Sunday, April 29, 2007

In My Place (Part 2 of 3, or When the power goes out we'll just hum.)

Goddamn, I love me some Radiohead.

I've started digging up old music lately: Billy Joel, Ben Folds Five, Radiohead. Bands I listened to all the time back in high school. They're all very near and dear to me. Billy Joel was the musical taste I inherited from my mother. She was a huge fan of his, knew every song, used to play the Storm Front album on cassette all the time on drives between Las Vegas and California (I distinctly remember the red flag against black clouds cover). My parents even took me to see him in concert, but unfortunately I was so young I remember very little of it apart from the stage decoration. Same with Sting and Paul McCartney in concert.) Ben Folds Five was one of those musical virii that a friend of a friend introduced to my friend Ian and kind of spread slowly through our little group. We then took "Brick" to our Jazz Band teacher, learned it in class, and in one of my fondest high school memories, performed the song on stage at a high school dance. (I played bass guitar in high school, fyi.)

Radiohead though. Radiohead was the holy grail. Radiohead came down to us from the "cool" guy in our group, my friend Leif. One hell of a musician, very charismatic and thoughtful guy, and the de facto leader of our little group of friends. Radiohead came to me on The Bends, then I went back and grabbed Pablo Honey, basked in the new release of OK Computer, and followed through Kid A and Amnesiac. Radiohead was the soundtrack of my high school years by and large.

The Bends is one of those albums that drags me back to high school feelings. Teenage outsider, high school crushes, young depression, and those little bits of bright joy that would shine through from time to time. High and Dry I could sing word for word. Blackstar was a relationship plan, or rather a 20/20 hindsight of such. Fake Plastic Trees was a story all its own.

One of our friends, Ashley, was this really cool girl who played trumpet in Jazz Band, spent more time in the art room than other classes, and who every single last one of us had a crush on. About halfway through high school she was moving away to Santa Barbara, and Ashley, Leif, me, and Ian spent one long night hanging out for the last time. Talking, high-school philosophizing, playing lame truth or dare games where Leif was the one who got to kiss Ashley, and finally just sitting around, firing off little bits of wisdom, with The Bends playing the whole time in the background. We didn't sleep that night, we stayed up until seven the next morning, when Ashley was leaving for good. Around the early morning, five thirty or so, Fake Plastic Trees came on, and we left it on repeat. Whenever I hear those chords I always remember the faint light leaking in the window, reminding us that our time together was almost over, and the four of us grasping for what last meaningful things we could say to each other.

I come back to Radiohead now, and it still feels familiar to me. It still feels like it says something about my life. The Bends (the song) for that still heavy burden to do something significant with my life, imparted from my parents. Bones for the messed up social interaction whenever I meet new people, still feeling like I can't quite slip into that small talk groove, those first steps of getting to know who you're talking to. Blackstar, as it now seems to paint perfectly clear my last huge relationship and the lingering desire and need that's still slowly fading away.

I come back to Radiohead, to all this music, and it still means something to me. It still inspires me, still comforts me, and more than a new band or song I may discover, it feels familiar. After all these years some part of me has stayed the same. I don't think that's all that draws me back to it, as it it is good music, but I still need it, and for that I'm glad.

Friday, April 27, 2007

In My Place (Part 1 of 3, or Fred Doesn't Come Up with Eccentric Titles for Things He Hates)

Tech Support. I said this was coming, and I've had a lot to say about it for a long time. It took a behind-the-scenes Nico-expose to spur me into action.

