Tag Archives: opinion

Selective Service

A friend recently asked…

I was wondering if you had to register for the draft, or you’re in that “gap” group where Selective Service was doing next to nothing? At one time, some of us had to show younger co-workers what a draft card looked like and explain it! You’re younger than I am but maybe not THAT young.

I DID have to register.

I was designated 1S because I was still in high school. Vietnam was in full swing and I watched a number of my older friends leave to serve. (Some made it home whole, some not so whole, and some never made it back at all.) During my final year, 1973, the draft was still going strong. I had left home that spring and as school wound down I was watching that lottery stuff pretty carefully. I’d soon go from a safe 1S to a prime 1A target. Now, I was a skinny little shit, not especially keen on combat. Having already lost friends there, frankly, it scared me. There was this other, fairly new designation – Conscientious Objector, or 1AO – that one could apply for, and I tried for that. As a 1AO, if inducted, I’d serve but wouldn’t be assigned to active combat. There was a bit of paperwork, I collected letters from teachers, church… wherever I could… to substantiate my application. It didn’t work. I became a 1A. Then, in the lottery, my number: 26! It looked like I’d be going in. I waited for my letter. It never arrived and in August the whole thing shut down. The active draft was one of the first things to stop, it was such a political hot button. I’m fairly certain I got very, very drunk when the news hit.

I learned, as I filled in the gaps of this story, that the groundwork for an all-volunteer U.S. military began as early as the end of January, 1973, although it took a while for the shutdown of the draft to actually happen. It leads me to wonder how many young bodies inducted after Laird’s signature but before the last kid shipped out didn’t come home…

I’m pretty sure I still have my draft card somewhere but I can’t recall seeing it for a very long time. It’s probably in that file of papers I dutifully (and securely) care for when I relocate. Stuff goes into that store after which it seldom sees the light of day.

Funny thing. Registration was compulsory when my kid came of age. It was easy, not like it was when I registered and had to personally appear at an office downtown. The process may have actually started with something as simple as an extra checkbox on his DS11 when he upgraded to an ‘adult’ passport at 16. Shortly after he turned 18 he received a letter containing his registration information. There’s no active draft today but his registration card is, actually, a draft card, should the government choose to start drafting again.

[sigh] Over the decades, like many others, my views on military service have changed a great deal.

I haven’t thought about those experiences for a long time. That was a good question, thanks for asking.

Up, Up, Up

As I went through today’s snail I found that my CenturyLink invoice had risen by a not-insignificant 28%. CenturyLink bundles a bunch of stuff. There’s the POTS (and its requisite long distance), DirecTV, and High Speed [cough, cough] Internet. When I mentioned Internet, my kid – ever the quick wit – quipped…

“You mean we *pay* them for that???”

I nearly dropped a nut.

centurylinkHe’s right, though. This is rural Florida and the Internet service well and truly sucks. They SHOULD pay us, rather than the other way around. At the far end of a 12,000-foot copper haul to the DSLAM, you just KNOW I’m not makin’ it up.

But that’s not why the bill went up. It was DirecTV. DirecTV’s portion alone rose by fifty-four damned percent. And I know why. A couple of promos, granted when we signed up last year, expired. As if that pap that passes for content was worth the promo rate in the first place. A thousand channels of crap. Thank the almighty Lord in heaven none of us give a flyin’ shit for sports!

The lot of ’em – what a rip. I mean, study after study, survey after survey, who’s at the bottom along with lawyers and used car salesmen? Cable companies and phone companies, that’s who.

I wrote the check.


Or should I just call it SimShitty, as some have taken to calling the recent launch?

The other day Pam plunked down her sixty bucks, minus five with a coupon, plus another fifteen for a strategy book… lemme check the math, that’s seventy smackers, plus some Florida tax… damn, my head’s swimmin’. And for what? Not a lot.

