Sunday, December 14, 2014

Uber vs. Lyft: A Customer-Based Review

So, finally got a chance to give Lyft a try, tonight. Given the various scumminess that Uber has displayed, this year, really didn't want to have to do business with them, any more.

I gotta say that, from a customer experience side of thing, Uber is definitely the more polished offering. The phone app is a much more polished design. The dispatch process is transparent and the arrival estimates accurate. Lyft doesn't even seem to offer the capability to get a fare estimate. If you want to contact customer service, all I can say is "good luck with that".

Overall, as a passenger, the service felt like it was designed more around the drivers' needs than the passengers'. I may give them another try, or I may try to see if one of the local taxi services has upped their game in the face of competition from Uber - and now Lyft.

I really don't want to go back to Uber. But, right now, they're definitely the best from a customer-experience standpoint.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Sublime Frustration of Convergence

I occasionally get cranky about converged communications channels - thing like merging Email and SMS or merging SMS and IM. For starters, I don't like how it tends to blur the "appropriate forms of address" lines for a given communications medium. While "RU ther" is almost OK in an SMS, it's less so in an IM and pretty much not tolerable in an Email. The other thing is, convergence means too many things jangling and, when there's errors, it's even worse.

Three times, today, I had convergence-related issues:
  • Buddy calls me to thank me for his Christmas present. I, first, get an inbound call-notification on my laptop's GV/Hangouts browser-plugin. I answer on my cellphone as soon as it rings (hate trying to voice-chat via my laptop - also, see not about "too many things jangling") Just as I'm picking up the call on my cell, the VOIP line starts ringing ...and then continues to ring and ring while I'm starting my conversation on the cell. Wife comes up to find out why the hell the landline's ringing off the hook. I tell her "GV's being a butt". I'd yet to try to deal with the VOIP line as I'd noticed my cell's battery was down (apparently, I'd not snugly seated the charging plug, previously) and was tied to the wall by the (now seated) charging-cable. So she does us both a solid by tracking down a VOIP handset and terminating the errant ring-through.
  • Boss tries to arrange an after-hours video call. "After hours" is about the only time everyone on my scattered team is available to talk since our "scattered" is across time-zones and, even those of us in the same time-zone are frequently working places where we can't do phone-calls (let alone video chats). His initial invitation to everyone had apparently gone awry, so he SMS'es me to ask if I'm available. I SMS back to affirm that I am. He states that he'll send out an invite to the video chat. The scheduled time for the call to start passes and still no email-invite. I assume it's gone into the Ether, so I SMS him again to ask what's up. He "dials" me into the video conference. This time, my cell rings before my browser starts jangling. I pick up on the cell and I'm in the video call. The cell isn't really stable for being on camera, so I'm a touch put out that what I'd *thought* was my cell ringing for a call was actually ringing for a video chat. My annoyance is subsequently eased when the invitation email finally arrives and I'm able to switch over to my laptop for the video-conference.
  • While the video-call is going on, my messaging widget pops up a long-assed text message. It was from the customer-lead for one of the projects I work on. I reply with an SMS - failing to notice that the text message was actually a transcription delivered via the text messaging component of the messaging widget. Worse, he'd called from a land-line rather than his cell, so my SMS gets delivered to the Ether.

Actually, three and a half times...

While working on one of my projects, I encounter a mis-documented security-fix. I go to call one of my co-workers about it. Both he and I have ZRTP widgets on our cellphones and our phones each "know" that the other's phone is ZRTP-capable. When I got to hit the call button, my phone helpfully asks, "do you want this to be an encrypted call". I think, "sure - it's about a security-related documentation-bug, so why not do the call encrypted". His phone rings and rings with no answer. It occurs to me that the ZRTP widget actually doesn't dial to his VMail-enabled "number". So, I hang up, re-start the call and select "no" when asked if I want to encrypt the call. Eventually, the call rings through to his voicemail (DAMMIT). I leave a message for him to call me back.

An hour or so later, he IMs me to tell me that he got the call but the voicemail was garbled. Irony: the encrypted VOIP calls frequently have better sound-quality than the PSTN calls do.

Just convergence-annoyance all over the damned place, today.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Will You Still Love Me When I'm 64?

The thought of getting old - turning into an old man - has never really held much appeal to me. The only saving grace to the entire prospect was that I could reach that "don't mind his outrageous statements. H e's old: he grew up in a different time and just doesn't know any better" point in life. Problem is, it occurred to me, today, that part of the reason people say that now is that the whole "PC"/self-censoring thing didn't exist in the first half of the 20th century. During my "peak" years, that shit is/was an everyday reality.

Will people 40+ years my junior still be saying things like that to excuse my outrageous statements? Will it be excusable to stand out on my front lawn in a tatty robe and slippers, yelling at those damned kids to get off my lawn?