Anyone who's babysat knows what working Tech Support feels like. The parents have gone, you're alone with the kid in the house, and the cute little thing brings you their favorite tape to watch. You go to the tv, put the video into the vcr, and then realize you don't know where the remote is or even how to turn on the television, vcr, and the extensive home theater stereo system which is the only way you'll have sound for Barney's Magical Dinosaur Big-Top Adventure. You start to look for the remote, and the kid's just sat down on the couch, expecting the instant gratification of their parents' sure, knowledgeable hand at the Encrypted Ancient Mayan Entertainment Center of Doom. Of course, you've just started to learn your way around this system not your own. You probably haven't used a single one of the exact same components in their system, certainly not to the point where you have a comfortable familiarity with it. As you're getting a basic feel for the system, around the two second mark, the whining begins, "I want Baaaarneyyyy! Where's Baaaaarneeeeyyy! Where??!" Tiny fists begin to pound the couch, legs kick frantically in the air, squeals become shrieks as you hurry to appease the demonspawn's anger and unwavering belief in your total incompetence.

Let me explain why I think people act this way. "The customer is always right." There's something in this day and age about paying money for a product that instantly makes people expect an utter and total slave and master relationship from the manufacturer (and their agents). We are raised on the maxim above and the cliched, pop-culture image of the massive, faceless, evil corporation. If you're giving someone money, they're trying to screw you. Customer-business relationships are no longer about a mutual need to buy and sell product; they are hot-blooded, gladiatorial combat between two ancient races with a bitter, bloody past.

I want to help people, I honestly do. I want them to hang up the phone happy and with their problem fixed. But more often than not Tech Support is a soul-crushing, frightening experience because of the above attitude. Add to this my lucky distinction of working in computer tech support (where each and every system is a unique amalgam of barely compatible parts), and problems often far outnumber solutions.

There are several things people can do to make our (customer and employee) tech support experience much more enjoyable. I'd like to preface this by explaining I don't mean to condescend to any of you, my friends. I don't think you rude, squealing, demanding cherubs. I simply seek to illustrate some helpful tips for situations I know I've found myself on both sides of. (Yes, I'll admit I've been the bitchy customer more than once.)

1. The Customer Service/Tech Support Agent is not your enemy.
- To illustrate the complete converse of the attitude I described above, the agent you're speaking to is not your enemy. They are not there to defend their company as stalwart footmen in the first waves of an epic onslaught. They are there to get your product up and running again, and in the case of a defect, act as your representative to the company as a whole. Don't feel like you need to be ridiculously friendly and pleasing to them, but do remember there's another human being on the other end of the line, and they really do want to help you.

2. The Customer Service/Tech Support Agent is not the Alpha and Omega.
- The agent does not know everything. Now don't take this as ammunition to condescend and treat every conclusion they come to as the ignorant ramblings of a preschooler. Simply keep in mind that the agent most likely hasn't heard of your particular flavour of problem before, and is not familiar with your system. They'll need to find their way through this along with you, but they do have knowledge of the product to bring to bear on the problem.

3. There is rarely call to jump rank.
- I know we're all familiar with using "I'd like to speak to your manager." to get what we want. Unless the agent is being an utter and total prick (I imagine it does happen) this is uncalled for. Well, let me be more specific. The attitude which often accompanies it is uncalled for. The agent really does want to help you, and they're often equipped with all the tools necessary to solve your problem. Asking to speak with a manager will only get you someone more used to dealing with angry bullshit and with a harder company stance who will want much less to help you.

4. If your agent really has been helpful, tell them so.
- If I could get everyone who ever called into a tech support center to follow steps one through three, I'd be happy. This one's just my secret little wish. If the agent you've been talking to really has helped you and done everything they could to solve your problem, regardless of a complete solution, thank them. It really will make their day.

Those are the main points I'd like to convey. Sure, there are many a small, nagging problem that I could address (Mostly problems specific to instructional editing keyboards that even I wouldn't want to hear about outside of work!), but that is the whole of what I'd like you all to take away from this post. If you have any questions about tech support and the rigors thereof, you always know where to find me, your friendly, resident tech support agent. (God I hope not for too much longer!)


