Saturday, April 29, 2006

Could be pilot error?

Computers have made our lives easier but sometimes I wonder if it is making humans more stupid. There seems to be a human element of just plain common sense in a lot of computer generated work these days.

My aunt, the one who just lost her husband has been mired down with paperwork. It’s the little things that stick out. She just received a letter addressed to her, mailed to her current address (not forwarded) from the Social Security Administration. It stated that they were unable to mail her social security check because they didn’t have a current address for her.

My husband and I just refinanced. My previous mortgage was in my former married name and my ex-husband’s name. When I realized I was getting a check back for the remaining escrow amount, I asked how I could get the check to just me and in my current name. Simple, Chase replied. Just send a letter and a copy of the divorce agreement. So I sent a letter, a copy of the divorce agreement, the Quit Claim deed and a couple of other supporting documents.

Yesterday I received the check made out to my ex-husband and my former married name.

Today I received two letters from Chase, my former mortgage company. The first stated that they had received my letter and would forward it to the appropriate department. The second said that they had received my letter but needed the approproate documentation – a copy of the divorce settlement (which of course was stapled to the letter).

Earlier this week I received a water bill from the city. I pay a budget billing program that pulls the same amount out each month (until month 12 where it reconciles the difference) and also have auto pay - where it withdraws from my bank automatically. The bill was past due and appeared to have been so for two months. So I called. This person did have common sense and explained to me their new computer system had a few bugs. One of those bugs was that it was now pulling $25 a month rather than $31, even though my water usage had increased in 2005 from 2004. The computer should have calculated a larger amount based on the actual usage. The other problem is that it randomly decided not to pull auto pays each month. Thankfully this was understood about the new system and that it would all work out in the end. Nothing was my fault, she assured me, and my water would not be suddenly turned off.

I had a similar thing happen with the new Dell laptop lease I have. For some reason, I had a past due of $2.64 and no payment had been pulled for April. Ends up what happened was that I had received notice that my autopay wouldn’t start for 30 days, so I wrote a check for the March amount. The autopay pulled two days later. Since the $2.64 was a monthly tax imposed by the state, the computer had to show it in the month of April - even though I had paid it twice in March. After a 20 minute phone call, I was told not to worry, it would catch up with the May payment. I understand it need to show up monthy but why the heck didn't it just give me a credit for the extra $2.64 for April instead of a past due.

Don’t worry Hal, I don’t blame computers. They only do what stupid humans tell them to do. But I think we are seriously becoming dumb and dumber by the minute. The more we rely on computers to calculate/automate/distribute based on what we tell them to do, the less common sense we have as a race. I can see why the cylons took over the twelve colonies.

As the old saying goes, seriously people, pull your head out of your …

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Saying goodbye when you have the chance

Is knowing someone is going to die better than having someone die suddenly? When you know someone is going to die, you have your chance to say goodbye and to meet with them one last time. When someone dies suddenly, you may have regrets about not being able to say goodbye.

My mother’s older brother died this morning of cancer. He went into hospice in January -- the doctor giving him two weeks. I knew he had cancer a year ago, when right around my wedding they moved from Arizona to Salem, Oregon to be near one of their sons and grandchildren.

My mother went to visit him in March. She encouraged me to do the same but when I found a flight about 10 days out, she thought maybe not. Who knew if it would be in time. So I didn’t go. Life got in the way. She gave me their phone number. For whatever stupid reason, I didn’t call. I have stupid phones and most of the time I can’t hear on them. It was a dumb excuse and one I now regret because it is too late.

It’s been more than 20 years since I have seen my uncle Bob and his wife. I think the last time was when I was in high school. They came through town in their RV which I thought was the coolest thing on the planet. When I first met my uncle and his wife, I think they lived next door to my grandparents on Long Island, NY. I say "I think" because I was really young. My mom is the baby of three kids and there's about 13 years between her and her brother. She was kind of a surprise (but a good one in my opinion).

