Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More on those "44" calls

I went through the list of calls recorded on my phone today, and found six more calls with 12-digit numbers starting with 44. Since I didn't speak to anyone during those calls, I don't know if the company would've been identified as "Financial Services" of Atlanta, GA as last night's call revealed. But I did put in a complaint for each call on www.donotcall.gov. That site accepts complaints if you know the number but not the company or vice versa, although I think it's better if you can supply both. Still, anyone looking at the complaints I filed would see the pattern. They were all 44 numbers, with the next three digits being 207 or 208. Beyond that, all the numbers were different, so probably each operator has a separate number, probably in an attempt to make it look like it's someone different calling each time so calls can't be blocked by entering a full number in a blocker. I suppose I should look into whether my phone can set up blocks for all numbers beginning with 44207 and 44208.

When I looked through the call detail of my recent bills, I saw the calls went back to Nov. 14, 2007, so there haven't been a whole lot of calls. But still, it's seven more calls than I should have gotten.

I'm not sure if the reports will amount to anything. If I don't file complaints, it definitely will not amount to anything and I might continue getting calls unless the woman I spoke with last evening really did get me on the company's do not call list. Who knows, maybe they really don't want to call pissed off people to try to sell them stuff. Some companies aren't that bright, though, so we'll see.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Do Not Call

I was watching Bush lie to the nation, talking back to the TV telling him how full of crap he is, when I got a phone call. I don't get a whole lot of them, and like too many recently, it was a call from a 12-digit number starting with 44 - 442074121208 to be exact (I looked up 44 as a country code. It's the UK.). I've gotten way too many of those calls over the past few months, and every call has begun with 44.

At first, I would just hang up on them without ever speaking to anyone since it looked like a call from outside the country, and nobody I personally know outside the country has my phone number. When I did listen, it was some company promising to lower my interest rates on credit cards, although the recorded message never identified which of several card companies they might be calling from. So I'd just hang up. After a few times, however, I decided I'd listen a little more and see if they offered a button to push to keep them from calling again. They did. I pushed "2" on more than one call, but the calls continued to come in. Not very often, really - sometimes a week or more would go without a call.

But there shouldn't have been any calls because I'm on the government's Do Not Call list and have been for several years. With only a few exceptions, it's worked pretty much as I expected it would.

This time I answered, and as the recorded message played, I got a pen and piece of paper. The option to push 2 on the phone came, I pushed it, and then started to write down the number showing on the phone. I was interrupted by a person coming on the line, so I switched gears. The woman on the other end started her spiel, but I interrupted her by asking what company she represented. She said "Financial Services" which isn't very helpful. It's just as evasive as them pretending to be calling from a credit card company I do business with. I wrote it down. Then I asked where the company was located and she said "Atlanta, GA." I wrote that down, wondering whether either bit of info was true. I've since Googled "financial services atlanta" and have found National Financial Services Group, but she didn't say "National" and that company appears to be concentrating on doing business in the Southeast, not the Northwest. I don't think that company was calling me. There was no company in Atlanta called Financial Services that Google came up with.

I then asked her if I had a business relationship with the company, which I'm very sure I don't since I'd never heard of them before. She asked if I had a Visa or Master Card, something a legit company calling me about credit cards would already know, one would think. I asked how her company got my number, and she said through Experian, one of the major credit reporting agencies. I don't know whether to believe that or not, although I wouldn't doubt that any of those agencies would sell numbers.

I then let her know my phone number is on the Do Not Call list and I shouldn't even be getting this call. I also told her I'd gotten previous calls and had pressed 2 on my phone on at least two occasions to stop further calls. She asked for my number and since I'm sure it's already on record there somewhere, I gave it again, and that was the end of the call.

Since I'm a phone drone myself, I didn't enjoy giving the woman a hard time, but her company (or probably her company's client, since she probably works for an outsource company like I do) had no business calling a number on the Do Not Call list. I wasn't very polite, but I didn't yell, didn't use profanity, and didn't insult her or even her employer. But she could have no doubt I was not pleased to be having that conversation.

After getting off the phone, I went to www.donotcall.gov and filed a complaint, listing the phone number as shown on my phone, and the company name the woman had given, even though I'm pretty sure it's bogus since Google couldn't find it. It's the first time I've put through a complaint on that website, mostly because there have only been one or two occasions before this outfit started calling and I didn't get information needed for a complaint then.