She’s gone through the tutorial and that’s about it. The Origin servers are all down and there’s nothing else to be done. No serv-o, no play-o. The stuff she learned in the tutorial’s largely forgotten. After all, what you don’t put to use in 24 hours of learning is gone the next day, the brain folks love to tell us at training seminars. Use it or lose it.

SimCityOkay, everything’s social now. I get it. But SimCity’s largely a game where a single player tries their hand at lording over an infrastructure that happens to include, well, a simulated population. It’s not like your city’s populated with Aunt Jane or the dork you went to school with or… damn… your boss. No, the social part of this title is nothing more than a bag on the side.

So tell me… why’s it necessary to connect to Origin’s server to play?

Oh, yeah, DRM. Those evil thieves… er customers… are trying to steal your stuff.

Listen up, Electronic Arts.

You’ve got this customer, her name’s Pam. She’s known about you since you were one of many. Back when I used to game. Think Archon on the Apple ][. Yeah, that long ago. She got into The Sims. I bought her a box to play it on. She bought every expansion pack. Then Sims 2. I built her a (then) kick-ass box to play that on and she bought all of those expansion packs, too. Sims 3? Yup. I think she has all of those packs. Books and guides for the lot of ’em, too. I know, I just packed and moved ’em all – a pretty big box – from Jersey down here to Paradise. So Pam knew Sim City from when I played it on the Amiga, and Sim City 2000, too. The ads and previews for the newest SimCity were pretty damned enticing. And not one review – as far as I know – had mentioned this insane reliance on a server connection. So here’s this customer, a good customer, a spendy customer, that threw Electronic Arts a pile of greenbacks for a promise.

And EA failed her.

Over the past few days she’s checked in to try to play, all hours of the day and night. All servers are down.

You failed her bad. There’s no reason to require a remote server connection for single player play. None.

If Pam listens to me, or to our son, or to countless others with similar experiences, she won’t be back.

Shame on you, Electronic Arts.

As big as you are, you really should know better.


This is from today’s (27-October-2012) newspaper. You might be able to find the article on myCentralJersey.com, a Gannett Company that takes pains to keep people like me from pointing people like you to interesting disturbing articles like this one.

Just one more reason that I’m getting the fuck out of New Jersey, pronto.

Update: South Brunswick animal sacrifice found to be in compliance with state permits

SOUTH BRUNSWICK — All permits were found to be in compliance for the sacrificing of goats by a religious group on Friday at a Dey Road site.

Detective Sgt. James Ryan said officials from the New Jersey Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals visited and determined the activities were consistent with state permits.

At about 11:30 a.m., township police received reports that members of a religious group were conducting animal sacrifices on Dey Road. Police checked with state officials and local animal control officials to see if a religious group has permission to sacrifice animals.

Ryan said group members told police they had a permit from the state Department of Agriculture to sacrifice a group of goats penned up near a white house on Dey Road, about 50 yards off of a two-lane country road near the Cranbury border.

South Brunswick animal control officers also responded to the scene. Ryan said the property had a large pen containing the goats.


Social Media

I’ve been producing and consuming quite a bit more social media over the past couple of months. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, but it has certainly had a deleterious effect on what I do here.

Google+ just rocks. I’ve met more smart, creative people on Google+ than you can shake a stick at. There’s a lot of stuff that Google’s gotten right with Google+, and the features just keep coming. It’s open social, wrapped around the whole (online) world. If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend having a look.

Facebook is, well, Facebook. People had been pestering me, to one extent or another, and yet I resisted. So after years of holding out I finally took an account there some months back. Over the Christmas holidays I became a little more aggressive about establishing relationships which, as everyone knows, must be reciprocal. Managing Facebook is, frankly, a pain in the ass. But I have been catching some up with people I forgot I knew. Remember that old platitude, “we are the people our parents warned us about”?

I’ve drawn the line at games and apps on those platforms. They’re just too invasive. The closest I came was with a billiards game on Google+. It looked interesting, like it might be fun while I waited for this process or that to finish, so I ran the installer. The first thing it did immerse me in a competitive world of other players. Statistics,rankings, invitations to play, and more! All I wanted to do was bang some balls around now and then, not make a career out of it! I uninstalled, and so much for that.