In 1977, my grandparents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and we went back to New York to celebrate. There also was a trip to New York in 1981 after my sister Annie was born. I think it was this second trip, that my uncle and aunt had moved from the house to a houseboat on the Hudson. I have pictures of us tooling around in a rowboat. I was small then and thought the houseboat was really cool. Now it might be a little small – but then it was really cool. My uncle also took us to where he worked in one of the tallest building in the United States – one of the twin towers of the World Trade Center. We got to go to the top and I still have pictures from my little Kodak 126 of the Statue of Liberty and lots of clouds.

He retired not long after that and they traded the houseboat for a camper van and begun traveling around the country. Around the time I got into the book “Blue Highways” by William Least Heat Moon from a reading contest at school. I always thought of my uncle in Least Heat Moon’s stories. Later they traded up to the nice RV with a bit more room and indoor plumbing. It had two TVs and two VCRs, which was pretty cool in the mid-80s.

At one point, they got into an accident. I don’t remember what happened exactly but it seems my aunt had a lot of neck and back injuries. Around then, they decided to stop traveling and settled down in Arizona into a house on the ground without any wheels.

The amount of times I met my uncle Bob I can count on one hand. It was more the distance between New York and Colorado than anything. Email made it a little better the past couple of years. But the times I did meet him were good and fun.

He was a really wonderful man and I am sorry I didn’t know him as well as I should have. He has two sons I really don’t know at all, as well as a handful of grandkids. I got into geneology awhile back and got everyone’s names and birthdates but I don’t know them.

So this morning after my mom called, the first thing on my mind is that I never called him. Why? I don't know. Distance, time, my own crazy life in the way. None are good excuses. It’s my own fault. I didn’t get that chance to say goodbye and I knew his death was near. Perhaps in mind, I thought that he would just surprise everyone and stick around for awhile.

So here’s to my Uncle Bob, a great man. I’ll miss you.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

You’re unfinanceable ?! -- music in advertising

When did catchy ad jingles change to popular songs rewritten into maybe not-so-intended ways. Did Madness really see a coffee commercial when they first penned “Our House”? Naked Eyes must really love Foley’s version of “Always There to Remind Me.”

Some songs work really well for ads. Sheryl Crow’s “Everyday is A Winding Road” is used in a car commercial. Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction" would be great for an ED drug (Cialis, Viagra), although not actually used in a commercial right now. Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” tune is used by Cingular (not sure if that is a perfect fit but I like the song). MC Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” works well for the germ-infested daycare center ad for Lysol.

Maybe it’s the lure of extra money. When Bob Dylan showed up in a Victoria’s Secret commercial, many were surprised and some said it was the end of the world. Dylan had sold out. In 1987, when Nike used the Beatles song “Revolution” (rights then owned by Michael Jackson), Paul McCartney complained that the song was about a revolution, “not bloody tennis shoes.” Yet more recently in 2005, he appeared in an Fidelity Investments ad, along with his Wing’s song “Band on the Run.”

Sometimes money isn’t much of a lure and personal values rule out. Hummer had a hard time buying rights to songs for their commercials – even from small indie bands who couldn’t fathom supporting the very un-ecological gas-guzzler.

Many songs used in commercials have helped more obscure up-and-coming, indie bands hit the limelight. Apple’s I-Pod campaign has introduced Gorillaz, Jet, Rinôçérôse and others to a wider audience. Toyota got me hooked on Fisher ("It's a Beautiful Life").

I don’t mind the use of songs but in the original format, not with the lyrics rewritten. But it's almost laziness on the part of advertisers -- a lack of creativity -- that few use original written lyrics to catchy jingles. They don't even need words. Vonage’s “Whoo Hoo” tune is pretty catchy and memorable. So is United Airlines’ grandiose classical theme song.

But really, the local car commercial that has butchered EMF’s “Unbelievable" into "You're unfinanceable". Argh! It hurts my ears. It’s unbelievable! It's not even a word.

[Note: in my googling (research) found a lot of interesting things on AdTunes – another bookmarked site helping me avoid work.]