Archive for July, 2019

Service of Counting on a Brand: Bye-bye Microsoft E-Library

Monday, July 29th, 2019

Photo: crosswordology.com

How do you know you can trust a brand to keep its products in business and parts available for as long as you need them? The question doesn’t apply anymore just to major appliances, motor vehicles, furnaces, solar energy technologies and gadgets like VCRs, CDs and DVDs. The subscribers to Microsoft’s E-Library know what it’s like to be left in the lurch. I heard about their loss on NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro and Josh Axelrod reported “Starting in July, Microsoft will be closing its e-book library and erasing all content purchased through the Microsoft e-bookstore from devices. Consumers will receive a refund for every e-book bought.”

Photo: e-library.co.za

I read traditional books but some of my best friends rely on e-books. I’d be irritated if I’d paid for a book and was left hanging at a crucial juncture when Microsoft pulled the plug.

Garcia-Navarro interviewed Aaron Perzanowski, a professor at Case Western Reserve University, who pointed out that losing a book you’ve annotated and use in your job is more than exasperating. Think of lawyers, teachers or academic researchers who have spent time to study a book and write themselves virtual Post-It notes on manuscripts. The additional $25 refund doesn’t make this customer whole, said Perzanowski who also wrote the book “The End of Ownership: Personal Property in the Digital Economy.”

“In a University of Pennsylvania Law Review article, Perzanowski found that users are often misled when they click the ‘Buy Now’ button, thinking that they’ve gained permanent ownership of digital content.

Photo: garageenvy.com

“‘You can go out and buy a car and you think you own the car because it’s parked in your garage,’ Perzanowski says. ‘But in reality – how it functions, who can repair it, what replacement parts are compatible with it – all of that is controlled through software code. And, so I think that line between the physical and the digital is getting increasingly blurry.’”

The culprit is a tool called Digital Rights Management or DRM software. “Your car, your smart home appliances, your home security system – all of these systems have software that allows for this kind of control over how the devices are used, and I think we’re going to see these same sorts of situations crop up in the context of physical devices that are being used in people’s homes.”

Have you lost the use of something you owned because there are no parts available to repair it or did you learn that, like the e-books you bought, you really didn’t own it at all? Do you factor in shelf life when buying things for your office or home or are you resigned to short-lived pull-by dates on almost everything but processed honey with its forever lifespan?

Photo: geofflawtononline.com

Service of At Your Age

Thursday, July 25th, 2019

Photo: calliopegifts.co.uk

You hear the expression, “at your age,” at both ends of your life. When you were young, did a parent, teacher or babysitter ever say, “You should know better at your age!”

At the other end of the spectrum, “Three of the most dreaded words in the English language for those over 65 are ‘at your age,’ ” wrote Helen Rabinovitz, a recent follower of this blog. This post was her idea.

Photo: metrosource.com

“My most recent encounter was at urgent care,” she wrote. “I’d been coughing for weeks and finally went to see a doctor. She stood in front of me—she was about 35–arms crossed and said…. ‘you realize, Helen, that AT YOUR AGE bronchitis can be dangerous.’”

She went on: “Of course I’ve also heard… ‘isn’t that too spicy to eat at your age?’ or ‘Shouldn’t you dress more conservatively at your age?’”

Photo: instantoffices.com

She added: “This makes me wonder…how old is ‘at your age?’ At what point do all of us poor, old and decrepit folks know that we’re actually ‘at your age’ old? Have you ever been frustrated when someone, who hasn’t had your life experience, says that to you? I’d like to respond, ‘at your age’ you should have better manners!!!”

Did people say those words to you when you were little? Do they in your middle years?  Do they irritate you too? We are expected to be inclusive in every other part of our lives. Will the sexagenarian and septuagenarian candidates for president and other high office help us overcome the age hurdle?

 

Photo: commuityrising.kasasa.com

Service of the Humbling Job Hunt That Doesn’t Have to Be

Monday, July 22nd, 2019

Photo: careerbuilder.com

I remember an interview at a major PR firm years ago. I left walking on a cloud even though there were no jobs for me. The HR manager was spectacular–he made me feel great about my career and my prospects and we laughed a lot.

