Beware of sales force

Last night Amanda and I were solicited by a young man representing a company selling Study Guides for children of all ages.  He was personable, charismatic, and knew his product inside and out.  I have checked the company out on the web and they seem legitimate.  However, two things about this interaction concerned me:

1) He came to the door and asked if it was the Turner Residence.  Now, that’s particularly odd because Brady, my step-son, is named Turner, but the residence is in MY name.  I’m not freakish about privacy, but I wonder where someone like THIS is getting demographic information about local students!

2) He had a list (hand-written) of people whom he had already visited.  I recognized a few names on the list.  I specifically asked him if the people on that list had purchased or committed to purchase the product he was selling.  He assured me that they had.  I checked with one of those people today and he informed me that he had NOT purchased the product.

In short, be wary of this outfit!  I’m a trusting soul, and the hairs on the back of my neck went up partway through this guy’s presentation.

Here’s the url for the company:


[The following has been sent to the folks whom maintain the web site.  It may or may not appear there!]

I recently had to send a notebook computer back to Hewlett Packard for warranty service.  They serviced it and sent it back to me via FedEx Ground–signature required.  I was out of town at a conference during the time FedEx was attempting to deliver this package.  Not expecting a signature to be REQUIRED, I had someone checking my house every day for the package.  All I had when I got home was a collection of door tags.

I called FedEx and spoke with a very nice lady who listened to me, spoke English as her first language (always a plus), and told me that she would put a request in the system which would ask the "local" depot to attempt one more delivery.  I thanked her and went on about my business.  I shortly got a call from the "local" depot informing me that they would NOT attempt another delivery because they have an obligation to the shipper (HP, in this case) to keep the package no more than 5 days.  If I did not go to the depot to pick up the package myself, they would return it to the shipper.

The "local" FedEx depot is over 60 miles away.  It would take me 90 minutes to get there.  I can’t, nor should I have to, take almost 4 hours out of my work day to go get this package!

Recognizing that in this transaction I have no relationship with FedEx (they are working for HP) and respecting that they are simply fulfilling an obligation to their customer, I decided to call that customer (HP).  I called HP and gave them my case number.  I suffered through usual Tier 1 Hell and eventually got transferred to someone with whom I could have a rational conversation.  I explained what FedEx had told me and that I wanted HP, as the company who hired FedEx to deliver this package, to call FedEx and absolve them of their responsibility to return this package after 5 days and to give them permission to attempt sending it one more time.  I was put on hold for some time, after which I was told that there was nothing HP could do.  "But they’re returning it because they think you want it back!" I tried to explain.  "Tell them you want them to attempt re-delivery!"  I was told there was nothing they could do.  I ashamedly admit I was so pissed and frustrated that I hung up on the person who had been reasonably polite while dealing with me through this.

I took one last stab and called FedEx again.  I gave my door tag to the EXTREMELY nice and polite gentlemen who took my call.  I then told him the whole story.  I explained how HP, the company that had hired them and to whom they (FedEx) alleged they were beholden regarding the 5-day rule attempted to tell FedEx to attempt re-delivery of the package already in their possession.  He informed me that the decision to do so is made at the individual depot level and that there was no FedEx procedure that allowed anyone to countermand that decision.  "You’re going to deliver that package one way or another," I exclaimed.  "That package is going to go back to HP, they’re going to slap another sticker on it, it’s going to come back to that same depot and that driver is just going to shake his head and LAUGH."  Then *I* laughed and said, "You’re FED-EX!  I thought you were in the EFFICIENCY business!!"  The nice gentleman understood my point.  He even seemed to genuinely agree with me.

But he still couldn’t help me.

I am incredulous.  If there’s "blame" to be placed in this idiotic scenario, I’ll take my fair share.  I suppose I could have assumed that a signature would be required.  (That they’re required for ANYTHING in this day and age is likewise idiotic, but that’s another rant/discussion.) I could have better timed my arrangement of this repair such that the computer would be returned when I wasn’t out of town.  Fair enough.

I’m all for rules and policies and procedures.  But to follow them blindly without exception is hardly "efficient".  FedEx must be doing something right.  They routinely get stuff from Hong Kong and other exotic eBay and other online origins to my VERY rural address in astonishingly SHORT amounts of time.  That they would EMBRACE glaring, seven-foot, snaggle-toothed and drooling (and obviously very ravenous) INEFFICIENCY as it stands right in front of them instead of taking an obvious and safe escape route when one is presented to them is mind-boggling at best, patently ludicrous at worst. 

So, FedEx (if you’re reading): Have fun!  In addition to the fuel you’ll expend bring that box to my house (which you WILL be doing anyhow), you now have to pay to ship it back to HP.  And I hope you have to refund their account for failure to perform the service for which you were contracted (namely the delivery of my package).  And then you’ll have to ship it right back to the same depot which will have to deliver it to my house.  Unless I request that HP send it UPS instead…

Oh, and HP?  Are you here too?  SHAME on you for closing my CaseID!  When I asked if I could proactively put in a request to have the computer re-shipped to me when FedEx returns it, I was informed that that’s not possible because my CaseID has been closed.  "How can my case be CLOSED?" I asked.  "I haven’t gotten my computer back yet!!"  "We close the case when the product ships back," I was informed.  "That seems remarkably short-sighted of you…" I said.  (I think it was shortly after that that I hung up on the person assisting me.)

I finished my conversation with the FedEx rep by telling him that this experience will affect my decision making the next time I need to ship something.  "If you’re taking notes," I said, "put that in there, would you?" 

"Yes sir!  I certainly will!"

