Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Best Customer Service Ever from Soak

I've been using Soak to wash my bras ever since I was introduced to the product by the bra-fitting geniuses at Secrets From Your Sister. It's super convenient for someone like me who lives in a small apartment with no access to a laundry tub because, as the name suggests, you just have to soak your delicates - no rinsing!  I've also discovered it's useful for knits (which is very helpful given my love of cashmere), and for spot-cleaning things that can't easily be rinsed (put the tiniest dab possible of Soak on a damp cloth, and scrub well).  The internet has also suggested that it could be used for stuffed animals, although I haven't tried this myself yet.

Unfortunately, the Secrets From Your Sister location in my neighbourhood closed, and then Très Jolie also closed, so there was nowhere to buy it in my neighbourhood any more!

(Retailers in the Yonge-Eglinton area: there's a business opportunity for you here.)

Then I discovered that you can buy directly from the Soak website! Awesome!  Since they had free shipping on orders over $75, I ordered several bottles, figuring I'll certainly use it all eventually.

But when my order arrived, I discovered that many of the bottles weren't what I ordered!  Soak comes in a number of different scents, and most of them were in a completely different scent.

I retraced my steps, and discovered that there was a fluke on their website (my best guess is a copy-paste error in some code) that caused the wrong scent to be listed in one of the items on the page of the scent I was shopping for.

I figured I didn't want to deal with an exchange since it would be expensive to ship back (being liquid) and I could live with the incorrect scent.  But I decided to email the Soak people to let them know of the website problem anyway - some future customer might be more upset or inconvenienced about receiving the incorrect scent.

To my utter astonishment and delight, they promptly sent me replacements in the correct scent, and told me I can just pass the incorrect bottles on to someone else rather than having to pay for returning them!  The replacement bottles arrived by FedEx first thing in the morning on the next business day, and, even though they were already sending me free product at non-negligible cost the box even contained a few little free sample packets!

This is literally the best customer service I have ever received in my life! Thank you Soak!

Therefore, I am strongly recommending Soak to everyone who's in the market for a hand-washing and/or rinse-free laundry detergent.  Not just because it's a useful, convenient and effective product (which it is), and not just because it's a local, made-in-Canada product (which it is), but also because they're an awesome company and deserve to win.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Books Read in February 2015


1. The Oracle Glass by Judith Merkle Riley
2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
3. Calculated in Death by J.D. Robb
4. Cataract City by Craig Davidson
5. The Ig Nobel Prizes 2 by Marc Abrahams
6. Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala
7. Thankless in Death by J.D. Robb
8. Sanaaq by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk (English translation by Peter Frost)
9. Taken in Death by J.D. Robb
10. Aunt Winnie by Elspeth Cameron


1. Delusion in Death

Monday, February 23, 2015

Door etiquette

Proper door etiquette is normally to let people out first and only enter once everyone has exited.

This makes perfect sense for enclosed spaces like elevators and trains, and everyone should diligently follow this rule at all times.

However, it occurs to me that the rule should be the opposite for entrances to buildings, especially in bad weather: you should let people in first, and only exit once everyone waiting to answer is inside.  This means that the people in the cold/heat/wind/rain/snow/humidity can get out of the uncomfortable environment as quickly as possible, and all waiting is done in the comfortable environment.  In other words, wait inside the comfortable lobby to let people get out of the cold rather than vice-versa.

In cases where both weather and enclosed space are factors, such as a train with an outdoor platform, I think we have to let the enclosed space rule take precedence.  Regardless of the weather, it's still logistically necessary to let people out so there's room for new people to get in.  Plus, in the specific case of a train, it's easier for the person in charge of the doors to see that the loading/unloading process is still ongoing if there are still people on the platform, so they'll be less likely to close the doors and tell the train to leave while people haven't gotten on or off the train.

But in cases where there's plenty of room for everyone and no one is going to drive away and leave anyone stranded, let's let people in out of the cold as quickly as possible, shall we?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

There is no incentive to falsely take a citizenship oath

Recently in the news is the story that the government intends to appeal the Federal Court ruling that it is unlawful to require people to remove their clothing (in this case, a niqab) before taking a citizenship oath.

Sitting here steeped in white girl cultural hegemony, I tacitly assumed that they wanted people to uncover their faces during the oath for identification or fraud prevention purposes.  But it occurred to me in the shower this morning that no one would cover their face during a citizenship ceremony for nefarious purposes, because there's no incentive to do so - nothing would be gained or achieved by doing so, and it wouldn't change anything.

Let's unpack this.

Scenario: Cindy the New Citizen has gone through the entire immigration process and permanent resident process and citizenship exam and all the hoops and paperwork and everything, and has just received an invitation to attend a citizenship ceremony and take the citizenship oath.  Congratulations, Cindy! But Cindy doesn't attend the ceremony and take the oath.  Instead, Irene the Imposter attends the ceremony, pretending to be Cindy, and takes the oath in her place.

So what would the outcome of this scenario be?

Would Irene become a citizen by taking the oath?  Of course not - it's not a binding magical contract like in Harry Potter!  The record would show that Cindy, who is fully qualified to be a citizen, is now a citizen.  So Cindy would be a citizen and Irene's status would not change. 

This means that Irene has no incentive to impersonate Cindy, because it would have no impact on Irene's status.

But what if it's not Irene whose intentions are nefarious, but rather Cindy?  What if Cindy is trying to get citizenship without being beholden to the oath?  Let's think about this.

Suppose, Cindy breaks her oath and is caught.  When called out on it, she says "Nope, you can't hold me to that!  I didn't take the oath - I sent an imposter on my behalf!"  She's still in trouble, since the content of the oath is, essentially, promising to fulfill your duties as a citizen and obey the law, so she'd be in trouble for being derelict in her duties and/or breaking the law.  And, on top of everything else, she'd also be guilty of fraud! 