The genesis of this whole train of thought was something I saw on my drive home from work. I was at a different office, today. This one's in DC. I haven't worked there in months. At any rate, the Waze-directed route home took me down I295 past National Harbor. As I was crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge back into Northern Virginia, I passed one of National Harbor's shuttle vans. Now, if you're not from the DC area or have never had cause to know about National Harbor, you'd need to know that the full name of one of the facilities there - the one to which this van belonged - is "Gaylord National Harbor".

Now, when I was a kid, it was a pre-PC time. Whereas kids today might refer to things as "gay", something you might have heard when I was a kid - if you did something stupid - was something like "way to go, gaylord". Naturally seeing that van, I was transported back in time and my inner 12 year old laughed - and my adult side laughed at the absurdity of the humor my inner 12 year old found in such a mindless epithet. And then I grew sad that I might never reach an age where I can simply revel in stupidity.

Friday, January 31, 2014

A Foray Into "The Internet of 'Things'"

Last year, an online acquaintance had pointed me to what looked to be a nifty bit of gadgetry. It was an IP-enabled LED lightbulb that you could control from your iOS or Androd mobile device. Not only was it advertised to be able to remotely power it on and off, you could dim it and even change the bulb's output color.

I followed the link that was posted and it took me to a Kickstarter page. When you go to the page, what's shown is an LED bulb that looks like it packs all this functionality into a standard lightbulb's form-factor:

So, on March 3rd of 2013, I placed an order for four of them. Total cost: $300 plus shipping fees. Original expected arrival date was August of 2013. Halfway through August, get an email saying that there's been a manufacturing delay, but it should only be a couple months. Eventually, in December, get notification that they should be arriving in Q1 of 2014. Today they finally arrived.

I was quite chuffed to open the box and start using my new bulbs. I read the installation manual (no small feat as, apparently, the folks at Lifx really like small print - I'd say the user booklet is probably printed in the 6-8pt range). I download the Android app to my notepad (odd, it's got a really low rating on the Google Play Store). I install the first bulb, power it on, and follow the instructions to set up my bulb. Gets to step 5 and the app tells me "can't talk to the device".

I flip through the manual to find the troubleshooting section. I go through the factory reset steps and retry the setup. I try using two different WiFi routers and two different Android devices. Each  (of literally a dozen) attempt ends in the same failure.

So, I send an email to their support address describing my problem. We go back and forth for a while, with them telling me "the Android app is mostly broken" and asking me "can you use an iOS device to set it up: that App is much more functional". Seriously? I reply back, "no, I can't: I don't have any iOS devices". They assure me that a replacement app is in the works and it will fix all the issues ...but it's "just a couple weeks" from being ready for release. Pardon my concern about what "a couple weeks" means from a company that was a couple quarters late in delivering this PoS.

Speaking of dubious descriptions... See that picture above? Yeah. What came looks nothing like that. To be fair, they'd sent pictures of the updated design. The updated design isn't horrible in the pictures, but when you unbox it? Yeah, it's nowhere near as small as the image above. It won't fit in any of my light fixtures and it's mad-heavy.

I've got other LED bulbs, so I know they tend to be on the heavy side. But my other bulbs are positively frail compared to these beasts. Each socket I managed to fit the bulbs into, the socket is being visibly torsioned from the weight of the bulb.

Also, the default color? Suuuuuuuuucks. My other LEDs provide much better quality of light - better color, less harsh projection and less-stark shadowing. Those other bulbs also cost half as much.

At any rate, at this point, I'm thoroughly disillusioned. I ask, "how do I get a refund for these since they're not functioning as advertised". Their helpful response? They inform me that I'll have to ship them back to Australia - on my dime - before they'll credit back the $300 I've wasted on these.




A product whose shoddiness is only exceeded by the shoddiness of their customer support. Oh well, at least looking at the threads on their FaceBook page, I'm not alone in this flooding boat.

Lifx: from your CEO on down, everyone in your organization should be ashamed of this disgraceful product-release. A lot of your buyers are people that like to support small/new businesses - it's why we "sponsor" stuff on sites like KickStarter in the first place. You spat all over that. I dunno about others, but it really makes me question whether I should pony-up on any other similar products.

Philips has a better product for a more reasonable price. And, having dealt with them on other support issues, they actually have a worthwhile customer service organization. 


Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas disaster (hopefully) averted

Had ordered a Christmas gift for my mom and had selected the overnight delivery option so it would get here well before we began our trek north, next week. Figured I was in the clear when the shipper shown was +UPS and *not* +FedEx "SmartPost". Was happy when I saw that the package had gotten to the local shipping facility at 12:20 ...and was chilling on the couch, with the tracking page open, waiting for the truck to show up.

