Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Customer Service that Shines

My eldest daughter has been doing developing this year and nicely rounded out curves. This has made bathing suit shopping in local stores challenging.. she really needs a medium bottom and an XL top. As a result, we spent a bunch of time looking and shopping online. We finally found a company called Blue Sky Swimwear that had cute suits, with separately order-able pieces, where we could get a suit for under 50$ for her. The suit came quickly, but unfortunately, even though we looked at lots of suits before picking this one, she was not happy with the fit ( I should have known... who ever buys the first suit you put on your body??). It came yesterday, she tried it on last night after band camp and I tried calling them last night. Even though their recorded message said that customer service was open until 9pm, at 8:30pm I was not getting a human. I was nervous. I was convinced that we had found one of those scary internet stores and I started looking around for other options.

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that I could not have been more wrong.
We originally bought the swimsuit to be returned on sale, knowing that that meant exchange or store credit only... not full return. That was OK, we were confident we could find something that looked great. But their policy said that I had to return the existing swim suit to them before ordering the new one in order to get an exchange credit. Today is Wednesday, even if I got to the post office today, overnight shipped the return, let them process it and ordered, there was NO way we were getting the new suit back by Friday. Add on top of that that I was solid packed with meetings until 6pm today and I was doomed.

But Linda, excellent store owner and service provider that she is, merely marked my account for credit approved and we ordered the replacement for delivery on Friday. I will ship out the return tomorrow, regular shipping to save the fees and when they receive it, they will credit my account. Wow.. customer service who actually works with you and understands that sometimes, for 17 year old body conscious females, exceptions must be made.

You can be sure we will do more shopping with them.

12 seconds of excitement

It has been a while since a new interactive web tool actually got me buzzed up. I see lots of potential in lots of new tools, but not all of them have applicability to my life directly, other than geek curiosity. Vlogging in some form or another is something that has been teasing at me for more than a year, but I have not been able to find a solution that is easy and portable enough to make it a winner. Qik had an initial attraction, but I do not own a Nokia phone, so it will not work for me. I can not even sign up for an account with Qik without the right phone. uStream has some interesting potential, but again I can not easily upload things from my Treo. I love what ustream is doing with the broadcast of longer events, of bringing events that would have been otherwise unavailable to the masses live across the web. I have watched LOTS of events on uStream, and participate in live chat.. but I have not used it for broadcasting yet. Both of these missed the boat for cases where I want to share something, but have no connectivity at the moment I am recording ( often the case inside a school building, for example)

Kyte looked like it was going to be a lot of fun, but I had to be at the computer to upload and make channels. But now I have 12 seconds. The thing I am most intrigued about with 12 seconds is that I can take video I recorded on my treo and email it in as an attachment, and it is auto shared. I can think of all kinds of potential for this one... vacation video sharing (our family vacation starts this Saturday), event clips (Gencon is around the corner), party bits and clips... all kinds of scrapbook type sharing on top of the daily conversation and discussion that people may be doing. Since my Video Camera and my Treo both use SD cards, it even means I can record with my digital video cam and then email from the treo later. My mind is starting to get a bit excited on this one-- who said my Treo is extinct and I need to move on?

Looks like for the next month I am going to be hammering this service hard, please check it out, comment, give feedback and let me know if it works for you. I will do more reviews here as the month progresses. As a bonus, I also have a few invitations left, so if you are interested in trying out 12 seconds yourself comment here and let me know.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Thankful for my connected life