I won't be surprised if that company robocalls me again, and if they do, I'll file another complaint.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Snowflake Man

Just after I started my new job, I encountered an article about Wilson A. Bentley of Jericho, Vermont. He's known as the first person to take pictures of snowflakes. He took well over 5,000 pictures of snowflakes beginning in 1885 until he died in 1931. Bentley combined a bellows camera with a microscope to take his amazing photos, which required a lot of patience and holding of breath to keep his subjects from melting. People still use his pictures as references and as springboards for arts and crafts projects.

My aunt and uncle (I have the same first name and middle name as the uncle, my father's brother - both now deceased) lived for many years in Jericho, not far from the village green in Jericho Center, where there's a roadside marker commemorating Bentley. Many years ago, I'd seen some of Bentley's photos, most likely in our family's mid-1950s copy of The World Book Encyclopedia. When I first saw the marker in Jericho Center, I knew why it was there. He was certainly in the right place to become a snowflake photographer. Jericho is just to the west of Vermont's highest peak, Mt. Mansfield, and east of Lake Champlain, so it would get some lake effect flurries until the lake froze, and lake effect snow sometimes even reached Jericho from Lake Ontario on the other side of the Adirondacks.

I've been trying to remember where I saw the article. I thought it was Wikipedia, but I can't see where the entry for Bentley was featured anywhere. So I probably saw it someplace else. I did use the Wikipedia entry as a source when I decided Bentley would be a good subject for a Squidoo lens (aka web page). The first thing I did on Squidoo was make sure nobody else had started a lens on the same subject, and nobody had. So I started looking around. Wikipedia had the picture I've used at the beginning of this post, which I edited into its separate images to scatter throughout the book listings. In addition to the books on the page, I also found links to some businesses in Jericho related to Bentley, a link to the University of Buffalo, and of course, Wikipedia.

I called it Wilson A. Bentley - The Snowflake Man. I got enough done the first day to publish it, then added some finishing touches the next day.

During my research, I discovered a book illustrated by Mary Azarian, a Vermont artist who specializes in woodcuts. It's aimed at children aged 4 to 8 and written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. Mary Azarian won the 1999 Caldecott Medal for her illustrations. I remembered Mary from my folk music days back East, when I helped run a coffeehouse in a Unitarian church basement in Fitchburg, MA. It's where I met Joanna in 1980. Joanna and I were together for six years, and she introduced me to the New England Folk Festival in Natick, MA (late April - and the festival moved to Mansfield, MA starting in 2007) and the Old Songs Festival near Albany, NY (late June). I encountered Mary's artwork at these festivals, and Mary herself on one or two occasions. I may have said a few complimentary words to her, but didn't get into any real conversation. I really recommend you check out her website at http://www.maryazarian.com/index.html. One of these days I may do a lens about her. I'm not sure how widely known she is outside the Northeast.

Darn, now I'm feeling all nostalgic about Vermont and folk festivals I used to love going to. One of these years I'd love to go to Old Songs again. I went every year from 1985 to 2000 except for '88 and it was like going home for a weekend. I was reminded of that feeling this past summer when I went for the first time to the Oregon Country Fair, which has been running in one form or another since the late '60s. As the bus entered the grounds, I saw a sign that said "Welcome Home" and knew exactly how people returning year after year felt on seeing it.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Even Better News

Seems like the company I'll be taking calls for was more than a little embarrassed, at last, to come in dead last in customer service ratings among the five major cell phone providers. I believe they were in the same position when I worked at the place before, and I could've told them you get what you pay for, and this place pays about the lowest they can (currently five whole cents an hour above the state minimum wage, which is one of the highest in the country at $7.95/hr.). Needless to say, they don't attract the best employees, as one look at some of the people I'm sharing training with would prove.

So today we were told that starting Feb. 9, we're getting a $2/hr. raise to $10/hr. After 90 days, the pay begins to be based partly on performance, so the rate drops to $9.50/hr., but by then they pretty much expect people will be able to make up the other fifty cents and possibly more. Ten bucks an hour with the very short commute compares very favorably to what I was getting downtown. There's also the possibility of increasing the pay by being good at offering what they call "service solutions"; in other words, selling extra services.

The possibility exists that I could get more money than I've gotten at any other job since I moved, if I can get better at concentrating on doing what they expect and not insisting they're not making a whole lot of sense even if they're not.

A lot of times in the past when the employer has announced something and said it will benefit the employees, what they said needed a large grain of salt to go with it. They used to offer a 25 cent per hour raise every three months to a certain limit and then it went to six months, which is how I got to $10.25/hr. before I left. Then they changed things, but it only affected people hired after a certain date. It was a definite step back for them, with quite a bit longer between increases, and a lower cap on hourly rates, but they made it sound like it was a great new program. It was, but not for employees.

