Thursday, February 28, 2008

Bye, Bye Idols

Robbie Carrico, Jason Yeager, Alaina Whitaker, and Alexandre'a Lushington were all voted off Idol tonight. Robbie was a big question mark for us, so it was no big loss in our book. Both of the girls made our "get them off there" list this week, so their departure was anticipated. We really thought Luke Menard was getting the axe this week, but he slid through anyway.

Let's see how the kiddos do next week.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Idol This Week

Watching Idol on DVR makes life so much smoother! There is nothing quite like being able to skip through commercials, boring drawn-out commentary and really, really bad singing. And, this week, there was plenty of the latter! UGH. The guys started weak and ended strong, while the women started strong and then let the wheels fall off.

Here are this week's picks and pans:
NameShanDave
Michael JohnsNN
Jason Castro?Y
Luke Menard?N
Robbie Carrico??
Danny NoriegaNN
David HernandezYY
Jason YeagerYY
ChikezieYY
David CookY?
David ArchuletaY*Y

The * was Shan's favorite guy this week. She wanted to be sure I mentioned that she is not a fan of the 'dreads' on Jason Castro. she also wanted to be sure that you knew all her question marks could have/should have been NO's and the NO's were more along te lines of "not NO, but He!! NO." (those are my words, not hers - lol)

We predict that Michael Johns and Luke Menard will go home. Noriega should go home, but he'll be this year's Sanjaya. sorry, but there is just too much sugar in kid's blood for my tastes. UGH.

And the girls?
NameShanDave
Carly SmithsonYY
Syesha MercadoYY
Brooke White??
Ramiele MalubayYY
Kristy Lee CookY*Y
Amanda OvermyerNN
Alaina Whitaker?N
Alexandre’a LushingtonNN
Kady Malloy?N
Asia’h Epperson?N

Again, the * shows shan's favorite for the week. Shan likes Carly but wishes she would cover up the tattoo on her arm. I thought Carly did okay, but she tried too hard to be "Heart" in the chorus. We think Amanda Overmyer, Alaina Whitaker and Alexandre'a Lushington have the best chance to go home. Guess we'll see!

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Movies


For Christmas, Shan got me "Fear Strikes Out," a baseball movie based on the book by the same name about Jimmy Piersall. Saturday, while still getting over the 'crud,' I decided to pop in the video and take it for a spin.

The DVD itself has nothing special or 'bonus' about it. You get the main menu which basically consists of SETUP, PLAY, and CHAPTER SELECT.

For those of you that don't know about this baseball movie, it stars a young Anthony Perkins (three years before Psycho) and Karl Mulden. Perkins plays Piersall in his early days as he battles with his grip on reality which ultimately leads to a breakdown. The movie was made in 1956/57, so there is a lot of that 50's "cheesy melodrama" in the movie, but it is actually pretty well done. Perkins definitely shows some of Norman Bates behind those eyes during the darkest (both literally and emotionally) moments of the movie. The movie holds it own, even today, in the story it tells - a father who forces his child to live out unfulfilled dreams. The fact that it is based on a real player makes the story even more poignant. He batted in only 6 games his rookie year before his breakdown, then came back two years later to play a total of 17 years in the majors. He played two years with the Tribe (1960-61), wearing Number 37, so we'll see him again later in the Uniform countdown! His overall career average? How about .272!?



Saturday night, the kids spent the night at their grandparents' place, so Shan and I had a bowl of popcorn with Milk Duds and watched "The Holiday." Yes, it is a chick-flick, but I decided to pick it up at Wal-Mart the other day. I think Shan summed it up best: "I had a smile on my face the whole movie." You know by the cover how the movie ends up, and the journey the four main characters take to get there is funny, heart-warming, sometimes painful. But, the whole time, I too had a smile on my face. I am a sucker for romantic comedies, and as formulaic as they usually are, I still like to watch a movie like "The Holiday" every once in a while. :-)



Since I am still getting over whatever crud I have, I decided to pop in the "Major League - Wild Thing Edition" DVD I got for Christmas. Since I have seen the movie many times (and love it every single time), I watched some of the extras before watching the movie. They each gave a different, but equally cool look at the movie, its staying power, and things behind the scenes. As a lifetime die-hard Tribe fan, seeing current, former, and future Indians players put their spin on the movie and its impact really struck a chord with me. It is exactly the kind of stuff any movie fan wants in the extras section, and the fact the it centers on baseball and the Indians makes it even more entertaining.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Funny Games


I saw a commercial for the upcoming movie, "Funny Games" about a couple of white-bred kids who take over a neighbor's house and torture them. As soon as I was the commercial, I fired up my EeePC to look up the original film. As soon as I saw the commercial, I knew I had watched that very film a few years ago. Sure enough, "Funny Games" is an Austrian movie done a little more than 10 years ago (1997). The kicker is that the remake is a 'shot-for-shot' remake. If you remember the recent 'Psycho' s4s remake, it flopped. So, will this movie flop, too? Probably. Why? Because it is the same movie with same ending and everything. So, save yourself the cost of the theater ticket and rent the original. It is a suspense-thriller for sure.



