Sunday, October 31, 2010

Comcast Rant

Back when I had basic internet service, life was good. Comcast hooked up my modem, I bought a wireless router, and life went on. But then my boyfriend moved in, and he wanted cable TV. Now, although I do not own a television set, I have nothing against tv itself. Just because I have no personal motivation to in front of any screen other than the one on my laptop, I knew that if he was going to stay living with me, we were going to get a television and the cable service (to watch Sunday and Monday night football) to go with it.

As long as he bought the television set and paid for the cable, I had no problem with any of this. I even researched the various cable options for him. Granted, I was a little shocked when I arrived home one day to find a 46” HDTV sitting on the floor in the living room, but seeing as I didn’t have to buy the thing, I was not too perturbed. As expected, once the television arrived, R___ asked me to call and order cable service with the sports package option. Thus, with virtually no idea of how many hours of life were about to be needlessly lost from this simple action, I called Comcast and ordered the service.

Signing up for cable television was simple. The Comcast rep I spoke with told me—no, promised me—that we would get our cable box by Wednesday. I asked several times to be sure, because this seemed like awfully fast service delivery, since I was calling on a Monday; however, I assumed that they must be shipping it FedEx or UPS, and if they used next-day or overnight delivery, then perhaps it really would arrive in two days. Which was crucial, you understand, because the first football game of the season was happening on Thursday—and R___ wanted to watch it.

Tuesday came and went with no cable box. Wednesday passed the same way. By Thursday night, we were still staring at a blank, black television. Thus, I made my first “complaint” call to Comcast. As it turns out, I had been misled. The Comcast rep had actually meant that the cable box would be delivered next Wednesday, in spite of my insistence that the box arrive “in time for the first football of the game of the season.” Consequently, not only did R___ miss the first game of the season, but he missed all of the Sunday and Monday night games, as well. Needless to say, he was not a happy camper.

Finally, the box arrived, and we sat down to set it up. In addition to assuring me it would arrive by Wednesday, the original Comcast rep had convinced me that we would be able to set up the cable box ourselves. “Honestly,” he told me, “it’s senseless for you to pay $25 just to have one of our guys come out there for five minutes.” This sounded logical enough to me, and I’m all in favor of saving $25..

As you may have predicted, many hours and several tangled-up chords later, R___ and I were tired, frustrated, and still without cable. This led to my second night-long telephone call with Comcast. The rep I got this time seemed to barely speak English and, unsurprisingly, failed to successfully walk me through the installation. After issuing me seemingly identical instructions three or four times, she declared that a technician would need to come out and install it for us. Since I had been initially told that we could install it ourselves, I insisted that we not be charged for this visit—to which the rep agreed.

Because one of us had to be home in order to have the technician come install the cable box, we did not get cable service until several days later. When the technician finally arrived and set everything up, he informed us that the reason we weren’t able to get things set up ourselves was that a chord was missing from the materials that had been mailed to us. Furthermore, he informed us that because we have an HDTV, we needed a special HDMI cable box; the standard cable box we had received would only produce grainy, pixilated images. Now, this truly mystifies me. In this day and age, with so many people possessing Blue Ray players and HDTVs, why would cable companies not ask this sort of question when people sign up for service? The HDMI box even costs more, you would think it would be to their advantage!.

Once again, I called Comcast and was told that I would not be able to trade in the cable box by mail; I would need to go to a Comcast Center in order to make the swap. No sooner did I hang up the phone, when the bill arrived, showing charges for a full month of cable service. The technician had only just come one day prior, meaning that we had obviously not had cable service all month. Thus, I rang up Comcast yet again. On this call, I nearly yelled at the representative when she informed me that that we were charged from the day I ordered cable service, rather than from the day we actually began seeing pictures on our television. The rep promised a credit on our next bill, so I paid the current bill in full and began to make plans to trade in the cable box.

