Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Customer service

I’ve had a very strange experience dealing with Citizens Bank. Someone else wrote a check for $1600 on their account, and Citizens Bank decided to take that money out of my account instead of the correct account. The check image on the statement shows a different account number on that check, so this is a rather obvious bank error.

I’ve spoken to three people at Citizens Bank about this. All three say that this is clearly an error, that Citizens Bank will fix this in a couple of days now that I’ve pointed it out to them, and that Citizens Bank will reverse the low-balance monthly fees that this caused on my account. One person who claimed he was calling from the Chairman’s Office to apologize implied that I must know the person who the check was written to, either failing to comprehend the error or accusing me of attempting to defraud the bank in a truly bizarre manner. Another person first tried to claim that the low-balance monthly fee was still my responsibility, not caused by the Citizens Bank error. And all three said that they could not possibly put the $1600 bank in my account immediately. None seemed at all surprised by the error, or particularly concerned about it.

If I were working for Citizens Bank, I hope I would take a different approach. First, apologize profusely, and say that this error is extremely rare and unacceptable. Second, correct the error immediately. Third, assure the customer that the bank will take care of any fees caused by this error. Fourth, assure the customer that the bank will confirm all of this in writing on the next business day, and ask the customer whether they would prefer to receive that confirmation by mail, fax, or email. That seems like the bare minimum. Going beyond that, I’d like to see the bank offer to waive the fee to mail printed statements on this account, since any sense of trust the customer might have towards Citizens Bank has clearly been misplaced violated. Having a reverse fee schedule for this sort of bank error would improve the sense that the bank is operating in good faith—if they want to charge me $9.99 for not having as much money as they would like in my account for a month, they could pay me $9.99 for having wrongly taken money out of my account. Assign a specific person to take full and direct responsibility for seeing that the error is corrected, and give the customer that person’s contact information. And finally, ask the customer whether there is anything else the bank can do to keep the customer’s business.

And Citizens Bank, if you really want to convey a sense of competence and restore trust, stop calling your customers and asking for their account numbers, social security numbers, or birth dates. That just shows that you neither understand nor care about helping your customers keep their personal information any more secure than you keep their money.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Baby products we have loved

Lotus Travel Crib
Lightweight, yet no weight limit. Mesh sides all the way down for maximum airflow.

Fisher Price Rainforest Jumperoo
Stable, durable.

Tiny Love Gymini Bouncer
Unlike other bouncy seats, the toy bars move to the sides to make it easy to put the child in and take him out.

Kolcraft Wonderbug
Seat spins. A safe place to stash a baby while doing other things.

UppaBaby Cruz
Enormous storage basket. Seat can face forward or back.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Daydream: The Friday Night Service Social Club

Gather a committed core of 6-10 people who regularly do every component in order to get this off the ground. The core means never having too few people to make the evening a bust.

On first Fridays, the host house opens at 5:30 for a quick Friday night service starting at 6:00. (Random idea: instead of a d’var, take a few minutes before the Amidah to let everyone say something they accomplished or hope to let go from the previous week or something they are looking forward to in the following week.) Dinner to follow starting at 7:00, winding down at 9:00. People beyond the core are welcome to join for services and/or dinner as they wish.

On third Fridays, choose a service at a different shul every month (perhaps alternate reform and conservative), followed by dinner back at the host house. For 7:00 pm or later services, gather at the host house for appetizers and then carpool together. For earlier services, meet at the service. People beyond the core are welcome to join for services and/or dinner as they wish.

We get to have our own service once a month. (Anyone who wants to lead is welcome to, and I’m happy to lead as a default.) We can print off some extra Friday night service books from a local Hillel that recently put one together with full transliterations. We get to see what services are like at different shuls without ever being the only newcomer at a service and without having to make our own individual decisions about going somewhere. We get to have a group Shabbat dinner together twice a month. That would work for me.

Trying to choose a shul

Shul A
Hebrew School meets twice a week starting fairly young. More kids?
Tot Shabbat is attended by up to 15-20 tots, though I’m not fond of the person running Tot Shabbat.
Friday night service (18 people) led by the rabbi and cantor didn’t have the feel I’m looking for, and I didn’t like the rabbi’s sermon.
Saturday morning service (12-15 people) led by the cantor was passable, but inaccessible (as expected). Sermon by the cantor was good.
Shul is growing, with lots of young kids. More kid programming.
Good lay leadership.
A little closer to home, membership is significantly less expensive.

Shul B
Hebrew School meets once a week. Fewer kids?
Tot Shabbat is attended by very few tots, though I like the person running Tot Shabbat.
Friday night services (8-15 people) do have the feel I’m looking for, and good sermons.
Haven’t tried Saturday morning service yet. Once a month they have an abbreviated and perhaps more accessible Saturday morning service.
No idea if shul is growing.
Some very friendly and nice people at services.
Adult education seems more likely to be appealing here.
Nice families at the playgroup that meets here, but none seem involved in the shul in any other ways.