I have been battling 'the crud' for a few days now. So, today, after helping to clean the house, I mainly watched television. Shan and I hung out, and watched a really cool show about this Ice Hotel in Sweden. They build it every year out of ice and snow, then it melts away in time to start all over again. Each night will set you back only $540 to sleep in the ice cold rooms. Want more info? www.icehotel.com



The love affair with the EeePC continues. I really like the computer, and switched over to the Advanced Desktop mode, which basically makes everything look and act like WindowsXP. The Easy Mode is great for folks that want the simple tabbed interface to get to their stuff, but I'm little too geeky for that. :-) So far, I also loaded LxDoom, which lets me play the classic 1st person shooter "Doom" on it, and with a small hack, I play it taking up the full screen of the Triple-EPC. It also turns out that the Advanced desktop gives users access to a lot more applications, too. I am looking forward to bringing my Indians All-Time Uniform countdown database onto the EeePC and see how I like it. I am also looking into software that will help students and teachers use this thing to it's maximum and beyond. Should be cool, and I'll keep you posted!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Too late to post it...

Well, there was so much going on after Shan and the kids got home from Awana that we did not get to watch the girls sing until tonight. So, we watched the girls sing, made our picks, and then watched the results. All I can say is that we did pretty well...LOL
NameTylerEmilyShanDave
Christy Lee CookY?YY
Joanne BorgellaNNNN
Alaina WhitakerY?Y?
Amanda OvermeyerNNNN
Amy DavisNYNN
Brooke WhiteY?Y?
Alexandrea Lushington????
Kady MalloyYYYY
Asia'H EpphersonN??Y
Roniele MalubayY?Y?
Syesha MercadoY?Y?
Carly SmithsonYN?N



Of course, if you watch the show, then you know that Joanne, Amy, Garrett, and Colton were all sent home. This year's Sanjaya? Gotta be Danny Noriega......


Megaconference Jr was something of a bust at the co-op, but several schools called to let me know they were watching the web stream of the event. You can watch the archive at www.megaconferencejr.org, if you'd like. It was really cool to watch students interacting with other students all over the world.


On the other hand, the EeePC has been a huge hit around here. Today, we showed off our computers to a couple local school techs, and then we pushed the units up a notch. We showed off the video-playback capabilities which are phenomenal. A ripped episode of Lost in HD played great and in wide format on the EeePC screen! It was awesome! We also played with "rdesktop" which lets you remote desktop into your windows desktop (thereby giving you access to your business apps through the interface) and rdesktop COMES preinstalled!

I have been playing with Linux off and on for many years, and I just now feel comfortable enough to start playing 'outside the box,' so we'll see where things go with my EeePC. :-)

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Coming to you from 3epc


No, it's not the name of some new Star Wars character. 3ePC (actually,it's Eee PC) is a very small, ultra-cool laptop! During a recent meeting with my boss, she suggested I buy each member of the tech dept an EeePC so that we could use it, learn it, and train teachers how to use it for their classrooms. The real kick is that the units were a complete surprise to the other two in the dept! John was out today, but Marilyn jumped out of her chair when I brought hers to her desk! I wanted to get her the pink one (she said during an earlier conversation that she wanted a pink one), but the vendor I used did not have pink in stock.

If you recall, it was about a year ago, maybe, that I got a Q1 UMPC. While I like it alot, the major drawback to the model I have is NO KEYBOARD. The EeePC has a built-in (albeit VERY tiny) keyboard, as shown in the picture. The 3EPC has built-in wireless networking, wired networking, 3 USB ports, and a webcam! This thing is small. It has a 7-inch screen with two vertical speakers on either side of the actual LCD. I'd say the whole unit is roughly the size of a portable DVD player. One thing this tiny ($399) laptop does not have is an optical drive. Since it runs on a modified,very user-friendly, version of Linux, not having a CD drive is not a biggie yet.

Now, we could put XP on it, if we wanted to, but the easy-to-use interface will appeal to many folks. It comes with web browsing (duh, that's how I'm writing this now), OpenOffice (applications that run, act, and smell a lot like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), some very cool educational programs for science and math, a media player for videos and music, and a host of other tools that even young users or technically challenged users can operate. Did I mention it has a webcam built into the cover just above the screen!? And an SD card reader. Very cool!

