ColdFusion Muse

The Phonetic Enforcer - Customer Service Run Amuck

From the absurdist school of customer service I bring you another tale of woe and frustration (and comic insight).

I write for a living. I know most folks think I actually code, troubleshoot, run a company etc - but in truth a large part of my job is to communicate in email, documents and instant messaging. Recently I got to thinking about purchasing a new software that would help me with style and editing (I'm a notoriously wordy writer). I started poking around and found this link with some excellent choices so I started reviewing them. I settled on one of them (I won't say which but it was pale and misty) for my first trial. It was inexpensive and appeared to have an easy interface. More importantly it seemed to be able to jump to life within any software I was using. Since I use Word, Evernote, Outlook, Gmail, Google docs, and Homesite (for blog writing using hand coded HTML) I thought that was a great feature.

I downloaded a copy and tried it out on a few things - emails mostly. I liked it so I purchased a licensed. I began with a document that I was prepping. Uh oh.... the software has a 10,000 character limit - it won't scan more than 10,000 characters at a time. That's a non-starter for me - and it's too bad. The software was really nice and slick - and I was digging it. I contacted support and they were extremely helpful in answering my questions and confirming that it would not meet my needs. I asked for a refund (I'd had my license about an hour) and they said "no problem". They forwarded me to "Lee" in the payments department. That's when the trouble started. Here's a rough outline of how it went.

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Email Follies - How to Make E-friends and Influence E-people

Note - this is not a technical post. It's strictly intended to make people laugh or at least chuckle. And for the record I like cats.

In a recent meeting with a group of mad guitar players (meaning they have a high skill level - not that they are angry) it was suggested that I write a quick post on email etiquette for posterity. Going around the circle it became clear that each of these "normal users" - that's how us tech types think of everyone else - had stories of emails that were unintentionally vague, ambiguous, redundant and also said the same thing twice. So I thought I'd put my pen to paper so to speak and try to give my take on the proper use of email.

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Muse Rant: Open Letter to Sales People

In the immortal words of John Cleese "And now for something completely different." Please note that this post is intended to be funny. As a geek with a sort of geek sense of humor I have to say that up front or some folks may miss it. The Muse does not typically castigate sales people over the phone unless they are calling from a NY boiler room (the stock kind - I actually have an affinity for maintenance people). I'm generally nice with the goal of getting off the phone as quickly as possible. But I suppose some of these things are bubbling along inside of me all the same. If this gives you a laugh then I'm pleased, but I am not setting out to offend anyone. If you are trying to make a living calling folks to sell them something you might want to stop here unless you have a thick skin. I know you are just trying to make a living and I wish you success (but don't call me... please don't call me!!). And now....

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The Muse Offers Thanksgiving Day Gratitude

Warning: The following post is not related to ColdFusion, SQL, Troubleshooting or anything else of a technical nature. For this post active ingredients include faith, sentimentality, syrupy sweetness, hyperbole, statements of love, and over-all good-feeledness. Side effects may include smiles, light hearted chuckles, blushing, desire to hug your friends and loved ones and an internal urge to answer that pressing question "does my life matter". You have been notified. Seriously folks, if blogs that include statements related to faith bother you - my apologies. I have no desire to offend anyone, but Thanksgiving seems like an appropriate holiday for the following.

On this Thanksgiving Day I hope that you all have something to be thankful for. No matter where you are in life it pays to stop and consider the little things. This is not mere Muse sentimentality - although I do tend to cry at the end of "Armageddon" and every time I hear the song "I'm a little teapot" (it's a long story). No, what I mean is that living a life in tune with gratitude is a recipe for being content. You can make an amazing income, have power and influence and be an outstanding talent - but if you haven't learned how to be content then you may have the "good life" but you have yet to learn how to "live well".

Now I don't know everything about being content. I certainly have a ways to go. I am sometimes frustrated by others. I often feel an excess of pride and ambition. I'm not always as grateful as I could or should be. Still, the older I get, the more I am convinced that I am fortunate and blessed - and the more I want to share that blessing with others. More often than not I am content - and that is a powerful gift. Gratitude is a huge ingredient in the contentment recipe. Gratitude brings perspective and perspective allows me to rest and enjoy what I have in my life.

So what am I thankful for?

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The API Learning Curve Chart

One of my terrific, fantastic, stupendous, extraordinary, (doesn't that make you want to come and work for me?) developers named Denny has recently been working on consuming an API from a popular service who shall remain anonymous. I'll only say that when I hear their name I think of lederhosen and that cough drop commercial with the fancy pants guys and big horns. Anyway, Denny apparently uses art to vent his frustrations. Here's what he came up with.

