Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Time Capsule

I've been doing things online for a long time (since 1981, the very early days of modems) and I have a lot of old stuff squirreled away on various media. Anybody need some 8-inch floppy disks? Anyway, here's an article I submitted to back in 1999, about ways to improve the Tech Support experience.

(article as sent to Jeff Davis 9/21/99)

I've learned a few things in my (many) years of phone support. For instance, you should never overlook the subconscious mind of the client. Some word or phrase will trigger resentment in an already unhappy listener.

People hate to be "transferred". They equate it with being shuffled, passed off, or punted. When they hear, "I'll transfer you..." that phrase raises their antagonism. But they love to be "connected". Powerful people are connected, and your clients are feeling a need to regain some of the power they lost by having to call for support in the first place. "One moment please, and I'll connect you" works wonders. Same act, different word, big difference. Oh, and they don't like to hear "hold" either, so say "One moment please".

Now that they're connected, be sure to thank them for holding as you make a warm transfer. Never just dump a client into someone's line and run; instead, always thank the client for holding (it's OK to mention holding after the fact), and then introduce the client to the new party. After that little courteous act, you can back out gracefully, knowing you may have erased half the problem simply by connecting the client painlessly to the correct agent.

Never tell a client they "have to" do something. No matter how true it is or how right you are, and they know it, some subconscious part of the client rebels against being commanded to perform. "How dare you tell ME I "have to"?!? Tell them they'll "want to" or even "need to". You could begin with "Would you please....?' or "Are you able to.....?". Sometimes, "Our next step will be to..." makes the caller a partner rather than a subordinate being given an order.

Don't say "I want you to...(click, do, whatever)". Say "Please..." instead. They don't care what you want, and they're not in the best mood even if they did. Use "Please", "Thank you", and "I'm sorry" whenever you get a chance.

If you can remember you are talking to a person with a real problem who has called you, the expert, for help, some of the magic words might be easier to use. The phrase "How can I help you?" as a conversation opener may be trite today, but it does serve to put the situation in the proper perspective: I am here to help you. Your attitude about your role will communicate subtle signals from your subconscious to your client's. Some experts recommend keeping a mirror next to the monitor, claiming it has a strong effect on how you present yourself on the phone.

Use these tips and you'll find the conversation and the instructions go more smoothly. Your client will think so too, and probably won't even be able to figure out just why.

(George Price is a support professional with nearly 20 years experience in the computer field, working with clients such as DEC, IBM, and currently GE Capital. He has A+, Network+ and MCP certifications, is nearly through with his MCSE, and will soon be a Microsoft Certified Trainer.)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Sir Arthur C. Clarke leaves Earth

One of the greatest science fiction (and fact) authors of all time, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, passed away today at age 90. You've probably seen "2001", widely considered the greatest movie of all time; he wrote that. You've surely used geosynchronous satellites for everything from phone calls to TV (cable or satellite) to weather; he popularized that concept too, and the tiny strip of ultra-prime orbital real estate where those satellites park is still named "the Clarke Belt". He was one of the "Big Three" authors (along with Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov) that hooked me on science fiction from the fourth grade on. He was one of the main proofs of the adage that science informs science fiction, which in return inspires new science. He was truly one of those authors who helped invent our actual future. I hope that his ideas will continue to inspire mankind to reach beyond this little planet, so that the human race may survive when the next inevitable disaster comes.

Clarke insisted that his funeral have no religious content whatsoever.

UPDATE: An enormous astronomical event, so bright that it was visible to the naked eye even though it was halfway across the universe (7.5 billion light-years) was detected just a few hours before his death. The brightest thing ever seen by humans. Some are proposing that this event be permanently named "The Clarke Event". Super-novas are big, but this is estimated at 2.5 million times more luminous than the most luminous supernova ever recorded. We're talking BIG explosion here, folks - if this gamma ray burst had happened in the farthest side of our own galaxy, we'd all be dead. Much of the galaxy itself would be missing. If we were a mere 2700 light-years away, the visible light would be brighter than the sun, but all that visible light is only a teensy side-effect from the real energy, the gamma rays, which would destroy all human life in seconds even from that distance. You like big numbers? ~9*10^45 W of peak apparent power output (that's a 9 followed by 45 zeros! You only need 19 zeros to describe the age of the universe in seconds, and each additional zero is ten times bigger!) So, that's a wall of 9 hundred-watt Marshall amps, times.... uhhh... a whole lot. There are no words for numbers that big. Humans can do the math, but cannot comprehend. So, the Clarke Event? I'm all for it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Why We're Off Beef

