A Lack of Spirit

It’s not that I’m a grinch; I just don’t have that “holiday spirit” this year. I suppose it was inevitable. My daughter typically spends Christmas with her mother and I’m not all that much of a Christian (that’s a whole other story much too long for this post). So I usually find myself alone and occasionally visiting one of my parents for a few hours. It isn’t exactly an ideal situation to nurture joyous effervescence.

Add to this my ever-growing disgust at the blatant over commercialization of the holiday season and sooner or later you end up with a total lack of enthusiasm for the season. Nobody seems to remember the purpose of Christmas (or Winter Solstice or Yule or whatever else you happen to observe). I can tell you it has nothing to do with Black Friday or the receiving of things from others. It’s not even about the giving of things.

Every year stores push the “Christmas Season” on us earlier and earlier. I remember when I was younger that we didn’t see stores put out the Christmas stuff until after Thanksgiving. Now we see it out before Halloween has past. It’s become nothing more than a money grab for stores and a financial obligation to each other. This is not what it’s about and I’m really just tired of it all.

This holiday is a celebration. Depending on your particular beliefs, it can represent the birth of Christ or the continuation of life or a myriad of other joyful things that have nothing to do with buying things to give to people. Sure, gifts being exchanged are a part of many…perhaps even most of these traditions. But it was never meant to be the centerpiece of the holiday. At least, until the corporations got involved.

I won’t get into a big rant. It’s late and I have a family gathering I want to attend in a few hours. But I will say that regardless of your religious views and affiliation, please take some time to remember the real meaning of the season. Spend some time with your loved ones and just enjoy their company. Remind yourself that simple fellowship can be one of the most wonderful gifts you can give…or receive.

Happy Holidays to all of you and yours.

Women Are Frustrating

No, I don’t have a witty title for this post. I know that’s out of the ordinary. Yes, I am making a new post. I know that’s also out of the ordinary. But with the start of a new year and me having some time on my hands to contemplate life, the universe, and everything…I decided I needed to get a few things off my chest. Women in general have caused me more frustration than anything else in the past few years.

Let’s go back a few years. I met someone, started dating her, and she moved in with me. This all happened fairly quickly. It didn’t take long for her to alienate my friends and my friends are really important to me. She also spent a great deal of time unemployed so I was left to support the entire household on my less than stellar salary while still paying child support. Enter the wonderful world of ridiculous credit card debt. Eventually the relationship fell apart and she moved out, leaving me with an unholy amount of debt I could not pay.

After a while of being alone and working to get the debt into a situation that I could get out from under one day, I began dating someone I had a crush on back in junior high. She’s got a daughter and lived out of town and worked different hours than I did. With me having a daughter as well and with all of the other factors, finding time to be together was tricky. But we did it. It wasn’t as often as either of us would have liked, but the relationship was just starting and I was still feeling the sting of the last one. Everything was fine until she decided I must not love her because I obviously wasn’t trying hard enough to spend time with her. Never mind that I’m the one that was asking almost constantly when we could see each other next. Never mind that I was also the one that rearranged his schedule of things any time there was a glimmer of a chance we could spend some time together. These are actions of someone that doesn’t really love the person he’s with…or so I am to assume from the text message I received informing me the relationship was over.

Then for the last nine months or so I’ve been asking someone else out. I’ve known her for a while and she swears she really wants to date me. But in the last nine months we’ve managed to go out only…wait, we haven’t gone out at all. That’s right, she tells me she wants to really badly. I asked her out repeatedly and offered to do whatever was needed to make it happen. In nine months she has found exactly zero time to give me. Call me crazy but I think she did not quite tell the truth. Now I understand she’s got two children and being a single mom is a lot of work…but nine months…somewhere in the appriximately 6480 hours I’ve been asking her out, I think she could have found 2 or three consecutive hours to say ‘sure, let’s go get a burger or something’. But no, and now that I’ve brought it up to her, she won’t respond to me at all.

