Exotic Vacations While Connected

gangesTwo friends of mine are out of the country. It’s a very exotic vacation to India and now Bhutan. She’s been sending emails. He’s been taking photos.

I am loving their vacation. Being there would be better, but this is pretty good. They are living a dream.

30 years ago, before Bhutan was open to the west, I saw a National Geographic photo of that monastery, perched precariously on the side of a mountain, and made up my mind to get there some day. That day is supposed to be tomorrow….the last excursion to wrap up the trip. We will see what happens.

800px-Taktshang_editThat was written yesterday. Well, yesterday to me. They’re 10 1/2 time zones away. Day and night become a jumble.

It’s snowing in Paro, Bhutan as I type. Just light snow. It’s a steep climb to Tiger’s Nest. Light snow might be too much.

Until they went I didn’t know about Tiger’s Nest, but I did know about Paro’s airport. It’s one of a handful of most dangerous airports in the world. There are dozens of YouTube videos showing ganges 2airplanes on approach. Getting there involves threading the needle through narrow gorges and mountain passes.

We had our second Skype session tonight. Late afternoon for them. Middle-of-the-night for me. We chatted like we were in the same room, though nearly 7,900 miles apart.

The conversation ended when their hotel suffered a power failure. Some things remain rooted in the past.

I never saw this day coming, where distance isn’t a barrier to communicating. It’s like science fiction, except it’s not.

Cyclone Phailin Will Do Major Damage

tc phailin

Cyclone Phailin struck the east coast of India Saturday evening (India is 12&#189 hours ahead of PDT). A few hours before landfall top winds were estimated at 120 knots, gusting to 145 knots (around 135 mph, gusting to 165 mph).

It will be a while before we know the true extent of the damage. It’s likely catastrophic.

A cyclone is the name used near the Indian Ocean for storms we call hurricanes. In the Western Pacific these same storms are called typhoons.

Storms like this kill in a multitude of ways. Here in the US the biggest threat is not the wind!

“In the last 30 years, inland flooding has been responsible for more than half the deaths associated with tropical cyclones in the United States.”
Ed Rappaport
National Hurricane Center

That’s likely the case in India as well.

The Indian coast on the Bay of Bengal is reasonably flat with small mountains as close as 15 miles from the shore. Tidal and inland flooding are likely. Mudslides on rain soaked hillsides are possible too.

The force of the wind is so strong it’s difficult to fathom based on our own personal experiences. I’m going to use a little math, but I’ll explain every step. It’s worth understanding.

The force exerted by wind is logarithmic. That means in the calculation we multiple the wind speed by itself–we square it.

Simply put, if you double the wind speed, you quadruple the force! A 60 mph wind has four times the force as a 30 mph wind. A 120 mph wind has 16 times the force as that 30 mph wind!

Take a sheet of standard 4’x8′ plywood–32 square feet. If it was hit directly by a 165 mph gust it would be subject to over a ton of force–2,230 pounds!

The formula is: wind speed x wind speed x .00256 equals the force per square foot. Multiply by 32 for a sheet of plywood. So…

165 * 165 *.00256 * 32 = 2230.272 pounds

It will be a while before we really know what’s gone on in India. However, based on what we know expect a major tragedy even though this storm was well forecast and warnings issued. Sometimes there’s just no place to go.

Cyclone Phailin Takes Aim On India

Cyclone Phailin full track

02B_112330sairUntil a few minutes ago I hadn’t heard of Brahmapur. It’s an Indian city on the Bay of Bengal. There are around 350,000 residents–the size of Pittsburgh. The latest projections place Cyclone Phailin near Brahmapur as is makes landfall early Saturday evening local time (Saturday morning here in California).

This is no little storm. It’s likely to strike the coast with winds of 140 mph or higher. The Time of India quotes unnamed experts predicting winds over 190 mph!

Boston meteorologist Eric Fisher notes: “Over the past 200 years, 69% of tropical cyclone deaths worldwide were in India + Bangladesh.”

Squally winds speed reaching 45 to 55 kmph gusting to 65 kmph would continue along and off North Andhra Pradesh Coast during next 6 hours . Winds would increase in intensity thereafter with gale wind speed reaching 100 -150 kmph from forenoon of to-day i.e., 12th October 2013 and 210-220 kmph gusting to 235 kmph along and off coastal districts of North Coastal Andhra Pradesh at the time of land fall.