I can't wait to keep putting this puppy to the test. I have already added a piece of software called EasyMode Editor, which lets me add icons for programs I install. I am new to Linux, so I have to learn some of the commands, and because the keyboard is so small, my fingers have not yet become accustomed to the cramped style. I'm sure that will change in time, though....

Here are a few pictures:

Pictured above is the EeePC sitting on my Toshiba tablet. See how small this puppy is?



Pictured above are the EeePC and the tabletpc sitting side-by-side(I forgot to mention I bought the 4G version in Pearl White).



Pictured above is the EeePC sitting next to an 8x10 photo in a frame! Did I mention that this thing is SMALL? "That's S, M, all" (movie quote! Do you know the movie?)


BTW, the photos I took were brought into the EeePC through the SD card that goes in our camera. The system works so much like Windows, all I had to do was select the images I wanted, right-click Copy, surf to my photos folder and right-click Paste. Easy as pie! I'll be posting our picks and pans for the girls of Idol later tonight!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

American Idol Time!


Yes, Idol has been on for several weeks, but this is the first week that really matters to those of us who watch and never vote! Tonight (Tuesday), we all participated, which was a lot of fun! Here are our likes and dislikes (a Y means "liked them," a N means "ain't no way, man," and a ? means "we'll have to see about that person..."). As you will see, Emily is kinda like Paula - she wants to give everyone a chance... Here are our picks and pans for The Boys, Week 1:
NameTylerEmilyShanDave
David Hernandez??Y?
ChikezieY???
David CookY?YY
Jason YeagerN??Y
Robbie CarricoN?YY
David ArchuletaY?YY
Danny NoriegaN?NN
Luke Menard??N?
Colton BerryN?NN
Garrett HaleyN??Y
Jason Castro??YY
Michael JohnsY?YY


Monday, February 18, 2008

Hangin' Out

In case you've been living under a rock, or you're not in America, this was Predient's Day weekend. Basically, it means people like me (who work for education) were off work today. So, we had a three-day weekend. We spent it just hangin' out, which suited me just fine.

Emily was sick Thursday night, Friday, and most of Saturday. She has recovered, but is still going lightly on eating. Of course, she already doesn't eat a lot at meals. You know the whole "eat 6 small meals a day, rather than 3 large ones" that people talk about? Well, she's got that licked. Guess we'll see how that pans out later in life. In the meantime, sometimes, we'd like to her to eat a 'regular' meal because she likes to be kinda 'snacky.' Of course, when she wants a snack, she gets a healthy snack, so that's good. Anyway, now that I've taken this train of thought so far off track, I guess I better quit while I'm a head.


That reminds me: Two guys walk into a bar, which is really dumb because you think the second guy would have seen it... (an old Howie Mandell joke, thank you very much). So, a guy walks into a bar and he is carrying a covered silver platter under his arm. When he sits down, he uncovers the platter, and there is just a head on the platter. The head says, "Bartender, give me a drink!" The bartender says, "I'll do you one better!" He reaches under the bar and brings up a smoking green concoction that he hands to the head's friend. He says, "Drink this, and be restored!" So, the friend pours a little of the drink in the head's mouth. Suddenly, a torso comes out from what would be the head's neck! The head says, "Man, that is awesome! Give me some more of that!" The friend complies. Arms and legs form on the body! He reaches over and takes the glass from his friend. He holds the glass up and says, "Cheers!" He downs what's left of the smoky green stuff, and instantly, his arms, legs, and body disappear, and he finds himself sitting on the platter once again. The moral of the story? Better to quit while you're a head.... (You can boo, it's okay)



For whatever reason, I receive a free subscription to Tennis magazine. Do I even care about tennis? Not even close. But, it does give me something to look through while contemplating life on the porcelain throne. As I was leafing through the pages, I came across the the photo you see above. His shirt reads, "Stop global warming." Judging by the girl next to him, this guy would like to keep the world as cool as possible... (You may have to take a closer look to grasp the full meaning...)



I decided to sell off the 2500 or so basketball cards I got in that "dealer closed his store" auction on eBay. I also figured I might as well sell off the football cards, too. Because there are so many football cards, I figured I had better weight them to get an idea how much it would cost to ship them. The football cards weigh TWENTY-FIVE pounds. Quick calculation shows that is a little over 4000 cards! Holy Smokes!


While tyler was at his grandmother's house, Shan and I decided to play some SingStar. There are few things sadder than me trying to hit the "Woo-Hoo's" in "Black Horse and a Cherry Tree." However, she and I TIED with 7170 points on "I Will Survive!" :-) I sing awfully, and I know I sing awfully, but that does not keep me from playing the game and wanting to play the game. The difference between me and the goofballs on Idol is that I will only do it at home, and generally not in front of anyone else. :-) there is no sense in making more people suffer than absolutely necessary...