Ok so he's not Picasso yet - but it is definitely refrigerator worthy don't you think?

The Muse Goes to War

As a part of our effort to build camaraderie among the team we put our heads together and thought of a group activity. Naturally the first thing we thought of was to equip the whole team with guns and send them out into the woods to shoot at each other. Here's a small sample of our CFWT team and friends in full battle regalia at Mad Cow Paintball.

From left to right is Christian Marvin, Chet Lovegren, jQuery aficionado Chris Tierney, Director of Development Jason Herbolsheimer (on one knee), Sales Director Curt Lovegren (Chet's father), Me (large and blue in the middle), My lovely wife Ann in her camouflage in front of me, CF Guru Wil Genovese, Nate Kuester, Jake Churchill, John (Nate's friend who's last name escapes me) and Ryan Stille.

It was a great time and we are looking forward to doing it again sometime soon (in between rounds of golf I suspect).

The Muse Exercises his Right Brain

It' a Saturday afternoon - one of those days when the music of my life is soft and mellow like elevator music. My boys are at school practicing for an upcoming math competition. My daughter is working. My wife and I sit in the living room while I read and she does Sudoku. I've already eaten lunch, done a few chores around the house and cleaned up my email. Having had another arduous week I am enjoying a little downtime. Meanwhile, my mellow mood is perfect for writing Haikus - so here you go:

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Hope Rising in Egypt

The entire world has its eyes glued on the Arab giant as it shakes off the chains of oppressive rule. It's hard to watch the footage of tearful and joyful Egyptians without having your heart leap inside of you. As someone who has never seriously considered the loss of freedom in my homeland I simply can't stop watching this amazing drama unfold. With surprising little bloodshed a non-violent "peoples revolt" has washed over the ancient land of the Nile like a tsunami - taking the rotten wood of autocratic corruption and despotism out to sea in its euphoric backwash.

In Cairo and throughout the land jubilant citizens of every stripe are dancing and singing and waving their nation's flag. The city is one big traffic jam given over to joy. Joy is sorely needed both here and in neighboring Arab countries. The majority of folks in Egypt live on less than $2.50 per day. Think about that for a moment. That's roughly what I pay (with the tip) each morning for my Vente double cup coffee at Starbucks. I indulge myself with an amount that others use simply to survive. Is it any wonder that these folks are dancing? It makes me want to dance with them.

What will Egypt look like a year from now? Who's to say. It will probably not reflect a Western democracy - but after all western democracy brought us Silvio Berlusconi right? I'm sure Egyptian democracy will have some glaring flaws. Most folks don't remember our own rugged history with democracy. We have slavery and ethnic cleansing as a part of heritage. Still, here's hoping the Egyptian people every success as they work to achieve what has been so elusive in the middle east - a lasting government that honors the rights and aspirations of all of its citizens, rules by law and not by fiat and allows for the regular and peaceful transition of power via free and fair elections. For a student of history like the Muse it will be thrilling to watch.

Speaking for me and my small circle of friends here in Omaha Nebraska to the people of Egypt - we are hoping... and praying... with you!

Geeks Run Amuck

In case you are wondering how fun it is to work at CF Webtools - here's what my developers spent their time on today. This image was passed around and modified a few times with much witty banter at my expense.



In a related story, the parrot is our new project manager. Actually that's not true. This is a late parrot.

Many Thanks to "Bank of the West"

Recently I got a large check from a customer. It is one of the largest payments we've received as a company (certainly in the top 10 or 15). We get our share of big payments to be sure. It takes a lot of lettuce to keep a staff of 12 or 13 developers fully engaged and happy. But this was an A league check. Now typically payments over 10k come in the form of wire or ACH. I have a few customers who pay large payments using American Express as well. In virtually all those cases the money transfer is electronic and works either instantly or takes a few days to settle (like PayPal transfers). For this reason I did not know that my bank has a policy to "hold" a check over a certain amount for 7 business days or until it settles completely.

When I deposited the check I was informed of this policy by a nice young man named Andrew at my branch (CF Muse's Branch). This meant my funds could be held up for over a week. Andrew is destined to be bank president some day if he doesn't go into politics. He saw that I was crestfallen about the delay and called in the reserves - the beautiful and talented Gina. These two folks got on the phone with their manager and pleaded my case for me. It was now 5:00 and there was not much they could do, but they took my cell number and promised to make it a priority first thing in the morning.