Encouraging job-seekers is the gold standard and should be the mission of anyone responsible for adding staff or is in even the smallest part of the process. Unfortunately, it’s not the case as often as it should be. A positive approach and refusal also goes for decision-makers inviting vendors to bid on a project.

I’ve covered the tribulations of job hunting before, most recently last December in “Service of Employee Behavior” where I protested how important a simple follow up to a scrubbed candidate is, especially after the person has prepared for and gone through an interview process. If for no other reason, it frees the conscientious candidate from making repeated follow-ups to no avail. It is respectful and reflects well on the company.

Photo: mediabistro.com

There are exceptions: when the reply is a putdown the recipient would have been better off with silence. An example was the arrogant response to a friend’s outreach to a communications company which inspired this post. He was told he “wasn’t a fit.” [Actually, he was.] The reaction of a colleague, to whom I shared this incident, was “at least he got a reply. Most people don’t.”

Another friend arranges her calendar around the many telephone interviews that are essential to her job hunt. She waited for one scheduled call, rang the person when the phone stayed mute for minutes after the appointed time. Eventually she called him and left a  him a voicemail message.  She never again heard from this person. Outrageous.

A top editor told me, after she was laid off and had become a freelance writer, how sorry she was that she’d been so abrupt with or unresponsive to writers who’d approached her with story ideas after she’d experienced how it felt to be on the other side of the ask.

Is self-importance the rule or the exception for those in the hiring business whether for a job or a project? Have you come across exemplary people in these roles or outstandingly nasty ones?

Photo: integrativestaffing.com

Service of Extraneous Embellishments: Balconies on NYC Apartment Buildings

Wednesday, July 17th, 2019

A balcony was never on my bucket list but I am having fun with mine. It came with my apartment, which was chosen in a rush. It has a super view of the East River.

I use it to play city gardener on a miniscule scale. I enjoy watching my posies blossom and grow. The geraniums, some that moved to the city from my house in Dutchess County and lived indoors since–until it warmed up; coleus; a sunflower, a spiky plant and petunias [not shown], all grow much faster outside than in. They aren’t subject to the predators of the country but they have their pet peeves.

Pigeons like them too–so I bought pinwheels hoping to discourage them from disturbing my balcony garden. New York pigeons have moxy–they’re not afraid of much. Rules are strict at the building: we can’t hang pots off the railings. If I could, I bet a few well placed pinwheels in those pots would discourage the pigeons big-time.

But I digress. The purpose of this post is to show the many balconies that are never used– which is most of the ones I’ve seen all over the place. They appear on new and old construction. Way to the back of the photo at the top of this post–if you look carefully–you can see some being added to a building under construction. And they line the sides of the black apartment house across the street from mine [photo below, right], like vertebrae on a dinosaur. The structure was just finished.

Why do architects and developers opt for such a little-used addition? Do you think people would take more advantage of the space if it was a sunroom with walls of windows? Why don’t more people enjoy their balconies?

 

 

 

 

Service of Amazon Moving into Your Home & Hotel: American Passivity is Creepy

Monday, July 15th, 2019

Photo: forum.phish.net

Get the feeling that Big Brother is closing in and that our lives are under an increasingly powerful magnifying glass while we join in like gleeful children without weighing the ramifications? Recently I wrote about Walmart’s gaining access to homes when no one’s there to deliver groceries to the fridge. In June 2015 I wrote “Service of strangers knowing more about you than your family does.” Today I cover Amazon’s plan to “get more people using its services and locked into its Alexa ecosystem,” as Christopher Mims wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

In “Amazon’s Plan to Move In to Your Next Apartment Before You Do –The tech giant has figured out a way to get millions of its smart speakers into homes without consumers lifting a finger, as property managers bring in Alexa to manage tenants,” Mims reported that already 25 percent of Americans own some kind of smart speaker, the lion’s share belonging to Amazon.