This means that Cindy has no incentive to send an imposter on her behalf, because that would only make things worse.

But what if Irene isn't there on Cindy's behalf?  What if she's there without Cindy's knowledge?

I can think of two possible motives for that: either Irene is trying to steal Cindy's identity, or she's trying to inflict citizenship upon Cindy without her knowledge.

If Irene is trying to steal Cindy's identity, she would have had to start long before the citizenship ceremony.  She could only find out about Cindy's citizenship ceremony if she has access to Cindy's mail, in which case she's either successfully stolen her identity, or has access to far more useful things like credit card statements and tax documents.  Going to the ceremony and taking the oath as Cindy will have no impact on the extent of her identity theft.

If Cindy doesn't actually want citizenship and Irene is trying to inflict it upon her without her knowledge, Cindy wouldn't even be having a citizenship ceremony.  There's quite a lot of work to do and steps to take to become a citizen, and if Cindy didn't want it, she could just do nothing. 

There is simply no reason why anyone would falsely take the oath with nefarious intentions, because it would do nothing to help them achieve their nefarious intentions and basically wouldn't be worth their time.  Therefore, there's no reason to fret about being able to see everyone's faces at all times.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Downton needs to explain why Tom thinks they'll have a better life in America

This post contains spoilers up to and including Season 5, Episode 7 of Downton Abbey (the one that includes a cute scene of Tom and little Sybbie dropping sticks off a bridge into the creek below).  Please do not include spoilers beyond that point.

In last week's Downton, Tom mentions to little Sybbie that he thinks they might be able to have a better life in America.

The show really needs to elaborate on why he thinks it would be better.

At Downton, Sybbie enjoys a much higher baseline level of security than she would living with Tom alone.  Even if we take luxury out of the equation and don't consider it a contributor to quality of life, the fact remains that at Downton she will have a roof over her head and food in her belly.  She will have new shoes whenever she needs them and a warm winter coat and a fire in her fireplace.

In America, Tom would need to find work and remain steadily employed to provide these things, but Downton has enough resources to provide these things regardless of what happens, and Sybbie will always be able to benefit from this security because everyone from Lord and Lady Grantham to Thomas the Evil Underbutler loves her.

Also, since Tom is a single parent, he would need to find childcare in America, whereas at Downton there's already childcare fit for a future earl.

Looking forward a few years, at Downton, education will be available to young Sybbie. If Tom wants her to go to school rather than being taught at home by a governess, I'm sure that could be made to happen without compromising her place within the security of Downton. If, when she gets older, she wants to go to some posh school or go on to university, her doting grandparents will make that available.  She will be constrained by nothing but her gender (given the era), and I'm sure she'd be similarly constrained by her gender in the US as well.

What would Tom do to earn a living in America?  Be a chauffeur or a taxi driver?  That's not necessarily going to provide his child with security.  Run a business?  If he feels that he has the business savvy to build a stable life for his child, he can already make use of it in his current role as estate manager at Downton, in support of the estate that provides his daughter with a secure life. 

Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Tom would necessarily fail in America.  He could probably eke out a perfectly reasonable working class cum middle class living.  We all know people who've done it - in fact, we probably all know people who've done it despite being a bit of an idiot!

But I just don't see why he's confident it would be better, especially from the point of view of building a future for a child. Normally this 20th century Europe to North American immigration arc involves people who are oppressed or otherwise have limited opportunities in their homeland, and Sybbie isn't and never will be in either situation.

Little Sybbie Branson the daughter of a widowed Irish chauffeur would probably have a better life - or at least more opportunities - in America, but you can't assume that Miss Sybil the granddaughter of an English earl necessarily would.  Some insight into Tom's logic here would be helpful to the viewer.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Journalism wanted: how did the Toronto Star's HPV vaccine story end up being sensationalistic?

I recently wrote a blog post complaining about a Toronto Star article about HPV vaccination that presented the story very sensationalistically and failed to include necessary context.

This week's public editor column agrees with that assessment.  Public editor Kathy English says:
In looking at all of this, I have to wonder why the Star published this at all — especially at this sensitive time in public health. If there is no proof that any of the young women’s illnesses, or the 60 adverse reactions in the database, were caused by the vaccine, then what is the story?
In that same column, she says:
To be fair, in the Gardasil investigation, reporters David Bruser and Jesse McLean absolutely do not conclude or state that the vaccine caused any of the suspected side effects the young women talk about. The article was written carefully to try to impart to readers the message that there was no conclusive evidence.
Also, on CBC radio program As It Happens, Toronto Star publisher John Cruikshank said:
"We failed in this case. We let down. And it was in the management of the story at the top."
What I want to know: how did the front page layout and presentation and tone of the story turn out sensationalist if the public editor and the publisher both think this is inappropriate and it's not consistent with the reporters' stated intentions?

I know the writers don't write the headlines and aren't necessarily involved in layout, and I know that senior editors might not necessarily vet every single page layout in the whole newspaper every single day.  But you'd think they'd approve the front page!  You'd think they'd edit an article extra-carefully if it's going to be the first thing people see, and you'd think they'd look at the big, front-page, above-the-fold headline and make sure it reflects the writers' intended thesis.

It would be informative to readers to write a story about how this sort of thing comes about.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

My second Dell depot repair experience

The good: Dell appears to have fixed my computer by implementing the solution I suggested

The bad: It took two months after I suggested the solution, two separate depot repairs totalling 13 days computerless despite the fact that the problem occurred under an on-site service warranty, and an assortment of additional stressers.

The details:

The problem was that, following an in-warranty replacement of a failed hard drive, my BIOS sporadically failed to recognize the presence of operating system on the hard drive.  This was a particularly stubborn problem, and had persisted through all possible troubleshooting and one previous attempt at depot repair.

