Saturday, December 1, 2007

A New Dominant Life Form?

Whales and dolphins aside, humans have long considered themselves the dominant life form on the planet. But is this really still the case?

In the insect world, which of course has outlived humans by eons, it is probably more realistic to see an ant colony or the bee hive as the actual living organism. Individuals in these species do not really count for much; instead it is the survival of the colony/hive that is paramount.

It may be worth considering that in the human world, with the advent of technology and particularly worldwide networks, that the dominant life form is now... the Corporation.

It could well be that human evolution, particularly in terms of survival of the fittest, has taken a turn toward the insect world and is embracing the colony/hive.

Think about an entity like AT&T -- it is more powerful than any amagam of humans or even most countries and other institutions like religions.

It is certainly committed to its own survival and will fight its enemies by whatever means necessary.

Occasionally, as in the case of Enron, a corporate entity may run afoul of its human subjects and be destroyed by the laws of its host country -- but particularly in the realm of multi-nationals, many corporations are above the law of any single country.

And let's face it, most humans who can participate in the output or growth of a corporation, as stockholders, revel in its power. Humans who are part of Microsoft, either as employees or stockholders (or both) may well have more allegiance to the company's priorities and are more vested in its survival than they may be in that of their actual physical community.

It may be time to re-evaluate the path of evolution, to the extent that we are still able to influence it one way or the other, or else the way of the hive may well be the way of our own future.

As we wrestle with these issues it may also be time to change the laws of at least this country to hold a company liable as a complete entity for its transgressions, instead of simply prosecuting its officers (or lower level managers). After all, even if the individuals responsible for wrong-doing are sent packing or jailed, the company in most cases will continue to flourish, and its shareholders will continue to reap rewards.

Another issue to consider is the power of corporations, as opposed to individuals, in shaping our laws through the use of bribes -- otherwise known as lobbying.

Influence peddling was bad enough when it was just the richest and strongest individuals who could throw their weight around. As we have seen from Halliburton to Exxon the corporate hives can do almost anything they want, and although their drones or even their officers can move on or be replaced, they continue to thrive and evolve as entities in their own right.

Friday, November 30, 2007

A New Low in Customer Disservice?

Can it really get any worse? After not calling to confirm my appointment and showing up over an hour late, my satellite installer wanted me to sign off on a glowing evaluation, making it look like I was just signing a delivery confirmation. I opted out.

But the kicker was the next morning when I received an automated phone call from the company in which a computerized voice told me of their commitment to excellent service, and that if my service was not perfect in any way, to push "1" so that I could talk to what was supposedly their very concerned customer service rep.

I decided what the hell, and pushed "1", only to be put on hold for tech support...

Thanks but no thanks. That's like being told how important my call is before being put on hold, or that my wait is due to extraordinarily high call volume, which of course, is the normal call volume because it happens every freaking time - and then being put on hold.

Or being put on hold for a supervisor who amazingly never picks up.

I would like to find a company that tells it like it is: "We don't give a shit - if you get what you need count yourself lucky."

Their mission statement should read: We're in it to make money. That's a company I would trust because they actually tell the truth about something.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Day in the Life (or Semi-Life) of a Windows Home Business User

It began like any normal day for me, except that I have learned the hard way that no day is completely “normal” for someone who uses a computer for business.

I generally turn on my laptop, loaded with the nifty new Vista OS, to check my email. It is connected wirelessly to a router that is connected by wires to my main desktop. My Internet connection is DSL from AT&T/Yahoo/SBC or whatever they are called this week. It works very easily most of the time…

On this morning, however, I couldn’t get a web page or my email and noticed on a big fat exclamation point on the Internet icon in my “system tray”. This is never good but I have learned, as any Windows user who actually gets word done has, how to repair the connection.
I dutifully went to my desktop and tried to connect to my router through my browser. This is a 50-50 proposition and if it works, I can repair my network in a few seconds. Unfortunately it was a no go.

So I went over behind my desk, turned off my router (taking out the power plug) and connected by DSL directly to the desktop. I returned to my seat and instantly connected to AT&T/Yahoo/SBC or whatever they are called this week. This told me that the Internet connection was okay and that a call to AT&T/Yahoo/SBC or whatever they are called this week and their representative in Bangladesh would be fruitless, which I already knew.

This meant that if I wanted to permanently “fix” the problem I would need to call either the customer service for my router company (in China) or Microsoft (in Redmond, WA) – neither was a reasonable option as I have tried both.

