Dear Comcast

March 27, 2007

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Well, since I wrote to them on March 2, I’ve heard from Comcast. About every three days in fact. There hasn’t been a response to my letter of complaint for their deceptive marketing practices (described in my previous post), but there has been an endless stream of advertising material, topped off today by the monthly statement. I opened it, not expecting to find that they’d knocked $15 off my monthly charges and–guess what–they hadn’t.

But I’m not done. I shall write again, pointing out that if they indeed want to “better serve [my] needs,” and really “look forward to providing [me]” with all my entertainment and communication needs (a lofty aspiration), and truly do welcome my “questions or concerns … 24 hours a day, 7 days a week” (as one of their effusive advertising pieces assures me), then they could start off by affording me the courtesy of responding to my letter.

Maybe I’ll suggest that if they were to cut down on their direct mail, the money they’d save by not sending me and everyone else glossy promotional materials several times a week would probably add up to quite a lot and they could certainly manage to let me have $15 a month of it.

I shall also print out and enclose my last post and this one, maybe (and maybe not) after I’ve allowed time for a few comments from my loyal readers–to whom, by the way, I apologize for the long silence.

So what about that long silence? My excuse is that April 15 is the deadline to file income tax returns, and I’ve been putting everything together for my accountant. Reality is that I have been failing to put everything together for my accountant every weekend since mid January because there has always been something far more appealing to do. I’m a writer, dammit not a book-keeper (although I actually keep very orderly books, thanks to Quicken, Excel, and my obsessively tidy personality).

Because part of any job I’ve had has been bailing out other people who didn’t plan ahead, so they don’t get stick from their various powers-that-be, I don’t want to put my accountant in the same position by being one of the clients who send him a year’s worth of information on April 10 and expect him to file the tax return on time. So I took care of it last weekend and sent him the stuff (thank you Federal Express) yesterday. Within the next few days, he’ll call me telling me what I forgot.

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Deceptive marketing

March 2, 2007

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I used to have Verizon phone and DSL Internet services, but then I sold my house and moved to a highrise condominium. I planned to continue with Verizon, but after five weeks without even telephone service and with a large number of excuses for why not, I ditched Verizon and moved my phone service to AT&T. That left Internet. Verizon has somehow got the monopoly on Northern Virginia DSL service, so it’s theirs or nothing. And you can’t get Verizon DSL unless you subscribe to their voice service.

The only other broadband option is Comcast cable, which costs a whole lot more than DSL. Having no other choice, I went with that. I don’t watch TV and didn’t want the cable TV service, so up until a few weeks ago, I was a high-speed Internet customer only. Then I received a call from a Comcast telemarketer telling me that if I changed my service to the Internet and Basic TV package, I would pay $15 a month less than I was currently paying (which was a total bill of $61.10 a month).

“Wouldn’t you like to save $15?” the young man asked. The answer was obviously “yes,” and I agreed to change my service to the package deal.

Today I received my first “reduced” bill for Internet and basic cable TV services. It is for $62.91—which is $1.81 more than the total bill I was paying before.

I called Customer Service. The representative with whom I spoke gave me a bunch of double talk about how I was paying $15 less—$42.95 versus $57.95 for the Internet service, but when you added in the TV service and taxes, well … umm yes, he supposed it did bring the total to “about” $1.81 more.

So I have just written to Comcast protesting what I consider to be deceptive–or at best, misleading–marketing practices. When someone tells you that you will pay less and save money but doesn’t explain that it is for one component of the package only and that by the time you add everything together, your bottom line is actually going to be higher than it was before, isn’t the natural assumption that you are going to be writing Comcast a smaller check every month?

I suggested that an appropriate response would be a reduction to my Comcast bill of the $15 I was led to believe would be the result of my signing up for the package. I said Comcast could disconnect the TV service or not as they wished—such is my interest in it that I have not yet even bothered to connect a television set to the drop to see if it works.

If Comcast has an atom of customer relations savvy, their response will be to reduce my monthly bill by $15 and leave my basic TV service in place. We shall see what happens. I’ll let you know.


Monochrome world

February 25, 2007

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From my seventh floor window, today’s snow looks beautiful, but I have no urge to join the two hardy souls trudging across the bridge into the park. I’ll watch from a warm distance.


Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam

February 19, 2007

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I was going to write about spam (the e-mail kind) but since I couldn’t bring myself to put out my own money for a can of the stuff (the pseudo-food kind) to photograph, I went to the Hormel Spam(R) Web site to grab a picture and got sidetracked. You’re greeted with the Spam song (no, I’m not joking) and if you wait about 30 seconds, there’s animation. In fact there’s a lot of animation on the site and a veritable treasure trove of links. I decided against consulting “What is Spam?” It used to show up on the lunch menu when I was in elementary school (usually as rubbery pink slices but sometimes in fritters), and I’d as soon not know what, along with a week’s worth of sodium, they were inflicting on hapless children.