I felt like they were grasping at straws when the best idea they could come up with was another attempt at depot repair and I was very reluctant to send my computer away and have to spend some time computerless, but the telephone technician told me it would be expedited since it's the second attempt (5-7 business days, rather than the standard 5-10).  Since my first attempt at depot repair had only taken 4 days all in, I reluctantly agreed to give them one last chance.

I received the shipping box on a Monday, which was the day before my grandmother died, and when I learned of her death I decided to postpone sending out my computer for a week.  Being computerless is very stressful to me, and I didn't want the additional stress when I was freshly bereaved.

So the next Monday, I dropped my computer off at the closest Purolator shipping office (a local print shop).  I decided to drop it off rather than having a courier pick it up so I could use my computer for part of the day on Monday and prepare it for shipping at my leisure rather than having to have the whole thing ready by 9 in the morning because I don't know what day the courier will come.

Unfortunately, there was a snowstorm on Monday, so the Purolator truck didn't show up at the store to pick up my package!

After a frantic Tuesday morning spent trying to figure out why my computer wasn't in the Purolator system, it was ultimately picked up on Tuesday evening, and arrived at the Dell depot on Wednesday morning.  I figured no big deal, last time around it arrived at Dell on Tuesday and was back in my hands on Thursday, so I'll probably still get it back this week.

The Dell tracker showed that they received my unit at 8:30 and began diagnosis at 2:30.  Okay, a bit more of a delay than last time, but still reasonable.  I was heartened to see the expected return day showing Thursday.

But on Thursday at 10 am, the status changed to "Customer Hold", which meant it was on hold until they got some information from me.  I waited and waited, willing the phone to ring, obsessively checking my email, but no one contacted me. 

As you might have noticed if you follow me on Twitter, this stressed me out. What was the problem?  Why did they need to contact me?  And if they so needed to contact me, why hadn't they done so yet?  Had they lost my computer?  Was it going to take months to fix?  What could possibly be going on?

I spent much of the day stressing and crying and catastrophizing, and when I hadn't heard back by the end of the depot's business hours I started emailing and tweeting at anyone I thought might have information.  I finally got a snippet of information from @DellCares: apparently, the depot hadn't been able to reproduce the problem.  But that just raised more questions.  Why did they need to contact me?  And why hadn't they? If you need information from the customer about how to reproduce the problem before you proceed further, what is gained by not contacting the customer?  It seems like in this case you'd either ship it straight back with "could not reproduce" to keep your numbers up, or you'd contact the customer right away so you could move forward.  Both @DellCares and one of the techs I'd been emailing with said they'd have the depot get back to me the next day, so I eventually managed to soothe myself to sleep.

On Thursday at 10 am, I still hadn't heard from anyone.  So I checked the tracker again, and it said the hold had been lifted at 9 am.  But no one had contacted me!  What was going on here?  From where I'm sitting, it looks very much like they wasted a day (thereby doubling my number of computerless days because of the weekend) for no particular reason! 

At 11, the tracker said they'd begun repair.  I was glad to see progress, but how could they be repairing if they couldn't reproduce the error?  I hoped this was just an interim step towards shipping my computer back to me.

Meanwhile, the email tech told me that the hold delay was due to the depot having to find out whether I have a complete or limited warranty.  How does that take a whole day?  And why did the tracker say "customer hold" when that wasn't information that they'd find out from me?  And what kind of strange crazy problem did I have that required them to double check the warranty?

On Friday, the tracker still said the computer was under repair and the next update would be Monday.  So I bolstered myself for the stress of a computerless weekend, exacerbated by all these questions about the mystery hold.

On Monday, I eagerly refreshed the tracker over and over, but it hadn't been updated despite the fact that it said Monday was the next update day.  Had the repair failed?  What if they couldn't figure it out and insisted on holding onto my computer for weeks and weeks?  Partway through the day I received an email the email tech, but all he had to say was that the computer was still in repair.  It seemed like the email was either automatically generated or he was blindly transcribing the tracker status into email without regard for utility.

Then, towards the end of the day on Monday, the tracker said the repair was complete and they were shipping my computer back to me!  I was half delighted and half nervous, uncertain if the problem would actually be fixed or not, and, because of the various horror stories I'd read online, partly dreading that my computer might come back in worse condition.  I'd already decided that if this repair hadn't fixed it I wouldn't accept a third depot repair because it was just too stressful for me, so I was also partly dreading having to be assertive to get my computer fixed without Dell marking me as a problem customer.

I received my computer on Tuesday.  I was so worried that something might have gone wrong that I videoed the unboxing and the first few boot-ups, just in case I needed evidence of any damage or evidence of the problem reoccurring.

The first mystery was on the slip that came with the computer, telling me what work had been done. Under "The unit was received with the following cosmetic issues which is not covered by Dell's HW Warranty", everything was checked (Scratches/Marks on top cover/Case, Scratches/Marks on LCD Screen/Bezel, and Scratches/Marks on Palmrest).  There were no scratches or marks when I sent it out!  I inspected it closely, and discovered...there were no scratches or marks on it when I received it back either!  Did the depot check all those off as a matter of course so they wouldn't be obligated to repair any damage they did???  Yet another source of distrust!

Dreading the prospect of having a damaged computer in hand that Dell would refuse to prepare, I booted up, still taking video.  On the first boot-up, it said "Setup is preparing your computer for first use", just like it did after my last depot repair.  Figuring that meant they hadn't tested it like I asked, I created an account, finished the installation of Windows, and decided to boot up a couple more times to see if the problem reoccurred.