Over-arcing all of this is another that I would have wanted to date. We get along great together, like a lot of the same things, and enjoy being in each other’s company. We share a similar sense of humor and taste in movies and food. In short, someone on the outside looking in would (and has) assumed we were a couple because of how we are when we’re together. I’ve been her friend through several relationships (both mine and hers). How many times has she gone out with me? None. Not once. And she won’t. Now these days we do still hang out some and the desire to date her has long since been killed by the frustration. Yet somehow she still thinks everything I do is an angle to get her to date me. She can’t accept that I like to hang out with her because we have fun together. I think part of that is because I know her so well that I can pretty much tell her what she’s thinking just by looking at her. She thinks (if I’m not mistaken) that I’m merely telling her what she wants to hear so I can keep some grand master plan moving in the background that culminates in her finally agreeing to go out with me. I’m not nearly that devious. I’m flattered that someone would believe I’m capable of such subtle and complex plans when it comes to women, but no. I’m not nearly that good.

We won’t go into the awesome woman I dated a few times thanks to an online dating site that’s now married to a friend of mine. No, it isn’t as bad as it sounds because we were just friends and hanging out together when she and I met the guy she eventually married. But it’s just another tick in the list of weird experiences in dating that leave me single. I’ve grown frustrated with the whole thing and I’m almost to the point of believing that while there is someone for everyone, you can miss your chance…because I believe I missed mine at some point. I couldn’t tell you when I missed it or who it was I missed it with, but time is marching on and I’m still single. No this isn’t a big whining rant. It’s a vent of frustration from my dealings with the opposite sex. Is it really so hard to find someone with some similar interests willing to spend a few hours with you? I’m tired of being the best friend. I’m tired of being told I’m a really nice guy and I’m just the type of guy that women look for because if that was the case, I wouldn’t be writing this. Somebody is lying and it isn’t me. It only adds to the frustration and irritation. And if it isn’t lying, then stop avoiding me. It’s that simple.

I Cannot Call Myself A Frugalista

So if you have been following the saga of the “Frugalista” trademark silliness, then what I say here probably won’t surprise you. That is especially true if you are a frequent reader of my blog. This has irritated me and I feel I need to explain why.

Let’s start with the fact that the term frugalista (oh no…I didn’t use quotes!) is a common term for its market with a general meaning. This alone should be enough to warrant scrutiny over the trademark application. We aren’t even talking about people who claim to be the Frugalista (looky there…it’s capitalized and not in quotes…oh dear me) of a certain geographical area. This is actually a pretty common practice, not just in blogging but in journalism. You stake claim to a geographical location and name yourself the authority over some particular subject matter that you focus on. Well guess what, bucko…you aren’t peddling that name around here. Doing so will get you a nice fresh C&D from the lawyer of the git that thinks she can just rip a word journalists on pain of lawsuit.

That seems awful anti-Frugalista-ish (oh ho…now we’re getting fancy with changing up the word) to spend that kind of money on frivolous unenforceable crap. Perhaps Ms. Self Important should read some of the blogs and forums and general online media on the subject of frugality and being a Frugalista. (Have I earned my very own C&D yet? I’m certainly trying my hardest. After all…every letter costs money and the tool that thinks she can trademark such a broad and general term deserves any bill she gets.) Now I’m sure some of you are wondering how I could possibly get a C&D for simply writing about this fight in the Frugalista community. It’s simple, really. My previous post has the excerpt from the C&D sent to the Jackson Frugalista blogger that holds the key to my crusade. Apparently the law office declares in said letters that they expect you to cease any and all use of the term in any derivation on any type of online media. Shucks…I think I failed to comply with that.

And to add to this idiocracy would be the article in U.S. News where the lawyer directly contradicts the statement of the letter. Now tell me, Madame I-Trademark-Common-Terms, do you actually pay for this contradictory tripe? If not, then I applaud you not only for your ninja skills at being frugal (for these guys MUST be cheap), but also for the sheer amount of ignorance you managed to locate in such a tiny little place. If you don’t yet understand what I mean, allow me to show you.

This is from the C&D sent to the Jackson Frugalista blog owner:

Further, please let us have your prompt written assurance that you and any affiliated companies or individuals will promptly discontinue and refrain from the use of the term “FRUGALISTA” in any form or derivation in any online blogs or journals.