Of course, nothing concerning Comcast can be easy, and trading in the cable box was no exception. First of all, the closest Comcast center was over 2 miles away—an easy trip for anyone who has a car or a cheap bicycle. In my case, I was forced to take the light rail (public transportation) and then walk a quarter mile to reach the center. Before I even laid eyes on the entrance, I ran into a line of people that extended down the block. Yes, one person standing in line (or “on line” as they say here in NY and NJ), this is the line for the Comcast center. And yes, the center closes in one hour.

The most appropriate ending to this story would be my getting all the way to the front doors, only to have the closed in my face. Fortunately, I did make it inside and managed to swap my cable box for an HDMI box. Unfortunately, once I brought the thing home and unwrapped all of the chords, I found—lo and behond—there were no instructions. There were plenty of “order this additional service” fliers, but not one helpful word of guidance. Thus, I called Comcast once again.

This time, the rep directed to a manual on the internet (which, mind you, being a resourceful consumer, I had already tried to find myself), and walked me through a number of convoluted steps that were not even detailed on the internet manual. At the end of it all, I was told to leave the television on for 45 minutes, after which all of the channels would magically appear. Thankfully, this is exactly what happened.

As you may have anticipated, however, this is not the end of the story. When the next bill arrived, not only was there no credit for the un-received cable service, there was also a mysterious $14.30 charge for a “converter.” With no footnote indicating what a “converter” was, I called Comcast yet one more time. On this call, I demanded that the rep put apply the credit to my current bill while I waited on the phone line. This seemed failsafe, until I was informed that only one of the credits would go through. The mistaken cable charges were credited successfully, but credit for the $14.30 “converter”—which apparently was the charge for the technician who we were promised would work free of charge—would not go through.

Tired of fighting, I finally chalked the $14.30 up to a “peace of mind” charge, and hung up the phone. However, I recently checked out my next bill online, and guess what I found? Another $14.30 “converter” charge!

Time to start researching Verizon’s services . . . .

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: A Thousand Cuts

A Thousand CutsA Thousand Cuts by Simon Lelic

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Thousand Cuts provides a compelling exploration into the politics of school administration, the psychology of bullying, and the barriers that sexism creates. The story is intriguing not so much because of a fast-moving or explosive plot but, because Lelic writes her novel as a character study told more like a mystery novel.

Detective Inspector Lucia May is intent upon uncovering the "real" story of a school shooting-suicide by a nerdy history teacher. As she delves deeper and deeper, she encounters extreme opposition from both the school and her own superiors and finds herself beginning to sympathize with the killer.

Told as a mixture of first-person testimonies and third-person narration, this novel flows easily between the two styles and builds a riveting story that tackles complicated topics with insight and poise. In a decade that has been rife with school violence, this novel emerges as one of the gems.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Snapshot Book Review: Veronica Decides to Die

Veronika Decides to DieVeronika Decides to Die by Paulo Coelho

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I read about a third of the way through this book before deciding that finishing it wasn't worth my time. I wasn't as wild about The Alchemist as most other people I know who read it, but this novel is just intolerable. The plot and character development seem predictable to the point of being trite: Veronica tries to commit suicide because she sees life as static and aimless, fails, and gradually finds motivation to live again. Meanwhile she meets what are supposed to be quirky, interesting characters at the mental institution, all of which should make the reader question the idea of what sanity actually is.

However, I found the narration of this novel flat and tedious, its contents repetitive. How many times can we hear Veronica's dismal, boring outlook on life? And who decides to commit suicide out of apathy? It does not seem realistic, in my mind, nor does it make for a compelling novel.

If you want to read about a mental institution and to question sanity, pick up One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken Kesey. It will be a much more worthy investment of your time and attention.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

You know you’ve left NYC when...