In the morning they contacted the Accounts Payable department of my customer and the issuer bank. They got enough information to assure their manager or supervisor that the check was good and would clear. At about 11:00 am Gina called to tell me that my funds were available with no further delay.

As a small business man who understands a thing or two about customer service I would just like to publically say thanks to Gina and Andrew for going above and beyond the call of duty. You've made a loyal customer out of CF Webtools for Bank Of the West. In the words of the sage, "May your children's children rise and call you blessed and may your shorts never turn pink from a dark red shirt mixed into the white load."

Spell Check Serendeputy

What was the world like before Spell check? Well for one thing we didn't exchange thousands of written words per day. After all you don't need spell check to talk on the phone. Although after listening to a few recent conversations at the DMV I'd say some of you need one of those little seven second delay "beep" buttons. Still without spell check I suspect email, texts and blogging would be much worse (and they are pretty bad now). Spell checkers correct many egreegious...egrigious...egriugies... many obvious and glaring errors. But sometimes they have a way of intercepting our thoughts and turning them into something else entirely.

I once wrote a paper for publication that referenced the practice of astral-projection. Don't worry - it wasn't a tech post. I finished the copy and prepared to send it to the editor. As I was reading through it I realized that I must have misspelled astral - maybe added an "h" to it or something. My paper now described the practice of ashtray-projection.

Recently my sales director sent a note to a customer checking in to see if they had any upcoming projects. The customer replied "We will defiantly keep you in mind." Now that's the sort of customer I love! They are going to use us no matter what anyone says dang it!

It gets better. When I'm texting spell check is its own worst enemy. My current phone (a blackberry Storm) tries to help me, first by guessing the letter I might have meant on the touch screen and then by suggesting and pre-filling words for me based on its guess. It also apparently stores words from previous messages as ok. At least that's what I think is happening. Every time I use the word "today" it comes out "toady". My wife takes offense at that ("Hey... what are you doing toady?").

As the main target for much of my texting my wife gets to laugh at me on a daily basis - not that she needs texts messages to do that. As a typical husband I'm sure I provide copious ammunition. But to sample her daily dose.... she asked what I wanted for supper one time and I told her burgers on the groin would be nice. I once told her I was on my way to "homeless depot". I was making a pie and she was at the store getting supplies. I asked, "did you remember the alamos?" I meant almonds but the mistake was quite serendipitous. I could imagine her at the grocery store with one hand on her heart and the other scratching her head in puzzlement.

Sometimes when I try to correct my text misspellings I get into even more trouble. Recently, after indicating that I thought someone was a "really nice gay" (not that there's anything wrong with that) I told him I was sorry, I meant "guy" and I blamed it on my "cat fingers". Since then I've had the inexorable craving to lick myself and spit up in the corner - not necessarily in that order, but still.

So hears too awl yew spell czek funsters out their. Lets hope the next decayed brings us a spell checker that can reed mines as well.

News at the Speed of Twitter

At 1:07 yesterday one of my senior staff Developers, Chris Tierney, came to my office door asking if I knew anyone at Millard South High School. He said there had been shots fired there but he didn't have any details. We later learned that in a horrific incident a troubled young man shot both the principle and vice-principle of that school. He then fled and took his own life a short time later. The principle survived but the vice-principle tragically passed away shortly thereafter. Before I comment further I want to say sincerely that my thoughts and prayers are with the parents and teachers at Millard South as well as the families of these two administrators and even with the family of this young man.

Now I want to say something about these events as they transpired and (especially) how I came to learn the details. I have never been more shockingly aware of how technology has changed our world than I was yesterday. I said that Chris informed me at 1:07. What I did not tell you is that the shots were fired at 1:05. While the local news crews were rushing to the scene, students with cell phones were furiously tweeting and texting. This new grapevine spiders its way across multiple devices and platforms in a lightning fast nervous system that blurs the difference between news and real time events.

Shortly after Chris, others began gathering to watch the TV that is in my office. Video editor Erin Oesterberg contributed to our conversation by telling us it was a disgruntled student (that was new information). Others added additional details and Chris learned details from a student inside the school (a child of a friend of his). By 1:12, a mere 5 minutes after we heard the initial news, we knew the student and we knew the names of the principle and the vice principle. We knew that the student had fled the building and had likely taken his life. In short we had virtually all the details of this incident within 5 minutes of its occurrence. Meanwhile the local news was still trying to interview arriving parents and policemen on the scene.

