Like a half-assed grail quest…

I’ve been reaching out to potential mortgage servicers for the last week or so to see if anyone’s interested in underwriting a refinance for Fortress Jeff. With interest rates stupidly low, I can only assume every other American home owner is doing the same thing right now. That’s a net good overall for homeowners, but has driven the whole process towards being even more of an absolute pain in the ass than it would be under normal circumstances.

If nothing else, you’d think I could get my current mortgage servicer to pick up the damned phone. And yet here we are, with all my calls for the last four days kicked over to voicemail and emails left without response. 

I’m sure they’re busy. I know my mortgage is in no way even remotely close to “big business” for a national bank. But, hey, a quick email letting a long-term customer know they’re in the queue and someone will eventually get back to them – or gods forbid giving an actual estimate of when they may get in touch – would go a long way towards making me feel like they should keep my business and fending off the increasing likelihood that I’ll just slam a request for quotes through one of those online aggregators and go with the absolute low bidder.

Under normal circumstances, I’d just walk into the credit union and ask for their best offer and move along, but it seems that since they’re still operating under COVID procedures, requiring advanced appointments, and also getting flooded with work, adding them to the list would just make for one more outfit that doesn’t seem interested in calling back. They may get added to the mix yet, but life would be altogether easier if the current lender would just get on the stick and work a streamlined loan for me versus starting over as a new customer. 

Yes, it’s a first world problem… and yet since I’m living in the first world, that really just makes it a problem… and one that you wouldn’t think should take so much time and effort to work through, but, of course, here we are. It’s like some kind of half-assed grail quest. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. If you’re going to push out a metric shit-ton of new mandatory training and tell everyone in the universe they have to take it sometime in the next ten days, it seems to be that the first step might be to make sure the end users are in some way functional before it lands on hundreds of thousands of desks as a short notice must-do task. Maybe it’s just me, but proclaiming something must be done and then making it physically impossible to do feels like a pretty shit way of doing business… Not that I’m in any way surprised.

2. I’m trying to schedule someone to come out and give me a quote for three new window binds that approximately match what’s currently in the house. So far, one can’t be bothered to call back, the next wants me to dismount one of the existing blinds and bring it in so they can look at it, and the third really thinks I should consider getting new window coverings for the entire house. You wouldn’t think it would be this hard to get people to show up and take my money, but yet here we are.

3. Despite the story the media is intent on weaving, you really can decline to support a candidate for office because you have fundamental disagreements with their stated policy positions. To see the prevailing message of the day though, if you don’t support Joe and Kamala, it’s obviously because you’re racist. Feel free to bugger directly off with that fuckery. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Suppression of civil liberties. See a lot of news articles that include a one liner that “There is concern that the response to COVID-19 impinges on civil liberties,” but I rarely see the next sentence. I almost never see the sentence after that. Where’s the follow-on discussion to that statement? Government absolutely must respond to this as a public health crisis, but responding doesn’t mean that citizens forgo all other rights and freedoms under the Constitution. If it does, I have no idea why we’re bothering to keep anyone alive anyway.

2. Platitudes. I’ve seen a veritable cornucopia of blog posts and status updates positing in a variety of ways “in these troubled times we should just all be kind.” Bugger that. It’s in troubled times that we collectively and individually need to knuckle down, handle our business (whether it’s personal or professional), and do the hard work of living. In the face of troubles is the very last time we should find ourselves curled into the fetal position having a never-ending cry. If ever in our life there was a time to embrace the stiff upper lip of our forbearers, this would be it.

3. Unresponsive retailers. I’m doing my level best to keep small bookshops afloat during the Great Plague. I’m channeling a fair amount of money through online shops around the country and across the water because I value these businesses and want as many of them as possible to come out on the other side of this thing. Now having said that, my great love of small booksellers doesn’t mean I’m going to overlook all the old forms. I still need them to respond to email when an order doesn’t seem to have budged in almost three weeks. Even a simple “Hey, we’re closed up momentarily while the plague passes” would be sufficient. Failing that, I have to start getting the people who run the sales platform involved in a customer dispute cause us all a bunch of grief that could have easily been avoided.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Toothpaste residue. If you feel the compulsion to brush your teeth at the office in the middle of the afternoon, I’m sure you’re doing great things for your dental health… but for the love of all the gods can you please wash away or wipe the toothpaste residue out of the sink when you’re finished. It’s hard to feel like a trusted professional when it looks like you’re sharing a shitter with a bunch of 5 year olds.

2. Checking your work. I’m forced by the universe to accept that mistakes happen… but most often they seem to happen because people don’t check their work. If you know that you got a bad batch of widgets in and someone is making a special trip to your place of business to purchase one of these “might be bad” widgets, it stands to reason that you’d check before that person physically showed up in your shop, wasting time, and being inconvenienced. I can’t save the world from faulty material, but I can bloody well call out shit customer service when I experience it.

