A confluence of craptacularity has happened to me in the last 14 hours.  I’m ready to explode and don’t know where else to direct it, so here you go.

Dear Internet:

When reading e-mail with non-specific time-based references, PLEASE pay attention to the date/time stamp of the message!  When I write you an e-mail at 9:30 on, say, a Tuesday night and tell you that I’ve scheduled a meeting with you "tomorrow" because your calendar says you’re free, don’t read it on Wednesday morning and assume I mean Thursday.  Oh, and check your calendar more than once a week, mmkay?

Dear Users of Technology:

Despite what the Staples chain of office products stores would have you believe, there is no "Easy Button."  Technology is complicated.  Would it kill you to even TRY to understand the stuff you are trying to use and say you need?  Or ask for help?  (And no, I do not define "help" as "just come here and make it work for me.")

Dear Everyone On Campus:

Leaving notes that "this" is broken on the thing that is broken will NOT get it fixed!  You need to call someone and tell them it’s broken.  There are no SUNY Potsdam elves that run around checking "everything" to make sure it’s working.  I wish there were.

Dear Road Warriors:

How about you travel with more than just a flash drive with your PowerPoint on it, hmm?  If you’re going to traverse this great State/Nation regaling the masses with whatever it is you have to share, it’s folly to assume that wherever-you-are-today will meet your tech requirements.  You should travel with, at a minimum, your own laptop AND projector.  (They make them really small these days!)  Oh, and actually knowing how to login to and navigate the basics of Windows XP, Vista, 7, and the MacOS would be a good idea too when you decide to rely on the IT resources provided by your speaking venue.

Most sincerely,

It’s “Tap-and-Go”…

It’s also called "PayPass" or "contactless processing."  For years now you have been able to swipe your own credit or debit card when paying a merchant.  A few years ago they came out with contactless processing.  With the right card, you just have to hold your card on the reader and–assuming the transaction is approved–you have paid.  That’s it!

Unfortunately, whoever programs these units here in the North Country has no idea what he or she is doing.  The only place I’ve been at which these units work properly is McDonald’s.  At every other place that has them I have to tap, then select debt or credit, decide if I want cash back, etc.  This defeats the whole purpose of having the contactless option.
The consoles still offer you the ability to swipe your card.  They have to, as not all cards work with the contactless reader.  If you want those options, such as cash back, then you can always swipe and go through all that rigamarole.  But if you have a card that supports it and you don’t need any of those options, then you should be able to just tap-and-go.
It’s such a simple thing.  Why can’t they get this right?


xBox woes

Among other things, my kids wanted an Xbox 360 for Christmas.  It has been a few years since we upgraded our gaming systems.  We have a PS2 that still gets occasional use, and the Wii, despite being a couple of years old, is still used almost daily.

So Santa brought an Xbox this year.  $299 – $75$ gift card.  Yikes.

It’s Christmas day and I’ve spent the last 2 hours unsuccessfully trying to set this infernal piece of crap up.

Problem #1:  It comes with a COMPOSITE video cable.  That’s it.  A state-of-the-art gaming system, ready to connect to the internet (wired or wireless), an HDMI port, and an optical/digital audio ouput ships with a composite video connector!?  My Atari 2600 did composite video!!  30 years ago.  This is progress?  Composite shouldn’t even be an option.  If you can afford to lay out 300 clams for this stupid thing, you can afford a REAL TV or monitor to which you can connect it.  The Xbox should come with, at a minimum, a component video cable.

Problem #2: My 2 year old TV apparently can’t handle the HDMI output of the Xbox.  This is what happens when manufacturers adopt "standards" that aren’t finished yet, apparently.  My Olevia (now out of business, surprise surprise) 232 LCD TV can handle a maximum resolution of 720p.  The Xbox, despite shipping with a crappy composite video cable, assumes that if you are hooking an HDMI cable up to it that the device on the other end MUST be capable of stunning, top-of-the-line 1080p resolution!!  I mean, why would you bother with anything less, right? <–SARCASM  Composite or 1080p.  If you’re still reading thia and don’t really know what the difference is, it’s like assuming that everyone has either a horse and buggy or a Ferrari and that nothing in between is even an option. 

