Technology Under Carpet

My wise friend Ann the Communicator writes, in part:

I think you should have a subsection of your site for endless technology discussions which are Not of General Interest…
While I’m the first to admit that the long drawn out saga of Island Tel vs. ISN vs. Peter has been a little overwhelming (hey, you just have to read about it; I have to live the life!), I consider it part of my Greater Duty to alert the general population to the insanity of the dehumanizing technological world we’re have build around ourselves.

That said, using Ann as a canarie, I will direct my gaze elsewhere for a spell, if only to preserve my own sanity.

Beware, though, that at any minute, some horrible techo-debacle could strike, and I would have no choice but to write about it. In case this happens, I suggest you of the techo-averse class on this ship re-route to this website for a respite from the inanity.

Just don’t come looking for me when Island Tel comes for your cats1.

1. Any suggestion that Island Telecom Inc., or its parent or associated companies have anything against cats is purely a fictional construction used for dramatic effect only. As far as we know, they love cats. And I’m sure if you asked really hard, they would install a phone for a cat. But not High Speed Internet. For that you have to be at least a dog.

Death of a Dream

My friend the Oliver the Science Journalist was talking to North America’s leading ufologist today, and I was dismayed to have Oliver report back to me that this man’s opinion was that aliens from outer space would not care about the font or other presentation details of websites. Really.

Atlantic Provinces Library Association

My talk pEi-Commerce: Handcrafting Simple, Nimble, Cheap, Distributed Internet Applications for the Atlantic Provinces Library Association Conference is scheduled for Friday, June 1 at 3:30 p.m.

I encourage you to register for the conference, and attend the many interesting sessions scheduled, especially the Banquet with guest speaker Roch Carrier, who graced the Confederation Centre with a wonderful appearance mid-winter and who is a compelling speaker.

Off to visit my sisters…

7:00 a.m. — Clock radio goes off to the sound of Karen Mair reading the news on CBC. Wake up. Shower and shave. Realize I have enough time to wake Oliver up, feed him, and take him with me.

7:20 a.m. — Call CGH to ensure that we’re on track. We are.

7:21 a.m. — Oliver awake. Change. Downstairs to kitchen. Boil water, mix cereal, dig mushed carrots out of fridge. Oliver eats. Likes cereal (with apples added), but spits out (cold) carrots. No time to warm carrots. Make do with cereal.

7:35 a.m. — Out the door. Realize it’s cold and going to rain. Back inside to put Oliver in a coat.

7:40 a.m. — Arrive CGH’s house. She’s not there. Meet next door neighbour Jill and we talk about the care of cats. Wait in car with Oliver. Sing songs and play pantomime games with Indigo the black puppet dog.

7:50 a.m. — CGH arrives home from early morning trip. Into house. See great pile of luggage. Talk to dog. CGH makes tea and toast. Crazy frenetic air in the house. Dog knows something is up, but doesn’t realize that quality time should be spent with cats before they part.

8:02 a.m. — CGH, now a net addict, must check email and website before we leave for airport. Shows me piece she wrote last night.

8:15 a.m. — Load Oliver into car. Load luggage into car. Load CGH into car with dog.

8:17 a.m. — Off to Queen Street Meat Market to pick up lobster. CGH insists we take Prince St. We take Prince St. Overshoot and double back via Allen St.

8:25 a.m. — Arrive meat market. CGH goes inside and Oliver and I wait in the car. Notice there’s a sticker in the window saying Shoplifting is a Crime. Wonder if casual meat theft is a big problem. Also notice more TIAPEI membership stickers on the window than ever seen before; wonder if longstanding TIAPEI membership has paid off for the meat market.

8:28 a.m. — CGH emerges from meat market with giant, ancient black suitcase, wrapped in packing tape, filled with lobster. Find that suitcase was CGH’s mothers, previously used to ferry lobsters west, presumably in 1940s. Find that suitcase is to be sacrificed ritually upon arrival in Ottawa.

8:29 a.m. — Set off for Ash Drive to drop dog with Joan and Leith. Instructions from CGH to proceed up Allen St. to Mt. Edward Road. Proceed up Allen St. to Mt. Edward Road. Arrive Ash Drive.

8:35 a.m. — Dog transferred, along with copious instructions on care, feeding, etc. Joan looks nervous; awesome weight on shoulders. Leith looks relaxes. Note that Joan and Leith were out mowing lawn and trimming brush at 8:35 a.m.; realize am seldom up this early and this is what people must do at this hour.

8:42 a.m. — Arrive airport (no instructions on best route; turns out CGH’s knowledge of suburban hinterlands is not vast). Park in departure area. Get cart. CGH runs in to start checkin process. Load cart with bags and giant black lobster suitcase. Get Oliver. Try to push cart while carrying Oliver. Difficulty. Giant lobster suitcasse falls off. Retrieved and rearranged. Thankful for automatic doors at airport. Oliver looks puzzled and wonders if we are flying somwhere.

8:47 a.m. — Find CGH in line. Maneouver cart into placed. Say quick goodbye. While walking back to car hear friendly woman, also in line, ask CGH where she’s going. “I’m off to visit my sisters…” she says. Not complete story, but true nonetheless.

ISN and Underwear

Kevin O’Brien makes some very good points in a recent note. What he points out is the classic problem of the small entrepreneurial business, which is that it’s very hard to hire people who will (a) take your business as seriously as you do and (b) will react as you react, and operate as you operate, with the same intelligence and good judgement.