Last week one of my good friends from work contacted me in a panic. He had a hope RAID array for his family videos, pictures, etc.. The idea being that if a drive failed, he would have time to recover without losing all of his files. Then Lightening struck (figurative lightening, not the real electrical surge creating kind) and he had two drives fail at once. A critical failure for the array. One of the drives is clanking and grinding and probably dead. The other seems to be ok and comes online, but with errors and does not want to make the array whole. Hopefully it is recoverable.
The whole thing would be bad enough, except that the timing came when his wife, who has been battling breast cancer for about 10 years had what was being predicted as about 3 weeks left to live. Faced with losing his wife forever, now he was faced with losing their pictures and videos as well. It was more than he could deal with. "can you just come and get the disks and make them go away and handle this for me?" Of course I agreed.
Faced with the daunting responsibility, I quickly put a notice out on LinkedIn. It was easy enough to find companies online who do data recovery, but I wanted someone who was tried and true and worked well for someone else before. I got an amazing response.. but in speed and in variety. After calling all the recommended services, I picked on ( and am waiting for their analysis and estimate for the recovery service. One of the great things was that they were the ONLY service out of the ones recommended to me that does not charge an up front fee for analysis and en estimate. Every other shop had a 500-800 dollar up front fee, even if they decided there was nothing at all recoverable on the drives.
I will update with the label "data_recovery" as this progresses and track their performance and price. In the meantime, keep your fingers and toes crossed for my buddy that they can recover at least some of the data..
The bad news is that much faster than anyone predicted, his wife passed away this past friday evening. I will be heading to a funeral tonight.

My Integrated Life

My to do list for this week is a good indication of the strange and twisted integration of all the facets of my life. I have entered a time when there is no real separation of home, work and personal.

Here is what I need to get done this week:

Management approval of new IT_FMEA templates
Management agreement consensus across teams for Corporate Diagnostic and Traceability Use Case standards
Prep presenter for D&T Overview they are doing on my behalf next week
Build slide deck and do initial management presentation on Workplace of the Future
Complete ROMs for two international projects
Edit 2 chapters for MESA Lean Guidebook
Write my section of third chapter for MESA lean guidebook
Attend funeral Monday night
get stepsons haircuts ( wed afternoon)
get my haircut( friday night)
pack and organize family of 4 for week long vacation that starts Sat am
continue picking and freezing vegies as they come ripe
plant late summer veggies ( radishes, turnips, snow peas, spinach and lettuce)
get oil changed in my van
clean van for trip
laundry ( just a forever process in this household....)
Blog at least twice ( this counts as one at this rate....)
return library books
find Ogre a second pair of swim trunks to take to the ocean
three discovery meetings/workshops for Warranty analysis system requirements with the business.
get everyone here prepped for oldest daughter's birthday which in sunday while we are on vacation.
pick up gift card for daughter my mom has requested
deep technical dive into possible new MOM application for corporate install.
review JCAPS to SAP integration and get up to speed on new MDM included with JCAPS released a month ago.
do next steps of organization/planning/promotion for GenCOn KickassKickoff party on Aug 13
do round two of graphical reviews for
catch up with my backlog of messages on

how does your week look??

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I am currently involved in a new project and am leading the efforts to build a strategy/plan for the "workforce of the future" at the company who employs me full time. This is one of those fun instances where my work world and my real world overlap. As a result, I have been thinking about and exploring social networking even more than usual. ( is that possible???). The type/configuration/functionality you would want to have in a workplace social network is different than one you would build for people to share hobbies or plan parties. Yes, there is a lot of overlap.. but the idea of online networking at work is not just social.. it is a way to build relationships, increase productivity and achieve an end goal.

There is not currently any social network in the online market that I would want to pick up and transplant to my workplace- but if I could pull bits and pieces from several networks to build a new one, here is what it would look like:

General Profile info:
I love the info that is in the LinkedIn profiles, even if you are working at the same company now, it is sometimes useful to know what the other person's history is, the people they know and the skill set they bring with them. I would want to add the additional feature of .rdf for basic keywords in people's profiles to make the information more linked and more searchable.
References are great things to be able to display, but I waver between a reference and being able to tag people. I find that there are always useful tags people would not have thought to apply to themselves. Being a workplace, you would probably want to "block" certain tags from any use at all ( asshole and slacker are two that quickly come to mind....). I think the best solution would be the ability to do both- writing longer references that are listed, as well as being able to tag people and their abilities.
Tags are of no use at all, unless you have good tools for searching, sorting and clustering them. is my favorite interface for this task. I sometimes need to know who has worked at a location, or on a product/product line or even for a certain manager.. the possibilities are endless.