I guess I’ve got some stuff to fix.


People that know me know that I’m not a big Mac fan. By extension, not a big Apple fan either. That’s why people that know me are astonished when they learn that there’s an iPad in my house. The initial shock gives way to questions so I figured I’d just handle some of them here.

My friend Will, just the other day over on Google+, said “Trims atas advise nya.” Oh, wait a minute. iPad2That’s spam from some shitstain with an anonymous gmail account. Will actually said “Rick, what do you use it for? On TV people are watching videos, email or looking at pictures on it – nothing very interesting. Is it a glorified internet appliance?”

Well, it’s a funny thing. Tablets have been the Next Big Thing for a while and everyone has been bringing them to market. For most, er, scratch that, for everyone except Apple, success in the tablet space has been varied. For Apple success has been astounding. Eventually, I figured, we’d have to get one to play around with, to see what all the hype was about.

I think it started with a TV commercial. I casually said to Pam, “So maybe you want one of those?” and she said she wouldn’t mind. So a few days later I drank some Kool-Aid…

I’ve gotta admit, the iPad’s an absolute marvel of design and engineering. It feels really good in your hand, looks really great to your eye (both the display and the form-factor), and the UI is slick and responsive. Besides the device there’s not much in the box: a cable and charger cube (which promptly got lost for weeks) and a cute little Apple sticker. I powered it up, answered a few questions, and in a minute or two I was exploring the built-in apps. Apps. I was playin’ with apps. I felt so… trendy. We picked up the Smart Cover a day or two later. It, too, is a product of incredible thought and design. Just as you hold it near, wondering how it attaches, it attaches itself magnetically, in perfect alignment. Forty bucks.

Getting the iPad onto my network was a bit harder. We have two active WiFi networks in the house. Each serves different purpose and both are reasonably secure. (Hold your comments about being neighborly and running an open hotspot; I don’t care and I’ll only ignore you.) So I cleared the way for the iPad and tried and tried to get authenticated. Didn’t work. A search turned up plenty of others with similar problems. I forget exactly which magic incantation did the trick but after a while it was working. And here’s the thing: other than that initial hurdle the iPad connects and makes itself ready to communicate the moment you pick it up. The secret? It keeps a periodic chatter going with the router or access point, all the time. It’s always ready.

Instant-on network performance like that is usually a battery suck but Apple seems to have nailed the power management. Battery life is several weeks to a month.

“Huh? Did you say a month? Don’t you use it?”

Yup, that’s what I said: a month. And, mostly, nope, we don’t really use it all that much. None of us do. Three different people with three widely varying sets of interests and the iPad hasn’t become relevant to any of us. WTF.

What I sought most from such a device was simple (and, I might add, completely satisfied by my old netbook). I wanted to read, mostly stuff from my network where I keep a fair library of subscription material. I wanted to write, notes, posts like this, etc. And I wanted to be able to control different parts of my network, logging into a Linux console, adjusting this or that, maybe a bit of ftp to import or export a file or two, maybe shutting things down during an extended power failure.

Producing written material with the virtual keyboard is an exercise in futility. I’m not the best keyboardist in the first place but my meager productivity dropped like a stone. Y’know how they say to use strong passwords for stuff? Let me tell you, the way you need to switch modes for numbers, caps, punctuation, and everything else will have you setting your passwords to ‘asd123’ – and wishing you could skip the digits altogether – in no time flat. Forget writing.

On to reading. Well, this is actually pretty good. The display is nice, like I said. Consuming some written matter – WIRED comes to mind – the content designed for this device is, in some ways, superior to the print experience. You miss out on the tactile enjoyment of well-laid-out pulp – the color, the rich fonts – but the ease of navigation (no continued on page 134) and embedded multimedia could be a valid trade. Sometimes, at least. I mentioned that I have a rather large cache of subscription material – professional publications, books, newsletters, etc. – on a server here. The vast majority is in PDF format of one type or another. Reading any of those makes for a pretty good experience. The iPad will try to add them into the built-in iBooks app, which simply means that they’re downloaded and stored locally for use off-network.