After trying to manipulate the setup menus "blind", I still can’t use this Xbox on my TV.  I now have 4 choices:

  1. Buy a component cable for it and hook it up to my TV that way.  This is not desirable because it complicates my media center setup in a manner I don’t find acceptable.
  2. Take the Xbox somewhere else and hook it up to a TV that supports 1080p via HDMI, force it to output 720p, bring it home and hope my TV will recognize it.
  3. Relegate it to use in the Family Room with analog video and audio.  (YUCK.)
  4. Buy a new TV.

Problem #3: For $300 you don’t even get a game included with it!!  The Atari 2600 came with Battle (or whatever that tank game was called), and the Wii came with Wii Sports.  I’m stuck here staring at a console sold by one of the richest men in the world and it’s already nickel-and-diming me into subscriptions to Xbox Live Gold, telling me that if I want to change my gaming name it will cost me more money, and heaven only knows what else.

Problem #4: Only ONE CONTROLLER!!  I rationalized the purchase of this system thinking we could game as a Family, something you can’t do with a single PC.  I anticipated having to buy a couple of extra controllers.  But Microsoft apparently thinks that everyone who buys this has no friends or family.  (I’ll admit…it’s perhaps a fair assumption or, at least, accurate more than it’s not.)  But for this much cash, I expected more.

I also expected that after 2 hours of trying, I’d actually be able to use it.

I consider myself an "expert" on stuff like this.  That I’m frustrated by this experience says a lot.  I’ll make this work one way or another.  I’m going to have to lay out some more serious cash in order to do so, however.  Buyer beware!!! 

Concert Etiquette

I just came from our area’s Area All-State music concert in which Brady was participating.  I’m too young to be so "get offa my lawn" about this sort of thing, but there are some standards that simply ought to apply at any such venue, especially when you’re paying for tickets.  To wit:

  • Show up on time, or you miss the first number.  When the performance begins, no one should be allowed entrance to the auditorium.  Period.  I don’t care if your child is on stage right now.  If it was that important, you would have been there on time.  People entering the auditorium are a distraction to those of us who did manage to get there on time.
  • Speaking of distractions; along with politely asking us to silence our electronic devices, attendees should be admonished to silence their very young children or to remove them if that’s not possible.  I have paid money to listen to a concert, not to someone else’s children cry, ask all kinds of questions, or make all kinds of observations about the obvious.  When my children were that age, we either didn’t attend such events, found sitters, or ensured that they stayed quiet (or left if they couldn’t).  Even if it weren’t common courtesy, this is of especial importance when the event is being recorded!  At least two numbers this afternoon ended abruptly only to have some toddler’s babbling continue in what otherwise would have been the silence between the final note and the applause. 
  • I know I’ve lost this war, but I’ll never stop fighting.  At least one girl on stage was wearing flip-flops.  They weren’t even the "fancy" kind that could, arguably, be considered "sandals"!  Words fail me.

My grousing aside, the concert was fantastic!  Now I’m off to check my lawn. 


[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

How Do You Furlough A Salaried Employee?

Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the last week, you know that Governor Paterson attached a mandatory furlough for all Executive Branch employees to the latest emergency spending bill, which furlough would mean that all affected employees would work 20% less and get 20% less pay.

Everyone is talking about it, and there are all kinds of questions being asked.  Many are up in arms, pursuing various strategies to prevent the furloughs from happening based on the notion that such a tactic is illegal.  I suspect they are probably right.