So maybe, just maybe, they've learned something. I'm feeling encouraged, but past experience tells me to believe it when I see it. But if I can perform better than last time around, I could do better paywise.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Finally: Issue Resolved

They finally sorted out whatever it was that was keeping my from having access to programs that others got access to last week, so it looks like I won't be going off looking for another job too soon. I absolutely hate looking for work, and because I keep to myself so much, references aren't the easiest things to come by.

I didn't have the access when I went in this morning, and I mentioned it again to the trainer. I didn't say I wouldn't come back from lunch if access wasn't given, though. It turned out that when I checked during lunch, everything was resolved. I mentioned that to the trainer, and she said it had been escalated yesterday. I'm glad I didn't just roll over and play dead and let them take their time resolving this, even though they weren't terribly speedy about it.

Even better, this afternoon the guy who will be my supervisor after I get out of the training part on the phones came over and introduced himself. I remembered him from my last stint there, and frankly, I think I probably got a supervisor best suited to me. He strikes me as being a relatively serious, conscientious type as well as a decent human being.

Other than the login issue, things seem to be going well. I'm pleased to see that I even remembered a lot of stuff from being there before, so I can concentrate on things that have changed. There's a whole lot of stuff to recall - maybe not to memorize, but at least remember where to go to find out stuff. The search functions on the programs are sort of like Google, but not nearly as easy to use, which a lot more guesswork or just finding out somehow where to go and trying to recall it when needed.

It's a bit of a relief to have things straightened out so I can concentrate more on the learning process. I didn't miss out on too much by not having the login issue unresolved, but there were a few things.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Still No Progress

Friday's entry was written when I came home for lunch, and things seemed to be going well. I had gotten logged into a critical system, although the part of the screen that should have contained links to other training programs and actual work programs was empty. It had taken another day for others to see stuff there, so I wasn't too concerned. I'd go back Monday and they'd be there.

Wrong again. They never showed up today and I made our new trainer, who should be with us (us? or should I say the rest of the class?) for the next couple of weeks, aware of it, but by the end of the day, nothing had happened.

So now it looks like tomorrow morning I'll be pretty much back where I was late last week. I'll go in and let them know that if they want me around after lunch, someone needs to get on the ball. I think I've been more than patient while letting them know how I felt about the issue. If they can't get things working for me tomorrow, that's it. I've wasted enough time on a company that just can't seem to get its act together enough to provide a proper training environment even though it was able to do it for the vast majority of the class, and in less time starting from scratch with them than they've had to try and fix my issues.

And they brag about being a Fortune 100 company. Gimme a break.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Wheel Squeaked

I just re-read the post I made yesterday and it seems I wasn't clear that the other members of the class had gotten their logins on Tuesday or Wednesday, so it wasn't like I was reacting to something that had just happened. It's just that yesterday, before I left, I'd been told it could be ten business days before I'd get mine, finally.

So today I made it clear to the trainer, who's a pretty decent guy thrown into being our trainer at the last minute, that being forced to wait ten days was unacceptable. We start at 7 a.m., which was when I spoke to him, and he said he'd speak to his boss when he arrived. A while later, I spoke to his boss - at his request - and let him know I was not at all pleased with the situation. I also explained that I'd decided to give the place another shot after leaving due to an unsatisfactory training situation the first time around. (At that time, I'd been on a type of call for about two years, and they were shrinking the number of people devoted to it. They gave us one whole week of customer care training, which really turned out to be only four days because on the second day we were joined by another group, so the second day was a repeat of the first.)

Around noon, just after we all returned from lunch, the trainer gave me a new ID number. It didn't work right away, but after he checked, he said try again after 20 minutes. I did, and got a bit further. It looks like it will take a while to get everything going, but others had that problem initially as well.

Also, from a brief conversation with the trainer, it looks like the client has woken up to the fact that you don't do customer service on a competent level that keeps customers by being cheap with the people who are actually wearing the headsets and talking to the customers. He said things could be improving within days. No idea how much of an improvement it will be, but he seemed somewhat impressed, so who knows.

So it looks like I'll be sticking around there for a while anyway. It is nice to be so close to home. We're supposed to have a half hour lunch, but things seem fairly relaxed in training, and the guy we've had this week has been giving us an hour, so I've been coming home for a while. We get a different trainer next week, so I'll pack lunch in case we only get the half hour.

