Interesting Links, December 29, 2012

Here are links I found interesting on December 29, 2012:

  • Science TV “network decay” – Interesting piece examining the change (for the worse) in television programming on supposed "science" channels.
  • "Science" Programming – Infographic that illustrates the aburdity of content on "educational" TV channels.
  • Bang Bang Crazy, Part Four – Jim Wright and i are on the same page about so many things. His series about guns and gun control is right on point. the answer is not in the extremes demanded by the NRA or gun control advocates. Its a combination of well thought out measures that fix the very serious problem this country has with violence and guns.

Why I Canceled My Netflix Account

Goodbye NetflixDamaged discs and idiotic customer service.

Last night, I canceled my Netflix account. I hadn’t intended on doing so when I called customer service, but it’s the bullshit I encountered on the phone that made the decision easy for me.

My Netflix Account

I had a Netflix DVD-only account. Well, until recently, I had a Netflix unlimited three DVD plus streaming account. But when Netflix decided to split the two types of service and charge customers for each of them separately, I did away with streaming. After all, I’m living in an RV and get all my Internet access via a MyFi wireless device with a 10GB per month cap. Streaming video with my setup is not only impractical, but stupid and costly.

Of course, since I’m parked on the edge of a cliff overlooking a valley, I don’t have cable TV. And I don’t have a satellite dish. And my antenna picks up about 6 television stations. My inability to get live television doesn’t bother me much since I simply cannot tolerate commercials. At home, any TV I watch is via DVR with the remote in my hand. Here, I catch up on television series — normally a few years after the show has aired — via DVD. Hence, the Netflix account.

The trouble is, it’s gotten to the point where more than half the discs I receive from Netflix are damaged. Although I’ve had a few cracked discs, more often, the damage is scratches that cause the video to lock up, skip, and do other annoying things. While I’m willing to accept an occasional annoyance — perhaps once every month or so — when every second disc that arrives is screwed up, I run out of patience.

Last night, it came to a head. I received my third damaged disc in a row and I wasn’t satisfied with checking a few boxes on the Netflix Web site. It was pretty obvious that they were ignoring the check boxes. It was time to make some noise, to vent.

The Call that Ended it All

Calling Netflix customer service works like this:

  1. Log into your Netflix account.
  2. Navigate to the Contact Us link.
  3. Find and click the link for calling customer service. A toll-free phone number appears onscreen along with a six-digit code to expedite your call. This code is evidently unique to each account or call you make.
  4. Call the phone number.
  5. When prompted, enter the code.
  6. Wait, on hold, for a human to pick up while crappy hold music plays in your ear. Yesterday, this took about 5 minutes.

Of course, the longer I wait on hold, the more annoyed I get. So even the calming voice of the guy answering the phone at Netflix customer service at 10 PM on a Monday night wasn’t enough to cool me off. I immediately went into a rant about the number of damaged discs I was getting and how completely unreasonable it was. I wanted them to note my complaint on my customer record and tell me what they could do for me about it.

He made various sympathetic noises and told me how sorry he was. And then he did something that pushed me over the edge: he asked for my name.

“I just entered a six-digit number that appeared onscreen for my account while logged into Netflix. Doesn’t it pull up my name?”

“Yes, it does,” he confirmed. “But I need you to verify it.”

This made no sense to me. “But I’m logged into my account. My name appears at the top of the screen. Even if I wasn’t the account holder, I could easily read that name off the screen.”

“I need you to verify your name before I can help you.”

“But I verified my name when I punched in those six digits.”

“No, that just brought up your account. I need you to verify your name.”

“But the only way I could get those six digits was to be logged into my account.”

“I need you to verify your name before I can help you.”

“You’re reading off a script.”

“No, I’m not,” he said. He must have been lying. Then he repeated, “I need you to verify your name before I can help you.”

I cannot begin to explain how angry this conversation was making me. “I refuse to play this game,” I told him. “I have proven who I am by entering that code. I will not allow you to drag me into your game.”