Amazon’s Alexa-controlled Echo speaker. Photo: amazon.com

The brand’s Alexa Smart Properties team, a little known part of its Alexa division, is “working on partnerships with homebuilders, property managers and hoteliers to push millions of Alexa smart speakers into domiciles all across the U.S.” The division offers hardware and software at a discount as well as “new ways for property managers to harvest and use data.” Voice based wish lists and shopping habits of an increasing number of users will propel Amazon ahead of the competition in the rental and new home construction market according to Mims.

“Amazon has figured out a way to get into millions of homes without consumers ever having to choose its hardware and services in the first place.”

Alexa, which some call a personal assistant, responds to its owners voice and carries out tasks. Echo is one of Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled speakers.

Mims reminded readers that renters, buyers and hotel guests “may not be aware of all the parties monitoring their smart-home interactions.”

He continued “  ‘We envision a day when you can say ‘Hey Alexa, pay my rent,’ and it will transfer that money from a resident’s bank account,’ says PayLease chief executive Dirk Wakeham.”

Great: Now everyone knows your bank account number and how much rent you pay.

Thanks to smart phone technology, property managers also benefit: They save money, wrote Mims, because they can easily cut back air conditioning and heating in vacant apartments; provide access to units by contractors and change door locks.

Photo: yelp.com

Americans appear to be walking the plank on this one without blinking twice. I witnessed another example of passivity at a favorite store in the suburbs  last weekend. A long line at checkout developed an offshoot and nobody at the juncture said, “The line ends over there.” I went to customer service asking for a staffer to direct the line and sort out the confusion. The woman turned her back on me saying “I know.” Such acceptance makes me nervous. I fear that Americans are setting themselves up to be whacked for takeover by nefarious souls–like a golf ball on a tee.

Add surveillance to passivity and the sum is more than creepy, don’t you think? Are city folks more inclined than suburbanites to speak up in public? Do people signing up for or playing ball with smart speakers–installed where they will live or visit–realize what they are giving up? If your hotel room had a smart speaker/spy would you ask that it be disconnected?

Photo: pixels.com

Service of Unashamed Theft: Are Perpetrators Bolder Than Before?

Thursday, July 11th, 2019

Photo: teachercreated.com

Thievery is as old as time but are robbers bolder these days?

Busing It

I was on a NYC bus last night. The driver had left open a back door to let passengers out while adjusting a ramp allowing access to the front door for an incoming passenger in a wheelchair. There was a patient line waiting behind the wheelchair.

Photo: nbcnewyork.com

A young woman hopped in the rear door and headed to the back, clearly not walking to the front to pay her fare. The driver saw her, motioned to her to get off, which she did. Two women sitting behind me remarked on the nerve of the sneak who rejoined the line and a friend who was still standing in it. She didn’t seem phased though when another bus pulled up behind ours, she ran to get on.

Spraying It

Photo: pointofsale.com

Last Sunday I saw a well dressed woman in sundress at a chain drugstore on East 34th Street spraying her arms and legs liberally with sunscreen as though she was at the beach. When she was done, she put the used canister back on the shelf and left.

Turnstile Larceny

If you take the subway often enough you’ll see people slip through the turnstiles without paying. I saw a youngster do that a week ago. Whether cheating bus or subway, the public pays the fare.

How come people aren’t embarrassed to steal in public or has it always been so and I didn’t notice? Have you witnessed petty theft lately?

Photo: gothamist.com

 

Service of Keep off the Grass: Bryant Park & Bicycles in the Big Apple

Monday, July 8th, 2019

 

Photo: eventbrite.com

Bryant Park [photos above and to the right below] is one of my favorite places to roost at lunch in summer. There are kiosks selling food in the park and plenty of takeout places around it and the price is right when I bring the fixings from home. Sitting with a friend and a box lunch under one of many trees on a green folding chair with matching round table is heavenly. I pretend I’m in Paris.

I mentioned this to a pal who shared the following story. Her son had recently been in that park to grab a bite to eat. As he did so he laid his bike on the grass in the center of the park and, she texted, “Pretty soon a security guard came along and told him he had to remove his bike. My son protested citing a nearby couple with a giant stroller also on the grass. ‘A double standard’ said my son. The guard apologized and said that they can’t approach a family and ask them to remove a stroller [the size of a Smart Car]. But a single guy with a bike can be shooed away.” She ended with “It’s all about being PC I suppose.”