Two weeks from Monday we start taking calls. It's always a nervous time, but this time I'll be going back to using a billing system I used when I was with the employer before, and Cingular/AT&T used the same system, although some of their implementations were different.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Bureaucratic Screw-up

This new job could come to an abrupt end tomorrow. Everyone was issued login IDs for several systems. Because I worked there before, they gave me my old ID number. It doesn't work. Our trainer, who was pulled in to train our class at the last minute, having not trained anyone for two years, has checked with people several times, but I still don't have a valid login.

This afternoon, we spoke to someone recommended by another trainer. She said it could take 10 business days before I'd have a valid login, and by that time training in the classroom is over. That is not acceptable. They made an offer of employment, I accepted, and now they're saying they can't give me access to the tools all the other trainees have.

Either they fix it tomorrow, or I'm out.

For a Fortune 500 company, they sure are messed up. They're constantly telling people one thing, then something happens and whatever was told turns out to be wrong, or they just do something else. And they know this is a problem - I heard someone say this always happens with re-hires. They're more interested in filling positions so they can bill the client than they are in properly equipping people with the tools they need to do the job properly.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Even More Bureaucracy

After the multiple confirmations last week of my acceptance of the job offer, I got an email on Saturday with even more paperwork to fill out electronically. It took about an hour to go over the stuff, which I decided I should print out. But it was helpful in getting the W-4s done, setting up direct deposit for my pay, etc.

Today was the first day of training, and we were all presented with a thick packet of more paperwork which included a number of forms we had to sign and date. That place certainly believes in paperwork! Our trainer went over it all, and some of it was rather repetitive, then later in the day we watched some videos which further repeated a lot of the same information.

During the day, I ran into several people I'd worked with before, including my previous supervisor, a supervisor I'd worked with on Sundays, and the trainer was one I'd had during the far-too-abbreviated customer care training that led me to leave. It wasn't the trainer's fault, it was the company's for deciding that people who had never handled billing or quite a few other customer care functions would be just fine with four days' training.

We get three weeks training before we go into another training area where we take calls. In that area, there will be more people available to help us if we need it, although experience tells me that we'll frequently have to figure things out ourselves. I not only have the advantage of having worked there before, I also used many of the same systems at Cingular/AT&T.

There are several teams at this center that are set up as elite units. They make more money because they get commissions on every service or phone they sell. The claim was made that people on those teams typically make $15-19 per hour, which is pretty decent for a call center. It's something to consider because attendance is one of the keys to getting on one of those teams and when I was there before, I worked from September '04 to February '06 before I had to take a couple of sick days, and I was only late a very few times, and part of that was due to delays from trains crossing the bus route I used getting to the former job location nearer to downtown Portland.

Friday, January 11, 2008


So far, with this new/old employer, I've confirmed three times that I'm going to be there for training at 7 a.m. on Monday. The first time was when I responded to the email I got late yesterday. Then earlier this afternoon, I got a call that I just missed - phone was at the other end of the apartment and I was watching something on the computer so I wasn't immediately aware the phone had gone off - and called back to the number in the voicemail message. Then just before 5 p.m. I got another call from a different person. This time the phone was nearby and I answered it, once more confirming I'd be there.

I'm not surprised.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Starting Monday

I'll be starting training for five weeks at the new/old job at 7 a.m. Monday. Training goes from 7 to 2:30, which means with lunch, it's only 7 hours a day, not eight, so that's $40 a week less than a full week's pay. That's pretty minimal. Good thing Oregon has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, and I'll be getting all of 20 cents an hour more than that.

Oh joy.

At least it's the kind of job where I don't have to take it home with me. I show up, do the calls, and leave at the end of the shift. Training should be simple, since I was there before, and they're probably using the same systems, which Cingular/AT&T uses.

It should be interesting to see who I'll be spending the training time with. Typically it's late teens and twenty-somethings, many of whom have absolutely no work ethic whatsoever. Probably more than one won't make it through training, and probably a good third of them will be gone in six months. I'd be surprised if, out of a class of twenty or so, more than six make it to a full year. Hell, I'm not sure if I will make it a full year myself, although I was there a bit more than two years last time around.

The pay's crap, the benefits suck, but one thing is good - they're so desperate for workers due to the extremely high turnover (over 100% annually, I'm fairly sure), that they can't afford to engage in age discrimination, at least in hiring. And for me, there's another good thing - I can lock my apartment door, and less than 10 minutes later I can be in my seat ready to take calls.