“It’s not a game,” he said. “I need you to verify your name before I can help you.”

“I want to talk to a supervisor.”

A pause. I guess he punched the button to bring up the screen that tells him what to say when a customer asks to speak to a supervisor. “I can see if a supervisor is available, but I’m sure I can help you.”

“But you won’t.”

“I need you to verify your name before I can help you.”

“I want a supervisor.”

“I’ll see if one is available. I need to put you on hold.”

“Fine.”

He put me on hold. More of the same crappy hold music. Each minute that ticked by made me angrier. I was so sick of playing bullshit customer service games. I’m not an idiot. I don’t like being treated like one. By this point, I was already beginning to think that my Netflix account wasn’t worth the headache it was giving me that night.

About three minutes later, he came back on the phone. “I have a supervisor on the line. I’ll conference you in.”

“Fine.”

The supervisor came on the phone. He introduced himself as Daniel — I think; do I really care? He came right to the point: “Can you tell me your name?”

“Sure,” I said. “I can tell you my name. But I won’t.”

“I need you to verify your name before I can help you.”

“You have my name on the screen right in front of you. I typed in a code so that screen would appear. I don’t see any reason to tell you my name when I’ve already verified my identity by entering that code, which could only appear for my account.”

“I can’t help you unless you verify your name.”

He made the decision for me: “Then cancel my account,” I said.

“I’d be happy to cancel your account if you’d give me your name.”

Maybe he thought he was being funny. I didn’t think so.

“Well, since I’m already logged into my account, I’ll just cancel it myself.”

I hung up and clicked the Cancel Membership link. I then filled in the survey to indicate that the reason I was canceling was that there were too many damaged discs and I had a problem with customer service.

Netflix Doesn’t Care

Does Netflix care that it lost a customer due to its bullshit customer service scripts? I’m sure it doesn’t. And I think that’s part of the problem.

Companies don’t care about their customers anymore. All they care about is collecting our fees and providing the minimal service they can for what we pay. They make us jump through hoops when we want to contact them — get online, log in, navigate to a screen, dial a number, enter a secret code, wait, and then repeat information they don’t need. I’m tired of it, I’m tired of paying for inferior service and then facing aggravation when I want to complain.

So I’m done with Netflix.

I’m probably better off without Netflix. I certainly will save some money. And the time I don’t spend staring at the idiot box is time better spent reading or writing or even doing crossword puzzles. Stuff that might actually improve my brain instead of sedating it.

New Social Networking Scam

Another story from my inbox.

Yesterday, the following e-mail message from “Ben” arrived in my e-mail inbox. It had been sent using the contact form on this blog. Here’s the text with the identifying information redacted.

Hi,

My name is Ben and I’m working with the [dedacted TV channel] to help spread the word about their new outdoor photography show, “[redacted name of show].” The second episode airs [redacted date/time] and follows [redacted host name] as he photographs the red rock canyons of the American Southwest.

I came across your wonderful blog and I thought you might be interested in doing a post to let your readers know about the show and help spread the awareness. Any posts that you put up will go up on [dedacted TV channel]‘s Facebook Page and/or their twitter page- so it is a good way to get some publicity for your own site. I also have a copy of [redacted host's name] ‘[redacted host's book]‘ which I could offer out to you for your time.

I’ve put some info about the show, pics, and videos below just to give you some background. If you have any questions or need more information please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Thanks for your time and let me know if you are interested as it would be so great to have your help.

Best,

Ben

What followed was a bunch of links to content in various places that evidently showed off the show. (I admit that I didn’t follow any of them.)

Bryce Canyon DawnI received the message on my iPhone while I was stuck waiting for a tow truck (long story) and, because of that, didn’t really read it carefully. At first, I was flattered. This well-known TV channel had found my blog, liked it, and wanted to work with me on some publicity for their show. This made me feel really good because, as regular visitors here know, I do a lot of photography in red rock country in Arizona and in Utah. It looked as if I were getting a bit of recognition.