On Tuesday, I am visiting the local radio station again, this time to talk about Megaconference Jr. This is like the world-wide video conference we did in the fall, but this one is specificially aimed at K-12 students and teachers with students from around the world performing and informing. Should be pretty cool! :-)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Valentine's Day!


Happy Valentine's Day


Yeah, I know, I'm saying this a day late. Well, for Valentine's Day, I gave Shan a little card to start the day. Later, a dozen red roses with two heart-shaped balloons were delivered to her room, along with two white ones from the kids. Later still, she received a box from the Vermont Bear Company!

After we got home, Shan brought a big ol' bouquet of balloons (one has a push-button that plays "I think I love you!") attached to a Pittsburgh Steelers popcorn bowl set!

Inside the set were a couple bags of popcorn, two boxes of Milk Duds, and a box of Sugar Babies. If you don't know by now, one of our big "things" is to have popcorn with melted butter and then load the popcorn up with Milk Duds! Do not knock it until you try it! It is goooooooooooooood stuff!! :-) She said there was going to be a movie in there too, but she couldn't find the movie she was looking for. Of course, she won't tell me what movie it was because she wants to get it for my birthday or Christmas... How am I supposed to help her out if she doesn't tell me!? :-)

The kids sent my Mom two white roses. From us, the kids got a movie each, some trading cards, and some candy. From their grandparents, they got balloons, candy, and cards/toys. It was a very cool day!



I found SingStar Rocks! online the other day, so I bought it and now we have all four SingStar versions (for the U.S.). I can't wait to play it this weekend. It has some really cool songs on it:

Aretha Franklin "Respect"
B-52's "Love Shack"
The Bangles "Manic Monday"
Bloc Party "Banquet"
Blur "Song 2"
Coldplay "Speed Of Sound"
Dusty Springfield "Son of a Preacher Man"
D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince "Summertime"
Elton John "Rocket Man"
Fall Out Boy "Dance, Dance"
Gloria Gaynor "I Will Survive"
Good Charlotte "Girls & Boys"
Gwen Stefani "Cool"
Hole "Celebrity Skin"
Jet "Are You Gonna Be My Girl?"
Joss Stone "Super Duper Love (Are You Diggin On Me?)"
Keane "Everybody's Changing"
KT Tunstall "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree"
Lynyrd Skynyrd "Sweet Home Alabama"
Marvin Gaye "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"
Naked Eyes "(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me"
Scissor Sisters "Take Your Mama"
Scorpions "Wind of Change"
The Cure "Friday I'm in Love"
The Hives "Hate to Say I Told You So"
The Killers "Somebody Told Me"
The Offspring "Self Esteem"
The Police "Every Breath You Take"
The Rolling Stones "Paint It, Black"
The White Stripes "Blue Orchid"
Thin Lizzy "The Boys Are Back in Town"



On a different note, some time ago, I posted pictures and talked about really, really small computers and what people were putting Windows XP-capable machines into (remote control cars, cereal boxes, humidors, Millenium Falcon toys, etc). Well, there is now an even SMALLER version of the motherboard (called a Pico-ITX) that is 10 x 7.2 CENTIMETERS! It is so small, that one Japanese company put one into an original GameBoy casing and it boots Windows XP off a memory card! Amazing!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

miles per dollar - so what?

So, have you heard about the new fuel-measuring regulation (here)? They are dumping MPG (miles per gallon) to MPD (miles per dollar). Basically, you take how far your vehicle goes between fill-ups and divide by the cost of a gallon of gas. So, let's say your car gets 20 miles per gallon, and gas costs $3.00 per gallon. 20/3 = $6.67 miles per dollar. This means that at 70 miles per hour, it costs you $6.67 for every mile you drive. If you drive a prius (powder blue or otherwise, Mr. Dunham), which gets 45 MPG, at $3.00 per gallon, your car would get $15.33 MPD.

So, the more gas costs, the lower the MPD, and vice versa. Some people are saying that MPD will be the demise of the gas-guzzling muscle cars and SUVs. Yeah, I doubt it, seriously.

Do you think that people who own Corvettes or Hummers give a rip what it costs to fill their tanks up? Okay, yeah, they do. But, do they care if they are getting 13 MPG or if they are getting $4.33 MPD? I doubt it. I know I won't.