The more I analyze it, the more the higher pay for the Cingular/AT&T job, which was downtown and required a 35-minute MAX ride and 10 minute walk, plus waiting time for the MAX (a longer wait going home), wasn't so great an increase over what I was getting when I left the new/old place the first time. And if I hadn't gotten a MAX pass paid for each month, it wouldn't have been any better at all, probably. Of course, then there's the fact that I didn't last at AT&T, and that wasn't my choice.

I don't know what I'll do about Ren Faires and Faerieworlds this year. I hope I can go to some of the events by switching days off. Faerieworlds has expanded to three days this year, but I may have to cut back to one day without staying over at a motel in Eugene as I've done the past two years. The problem is I signed up to work both Saturdays and Sundays, with Monday and Tuesday off. But I wouldn't be surprised if that doesn't happen. I do hope I end up working Sundays, though, because they're usually easy days.

I spent a lot of the last three days with the cell phone close by, expecting a call, more so each day. The job offer came by e-mail. Now I've got three days where I can do pretty much as I please without having to wonder if I've got something to do Monday.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Neighbors

I'm on the second floor of a two-floor apartment complex. Some months ago, new neighbors moved in downstairs. They have one kid, maybe three to five years old. Just about every evening, the kid goes mental and starts running around, screaming and yelling, and banging around. Daddy doesn't seem to be much help. Sometimes it sounds like he's encouraging the kid, and sometimes he's even louder, which is why I know he's not trying to quiet him down but keep things going.

So tonight they're going at it as usual, and it's well after the time normal parents would have put a kid that age to bed for the night, but not these parents. I was sitting here at the computer, not doing anything particularly special, but I just decided I'd had enough of the nightly show.

I've got a leftover piece of 2x4 that's maybe 2 1/2 feet long. I decided I'd put it on the kitchen floor and get the hammer and pound on it for a bit, just so they'd know there's someone up here - something they've ignored all along.

My method of placing it on the floor was to hold it at mid-point, with one of the wider sides parallel to the floor, about 2 - 3 feet up. Then I let go. It made a nice sharp sound as it hit flat on the floor (didn't want to cause any dents in the flooring, which is why I got it out in the first place to pound on).

Next I went over to my tool box and picked up the hammer and went back to the kitchen, prepared to do some noisemaking of my own - lightly at first, harder if needed.

But suddenly it was awfully quiet down there. It's over half an hour later, well after 10 o'clock, and it's still quiet. I never needed the hammer.

That was easy.

For tonight, anyway. I doubt it's over.

Speeding Up My Connection

Over the past few weeks it seemed like my internet connection was a lot slower than it should've been. I do a fair amount of roaming around using StumbleUpon, and frequently watch the videos that turn up. It was taking a lot longer than it used to for stuff to load. I tried some speed testing from Speedtest.net and the results were pretty bad.

I thought about it and recalled resetting some stuff to try and maximize downloading. I'd made changes in the download application and I was pretty sure I'd made some changes even in the registry, but I'd thought at the time everything was OK. Obviously I was wrong.

Yesterday I turned on one of my other machines, got online and went to Speedtest. Things were worse than I thought on the main machine. According to the results from the second machine, I was getting a little better than 10% of the download speed I should've been getting. In fact, download speeds on the second machine were about four times faster than I recall seeing on the main machine even before I'd messed around several weeks back.

There was no way I was going to recall what I'd done. I recall printing out some instructions, but since I didn't realize right away things weren't right, I didn't still have them. After some Googling around, I came across a site offering optimization. Of course, it was a site selling an optimization program, but it did offer a scan. I figured I'd do the scan and see if the results would give me some avenues to explore.

I came across one recommendation to reset the MTU, or Maximum Transmission Units. It required going into RegEdit and changing a value for MTU to 1500. And the complete path to the value was provided, except the last step led me to four registry folders way down deep. So I took a look at each of them, and only one had a key for MTU. And instead of 1500, the value was 189. A little mental math told me if my speed on the other machine came with an MTU value of 1500 (I'm assuming because I didn't check the registry in the other machine), then a value of 189 would give me the speeds I was seeing on the main machine. So I changed that one value from 189 to 1500, got out of RegEdit, and restarted the machine. And I crossed my fingers, although I didn't think that one change would do any serious damage, but with registry changes, there's always some risk.

When the machine came back up, the first thing that happened was the new program nagged me to buy it, so I'll be deleting that right away. Once I got Firefox opened, I went to Speedtest.net and ran the test. This time I got far better results, equivalent to the other machine's. Problem solved, I hope.

It'll be interesting to see if Flickr responds faster. On one of my lenses on Squidoo, I'd had about 15 photos linked from my three photosets on Flickr, and they were taking forever to load and getting in the way of editing that lens because changes wouldn't take while the photos were still loading.