State of sea along and off North Coastal Andhra Pradesh will be rough to very rough and would become gradually phenomenal on 12th October 2013.

Storm surge with height 3.0 – 3.5 meters above astronomical tide would inundate low lying areas of Srikakulam district during landfall.

Extensive damage to kutcha houses, some damage to old buildings, large scale disruption of power and communication lines, minor disruption of rail and road traffic, uprooting of trees, flooding of escape routes with extensive damage to Agricultural crops.


Years ago I attended a hurricane seminar featuring then director of the National Hurricane Center, Dr. Bob Sheets. He talked about these cyclones which hit the Indian subcontinent and surrounding areas. The results are often tragic.

The US is a rich country. When there are warnings it’s possible to move out of harm’s way. In poor countries that mobility doesn’t exist, nor do many well constructed shelters.

Dr. Sheets talked about some communities building berms, artificial hills, not as protection from the wind but refuge from flooding. It’s a low tech solution with a decent payoff, but people remain exposed.

It will take a few days for the real impact of Phailin to reach the outside world. “Fog of war” conditions always follow a storm of this magnitude. I fear what we’ll find.

The Economy

Like him, I really am worried about the economy – and not just the stuff that’s been mishandled, like subprime mortgages, and other monetary slights of hand. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way of the world. We are no longer only competing against other ‘first world’ nations.

I walked into a local business today. It was a place I hadn’t been in before, but the owner knew me from TV.

I didn’t prompt him. He just looked at me and said, “I’ve never seen the economy this bad before.” Then he began to talk about business.

Like him, I really am worried about the economy – and not just the stuff that’s been mishandled, like subprime mortgages, and other monetary slights of hand. We have seen a fundamental shift in the way of the world. We are no longer only competing against other ‘first world’ nations.

If you live in Kansas and answer phones for a living, it’s impossible to compete with someone in Bangalore who will work for 20% of your pay. The same goes for manufacturing and agriculture and nearly everything else.

JetBlue has airplane maintenance performed in Central America. Reuters has financial reporters look at US companies from India. The list is endless. There’s little you can think of that can’t be done cheaper elsewhere.

Then there are the box stores. When they replace 10, 15, 20 local business, they also displace the workers from those businesses. This ‘little guy’ I spoke with, a baker, was very worried about Wal*Mart, Costco and especially supermarkets.

What is the economic impact if his handful of employees is replaced by one or two in a big store?

In the past, labor saving devices made lives better for employees. After all, the forty hour week is a relatively recent arrival. Today, labor saving devices produce higher productivity for employers and if jobs can be cut, so be it.

My bosses, bosses, boss has a legal duty to protect the financial interest of his shareholders. If he puts me first, he’s violating the law!

Globally, we are on shaky ground trying to defend our standard of living to the Indians and Chinese who are taking our jobs. Look where we are. Look where they are.

I have been through recessions before, and we’ve always recovered. I have always been pessimistic going in, but once the economy was properly repriced, growth returned. My pessimism was misplaced.

This time, I am petrified our economic engine will have to be revalued against a world that can do what we do, only cheaper (and in many countries like China, with less kvetching from the workers). It’s a very scary scenario.

Right now, I have no answers, only questions.

Hooked On Phone-ics

During our vacation out west, Helaine threatened to kill me – using my new cellphone as the weapon! OK, maybe I’m a little obsessed.

If you didn’t follow my earlier travails, I have moved to a Samsung Blackjack “Smartphone.” It’s a Swiss Army Knife phone that takes snapshots and video, browses the Internet, retrieves email, chats on IM and SMS… oh, and it’s also a phone.

The first thing I did was buy a skin for it. A skin is a hard plastic, form fitting, case. When I drop the phone, and I will drop it, it now has some protection. The skin is a rich deep red, giving the phone a metrosexual look.

The problem/fun presented by a phone like this is how much of it is customizable. I’ve already downloaded some programs which automatically send my photos to Picasaweb and my videos to Youtube (both automatically flagged as ‘private’ ). There’s also an Instant Messenger client (which routes all my text messages through India).

The real customization is saved for the homescreen. With a little rudimentary programming, it’s possible to make the homescreen look almost any way you want and display all sorts of cool (read: nerdy) data.