  • You buy a cup of tea at a gas station.
  • You get in line—not on line—to pay for your tea. (Although if you own a smartphone, you could be online in line. Wouldn’t it sound silly to be online on line?)
  • The guy in line next to you at the gas station announces he’s having blueberry coffee and a burger . . . for breakfast.
  • The friend of the guy in line next to you helpfully points out, “She’s having tea! That girl’s having tea,” and the burger-for-breakfast guy then turns to you and asks if you like tea.

A New Yorker would have actively ignored you...and his retarded friend. Then again, in New York you wouldn’t be buying tea at a gas station, and you would have been getting on line to pay for it. Nevertheless, whether you’re on the PA turnpike or in a NYC coffee shop, you'll still let your dad pay for the tea—but only if he offers, of course.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Looking Back

Coming home to Pittsburgh and seeing people from my past always puts me in a nostalgic mood. Inevitably, I end up paging through old photo albums, exploring nooks and crannies in my bedroom, and, of course, pulling out my old yearbooks. The longer I am out of high school, the more surprised I am every time I return to some of these signatures. Some of the messages are so over-the-top, it is hard to believe anyone was able to take them seriously.

Yearbooks also have superlatives, so here are some “superlative awards” for the best (and worst) signatures:
  • Most generic signature: You're a wonderful person and I am glad I had the opportunity to meet you. You are so talented, and on top of that you're one of the nicest girls I know. Thank you for making high school wonderful. Good luck with life after Woody High. Keep in touch!--LS
  • Most blatant admission of fault: Like I said on the back of the senior pic, after all our personal hardships I finally grew up and we ended on a high note. Thanks for all the good times. Good luck cause I know you'll crush in life.--MJ
  • Most unexpected source of nice words: You are undoubtedly one of the most intelligent people EVER! Not only that, but you work so hard for it. I don't think that anyone can claim that they have earned every good grade they've gotten like you can. (A___ and I def. can't.) Anyways, I have total confidence that you will be successful in everything you do in life and I hope you have that same confidence in yourself. You are destined to be amazing, enjoy your journey there. (You're the first person that I feel the need not to write "Good luck," because I know you don't need it!)--EB
  • Most memories packed into one signature: Truly, what would I have done without you this year? You were my living journal. I miss all the walks to school, but somehow we made it up and got all of our horrible teenage emotions reconciled. I love talking to you and pondering life. You are my neighbor and one of my best friends, and what more could I ask for? Sorry for always being late, but I have to stop and smell the flowers, you know? Maybe one day I'll be on time...but then it wouldn't be classic E___ :) From Barbies to Witch to mud pies and board games, feeding Twinkie, Junior High soap operas, block parties, driving and prom parental woes, sister troubles and being "half the brain" of the school--paper doesn't do us justice. Thank you for always editing my papers, stop biting your nails, you think way too much, and keep those sarcastic comments :) Never stop caring, Ali, always have hope. And I promise you many letters :)--EH
  • Most "sounds-like-the-writer" signature: Wow do you think I can fill this huge void. Well I guess I'm not going to try. Haha. I love you babe. However, I still haven't figured out why it is recipricated (stet). Hehe. I like that one ur the absolute last person I thought that I could say is my best friend when highschool (stet) ends and I'm sure that is grammatically wrong. I will never forget all our times. I do truly believe that ur are the person I've grown closest w/. Ur the best quality of person I've ever known. I'm gonna laugh if you marry somebody besides me because it's gonna be that laugh where I'm losing it and it's not actually funny. I have the sweetest deal ever w/you. I'm allowed to cheat, not cheat, w/e you wanna call it. I wouldn't do it anyway. I'm sorry for all the times I "forgot" about you. It's odd that I wrote this much. I'm stopping w/I love you. P.S. Probably see you all summer so no goodbyes.--BG
  • Most ridiculous signature: Screw your mom for prom. We have always been the writers, the intellectuals, the ones I hope don't stick our heads in ovens like most of the other great writers. I expect nothing but the best from you, I don't think time will seperate (stet) us much when we see each other after years of being away, it will be like no time at all. We have always and will always be connected at the eyebrow.--AL