3. The dream of immortality. In a nation of almost 330,000,000 people living deep into the 21st century, on any given day about 7,708 Americans will die. Another 10,563 will be born. The rest will muddle through what, for them, is a more or less unremarkable day. For all the fuss we make about our big, developed brains, we have a bit of a strange relationship with death. It’s almost as if we try to pretend that if we just build a better seat belt, or cure cancer, or ban the right object or beverage, that all 330 million of us will go on living forever. It’s never worked that way. Sure, everything can be a little bit safer. You might even manage to cheat death for a while, but it’s most assuredly only a temporary reprieve.

An uneasy peace…

After the better part of three weeks, Amazon and I have arrived at an uneasy peace. They’ve stopped repeatedly trying to get me to pay for an item that’s already been paid for (and one that’s already been returned) and I’ve grudgingly accepted that Amazon has become an almost indispensable purveyor of “stuff” for my household.

The fact that it took a last gasp, hail Mary email to Jeff Bezos to grab a human being’s attention and get them to override the automatically generated email loop from hell I was trapped in still doesn’t leave me brimming with confidence.

I spent a fair amount of the last three weeks looking at and ordering from other online retailers, so I know there are alternatives to Amazon. What those alternatives don’t provide en block, are free shipping and access to the same exhaustive product list that Amazon does, so I found myself replacing one company with perhaps half a dozen in order to cover the same retail territory.

With that experience, I will admit that when Amazon is working well, they’re a hard act to beat… but when they freeze you out, they freeze you all the way out. I was, despite becoming increasingly aware of the inconvenience, prepared to stay frozen out indefinitely, but I’m glad it didn’t come to that in the end.

Amazon is never going to be a company I love, but in the end they are a company I can do business with – at least when it comes to ordering things that can stand to be badly packaged and beat to hell and back in transit. As it turns out, achieving peace in our time doesn’t mean I’m going to stop calling them out for that at every possible opportunity. You could have probably guessed that.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Squeakers. The level of noise in my house is probably more subdued than most. There aren’t kids screeching or multiple adults knocking around. The television or a webcast is usually running in the background just to provide some ambient sound. Maybe that’s why the sudden onset of every imaginable style of squeaky toy for dogs has left me slightly twitchy. Even with that said, I’m prepared to declare that dog toys with squeakers in them are absolutely tools of the devil, conceived in Hell itself and delivered by Amazon. If they can make whistles that only dogs can hear why can’t they rig toys to squeak in the same range? If feels like a wholly undeserved slice of the large and growing pet toy market.

2. Home Depot. Amazon has me trained, I suppose. I put in an order and two days later it ends up on my porch. Home Depot has a lot to learn from that model. I ordered something last Friday and it’s still sitting at the “order received.” A call to their customer service line gave me the stock answer that items usually ship in between 7 and 10 business days. I did, however, arrive home to find the item sitting on my front porch… even while a day later the tracking still says it’s just an “order received.” Hey, I’m happy to have it so I can get it installed over the weekend, but how the actual fuck is that an acceptable model of fulfillment in the internet age?

3. Lighting. I’ve gotten on board with some aspects of an automated home. I love my Nest thermostat. I love my security system – and it’s various environmental sensors that keep an eye out for smoke, carbon monoxide, and unexpected water in the basement. I’ve toe touched into the broader world of automated lighting – mostly using individual programmable switches and timers for various outlets and fixtures. It’s a system that works well enough given my somewhat fanatical adherence to routine. Still, there are some things I’d like to automate that are a little more involved and others I’d like to have a finer level of remote control over. This has led me down a deep and growing rabbit hole of home automation tools and systems… and into a growing awareness that doing what I want to do is going to be a not inexpensive effort. There’s more than a small part of me that wonders if the old mode of “flip switch, light turns on” isn’t really good enough. Of course then there’s the other, larger part that wants to exert detailed control over my environment that’s almost surely going to win the day. In this case, I suspect lighting is just the catalyst for a much larger and deep rooted annoyance.

Breaking up with Amazon…

I’ve always wanted to like Amazon. A million years ago they were a place where you could find all sorts of reading material that your small local bookshop didn’t carry or that they didn’t have much interest in getting for you. Time passes. Things evolve. Amazon is now all things to all people – literally where you can go to but everything including the kitchen sink, listen to streaming radio, or find a bit of in-house produced “prestige television.”

The more Amazon has grown, the larger their catalog of merchandise has become, the worse the overall experience of dealing with them is. Over the last 12 months I’ve received more damaged items and made more returns to them than I have in my entire time as an Amazon customer up to this point. It’s a pity, because Amazon is just so damned convenient. 