I’m working on that now, putting Google through a major test as I try and find more and more sites that have inside tidbits. There are lots of fans for this type of phone and many do have websites.

I really like the phone, though it is by no means perfect. The keyboard is incredibly small. My fingers are not. I often hit two keys at once, or move off a page because I’ve pressed the wrong part of the round navigation control.

Two of the phone’s most useful controls are built for right handed people. I’m a lefty.

There more I use the phone, the more I understand why people get hooked on them. Having this additional access to the Internet and messaging is an amazing thing.

When Steffie called me, looking for subway directions from Penn Station to Lincoln Center, I was able to figure it out, even though I was standing in the MGM Grand Poker Room in Las Vegas at the time.

I give it another week or two of obsessive behavior before I’m able to move this phone into the normal rhythm of life. Until then, I’ll try and use it when Helaine’s not watching.

Agent (Gunjan_143463): “Please do not worry at all.”

Why pull punches. The disk drive in Steffie’s laptop is nearly dead and will be replaced. CHKDSK ran for over 12 hours, correcting nearly 8,000 clusters and shedding 8 Gb in capacity. Even then, the laptop was ‘challenged.’

This morning, I went to Dell for tech support. This laptop is protected against everything for three years. The father of a college student is prudent.

I chose to chat with Dell because I am comfortable conveying technical info via the keyboard. And, I wanted Dell’s operator on my side. I was as nice as I could be.

All things considered, my chat request was probably taken in India. In the past I’ve asked where the call was being answered and the support tech was always forthcoming.

It is obvious from my conversation that there are differences between the English I speak and the English Gunjan speaks. When I was confused, I asked. He did the same. We never strayed too far from understanding each other.

The transcript of my chat is attached below.

Steffie will receive the new drive at school and install it herself. In a laptop, installing a hard drive isn’t much more difficult than plugging in a light. I have confidence she’ll be able to handle it (if she can find a Phillips head screwdriver).

Should a drive die this soon – only about a year and a half after purchase? Of course not, but stuff happens.

The bottom line is, within a few days, this will all be resolved and resolved to our satisfaction.

Continue reading “Agent (Gunjan_143463): “Please do not worry at all.””

Global Warming And Me

It is increasingly difficult to be a skeptic when it comes to global warming. That’s not because I am doubting my scientific beliefs, but because it’s more socially acceptable to be fearful of Vanuatu being inundated or Greenland turning green.

I was listening to the Faith Middleton Show today on Connecticut Public Radio. Global Warming was the topic and Dean James Gustave Speth of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies was a guest.

Dean Speth is a heavy hitter on the subject. I could copy his CV here, but I am so overshadowed by his achievements, I’d rather not risk the comparison.

Still, after hearing Dean Speth, I felt I had to send him this note:

Dear Dean Speth,

I listened to your broadcast today with great interest. Though I am skeptical of the harshest global warming pronouncements, I enjoy listening to experts, such as yourself and learning when I can.

Trust me when I say, it would be much easier to be a believer. It is a much more socially acceptable viewpoint to have.

Nearly ten years ago, I was invited to the White House to listen to then Vice President Gore speak on the subject. In spite of all I’d been told, he was a masterful speaker, making scientific points to an audience of meteorologists without benefit of notes or a written script. And yet, I wasn’t won over.

Though it’s purely anecdotal, most of the other meteorologists I spoke with then and speak with now, feel as I do. As operational forecasters, we use computer modeling on a daily basis and understand how weak it can be. We know we can’t always forecast tomorrow’s temperature accurately, much less next month’s or a few decades from now. Heck, we can’t always accurately initialize the models! It’s not for lack of trying.

Long range global modeling makes too many assumptions and takes too many shortcuts to keep me comfortable.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric concerning global warming has gotten so out of hand that lay people are starting to say they notice it! Summers are warmer. Storms are stronger. Winters have less snow.

Last summer and fall, our wild tropical season was attributed by many (Trenberth and Shea as an example) to global warming. Has it abated this year?

If global warming is science and not politics, why is every consequence I hear a negative one? Are there no positives, even in the most dire global warming scenarios? Won’t I save on heating oil? How about road wear and plowing in North America, Europe and parts of Asia? Won’t Siberia and the Great Plains of the US and Canada have a longer growing season?

