Monthly Archives: February 2012

Spam, spam, spam and spam

Back in the day, we got oodles of spam in our email inboxes. Thanks to a robust spam filter and a husband who knows how to use it, those days are behind us. Also behind us is guaranteed delivery of email from friends and online communities that I want to hear from. Every day, our spam filter provides us with a single email with the subject, Quarantine Summary, that includes a list of all the email the filter has stopped short of delivering. In among the obvious spam (Check out this hot babe and Hard to resist bonus offers at Lucky Cash Club) will be a message from someone in my critique group (Submission for next group) or one from the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (NESCBWI 2012 Conference).

The most expeditious way to retrieve an email from quarantine is to click the link that says deliver. However, that does not prevent the filter from snagging the next email that comes in from that same address. To teach the filter to let through email from a particular address, I have to log in to the spam filter, select the email in question, click deliver, then, on the next page, reselect the email and click approve sender. One step or five steps, what would you do? Before long the only email I’m going to get is the one called Quarantine Summary.

Meanwhile, caller ID has also become a double-edged sword. In the beginning it was thrilling; the phone rang and you knew who it was. I thought that was beyond cool, protection from phone spam! You knew when to ignore it, and when to pick it up; NRA, no, HRC, yes. Then I found out that you could block your name from showing when you made a call. Now when I see Private Name, Private Number on the caller ID, I don’t know what to do. It could be a friend who’s a privacy freak, or it could be a telemarketer. I answer and it’s a robo-call! You know, an automated system that dials numbers. If a call goes through, it takes the human who is paid to bother me at dinner a few seconds to clue in, which is just enough time for me to figure it out and hang up.

But the most upsetting form of spam is Skype spam. Skype is the Internet phone service. My clients use it for IM as well as voice so I leave it open on my computer. When a Skype call comes in it makes a neat space-age, boopy kind of noise. If, however, it’s ten at night and I’m downstairs watching something spooky on TV, it’s a scary-movie-don’t-open-the-door kind of noise. I rush upstairs and see yet another call from Autocall! Attention Required; translation, spam. I click block and then Report Abuse. As far as I can tell, it does no good whatsoever. Notification, Urgent Online Update and Online Help have been calling me regularly for months.

I don’t know if there’s a spam filter for Skype, but I’m going to have my husband look into that. I’m a little afraid that if he finds one, I’m never going to hear from any of my clients again. I may get so lonely that I’ll have to take phone calls from the NRA.

How to create a loyal customer

When I was still a young woman, I had to have a wisdom tooth out. I’d always been a coward and a visit to the dentist ranked high on my list of things to avoid, but it was an emergency; the tooth had to come out. I was terrified and doubted that I would survive without emotional support from my parents who were bicycling in Europe at the time. I needed someone to act in loco parentis so I let my dentist’s office play the part. Aside from making the appointment with the oral surgeon for that very afternoon, I’m not sure exactly what they did to earn my undying gratitude, but that day I swore to return faithfully, twice a year, to have my teeth cleaned. And I have, even though the practice itself was sold long ago and none of the original cast of characters remains. The office had earned my loyalty.

Some months ago, I received an unsolicited catalogue from Soft Surroundings, a vendor whose clothes are a cross between J. Jill and Chico’s; all to my taste, and all too expensive. However, inside the catalogue was a coupon for ten dollars off a purchase from their outlet web site. Right before the coupon expired, I searched the outlet site for the pieces I had liked in the catalogue, and found one. I filled out the online form and included the discount code. When the transaction completed, not only had I been charged ten dollars for shipping, but the discount had not been applied. I was not a satisfied customer.

I had to wait an hour for their web site to synch to their database before customer service could help me. When they were finally able to see my record, the customer service representative, who was, mind you, very pleasant, informed me that the item I had ordered was not on the outlet site and therefore ineligible for the discount, but as a sign of goodwill she would apply the discount anyway. I accepted the offer, but remained peeved by the assertion that I had made a mistake.

When I hung up, I retraced my clicks, found the url for the shirt, and sent an email to their customer service department. The episode ended for me once I reclaimed the moral high ground, but not for them. Within moments they had emailed me back, apologized for the confusion, and informed me that they were removing the ten dollar shipping charge. I was now a fully satisfied customer.

My final note is about IDG List Services and a young woman I’m not sure I should name ─ Kim McDonald ─ who works there. I rented a list from them for a project I was doing for a client. I was not happy with the results and had no expectation that it would matter one iota to IDG, a big company with lots of customers. I was wrong. Kim worked very hard to satisfy me. And she invoked the names of a whole slew of people on her team she said were also working on my behalf. Her emotional support cost IDG nothing, but bought a ton of goodwill. In business, there’s no line item for goodwill on the balance sheet. But there should be.