Next up, handling network chores. Nope, can’t do that. Maybe buying a terminal app would fix that, maybe not. I’m not pressing because I have other alternatives. Also, you can’t get files onto or off of the iPad. In fact, the very concept of files on the iPad seems profoundly foreign. I’ll bet a dollar Apple would call that a feature.

Now, Pam’s expectations are markedly different from mine. She’ll play a few games, use Google+ and – gasp – Facebook, and use the Web browser. She’s bought a few apps. Sorry, can’t tell you which ones. Since the iPad is hers, it’s tied to her computer and it synced with her iTunes library painlessly and quickly. I can tell you that the Google+ client, while touted as made for the iPad, is simply an iPhone app that lives in the middle of the screen. Sizing it for the larger screen looks chunky and childish. When I tried, Hangouts didn’t work at all. Sort of too bad, that, as the hardware seems like it’d be perfectly suited to video conferencing. YouTube videos play nicely, but content-rich sites that don’t offer Flash alternatives fail.

I expected Damian to play with the iPad but he doesn’t. Not at all. Some weeks after it had been floating around in such obvious places like the dinner table, he said “Oh? We have an iPad now?” That was that. I don’t think he’s touched it since. That was a little unexpected since I think he’s in the target demographic. Oh well.

I’ve got a few closing random thoughts… The lack of multitasking hurts. The instant-on, instantly-connected Web browser – albeit a weak one like Safari – is a definite win. The lack of Flash can sometimes make a Web site unusable. Not that I’m arguing for that insecure wart on the side that is Flash, but some sites, well, that’s what they do. Sort of the way a site might be built for IE and render poorly on a standards-compliant browser. You can wish for a long time that it weren’t so. The security model kinda blows. I wouldn’t store any confidential stuff on the device. The virtual keyboard encourages the use of weak, easy-to-use passwords because good ones are such a pain to type, yet even routine updates prompt for the Apple account password.

The bottom line? I guess all told I spent something under $800 for the device, a cover and some apps. Worth it? For design, lots of points. For usefulness, very few points. Did I learn some stuff? Undoubtedly. Do I feel trendy? No, I feel like I threw away a wad of cash.

If I knew then what I know now, would I buy an iPad? No.

[edited 29 October to include this unique use for the device.]

Thanks, But No Thanks

Unmatched Pleasure
Ad spotted at Wawa Store #912. Click for full-size.

“Unmatched Pleasure”

That’s what the sign promised.

Y’know, friends, as far as I’m concerned there’s simply NO pleasure in the whole wide world that matches the pleasure of gum disease. Unless, of course, you can find some way to cram tooth loss into the mix.

Well, your search is over! Here’s the product that’s done it.

I bought all that I could fit in my truck. NOT.

I think I’m going to package a hammer with a nail. The marketing sheet will promise that if you use the product properly – that is, by pushing the nail through your hand with the aid of the hammer – it’ll deliver the unmatched pleasure of a hole in your hand.

Cablevision and News Corp Duke It Out

Won’t these corporate assholes ever just play nice with each other? Every time they get their collective shorts in a knot there’s only one loser – the consumer. Now, trust me on this one, there’s no love lost between me and Cablevision. They’re the local cable monopoly franchise and, for me, the only viable Internet service provider. I’d drop ’em in a heartbeat if I could, but there are no alternatives. Essentially, they’ve got a gun to my head.

But I digress. In this morning’s email was this missive from Cablevision.


We regret to inform you that News Corp, in an act of corporate greed, has pulled Fox 5 and My9 from your Cablevision channel lineup. This is an unfortunate attempt to extort unreasonable and unfair fee increases from Cablevision and our customers.