Barbara & I haven't been eating much beef lately. We're not granola-head hippie vegans, it's just that we've found several good reasons to quit, and an unexpected benefit. First, our reasons:
  1. Barbara's sister Betty was killed last summer by Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a relative of Mad Cow disease. CJD is hard to trace to cows, but then again until relatively recently it was hard to conclusively link global warming to human stupidity, or cancer to cigarettes. And oh by the way, even though Mad Cow deaths are "practically unheard of" and "never happen in USA" according to the news, Barbara and I personally know two people who have died of MCD. What are the odds? We're aware that the beef industry is not to be trusted (click here to see lots of reports, including secret videos, of slaughterhouse workers illegally hauling cattle that were too sick to even stand up in to be prepared as our food) so we're definitely avoiding ground beef, and avoiding other beef when possible.
  2. Bovine flatulence (cow gas) turns out to be a really huge source of global warming; even more than cars, according to some calculations. Methane is chemically 23 times more dangerous as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Catch up on the research here.
  3. Barbara is somewhat lactose-intolerant. We've recently tried soy milk, and find that for most uses we don't detect a difference. Generic house-brand soy milk is even a few cents cheaper than the equivalent milk. Besides, it turns out that adults (and we are definitely past 21) really don't get any good out of real milk, the best thing about it is the calcium which we get in a much more chemically digestable form from cheap calcium pills and Tums. Sorry, Bessie.
  4. Nutritionists seem to routinely come on TV and strongly recommend that we eat far less meat (especially "processed meats", which I'm guessing means Spam) and more vegetables.
I know, by not supporting the American farmer, we're just helping good farm land get irreversably scraped & raped into subdivisions, and we do have mixed emotions about that. We've also started thinking about how much of the American economy is tied up in beef & dairy infrastructure; the farmers, truckers, slaughterhouse workers, inspectors, repackagers and resellers are only part of the picture. Consider also the farm implement makers, geneticists, vets, cattle feed (they don't eat much grass anymore, you know), grain silos, auctioneers, specialized tools and milking machines, cattle drugs (antibiotics, steroids, etc) and a jillion other strange things, right down to electric fenceposts, cattle guns, fly nets, and strong magnets designed to be swallowed & pooped while sweeping up stray metals along the way. Then there's all the secondary industries such as leather, cheese, bone meal and glue. There are a whole lot of people out there who want to keep us all using lots of cows. We think that's why the real dangers of too much beef are being covered up.

Look, I'm from timber and cattle country. I've milked cows, I've fed cattle, I've been to my share of fairs and 4-H events. I even know several uses for Bag Balm. Some beef & dairy are doubtless a good thing, but the vast corporate factory farming systems are way beyond reason, and as the videos show, beyond control.

Oh yeah, the benefit: since we've quit beef, we've found that body odor pretty much disappears. Interesting!

Monday, March 03, 2008

Finally, a reason to like Fox News

One has to chuckle a bit at blatant hypocrisy, especially when it comes to pandering. Fox knows what the "conservative" audience wants: good ol' T&A to break a sweat over, while putting on the appearance (partially to themselves) that it's all in the name of showing it so they can condemn it. Fair? To whom? Balanced?!? Does that mean, "both cups are D"?

Hey, if Fox is good for showing this stuff, then I guess Larry Flynt is a saint. And a lot more interesting. And, I have to say, a LOT less hypocritical than the slimebags like Newt Gingrich and Larry Craig, who got famous for doing the exact things they publicly condemned. But I wish Fox would grow a pair (show a pair?) and admit that they do what they do for the exact same reason as Flynt, which is "supply and demand". Would it hurt so bad to say "Fox News: because we know what cranky, repressed whites over 50 like"?

Actually, the perfect combination would be to have Flynt report on Fox News, rather than the other way around. Considering the reduction (not total lack) of pretense and pretention, that'd actually be a huge improvement in journalistic integrity. Here's a funny little sample, an ad for O'Reilly's "No-Pants Zone". And since Flynt is "fair and balanced", here's his take on ABC News too.

Anyway, go have some fun. You know you want to, baby.
Larry Flynt's "Free Speech" site
(be sure to check out the "Ad Parodies")
Republican Sexcapades, episode #1
(more here)

PS. I had never been to Flynt's site before, so don't start on me. Never had a reason to until just now. But I must say, he's a guy who has done more to defend our American freedoms, in his tasteless way, than most of Washington. Be fair and balanced - I report, you deride. Hey, I just realized I'm just as "fair and balanced" as Fox News, for the exact same reason: because I said so.

*UPDATE!* Now you can add NY guv'nor Eliot Spitzer to the list of prominent scum like Gingrich and Craig. Yup, when he's not busy "cleaning up the streets", it seems he likes to get something else professionally cleaned. The unusual thing here is that this guy was not the usual repressed, coiled-spring, double-life Republican, but a Democrat with a history of busting white-collar criminals and polluters, and a fairly progressive track record. I wonder what he'll be doing for the rest of his life? Oh, wait, Fox News can use him as the carefully chosen (meaning disgraced, idiotic, or both) Democrat to "balance" their real viewpoint from their new favorite boy, Karl Rove.