So okay, I had Internet on my desktop and could work there and get my email there but I am a perfectionist and I wanted to work on my laptop (where most of my files are – except that I move them to my desktop to protect them whenever the network connection cooperates).
So I decided to get “up and running” normally before beginning to work.

So I loaded the router setup “wizard” to reestablish a connection and go wireless so I could work from my laptop. The wizard is also 50-50 – it sometimes works flawlessly but sometimes jams in the middle and gives you the hourglass – which means you have two choices. You can open the browser and hope it’s working anyway or start over. Miraculously it went all the way through and re-established my connection.

So I could have left well enough alone and gone to work but no – I decided to take care of some other annoying stuff, which included my anti-spyware popping up with boxes telling me something in my browser was changing something in my registry and it was DENIED.
I had conspicuously disregarded these pop-ups but now they were driving me crazy – and of course my anti-popup blocker did nothing to discourage them.

Then of course there is my anti-virus program that needs to be updated every few minutes. So I decided get rid of the whole lot of them and use a license for OneCare – the Microsoft anti-virus, anti-spyware anti-popup blocker that I had to buy because I couldn’t use the other 3 separate programs on Vista.

I installed OneCare, rebooting three times and then decided to activate. Naturally I got the hourglass and it crashed my browser so I figured, the heck with it – I don’t have to take care of that for 90 days – that’s the free trial…

I made sure my Internet was working and went to my notebook to check email.

This was after two hours of troubleshooting the desktop and reconfiguring the router and anti-virus, spyware and popup protection for OneCare.

Everything was now working, or so it seemed, and I read and responded to some email but then I wanted to move a file over my network to my desktop.

Suddenly I was blocked. The network which had been functioning fine between laptop and desktop suddenly gave me an error message. So I had to return to the desktop where I knew what to do – disable the Firewall for OneCare – since I knew that my router was already a firewall.

Naturally OneCare did not care for that at all and started popping up warnings to turn ON MY FIREWALL, but I ignored it and was able to go back to work and my network was intact. Miraculously so was my Internet and email.

Then I remembered I had printed a document the previous evening to my network printer. Naturally when I went to look at it, it hadn’t printed. That was really no big surprise since that printer hadn’t printed for a while – I was down in ink in my “Cyan” cartridge.

My other printer, also on the network, hadn’t worked since I went to Vista on my laptop. I mean it worked directly from the desktop, but not over the network like it was supposed to.
So I went back to my “network” printer – so called because it was directed by cable to my router. I had bought and replaced the empty Cyan cartridge and now the printer was telling me my “Yellow” cartridge was low and needed to be replaced. Either cartridge, as you probably realize, costs almost as much as a new printer.

So I figured the heck with it, I was going to watch my new big screen TV that I had recently bought after studying up on 720p, 1080i and 1080p, not to mention contrast ratios and 120hz refresh rates. I had set it up over the weekend and had spent half my Sunday ordering high definition on my satellite, which was coming in a few days.

That had taken several hours after I ordered online but realized that I should have set up automatic bill pay on my credit card to get a $50 VISA card for free. But when I re-checked the sign up page it showed me that the installation I had scheduled for Thursday was no longer scheduled. So I called the company and stayed on hold for twenty minutes til the lady told me she couldn’t arrange the bill pay for me to get the VISA card but she could reschedule the unscheduled appointment for Wednesday. But I had to cancel the whole deal to get the $50 VISA card and order it again, so I cancelled and reordered, but I had to use a different email address because the system kept remembering my cancelled order on my regular email address.

So I did it hoping that I wouldn’t be billed twice, which I am sure I will be, and then I will have to call again, but this time I got a scheduled installation and should get the VISA card too, except that it seems the small print says I need to keep my HD-DVR for a year at $5/ mo., except that the service I signed up for told me my HD-DVR is free for a year. So who knows if I will be getting the VISA card.

But I do have high definition from a powered antenna I bought at Radio Shack, so I turned it on but then there was a knock at the door. No one there but UPS had left a package. It was my new cell phone, which had instructions that warned me not to turn it on until it was activated, or something completely indecipherable. I also wanted to move my phone numbers from the SIM card on my present phone but there were no instructions, much less diagrams, to explain how.
Instead there was an upside down section of the manual with the same incomplete set of instructions but this set in Spanish.

But this time I decided to go to the store that sold the cell phone, which was, coincidentally a AT&T/Yahoo/SBC or whatever they are called this week store, to help me with the SIM card and activation.

But I am afraid to leave the house because if I do, I think my wireless network will go down again…