On the first boot-up after the installation of Windows was completed, I saw that there were in fact two Windows accounts: my own, and one named "Dell".  Maybe this meant they had tested it!  I did two more boot-ups from complete shutdown, and the problem didn't reoccur. 

I looked at the device manager, and saw that the hard drive they'd installed wasn't Western Digital this time! The device manager said my hard drive was a "ST1000LM024-HN-M101MBB", which, according to google, is a Samsung hard drive - just like I originally had and I requested after the first round of hardware troubleshooting failed back in December!

That appears to have solved the problem (so far at least, knock wood).  Since I got the computer back, I've had 8 boot-ups from a power-off state and 3 boot-ups from a hibernate state, and it has worked every single time.  I sincerely hope this means it's fixed!

A squandered opportunity

This whole saga has been a squandered opportunity for Dell to delight me and win back my unquestioning loyalty.  As I mentioned in my post about how Dell needs to empower its employees, the telephone tech was not empowered to dispatch a Samsung hard drive as I requested, even after we'd eliminated every other variable.   

 If he had been empowered to do so, the whole problem would have been solved with the second on-site service call.  I would have been delighted with Dell for, once again, saving my ass in the dying days of my warranty, and would have blindly gone with Dell for my next computer purchase, buying the best gaming laptop they'd be willing to sell me with all the warranties and upgrades available.

Since the problem would have been solved before xmas, I would have told everyone at xmas (empty-nester baby boomers and millennial young professionals, most of whom have more disposable income now than they ever have before) all about how Dell saved my ass.  But, since the problem was still ongoing at xmas, I instead was telling them about how Dell was stressing me out by wanting to send my computer to a depot even though the problem occurred under an on-site warranty.

Since I wouldn't have had any reason to google up other people's Dell depot experiences, I wouldn't have seen other people's horror stories and therefore wouldn't have been stressing out nearly as much.  I wouldn't have been saturating my Twitter feed with worries about Dell.  I wouldn't have been blogging extensively about everything I found stressful about Dell.  I would simply have written one blog post praising their warranty service, and gotten on with life.

But, because the Dell telephone technician was not empowered to take my suggestion of using the original brand of hard drive, and because the first round of depot repair either couldn't or didn't this suggestion, my loyalty was not won over and all the word of mouth and social media I produced about Dell over the past two months was full of stress and worry.

They should be able to do better, and it's rather their loss that they didn't.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Horrid journalism from the Toronto Star

The Toronto Star wrote very sensationalist front-page story about people who report having various illnesses after receiving a cervical cancer vaccination. 

As they mention in the subheadline (with some weird conjuction use), they found 60 people who reported illnesses, out of hundreds of thousands who have received the vaccine

The problem: they don't mention the statistics of these kinds of illnesses occurring in similar populations who have not recently be vaccinated.  We're talking tens of times among a sample size of hundreds of thousands, which is hundredths of a percent. It is certainly plausible that the number of illnesses reported are consistent with what would happen ordinarily in the general population. 

Back when I did my research before getting Gardasil, my research found just that: the number of reported conditions in the sample group was consistent with the number in the general population.  That could certainly be the case here.  But the Star doesn't provide the numbers!

If the number of illnesses found in this investigation is significantly higher than what would have occurred in the control group, then that is important information that supports the Star's thesis and they should include it.

But if it is not, then this is an irresponsible piece of journalism.

By failing to include these numbers, they've made the article non-credible in the eyes of the most-informed audience who will read it critically, while sensationalistically creating paranoia among the least-informed audience who will only skim the headlines.

The article ends with one of the interviewees saying “I am not against the vaccine, I want people to be responsible about Gardasil. I am trying to inform people.”

In order to inform people so that they can make responsible decisions about Gardasil, you need to include control group numbers!

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The opportunity to experience life's simple pleasures

I blogged before about how if I'd lived in a different time and place, I'd never have had the opportunity to be good at anything.

Today in the shower, it occurred to me that if I'd lived in a different time and place, I may never have experience any of the things that destress me or make me happy.

The first of which is the shower!  It relaxes me, makes me feel human, makes me look civilized, and is where I get all my best ideas.  And it wouldn't have been available even 100 years ago.  Or even 50 years ago in poorer areas where housing hasn't been upgraded to include modern conveniences.  Or even in the present in some parts of the world.

As I blogged about in my resilience braindump, the things that destress me are very externally dependent, and many of them are very 21st century.  Fandom is a huge destresser, and it's entirely dependent on the constant creation of new stories involving beloved characters.  For nearly all of human history, this simply wasn't possible.  There was no media, and new stories were few and far between.  And, apart from fandom, most of my pleasures and destressers are on my computer, which is why sending it out to be repaired is so upsetting to me.  But personal computers didn't exist before my lifetime, and the internet as we know it didn't exist even during the first half of my lifetime!

Even my other simple pleasures and necessary destressers - comfort food, privacy, curling up safe in my cozy bed as a storm rages outside - would have been impossible for all but the very wealthiest for the vast majority of human history, and still aren't available to the general population in many parts of the world.

So in another time or place, would I have found pleasure and destressing in other things in life?  Or would I simply live my whole life on edge, never completely at peace?

However, it also occurs to me that if I'd been born in a different time and place, I wouldn't be alive anyway.  Even if I'd survived being born, I probably wouldn't have survived my annual bouts of strep throat (which, the internet tells me, is the same infection as scarlet fever), and even if I'd survived that, I probably would have died on a fainting couch from my reflux incident where I just couldn't swallow food.

Things They Should Study: how does people's likelihood of having survived in more difficult times and places correlate with their likelihood of thriving in those times and places?  Would a disproportionate number of the people who are fragile and sensitive like me have died at birth anyway?