News Corp is demanding more for Fox 5 than we pay for every other broadcast channel. In fact, they want more for Fox 5 than we pay CBS, NBC, ABC and Univision combined and are asking for more than $150 million a year. That’s an $80 million increase for the exact same programming! In these tough economic times, an increase of these vast proportions is irresponsible and unfair.

We have made numerous fair and reasonable proposals to News Corp and they have refused every one. And now, News Corp has pulled the plug on Fox 5 AND My9. This was News Corp’s decision, not ours. We want to keep these channels on the air while we negotiate a fair agreement.

As a result of News Corp’s refusal to negotiate, Cablevision is willing to accept binding arbitration to resolve this matter fairly. We are confident that an independent third party will agree that what we are offering to pay News Corp is fair. We call on News Corp to accept binding arbitration, and return Fox 5 and My9 to the air until an agreement is reached.

We apologize for the inconvenience caused by News Corp’s actions, and we ask for your help. Call 1-877-NO-TV-TAX (1-877-668-8829) or visit www.cablevision.com/fox and tell News Corp to put Fox 5 and My9 back on the air, and to keep you out of the negotiations.

Thank you for your patience, your patronage and your support.

(The link in their message eventually expired. I removed it, but note that when it appeared in Cablevision’s email it actually pointed to an internal tracking link before being forwarded – deceptive at best.)

[sigh] Who’s the bigger liar? If you take Cablevision’s statements at face value then News Corp looks like the dick. I’m sure that if I sought out News Corp’s take – I didn’t bother – I’d find that Cablevision looked like the dick.

It’s the customer that takes it on the chin. Pam‘s grumbling that some of the television shows she likes are affected. I told her to watch ’em over the ‘net. Me? I don’t watch television, no time for that, so I’d dump the subscription and not miss it in the least. (Sure, I’d lose the multi-product discount I get for the Internet service portion of the bill but the benefit is so small it doesn’t matter.)

Well, here’s to hoping those profit-mongering bastards resolve their differences.

Rescue in Chile

I’m certain that you’ve been following the rescue of the trapped Chilean miners. The media attention has been unprecedented. And rightly so – it’s nothing short of incredible how everyone has pulled together to save the miners. (And I’m proud of the contributions the good ‘ol USA has made to the effort. I’ll set aside for a moment the fact that much of the world regards us as the very definition of evil.) A decade ago all 33 would have likely perished.

As I watched the coverage last night a couple of questions came to mind.

One story mentioned that these men toil underground – dangerous work – for a bit more than $400 a week. I believe in Chile that’s a respectable sum. I wonder whether they earned overtime pay for the time they were trapped. And I wonder whether their families have been collecting their salaries throughout these 68 days in order to do such things as put food on the table, pay bills, and so on.

Of Presidents and Guitar Strings

Tastee Subs
Edison's Finest snacks at local business, site of planned Obama visit.

Obama’s coming to visit a neighboring town, Edison, NJ. The reason that he’s in town isn’t important to me; what I found interesting is that he’s supposed to have lunch at the best sub shop in the whole wide world: Tastee Subs. [ed: link added – they’re online now] (I’d link to ’em but they’re not online. Yeah, I’ve talked to them about that but the owner’s just not interested.) My Dad introduced me to the place back when I was just a little kid; it’s been around that long.

You can read this morning’s local newspaper article to learn more about the particulars of the planned visit. [Bummer, the article link expired.)

Tastee Subs is just a stone’s throw from one of the busiest intersections in that area, Route 27 and Plainfield Avenue. During rush hour – actually, several hours in the morning and several more in the afternoon – it’s not uncommon to have traffic snarled in every direction. Traffic so intense that the signal cycles green once in turn for all four entrances to the intersection. I’m certain that the intersection and surrounding streets will be choked all day long. Harry, my father-in-law who lives not a half-mile from there, will find that incredibly aggravating.