Some Conclusions

I wonder if it's even possible to draw conclusions from this, but perhaps I can draw some general observations. First, processing of information on a personal level can no longer be done at a measured pace. When something important happens, if you are nearby you are de facto drawn into the story. You almost become a part of the scene experiencing it along with the "folks on the ground". Secondly, there is no adequate filter any more. Information comes too fast. It leap frogs over traditional filters like newspapers and even web sites and ends up directly on my desktop or phone or I-pad or whatever. Overall I take this as a good thing. But it does mean I have to make more judgments about information veracity.

Finally, TV is increasingly just one voice among many choices. It's old advantage of being where you saw the video footage is gone as well. I would wager that 30 percent of the students at Millard South had cameras capable of capturing video and uploading it to Youtube. Along with tweets (which spread like wildfire) and texts these snippets are disseminated widely and reach platforms that traditional TV can't touch effectively.

Skype Vs. the Muse

I love Skype and have been using it for some time now. Recently we moved to using it regularly with both in-house and remote developers. It has gone very well, and of late even customers have opted for Skype as a communication method. So I decided to roll all our users into a "business" account for Skype where I could use VM, dial real numbers on occasion, use call forwarding and run usage reports. It seemed to make sense. Now for me Skype's interface is a little counter intuitive, but not too hard to use. Skype's site on the other hand would make Dora the Explorer throw herself in front of a lawn mower.

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Muse Vs. PayPal: PayPal 1 Muse 0

(Best read in that booming movie trailer guy's voice)
One man determined to get answers. One man, alone against the machine. One man, no backup, no hair and no sense of fashion. Mark Kruger stars as Coldfusion Muse on a quest to talk to an actual, living, breathing, person - at PayPal.com. (queue dramatic music and on screen explosion)

It started with a simple question. Can I elevate my business account to a higher level of service in order to get payments transferred to my bank account faster. I found a number on the merchant services page. Sure, it was tiny and not in a place they expect you to find it. But I'm clever and I spotted it. Or at least I thought I was clever.

The phone was answered by a cheery recorded voice - the same lady who does hooked on phonics (ready.... begin!). Let's call her Sally.

  • Sally: Welcome to PayPal customer service. I see you are calling from 555-555-5555. Do you want me to use that number to look up your account?
  • Muse [in his terrific, booming, sonorous, made for radio voice]: (ahem) Yes.
  • Sally: I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. Could you repeat that?
  • Muse[in his whiny regular voice]: Yes!
  • Sally: Ok one Moment... I see you have a personal and a business account. If you want to use the business account say "business". If you want to use the personal account say "personal". (sally is not big on compound sentences).
  • Muse: Business...
  • Sally:Ok one moment while I transfer you.
  • Sally [No sign of recognition that she just spoke to me]: Welcome to PayPal Customer Service. Please enter your 6 digit web pin now. If you need a moment to look for it say "just a moment", otherwise say "I don't have one" or "I'm not a PayPal member".
  • Muse: (Thinking) ..web pin...web pin...not my password, my ATM card is 4 digits... I don't have a web pin. (speaking) I don't have one.
  • Sally:Ok one moment while I transfer you. (pause) Welcome to customer service.....
Finally, after 4 trips around this block (Jane... get me off this crazy thing!) on an obscure page I found my "web pin". I entered that thinking I was finally home free. Sure enough something different happened this time. I was transferred to an actual ringing phone, where I received this helpful message :

"We are experiencing technical difficulties. Please try your call again later."

So there's another 20 minutes of living the muse will never get back. I'd rather they just reached through the phone and poked me in the eye with an ice pick and got it over with. Now if you will excuse me I have to call my pharmacy to see if my valium prescription is in yet (... if you are a depressed lunatic say "Babababababa..."... I'm sorry ...ha ha... I did not understand you...).

Muse Reviews the Oscars

The Muse is a geek to be sure but he's also eclectic in the breadth of his knowledge. In between banter about object instantiation and thread management I manage to go to the movies with my wife and kids. I even read a book now and then. My 19 year old daughter Jasmine forces me to stay up on enough entertainment news so I can have more interesting conversations with her at Sunday Lunch. So naturally I was interested in the Oscars. I did indeed watch the whole thing with my wife (actually I watched while I continued my reading of the 19th edition of the "Complete PC Repair and Upgrade Guide"... but it still counts). Here is the Muse review of the 82nd annual Oscars:

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