My VOIP home phone setup using trixbox

004 1I've generally been content not having a physical phone line at home and using my cell phone instead. I'm not much of a phone person anyway, my back yard looked a lot nicer when Verizon cut down the unsightly cable, and it's certainly a cost savings. But sometimes, I still long to have a regular old phone sitting on my desk that I can pick up and make a call on. Recently, for various reasons, I've been playing with having just that setup, but with a twist: my new home phone setup is run on open source software, and the conversations are carried over my broadband Internet connection.

Here's my configuration (perhaps mostly for geeks, but hopefully also for anyone who's interested):

Continue reading "My VOIP home phone setup using trixbox"

The Cheapest Pine Nuts In Town

IMG_2356.JPG Recently, the Summersault staff was eating together at the Golden Corral here in Richmond. They were out of the feed buckets that you just strap onto your head and tilt up, so we ended up having a conversation. We noted that they have pine nuts on their all-you-can-eat salad bar in large quantities.

Pine nuts are an essential ingredient in good pesto; my recipe is available to qualified persons on request. They are also excellent in salads, lightly toasted.

A to-go lunch buffet for one person at the Golden Corral costs $6.69 (no drink), and they give you a container that I estimate could hold around 3 to 5 pounds of pine nuts, depending on what kinds of spill-prevention mechanisms you're able to install on the fly (a small bread bag from your pocket should be fine). Pine nuts generally cost quite a bit at the grocery store or your local food cooperative, and even if you buy them in bulk or from discounted online dealers, they can cost as much as $11.99 per pound.

So, is it safe to say that the best deal on pine nuts in town, and perhaps globally, is to fill up your to-go container with them at the Golden Corral in Richmond Indiana? Beautiful.

Dave Pollard: Need Less

IMG_2537.JPGI thoroughly enjoyed this post by Dave Pollard: Need Less.

The essence of radical simplicity, of the gift/generosity economy, of natural community, and of natural entrepreneurship, I think, is needing less. Needing less makes us, as individuals, members of enterprises, communities and societies, more self-sufficient, and more resilient, and allows us to give more with the 'excess' time, energy and money that we have by virtue of needing less.

Dave goes on to list a few ways that needing less in everyday life might manifest itself. Perhaps obvious to some, overly abstract to others...a pleasant reminder for me.

Dihydrogen Monoxide, available at a store near you

When I grow up, I want to get a job (or an internship, or just a stint in the mail room) with Corporate Accountability International, the folks who are behind the recent announcement by PepsiCo that they will label their Aquafina bottled water for what it is - tap water that's been filtered a few extra times. It's good news in the world of truth-in-marketing, and a nice success story for a so-called "corporate watchdog." (Blog entry for another day: why do we need so many corporate watchdogs? Hmmm.)

And yet, Pepsi will continue to promote the unique benefits of their Water(TM) - 0 calories, 0 sodium, 0 carbs, hooray! - just as every other bottled water maker will continue to sell their product as one of the best possible ways we can consume Water(TM). Consumers will probably continue to buy large cases of plastic bottles with plastic caps filled with Water(TM). Public drinking fountains will continue to be replaced by vending machines that glow into the night.

Continue reading "Dihydrogen Monoxide, available at a store near you"

Is it possible for Sprint customer service to be this bad?

Presenting: another epic saga of wireless phone company incompetence...bear with me.

I'd had my Sprint cell phone and plan since 2001 - six years of relatively problem free operation (minor billing annoyances aside). And they recognized that I was a loyal customer who always paid my bill on time - in recent years they regularly sent me offers to "upgrade my plan" or my phone and receive a billing credit (but we all know this is because they wanted me to renew my vows and sign on to a new contract).

Recently, I decided that I wanted to look at a phone upgrade. 6 years had taken its toll on my Samsung A500, and I was excited about the possibility of a phone that would better sync up its contacts and calendar with my computer. I had asked Slashdot about such a product a few years ago, but the offerings were much more promising now.

Continue reading "Is it possible for Sprint customer service to be this bad?"

Linksys customer service destroyed by earthquake

I called the sales team at Linksys today to ask for help in picking which one of their products Summersault wanted to purchase. I saw this notice on their "contact us" web page:

Due to a major earthquake in the South-Pacific area, telephone, internet circuits, and services from the United States have interrupted our call center operations. We apologize for any inconvenience or delay and appreciate your patience.