There is a whole Spam subculture, much of it tongue-in-cheek, but not all, I suspect. There’s a Spam Museum (admission free), a Spam Fan Club, and a Spammobile that tours the country giving out free samples. There are Spam festivals, most notably the annual Austin, Texas Spamarama, which has been going on since 1978. And of course there’s a Spam store with a huge variety of items with which you can show your allegiance to the product. A Spam pig clock or timer for the kitchen, pillows (think how nice they’d look on your couch), a mouse pad, a collector’s spoon, a Spam emery board, Spam wine glasses for the truly elegant table setting, a Spam three-legged pig (don’t ask). The link to the Adult category didn’t work, which is probably just as well, since the thought of a Spam G-string and pasties is not enticing. It was hard to choose, but my favorites were the glow-in-the dark Spam stadium cup, scrunchy, and boxer shorts. I always figured that the chemicals in Spam made you glow in the dark, and now you can accessorize to match.

The surprise for me is that Spam doesn’t stop at the pink rubber I was forced to eat at school, now known as Spam Classic. There are 11 other varieties, including Spam Garlic, for the more sophisticated palate; Spam Low Sodium and Spam Lite, for those concerned with healthy eating; and Spam spread (remember that one for your next cocktail party).

There’s obviously more to Spam than Monty Python skits. I’m not tempted to give it another try, though. I’m a vegetarian.


If only we could do a retake

February 13, 2007

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I signed up to receive alerts from the Alexandria (Va.) Police Department, which is how I know that a body was found at the weekend in a dumpster/skip a block from where I live, and that last night, the Alexandria police charged a man with first-degree murder.

First-degree murder means the killing was premeditated. The alleged murderer planned it, set it up. According to the police report, the suspect killed the victim “at his home late Friday night or early Saturday morning and then put her body in the dumpster.”

The victim, Anna Sherman, was 21. She died of “blunt force trauma.” In other words, she was clubbed to death with something heavy. What a waste. Barely more than a child, she had — in the normal course of things — a long life ahead of her.

The suspect is Frederick Simon Ajlan. 26, someone else who has a long life ahead of him. Maybe. He may spend a long time in jail (as well he should), but in the backward Commonwealth of Virginia, first-degree murder carries a possible death sentence, so he may die. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think people who murder should get away without lengthy punishment. Murder is wrong (in my opinion) — and that goes for the legalized, state-sanctioned kind too (in my opinion).

Last night I heard that a man I worked for years ago had died in his late sixties. He pretty much self-destructed through morbid obesity and reckless overspending. He was a bad manager but a nice man, and I am saddened by his death.

I am far more saddened, however, by the very incomplete story of a young woman and a young man I didn’t even know, who were involved in a relationship (according to the police report) that recent events suggest went bad. I would like to rewind the tape for both young people and write a different ending.

Alexandria Police Department photographs.


Cold Cold Ground

February 6, 2007

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It’s an odd hobby for a child, but I used to collect epitaphs. In later years, I started to photograph cemeteries and graves. Marie McC, therefore, is a woman after my own heart. She likes cemeteries too and has just started a new blog, Cold Cold Ground. Of course, I will be contributing regularly. This photograph is Marie’s inaugural image.

Check out her new blog.

Photograph by MarieMcC.


Waste not, want not

February 4, 2007

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Eventually rechargeable batteries won’t recharge, and that’s what happened to my Palm Tungsten E. It lasted around two years, which is the useful life the reviews gave it, so I can’t complain that I wasn’t warned. Palm’s astute marketing strategy is to make PDAs with batteries you can’t replace, so you have to buy a whole new device. I removed all the data from my fast-fading E, smacked it with a hammer for good measure (producing the interesting abstract above), then zapped it with my magnetic tape eraser and dropped it in the trash can.

If I had any vision, I would collect moribund PDAs, whack them around, and get the Hirschorn or the Tate Modern or MOMA to put on a show of my work. They’ve all done far sillier exhibits. But rather than launch my new art career, I simply bought another PDA. I chose a Palm TX because it is WiFi-enabled, so I can check my e-mail when I’m overseas (which I will endeavor to do without drawing attention to myself); but even if I’d chosen the E2, which is the new, improved E, the charger and the sync cable wouldn’t have transferred because the connections are all different. This sort of thing drives me crazy. I ended up with a useless-to-me U.S. charger/power cable; international charger/power cable with interchangeable plugs depending on whether you’re in the U.K., continential Europe, or Asia; and sync cable.

Thank goodness for Freecycle. I advertised the spare items just after lunch today, and at around 4:45 this afternoon, Brian, whose Tungsten E is still working, stopped by to pick them up. I could have put them in the Goodwill bag and taken a small tax deduction, but I’d way rather give them to a person I know can use them.

Freecycle and Craig’s List make me feel a bit better about planned obsolescence.