Tuesday, February 03, 2015


In the world of Downton Abbey, etiquette dictates that ladies don't remove their hats indoors. They don't wear hats in their own home (or in the evening), but if they go to a shop or a restaurant or someone else's home they don't remove their hat, even if they do remove their coat.

It occurred to me that this could make wardrobe planning difficult.  Do you choose a hat that goes with your dress or a hat that goes with your coat?  Or do you have to make your coat match your dress too so the whole ensemble works?

Obviously, not everyone has the budget for multiple hats and coats to go with every dress, and they actually show this on screen.  When a working-class character is visiting someone's home, she's shown wearing a hat that doesn't really complement or enhance her outfit.  And this is because it's her only hat, the best she could do to go with her only coat, which was the best she could do for as sensible a coat as possible.

You can't have a red hat, because then you won't be able to dress properly for a funeral. You can't have a dainty floral summer hat, because then you won't be able to dress properly for the cold and the rain. You can't have a delicate hat, because it has to last you several years.

But still, you have to wear a hat every time you're indoors but not at home during the daytime. No matter how carefully you dress and groom, you still have to wear this piece of pure pragmatism quite prominently, next to your face, so it's the first thing that people see.

In the 21st century, people talk about unrealistic standards of beauty projected by Hollywood, with fashion being set by celebrities who have access to all the beauty treatments in the world and plastic surgery and hair extensions and stylists and custom-tailored clothing.

I wonder if, in the olden days, people talked about unrealistic standards of beauty being set by the upper classes, who had access to a flattering, custom-made hat to go with every outfit?

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Books read in January 2015


1. The Hangman by Louise Penny
2. Ruth's Journey by Donald McCaig
3. The World of Post Secret by Frank Warren
4. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield
5. Tenth of December by George Saunders 


1. Celebrity in Death

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The condolence script

This bereavement has given me some insight into the condolence script.

During my last bereavement (which was 15 years ago!!) I hadn't yet read up on etiquette theory, so I didn't know what people were supposed to say or how the bereaved is supposed to respond.  (It didn't really come up IRL though, because I was in university and the funeral was on a day when I had no classes, so I just went about life without telling many people.)

I used to think that you had to say something awesome to the bereaved person, that would make them feel better.  And I used to think that, as the bereaved person, you have to give a mitigative response, because condolences are such an intense and one-sided thing to receive that you have to sort of balance out the conversation (like how if someone compliments a specific aspect of your outfit, you might look at a specific aspect of their outfit to compliment.  Or if someone thanks you extra-profusely for something, you might feel like saying "Please, it's no big deal.")

When I started reading Miss Manners, she said that a simple expression of condolences or sympathies is sufficient ("I'm so sorry" or "My sympathies" or "My condolences"), and that "thank you" is a sufficient response.  These seemed woefully inadequate to me, but Miss Manners said they suffice and I certainly couldn't come up with anything that was as awesome as I thought it needed to be, so I began using them.

With this bereavement, I've come to the realization that there's no such thing as a series of words that can achieve the level of awesomeness that I thought was necessary in an expression of condolences.  Words uttered just exist on a completely different plane and scale than bereavement, even simple bereavement. It's like trying to knit a sweater that will refute a political argument.  It's just not a tool that can be used to achieve that goal, no matter how awesomely you do it.

So why bother?  Because the expression of condolences acknowledges the elephant in the room.  Death is huge, and it can seem weird and wrong and assholic to avoid the topic if you're talking to someone who's recently bereaved.  So "I'm so sorry" or "my condolences" is the standardized code for "I acknowledge that you were bereaved", and "thank you" is standardized code for "I acknowledge that you acknowledged it."  Then you can proceed with the business at hand without anyone having to worry about being rude about the elephant.

The existence of a standardized script helps because it's so difficult to say something right.  It's like saying "please" or "thank you" or "you're welcome".  Imagine trying to express those concepts if we didn't have standard words for them!  And, of course, bereavement is a far more sensitive and emotionally fraught situation than asking someone to pass the salt!  So the standard, etiquette-approved script allows us to acknowledge the situation and then move forward. No more, no less.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Programming note

My grandmother passed away early this morning.  I'm still processing the situation.

I am therefore a one-week hiatus from blogging, unless I feel the need to blog about my bereavement (so far my emotional needs don't seem to be going in that direction), or unforeseen circumstances require posting something urgently.

I will continue to use Twitter and the rest of the internet in whatever way best meets my needs at any given moment, which may include frivolous use.  This is my first bereavement in the age of social media, so I have no idea what I'll need from it.

You are welcome to continue to engage with me in whatever way you normally would, but I may or may not respond depending on what meets my needs at any given moment.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

New Rules: Natural Consequences Edition VI

If you don't understand the difference between "required to" and "permitted to", and therefore advocate for policies requiring people to do things when policies permitting people to do those things would be sufficient to achieve your goals, you are henceforth required to do everything that you were previously simply permitted to do.

The penalty for failing to meet these new requirements is commensurate with whatever the penalty for failing to meet the requirements would have been in the policy you were advocating for.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


For the past week or so, I've been hearing drilling from the apartment upstairs.  It happens in the afternoon, on weekdays, for an hour or two at a time.

I don't know what they're doing, but I'm surprised they have that much drilling to do in such a small apartment!

This is of interest because in my old apartment, where I lived 8(!) years ago, I also had an upstairs neighbour who drilled frequently!  I didn't work from home then, but most weekends I'd hear a significant amount of drilling going on, and I was surprised they had that much drilling to do in such a small apartment!

 I wonder if I have the same upstairs neighbour??

Or maybe they have a cat...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Dell depot repair experience

The good: the whole process took less than 4 business days, despite my having been told that it takes 7-10 business days.