[Edit] This one change also fixed another problem I was having - I couldn't access one of my credit card websites or a popular weird news site. Now I can. Also, Flickr loads faster on the lens.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Putting Customers First

For the past five years, I've worked in call centers, in what's usually called customer service, although much of that time I've been doing related things like welcome calls for new customers or receivables management. I really want to help the customers, but often the management seems very determined to get in the way with their methods and their mania for statistics. They don't seem to be about customer service; they seem to be about generating statistics and reports about customer service, or more to the point, statistics and reports about the way the people with the headsets do their jobs. Actual customer service comes in a distant second.

So I was interested in a topic in Delphi Forums' Personal Law, News & Consumer forum titled "Put Buyers First? What a Concept." Turns out it links to a story in The New York Times about Amazon. Being an Amazon Associate since I started Have Pun Will Travel, with extensive links to Amazon all over the site, I was pretty pleased with what I read.

According to the story, Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon, takes customer satisfaction very seriously, so seriously that sometimes the boys on Wall Street, ever focused on the short-term gain, haven't cared much for Amazon. And that hasn't changed Bezos' mind; he's still very focused on customer satisfaction. Needless to say, I think he has the right idea. And it seems to be paying off for Amazon, too.

I''ve been an Amazon customer a lot longer than I've been an associate, and I've always had good luck with them. Like many people, I've used Amazon for research, even if I have ended up buying elsewhere. I may change that now that I'm an associate, even if my own purchases don't earn me commission. Of course, I haven't been buying much of anything anywhere lately, and that may not change significantly anytime soon.

Biting the Bullet

It couldn't go on much longer.

When I suddenly found myself unemployed, thanks to one of the coldest, most heartless separations I've ever undergone, I was sort of in shock. I'd thought things were improving after a tough time, but it must've been too little, too late.

That was back in September, and once I took stock, I decided not to go looking right away, and after a while got busy with setting up more of a presence online, first with Squidoo and the lenses, then with Have Pun Will Travel. Like probably everyone else who's ever thought of using the Internet to make money, I was wildly overoptimistic. But it got me started, at least.

Regardless of whether jobs have been lousy paying, which has been all of them over the past five years or so, or even if I wasn't working for a while, I was at least always able to keep up with the credit cards with at least minimum payments. So that's what I've done lately, and used the cards to keep me from becoming homeless and hungry. Of course, that means I'm going to be owing on the cards for quite some time to come, but the break was worth it.

Today I went back to a former employer. Since all my jobs have been with call centers, I went back to the one closest to where I live. It took me nearly an hour to get to my previous job each day, and another hour to get back home again - two hours per day. The place I just applied to is less than ten minutes away, so I gain a good hour and a half each day. That's an hour and a half I can use to keep doing web pages, lenses, and whatever else I decide to do to try and get some extra money.

At least I know what to expect from the job, which, provided there's nothing that comes up to keep me from getting it, will start with five weeks of training next Monday. The good part is that means I don't have to take calls until mid-late February. Training is usually a breeze, although I'll be sure I learn what's necessary to do the job. Aside from being close to home, this place hires just about anyone, so age discrimination shouldn't be a factor, as it so subtly a factor at so many places.

There's a downside to them hiring just about anyone, of course, so I'll end up working with a lot of people who really don't give a rat's patoot about much of anything except themselves. They're the kind of people for whom actually working the 40 hours per week they were hired for gets treated as a goal to be met at some undetermined, but very distant time. They're the kind of people who can't wait to go on break so they can call up some family member or boy/girlfriend and spend the whole break yelling at them, either in the break room, or outside in the smoking area as they furiously puff away and yell simultaneously. I don't hang out with people from call centers after work, needless to say.

One thing I've already decided - if something they want me to do doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, I'll do it anyway. That was probably my downfall on the last job. They kept insisting I say stuff that does nothing to help the customer, stuff that if I didn't say it, the customer never would've noticed, and the call would go just a bit faster. By the time I started doing it their way, it was, apparently, too late.

The problem with many call centers is that instead of being focused on the customer, they focus on statistics, which means, in part, whether or not the person taking the calls says certain specific things in a specific manner, regardless of whether this helps the customer in any way or not. On the last job, it wasn't enough to efficiently and promptly answer a customer's question. First you had to assure the customer you could answer the question, and only then could you answer the question. It's like someone asks me what time it is. My initial efficient response (and probably yours too) would be "3:30" or whatever time it is. But according to the geniuses of marketing, this was wrong. The "correct" response is something like, "I'd be happy to tell you what time it is. It's 3:30." Just saying "3:30" doesn't mean I'm not happy to tell the person the time, it's just doing it their way takes longer and just isn't the way normal human beings in a normal conversation talk. "3:30" is understood to be an adequate answer, and the conversation moves on. In the real world outside call centers, anyway.