But when I got back to my office and re-read the message on my computer screen, I realized that the message was obviously boilerplate. Nowhere did it mention my name, the name of my blog, or any other identifying piece of information that might make me think it was written specifically to me. “Your wonderful blog” could be a nice way to refer to anyone’s online drivel — provided you wanted to make them feel warm and fuzzy about your project.

I’d been duped.

Or almost duped.

I then took a closer look at the domain name on “Ben’s” e-mail address. It wasn’t from that TV channel. I popped the URL into my browser and found myself looking at a Web site for a company claiming to be “social media marketing & publicity specials” that “develop strategies and execute initiatives, which generate conversations & cultivate relationships between brands and publishers.” In other words, they con active members of the social networking community to tweet and blog about their clients.

For free.

Well, the client doesn’t get their services for free. It’s Ben and his company who get the services of the social networking folks for free. Free authoring, free placement of the ads, free “buzz.” Ben and his cohorts just send out boilerplate messages to lure in unsuspecting bloggers who apparently have little else to write about. Along the way, they get these bloggers to look at the content on their clients’ sites, bumping up the hit counter to show immediate results.

I’m wondering how many bloggers fall for this strategy and how many thousands of dollars Ben & Co. rake in weekly by copying and pasting boilerplate messages on the Web.

I composed my response:

Ben,

I’m interested in this, but admit that I’m a bit put off by being ask to write what’s essentially an advertisement and place it on my own blog without compensation. Not quite sure how this would benefit me. A few additional hits to my blog would be nice, but since my blog does not generate any income for me, getting more hits is not really that important to me.

I also wonder how many dozens (or hundreds) of other bloggers you’ve contacted. Your message was very generic and could have been sent to anyone with a “wonderful blog.”

Now if I were offered compensation via exposure for my helicopter charter company (http://www.flyingmair.com/), which specializes in aerial photography over red rock areas such as Sedona and Lake Powell — well that might interest me a bit more.

Or is your message just another bit of spam to get ME to check out this site? So far, it’s a FAIL.

Any interest in making this more appealing to me?

Maria

I’m waiting for a response that likely won’t come. Why should he respond to me when he probably has dozens or hundreds of other bloggers taking the bait?

In the meantime, Ben has indeed given me something to blog about.

Roku

Putting Netflix on your TV without a DVD.

My husband and I have a part-time residence in the Phoenix area, affectionately known as “Rear Window.” In putting together this home-away-from-home, we decided to do what we could to cut living expenses there. This meant not getting cable/satelite television or telephone service.

We do have Internet, however. We have to. It’s quite fast, although not as fast as the provider promised. (Bet you’ve heard that one before.) But it’s way faster than at home. And it’s fast enough for viewing Netflix content, as well as Hulu and other streaming video.

Netflix LogoI have a Netflix account. After a rocky start, we settled in and I think it’s a great service. Not long ago, Netflix added the ability to view certain titles immediately, on your computer. Although it was very slow in enabling this feature for Mac users, it also added the ability to stream video from the Internet to a computer, provided that you have a Netflix-compatible device. (I wrote a little about this here.)

RokuI bought the Roku Netflix Player. Yesterday, we plugged it in and gave it a whirl.

Setting Up

Setting up the device meant plugging it into a wall outlet (or power strip) and connecting it to the television. It came with all the cables we needed. We have WiFi at Rear Window and Roku had no trouble finding our AirPort Express network and logging in.

All the configuration is menu-driven right on the TV screen, using a remote that comes with the device. It was pretty intuitive. There was one point when it looked as if we were repeating steps we’d already done, but the process was slightly different. The only thing I think people might find baffling is how to get the activation code they need to enter into Netflix to connect their account to the device. I guessed at what to do and got it right. I think a lot of folks probably pick up the phone and call for help at this point.

Watching Movies

Once your Roku activation code has been entered into Netflix, the device is connected to your account. Any movies you have listed in your Instant Queue will appear on Roku’s main menu. It takes about 60 seconds for a movie you add to appear on Roku, but you can have any number of movies listed there.

