Posts Tagged Essays

Gas TV


Thank you gas stations across America for invading  one of the last bastions of peace and quiet I have (had).  I can no longer pump gas with only my thoughts to keep me company. Now I must listen to a moronic advertisement and a news sound bite repeated endlessly and finally an admonition at the end to like Gas TV on Facebook and Twitter. This request is the ultimate example of adding insult to injury.

Gas TV is a new phenomenon, yet I already yearn for the days when I could quietly observe the random mixture of people crossing paths at the gas station and wonder about their lives.

Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you stressed out?  What are you heatedly saying into your cell phone while making those intense gestures? Who is on the other end? What is your relationship?  Are you always enmeshed in some daily drama of one kind or another? Are you well-to-do or have you spent your last dime to impress me with that Mercedes 550e?

I miss the opportunity a gas station stop provided to take inventory of my day’s to-do list.  Gas TV has also stolen the precious minutes I had to re-assess my existential situation.

Gas TV is some asshole’s greedy idea to make money any way possible without regard to my peace of mind.  It is another idiot’s stupid decision to buy it.

Let’s take a poll. Who thinks we need Gas TV? Please raise your hand.

If your hand is not in the air, complain to the gas station manager.

Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your day.

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The Problems of This World Including Coffee Machines


coffee machineMy coffee maker died yesterday. It was six months old. It died of the mechanical equivalent of a grand mal seizure or a massive heart attack, I’m not exactly sure which applies. One thing is certain; the death was premature.

For the past two years, I’ve been trying to find an upscale coffee maker to replace my old, reliable, cheap Mr. Coffee. I am in search of a more aesthetically pleasing machine that makes better coffee. I’m not talking about a ridiculously priced espresso machine. I’m talking about a good-looking machine in the neighborhood of seventy-five dollars including tax that makes yummy coffee. I don’t think that’s asking too much, especially considering the premium coffee I use. If there’s anything my daughter and I agree upon, it’s the importance of good coffee in large quantities to start the day. For the record, my wife does not drink coffee.

There are not many coffee maker brands available in retail stores.  Besides Mr. Coffee, there are only three or four other major brands on sale in major retail chains When my search began, I thought these brands represented the “best of the best” using the theory of Darwinian Economics. So far, I’ve chosen two of these brands to try with disappointing results.

I bought a sixty-nine dollar Cuisinart with high hopes. Unfortunately, I chose the color white, which turned out to be a bitch to clean. Within a few months, I grew weary of the futile struggle to keep the Cuisinart free of ugly coffee stains. Two months later, the clock broke. I was actually happy this happened. It gave me an excuse to buy another coffee maker.

I bought another Cuisinart, this time in black. It broke down nine months later. To add insult to injury, I did not notice any real difference in the quality of the coffee it made, except when I replaced the charcoal filter. The better taste lasted two or three weeks, then it went back to “ho-hum” quality. I will never again buy anything made by Cuisinart.

Due to my stubborn preference for cone-shaped filters, I was left with only one viable alternative in my price and shape range. I bought a sexy-looking Krups coffee maker. I expected the German reputation for precision and quality products to hold true for their coffee machines. As reported above, my Krups machine expired after six months. I’m sure the damn thing was made by a tragically underpaid worker half a world away from Germany. What is this world coming to?

It occurs to me that we are faced with much larger problems than poorly made coffee makers. I would gladly buy a coffee maker every six months if it helped to solve the problems in Ukraine and Iraq, for starters.

Photo: http://www.nextnature.net

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The Price of Printing or Planned Disappearance


Stairway to Printer Heaven

Stairway to Printer Heaven

My printer passed away last night. The print head had a massive heart attack. I performed several emergency medical procedures prescribed by my HP Solutions Center–all to no avail. Funeral services will be announced.

A helpful store clerk at Office Depot informed me that printheads often break within two to three years. “It costs nearly as much to repair them as it does to buy a new printer,” he added, smiling. I did not argue with the man. Some critcal part of every printer I have ever owned has broken down within this time-frame, and it never makes economic sense to replace the part.

Yet, I continue to buy HP printers, despite their limited life-span and the outrageous prices of the ink they voraciously consume. HP is a market leader, and I follow the herd because I shudder to think what catastrophes await the buyers of lesser brands.

Most printers displayed on major retail shelves are made in horrid factories by underpaid workers somewhere in China. I tell myself the HP factories are less horrid and produce better products than the others. At least I know what I’m getting when I buy an HP printer–a short but trouble free life span and high quality inks at unconscionable prices.

My new printer cost $149.00 (on sale) and the new ink cartridges cost $93.99.  At the risk of sounding unsympathetic and disrespectful to the dead, my old printer expired with about $50 worth of unused ink. My new printer is the updated version of the old printer. Naturally, the ink cartridges are not transferable. I had no choice except to buy new ink. This brings the total cost of my new printer to $292.99, not including sales tax.