So I'll go back, and see how long I can stand it this time. And you may have noticed, aside from my obvious lack of enthusiasm, I haven't mentioned the name of the employer. I don't plan to, either now or later. It's safer that way.

Site Meter problem fixed?

I think I know why Site Meter kept showing all zeros. When I signed up, I left the final forward slash off the URL. So many times when I've created a link to Have Pun Will Travel, I've left it off and the links have worked when tested. I went to the Site Meter page, found where I could change the URL and changed it.

I was able to view stats directly from GoDaddy just a few minutes ago, and I think I've memorized the hoops I have to jump through to get to them, so it'll be interesting to compare them. It's good to know I'm getting a little traffic, at least.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

John McPhee Lens and Page Done

Not long after I started doing lenses on Squidoo, I created one for the books written by John McPhee, a master writer of nonfiction who can make any subject he writes about interesting. I discovered him back around 1979 or 1980, when I was looking in the library in Fitchburg, MA for information about nuclear power. I got interested in his book Encounters with the Archdruid. It's not about nuclear power, but about David Brower, who had been the head of the Sierra Club and then went on to start Friends of the Earth and the Earth Island Institute. The book reports on Brower's trips to a wilderness area in the Cascades with a mining geologist, to an island on the coast of South Carolina with a developer, and to the Colorado River with the very pro-dam head of the Bureau of Reclamation.

I also read McPhee's The Curve of Binding Energy, in which nuclear physicist Ted Taylor expresses worries about nuclear material getting into the wrong hands. He explains to McPhee this may not be as hard as some people think, and he also tells, without revealing any classified information, how a nuclear bomb could be made by people without access to huge and expensive equipment. I read several of his books in the 1980s, and after not reading any for a while, rediscovered him in the 1990s and now have all of his books except the John McPhee readers which have excerpts from books I already own.

When I set up the lens, I made links to Amazon for each of McPhee's books. These links split the commission between me and Squidoo 50/50. But another lensmaster made a utility which gives people who are also Amazon Associates, like me, more of a cut, although one in five links give the revenue to the guy who made the utility. 80/20 in my favor seems like a better deal. So in December I began converting things to use the better links. I'd made seven modules with five books in each and got the first one done.

Then I got the idea for the Hugo Awards lenses and also expanded it to Nebula Awards. That kept me busy for a while. But over the past few days I got back to John McPhee's lens and completed revising it, and got it published yesterday.

Last night I started building a table in Dreamweaver to be imported to Have Pun Will Travel for a John McPhee page. I got all the book text plugged into the table, and copied the ISBN numbers into the space where the Amazon book links would go. That proved very handy as I used them for the Powell's Books links. Those are simple text links, and they are all identical except for the ISBN number, which was very easy to change. Once those links were set, I highlighted the first ISBN number, went to the Associates page on Amazon, got the HTML code for the graphic link, copied it, and pasted it in over the ISBN number, then highlighted the title and made it into a text link.

Then I repeated that copy, paste, copy, paste routine another 30 times. Needless to say, it took a while. While it's a fairly mindless task, it does require some attention to make sure all the cutting and pasting is done with the right elements in the right places. One thing I had to be careful of was picking up and copying something I'd used for the previous book. It was just a little tricky because covers for McPhee's books are very similar. More than once I had to correct some mistakes.

Eventually, that part was done, and I plugged in the introduction and photo, added the Amazon and Powell's search boxes, previewed the page, and got it published.

Several weeks ago, I'd signed up for something called Site Meter which was supposed to give me information about how many people were visiting Have Pun Will Travel. I really don't think it is working properly. According to reports I get, nobody has visited the site. But I know my friend Dick Ford has been to it, because he's looked at it while we were online chatting several weeks ago. And yesterday, when I talked with my sister Marilyn, she went to the site. I even guided her around a bit so I know she really was there. Yet today, when I accessed the Site Meter site, it still reported no activity. Also, somebody followed a link to Amazon and bought something, and I'm pretty sure it was from the site because it was for a Kindle accessory, and I don't think I have anything about the Kindle on Squidoo.

I don't expect tons of people visiting the site, at least not yet because it's new. But surely there has been some traffic. I am getting views of my Squidoo lenses, and they have links to the site, and I've mentioned it in forums on Delphi and the Delphi blog. Surely somebody's been visiting, but Site Meter doesn't seem to think so.