But MY biggest question is more philosophical and abstract:  How, exactly, do you "furlough" a SALARIED employee?  If you are paid by the hour, this is a no-brainer.  You don’t work, you don’t get paid.  This happens all the time in, for example, manufacturing jobs.  If you work on an assembly line and the line is down for mechanical reasons or the shipment of raw materials is late and there are no widgets to be made that day, the workers are called and told not to come in.  If there’s no work, there’s no need for workers.  Plain and simple.  Over-simplified: Workers paid an hourly wage are paid for their time.

But as I have always understood it, salaried workers are paid for their JOB.  Every hiring is a negotiation in which the employer discloses the nature of the position and the prospective employee and the employer agree upon an annual salary which will compensate the employee for performing those duties.  It is, in essence, an annual fee split up over (in my case) 26 pay periods per year.  

Being paid to do a job is different than being paid for your time.  If this week "getting it done" requires 50 hours, I will work 50 hours, including long days and weekends if necessary.  If next week is a slow week in my work cycle, maybe I’ll only be here for 35.  That’s how it works.  But some of the answers to frequently-asked questions about this impending furlough are leaving me slack-jawed in utter disbelief.  Based on what I have heard, we will be told that we MUST take this time off (amounting to one full day a week).  The reason?  Workman’s Compensation does not cover someone who is in the workplace but not getting paid to be there.  So what happens to an employee who decides to work on a Saturday to get caught up and has an accident?  Are they not covered either?  That runs counter to everything I’ve ever been told about working as a salaried employee.  I understand that "40 hours" is the work week norm, but what if I was staring down the barrel of a 60-hour week?  Let’s say I KNEW I was going to have to work 60 hours next week to make a deadline.  80% of 60 hours is 48 hours.  If I’m being furloughed 20%, does that mean I should only work 48 hours next week?

I don’t have to account for my time unless I’m declaring vacation or sick time.  How the hell are they going to "account" for a salaried employee’s time in an average week and tell them to not work 20% of it?  They CAN’T!  It’s ludicrous on the face of it and defies all logic and common sense.  

OK…I need to stop thinking about this or I’ll get a headache.  Though I reserve the right to craft an "…and another thing!" entry.  Possibly several.

If you don’t tell ME, then it’s not important.

At some point early in our relationship, Amanda shared with me a very insightful piece of advice.  She said, "it’s important to talk TO your partner more than you talk ABOUT your partner."  If you spend all your time talking about the problems you have with someone to OTHER PEOPLE, those problems aren’t likely to ever get solved.

That really struck a chord with me.  I’m not the kind of person who generally cares what other people thinks about him.  Most people won’t understand this.  I think most people are consumed by their fear that they won’t be "popular" or that someone might be saying "bad things" about them to someone else.  I will admit that there was a time when this…the gossiping…bothered me, particularly when it came to my profession and the quality of the work I put out.  Then, one day about 10 years ago, I had an epiphany of sorts.  I suddenly realized that if someone has an opinion or a concern about me–about ANY aspect of me–and doesn’t bring that concern to me personally; then that concern, whatever it is, is TRIVIAL as far as I am care about it goes.  I have applied this to all areas of my Life and it sure does make it easier to get through it (life).

If you think I’m fat and you want to talk about it with other people, good for you!  If you want to talk about it with ME, I’d love that too.  If you don’t like my shirt/pants/shoes/hair/beard/whatever, same thing.  If you aren’t talking to ME about it, I don’t care that you’re talking to anyone else.  If your concern was a serious one, you’d be talking to ME.  The way I see it, you’re just entertaining yourself and I’m flattered, should you choose to talk about me, that I am sufficiently entertaining!

It was hardest to adopt this philosophy at work.  I am continually frustrated by the low bar I have to set for the quality of some aspects of service I provide.  But I’m one man supporting well over 500 computer workstations.  That means a whole lot of "vanilla" and not much in the way of sprinkles, whipped cream, and cherries.  Some things are the way they are because I’ve made a conscious decision to make them that way.  Sometimes with a good reason, sometimes "just because".  But a LOT of things are simply at "default" because no one has ever asked or suggested that they be changed.  They way I see it, if it isn’t broken then I’m not going to fix it.  And in the computer support game, no news is GOOD news.  No reports of things NOT working means that everything IS working.