In a sense, the problem that Kevin faces is similar to the problems Fruit of the Loom and others face when outsourcing manufacturing to maquiladora plants in Mexico: how do you convince a collection of poorly paid generic workers with no connection to you or your products to pay attention to quality and service? To quote from a case brought against Fruit of the Loom by its stockholders:

In its attempt to reduce inventories, Fruit had completely halted production at several of its maquiladora factories and fired workers rather than furlough them. As a result, when Fruit attempted to increase production … Fruit found it was not possible to rehire the trained and skilled workers it had fired. As a result, Fruit was forced to hire unskilled and poorly trained workers who were unable to efficiently and effectively produce goods and thus produced huge amounts of imperfect and irregular goods which resulted in grossly overvalued inventories for Fruit and Fruit not being able to produce the high-quality product needed to meet customer demand and increase revenues, while causing Fruit’s expenses to soar.
What Kevin says about ISN really boils down to this: of the several companies in what we might call the “West Royalty maquiladora zone”, Advantage produces underwear with the fewest defects.

The answer to the problem is obviously not Kevin answering the phone himself 24/7, for this would lead to the end of Kevin, which is not the desired result here. Perhaps the only solution is to take customer service back in-house, and to conceptually place the people who answer the telephone at the top of the corporate hierarchy, rather than at the bottom. Set them up with profit sharing. Give them business cards. Make sure they have plenty of Knudsen Juices in the fridge. Bring them meals. Give them free high-speed Internet access at home.

This will cost more. You will have to raise prices to pay for this. But, in the end, you will have a better product than anyone else, and the market will recognize this.

The good thing about all of this? You know the underwear needs work. Your competition insists, even in the face of underwear full of holes, with the the waistband falling off, that their underwear is just fine.

The new, entirely useless Island Tel calling card

Island Tel Calling Card Pictured here is the Reinvented Inc. corporate calling card from Island Tel. You might be thinking “Hey, why is he putting his calling card on the Internet — won’t somebody steal it and make calls to Belgrade with it?” But you would be wrong to ask this question.

You would be wrong because this is the “new, improved” version of the calling card from Island Tel. This, you see, is the new entirely useless model of the card.

Here is a rough recollection of an actual exchange between me and an Island Tel operator earlier this year:

Operator: Operator, can I help you?
Me: Hello. I’m here in the Charlottetown Mall and I want to call home using my calling card. I just got a new calling card, and I just took it out of my wallet to find that my PIN number isn’t printed on it anymore.
Operator: That’s right, the PIN number isn’t printed on the calling card any longer, as a security measure
Me: Can you tell me what my PIN number is?
Operator: No, I’m sorry. You would have to come into the office for that.
Me: Well, if the PIN number isn’t printed on the calling card, then why do I need a calling card, if all it’s got on it is my telephone number, which I already know?
Operator: That’s a good point.
Which, of course, is why this new calling card is entirely useless.

You might be thinking “why don’t you just stick the calling card in one of those snazzy new card phones, where you don’t need a PIN?” And again, alas, you would be wrong to ask this, because absolutely the only thing that doing this achieves is to have the phone type in your phone number for you, which you might think is a labor-saving help, until you realize that it takes longer for the phone to type in your number that it does to type it in yourself.

I have only to assume that the corporate thinking that led to this decision probably went something like this:

  • People are getting their wallets stolen by nefarious people.
  • These nefarious people are using the calling cards they steal to make lots of calls to Belgrade, because the PIN number is printed right there on the card. This is wrong.
  • It is our job to stamp our wrong.
  • Let’s take our PIN number off the card.
And so it is. The problem with the result is that it renders the calling card entirely useless. It is dead weight in the wallet.

The calling card portion of the Island Tel website tells me that I should have a calling card so that I can …enjoy the convenience. But there is no convenience — there is only inconvenience!

Now, you might be saying, “what about all those calls to Belgrade?” I have a simple solution to this problem: take my telephone number off the card, and put my PIN number back on, all alone.

The result? The nefarious criminals can’t make phone calls because they need my telephone number to do so. I already know my telephone number, so I can make phone calls, with the card serving as a handy reminder of my PIN number.

But what about the smart and nefarious criminals, who look up my phone number in the telephone book? Good point. But I imagine that the sum total of fraud committed by smart and nefarious criminals using calling cards stolen from Prince Edward Islanders could in no way approach the sum total of the frustration experinced by Islanders who pull entirely useless calling cards out of their wallets.

Notes: The use of Belgrade in the examples above is for illustration purposes only, and is not meant to imply that the rate of nefarious calling to Belgrade is any more than to any other place on earth. Advantage Calling Card is a trademark of Stentor Resource Centre Inc., but calling card is not. The inclusion of an image of my own calling card on this page should not be taken as an endorsement of my opinions — about calling cards, Belgrade, or anything else — by Stentor Resource Centre Inc. If you have questions about using your own calling card you can phone 1-800-561-8888.

Calling Kevin

What’s obvious from notes from Christopher Ogg and Dan James is that I could have probably skipped the queue, phoned Kevin at home, and got at my email last night, therein avoid the customer service assault.

Perhaps next time Island Tel loses its DNS, or has routing problems, I will call Stephen Wetmore and test Christopher’s hypothesis (which I have a feeling is completely correct).

It seems that Kevin’s intrinsic understanding of how customer service works broke down last night largely because of outsourcing issues. This goes to a point that I raise time and time again, which is don’t outsource your customer service. Customer service is what an ISP is about. Technical issues don’t matter. Bandwidth doesn’t matter. Customer service is an ISP’s product, not bandwidth.