The bad: it didn't fix the problem


This repair was the next step in the process of repairing the very mysterious process of BIOS intermittently not recognizing the operating system on the hard drive. When I sent the computer out, I included a note (one page, typed, with informative subheadings for easy scanability) detailing the history of the issue and what we'd tried already, describing my recent observation that the computer was more likely to boot up on a second try if I turned it off and on quickly so it was still "warm" (like an old car that needs to be warmed up), and mentioning my theory that a different brand of hard drive, ideally Samsung, should be tried.

Purolator picked up the computer from me on Monday afternoon. It arrived at the depot first thing on Tuesday. According to the online tracker, it was in "diagnosis" status for an hour, then was moved to "repair" status.  On Wednesday afternoon, it was shipped back out via Purolator, and on Thursday morning it arrived back at my door.

The depot report stated that they'd replaced the hard drive (with another Western Digital) and the processor. I booted it up, and found that Windows was in Setup mode from an initial installation, which is how you normally receive a computer from Dell.  I completed the setup, then decided to reboot it from a "cold" shut down state three times before I restored my data, just to make sure the problem had been solved.  On the third try, it once again failed to detect the operating system.  (In subsequent boot ups from a power off state over the next few days, it took two tries, four tries, and one try to boot up successfully.)

I emailed my tech to let him know about this and got an out of office message, so I decided to restore my system image so I could at least have my computer back for the moment.  On Friday, my tech emailed me back saying he'd look into what the next step would be.  I haven't heard back from him yet (which is fine - I asked him prior to sending it out what happens if the depot can't fix it, and he said he's sure there's some measure to take but that he has no experience with this, so he probably has to escalate it.)

So, long story short, I'm pleased with the turnaround time, but displeased with the fact that they couldn't fix it.

I suspect that their inability to fix it is yet another sign of Dell employee disempowerment.  The replacement hard drive I received was Western Digital despite the fact that my notes to the depot tech said that this was the variable that has yet to be eliminated. I suspect that this is because Dell employees are not empowered to provide another brand of hard drive.  (Although the ungenerous interpretation would be that it's because they ignored or disregarded my notes.) The fix they applied wasn't properly tested (again, despite my notes) because they didn't finalize the installation of Windows and therefore couldn't possibly have tested it with multiple start-ups from a power-down state.  I suspect that this is because they're required to deliver computers to clients with Windows in set-up mode rather than finalized. (Although the ungenerous interpretation would be that they couldn't be bothered to take the time to finalize and test properly.) So, because of this disempowerment, the computer was returned to me without the problem corrected, completely unbeknownst to the technicians.


I don't know what happens next. I emailed the tech in charge of my case, he said he has to look into what's to be done next, and he hasn't gotten back to me yet.

This doesn't actually bother me at the moment, because I genuinely don't know what I want from them.  Well, that's not completely true - what I want is a single, simple fix, ideally that I can implement myself, that will correct this problem and leave my computer functioning perfectly and meeting my needs at least for the next year.  But I don't know what I want from them that's within the realm of possibility.

My best guess is still that the problem is with Western Digital drives and that a Samsung drive should be tried, but the Dell website no longer sells non-SSD Samsung drives (and introducing SSD at this point would be the opposite of controlling for variables).  They did sell non-SSD Samsung drives in December, but they seem to be gone now.  So I can't reasonably expect them to provide parts that they don't have. 

I'm worried that they'll ask me to send it to the depot again so they can try other things, which I really don't want to do.  I feel like I've already been cooperative enough by allowing it to be sent to the depot once for a problem that occurred under an on-site service warranty, and like I've already been inconvenienced enough being without my computer for 4 days for something that didn't even fix the problem. I don't know what my response would be if  they told me that's what the next step is.

It does occur to me that the next step might be to replace the computer, and I don't know how I feel about that either. Apart from the boot-up problem, my computer still works beautifully, and I've heard that replacement systems are refurbished and therefore sometimes not always particularly good quality, so I'm afraid that I might end up with something worse.  My computer was very customized and upgraded, and even at the age of 4 years it still surpasses current entry-level systems. I don't know if they'd even have comparable refurbished systems available, and comparable new ones from Dell retail for close to a thousand.I'm also afraid that if they did replace, they'd want me to send my old computer back before sending me a new one, which would leave me computerless again, for something that may or may not end up being comparable.

So at the moment I'm quite content to wait patiently for their response, avoid shutting down my computer as much as possible, and enjoy my regular everyday life with my regular everyday computer.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Things I Don't Understand: shiny glass computer screens

My first flat computer monitor (and, in fact, every subsequent monitor) was a 17" LCD monitor with a screen that's made of plastic (or, at least, something softer and less shiny than glass).  I don't know what this kind of monitor is actually called, but I like it.

But I've noticed that more modern computer monitors, especially those with wide screens, have screens made out of a shiny glass. If you go into a store and shop for monitors, you find a lot of monitors made out of very shiny glass, and far fewer made out of the less shiny plastic.

I don't understand why they do this. The shiny glass screen greatly increases glare, and seems like it would get dirty far more readily.  I don't like it at all, but it seems more and more difficult to get a plasticky less-shiny screenof the style that has far less glare and doesn't get dirty as easily.

Why did they change it?  What's the advantage?  Why are the less-shiny plasticky screens harder and harder to find?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Stress and resilience: an inconclusive braindump

As you've probably noticed, these past couple of months I've been finding myself disproportionately stressed about things that don't actually constitute real problems, like having to choose condo finishes and computer problems and a shortage of fanfiction.

This is a clear demonstration of the fact that I'm too easily stressed and not resilient enough to live in the real world.  But what do I do about this?  Braindump on my blog, of course!


By chance, I was recently required to take a (useless and unnecessary) training session on "change management".  It included a component on resilience, which I was looking forward to, but unfortunately it turned out to be useless.