Sam Ash, where I buy stuff like guitar strings, is just on the other side of that intersection. Needless to say, I won’t be going anywhere near these places on the day of Obama’s visit.

In the linked newspaper story there’s mention of Tastee’s roast beef sub. While the roast beef’s good, my recommendation is for the smoked turkey, pepperoni and swiss. It’s not on the menu but they’ll make it for you, no problem. Take all the usual fixings and add some hot peppers for a little extra kick. Mmmmm, good.

I hope Obama enjoys his sub.

Y’know, I’m bitchin’ about the traffic (and I will surely avoid it myself) but I’m actually thrilled that the choice of which small business to visit is an all-American business. Tastee Subs is very well known and highly respected in these parts. With each passing day these kinds of businesses are getting harder and harder to find, especially in the Edison area. Tastee Subs is a business that deserves your support. Might want to wait until after Wednesday, though. Tell ’em Rick sent you.

Jury Duty – NJ Fails Again

I returned from some travel the other day to find this in the mailbox. It’s an unwelcome notice, if what I hear from many people is any indication. But this one brought some different feelings.

Richard is my Dad. He passed almost two years ago.

One would think that the various state and public records of Richard’s passing would have prevented the generation of this notice, but no – it’s a fail. To underscore the failure, I recall that Richard was summoned to Jury Duty some years back. I handled the notice because he was unable to read it for himself – stroke damage had robbed him of that ability.

On his behalf I had requested – and and was subsequently granted – an excuse. I cited reasons including health and ability as well as age, which alone would have sufficed (see the NJ Judiciary FAQ). Age only goes backward in the movies, and so I figured Richard would no longer be troubled by Jury Duty.

I was wrong.

I’m thinking that I’m going to fill out the form and return it, requesting an excuse on account of, well, death. Perhaps they’ll get the message.

Fix for Runaway Toyotas Revealed!

Toyota Solution
Fix for Runaway Toyotas

Actually, the solution’s been built into my Harley-Davidsons (and all other street motorcycles) for a little bit less than forever. Well, since they legislated standardized controls, in any case.

What is it? It’s a real, honest-to-goodness stop switch.

Unlike Toyota‘s Prius, this switch is located right where it belongs, just a short reach for your right thumb, the switch produces immediate, predictable, certain results.

The engine stops.

You don’t need to hunt for the button. You don’t need to hold it for 30 seconds. Because when you need to stop the engine you need to stop the engine, and every millisecond counts.

There you have it!

Where’s my prize? Edmunds? Obama? Who’s got it?

Hung Scanner

Hung Scanner Locked in Rack
Locked in the Rack
Hung Scanner Screen Detail
Screen Detail

I found these pictures in my phone when I was getting ready for a firmware update. I meant to write about ’em earlier but I guess I never got around to it.

This hung scanner was stuck in the rack (kind of looks like it’s stuck in a little toilet) and none of the buttons produced any response. I remember getting some funny looks as I knelt to grab the images.

I still like the system because it saves me time, even if I’m only in the store for a few items. I’ve been audited a few times. The audits, at least in my limited experiences, are more of a wave-of-the-hand than anything.

Other stuff about my encounters with Scan-It are here and here.

Outsourcing and Newspaper Delivery

This morning brought a little bit of snow. Last night it was said that it was supposed to be a huge honkin’ storm but it turned out to be not much snow at all, just a dusting. Pam went outside to get the newspaper, as she usually does on Saturday morning, but came back inside empty-handed. “There’s no fuckin’ paper,” she muttered disgustedly, partially to me and partially to the Universe.

A little while later I was checking the weather maps to see what had happened to our storm and collecting the morning email. Here was something from the paper:

Good Morning from the Home News Tribune!

We’re experiencing possible delays throughout our delivery area today, December 19, 2009 due to the current weather conditions. We apologize for the inconvenience; however you can access our e-edition immediately by visiting […]

A couple of years back the paper took the decision to outsource delivery to some faceless fulfillment company. And years earlier than that they stopped the practice of using neighborhood kids on the street. Each change has brought a corresponding drop in service levels.