The MPD is more useless than MPG in my book. Why? Because the price of gas CHANGES. So, today I get 5 MPD, but next week, maybe I get 5.50 (if gas prices fall) and next year I get 4.78 (prices rise again). Frankly, that is more confusing than saying I get 19 MPG (or whatever). Then again, I don't even care WHAT my MPG or my MPD is. I do not buy vehicles because of their mileage. I own a HEMI truck because I needed one to pull my travel trailer, and even if/when I get rid of the travel trailer, I will still want a truck because they are very handy to have around, and I *LIKE* it. As gas prices rise and fall, I may have to cut a luxury or wasted trips, but I should probably do the latter anyway.

MPD will not be the death of anything. How can the government force carmakers to make vehicles based on MPD if the price of gas changes? One year, a certain car passes the muster, then next it fails simply because the price of gas changes? Good friggin heavens, who came up with this one?

Next go-round, I may have to run for some national office just so I can be a sane voice among the wackos that have nothing better to do than sit around and create meaningless standards (which also covers No Child Left Behind, the HGH scandal, how E-Rate is handled, and more).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Things that make you go hhhmmm...

Yeah, dorky title for a post, but what can I say? It fits me sometimes. Basically, I haven't written for days, and I've noticed that I don't really feel the "pull" to write as much as I once did. I'm sure that has a lot to do with my Indians baseball cards blog, or maybe it just has to do with my Internet-A.D.D. Whatever the reason, I appreciate you checking in to see what kinds of things have popped into my head recently. Today, since I am home with a sick child, I figured I would play a little 'catch up.'



While stopped at a traffic light the other day, I saw one of these deer motion hitch covers on the back of the truck in front of me. Basically, when the guy puts his brakes on, the deer waved his front legs (which actually made it look like he was running vertically - very bizarre). I don't know about you, but I think there is a redneck joke in there somewhere.... If you just HAVE to have one, you can get them (here).


Emily wrote a note the other day and left it on one of the nightstands with some money on top. She said, "There's a letter for you." Her letter read, "Yol can share these moneys." In case you need help, "Yol" is "Y'all" :-) It was very cute! And, Shan and I got to split about 18 cents between us.



(created from http://www.signgenerator.org/books/dummies/)
After a trip to Wal-Mart last week, we stopped by Dairy Queen for a snack. The wait time for them to give us our stuff was extraordinarily long, so Tyler and I started joking about a "Drive-Thru for Dummies" book. It occurred to us that there just might be people out there who haven't quite figured out the whole drive-thru thing. Somewhere out there, people may be driving up, ordering a burger, then driving around again, to order the drink, then once more for the fries. These poor folks don't realize they could order everything at once!



Speaking of drive-thrus, after Tyler's appointment, we drove through Mickey-D's for breakfast. When we pulled up to the window, our food wasn't ready so we were told to pull up. I'm glad there was already a car in front of me. See, at McDonald's, they have to keep the time you spend at the window to a minimum. If they tell you to pull forward, they can stop your time because technically, you are not in drive-thru anymore. So, when the girl told me to pull forward, I gladly said, "Sorry, you already have a car in front of me. I think I'll wait here." Oh, man, was she mad! Heh-heh...


Have you seen the "scare tactics disguised as scare tactics" called "USA Wake Up?" In the name of fairness, the site can be found at usawakeup.org. I recommend you watch the video (assuming you have 20 minutes to wait as it downloads at a whole 7k per second), just so you will know where my references come from. Anyway, I don't believe in all this "rule by fear" or "scare the crap out of everyone in the name of isolationism" baloney. One of the funniest things in the video is something about a million immigrants coming into the country and how we need to shore up our borders, etc. Look, ILLEGAL immigration is a problem, and yes, I believe we need to get those who are here ILLEGALLY out of here. But, this country was founded on IMMIGRATION - legal immigration. Yes, there may be a million immigrants who have earned their way into American citizenship per year, but they EARNED it. They are here because they want to be and because they followed the rules to be here. Shutting down our borders to legitimate immigrants is a huge step toward isolationism. Do we need to take care of the problems in our country? Of course we do.

I don't believe we should be in Iraq, fighting their civil war. I do believe we should continue hunting down Osama Bin Laden until he is found. I believe we spend way too much money feeding foreign countries when we have our own citizens who not only have nothing to eat, but also have no where to live. It is insane that the Gulf Coast still has third-world housing. I digress.

The video (and site for that matter) likes to scare people into believing that all Muslims (that is, all "true" Muslims) can be nothing but radical Islamists. One of the funniest things I read on the site was this: "They may appear peaceful in a public forum, but they speak a different language and show a complete different face when inside their mosque retreats." Why is that funny? Uhhh... Anyone been to large east-coast cities lately? Or how about many southern or western states? What do I mean? How about families that speak English in public, but (GASP!) they speak Polish or Italian or Yiddish or whatever when behind their closed doors or in their churches? How about Spanish-speaking families? Are they radical Hispanics because they speak their own language behind closed doors?