Project Information:

For many of us, work is defined by the projects we have on our plate, or that we have completed. I am torn between the Ning approach to project sites and the Amazee approach. I like the functionality in the Amazee site, but the look and feel and ese of communication/connectivity that persists at Ning. The folks over at the Amazee site are doing a redesign, so I am reserving judgment until then.

Communication Tools:

There is no overlooking the importance of IM and/or microblogging to online communications. A Twitter-like interface that allows people to pose questions to the corporate brain, update on project progress or notify coworkers of delays, problems or frustrations would go far in the quest to improve internal corporate communication.

What would you add? What would you change? What is the one killer function that a corporate social networking tool has to have??

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Teens and issues of media legality

Let me try to defuse some of the potential inflammatory comments:

1. DRM is evil.
2. The RIAA is not only evil, it is stupid.
3. Pirating media is not only illegal, it is morally wrong.
4. Artists deserve to be able to make a living from the art they create.

Back story:

I have friends and family who are artists and make money from the art they create. I have long been a proponent to everyone I know that if you enjoy art, you should be willing to pay a reasonable price for it. No question, organizations like the RIAA go in wrong directions and to far extremes, but I am willing to pay for art I enjoy and have always encouraged others to do the same.
As a parent, I have held to my guns on this one. My children have been taught copyright, the idea of creative value and that illegal media is not tolerated in this household. I am the parent who would not give them blank CDs to give to their friends to make copies of movies and music. I was the one who informed teachers that making copies of "Kid Music CDs" for fun is NOT an educational fair use and they should not be requesting blank CDs from home for it.

Limewire is banned. We buy or rent movies, we do not download them. My kids get iTunes allowances as part of a Christmas Present. I have worked hard to instill this in my kids. Honestly, there is a grey area that if I were in a house alone, I would live in that includes some violations of this principle. But when you are setting an example, you tread more carefully than when no one is watching. And Kids? they are always watching.

While they were younger, this was successful. But now they are older, independent thinkers. Plus we have broadband connections. Broadband= streaming media.

I can say with much confidence that my children do not, will not and disagree with downloading illegal copies of music and movies. They do not want to possess it, they know this is a good way to behave as a citizen consumer of the arts. You pay for what you own.

But what about the illegal videos on YouTube.. and the myriad number of sites that are available on the internet. It happens.. I know they do it, they even tell me about it without thinking about the wrongness of how that media is uploaded.

Then again, is it really wrong? Illegal, YES. But wrong? Watching something on the internet will not stop a bunch of teenagers from paying to go see something again. And in some cases, it goes deep into the gray area- video footage that they would have no access to, or outlet to pay for, if they were not watching it stream.

I want them to respect artist's rights and means of life. But I do not want to be such an "enforcer" that they never talk to me or tell me what is going in their lives, either. It is a very delicate balance. Is it OK to condone things that I might participate in myself if kids were not watching? Where do you draw the line with your children?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

UPS Knows.. why cant they tell me?

I got busy last week and did some online shopping for Vacation trip surprises, up coming birthdays and Christmas( yes, I am one of those people...). I shopped last week, knowing that there would be no kids here for 2 weeks and I could have deliveries without lots of "what's in the box" questions.

Yesterday, according to one of the tracking numbers I had, I was due to get a delivery from the UPS man. I love the delivery tracking websites, except that once the package hits the final stage, you just get a "loaded for delivery" message with no clue when during the day it will arrive.

I had to work anyway, so no big deal. I worked and watched, watched and worked. I announced my readiness for delivery to the world on Twitter. The day dragged on. Work got done- still no delivery guy. I got impatient. I griped on Twitter. At about 4:30, I finally decided that I could wait no longer and had to run around the corner to pick something up from the grocery for dinner. Honestly, I could have made do with what was in the fridge and gone shopping today- but yesterday the weather was nice and they were calling for thunderstorms today ( it is actually raining). I decided the hell with it and made a dash for the grocery. I was gone less than 40 minutes- which is, of course, when the UPS guy came, attempted delivery and left me a little slip of paper instead.