Anyway, those kids earned their tips. (I wrote about newspapers and delivery gratuities last year, too.) Weather? It just didn’t matter; the newspaper was delivered and that was that. I think our parents called it “responsibility”.

Our e-edition is an exact replica of the printed version that will be delivered to you later today.

And it is, I guess, but the navigation is clunky and you can’t fold it up on the dining room table while you enjoy breakfast and coffee. Also implied is that they intend an eventual delivery, but they’re already four or five hours late.

If you like the Home News Tribune e-edition, you may subscribe by visiting […]

Extra, or a substitute for pulp delivery? Not sure, as I write.

It happens that I just paid the bill for our subscription. Delivery performance has incremented downward and the paper itself has shrunk – actually become considerably narrower – over the past year. Yet rates had risen again. We already know they’ve outsourced delivery. Apparently they’ve also outsourced billing because my check went to a PO box in Louisville, KY. It used to go to an address down the shore.

Newspapers all over are wringing their hands over their reduced market share. The Internet is kicking their collective asses! Is it any wonder? Maybe they deserve it.

Trouble Report Results in Process Improvement

About a month and a half ago my main personal computer, an (ancient) HP zd8000 laptop, began dropping keystrokes. I traced the problem back to the battery. No longer taking a charge, the interrupts generated as the charging circuitry tried, failed and tried again were interfering with the keyboard interrupt. My typing is bad enough; I pulled the offending battery, scanned the ‘net and ordered a new battery from overstock.com based on – what else? – price.

That was September 3rd, and the replacement battery arrived some days later. Unfortunately it was the wrong one! The order showed the correct number as did the packing list, but the thing that sat on my desk clearly showed a different number. The plastic bag it came in was already open (uh oh, could mean trouble) so I took the opportunity to stick it into the laptop, thinking perhaps it was a substitute. Nope, the computer refused it.

I used the online chat on Overstock’s Web site and explained the situation. The rep thought it best to escalate to a tech person so she told me to expect their call, which came some hours later. I hadn’t expected his call so quick. The tech generated the RMA and return shipping label and said he’d overnight another replacement.

Meanwhile I did a little checking. HP has an excellent online parts lookup tool, and I used it to check the two part numbers in question. They were markedly different. I looked them both up on the Overstock site and found the descriptions to be remarkably similar. Maybe this was the problem?

As it turned out, the next few weeks proved frustrating – for both me and Overstock – as we shipped the same incorrect battery back an forth across the country three times. In the end they said that they didn’t have the correct item. They’d process my refund and I was free to keep the incorrect battery. I sent it back anyway; there’s no sense in recycling a perfectly good battery I couldn’t use.

But that’s not the end of the story. Last Friday evening I took a call from Thomas at Overstock. He explained that my case had made it up to the executive level and that they had spent some time analyzing what went wrong. There were a few things, including a mis-SKUed warehouse bin (aha!) and lapses in communication. The analysis had resulted in some process improvements and Thomas called to tell me about them. We talked for a while about things like quality and customer service. Full disclosure: Thomas offered – and I accepted – compensation for my frustration and understanding: a correct battery and some store credit. He left his email and direct phone number.

(The correct battery arrived this afternoon, shipped overnight from Overstock’s supplier. The number fits several applications; the plastic cover trim isn’t right for my particular laptop, but I have spares from previous replacements so it’s no big deal. Overstock, if you’re reading this, don’t panic – I’m good, and I appreciate all you’ve done. You might want to follow-up with the warehouse, though.)

In my experience, the larger a company becomes the less likely is becomes that a minor customer problem actually results in action. Sure, refunds and credits are common enough, but not the continuous improvement part. To do that, and more importantly, to take the additional step of reaching out to the customer after the transaction is complete is exceptional. More should follow Overstock’s example. I’ll use them again.