Tuesday, September 29, 2009

He was making a reasonable argument, for a while.

Toben F. Nelson and Traci L. Toomey, along with their co-authors (listed at the end of the original article) start off making some good points with respect to how the drinking age impacts binge drinking and injury statistics in other countries.  Then they fall off the deep end as they wrap up the article and revert to scare tactics by making absolute statements such as;
“College student drinking is a serious problem. Each year more young people are injured, sexually assaulted and die as the result of drinking. These statistics would be even worse without the age-21 law.”
Where is the proof behind that hypothesis?  While I agree that it is certainly POSSIBLE they haven’t provided any indication of how PROBABLE it is.  They might as well say that lowering the drinking age will result in global warming and cause a decline in the Dow.  They go on to say;
“Lowering the drinking age will not save lives or make our campuses and communities better places to live. It will increase heavy drinking and the problems that accompany it in college communities and push the problem back into high schools.”
Again, certainly possible, but please provide a foundation before building the house.
I think everyone is overlooking the fact that we have some of the least restrictive laws in western society with respect to obtaining a driver license.  Furthermore, once you have your license – barring any egregious infractions – all you have to do is renew it periodically to keep it for the rest of your life.  No additional testing to speak of (NC requires vision and sign tests at renewal.)  Let’s take the lousy drivers off the road if we’re really concerned with automotive fatalities!  (While we’re at it I think an ignition interlock should be mandatory for anyone convicted of driving while impaired.)
Now that we’ve handled the drinking and driving aspect of the argument, how about some compromise?  In the cruise ship industry there was a policy that allowed guests between 18-21 to consume beer and wine with parental consent while in international waters.  Let’s take that model and allow young adults to consume beer and wine while under the direct supervision of their parents.  No loopholes, no exceptions, they must be with a parent.  This way we’re not sending young adults  the message “you’re old enough to vote, marry and be drafted, but don’t ask about drinking!” and society looks less like a bunch of hypocrites.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Fine Print

The fine print is the root of all evil.  Today’s example of corporate absurdity comes to you courtesy of Best Buy.  A year ago we purchased a new laptop for my son to use for school.  Being prudent parents, with full knowledge of the various situations that can arise with teenagers, laptops and schools we opted for the extended warranty coverage.  It wasn’t horribly overpriced, making it at least digestible when viewed as an insurance policy.
Fast forward to today, almost a year to the day after the original purchase:  The laptop (running that fantastic operating system from Microsoft known as ‘Vista’) is being its usual, less than agreeable, self and I learn that this has been the normal condition since it was purchased. (Thanks, Microsoft!)  I suggest that he check microsoft.com for a service pack that might address these performance issues.  He does, there is – and the wheels proceed to come off.  After installing the service pack the laptop devolves into a useless pile of components, taking an hour to fully boot and equally as long for a browser window to appear.  Ugh!  Time to call Best Buy to see about getting the Operating System reinstalled.
Or so I thought.
After calling the local store and spending over 30 minutes total listening to a phone ring in my ear through several failed transfers (nothing like a technology store that hasn’t figured out a 19th century invention…) I’m informed that the extended warranty only covers damage – “software issues” are not covered, and an operating system [sic] reload will cost you a cool $130.00 (well over 10% of the cost of the laptop when it was new!)  In this day of manufacturers shipping computers without media it’s more than a little underhanded to slap that kind of fee on a clean O/S reload that requires neither diagnostics nor backup – nothing more than a few keystrokes.  Keep in mind that if a drink were spilled into the keyboard or it were dropped it would be replaced, free of charge (but, according to the customer disservice goon at 888-BESTBUY, once you make a claim the warranty disappears…) The goon was quick enough to notice from my Best Buy Reward Zone profile that I am (was) an “excellent customer” – but guess what?  I’ll no longer patronize Best Buy as I have in the past.  They have proven to be nothing more than a corporate behemoth that only gives lip-service to customer service and chooses to gouge their customers at every opportunity.  I’ve got a bit of experience loading operating systems on computers, so I’m well aware of the effort involved.  Mr. Goon insisted that $130 was an industry standard fee for this service.  When I asked him to name a competitor that charged this fee he gave me Circuit City (umm, they’re bankrupt – I don’t think you want to compare Best Buy to them, do you?  Thanks for playing….) His next comparable company was CompUSA – hmm, 25 stores in 4 states plus Puerto Rico.  Again, not a flattering comparison for Best Buy.
So, we’re hunting up those media discs and embarking on a reloading session.  Thanks for nothing, Best Buy, we won’t be seeing you later.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Corporate Websites Suck

Yes, plain and simple, no two ways about it.  More often than not – in an attempt to appear fresh, new and pertinent – large corporations invest countless hours in a “redesign” of  their web portal.  Of course, when all they have done is move content around (randomly for the most part) and maintained the same look & feel all they manage to do is frustrate their existing customer base.  Imagine going to the neighborhood grocery this week only to discover that all the aisles have been shifted around and rearranged.  That’s exactly what most web site redesigns amount to.  When everything appears the same you shouldn’t have to spend time learning the new location of the information that you are accustomed to accessing.  Among the sites I frequent on a regular basis Verizon Wireless is the king of this methodology.
The next type of corporate site re-design appears to be for the sole purpose of obfuscating pertinent data.  Take the previous example and layer on new graphics and navigation along with the data shuffle.  For some reason there is a school of thought that says you must roll out a new website on a regular schedule in order to maintain shareholder value.  I’ve got an IBM ThinkPad that I purchased in late 2004 that is reliable and still covered by an extended warranty.  A few months after I purchased it the “red pixel disease” infected it – no problem, a couple of clicks on the website and I had an RMA number and a call tag was issued.  A few weeks ago the DVD drive went south.  “No Problem” says I – a few clicks and all will be taken care of – NOT!  After following multiple circular links I FINALLY discover a phone number.  When I convince the person on the other end of the line (thankfully a language barrier was not involved) that my degree in Computer Science makes me a reasonably qualified troubleshooter he manages to click here and there a few times and get a replacement on the way.  Note that a repair valued at hundreds of dollars was easier to handle than a repair valued at less than one hundred dollars, and the customer was frustrated in the process.
Freshen products, don’t frustrate customers – that should be the new mantra for all corporate sites.  People like comfort, and if your site changes on a regular basis just because your web team needs to look like they’re doing something then you have a dysfunction within your organization that demands attention.   Web teams should strive to perfect the web site they have – not strive to constantly reinvent and introduce a new set of problems that need fixing.