Movie ListingTo add a movie to your Instant Queue, you must find a Netflix title that has both an Add and Play button. There are supposed 12,000 of these titles as I write this. One way to zip to the titles that can be viewed immediately is to click the Watch Instantly tab on the Netflix site. This displays only those titles you can watch online or via a Roku-like device. Add a MovieTo add the title to your Instant Queue, point to the Play button and choose Add to Instant from the menu that appears. You can add a bunch at a time so Roku offers a good selection to choose from if you don’t have a computer handy when it’s time to watch.

When the popcorn has been popped and you’re ready to watch a movie, use your TV’s Input button to switch to the input you assigned to Roku. Then use Roku’s remote to scroll through the movies you’ve added to your queue. Press the Select button to play a movie. There’s about a minute of buffering and then the movie starts.

Quality, etc.

Quality depends on your Internet connection. Netflix recommends at least 3 Mbps or better for DVD quality. Our speed is supposed to be 9 Mbps, but I clocked it yesterday at about 4.5 Mbps. (You can test your speed for Netflix purposes and learn more about how speed affects quality here.) The movie we watched, Contact, played well with no skipping and very few digital artifacts. If I didn’t know better, I’d think we were watching a DVD.

The TV we used it on is a 25-inch standard television. My husband has his eye on a large HDTV; it will be interesting to see how it works with that if he does buy it.

The Roku device supports all the usual video streaming controls, including pause/play, fast forward, and rewind. We played with this a bit. Each time you change the play point, there’s a bit of buffering before the movie resumes. I don’t think that’s either unexpected or unacceptable.

Conclusion

I’m pleased with my $100 investment in Roku. I think it’ll help us fill a gap in entertainment needs. Although there is a one-time investment in the device, there’s no additional fee through Netflix to watch streaming content. The fact that the device is wireless makes it easy to move from one room to another. The device also supports Amazon Video on Demand (or will do so soon), so if you like to spend extra money on video, that’s an option, too.

Personally, I hope they begin supporting content from other “free” sources such as Hulu and network television Web sites. It would be nice to get my Daily Show fix on a regular TV screen.

Another Example of the Media Screwing Up the Facts

A brief rant.

One of my Twiiter friends, @Vatsek, tweeted the following to me last night:

Have you seen this? Helicopter crashes at Texas A&M, killing one — CNN News web page

First of all, I do want to make it clear to folks that I don’t normally go out of my way to track down news stories about helicopter crashes — unless they’re local or there’s a chance I might know the pilot. But since @Vatsek tweeted it to me, I figured I’d better check it out to see why he’d flagged it. I found the article on CNN.com, “Helicopter crashes at Texas A&M, killing one.”

It was a brief piece with an overhead view of what looked like a helicopter that someone with a very large foot had stepped on. Included in the text were these sentences:

…The copter, which was heavily damaged, was attempting to take off when it crashed. A rudder apparently failed, the university statement said….

“All of the sudden, he dropped straight back down into the ground,” [a witness said]…

I have two problems with these statements:

  • A standard helicopter does not have a “rudder.” It has a tail rotor, which is controlled with anti-torque pedals. Those pedals resemble rudder pedals on an airplane, but they are not rudder pedals because a helicopter does not have a rudder.
  • If a helicopter’s tail rotor (anti-torque system) failed, the helicopter would not come “straight down.” It would be spinning like crazy. That’s because the tail rotor prevents it from spinning like crazy. If it failed, it would spin. And it’s pretty clear from the photo in the article that the helicopter was not spinning like crazy when it hit the ground.

This is yet another example of the media speculating, with absolutely no knowledge, about the cause of an accident, spreading misinformation among the public. What’s even worse about this is that if they asked any helicopter pilot — even a new student pilot — to fact check their story, they could have gotten it corrected with, at the very least, the proper terminology for the tail rotor/anti-torque system.