Archives for December 2010

What Decade Is This?

December 22, 2010 by cynick | Posted in b-ark

I had received what appeared to be a duplicate bill for health services I had already paid for, but this time for a larger dollar amount.

Not wanting Collections People to be sicced on me, I called the billing number on the statement. Mind you, this isn’t some rinky-dink operation, it’s one of the largest hospital/clinic systems in town. (the exact name isn’t relevant to what transpired on the call)

Surprisingly, in fairly short order I got an actual human on the phone.

I told my story; the following dialog ensued, and I admit, my voice may have risen just a tad as it went on.

“Are you just making up new charges as you go along?” “The latest statement covers the whole episode, but is asking for the amount, $133, that you haven’t yet paid.” “Oh, but I surely did pay it!” “I’m sorry, we don’t have any record of any payment for this statement. You’ll have to send us a copy of your check to prove that you paid.”

Now! I know very well that the O.J. Trial proved that you can’t necessarily know the race of a person just by hearing their voice on a POTS line, but what about their age?

I’m sorry Grandma, but what is a.. check ? “It wouldn’t have been a check, it would have been by credit card.” “Then send us a copy of your credit card statement.” “Sure, great, can you give me an email address to send it to?” “Yes, send it to .com”

Huh? It sounded like maybe they had a special domain just for customer inquiries… “Um, okay, what’s the name? The user name?” “The name is ‘’.” “Uh-huh.. That’s nice, but I need an email address.” “That’s .com.”

Are you kidding me? (voice rising) “Yes, but there’s no ‘at’ sign! Where’s the ‘at’ sign? You’ve only given me a domain name!”

She doesn’t know what an email address is! What decade is this?

(sounding confused) “Hold, please, while I try to find out what you’re asking..”

Time went by. I assumed she had thrown me into Hold Purgatory for having the audacity to raise my voice. I had nothing better to do (sure!), so I just hung on the line.

Eventually, she came back, and this time, she proudly gave me something that sounded close to the jumble of words she’d given me in the first place, but this time with a couple of dots and an at-sign at the appropriate places. Wonderful. I was so shocked and amazed by this that I didn’t even write it down before hanging up!

Wow. I’ve spoken frequently against the evils of outsourcing, but it may be merited in this case! I’m guessing that ANY person in a below average, barely-English-speaking Bangalore call center would at least know what an email address is!

The Need For Good Lids

December 2, 2010 by cynick | Posted in coffee , math

Long ago, I recognized that my tendency toward shuttering myself inside my house could be somewhat of a bad thing, and I countered it with a two-pronged approach:

First, I got myself addicted to caffeine: the kind of addiction that causes one to become essentially disabled for an entire day if not enough caffeine is not consumed by, say, 10:30 am.

And secondly, I threw away my coffee maker.

This forces me, if I want to operate at any level of functionality over the course of a day, to, at the very least, go out in the morning in search of coffee.

I have thus built an appreciation of the differences among the various coffee shops, as well as what makes up the de facto Standard of Coffee Shop Fixtures, and also what comprises the separation between the “coffee shop coffee” experience and the “gas station coffee” experience:

The dialog, exchanged in monotones. Deviance only results in unnecessary delay: “Large coffee” “Light or dark” “Light” “Room for cream” “Yea” “For here or to go” “To go”

And the various accoutrements:

The tip jar with snarky handwritten admonishments directed at people who do not tip. Almost fully decent pastries. Stainless steel Nissan carafe full of H&H. Sugar In The Raw. Splintering balsa stir sticks.

And finally, most importantly: Good Lids. I cannot stress this enough.

The average gas station coffee lid is thin and wispy, and the slightest of jarrings will dislodge it from the cup and send coffee flying. Such lids are often very flat, leaving no space for sloshing coffee to go – except geysering out through the sip hole.

A good lid provides a structural element to the top of the cup, and also provides, via a hole at the top, a decent – but not too much! – amount of air flow so that the coffee may be easily consumed, but not “slammed”.

A good lid should also be somewhat domed, so that if, while walking with the coffee, one happens to find oneself on an incline of some sort, the coffee stays in the cup where it belongs.

Sadly, recently one of my regular coffee shops started to provide shockingly deficient lids. I reacted to this in mock horror, to which the barista said, “Oh, they’re just temporary until our supplier sends more. Don’t worry!”

Phew!, thought I.

When several days had passed, and no good lids had appeared, I piped up once again, and learned that indeed those lids are now here to stay. The claim was that, since they are of a thinner plastic, they are better for the environment.

Ah! Maybe so!

I tend to take a more cynical view:

This is clearly another victory for computer design backed by the burgeoning field of mathematics called Operations Research.

The name of the game is to minimize the costs of production of an item such that the item provides some maximal utility – and precisely no more! – of whatever narrow use is sanctioned for the item.

More and more value is removed from the item, right up to the point where the typical consumer would realize it’s just a cheap piece of crap, and might (might!) decide not to buy it.

The typical consumer doesn’t notice that this process has taken place, and, back to the example at hand, Less Plastic in the lids means More Profit to the lid makers.

But they don’t have me fooled.

I rather doubt that they care for the environment AND drop their prices while doing so.

These lids are terrible, and they promise to compromise the pleasure of my coffee addiction.

Maybe I’ll have to find some other reason to leave the house.