The author of the site says, "The purpose of the introduction movie clip was to get one's attention, not to scare you. It is all based on fact and probabilities." There is a difference in INFORMING someone and using a video with explosions showing the Statue of Liberty falling to pieces. Not trying to scare us? Oh please, that is the only thing the site *IS* trying to do.

I'm all for people making their own decisions based on what they read. So, with that, I recommend you read what you want. If you visit the site and it freaks you out to no end, take a pill and calm down. Remember, for every side of every story, there is another side. And in this, there is a more sane side.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Horse Worming


I stopped by the feed store today and picked up a tube of horse-wormer. Worming a horse is no where near as adventrous as doing the cows, I'm afraid. I stepped over the fence, and after a few moments was able to grab Daisy's halter. She wasn't happy, but after she calmed down, I slid the tube into her mouth and when I got to the back of her tongue, I pushed the plunger. I held her head up for about a minute afterward to make sure she wasn't going to spit it out, then she was done.

As I was walking back to the house, I happened to look down see the following label on the tube:

Warning: Do not use in horses intended for human consumption.

I don't know what's scarier - the fact that humans shouldn't consume the stuff, or that humans would consume the horse to begin with.... I know, people do it, just not people I know....

Teach users to fish without making them feel stupid

(This is something I posted to my work-related blog, but I wanted to put it here as well)

The old adage goes something like: “Bring a man a fish, and you feed him for a meal. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” As true as this is, there should be an addendum: “Teach a man to fish (without making him feel stupid)…”

Anyone who works in IT can tell you humorous stories about “simple” issues that were caused by the user, either directly or indirectly. Or, the IT professional can relay stories of users who are/were technologically challenged. How we handle those situations, and more importantly how we handle the users, can mean the difference between securing repeat business or getting a bad reputation as a customer service professional. And, the reality of life is that any IT professional is really a service professional.

Before I get to my main point, let me give an example. Several years ago, I had a user call me to let me know her CD drive was not working. The conversation went something similar to this:

Me: “When you say ‘it is not working, what do you mean?’”
Her: “Well, I can put CD’s in, but the computer doesn’t do anything.”
Me: “Okay. Just to be sure we’re on the same page, are you putting the CD’s in with the label side facing upward so you can read it?”
Her: “Yes. And, after they go in, I cannot get them to come back out again.”
Me: “How many CD’s have you put into your drive?”
Her: “Well, I have about three in there now, but it won’t let me put any more in.”

About now, I am thinking that she has a 5.25” drive in her computer and she has been jamming CD’s into it. Turns out that was not the case, as you will see.

Me: “Hmm… I’ll be right over as soon as I can to look at it.”
(I hop in my car and drive to the school)
Me: “Hey there! Let’s see if we can figure out what’s going on.”
(She gets out of her chair so I can sit at her desk)

I push the button on the CD drive, and it is empty. Now, I am thinking her drive is actually ‘eating’ the discs… This thought is interrupted by:

Her: “Hey! What is that!?” (Pointing to the now-open and visible CD tray)
Me: “The CD tray where you put your discs, right?” (I ask, expecting her to say yes)
Her: “Oh, no, that’s not where I’m putting them.” (Her computer does not have a 5.25” drive)
Me: “Oh. Okay, can you show me where you’ve been putting them?”

She takes a CD and attempts to insert it between the top of the drive and the computer case.

Her: “See? I used to be able to put them in here.”
Me: “Oh, okay. Well, I’ll see if I can get the other CD’s out, but instead of trying to put them there, you can push this little button (I show her the button next to the tray) and put the CD in there.”
Her: “Oh, my gosh! I feel so stupid! I can’t believe I didn’t know where to put the CD!”
Me: “Don’t feel bad. You just didn’t know. Now, you do. (I smile)”

I remove the side panel from her case and find the CDs resting on top of her CD drive. There are four of them, and they are scratched beyond use from being squeezed through such a tight slot.

Me: “Well, here are your CD’s, but I’m afraid they won’t work anymore. They’re pretty scratched up.”
Her: “(Looking embarrassed still) Oh, that’s okay. I’m just glad you figured it out without making me feel like an idiot.”

The situation was diffused without turning the user into an angry or bawling mess. I also showed her (and that district) that I could be trusted to get the job done without belittling the user for simply not knowing what to do (which brings me to a discussion on assuming things about our users, but I will save that for another day). How does this tie in to today’s post? Please consider the following email exchange (names have been removed) that took place the other day:

From User:
Hi David,
I tried to log in and it won’t let me.
I used: thepassword
Password: theuserid
Am I doing something wrong?
Please let me know. THANKS!