And if Kyoto is the answer, why are the exclusions that exist in that treaty, and other exclusions which some countries have unilaterally declared (Germany’s removal of coal restrictions) for themselves, never mentioned? You made no mention of these today when declaring all the industrial countries had ratified Kyoto. If I were India or China, I’d ratify a million Kyotos which weaken my competitors and don’t touch me.

Again, it would be so much easier to believe. I am not a political extremist. I believe a clean and pure environment is good in the abstract. I am just scared we’re being sold an expensive bill of goods based on shaky science and strong emotional appeal.

Thank you for taking the time to read my email.


Geoff Fox

Hamden, CT

I don’t expect Dean Speth to read my email and have a Eureka moment. I didn’t expect to be won over when I listened either.

Still, one of us has to be wrong. If it’s me, I’d rather know now than later. I hope he feels the same way.

Sh*t Happens

When do you first know you’re coming down with a cold? For me it’s that moment when I realize my mouth tastes like I’ve been sucking on a crowbar (not that I’d actually know). That happened Wednesday evening. From then on, it’s been downhill.

This time it’s not just getting a cold. For the past two days nearly everything that could go wrong did!

My Internet connection had been slowing down. We have so many computers and devices spread around the house, finding the real culprit becomes very hard. By last night, there was virtually no connection at all.

I spent a half hour on the phone with Comcast (where in India is Newfoundland?) with nothing to show for it. It might not be their problem.

Meanwhile, at work I had pushed the button to lower the volume on the TV near my desk. The button fell directly into the set! Now you can raise, but not lower the volume… well, once.

Also at work, the computer which displays weather watches and warnings decided to disregard two warnings. I was watching, actually more anticipating, so we only missed by a few seconds, but it was frustrating.

With thunderstorms in the area, I asked some friends who were going to dinner to bring something back for me. They went to Friday’s. When I opened my dinner, it was someone else’s leftovers! That’s a first.

Since I hadn’t gone out, I went upstairs for coffee from the machine. The cup was leaky. No problem, I just double cupped… except I didn’t realize it would continue leaking. All it took was me tilting the cup back as I went to finish it for it to pour on my white shirt… about 30 seconds before air.

And then, of course, there’s the cold. I tried to just grin and bear it, but acquiesced to Sudafed at 6:00 AM.

Last night, knowing I wasn’t going to be better before I got worse, I sent an email to my bosses asking if someone could fill in. I called midday, no email had been received!

I think I’m better off staying in bed today, even if I didn’t have the cold.

Blogger’s addendum: I have the Internet working again. I left the modem off all night, though I’m suspicious the real fix was replacing the cable between the cable modem and router. Meanwhile, it’s the first thing that’s gone my way today.

I Am Currently Twiddling

Steffie’s laptop computer had a run-in with some juice earlier this afternoon. It works fine, with the exception of the Enter, space bar, and some other keys.

OK – under those circumstances it might as well be dead.

I need to contact Dell for service, since we have the ‘all hazards’ protection. I thought, with a college student, this was a good idea. Two points for Geoff.

I went to the Dell site looking for support. Buying it was much easier than finding it!

I waited on the phone, but it’s tough to stay on the phone when you’re at work. Instead, I’m trying their on-line chat function.

There’s obviously a lot of estimating going on. At one point it told me I had 5:12 to wait. A few minutes later it was up to 5:44, even though there was one less person in the queue.

On-line chats have many advantages. For instance, I’ll never know if “Chad” or whomever I get to talk to is really in India or closer to home (don’t bet on closer to home).

02/13/2006 08:26:32PM Agent (Gaurav_01113232): “Thank you for contacting Dell Consumer Hardware Warranty Support Chat. My name is Gaurav. Please give me a minute to review your question.”

He’s here. It’s Gaurav. Where’s Chad?

Chatting for tech support is like living life in slow motion. It’s excruciatingly slow. On the other hand, with my typos from time-to-time, he’s not the only one who is speaking like a foreigner&#185.

02/13/2006 08:38:56PM Agent (Gaurav_01113232): “I request for a minute more please.”

I’ve just paused while finishing my chat. I am pleasantly surprised. Again, we bought the full, no holds barred coverage.

02/13/2006 08:30:55PM Agent (Gaurav_01113232): “Well as per you warranty there are two option first to send the system to depot for complete check, it will take 6-8 days.”