This is statement from the lawyer as reported by U.S. News:

McDowell emphasizes that other writers can still use the word “frugalista” in their stories—which may seem obvious, given the fact that it is a commonly used word—but that they cannot identify themselves as a “frugalista.”

Call me craz…erm…Frugalista, but I don’t think this will hold up in court. Oh heck, I went and did it again. You know, If I keep this up someone might get the impression that I am trying to make a point with all the subtlety of a frag grenade to the face. It’s gotten me in trouble before and probably will again. I cannot, however, sit back and keep my mouth shut when I see something as blatantly stupid as this happening right before everyone’s eyes. This would be like Best Buy trying to trade mark the term “Geek” and saying that nobody could use said term in any online publication to refer to themselves because it “unfairly capitalizes on the goodwill and reputation embodied in our client’s use of the Mark”…not that anyone every accused the Geek Squad of being the recipient of goodwill or anything resembling a (good) reputation. Please, read the story at US News, read the letter and the response at Jackson Frugalista…and by all means boycott the stupid trademark lady’s blog until she apologizes to the internet for being a tool.

And before I forget…

I Am Not A Hypocritical Frugalista That Hates Freedom Of Speech.

I Don’t Own Words Like Frugalista

So the current viral story is the Jackson, Mississippi blogger being targeted by the Miami Herald for use of a word. That word…which will assuredly earn me a C&D of my very own…is “Frugalista”. I’m not opposed to branding. I also understand that if you have a trademark, you are required to defend it or you will lose it. I’m not even totally opposed to the idea of asking that the blog name be changed to avoid any confusion…silly though that is. That’s all fine and good. But the letter had this little tidbit:

Further, please let us have your prompt written assurance that you and any affiliated companies or individuals will promptly discontinue and refrain from the use of the term “FRUGALISTA” in any form or derivation in any online blogs or journals.

Let’s look at that for a moment. They want her to “refrain from the use of the term” not just in her blog title but “in any form or derivation in any online blogs or journals”. This means to comply with this order she can’t even say “I was reading The Frugalista Files” without being in violation. I think that’s a bit far. Being barred from using a WORD? It’s not even a word the trademark holder created. We’re not talking about Kleenex or Xerox here. We talking about someone that decided to use a word that is pretty generic and existed before she got into blogging and then trying to prevent the world from using it.

In that spirit, I am offering my feelings on this through my blog. Until the trademark is revoked as submitted, I will end all posts with the same line. And I dare you to C&D me…there’s no way my use is confusing to anyone.

I Am Not A Hypocritical Frugalista That Hates Freedom Of Speech.

Hashtags to Cash Bags

The first I heard of this marketing method was with Squarespace. Now I had already heard of this hosting company because I listen to several of the TWiT (no relation to Twitter…besides, TWiT was first) podcasts and they are an advertiser there. But then I caught wind of a marketing campaign they were kicking off…using Twitter. See, in the world of tweets there are things known as hashtags. What you do is put a hash mark in front of some tag-like keyword in your tweet. This makes it easy to find tweets about a certain subject. It’s also where the trending topics list comes from. What Squarespace was doing is picking a random tweet with the #squarespace hashtag and awarding that person with a $199 Apple gift certificate. This was billed as the iPhone giveaway. They did one a day for the 30 days of June. It seemed to work pretty well.

This month it’s Moonfruit. They’re another hosting company, this time in the UK. They are giving away 10 13″ Macbook Pros. All you have to do is tweet with the #moonfruit hashtag during the contest duration. They are also giving away a couple of iPod Touches to the most creative tweets. Just like that, they’re all over the trending topics and getting face time with millions of users. Seems to me like this is smart marketing…but only for a short time. I cannot imagine it will take long for this to get really old with Twitter users and it will fall by the wayside. But I have to say, it does show some creative marketing and a brilliant way to leverage a new internet trend to your marketing advantage.