My Response:
You have the right username and password, but you have them flipped… your username is theuserid, and the password is thepassword. Also, we just got done re-booting the server, so it could be possible that it was still coming back up, if you just tried it a few minutes ago. Trying again now should let you in. If not, let me know and I’ll shoot, er, troubleshoot it.
--David

(I received a “Thank You” and then the following email)

From User:
I tried again (with them in the correct order) to no avail. Please shoot the computer…oh yeah, I meant troubleshoot

My Response:
Hmm.. I tried it and was able to log in as you. See if you can get in by copying and pasting your username and password from our previous email. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try something else on this end. If that DOES work, then it usually just means there was something mistyped – usually it is a capitalization issue.
Keep me posted!
--David

(A few minutes later, I received the following email)

From User:
Got it! It seems that my computer had an operator error.
Thanks!

My Response:
No worries! Mine has the same problem more often than I care to admit!
Glad you got in!
--David

Do you see what happened there? First, I helped the user get the correct order of things for logging in. This was done without making the user feel stupid. I also added a bit of information that may or may not have been related to her problem. This lets the user know that she is not being “blamed” for the inability to log in (that is, it might be related to a server rebooting – which was true based on the time of the reboot and the time of her email). Third, I encouraged the user to try again, and threw in a bit of ‘dumb tech humor’ to alleviate any negative feelings the user may be having (possible due to her realization that she had switched her username and password).

When she responded that it still did not work, I logged in with her credentials so that I could see if something had gone wrong with her account. I was able to log in. I let her know that I could get in, and offered a non-combative suggestion (copy/paste). I also explained what to do whether my suggestion worked or not. I also offered an explanation that helped (I hope) her see that she was not the only one this happens to and something (capitalization) she may have overlooked as she typed her password.

Her response lets me know that she was able to get in, and she used “tech humor” back at me, which let me know she was taking things pretty light-heartedly. I followed her response up with some of my own self-deprecating humor, letting her know that I make the same kinds of mistakes, too.

I give you this “play-by-play” in order to demonstrate and explain the process (or at least one possible one) through which IT professionals can help users solve problems without making them feel stupid or inadequate. I could have responded with a simple, “You have your username and password backwards, and make sure you check the punctuation and capitalization of your username and password.” Perhaps some users would appreciate such a direct, terse response. But, in my experience, taking the direct blame away from the user keeps whatever “us vs. them” issues out of the conversation. In fact, she threw in her OWN “operator error” comment about herself.

If you want to keep your customers coming back to you, treat them with respect and TEACH them what they need to know. One of the things I will often ask a customer when I am trying to help them solve a problem is, “Would you like me to teach you to fish, or would you rather I fish for you?” Usually, the first time I work with a user, they tell me to fish for them (that is, get the problem fixed and get out of the way), but the next time, they will ask me to teach them to fish (that is, show them how to fix it themselves). But, even when I am doing the fishing, I am always trying to at least do a little teaching at the same time. Feed your users/customers for a lifetime without making them feel stupid for not knowing how (or for tangling the line, breaking the hook, etc) in the first place.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday not so super


I voted yesterday (Tuesday). I am an Independent, but Arkansas is an 'open election' state, so I got to go and select the party from which I wanted to choose, and then I got to pick the person I wanted to vote for. I am a huge fan of electronic voting, and once they get Internet voting down, I am all for it.

When I saw the list of candidates, I was surprised to see that the list contained people who had dropped out (obviously "electronic" does mean "up-to-date"). And, it so happened the guy I wanted to vote for was still listed! Many people will say that voting for a candidate who dropped out is a waste of a vote. I disagree. And, so do at least 1999 other Akransans who also voted for the same person I did!

Let me make sure everyone understands this: I knew perfectly well that my choice had dropped out. I am not some bonehead that thought he was still running. I made the conscious decision to vote for the person I would have chosen had he not dropped out. Why?

I voted for him because I want him to know that he does have people who thought he was the better choice, especially given the alternatives. I admit, I also figured the news would show how many people voted for everyone on the ballot (which they did, and which is how I know at least 1999 others voted as I did). So, I figured that if they came on said, "Only 1 person voted for so-and-do..." I would know it was me. :-)


Now, what I want to know is how in the blankety-blank did ALABAMA, excuse me, AL-OBAMA, possibly vote for Barrack!? Hello!? This is ALABAMA we're talking about here! I am stumped, given the racial tension in that state... Then again, maybe there is no tension anymore...