Apparently not.  I continue to be dismayed as I interact with the people who use the systems I maintain at how much CRAP they put up with but NEVER BRING TO MY ATTENTION.  My systems are NOT perfect.  I know that.  But I can only be so proactive.  I can’t test every SMARTboard on campus once a week. I can’t log in to every workstation to make sure everything’s working.  But there ARE people using all of these systems every day, and it continues to astound me that they run into problems–no matter how trivial–that they never report.  It frustrates me because I take pride in my work.

But everyone on this campus knows that CTS is responsible for the computers on this campus.  And most who use the computers in classrooms know that *I* am directly responsible for the computers in those classrooms.  While it still pains me to know that there are deficiencies in my Systems as I struggle to address the ones I know about, I have had to decide that the ones I don’t know about are simply not important if no one else bothers to bring them to my attention.  I know it goes on.  I overhear some of it myself.  I get some of it second-hand, and some of that from alleged sources that surprise me because I expect more from those people.

I’m under no assumption that anyone but myself reads this.  I know I WRITE it only for myself.  But if, someday, this blog-thing acquires any sort of popularity and actually gets read by any of you who actually use the Systems I build and maintain, take this to heart and do BOTH of us a favor and report the problems you experience, no matter how small.  My job is to make teaching with technology on this campus as painless and seamless as possible.  Doing so successfully requires as much of your input as I can get, because I am NOT a teacher!  So don’t just shake your head with frustration.  Complain all you want in the break room or at the lunch table with your peers.  But in the name of all that is good and holy, do NOT assume that I already am aware of the problem you just experienced or that I am working on it! 

I would much rather get 10 calls about the same problem than NO calls at all.  I can’t fix it if I don’t know it’s broken!

A letter to the management of the Excalibur Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas, NV.


While in Las Vegas on our honeymoon last month my wife and I made sure we purchased tickets for and attended your Tournament of Kings dinner show.  It was incredible!  A decent story with incredibly practiced and rehearsed choreography.  We were impressed.

What did NOT impress us, however, was the rampant nickel-and-diming that went on.  After paying well over $100 for our tickets, we were shocked that a mug of beer was $12 (just $2 more if we wanted a souvenir mug!).  Shortly after having been seated and while soda was being poured, a nice lady came by and took our picture. 

The show began and we ate, cheered, and booed as was appropriate.  At some point in the middle of the fantastic show that lady with the camera snuck back around and deposited our souvenir photo, shrink-wrapped and everything (presumably lest we spill something–very thoughtful!), in front of us.  To our dismay, she showed up about 15 minutes later, still in the middle of the show, and tried to extort $20 from us if we wanted to keep the picture.  Incensed, I sternly told her "no" and sent her on her way.  Shortly after THAT disruption, our "beer guy" came around and gave us a bill!  STILL in the middle of the tournament!  I barely tipped him.

At the prices you charge for that show and the mediocre food that accompanies it, the audience ought to be entitled to experience it unfettered and uninterrupted.  To that end, if you insist on charging exorbitant prices for these "extras", you should let your customers know about them at the time of purchase.  Not everyone’s raking in thousands of dollars at your casinos.  Some of us are on a budget, and after paying $140 for the dinner and show, we were shocked, surprised, and upset to discover that we owed anything else. Had we known about these extras, we might have thought differently about our purchase.  And even if we hadn’t, we’d still be upset about the "pay me!"-driven interruptions in the middle of the show.

We urge you to reconsider your practices as we found them to be deceptive and disheartening.

On a positive note, we found your all-day buffet to be one of the best deals on the lower strip!  We stayed in Mandalay Bay on our Honeymoon.  If we ever return to Vegas, we will give Excalibur a hard look when deciding where to stay.

Romeyn & Amanda Prescott

PS: When we got home and unpacked, we realized that the logo on one of the mugs was a little crooked!