02/13/2006 08:31:20PM Agent (Gaurav_01113232): “Or I will send technician or the key board with proper tolls and lay out to get it replaced.”

02/13/2006 08:32:00PM Agent (Gaurav_01113232): “Technician will not examine the system completely as it can only be done in depot , he will only replace the keyboard of the system.”

02/13/2006 08:32:14PM Agent (Gaurav_01113232): “Please let me know what service call should I create .”

I chose Stef’s dorm. Trust me, this is much better than it could have been and certainly easier than taking it or sending it to a depot.

I think Steffie is impressed. I am certainly impressed. I’ll report back when the laptop is fixed.

Oh – if you’re hanging around and run into Gaurav, let him know he made a friend in Connecticut. I just wish he worked here too.

&#185 – Gaurav, as it turns out, is in New Delhi.

Oh My God – Snow!

I guess Mother Nature was waiting for me to fall asleep before really ramping it up. There was some snow on the ground when I went to bed at 5:00 AM… and I was worried the storm might not ‘verify’.

All the computer readings were right on, but there’s an amazing insecurity all weather forecasters must share at times like this. I was pondering the imponderables.

The station called around 11:00 AM. Could I get there early to do a cut-in during the basketball game? When I looked out the window, I knew this was the real deal.

There’s at least a foot of snow at my house, and judging by reports from viewers and the DOT, some areas are approaching, or exceeding, two feet of snow!

Driving to work wasn’t that bad, actually. Even I’m surprised. The roads were snow covered, but the Explorer was equal to the task. This was one of those rare days when I shifted the car into one of the numbered gears (as opposed to drive) and popped the transmission into 4-wheel drive low.

Hey – if you’re someone who wants to ban SUV’s, please don’t talk to me today. This SUV was the only way I could get to work to tell you to stay home.

I stopped at the Dunkin’ Donuts near home for some coffee. It was an all-Indian crew today. The guy in charge (or at least the only adult) said they had nothing like this in India, though they had floods. He made the floods sound less invasive – really. Then he looked out the window and sighed.

Helaine has little patience for this stuff. She was unhappy about me driving. She is unhappy we’ll have to deal with it on roads and sidewalks for a while, with snow piles lasting weeks.

There’s something to be said about palm trees and complaining when it’s 50&#176, as my mother did today.

So, What Brings You Here – Website Analysis

Nice to have you reading my prose. My website is here to be read, so you’re scratching my itch, so to speak.

Often I ask, why does anyone care? Are you a Geoff Fox stalker… God, I hope not. Is my life so interesting? Probably not. Yet on any given day, well over one thousand pages are read on this site by not quite a thousand people.

This has never been mentioned on the air at my television station (though there does seem to be a link to this site from their site). How do people find it?

I have logs. They are immense, taking up megabyte of space every month. Looking through them can make a grown man twitch!

I often look at an overview page. In fact I have a number of overview pages I look at and each gives me a slightly different insight into what’s going on here.

The page attached to this site says 236,238 unique visitors have been here so far in 2005, looking at 1,572,912 pages. That is the most misleading set of stats I can post!

Because of the way my pages are set up, one can sometimes count as two. And then there are the pages read by robots, scouring the Internet for who knows what. Some are friendly, like the search engine crawlers. Others… well I have no clue what they’re doing, but they pull down pages and images and take them somewhere.

A more accurate reading comes from a company I can’t mention (or maybe I can. I’m not totally familiar with my contractual agreement with them). They say, this year, there have been 435,466 pages read.

That’s a more realistic number, because it excludes robots and the like. I consider that an impressive number, 1,258 per day, for a personal website. Whether it is or isn’t, just humor me.

Recently, I’ve added another service which looks at this website. Among the things it looks at are referrals, to find out where viewers are coming from.

It didn’t take long to see Google is my friend! Less than half my daily traffic comes to my home page! The rest go directly inside, because they’ve been sent here from elsewhere.

What intrigues me are the search requests that bring people here. Enter “Blue Angels Video” on Google and this is your second hit! People come every day to see my Blue Angels video&#185.

Stranger are the off-the-wall requests. Some was here looking for “John Mayer Marijuana,” “inappropriate commercials,” “Who is the Monopoly guy?,” “Darlene Love on David Letterman&#178,” “Todd Gross WHDH&#179.” When Elena Demenieva does well in a tennis tournament, people come looking for her pictures (I took some excellent shots at the Pilot Pen Tournament in New Haven).