Photo: activerain.com

However, when it comes to this city, bicyclists are on the long end of the stick in most other ways. A community board just agreed to new protected bicycle lanes on Central Park West from 59th to 110th Street which will eliminate 400 parking spots–but the impact on residents is far more than the loss of parking. It has to do with pedestrian safety. As I’ve bemoaned countless times before, you walk at your own risk in this city if there are bikes around. I was almost smashed into by speeding bicycles two Saturdays ago during a mid afternoon walk from 39th Street and First Avenue to 23rd Street off 5th. One bike surprised me from behind on the sidewalk; the other paid no attention to the traffic light that was green in my direction and the rider, a woman, didn’t respond or apologize to my protest. She just kept going.

Central Park West Photo: nybits.com

Michael Riedel rides his bicycle to work. The WOR 710 morning radio show co-host said he got a $90 traffic ticket for hurtling through a red light and ever since has followed traffic rules. He agreed that many of his fellow bike riders are menaces because they ignore the laws.

Shouldn’t keep off the grass rules apply to all vehicles with wheels, bicycles and baby carriages alike? Similarly, shouldn’t bicyclists be held to the same standards as motor vehicle drivers when it comes to traffic laws? Before forcing citizens to pay exorbitant fees to park in garages or leave cars out of town shouldn’t the city first increase the capacity of its public transportation options? Do bicycles cause consternation where you live? Do you have favorite places to picnic where you live or work?

Photo: 123rf.com

Service of Who’s the Boss II? Social Security, A Bank & A Museum

Monday, July 1st, 2019

Photo: db4beginners.com

The answer to “who’s the boss?” often muttered as a rhetorical question, isn’t always negative, though in two of the three following examples it is. Sometimes a decision-maker deserves praise and other times, he/she doesn’t seem to be watching the ball. In either case, you really may want to know.

I’ll start with a happy surprise.

Feeling Secure

Photo: en.wikipedia.org

I’ve recently needed to make countless calls to ask for documents and information. I lucked into Mr. Gopaul who picked up the phone at the West 48th Street NYC Social Security office. He didn’t pass me on to someone else as seems to happen increasingly these days, but quickly answered my questions, some relating to recent correspondence. I asked for his name so I could write a letter to recognize his exemplary service. His voice, at first impatient so as to get on to the next call, softened and he ended our conversation saying, “bless you.”

Who’s the boss? I took to Google.  My letter to the regional Social Security director went out that day.

One + Zero=Five

Photo: credit.com

In the private sector, I had a different experience. A bank handling my husband’s pension—Bank A–needed to take back a direct deposit payment I wasn’t entitled to.  My retail bank—Bank B–said it happens all the time and would handle the request from Bank A.

But Bank A didn’t take that one simple step. Instead, it sent me three documents, each one with different information and dollar amounts about upcoming payments. Two customer service people couldn’t figure it out any more than I could. To pay itself back Bank A has instead given itself five steps–that many more times to mess up—instead of one. I’m neither a banker nor a numbers person but this doesn’t compute. Who’s the boss?

Water, Water Everywhere….

I received a sell piece from a major museum for a five day trip to the Berkshires accompanied by the institution’s curator of American paintings and sculpture. I know this area well and have been to most if not all of its museums—there aren’t many–but was tempted by an excursion not too far from NYC with a knowledgeable curator. The fee got my attention–$5,999 per person double rate or almost $12,000 for two—but the charge is not why I ask “who’s the boss?” The “Rate Includes” section on the sell piece was the reason. You get “bottled water and coffee/tea with all meals.” For $12,000, I wouldn’t call this out any more than I would put on a dress’s price tag “$175 includes thread and zipper.” The program director should have deleted this and created some toothsome or valuable perks for the sell piece. [I also noted that not included are “meals not specified.” Let’s hope participants get all meals.]

Do you sometimes wonder who’s in charge and if the person is focusing on the work? Do you take time to find out who’s the boss to credit people who have done a superlative job as well as to gripe about those who don’t?

Photo: twitter.com

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