So I went looking to see if I could find stats on the GoDaddy site. They're so busy making sure they put offers in front of you that finding anything useful can be a real search. Eventually I found something to get stats and had to set it up. But when I tried to log in, it kept rejecting the user name and password. So I tried resetting them. When I first set things up, I'd established a user name, but for some reason, Website Tonight wouldn't allow it and I've been signing in there with my account number and a password. But when I looked on the page to change stuff for getting into the stats info, the name was there, so for that I have to remember to use a name, not an account number, and a password. They just don't make anything easy, it seems. And once I finally slogged through all that, I was informed it may take up to 24 hours before I can look at anything, and this was after thinking earlier tonight I'd be able to see stuff within 30 minutes, not knowing I hadn't jumped through all the hidden hoops yet.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Nebula Awards Lenses on Squidoo Published

I got the Nebula Awards lenses updated to where I felt I could publish them. So far I've only linked to the books that won, and just listed the nominees. It's a lot simpler than with the Hugos, but I've got the option to flesh things out over time. I realized I hadn't lensrolled them earlier today, so I did that just now. I also tried to add them to StumbleUpon, but got an error, so I'll try again tomorrow. I did get them added to del.icio.us, though.

I've also updated more of the John McPhee lens by writing some more capsule reviews for more books. I've still got a dozen left, and plan to do them over the next couple of days. I could finish it tomorrow if I get inspired. Also, I found a three part interview with McPhee from WPRB radio in Princeton, NJ, where McPhee's lived all his life, so I added links for that. I had started the updating of that lens and had gotten one group of five books done. It involves not only writing the reviews but also changing the format so each book has its own text module, and the link to Amazon gives me more of any revenue generated if anyone links and buys a book. I found it more practical to give each book its own module, otherwise a short review can lead to spacing problems. Text wraps around the Amazon link, but if there's not enough text, the next link is indented. It can get messy pretty quickly.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Anna Graham Meets Lewis Carroll

I stumbled upon a site called Sternest Meanings. It's an anagram-bot. You enter text, it turns it into an anagram. I started out just typing in nonsense words. I'd just been to a site that showed a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin's test question was "Explain Newton's First Law of Motion in your own words." Calvin answered by writing down a bunch of nonsense words. Well, they were his own words, just not anybody else's.

Then I decided to enter Jabberwocky, one line at a time. After a lot of reformatting, this is what came out, with the anagram lines in red.

Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll
Joy! Wobbly, crab-like scrawler.

Twas brillig and the slithey toves
Stealthless virginity deathblow.
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe.
Blimey! Wide-ranging deathbed.
All mimsey were the borogroves
Best-ever heroes warm gloomily.
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Better smooth, mad harangue.

Beware the jabberwock, my son,
Now cheeky jabberer wombats.
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch.
Shhh! Jaw cheat battiest twattle. Catch.
Beware the jubjub bird and shun
Unjust whine, jabbered drab hub.
The frumious bandersnatch.
Subhuman, coarsened thrift.

He took his vorpal sword in hand
Lavish sharp or not hoodwinked.
Long time the manxome foe he sought.
Heigh-ho! Memo of exultant gemstone.
And rested he by the tumtum tree
Heathy, demented brute mutters.
And stood a while in thought
Stud and white-hot hooligan.

And while in uffish thought he stood
Heigh-ho! Unwashed, unfit filth. Stood.
The Jabberwock, with eyes aflame
Bath cheek-by-jowl, sweatier fame.
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood
Thoughtful, fetching whigmaleery. Wood.
And burbled as it came!
Dear! Stubbled maniac.

One, two! One two! And through and through
Now rant not tough woodenhead. Hog hurt.
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack.
Prevalent deathblow. Knickers scan.
He left it dead and with its head
In the daft, detailed death wish.
He went galumphing back.
Whacking, mean pleb thug.

And hast though slain the Jabberwock?
Hash ghoulish attendant. Jerk bow cab.
Oh, come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Yo-ho-ho! I'm best mercy mamma's boy.
O frabjous day! Calloo! Callay!
Joy! A cool rascal of laudably.
He chortled in his joy.
Enjoy or the childish.

Twas brillig and the slithey toves
Stealthless virginity deathblow.
Did gyre and gimbel in the wabe.
Blimey! Wide-ranging deathbed.
All mimsey were the borogroves
Best-ever heroes warm gloomily.
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Better smooth, mad harangue.