According to the training, one of the things you're supposed to do to make yourself more resilient is self-care.  But the problem is that in my experience, resilience only becomes necessary in situations where your usual self-care is unavailable. I need to be resilient in the face of the loss of my fanfic happy place, and my fanfic happy place is a key part of my self-care. I need to be resilient during 2 weeks without  my computer, and my computer is a key part of my self-care.  I need to be resilient when dealing with condo drama that, if not properly addressed, will result in suboptimal housing, and optimal housing is a key part of my self-care.  If these things that threaten my self-care didn't exist, I wouldn't need to be resilient.

Another thing you're supposed to do to make yourself more resilient is live your values. We were told to list the traits we hate in others, then identify the opposite of those traits.  Those opposites are our values.  This exercise led me to identify my values as socialism and Wheaton's Law, which sounds about right.  But the problem is that I don't see how being socialist and not being a dick would equip me to deal with the unprecedented (to me) challenge of choosing condo finishes or the stress of eventually moving, or even the lesser stresses of a fanfic drought or two weeks without a computer - to say nothing of real problems that will likely happen to me someday, like unemployment or bereavement. My values aren't even relevant to the situations that require resilience. It's like advising someone going through a divorce to adopt a vegetarian diet - it just has nothing to do with the situation at hand.

I don't know if my emotions work differently than other people's or if the training was just spouting platitudes, but the ideas they presented weren't even on the same plane as resilience. Not sure what I'm supposed to do with that.


One issue that has become apparent to me in recent months is that my destressers are very externally dependent, which isn't very resilient.  Fanfic works beautifully, but I'm dependent on people writing new fanfic. Other fandom also works beautifully, but I'm also dependent on new creations from my fandoms - there's a diminishing return on the destressing benefits rereading/rewatching. Gaming works fantastically, but I'm dependent upon having a gaming-capable computer.  A good night's sleep and a long hot shower help, but that's dependent on quality living conditions.  Food and alcohol work, but that's dependent on my usual resources being available, and also comes with physical limitations. (As much as I'd enjoy it, I can't be tipsy and cramming cheese in my mouth every minute of every day.)  There is nothing that destresses me that isn't dependent on other people and/or circumstances.


Anti-materialistic people often say that the problem is seeking happiness in the things that money can buy, and that instead you should get happiness from your interpersonal relationships.  But interpersonal relationships are also entirely dependent on other people. They can abandon you of their own free will. They may be unable or unwilling to give you what you need.  They may not be available when you need them.  Interpersonal relationships can, of course, be rewarding, add to your happiness and improve your resilience, but they are just as dependent on people and/or circumstances as materialistic destressers.


At this point, people usually suggest exercise and/or nature.  But those don't destress me. Exercise makes me angry; nature is best case neutral, worst case a panic attack trigger, while taking me away from the things that actually do destress me, most of which occur in my home. 


Which is the problem with finding a new destresser.  Obviously, if I wanted to proactively seek something to replace my missing fanfiction, the way to do it would be to make a concerted effort to try out random things until something gets the desired results. But the problem with doing that is it would take time away from the tried and true, so it has to be approached carefully and measuredly.

Analogy: Cheese isn't available to put on my salad, but salad is still good. But if I just went around throwing other things on my salad willy-nilly in a desperate attempt to find a replacement for cheese, I could ruin a lot of salads. When I've had a difficult, stressful day and I'm desperately craving a yummy salad, it would probably be a bad idea to experiment and risk not getting my craving filled - and, in fact, risk becoming even crankier because something that I thought would fill my craving didn't.  And, of course, the flaw in this analogy is that it's easy to eat around a non-yummy ingredient in a salad, whereas the impact of stressers and failed destressers on stress levels and energy flow can't be quite so easily circumvented.


Historically, my destressers have always come to me organically, through my reading and other media consumption.  And my reading already follows a system that provides a good balance between known enjoyments and discovering new things, so I don't know if it can be further forced to provide me with the very specific form of new things I need to replace my lost fanfiction.

All of which is to say I don't have any answers, and I'd probably completely shatter if any real problems came along.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Dell needs to empower its employees to keep the company's promises

As I've mentioned before, every computer I've owned has been from Dell, and I've been completely loyal to them my entire adult life, but I've been losing my trust in them during the life of my current computer.

I just realized that this loss of trust can be boiled down to one thing: the employees aren't fully empowered to keep the company's promises.

Here are two recent examples of lack of employee empowerment, how they made me lose trust in Dell, and how they would have won back my loyalty if the employees were fully empowered.

The Warranty Extension Problem

About 2 months before the four-year on-site service warranty I purchased with my computer expired, I got a mailing from Dell offering me the opportunity to extend my warranty.  The mailing was customized, with my name, computer type, purchase date, existing warranty details, and even my service tag number.  I called the number provided, and spoke to a gentleman who was prepared to sell me a warranty extension for a reasonable price.  I agreed, and as he verbally reviewed what I'd just purchased, he mentioned that this extension was for mail-in service.  "Wait," I objected, "My warranty is for on-site service!"  He insisted that there's no such thing as on-site service for laptops, even though that's what I have and I had successfully had a technician dispatched to my home for a previous issue with this computer. So I told him I had to think about it before paying that amount for mail-in service, and hung up.

Then I reached out to @DellCares on twitter.  When I told them the situation, they told me there's no such thing as an extension of a four-year warranty, even though I had a customized mailing offering me just that and the gentleman on the phone had just offered to sell me one, just not with on-site service.  I showed them a picture of the customized mailing, and they told me I must have received it by mistake.