I won’t say this marketing technique is already dying, but I will say it has an extremely limited shelf-life. Things on the internet move fast. Marketing strategists have to move faster to keep up. Why? Because not all of their ideas are going to work. So they have to have time to try again before the crowds pass them by. I don’t know who first thought up the hashtag guerilla campaign, but he deserves a nice trip somewhere tropical for being ahead of the curve.

Tech Support – We’re People Too

Nobody likes calling tech support. There are droves of sites that recount horror stories of dealing with various companies and their failure to provide the help that is wanted and needed. This will probably never change. I, too, really try to avoid calling any tech support line as long as possible. I will beat Google’s search algorithm to a bloody pulp and turn my cable modem into a pile of molten goo in an attempt to fix a problem before I will pick up the phone a press a few numbers. Heck, I have a series of posts on this very blog recounting my experiences with Comcast support and they are not flattering to tech support (though the social media outreach team is a different story).

On the flip side of that coin, I am in tech support at the company I work for. I take the calls and do what I can to help. Having been on both sides of the fence, I think I can safely say that there are a few things you can do to give you much better chances to leave a support call satisfied. Now this may not work every time as every company and every support technician (or engineer or whatever the PC term is this week) are not equal. But the point here is by trying to adhere to a few common courtesies and being a little flexible can greatly increase the chances that you will have a pleasant experience when you pick up the phone to ask for help.

First and foremost, do not assume that you will be stonewalled or that your experience will be a bad one. This will put you in a negative frame of mind and that will come out during your conversation with the support rep. Job or not…that is a person on the other end and they don’t like being verbally abused or mistreated any more than you do. Try to remember that. It’s not an easy thing to accomplish since you are probably frustrated already with whatever problem has driven you to call in the first place but trust me, you don’t want to come off as belligerent.

Next, understand that your problem might be rare or unique in some way so it may take a little while to dig to the bottom of the cause. A good support rep is not going to just give you a quick answer and all but shove you off the call. I can tell you from personal experience that about 30% of the cases I deal with in any given day are unique in some form or fashion. This leads me to asking quite often for very basic information so I can be sure that I am thorough. After all, if you call back because the problem wasn’t as fixed as we thought it was because I missed something, you will, understandably, be less inclined to be patient or nice. Of course there is the exception of the other 70% of the cases I deal with. These are the things I see almost daily and can say with near absolute confidence what the solution is in fairly short order. Don’t confuse that answer with brushing you off. If you have doubts about which it is, then ask if it’s a common problem. I can’t speak for most companies but I can say that the one I work for values honesty with the customer.

Try to understand the support rep’s point of view because he or she is trying to understand yours. Our goal is to get your problem fixed. Our goal is to do it as quickly and as thoroughly as reasonably possible. We want you to get full use of your product/service and we know how frustrating it is when something you need isn’t doing what it is supposed to do. We honestly do understand. We don’t get calls because things are working great, which is fine because that’s the job. Again, I can’t speak for other places but at my job we do it because we like solving problems.

I don’t know how many people notice, but if you are on a support call and your rep engages you in idle conversation while fixing the problem, you will probably leave the call with a positive feeling towards the experience. The chatting about random things gives you a personal connection with the person on the other end of the phone. It doesn’t seem as mechanical and that has a profound effect on the overall experience. I bring this up because if you are feeling overly frustrated by your problem, try initiating some idle chat if the rep has not. This can diffuse the potential for a bad experience rather quickly. It does not mean we won’t take your problem seriously, but it does make the solution finding process more pleasant which makes time seem to pass more quickly. This is a good thing since nobody wants to be on the phone for a long time with support. Well, it usually doesn’t make the top 10 list of things to do at work at any rate.

What brought on this particular post? Oddly, it was not having a bad support call. I had a great one. A call came in mere minutes before quitting time and ran about an hour or so after quitting time. The caller had every right to be really upset about the situation but never once let it show. We had a nice chat while we worked through everything that was going on and tried some different methods to fixing the problem. When we finally exhausted everything I knew to try we finally had to admit defeat and get the replacement process started. Even then the caller was understanding and only stated a desire to get back up and running quickly. I went on and stayed a while after hanging up to make sure the replacement process was fully in motion (at least as far as I can take it) before finally shutting down my computer and heading home. I do this job because I like to solve problems and I like helping people. Being in support lets me do both. Calls like this make the job a real joy. And amazingly, most of the calls we get are nearly this good.

