very little actually) apartment, full of Ikea stuff. I have a sports convertible outside, an expensive laptop, the top of the range iPod, an iMac, DVD player, swishy TV, high speed internet access, wifi, cool cameras and video stuff and all sorts of other things. I’ve got all this stuff, and it disgusts me when I think about how much this has all cost, about how much money I have spent on myself as opposed to how much money I give away, or even how much time I give away.

In short, I don’t do enough. People are dying in the world of diseases that we’d take a pill and be cured of ready to get back to work the next day. As much as I could do it still feels like it wouldn’t be enough. That makes me feel bad. some people say we’re lucky to live where we do be that Europe or the US. But in reality the one opinion I formed in India among the rural poor people I met was that as rich as we are we are poorer for it. We have all this stuff, but we’ve utterly lost our way. I don’t know the name of my next door neighbor and his house is actually attached to mine! I’ve lived here over 5 years!!

This is a directionless pointless post. I have no idea what I am saying or what the heck my point is.

Copperhill Community Church