Since @DellCares thought warranty extensions didn't exist, I figured I should take what I can get and called the phone number again. But the gentleman I spoke with this time told me this wasn't the number for Canadian service (even though it was printed on my customized mailing sent to my Canadian address and they'd offered to sell me a warranty not an hour earlier) and gave me another number to call.  I called that number and got what sounded like a US television provider (I forget the name), saying that they can't accept toll-free calls from outside the US.  So I called Dell back and, weirdly, got the same representative. He gave me another phone number that was one digit off what I'd written down.  I repeated it back to him and got it confirmed, but when I called it I got what sounded like a fax machine.

I went to the Dell website in an attempt to find the correct phone number and, as I was logged into my account, discovered I had the option to buy the warranty extension online!  Awesome!  The price was higher than the first gentleman I'd spoken with named, but it included on-site service and was available at the click of a mouse! I bought it, immediately got a confirmation email, and that was that!

Or so I thought.

A month later, when my hard drive began failing, I called tech support, and they mentioned that there was only about a month left on my warranty.  Wait, what?  I just bought an extension!  Long story short, my warranty extension somehow didn't go through.  It didn't appear on my account, and my credit card wasn't billed.  If the hard drive problem had come just a few weeks later, I would have been out of warranty without even knowing it!  Unfortunately, the warranty representative I spoke to wasn't able to sell me the same warranty I thought I'd already bought.  She could only sell me mail-in service.  I offered to send her the email showing that I'd bought it through the website previously, but she had no mechanism to receive emails from clients.  Nor could she put me in touch with someone who could fulfill this promise - the best her supervisor could do was reduce the price on the mail-in service.

So despite the fact that Dell twice promised me the opportunity to buy an extension of my on-site warranty, both times entirely on its own initiative with the promise generated by its computer systems that were well aware of the age and nature of my computer system and my geographical location, I couldn't get in contact with a person who could sell me this promised warranty, even though the price I was willing to pay was more than the cost of an entry-level laptop at a Boxing Day sale.

The On-Site Service Dispatching Problem

As I mentioned before, I'm currently going through some very mysterious technical problems. I've been through extensive troubleshooting over a period of weeks, and had every hardware part that could possibly be involved replaced, yet the problem persists.  The technician I've been working with says all that's left to be done is send it to the depot.

The problem is that this technician is not sufficiently empowered.  The entire process has been completely logical, and I totally understand from a diagnostic perspective that having it looked at in person is the next logical step, but he has no mechanism to dispatch an on-site technician to make a diagnosis.  They can only dispatch on-site technicians to install specific replacement parts that are dispatched as a result of remote diagnosis.

On top of that, he also has no mechanism to dispatch a different brand of hard drive.  This is an issue because the boot-up failure only happened with Western Digital drives, not with the previous Samsung drive, so it's a variable that hasn't been eliminated.  (Also, it's the only remaining variable to eliminate that either I or the telephone tech can identify.)

So, despite the fact that I cheerfully paid a premium for on-site warranty service back when I purchased the computer, I still have to send it in to the depot (and therefore be computerless for two weeks).

What would have happened if these Dell employees had been empowered

If these employees had been empowered, I would be singing Dell's praises and they would have won back my blind loyalty.

For the warranty issue, if either the warranty rep or the @DellCares person had been empowered to extend my on-site service warranty, I would have been thrilled.  It never occurred to me that a warranty could be extended before I got the mailing in the first place, and when I got the mailing I thought "This is the solution to all my problems!"  (My problems being that the early signs of hard drive failure were manifesting themselves without my recognizing them, and I don't really want to buy a new computer this year, hoping instead to wait for Windows 10.)  If I'd gotten a warranty extension, I would have blogged and tweeted enthusiastically about how awesome Dell is for anticipating my needs.

But because they weren't empowered, I feel tricked and abandoned, and have lost trust in them since a transaction just somehow didn't go through despite my being sent a confirmation email, I got no notice whatsoever that it had failed, and resolving the problem was simply not possible.

For the tech support dispatch issue, if the telephone rep had been empowered to dispatch a different brand of hard drive to rule out that variable, or to dispatch a tech to diagnose on site when it became apparent that we'd eliminated every avenue for remote support, I would take this as a reminder of why I was loyal to Dell in the first place. Even if it took multiple tech visits to solve, I'd be delighted that they're taking such good care of me. Dell's on-site warranty support has saved my ass with every computer I've owned, and if they'd been able to do the same with this one, they'd have completely won me over. I'd be totally loyal to them once again. I'd be blogging and tweeting their praises. When buying my next computer, I'd go to the Dell site without even considering comparison shopping and buy the best gaming laptop available with the best warranty possible.  When people are discussing what kind of computer to buy, I'd say "I always go with Dell because their warranty service is so awesome!"

But because the tech wasn't empowered to do anything except have me send my computer to the depot and therefore spend at least two weeks computerless, I'm stressing out, I'm googling for information about Dell's depot service and finding horror stories, and I feel betrayed and tricked and abandoned that I have to send my computer out despite having purchased on-site service.

One Dell innovation that I appreciate is after you call tech support, the tech you speak to is assigned ownership of the issue.  You get an email with a tracking number, and you can email the same tech back if you  have further problems.  They'll give you further support by email or arrange a callback at a convenient time.  I love this because it means you only  have to wait on hold and explain your problem once.  After that, it's just a continuation of the same conversation, occurring at your convenience.

And the telephone tech I've been working with is awesome. He's perfectly polite at all times and above-and-beyond patient.  I have no objection to his technical skills - his initial pre-googling knowledge is greater than mine, and there was nothing I could google up that he didn't already suggest.  Thanks to Dell's system of having a single tech take ownership of the issue, he's gotten back to me promptly every time I've emailed him, and I've been notified of his expected return on days when I've emailed him while he's out of office. Dell just needs to extend this to its logical conclusion, so my awesome tech has the authority to do everything necessary to solve my problem rather than being forced to leave me with the stress and uncertainty of sending my computer into a void.