My favorites always have to do with “Carrot Top shirtless.” It’s a long story, but that’s a subject that has been dealt with here.

Over time, as this site has amassed an archive, the number of search engine hits has increased. Maybe this is a good time to remind myself, be careful what you write about. It’s around forever.

Not only are some requests weird, they’re from everywhere. It’s not unusual to look at the plots and see people coming here from India, Thailand or Peru.

So there you go. Maybe you find reading ‘me’ interesting. Probably not as interesting as trying to figure ‘you’ out.

The following list is ‘live,’ meaning what you see is current – not something canned when I wrote this.

&#185 – I have added a better version of the Blue Angels video, but so much traffic goes to the old one, I can’t remove it.

&#178 – Every year, I wait for the show before Christmas when Darlene Love sings on the Letterman show. Do not miss it. Tape it if you must. I believe it will be next week.

&#179 – Poor Todd was fired after 20+ years at his station. I wrote about it.

Deep Throat Revealed

I woke up this morning , flipped on the TV and saw a ‘breaking news’ banner at the bottom of the screen on CNN. Breaking news doesn’t proffer quite the same importance it once did, but it still got my attention.

Deep throat revealed – that was the gist of the story.

This just might have been the best kept secret in Washington, the identity of Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate source. Only four people knew for sure: Woodward, Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and Deep Throat himself… a claim now raised by W. Mark Felt.

Mark Felt was a high ranking FBI official. AP says he was number two at the bureau, putting him just below J. Edgar Hoover at the time.

His name has been linked to Deep Throat in the past, but he is not a high profile person. A quick Google search of “W. Mark Felt”&#185 shows only 292 hits. Even I’m better represented than that!

Woodward and Bernstein continued to protect their source until a few minutes ago when the Washington Post issued a confirmation. Over the years, as names were tossed out, they neither confirmed or denied what Felt today claimed. Before the confirmation, I was guessing, since this is in Vanity Fair which (in spite of its wimpy name) is very well respected for top notch writing and reportage, it’s true. I would expect this story has been well vetted.

Deep Throat’s tips were what broke open Watergate and finally brought down President Nixon. It is an excellent example of an unnamed source leading to credible journalism. Lately, unnamed sources have been under fire.

It’s funny that even today the White House offers up unnamed sources in a very structured way.

MR. McCORMACK: Ladies and gentlemen, this is the briefing you’ve all been waiting for — all day long. (Laughter and applause.) We have a senior administration official here who is going to be — has a few words to say about the President’s meetings with Prime Minister Singh of India and Prime Minister Koizumi of Japan. And then he’ll take a few questions from you.

With that, I’ll turn it over to our briefer.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Hi. I’m the senior administration official. The President met with Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh this morning at 8:05 a.m. And he met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi at 3:00 p.m. And let me tell you a little bit about those two, and then I’ll take some questions.

That’s from an actual White House briefing as documented on the White House website.

The White House uses unnamed sources for the same reason they’re used elsewhere. Sometimes, people who know news that must get out just don’t have the ability to speak freely. I’d rather they weren’t used without additional attribution, but I believe inside sources… protected unnamed sources… are an important part of journalism.

Now, how the heck did they keep this a secret for so long?

&#185 – By putting my search in quotes, Google limits its results to only those pages with the exact text I’ve entered. Searching for W. Mark Felt without quotation marks yield millions of entries, but most of them aren’t on topic.

Enya’s Back

A few days ago, Helaine went to make a long distance call only to get a recording saying ‘nope.’ Not this again!

I just don’t know what to do, but I will give my long distance provider one more try. I’m not sure why.

Though I’d like to go with VOIP service, I have resisted because 911 service is still somewhat fluky.

In the meantime I’m back on hold to India. Enya’s CD is playing in a continuous loop. It is torturous to listen to.

Who will answer the phone? Will it be Keith? Maybe Andrea again? Whomever it is, can they fix my service? And, if they do, for how long this time.

Is Enya Gonya?

My long distance phone tsuris took on an additional wrinkle when I got a note from Sprint… welcoming me as a long distance customer! Hello? I never called Sprint or asked to be changed.