I felt bad for them, but carried on and called them anyway, assuming that they would prioritize sales calls in their time of rebuilding. The guy who answered the phone made it very clear, before letting me say anything, that he would ONLY help me with PRE-SALES questions. (I suppose it's a universal problem that people call the sales extension when they really need technical support, assuming they'll get someone faster.) I said "okay, I need help deciding which one of your products to buy." I explained our requirements and which product I thought we needed, and his response was...

"Okay, let me get you over to..." and then I hear a click, and all of the sudden I'm back in their automated voicemail menu, with options that were completely unrelated to my question. No "can I transfer you?" or "Can you hold?," just an end to our sales conversation. Wow.

Now I know which Linksys product I need to buy: none of them.

The Persuaders: a nice look at advertising

This is an ad for a really great Frontline episode called "The Persauders" - a thoughtful and thorough journalistic look at the world of advertising and how it affects us at all levels. It covered a wide variety of perspectives, from advertising executives to media experts to sociologists to counter-cultural ad-busters. Quote from interviewee Mark Crispin Miller: "Once a culture becomes entirely advertising friendly, it ceases to be a culture at all." There's an interesting segment about how one firm interviewed cult-like groups of people (including Linux users and WWF Wresting fans) to craft the campaigns for brands like Nike and Apple. I guess if you can figure out what makes people loyal to a cult, you can get them engaged in your products and services.

The downside of the piece is that the reporter seems to let himself be convinced in conclusion (with snappy upbeat music in the background to reinforce) it's a good thing that "once the market becomes the lens through which we see the world, there's no us and them any more. We're all persuaders." I would probably disagree that this is a good trend.

You can watch it online on the PBS website, and the site includes a teacher's guide and related discussion area. Enjoy.

The reason for the season, from Menards

IMG_0350.JPGI opened up today's Sunday newspaper bundle to find a brown paper grocery bag from Menards that said "Merry Christmas! 15% OFF ANYTHING YOU CAN FIT INSIDE THIS BAG!" The fine print - inscribed on both sides of the bag, mind you - was my favorite:

All merchandise must fit inside the bag, all at one time to qualify for the 15% discount. No modifying of the bag is allowed. We will allow products up to twice the height of the bag to qualify for discount as long as they fit inside the bag. Multiple items must all fit inside the bag. No stacking allowed beyond the height of the bag. All merchandise must remain in its original packaging. Merchandise cannot be disassembled to fit in bag. Limited to one bag per guest (or household) per purchase per visit. (In keeping with the spirit of the sale, please do not ask the cashier to split your purchase up across multiple bags. You may make multiple shopping trips during the week, but only one bag of savings per trip.) Bag must be surrendered at time of purchase.

For those of you mapping out your trip to Menards in advance using the product dimension information you can find online: the bag is approximately 17" high, 11.5" wide, and 7" deep. Under the terms of the program including the double-the-height clause, this means you can accommodate 2,737 cubic inches, or 1.58 cubic feet, of product material. My initial calculations show that the following items will not fit in the bag: the body and teachings of Jesus Christ, personal happiness, peace, justice.

What will you put in your bag?

The difference between dollars and cents

IMG_1326.JPGI have yet to reach the end of the enjoyment I am experiencing from hearing this tech support call that someone recorded: Verizon doesn't know the difference between dollars and cents. As it turns into a global phenomenon, the caller documents his experience on his blog:

Your call may be recorded to insure quality, indeed.

Customer service done poorly by Ramada

Earlier in life I had a job as the senior front desk clerk at a national hotel chain. I made reservations, served breakfast, transferred calls, checked people in, checked people out, cleaned the pool, cleaned rooms when housekeeping had left for the day, chatted with vacationers and placated frustrated guests. The experience has instilled in me a great deal of appreciation (and sympathy) for those who work in any sort of hospitality business, but it has also made me acutely aware of particular lapses by the same when I visit. Earlier this week I was traveling through Eastern Pennsylvania and ended up having to stay in a Ramada hotel when the camping plans I had (which I was really looking forward to) didn't pan out. Ooops. Here's what happened:
Continue reading "Customer service done poorly by Ramada"