As we all know, it’s not the cost of the printer that hurts. It’s the cost of the inks. I find that my color ink cartridges last about three months each, and the double size black cartridge lasts about six months. I am convinced the life span of HP ink is controlled by a secret technology kept ingeniously under wraps by the manufacturer.

My cartridges need frequent replacement regardless of the steps I take to economize on ink. If I avoid printing in color, my color cartridges still need to be replaced. The only explanation I have for this is that the secret HP technology enables the color cartridges to combine mysteriously to print in black.

My New Printer

My New Printer

If I cut down on using my printer, it makes no difference. In this case, the secret technology causes the ink in the cartridges to evaporate at a predetermined rate, thereby ensuring a three-month replacement cycle.

Adding to my consternation, it took me three hours to set up the new printer. This included a few breaks to watch my beloved New York Giants lose in the last two minutes to the Dallas Cowboys. This did not help to elevate my mood.

It used to be easy to set up a printer. There was basically one way to install the damned thing, and it was easy to follow the idiot-proof instructions. Now, there are several options at every step of the process requiring an advanced degree in engineering to decipher. On one of the setup screens, none of the options fit my setup criteria. I finally decided to go on to the next step without checking any of the boxes. I expected to see an error message pop up, but lo and behold, nothing happened. I had made the right choice, that is–no choice. I had guessed right, but I ask you, doesn’t that sound a bit counter-intuitive?

At some point, we will no longer need printers, paper, or ink.  Documents and images will fly through the air directly into our heads. Until that time comes, however, I could use a little advice on the subject.

“Stairway to Heaven” image by Sigurd Decroos / www.cobrasoft.be

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David and the Insurance Goliath


You would think a company like Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida has its act together. Think again. Dealing with this company’s bureaucratic minions is a nightmare and a slapstick comedy rolled into one.

My eighty-six year old mother needed to convert her supplemental health insurance to another carrier. Since Medicare provides her primary coverage, I thought switching the supplemental would be no big deal. Just to make sure we got it right, I enlisted the help of an insurance agent referred to us by Blue Cross.

The fun began when my mother received a letter from Blue Cross denying coverage due to her application arriving outside of the annual enrollment period. The agent explained without apology that she was apparently confused about the application period. Three subsequent calls to this agent netted zero results. I was on my own in trying to resolve the problem — David vesus Goliath.

I called the 800 number listed in the rejection letter. The Blue Cross telephone representative promptly told me they could not help me. I had to call the Jacksonville office. “Where, by chance, am I calling?” I inquired. “The Sales Department,” the rep replied. “Aren’t you in Jacksonville?” I wanted to know. “No. You’ll have to call them tomorrow. They’re closed for the day now.” The telephone rep gave me the local number for the Jacksonville office. I had to ask for the toll-free number.I called the Jacksonville office the following morning. The experience turned into a multi-call ordeal for a number of reasons. Each time I called, the operator routed me to the wrong department. After copious delays, I finally reached someone who could help me. Each telephone rep gave me a different answer before putting me on hold for what seemed like forever.

I kept hanging up and calling again in the hopes of finding someone who actually knew what they were doing.The first telephone rep told me Blue Cross rejected the application because my mother’s supplemental insurance policy had lapsed. I told the rep, a nice woman by the name of Yvonne, that my mother’s policy was still very much alive and kicking. Yvonne then told me all we needed was the current policy number to resolve the matter. Great, I thought. I’ll just call my mother, get the policy number, and call sweet Yvonne back. Finally, we were getting somewhere.

Ten minutes later, I called Yvonne’s extension. “The line is busy,” the operator informed me. “Would you like to speak to someone else?” “No,” I replied. “Yvonne understands my situation.” The operator told me I had reached a call center where the reps take calls back to back. In other words, my chances of reaching Yvonne again were on a par with winning the Florida Lottery.

I was not going to ask if the call center existed within the confines of the Jacksonville office. I did not want to find out that the telephone reps who held my mother’s health insurance future in their hands were quasi-employees, or worse, independent contractors who cared exclusively about their hourly wage.I spoke to the next person, and the next one, until I reached David, my namesake, who seemed to fathom the arcane rules and closely guarded secrets governing the Blue Cross insurance application process.

David convinced me that we had to resubmit the application for insurance during the official enrollment period. I then discovered during the ensuing conversation that the application mailed with the rejection letter was misprinted. David promised to mail a corrected application form.I next asked David when Blue Cross intended to refund the first month’s payment mailed with the original application. David advised me to speak to my agent. I reminded David that I was speaking to him due to my agent’s total and complete incompetence, not to mention her unrepentant attitude.

After more haggling, David agreed to look into the refund. Five minutes passed during which I listened to irritating music interspersed with promotional messages aimed at motivating me to use more impersonal and less costly means of contacting Blue Cross to resolve my problems. I was about to hang up when David came back to advise me the refund would be mailed within two weeks. I asked him to fax a copy of the new application to me. He eagerly promised to do so. The fax never arrived.

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