Strange attachments

Some years ago, our daughter got a faux puppy as a gift. It looked just like a sleeping puppy curled up in a little dog bed. When you added a 9-volt battery, it started to breathe. You knew it was breathing because its little stomach would gently inflate and deflate, over and over and over ─ until the battery died.

Since the puppy was permanently curled in a sleeping position, it turned out not to be much fun to play with. And it wasn’t all that soft (which may have been because of the breed, it was a Rottweiler) so petting it wasn’t terribly satisfying either. After the initial fascination of watching it breathe – up, down, up, down, up, down – wore off, its ability to entertain diminished at a spectacular rate. By then, however, it had a name, and a place on my daughter’s bureau, and it was considered part of the family ─ by me.

When the battery died the first time, I replaced it. I had no idea how long it had been dead, days, weeks, months, but when I noticed I rushed to resuscitate it. Buying a new battery seemed a small price to pay to bring the puppy back from the dead.

It was clear that my daughter was not taking care of it as well as I would, so I moved it to the floor in the family room. There it stayed for a few years, an object of ridicule for our cats, and an obstacle to be vacuumed around for our cleaning lady. When it took its last breath the second time around, I thought it best to let sleeping dogs lie. But I wasn’t ready to get rid of it yet.

One reason I was loathe to part with the puppy was that it had been an expensive present. The Rottweiler seems to have been discontinued, but the Black Lab, which has the same form factor (as do, let’s face it, most of them) is still available, for $39.95! I thought they were more, but perhaps I’m wrong. I do know that we had to buy our own battery. Now, these puppies come with a ‘D’ battery. And that’s not all, on the front page of the Perfect Petzzzz website it says, “Watch me breathe. I’m cute, fun and now SOFTER!” Softer! Can that be true? Should I get another one? It would still be inflexible and hard to cuddle, but who among us has not been described that way from time to time?

I did finally give the puppy away, and since then I’ve been making do with our cats. They’re soft, and they spend most of their time curled up in a sleeping position; and their little tummies gently inflate and deflate; and they refuse to be cuddled. The major benefit is that I never have to change a battery.

How not to be inconspicuous

I’m auditing a class a friend of mine is teaching at Lesley University, in Cambridge.  Lesley has taken over the old Sears building in Porter Square. For a long time, this building was where you went for all things Japanese. It had a bunch of restaurants and little markets, and a few big retail stores in the front. (Remember Conrans?) There are a few restaurants left, and a small Asian market, but the main retail shop is now the Lesley bookstore and the building itself is called University Hall.

The class my friend is teaching is about writing for children, which is what the students look like to me. At the first meeting, I wanted to be inconspicuous and take a seat in the back of the room. However, the chairs were set up around tables arranged in a big U, and the seats at the back, the bottom of the U, were very popular with the students. I was forced to slink all the way around the room to an empty seat up front. The seats opposite me were popular, too. They are the ones nearest the door.

The class is taught in two sections, lecture and workshop. I’d like to be able to sneak out before the workshop portion next time. It would be less disruptive if I had one of the seats near the door, but to score one I need to get there earlier than I have been. If I get there any earlier, I have to pay more to park. The lot behind the building is two dollars for the first two and a half hours, and then it leaps to eight.

The only way to get to the classrooms on the fourth floor is by elevator, of which there is one, and it’s small. There’s a big, broad staircase in the middle of the lobby. I asked the security guard/parking cashier if I could take the stairs to the fourth floor. He said no. I asked if there was another elevator. He said there was, on the other side of the building, and I’d need a Lesley ID to use it, which effectively meant no. The crowd that collects in front of the elevator before class is formidable and if you’re at the back you’re not getting on with the first batch. So even if I don’t want to be early to class, I need to be early to ride the elevator, in order not to be late.

During the first class, while I was trying to be small and inconspicuous, my cell phone rang. My cell phone never rings (except for that time I was at Mary’s mother’s funeral which is a story for another time) and the only way I know how to silence it is to flip it open and closed. While I was scrabbling in my purse, looking for the phone, the whole class was staring at me.

“I’m so sorry,” I said, my cheeks bright red. “My phone never rings. And I don’t know how to turn it off.” I found it and flipped it open and closed. Then I turned it off so the person on the other end couldn’t call back and tell me how rude I’d been to hang up on them.

I had already been introduced as a writer who was going to audit the class. After that the students all mentally adjusted my profile to include dinosaur. Maybe they’re right.