Why I Hate Scoopuccino’s

For those not in the know, Scoopuccino’s is an Ice Cream joint/restaurant here in Potsdam. I avoid it like the plague, principally because they have a wall covered with lists of all the different flavors of ice cream they allegedly have available for your purchase and consumption but rarely have the flavor my kids decide they want after staring at the wall for 5 minutes and coming to a decision. A fair estimation is that they have actually had the flavor in which we are interested 20% of the time.

Also, as Edd mentioned in a comment on my recent status update, the place is staffed by un-/poorly-supervised children who would rather spend time chatting with their friends who come in the back door and linger in the kitchen/prep area than they would actually providing service to customers. Since “service” mostly consists of saying, “we don’t have that flavor today” you’d think it wouldn’t be too much trouble!

Today I had a meeting. The people calling/scheduling the meeting chose Scoopuccino’s as the meeting place. I cringed inwardly when I clicked “confirm” on the meeting invite. When I’ve gone there for food, it’s always been SLOW. We only schedule an hour for this meeting, and I knew darn well that was incredibly optimistic. I arrive at Noon. 10 minutes later we have drinks and have placed our orders. I decide to try the “Roast Beast” which is sliced roast beef on dill bread with provolone cheese, mushrooms, and onions. I order it with NO ONIONS.

35 minutes later, our food gets delivered. Chris (next to me) ordered a burger but has no interest in the ketchup and informs the waitress she can take it back. I call her off, saying I want some. I lift the bread to apply ketchup and see…..onions. I had been greedy and opted for the “NY Deli Style” version of the Roast Beast which is supposed to be a full pound of meat. The waitress was apologetic when bringing my order, as it wasn’t a full pound as they were now (after filling my order) out of beef. So I knew there was no more to be had. Given that our initial orders had taken 35 minutes to come, I couldn’t very well order anything else and leave anytime before 1:30. So I just sat there while everyone else ate.

The waitress was mortified, very nice, and EXTREMELY apologetic. She had written “no onions”. I had seen her WRITE “no onions”! I don’t blame her. I blame the management of an establishment that can’t, from my perspective and personal experience, ever seem to “get it right”. I won’t be going back anytime soon if the decision of where to eat is at all up to me!!

Last year they bought Morgan’s ice cream stand downtown. I’ve been there several times so far this Summer and end this missive on a happy note by reporting that they haven’t (yet) managed to screw THAT up!!

Get my order right, dammit!

When I was in college I ate subs.  LOTS of subs.  I always got the same thing: Mayo, mustard, turkey, American cheese, and lettuce.  When I would go to the Union snack bar and the person behind the counter would ask me what kind of sub I wanted I would rattle those 5 ingredients off.  I quickly learned to stop wasting my breath, as the person invariably suffered from some short-term memory disorder and couldn’t remember 5 simple ingredients for a period of time exceeding 5 seconds.  So when asked what kind of sub I wanted I simply replied "mayonnaise" and waited.  If I fed them my ingredients one at a time, they seemed able to handle it.

I am continually dismayed and disappointed at just how prevalent this continues to be.  Just this morning at Dunkin’ Donuts I walked in and ordered their #2 combo (coffee and a muffin).  I very clearly stated, "I would like a #2 combo, EXTRA LARGE, with a banana-walnut muffin, French vanilla coffee with cream and sugar."  I even paused and emphasized the "EXTRA LARGE".  What’d I get?  "Normal".  I said to the girl who brought my coffee, "that’s EXTRA large".  She brought me back an extra large and then I informed the cashier that she hadn’t charged me enough because I had asked for an extra large.

What the hell is it with these people?  It’s like they get one tiny piece of information in their brain and then a WALL goes up and any subsequent pieces fly into it and drop on the floor instead of getting processed.  There ought to be red and green lights on their caps or name badges so that we customers know when to stop and start talking and thus avoid frustration.