Jason Truesdell : Pursuing My Passions
A life in flux. Soon to be immigrant to Japan. Recently migrated this blog from another platform after many years of neglect (about March 6, 2017). Sorry for the styling and functionality potholes; I am working on cleaning things up and making it usable again.

Visions of earthquakes dancing in my head

I woke up remembering all sorts of dreams involving earthquakes. Not nightmares... no substantial amount of fear was a part of them...

I briefly chatted with Hiromi this morning via MSN Messenger and I mentioned the dreams. She went to bed, and a few minutes later TV started showing images of a steam and smoke eruption at Mt. St. Helens.

On Friday while I was driving toward Seattle, a few hours shy of Portland I remember hearing about another minor plume. I started to recall the big eruption when I was about 7 years old... If memory serves me, my family was living in Kent and I was in first grade. I remember my neighbors pointing toward clouds in the sky and explaining that I was seeing Mount St. Helens erupting. I was disappointed, because all I could see was clouds... My 7-year-old mind wasn't quite able to see the difference.

Today I'm preparing a ceramics shipment... I hope I can get this and my other chores done in time.

Cars are trouble

On my way home from an in-store demo of the dragon beard candy, I started my car, and a warning light which I have never seen before was illuminated. I wasn't sure what it meant, but based on the hieroglyphics, I surmised that the problem was a taillight of some sort.

I thought that I should inspect the lights before I drove any meaningful distance, so I stopped my car just before leaving the parking lot and took a look. The lights seemed to be ok, and my turn signals checked out fine, and even the reverse gear lights seemed to be normal. So I decided to worry about the problem when I got home.  Not really sure what to make of the issue, I tried jamming an umbrella against the brake pedal to see if it the problem would appear when the brakes were engaged.

Finally, I gave up, thinking the only option would be to have someone else take a look at the car. I shut down the engine, and got out of the car.

Suddenly, a thought occured to me.

I turned on the engine again. The indicator light did not illuminate this time.

It was merely a bug. The car needed to be rebooted.

Thanksgiving and new geek toys

I had some dinner guests yesterday, not quite something I had planned. I was planning on making squash gnocchi for myself anyway so I added a few other dishes and had a little party... a little salad with pomegranate seeds, a frittata, a little mushroom dish with some garlic and rosemary, and of course the squash gnocchi, made using potatoes, kabocha, and flour, roughly estimated. I then served some sweet potato ice cream and pear sorbet. The pear sorbet turned out really nicely... nothing more than pureed, slightly cooked fragrant pears, sugar, and lemon juice.

Today I woke up after sleeping a rough 5 hours, and then I was up for a couple of hours before I crashed again. It was a little late to properly prepare my planned contribution to a Jennifer-hosted Thanksgiving. I made a hurried bread dough and then I prepared a butternut squash gratin, which was a good way of using up the extra pureed kabocha and heavy cream from yesterday. Today's stuff was a little rushed, so it didn't turn out as well as yesterday's food.

I got a replacement for my damaged Sony Ericsson T616 cell phone. I settled on a Motorola Mpx220, which I hunted down at a Best Buy location after abortive attempts to order it online. It seems like a decent choice so far, though I'm having some little frustrations with it.

The voice recognition works better than my last phone's "voice tag" system, though it doesn't seem to work in handsfree mode. The camera was behaving erratically yesterday but seems not so completely insane today. I had some issues setting up features like email and so on because the menu system was not initially very intuitive for setting up new accounts.

Voice quality is decent, and I can hear better than I did with my T616. The internet features are substantially better, and syncronizing my address book with Outlook is absolutely painless; it was something I dreaded when I was trying to do that with my Sony phone, because I was always wondering which contacts would suddenly be duplicated and also whether the phone would even be detected by the Sony-bundled package. ActiveSync is actually a pleasant experience, which is surprising to me, considering all the horrible things that people said about ActiveSync a few years ago.

The next few days I'll be doing in-store demos for my candy at the Uwajimaya stores, and then I have to furiously get my publicity stuff together.

I'm a little curious

If polling on the reason people voted as they did yesterday is accurate and this election was about moral values, I'm a little curious why active deception and hostile, aggressive behavior were not considered as horrifying an affront to moral values to the red states as, for example, being pro-choice. Bush's morality is far from unassailable, and yet somehow he was given a free pass to own moral values as an issue.

I was not a particularly enthusiastic a supporter of John Kerry, since he never truly articulated a vision for the future. I think this was his undoing, and not any question about his morality. He never successfully articulated a position on the Iraq war rooted in a discussion of values. When he was talking about jobs, he appealed to individual self-interest rather than to humanity and compassion.