Then, shit fell apart. A little after 17:00, UPS updated the tracking page to say that "package delivery has been rescheduled to Monday by 3PM (or evening for home deliveries)". There was never an "on truck for delivery status". There was no "delivery miss" status. Nope: they simply hadn't bothered to even try to deliver it.


Looked up the facility on Google to see if I could call and come pick it up - the location is less than 3mi from my house. Go to the information page and see that, while they're open until 19:00 Monday through Thursday, on Fridays the facility fucking closes at _17:00_. Wasn't even any point in calling them.
Needless to say, I went ballistic. This was two late-deliveries, in a row, from Amazon. Granted, both were due to crappy service from the shipping companies, but that's cold-comfort when you're looking at not being able to give someone their Christmas gift.

I let the apoplexy fade, and then hit the "call me" button on Amazon's site. First attempt was a failure: sounded like the CSR was talking through a couple inches of insulation. Hung up the phone, all spun-up, again.

Chill. Must chill...

Hit the "call me" button, again. This time, the (different) CSR came in loud and clear. I pre-apologized for my rather irritable state and explained the situation. She offered the resolution of shipping a new version of the item directly to my travel-destination vi their next (business) day shipping option with shipping fees waived. Was a fair offer, so we went through the process of placing the new order. On the plus side, the replacement item was also 10% cheaper (last minute price-drop on the product!).

Hopefully, by the time we arrive at my mom's house, her Christmas gift will be there waiting for us.

Hopefully, Amazon bitch-slaps their shipping companies for 2014. This is the second order in a row that had shipper-caused late-delivery. So, at this point both FedEx and their USPS proxy have fucked me and UPS has tried to fuck me. The sandpaper condom treatment from the different shipping services is getting old.
Maybe shit like this is why Amazon was pie-in-the-sky'ing about the drone-based delivery?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cold Comfort

Somewhere along the line, I missed a critical lesson. I think I missed it very early. I think I missed it at each time someone - or maybe even just "life" - tried to teach it to me. It's probably an important lesson, I just don't know how to learn it: "how does one find comfort?"

I look around at the culture I live in. I look around at many of my peers. I see a lot of people who find - or at least think they'll find - comfort in things. There's even a term for it: "retail therapy". For some people, the comfort is in the hunt. For others it's in the having. For me, there's neither. I don't enjoy shopping. I don't enjoy bargain-hunting. I don't particularly enjoy, even, the having of things. Things are functional. Things serve a purpose. Things don't give comfort.

While it's fading - albeit noisily - in western cultures, religion seems to bring many folks comfort. Me? I can't get on board with it. That's not the same as saying I'm an atheist - I know how little I truly know to eliminate the possibility of its basis. I just can't subscribe to it. Even if I could, I don't know that I'd find it a comfort, as, even if the afterlifes accorded to the good and the just are accurately portrayed, for me they'd be a hell. I don't know what to do with the life I have, I can't imagine eternity yawning before me being any kind of good thing.

Most people also seem to find comfort in other people. For the most part, people make me uncomfortable. Except in very specific contexts - work being chief among them - I can't really relate to most people. The people who it did feel like sort of "got" me - that I had a connection to - are all gone ...and I'm adrift.

All I can really do is think to myself. All I can really do is ruminate. And, when the thoughts gel enough, I can type them out ...but doing so isn't a comfort. At best, it's an ordering of things - a setting of a mark to come back to and ponder some more.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts on Endings

As of today, I've now seen to the disposition of the four grandparents I knew.
  • pallbearer for paternal grandfather
  • pallbearer for maternal grandfather
  • scattered the ashes of my paternal step-grandmother on a church green in London
  • pallbearer for maternal grandmother
On top of that, during the spring of 2010, I helped my mother scatter my father's ashes at the site of their first date.

Death and its trappings have rarely been the kind of sad event that it feels like they should be. Maybe I just process things differently. Dunno.

Even my own father's death wasn't as sad it they felt it ought to have been: the news of the death; the viewing at the funeral home prior his cremation and the scattering of his ashes. The thing that felt the most immediately sad was the extinguishing the last embers of his existence - the paperwork of terminating professional memberships and licensures, seeing to insurance papers, recovering passwords to computers, ensuring the smooth transfer of bank accounts from deceased father to surviving mother. Eventually, the sadness of realizing that the one person who most got me, who I could most easily talk to, hit me. However, that was more sadness for my own situation than true sadness at the death of my father.

I think the thing that came closest to saddening me at today's event was the family picture atop my grandmother's cask. It was a picture of my maternal grandparents, my parents and me taken early in my sophomore year of college. What I found sad was three of the five people pictured were all gone, now - and that, barring misadventure or unexpected disease process, I would be the last of those pictured to draw breath. Piled on top of that, the knowledge that, with no children of my own and no neices or nephews, my final disposition is entirely likely to be at the hands of strangers.


Then again, I'll be dead and hopefully won't have any capability to know or care.