New theme

Well, I tired of the old look and feel, so found the current one and am trying it on.

You’ll notice the picture of Einstein in the corner.  No, I don’t compare myself to Einstein – I’m not anywhere near that brilliant.  I keep pictures like that around to keep perspective – to remind myself of two things, basically.  The first is that no matter how smart or clever or whatever I might think I am, there’s always someone smarter or more clever than I am – therefore I need to remember humility.  At the same time, it’s a goal for me to work towards, that I could even come close Einstein’s level.

I’ve been keeping my eyes upon Google for any Baugher family news to reference, but it’s been pretty quiet.  Maybe I’ll have something to report after this Thanksgiving week.

In the meantime, check out the various links in my blogroll.  Aaron’s been writing a lot in his Commentarii Mei blog, so do him a favor and take a read.  Alaine’s been busting her butt with her business, so take a look at her Creative Crafts by Alaine site to see what she’s been up to.

IVR gone bad

IVR is something most of us experience almost daily.  IVR is Interactive Voice Response, and it’s the technology that lets a computer listen to a phone call and respond based on buttons pressed or words spoken. It was originally conceived as a way to save resources, as a computer could sit and take many more phone calls than a live customer service representative, answer multiple calls at once, and process those calls simultaneously.  What a deal, right?

Most of us have only used IVR’s that respond to button presses.  For instance, you call the bank to check on your mortgage payment, and the IVR system walks you through things like punching in your zip code, account #, etc… and eventually gives you the info you need or directs you to a live person (if you’re lucky).

The next step in IVR’s has been to give the caller simple yes/no questions so that they can either press 1 or 2 or they can actually speak “yes” or “no”.  The idea is to make it easier for the caller, but my personal experience is that I feel wierd talking to what I know is a computer on the other end, and if I have a choice, I’ll punch the buttons rather than speak the answers.

As the IVR has evolved more, the questions have gotten more complex with more possible answers.  Of course, as the number of answers increases, the voice recognition has to be better to distinguish the words correctly even with all the speech dialects and impediments.  Again, I feel wierd talking to a computer, and have even had issues with the computer not understanding me correctly.

The latest stage of IVR, and in my mind the most hated, is the system that asks the caller what they want.  No menus, no options to pick from, just “say a few words describing why you are calling, and we’ll figure it out and pass you to the right people”.  Hah.  I don’t make phone calls unless I’ve got something complex to deal with that absolutely has to be done on the phone.  I don’t know how to boil my problems down to a few key words.

I’ve run into 3 of these latest-gen IVR systems over the last month.  System 1 was so touchy that even though I put my hand over the phone receiver, it thought I was speaking and kept fighting to figure out what I was saying.  System 2 worked, but because it was after-hours, offered absolutely no path to a live person, and worse yet, didn’t explain that, just let me wander around inside aimlessly until I finally gave up.  System 3 just baffled me because I had no idea how to tell it in a few words why I was calling.  In both cases I was able to break out of the loop by hitting 0 or # or *, which if you do enough times, will hopefully get you to either the backup menu-based system or possibly even to a live customer service rep.

So, what’s the next step in IVR?  A system that attempts to read our thoughts?

Oddly enough, one large vendor that I work with a lot has moved to offering a live support line.  They’ve heard the complaints about IVR and are giving their customers a single phone number to call which is guaranteed to be answered by a live person who will ask you some questions and redirect your call.  They’ve realized that customer service is a big part of their product, and people will pay a little more for it.

3rd Rock

TV Land has been running reruns of 3rd Rock from the Sun lately.  For those who don’t remember, the show was based around a team of 4 aliens sent to Earth to study us.  They are in human form and attempt to live human lives.

The plots and jokes are usally completely nuts and almost always a laugh riot.  On of the subjects of tonight’s episode was tipping.  Dick, the head alien also called the Supreme High Commander, is trying to figure out the concept of tipping.  He just can’t quite understand why he needs to pay someone for doing something that he already paid them to do.  At one point he puts a stack of dollar bills on the table and starts adding and subtracting from the stack when the waitress makes mistakes.

The aliens are always making ridiculous statements and getting into crazy circumstances.  Certain episodes are graced by guest stars such as William Shatner, who plays the over-the-top leader of the alien planet, the Big Giant Head.   Good harmless fun show.

Mmmmm…. toasty

Gotta love it when the heater works right in the truck.  So much heat that I had to run with the windows down for awhile to cool things back off.

Next task: change the oil and filter before it gets so cold that I’m miserable doing it.

Winter is on the way

Getting a little nippy outside the last couple days, finally had to break down and do something about the lackluster heating in my truck.  It wasn’t anything to write home about last winter, but I didn’t freeze, so I put up with it.  This winter, however, it was noticeably worse, so it had to be dealt with.

For those who are less than mechanically inclined, there are many simple things that can go wrong with a car or truck that you can fix yourself, if you take your time and don’t get intimidated.  Even if you don’t actually do the repairs yourself, you should at least understand and be conversant on the subject in general to keep from getting screwed by the repair shop.

Take this heater issue.  Perfect example.  I’d say 95% of the time I’ve dealt with low heat in a vehicle, it’s been the same thing – plugged heater core.  The heater core is basically a little mini-radiator that sits inside your dash.  The engine circulates hot coolant through it and the fan inside the dash blows air through it, generating nice hot air.