(P.S. Yes, Mahea, I know my grammar is probably driving you up the wall, as I haven't written anything this cohesive in a long time, and my grammar is eccentric to begin with. Sorry! Hopefully I'll come closer to MLA standards with more of these long-topic blog posts ;) )

Friday, April 20, 2007

I'm not a stone, I'm just a man

I've just returned from my six day trip to Vegas for my company tradeshow. Highlights include:

- Seeing my family and having dinner with my boss and coworker over

- Seeing my dog

- Losing $110 at Vegas tables ("Contributing to the local economy"...)

- Catching the Patrick Stewart/Glenn Close remake of The Lion in Winter on Showtime

- Catching an episode of The Tudors on Showtime (Meh, he's no Patrick Stewart)

- A couple of late night rounds of pool at PT's Pub with my brother and my friend Peter

- Way too much to drink at Nine Fine Irishmen

- Realising my boss isn't such a bad guy, my job is just 60% shit, 35% bore

- Realising I haven't got things too bad when I can lose $100 at the tables and not have to worry about food/rent/essentials

- Adeel Khan, the student body president at Virginia Tech, appearing on CNN and refusing to answer question after question concerning the shooter and his mentality, instead urging people to focus on those who were lost and celebrating their lives

All in all it was a good week, and I enjoyed the trip.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Under the Wheels of Tradition

Just a little note/advice I thought to dash off, to both others and myself, before I forget.

My company started interviewing new employees recently. One of my coworkers is leaving, and we need someone to fill her position. Being privy to this portion of such a common experience, even peripherally, has brought certain insights. I think it's safe to say these could apply to most any company/HR department with an ounce of compassion and humanity, and to most positions you'll find.

- Don't feel like you're being judged mightily from on high. Really, one of the main purposes of an interview is for the company to see how you'll fit in. Keeping calm and acting like yourself is in your best interest.

- As an addendum to that, be as honest as possible about who you are, what sort of work you prefer, what sort of work you don't like, and what you're looking for in a new position. Even if the fit is a bit rough, honesty is much appreciated.

- Dress nicely! Strangely inverse to that, even if the employees you see are in jeans and a tshirt, wear business attire. While you don't want to portray yourself as someone you're not, you DO want to show that you're willing to put effort into impressing them and that you're serious about the position.

- Don't feel down if things don't work out. This may be an area where it would appear you could not generalize, but based on my company, I really feel that most corporations out there are looking for the best person to fit the job. If you're not hired, it doesn't mean they hate your guts as a person, think you're a slob, think you're a cheat, etc. It really just means that your interests didn't fit with their interests.

- Thank you notes are always a nice gesture, even if things didn't work out.

Hopefully my notes shed a bit of light on things. Interviewing shouldn't be as stressful as it feels!

(Side Note: This post was inspired by Nico's recent blog about MySpace and working behind the scenes of internet marketing. I think it's a great idea, and I've a feeling there'll be one coming up from me about the bane of my existence: tech support!)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The angles and the corners

Hmm, my blog's been a bit neglected lately, between the twin forces of soul-crushing work and my deep-fever WoW addiction, I haven't given much thought to blogging. I have been up to a lot though!

- This past weekend was a fun one. My family came down and we went to San Diego. Went to the beach, had great seafood, mexican food, and some decent pasta too. I got to take the train on the way down! That was an experience. It was actually fairly un-crowded and comfortable. I think this will pique my interest in traveling to see my friends in California via Amtrak.

- Culinary deadend. I've been a bit tired lately when getting home from work to cook. Been subsisting on gyoza, frozen burritos, and the occasional bowl of spicy sausage pasta.

- I am convinced my orc warrior will end up a giant-axe wielding badass, riding around on a chocobo or a Yakul-like antelope.

- Back on the subject of food, I'm having trouble finding a new snack food. I've been on pistachios for a while, and I still have another two pound bag to finish =(. I want something salty as always, but not too salty as I really should be cutting back on the amount of sodium in my diet. If I could find a place that sells giant bags of those puffed vegetable chip thingys, I'd be set.

- I'm getting into The Decemberists. I really like their folksy/sometimes old-timey sound, and the laid back nature of most of their songs. Good stuff.

That is all!