If this were the end of the story, I would have nothing to gripe about- I left the house, after all. However, the little slip of paper that he left me to tell me he would re-attempt delivery tomorrow also had little check boxes that indicated 3 hour windows of time when he would arrive. So Yesterday he could tell me within 3 hours when he would be at my house on the next day.. but in the morning their system could not tell me the same information. malarkey.

I know they use complex delivery algorithms and have a fairly specific route to follow when they leave the office. Yes, it can get updated if someone else has a wreck or a breakdown, but it is pretty accurate and they stick to it closely ( which is why when 10 minutes after I got home last night the UPS guy drove past my back yard and I waved at him, but he could not stop to re-attempt delivery then...). I do not believe that their system does not know within 3 hour windows when a delivery will arrive... they just chose not to tell me until I have inconvenienced them first.

Every other utility /service/delivery person I have ( gas, electric, phone, plumber,water softener, local store delivery, etc...)can give me a 3 to 4 hour window when they will arrive- why don't delivery companies like UPS or FedEx do the same in their tracking information ???

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Roku Review

I have had my Roku Netflix box for about 2 weeks now and so far the Pros far out weigh the cons.

Setup was so easy that I am comfortably considering getting my parents one of these for Christmas and knowing that they could open the box and set it up themselves. Take it out of the box, plug it in, power it up and follow the set of simple onscreen instructions.

Connectivity is excellent, I have had playback over my AT&T DSL without glitch, hitch or hiccup.

The software interface is clean, easy to use and you can easily browse movies in a "cover flow" style, get details on the movie and jump back to the flow without difficulty.

Because the box only displays the items in your instant view queue, and does not browse the entire instant view library, you will need to either spend some time building up a long queue, or be satisfied with just a few choices when you use the box. Since I can never be sure what anyone will be in the mood for, I now have an instant queue that is 334 titles long and manually organized by movie genre. This was not a fun process and takes time to maintain when new movies are added to the queue.

Allowing profiles to have their own instant view queues and being able to select a profile from the Roku home screen would simplify this. Since we have a wide range of tastes ( elementary school boys, teen-aged girls and grownups) the titles I had to put in the queue vary widely and you have to wade through everyone else's possibilities to find the ones you might be interested in. I do not like that I have to either closely monitor the kids and make sure they do not choose the more adult content in the queue, or else add and subtract it all the time to keep them out of it- but this is not a killer issue. I will just keep my fingers crossed that since they are officially keeping profiles on the regular queues, they will soon let us have multiple instant watch queues. Having a search feature to be able to search through the queue ( by title, by actor, by director, by genre) would be a great addition to the interface as well. I believe that Roku and Netflix think that people are going to put about 6 movies in their queue and dynamically change it all the time. I don't see this happening. It is much more useful as a sort of streaming video on demand box with a broad list of options to choose from. Once you get more than about 20 movies in the queue, you really start to wish for search.

We have also learned that losing power unexpectedly will cause the box to lose it's brains and hang- luckily a simple power hup seems to bring it right back again. The power up and reload process takes about 4-5 minutes ( I have a queue that is over 300 titles long, remember...????) so this is an annoyance if you are in a hurry- but not many people are on a tight time schedule to watch a show. Since power outages here are limited to about a weekly episode during thunderstorm season and this is not a daily occurrence, it is a livable problem. A cleaner failure would be nice- the hung interface would be frustrating to most users without the savvy to figure out the power hup trick ( then again in an age when cable companies make commercials telling people to power hup their routers and modems when they have problems, maybe it is becoming a common solution).

The biggest issue is the available content. Netflix is adding new movies and TV shows to the list of titles that are available through the instant view option on a daily basis- but if you are the type of person who only watches first run movies, the current industry licensing policies will keep you from ever enjoying this little box. If you like classic movies, strange B Science fiction, really great documentaries, musicals, music specials or like to watch TV shows on DVD, you will love this little box. Since there are tons of classic movies I still want to share with my kids, I like to watch musicals and bad science fiction while folding clothes and we are a documentary hungry household, this is a good fit.