The religious left once owned the issue of morality in American politics, the influence apparent from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Martin Luther King, Jr. Even Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, for all their weaknesses, always spoke from a foundation of values. The ability for a caricature of morality to dominate the discussion of values points to a failure of the left to speak to people at a human level.

We are not a people unable to see the morality in compassion, truth, and humanity. But in the absence of an articulation of a message built on these, the best of American values, a fetishized morality assembled from token kneejerk issues like abortion, gay marriage, and ambiguous references to "traditional values" will do. I think that it is reasonable for people to expect their politicians to speak to values, although I certainly don't want a religious group to wield all the power over the moral compass of the nation.

The future of progressive thought will be closely tied to the ability of reformers to speak to the values that are our strengths. Threats of hellfire are frightening and effective tools of the religious right. But they are no match for the strength of a positive vision articulated by someone with a unironic approach to the imperative to love thy neighbor.

John Edwards had some potential to accomplish this, but he was overshadowed by the muddled message of the Kerry campaign. The Kerry campaign offered the promise "hope" but did little to build it; all of the hope was assumed, based on the momentum that came from frustration with the situation in Iraq, the casualty of truth, the Bush antipathy to reality. The promise of hope came mostly from faded memory of the election primaries, the voices of Howard Dean and John Edwards.

Hope is precious, but needs to be nurtured. The Kerry campaign was never successful at that. The volunteers were hopeful, but it was a hope that something better than Bush would emerge.

A few articles I've seen have suggested that the re-election of Bush will force the administration to clean up its own mess. It will be at a very painful cost, for now and for a few generations, and I doubt the cleanup will happen in the blissful unawareness the Bush administration seems to have of its disasters. Four years from now, if we have made a clean transition from Iraq and haven't created new disasters, I'll be very surprised.

I am not a religious person, and perhaps this makes me part of the progressive vision problem. But I hope progressives will be able to communicate a vision that shows a positive, coherent alternative to radically isolationist Christianity.

Then again, some people throw themselves to the lions.

Outsourced customer service sucks

A bit over a week ago my otherwise nifty Motorola MPX220 phone decided to stop charging… the battery seemed fine, but when I plugged in any of several charging devices, no power flowed into the device.

After struggling through what I thought was a long hold time, I got someone who had a hard time understanding how to spell simple words, even when I spelled them out multiple times. A scheduled pickup never materialized, and I called back late the next day, and they told me my address was not on file. I gave my information all over again, and the scheduled AM pickup also never happened.

I called a third time yesterday, waited on hold about 20 minutes after several abortive attempts at navigating irrelevant voice prompts, and they scheduled a same-day pickup at my office. Someone from FedEx did show up, this time with a completely blank waybill, and I had no idea what the address should have been. So she said she could come back the next day, but I figured I could drop the package off somewhere just as easily on my own.

When I called Motorola again, I waited on hold for 25 minutes once more, only to get transferred a recording with a barely audible pronunciation of the destination address. I tried to drop the filled-out waybill today at Kinko’s, but they refused to accept the package because there was no recipient account number on the waybill.

On the rare occasions when I’ve had to return something electronic for repairs or exchanges, the vendor almost always just sent their driver with a door tag, or gave me a link to a web page where I could print my own label. This odd exception has wasted more hours than I would have thought possible. I found the whole thing very frustrating.

I was about to unleash a fury on the unfortunate person who would answer my call today, but the wait time was only 2 minutes, this time and she was oddly disarming and suitably apologetic. She managed to confirm the pickup by telephone instead of the usual electronic method, and even gave me an account number to list on the waybill in case something went wrong.

I could have been more explosive… I was rehearsing empty threats of lawsuits in my mind before I called. Thank goodness an occasional customer sevice lackey has decent people skills. We might be reading about violent cases of Customer Service Rage.

All of the daytime customer service staff seemed to be located in India, and are apparently unaccustomed to US accents pronouncing things like letters and common street names. However, after 4 pm or so, it seems that the support staff are in some Latin American country, and although the staff speak with an accent the ones I’ve encountered so far seemed less confused by American English conventions.

I’m not philosophically opposed to outsourcing; it stretched our resource-constrained team far further than previously possible when I was at Microsoft. Telephone customer service is hard to do well even inside a company. But I wish companies would evaluate the cost in a more sophisticated fashion: What’s the cost of customer frustration with a company? What’s the cost of a bad experience? What are your corrective measures when your outsourced customer service ruins your customer relationships?