Of course, that's no worse than Huckansas. But, you know why Arkansans voted for Huckabee, right? A vote for Huckabee is a vote that he gets the heck out of our state! Same pretty much holds true for Hillary, though on a less direct scale. You all realize that is why Bill won the state, right? We were so tired of his crap, we didn't care where he went, just so it wasn't here anymore! Though, I do have to admit, I ended liking what he did for the country politically. I believe he can truthfully says, "I did not have sexual relations with that country!" Unlike Bush, who has done us over so many times, it's no wonder the nation has the highest rate of colon-related problems ever....

All I ask is that whoever wins in November, please, dear Lord, abolish "No Child Left Behind." Special Ed kids are Special Ed kids for a reason. On top of that, not all children are meant to be the next leaders of the free world, of the next phase of the industrial, information, or any other age. Some people are going to be garbagemen, mechanics, food service workers, etc. And what is wrong with that? Nothing. If it weren't for the bluest of blue-collar workers, white-collar guys like me wouldn't have the jobs we have to begin with.



Tuesday brought not only the primary, but also the worst tornadoes we've seen in the state in quite a while. We watched the news as reports of Atkins and other towns were decimated. We watched as pictures and video flashed on the screen. We waited as the winds ripped through our area, bringing torrential downpours and small hail.

We live in Southwest Arkansas, so we were not as directly affected as the hardest-hit areas. Though not directly affected, we were and are certainly indirectly affected. I am on a listserv at work that joins almost every technology-related person in K12. All day, questions about the people we know (or know of), their friends, families, homes, schools, etc came pouring through the list. Since the first day I came to Arkansas, I have always said, "Arkansas is a small town." And it is times like these that it shows - people reaching out to those who are hundreds of miles away, as if they were their next-door neighbors.

I've lived in/near Pittsburgh, Denver, Boulder, and D.C. Arkansas is a small town, and there are very few places I'd rather live.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Giants Win!!


Normally, I wouldn't care one way or the other which team won this year's SuperBowl. In fact, when I started watching the game, I specifically said that it didn't matter to me which team won. But, ultimately I wanted the Giants to win. What swayed my vote? Belichick threw a challenge flag when one of the Giants was in the air, jumping to get off the field. That was the most ridiculous challenge I have ever seen. Right then, I wanted the Giants to win against this cry-baby, spying bonehead. As it turned out, the challenge amounted to nothing, and the Giants sent the trademark-cocky Patriots packing. So much for the "19-0" and "19-0 The Perfect Season," huh?

I do want to say that Peyton Manning is one classy guy. While his brother was basking in his victory, Peyton remained in his executive booth, watching the events on the big screen. I tip my hat off to the big brother who tasted the victory last year, and let his brother drink it in this year.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Cow Worming

I can now add another skill to my growing list: Cow Worming. I've wormed horses before (you take a tube of de-wormer, set the appropriate dosage, stick the tube in the horse's mouth and press the plunger), but I offered to help Shan's Dad worm cows this afternoon (Saturday). In the interest of self-deprecating humor, allow me to be sure to give you as much detail as possible:

When I asked Shan's Dad if he needed help, I had no idea what we'd be doing. So, I was wearing black and blue "slick" shorts and my blue Best Buy shirt, and I had tennis shoes on. When he said we'd be worming cows, I only had the procedure for horses to go by. As we head into the pasture area he has his corral set up in, he is carrying a long U-shaped white plastic "stick" (for lack of a better description), a plastic bottle of de-wormer, and a small cup-like container. The ground is a mess from the wet weather we've been having, not to mention the cow manure all over the place, so I quickly suggest that I go put my boots on.

So, I'm in my shorts and t-shirt with my boots on. Shan's Dad directs me to stand at one end of the corral and slide boards in behind the cows when they enter, so they won't get out. He also tells me to fill the cup-like thing halfway with the de-wormer and to pour the stuff along the cows' backs when they are blocked in. This is great in theory.

When the cows enter the chute, they go bananas. As I try to pour the stuff on one of their backs (there are two cows in the chute), they jump over the far-end barrier and escape. Shan's Dad says he was not expecting the cows to do that, we go to plan B. The chute is actually an L-shaped one, so we can get one cow at a time into the last part of chute. Back up and punt.

The first cow in is so unhappy to be there that most of the de-wormer ends up on the side of the cow than on its back. I get the blockade out of the way, and the cow goes into the field. I put the boards back in place, ready for the next cow. She gets wrangled in there, and just as I pour the medicine, the cow jumps OVER the barrier. Talk about mad cow!

After a bit, Shan's Dad gets another cow to come in ans she is so calm about the whole thing, I actually get the de-wormer to go in a perfect line down her back. She even waits for me to move the boards so she can get out.

The whole time this is going on, the bull is walking around, trying to decide if he should watch or if he should send my happy butt flying. Luckily, he opts just to watch.

I think we did another cow, but I don't really remember. Well, at least I have another item to add to my resume'...