To be determined: Saturday morning services at Shul B? Membership count at both shuls? High holiday services? Hebrew School size?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Seeds of innovation

Monsanto patented Roundup-ready soybeans, which are now almost all of the soybeans grown in this country. Any farmer who plants Roundup-ready soybeans has to buy the beans they plant from Monsanto, and it comes with a license that says the farmer is not allowed to replant the next generation of beans.

Along comes a farmer who decides to buy his beans from a grain elevator as if he were using them for feed, with no license and no assurance that the beans are Roundup-ready (but a reasonable guess that most of them are). He plants those beans, harvests them, and keeps some to replant the next year. [Along the way, he uses an herbicide which kills weeds as well as the non-Roundup-ready plants, so the next generation is entirely Roundup-ready, but that’s not really relevant to the decision.]

A unanimous Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto:

“That is because, once again, if simple copying were a protected use, a patent would plummet in value after the first sale of the first item containing the invention. The undiluted patent monopoly, it might be said, would extend not for 20 years (as the Patent Act promises), but for only one transaction. And that would result in less incentive for innovation than Congress wanted.”

I’m heartened that the Supreme Court will soon tamp down the newly efficient used book market, or allow us to insist on royalties to be paid to publishers and authors on used book sales. After all, Congress has promised authors and publishers that copyrights will last for many more decades than patents. We are entitled to our perpetual profits cut of all book purchases. But the newly efficient used book market means that publishers only make money in the first year or two that a book is on the market. This is why we don’t keep old books in print, and why we put out new versions of textbooks as fast as we can, and why book prices are driven up and up. [College bookstores make far more money on textbook sales than publishers do, because college bookstores make money on sales of used books over and over.] This is clearly not what Congress intended, or there would be no reason for copyrights to last for decades. Congress wanted me to have a much greater incentive to write and publish. On that logic, the first sale doctrine clearly should no longer give consumers a right to sell used books.

On its surface, the Supreme Court is focused on self-replicating items like seeds as a unique problem. But a consistent Supreme Court cannot write the quoted passage and then insist that it could not be applied to copyrights.

And by the way, what happens when you receive a patented gene therapy to save your life, and then fail to pay the monthly (or weekly, or daily) survival fee to Pfizer or Merck for your body’s continued replication of new cells containing the patented genes? If you think that’s absurd, you haven’t been farming lately.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Adobe trap

My objection to Adobe going subscription-only isn’t the price. It’s the fact that my files have future value to me.

I learned something from my old PageMaker files back in the day. I learned that the only thing that will open old PageMaker files is an old copy of PageMaker. So if I want to keep accessing old PageMaker files, I’d better keep an old copy of PageMaker around. And since I publish academic books, not ephemera, I do sometimes need to access those old PageMaker files.

These days I use InDesign CS5. At some point my lovely new InDesign CS5 files will be old InDesign CS5 files. And when that time comes, I’ll still have InDesign CS5 around to open them with, even though I’m sure I’ll have moved on to something new for creating new files.

Adobe has taken that assurance of future accessibility away with subscription-only software. If I use InDesign CC to create a file and I ever want to open it in the future, I’ll have to pay whatever amount Adobe decides to charge at that point in order to run InDesign CC to open it, because I won’t have any way to keep InDesign CC working on my computer on my own. And if Adobe decides to stop licensing InDesign CC at any price? I won’t have any way to open the file at all.

I do core workflow processes using several different versions of Acrobat because Adobe has added, removed, and changed important features with different versions of Acrobat. If I always had to use the latest version of Acrobat, some steps in my workflow would be much harder and some steps would be impossible. Subscription-only software is a disaster for anyone trying to set up a consistent complex workflow, because that workflow is vulnerable to whatever changes Adobe decides to push out in their software. Why invest resources in creating a workflow that could literally become wasted effort at any moment?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The marzipan experiments, part 1

Odense marzipan: slightly starchy and a little sticky, not very sweet.

Mixed with dried grated orange peel: nice orange flavor, but the gritty/chewy texture of the peel threw everything off.

Mixed with orange extract: stronger orange flavor, great orange nose, integrated well, but a little bitter. (Might be better if the alcohol evaporated longer.)

Mixed with ground cardamom: flavors didn’t really mix, so I’d only recommend if you particularly want to taste cardamom by itself.

Mixed with orange extract and ground cardamom: both flavors brought out the bitter in each other, and the result was terrible. Never try this again.

Mixed with orange extract and granulated vanilla sugar: the vanilla sugar barely cut the bitterness of the orange extract, and added a graininess that didn’t help the mouth feel.

Mixed with maple syrup: a nice sweetness balance, very nice flavor mix with good integration, great maple nose, and distinctly different from marzipan by itself. Hard to mix together. You have to like both marzipan and maple syrup individually, of course. It might be worth comparing this to simple maple cream.