In my import business, my goal is to find things that are imported for a good reason: I want something if the product is made better where it’s from than anywhere else, or an has a distinctive style that can’t be readily duplicated, or it otherwise has a really compelling origin story. I think that outsourcing of technical services will ultimately have this approach, as well as the low-end brutal cost consciousness that’s the dominant reason for going to India, China and Russia right now. There are some really well-educated folks in Asia and Russia and some of them are bound to develop technologies or maybe even service methodologies that will be in demand on their own merits, rather than simply because they cost less. Burnout jobs in call centers that spend most of the time trying not to be helpful to customers in to avoid expensive bench time or better software design… is this really the best outsourcing model?

 

Woohoo! My laptop is back!

I have been living on borrowed laptop since the 29th or so, when I sent my laptop off for repairs. It finally came back today. I was off running errands in the morning so I had to pick it up from the FedEx distribution center down in South Seattle.

I scheduled a bunch of demos for the next couple of weeks, so I hope to clear some inventory. I don’t like being in the position I’m in now… having too much inventory, having no seasonal factors in my favor for buying… it’s frustrating. On the bright side, one of my customers indicated they had sold through more product over the last few weeks, so the sting will be a bit smaller.

Yesterday I had a meeting with a distributor to talk about a line of products I don’t think I can completely handle on my own. It’s will be using my own branding, so I can minimize the risk of someone else stealing my supplier, and of course I also would be selling some custom products that couldn’t just be duplicated. I need to explore a bit more. I learned a lot at the meeting, and got one option that might work out.k

In the evening, since it was First Thursday, I went to the Henry gallery with Jennifer and another couple of folks, where I saw a couple of nifty installation pieces. One of them, a three-screen video installation from Doug Aitken, called “Interiors,” must have taken some incredible editing skills… three simultaneous videos on three different screens with edits tightly syncronized, overlapped and with a complex sound design.

Alex Lieber’s mobiles were kind of clever… They seemed a little Ikea-inspired, but I might just be cynical.

Sometimes a lone humorist can be more devastating...

That earthquake

The earthquake registered 5 out of 7 on the Japanese scale in some parts of Tokyo and Kawasaki. Apparently the epicenter was closer to Chiba.

The many faces of blog spam

A few days ago I started getting attacked by Trackback spam.

You know, I’ve gotten used to spam in many forms… I’ve been getting junk mail since the mid-1990s, and even good junk mail filters don’t quite get everything out of my mailbox. I’m relatively unsurprised, though still annoyed, by most email spam.

When I started my blog, I didn’t quite realize that I was opening the door to additional types of spam.

Early on I started noticing “referrer spam”, which basically attempts to exploit administrative curiosity about who is sending visitors to your site, producing clickthroughs to sites which are actually scams for debt reduction or body part enhancement or whatever. With the aid of a slightly jaded eye, I can pretty much identify most of these referrer spams right off the bat and I almost never get suckered into visiting such sites.

But later I started facing “comment spam”, which were created by automated scripts. The motivation would appear to be to get users to click on such spam messages, but for the most part the spammers target older messages that only get sporadic reading, and so it turns out that what they were really trying to do was exploit Google PageRank algorithms to get people to go to pay-per-click or pay-per-lead sites. Basically, the more links to a particular site, the more highly ranked it will likely be for a particular keyword, and people searching for gambling or pornography or various misspelled male impotence drugs are more likely to find some spammer’s site and he’ll get a few cents for each clickthrough; well worth the effort of distributed spamming of thousands of blogs.

I got rid of almost all comment spam by implementing a slightly finicky Human Interface Proof technology on my blog (if you mistype the HIP text the comment goes to a bit bucket). So that disappeared, and, with a few small probably manually plotted exceptions, very little comment spam appears.

I still get referral spam, and this will likely never go away, even though it doesn’t really help the spammer much.

But more recently, I have been getting inundated by Trackback spam. A trackback is basically a ping that is sent when someone links to an article on my blog site. Most of the time, their software sends a ping request, and it magically transforms into a mini-post that looks similar to a comment on my web site. Well, spammers can exploit this also. They use it for the same purpose as comment spam, and somehow since June 7 I’ve been targeted with about 200 trackback spams. In my massive deletion of bogus trackbacks I probably deleted some legitimate ones. I may disable the display of trackbacks just to avoid the benefit to spammers… I would actually like to see who is referring to me for real, but if the order of magnitude of spam trackbacks increases I’ll not really have the energy to keep up with the deletions.

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