Just remember that you are dealing with a person on the other end of the phone. This person is here to do what they can to help. Try to be nice to them even if you are mad at the situation. At the very least, take a breath if you start venting and apologize. Everyone’s emotions get a little out of sorts from time to time. I called Comcast for the eleventy-hundredth time and ended up griping at the poor lady that answered my call for nearly three minutes. The moment I realized what I was doing, I stopped and took a deep breath. Then I apologized for taking it out on her and explained I was just very frustrated by the problem and she did not deserve that because she personally had been trying to help fix the problem. Even after all of that I would dare say we both left the call on a happy note.

A little courtesy can work wonders.

Hollywood Never Gets It

I am an otaku. For those that don’t recognize the term, it means someone obsessed with something. In American slang it means someone obsessed with things Japanese. I love the culture, the food, and anime. Anime really isn’t a cartoon in the normal American sense. I’ve covered that before. The stories are deeper and the characters are far more complex than anything you’ll find on a Saturday morning show. It is an art form. What does this have to do with Hollywood being stupid? They don’t understand.

The braniacs at the movie studios usually have the sense to leave Japanese creations and ideas alone. They don’t have the mental capacity to execute the complex stories. Hollywood is little more than a large copy machine these days recycling scripts from previously successful movies by running them through the “update it for current times” formula. This formula usually consists of having actors that are either currently popular or fit the “hot girl” or “pretty boy” stereotype thrown into some situation where a love interest can be mixed in. Add a few explosions and some CG and you have an instant movie. The Japanese concepts and storytelling will never fit such a mechanical formula. They tell rich stories that can give you much to talk about and ponder for weeks after having seen it.

Unfortunately, some headcase in Hollywood does get the occasional idea to take a Japanese story and rape it mercilessly in the hopes of making a quick buck. The latest atrocity is Dragonball: Evolution. I went to see this with the expectation that it would be the worst movie I’d ever seen. The Dragonball anime series is probably the greatest loved action series ever created. I don’t know who could have possibly thought that making this abortion was a good idea, but they should be put out of our misery immediately. To have this piece of filth dare to call itself by the name of Dragonball is probably the most offensive act America has committed this year.

Now I am not railing against the movie because it isn’t exactly like the anime. Nobody would expect any transition to the big screen to survive completely intact. But the only things they managed to get even close to right are the names. The story was terrible and really would not make sense to anyone that isn’t already a Dragonball fan. The characters were poorly cast. The wardrobe looks like rejects from the clearance rack at Wal-Mart…and the screenplay as a whole completely sucked. You would have thought that after Godzilla, somebody would have learned a lesson. Perhaps I expect to much of the American Movie Machine.

Why would you have a story about Goku and not include Krillin? They were best friends and stood by each other through every saga…through every series. At what point did it seem right not to have him there? I thought part of the formula would have included the best friend that has to be saved. And Bulma being fearless and wielding guns? If you were gonna do that, you should have called her Lunch. She better fit the character written in the script. And then there’s the nit-pick stuff like Gohan and Roshi teaching crane style…WTF? Roshi is the turtle hermit. He does not use crane style.

I could easily fill a book with all of the little things that were just plain wrong in the movie. But I think the fact that the Hannah Montana movie on average has 2 more stars in online ratings speaks volumes. And if at any point you think I’m making up how bad this movie is, see if you can find the scene of Goku summoning the dragon. I have never in all my life heard a more ridiculous line delivered so badly…ever…by anyone…at any age. That is not an exaggeration. I went to the movies with a friend that is also a Dragonball fan and we laughed so hard when this line was spoken that we thought we’d be kicked out of the theater. It really is like being smashed in the “dragonballs” with a hammer.

Do us all a favor, Hollywood. Keep your nose out of all things Japanese.