I called Sprint. All they knew was I was being charged $.40 per minute and owed around $40! Oh – they couldn’t help me unravel this… but if I changed to them they’d pro-rate me to $.05 per minute (I’m paying under $.03). I’d have to commit for 90 days. Isn’t that extortion?

It was getting ridiculous. Call after call after call to GTC Telecom went unanswered. I have spent at least 4 hours, maybe more, on hold to them. I have heard more Enya music on hold than any human should be subjected to.

Lucky they get a good rate on their 800 number.

I decided to give it one more try at 3:00 AM EDT. I figured it was too late for Easterners to call… and getting late for most of the West Coast. It paid off. Within ten minutes I was on the phone to India and speaking with Andrea.

As with Keith the last time, Andrea is probably not her real name. For some reason these outsourcing companies feel we’ll be reassured if at least the name rings American… even if the accent and speech patterns don’t.

Andrea was wonderful She was calm, polite, seemingly concerned. She was the Stepford wife of customer service agents.

I want to complain about her, about my interminable wait, about the Enya music on hold… but she was totally disarming. And, she said she’d take care of everything.

I’ll report back. I’m not shy.

Long Distance – My Short Story

Helaine went to place a call to Hartford a few minutes ago. Instead of connecting, she heard a message saying our number had been disconnected. You read right – not the number we were calling – our number had been disconnected!

I tried by placing a call to my cell phone. No problem. Then I called my folks in Florida. Again, without problem. So I called the area code 860 number Helaine had tried and sure enough, there was the announcement.

It didn’t take me long to realize intrastate and interstate long distance are treated differently and maybe there was a screw up with ours. Between cell phones and Steffie’s VOIP&#185 service, and our really large local calling area, we hardly ever call long distance in the state.

Our long distance service has been handled for years by GTC Telecommunications. Who knows who they are? I had never heard of them. But for years we had been getting our long distance for 4.9&#162, painlessly.

Then, one day while looking at their website I noticed they were advertising long distance for 2.9&#162 per minute. I called, asked to be switched, and I assume the problem started then.

After waiting on hold for about 5-10 minutes Keith answered. I asked at the end of the call, but guessed from his first words, that Keith was in India. Though he was able to take care of the problem, and he did speak English perfectly, there were communications problems because he doesn’t speak American English.

There are phrases and ironic statements that we all use all the time which were… well, they were foreign to Keith.

At the end of the conversation he told me I’d have to call my local phone company and tell them I needed my intrastate carrier changed to ‘pic code 0333.’

No sweat.

I picked up the phone and called SBC, my ‘local’ phone company. I have accented ‘local’ because, until recently, we had our own lovely, local, responsive phone company – SNET.

SNET was the classic non-Bell local phone company, covering the vast majority of Connecticut. A few years ago, in a deal that richly rewarded their top management, SNET was sold to SBC. My phone still works, but now I’m a little jerkwater customer far away from SBC’s Texas home office. Before Connecticut was SNET’s only business.

SNET was sold, we were told, because they couldn’t compete in this increasingly complex world of telecommunications. Now, if business is bad somewhere else in SBC’s system, our bill goes up here.

After working through the voice mail tree (some options have recently changed – right) a pleasant woman with a Texas accent picked up the phone. I assume that used to be a Connecticut job. I explained my problem and read her the pic code – 0333.

“We use codes with letters” she responded.

Luckily, the carrier for my intrastate service was the same as the working carrier for my interstate service. She says it will be fixed before the close of business today. There was a $2.60 charge for switching, but considering someone dropped the ball in this mess, she waived the fee.

She couldn’t have been nicer… even though she tried to upsell me some services before I could hang up.

The sad part is, years ago this was a big deal. Long distance was a much larger line item. Now, with cell phones and Steffie’s VOIP service, we make many fewer long distance calls with our wired phones. Most months we’re under $20 – closer to $10, for long distance.

There are people at work who don’t have wired phones at all. Maybe someday soon, we’ll join them.

&#185 – VOIP is Voice Over Internet Protocol. Instead of having a real connection between two phones having a conversation, the phone call is digitized and sent as packets through the Internet or other data network. It is much cheaper to provide that standard phone circuits (called POTS for Plain Old Telephone Service). Steffie’s phone has unlimited calling in Connecticut for $10 a month – with voice mail, caller ID and anything else you could imagine in a phone. It is why GTC can afford to route customer service calls to India and what SBC’s executives have nightmares about every night.