Heater cores are little things.  They have lots of small passages.  There isn’t a lot of direct pressure to force the coolant through the heater core.  Eventually, dirt, corrosion and deteriorating antifreeze contribute to a plugged core.

To diagnose, run the engine with the heater turned on until it warms up nicely.  Pop the hood, and you’ll see 2 hoses about 1 inch diameter each going into the firewall (engine side of the dash).  Feel the hoses.  If one is hot and the other is lukewarm or cold, your heater core is plugged.  If you’re the handy sort, you should be able to round up a garden hose and rig up a connection to the cold hose, unhook the hot, and force clean water backwards through the core.  I did mine in about 5 minutes.  Run it until it’s clean and flowing nicely, hook it back up, and test again.

If you don’t like getting dirty or you don’t have time to fix it yourself, at least you’ll know enough to make the mechanic nervous.  As sad as it may be, if you talk to a mechanic and tell them you have no idea what can be wrong, you’re very likely to end up with a higher repair bill than if you tell them you’d like a radiator and heater core flush.

I think I’ve been carbon-dated

I mentioned a few days ago that we’d recently watched Walk Hard – the Dewey Cox Story.  What I didn’t mention was that I rented it at the local FamilyVideo store.

I like FamilyVideo – clean, good deals, nice people.  Can’t say I’ve ever had a complaint.

So, I’m at the counter while they’re ringing up my rentals, and the girl (girl = younger than me, woman = older) notices that the Walk Hard DVD is designed to look like a small LP record.  For those who aren’t familar with LP’s, they existed between 8-tracks and cassettes in the migration of audio recording processes.  A vinyl platter with a single etched groove in a gradual spiral from the outside to the center.  A needle, or stylus, ran in the groove, translated the vibration caused by the changes in the groove into audio signal.  Kinda odd now that I think about it, since we went from reel-to-reel magnetic tape to 8-track magnetic tape to LP back to magnetic cassette tape and even to magnetic DAT/DDS.

Anyway, the girl behind the counter notices the LP design and points it out to the other girl.  Smooth that I am, I say something like, “I didn’t think you’d know what an LP was.”  Not to be outdone, the second girl replied with, “Yeah, my parents have one of those.”   OUCH.

It’s not that I feel particularly old, because I don’t.  It’s just amazing that there are functioning adults in this world younger than me who grew up with a reality so different than mine.

Grand Theft Parsons

Grand Theft Parsons was on IFC over the weekend.  Good movie, I highly recommend it.  Johnny Knoxville does a good job as Phil Kaufman, Gram Parson’s friend.  The other characters are all excellent as far as I’m concerned, from the hippie with the hearse to Christina Applegate as the ex-girlfriend.  One of my favorite lines is when the airport cop says “Wherever there’s a hippie, there’s a crime, even if that crime hasn’t happened yet. That’s what I always say.”

So, catch it on IFC or rent it, it’s a good time.

Walk Hard – The Dewey Cox Story

I had to go back and re-watch the last half of this movie this morning before work, as I couldn’t stay awake last night watching it.  I know that sounds bad, but it takes a really good movie to keep me awake past 10pm, so take it for what it’s worth.

To me, Walk Hard is a combination parody of a lot of other past movies about musicians’ lives.  I saw hints of Ray, Coal Miner’s Daughter, The Doors…  A lot of the scenes were basically taken from those documentaries, dumbed down, and jokes added.  It’s not so much that the jokes are making fun of the real-live musicians, just that they exaggerate the situations of the time.

Still, there are some fairly touching moments, like when Dewey realizes that he’s never been a father to any of his many kids, and tries to make up for it, at least a little.

Overall, a decent movie.  Kinda refreshing to get away from the typical comedy where everything is a sex or fart joke.  Strip out a few f-bombs and a hotel room full of nudes, and you could even watch this with kids.

Obama’s Economic Advisor

I heard on the radio today on my way to work that scientists had succeeded in growing a clone of Karl Marx from his DNA.

In a related story, President-elect Barack Obama announced his appointment of Karl Marx #2 as the leader of his economic task force.  Apparently Obama likes Karl #2’s “fresh new ideas” about how to stimulate the economy.

Respect

I wish I’d had a chance to write about this pre-election, but I think it’s still relevant.

There’s a skit comedy show on Fox that I’m sure some have heard of – MadTV.  Similar to Saturday Night Live, there are others that are lesser known.  These shows generally make fun of celebrities – usually ones who kinda seem to be asking for it.  Anyway, at election-time, the focus always turns toward the candidates.  During the primaries, there were some really nasty skits involving Hillary and Obama lookalikes.  Skits that made me cringe.

Like it or not, at primary time, there was a chance that Hillary, Obama, or McCain could each become president.  TV shows meant to embarrass and humiliate someone who could end up being our representative to the world were hardly in the best interest of America.  We as Americans need to show a united front to the world, that we stand with our country.  How can we do that when our enemies can dial up our cable channels and watch American-made TV shows making fun of our own leaders?

I’m a fairly staunch conservative.  I disagree with our new President-elect Obama on just about every idea he’s ever expressed.  But for the next 4 years, he’s the President of our country.  He’s our representative to the world.  We need to be respectful, even in dissent.

I think, therefore I am. At least I think I am.