Romeyn Prescott
Potsdam, NY

REVIEW: Labman 11 Conference

Many people I know don’t see the value of professional conferences.  Some can’t stand the thought of being around so many people all day long.  Some don’t think they have anything to learn.  While it’s true that the Internet has dramatically shrunk our planet and that "getting together" can happen in all kinds of ways that don’t involve actually "being there"; there is no substitute for face-to-face discussion, presentation, celebration, and commiseration with one’s peers.  I derive a great deal of value from conferences and am better at my job for having attended them.

This week I attended the 11th Labman Conference, held this year at Northampton Community College in Bethlehem, PA.  This was my third time attending this conference.  There were sessions and presentations on many topics.  I did not choose to attend them all, but will offer my reviews and opinions of what I did experience.

Day 1

The opening keynote was given by Professor Keith Hartranft of Northampton Community College. He bounced around a bit, but was engaging and interesting.  His overall message was that as I.T. Support at our campuses, we should keep the needs of the teaching Faculty in mind when designing our systems.  I tend to agree to a point.  We all–Faculty and non-teaching professionals alike–tend to forget that the real reason we are ALL here is to serve the STUDENTS.  It is with THEIR needs we be primarily concerned.  Everything else is secondary.

The first session I attended was by Joseph Williams of Temple University titled "Are Computer Labs Still Necessary?" I was looking forward to someone stating that what with almost every student having their own computer that we now didn’t need to have so many computer labs on our campuses. I was disappointed.  In studies of their own campus, Temple has determined that with student computer ownership approaching 100% demand for campus computing resources is higher than ever.  Reasons? Students can’t be bothered to carry their computers around with them; when they do, they won’t necessarily have/own the software necessary to do their coursework; and even if they do, they would rather work on the comparatively large screens provided in the campus facilities.

I next attended the first of a two-part vendor presentation given by John DeTroye of Apple Computer.  The presentation was on Systems and Client Management and Best Practices using Apple’s OS X Server. It was a pleasure to hear John present.  He is obviously a decision-making, high-level engineer at Apple who knows EXACTLY what he is talking about. I knew much of what he was presenting, but picked up a few ideas to research. John seemed fond of letting us know that he knew lots of cool stuff he wasn’t allowed to tell us, prompting me to ask, "so that’s NOT an iPhone *5* you have on your hip?" This got a few laughs from the room, but Jon deftly countered with, "No, this is just something I picked up in a bar in Cupertino." 🙂

Wright State University presented a spin on the Dual Boot Mac scenario by detailing how they took their tech-bloated instructional podia to lean, clean, and usable by using dual-boot Mac Minis and some of the hurdles they had to overcome to make the tech work in their environment as well as keep their user base happy with the arrangement.  While something I’ve already done myself, the session was very well-received by the attendees.

Lunch was provided in the student center dining court on both days of the conference.  They had a lot of variety and we all had $10 vouchers, which was more than enough.

The highlight of the conference was Tuesday evening’s social function: a AAA Baseball game at Allentown’s Coca-Cola Park between the home team Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs and the visiting Toledo Mudhens.  Sponsored, I am told, by Computer Lab Solutions (makers of LabStats), we had a section of the park’s picnic pavilion available to us with GREAT seating down the third base line and all-you-can-eat ballpark food.  Josh Norman of Computer Lab Solutions even threw out one of the opening pitches.  It was a screaming fastball dead-center in the strike zone and after catching it, I saw the catcher remove his glove and flex his left hand as he winced in pain.  I know from sitting with him for most of the game that Josh has a family in Idaho, so it was probably bad news he gave to the managers and scouts who were doubtless trying to recruit him after witnessing that throw!  But at least the kids at the game will live happy lives now that they all have Josh’s autograph.

To those of you conference attendees who chose NOT to attend the game, I first must thank at least ONE of you.  Your decision freed up a ticket for my wife, who came with me on this trip, and allowed her to come to the game with me!  The rest of you will never know what you missed.  A picture-perfect evening in an impeccably-groomed, well-maintained ball park with great company and good food.  Oh, and look over there…a baseball game?  Even if baseball’s not your thing, this was a great social and networking venue.

Day 2

Day 2 was more sessions.  I attended the following:

Managing Windows 7.  This was presented by Purdue and was a listing and explanation of the Group Policies used during their Windows 7 rollout.  I look forward to the posting of this powerpoint more than any other.

The Casper Suite JAMF Software.  Presented by Lauren Nicholas of Moravia College, this suite is a combination Mac deployment and management suite.  Initial impressions are that it doesn’t do much more than Apple’s own Remote Desktop, Workgroup Manager, and Automator can do, but there must be something to it because a lot of people are using it.  I will be investigating it at some point.

The last session I attended was put on by Northhampton Community College.  Some students had taken some old x86 computers and kit-bashed them into a SOLID and powerful (and power SUCKING!) computing cluster!  This was absolutely incredible and something I’ve dreamed of doing for many years.  It was great to see someone actually do it.

The "goodbye"/closing session was fun and mercifully quick.  The organizers had more prizes than attendees!  Everyone left with something.

I close with some comments on the Vendors.  Computer Lab Solutions and Faronics were their usual, personable selves; well-represented and friendly.  I was also very glad to make John DeTroye’s (Apple) acquaintance.  He’s someone I hope to meet again.  But Apple really "phoned in" their presence at this conference.  If they didn’t have logos on their shirts and if their name tags didn’t say "Apple" on them, we might never have known who they were!  No banner, no sign, no iPads/iPods for people to play with.  They just sort of…sat there!  Given their status in the industry, I expect them to SET the standard, not sit there and get shown up by everyone else in the room.

I applaud Randy Brodhead and everyone else responsible for pulling together this year’s conference.  On an arbitrary and just-made-up 1-10 overall scale, I give this conference a 9.5.