I won’t go so far as to say I’m parting company with Amazon – but I can go out of my way to make them a vendor of last resort. Even if that means a bit more inconvenience and expense for me, I’m just petty enough to put my money where my mouth is. I’ve cancelled my subscriptions and know that means spending extra time to find books coming from Powell’s, Barnes & Noble, or searched out from individual used book shops. It means either shlepping out to the local Petco for dog and cat food or finding more consistent online sellers. It means getting use to paying for 2-day shipping in some cases. 

Sure Amazon’s customer service is always quick with a refund or offering up a replacement, but being johnny on the spot with those things shouldn’t be the norm. If they’re not interested in delivering a product not beat to shit or spewed open inside the carton during shipment, they’re not interested in hanging on to at least this one customer. Sure, losing a couple thousand dollars a year in revenue isn’t going to break Amazon, but it’s the one voice I know capitalism understands when echoed by enough mouths… and all because the world’s greatest retailer can’t be bothered by a bit of proper product packaging.

Faith in the cloud…

Storing data “in the cloud” is not exactly new. It’s the modern version of mainframes with dumb terminals repackaged to sound somehow more futuristic. For data intensive activities – lets say storing a master backup of my hard drive – having it reside in the cloud (i.e. renting space in someone else’s server farm) works well enough for most purposes.  It just hums along in the background making a faithful copy of everything I have stored on my home computer. The chances of that service and my computer both crapping out at the exact same time are remote enough to not cause a moment’s active worry.

With something like a password manager, though, you end up with a bit of a different story. For five hours today Lastpass, one of a handful of large and popular password managers, was offline. It’s probably not a crisis if you use relatively simple passwords, like 1-2-3-4-A-B-C-D. If you use this kind of service to manage a hundred or more passwords and each of those passwords is a unique 16+ character string, however, life is going to get inconvenient in a hurry if there happen to be sites you actively need to log in to on a daily basis. 

For five hours today Lastpass failed me and I was effectively locked out of sites I use regularly, but that require a daily log in. Some passwords I had to reset manually (while taking note of the new password to sync later with the application that’s nominally in charge of managing my passwords). Others I was locked out of completely while waiting for the systems people to bring their website back online.

No online service will ever have a 100% availability. That goes with the territory. As a paying customer, though, I do expect some basic communication from the company about what’s happening and what is being done to restore services, and more specifically an ETA on when we can expect the repair to be completed. Today, unless you went digging on Twitter, it was a resounding silence from Lastpass. Not an impressive bit of performance… and something that’s got me reevaluating the balance between the security of a paid professional management site versus just keeping everything on a damned spreadsheet so I can use it when I need it. 

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Oat meal. I’ll admit it. I’m a fan of hot breakfast cereals as a group. Oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, corn meal are all perfectly pleasing breakfast foods in my kitchen. Running unnaturally late one morning this week, I opted to try breakfast in the little coffee shop / doughnut place in the office. That was a mistake. I saw oatmeal on their menu and thought to myself “self, how badly could a place screw up oatmeal?” The answer to that was a watery mess that had far more in common with the average soup than any kind of oatmeal one might expect to be served. That’s going to be a hard no from me, thanks. When the response from the manager is “yeah, that’s the new recipe we’re supposed to use. Nobody likes it,” I feel like you could have warned a guy ahead of time. Personally I’m 100% open to employee recommendations that warn me not to order something on the menu because it sucks. Not great business perhaps, but it would have been top notch customer service.

2. Telling me to smile more. Mostly I smile when I’m happy… not when I’m focusing in on the 13th revision of a PowerPoint slide or enduring the 3rd hour of a meeting that should have been an email. The fact that my face tends to go rather blank and the corners of my mouth draw towards a scowl in front of my computer terminal aren’t necessarily a commentary on anyone… Though I suppose it could be if it’s someone who tells me to “just smile” one more time. I’ll reserve those clear eyed, happy looks for times that don’t involve spending eight hour clips tethered to a cubicle. Otherwise I just end up walking around with a fake smile plastered right below my dead eyes like so many other drones who don’t seem to know what a smile is actually meant to convey.

3. Responsibility. I want another dog. I also want another cat. I also want to go to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer convention in London this fall. I want a new truck and maybe a plunge pool in the back yard. I want a remodeled master bathroom and new kitchen countertops too. I am, however, not currently getting any of these things because I’m making at least a passing effort at behaving responsibly and in a mostly adult manner. This leads me to believe that responsibility and behaving in an adult manner is stupid, largely unfulfilling, and generally annoying. In a world where the penalty for behaving utterly irresponsibly seems fairly low, I feel like I’m getting the worst end of this bargain.