Archive for December, 2006

unrewarding life as an airline customer

Monday, December 25th, 2006

Why do all airlines treat their customers like shit?

I’ve wondered this from time to time, and I guess there are many reasons. I’ve been treated like shit so many times by so many airlines. It’s so common that it’s almost not worth mentioning. But, it’s Xmas and I’ve just had the usual run around, and seeing as that has left me away from my family as well as otherwise inconvenienced and out of pocket, I feel like a bit of a ramble.

Today wasn’t even a particularly egregious example, and I really don’t care that it’s Xmas. Today was just run-of-the-mill being treated like shit.

First of all, I manage to inconvenience several others in getting myself back to Barcelona last night – borrowing a car, filling it with gas, leaving the key somewhere exposed (risking theft), leaving Ana and the kids on Xmas eve, etc. All my choices. I set the alarm and get up early (for me) at 8am.

Taxi to the airport (25 euros). Check in. Coffee. Wait in departure lounge. Wait in departure lounge. Departure time comes and goes. Wait in departure lounge. Then there’s an announcement: flight canceled due to an unavailable part, no chance of a replacement, no chance of an alternate flight, maybe we can get you all on something tomorrow. It’s Xmas, you’ve got probably 150 people, many of whom are heading home to family, many of whom are leaving family.

Does a single Delta representative say a single word of apology, commiseration? Nope.

They announce a phone number to call in a few hours to check what’s going on. Everyone is to be herded to a hotel. Of course I head back to my apartment in a taxi (25 euros).

I call my hotel in NY and cancel the night. They charge me, in accordance with their published cancelation policy (USD 85.94).

I start calling the local Delta number, the one provided by the friendly folks at the gate who canceled the flight. A machine answers, telling me the normal working hours. It’s not normal working hours right now though. It’s xmas. This seems to be standard practice: hand out a phone number that does not work. Shift the blame and the responsibility.

Finally I call the US. After navigating through the voice mail system (Press here if your flight was just unceremoniously canceled – NOT), I get a human on the other end. I tell her calmly what happened. She is an idiot. She asks me if I have already flown. I say no, I repeat that I am still in Barcelona. She asks if I am in a hotel and I repeat that I am in my apartment. She asks if I am still at the airport. She tells me my flight was BCN to Newark and I say no, to JFK. She tells me the flight was definitely to Newark and asks me if the flight left. No, the flight was canceled. I am paying in time and money (same thing?) to talk to this woman. Fortunately it turns out I have been booked, through Newark, on a Continental flight, tomorrow.

I tell the woman I’m hoping to be reimbursed for two taxi trips and one hotel room. She asks a few questions – why did I take a taxi if I’m in the hotel? No, I’m in my apartment. Did I book through No. Well I should talk to the ticket office in Barcelona at the airport and they will sort out the reimbursement. Fat chance. They will no doubt refer me to Delta elsewhere.

Does this woman say “Gee, I’ve just noticed it’s xmas day, I’m really sorry for the inconvenience, it must be a bummer to have your plans ruined”? Nope. Does she say anything remotely human? Nope. In fact I had an easier time getting information into and out of the voice system that fielded the call.

I say that in my experience it’s not really worth the effort to try to get money back from airlines. She doesn’t answer. There’s just a silence on the other end of the line that lasts for about 20 seconds.

She’s one step above the voice mail system. She’s been trained not to say anything that might imply culpability. Someone might sue Delta if an employee were to admit that maybe they fucked up. So there’s just a silence on the line. I don’t remember who broke it, probably me saying goodbye.

And that’s it. I’m not even upset, and I far prefer an extra day in Barcelona instead of a day in NY in a hotel waiting for a flight to Chicago. This has all been extremely mild compared to some screw-ups.

Like I said, I think there are many reasons the airlines can and do treat their customers like shit. Blogging about it isn’t going to help much, but I don’t have the energy to do much more. And that’s part of it too.

In the US one very often runs across incredibly stupid “service” people on the phone (and in person – at the bank, buying fast food, etc). I don’t mean that in a nasty elitist way, even though I am nasty and elitist. These people are just dumb or bored or…. They speak great English, there’s no problem there. They’re just really dumb. On top of that, they are trained to be robots. Any attempt at humor or any unexpected remark is a deviation from the expected script and simply causes confusion. I’ve seen it so often, I can’t be bothered going into it here. I think legal fears also add a further level of bleaching anything human out of interactions. That’s ironic – I wonder if there would be fewer lawsuits if company representatives were a little more humane. I know I’d be a hell of a lot more forgiving if the representative were able to field a joke or make a self-deprecating remark about life as an airline customer, etc. Maybe we need a class-action lawsuit for being treated so poorly.


fergus. beer.

Thursday, December 7th, 2006

I’m sitting here drinking a beer with Fergus. That’s it.

What the right hand giveth the left hand shall taketh away

Friday, December 1st, 2006

I was surprised after reading about Google lending YouTube $15M to get them through the month before they closed the deal that there wasn’t more of a fuss.

If YouTube were hurting that badly, they may not have been able to make payroll. They could perhaps have tried going to the bank for the money, on the strength of the presumed Google deal and a letter of intent. Getting a loan from your acquirer seems rather odd, at least in an arm’s length transaction.

Given that it sounds like YouTube were about to hit the wall, it’s incredible that the price was still so high. How come Google didn’t beat them down? It’s not like they didn’t know YouTube were desperate – they lent them the $15M after all.

So how did the deal still get done at the massive valuation? The obvious answer is that Sequoia was on both ends of the deal.

I bet Sequoia must have been tempted to provide YouTube with the $15M of capital themselves (= more stock), while simultaneously getting YouTube acquired by Google. I guess there are only so many ways you can have your cake and eat it though before things start to really stink. Plausible deniability is important; that would have been a step too far, with their thumb directly in the pie. Plus they’d have been putting the screws on the YouTube founders that way, perhaps thereby jeopardizing the bigger deal.

You’d think Google shareholders would be making a fuss about this.

Finishing Proust

Friday, December 1st, 2006

I finished reading In Search of Lost Time early last (Northern hemisphere) summer. It took me six months, reading an average of 20 to 25 pages a day. Russell took much longer, after I sneakily distracted him by buying him a beautiful 7-volume copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire – which he then read, putting Proust aside, unsuspectingly letting me sail past him and into the record books. There aren’t too many books on which you can blow a 1,500 page lead and still lose by 1,000 pages.

A few hours after Russell finally finished, he sent me mail. I speculated on the number of people that had finished it since he did. In other words, how often, anywhere on earth, does someone finish Proust?

Here’s an estimated answer, with plenty of assumptions:

Assume only one person in 10,000 actually _finishes_ the whole thing.

Assume it takes an average of a year to read it all.

So you’ve got 6,000,000,000 / 10,000 = 600K people currently on earth who will read it.

Assume that people’s ages are uniformly distributed, and that everyone dies at 75.

Assume that no-one finishes the book before turning 16.

So the people who are currently 0-15 have not started the book yet. So only (75 – 15) / 75, or 80%, of the 600K (= 480K) alive who will read it, might finish in the next year.

How many will finish in the next year?

Assume that half the people who will read it have already done so. That leaves 240K who will finish it at some point in their remaining lifetime.

Finally, if we assume these people finish at uniform ages, you’ve got 240K finishers finishing over 60 years, or 4K finishers per year.

There are 365 x 24 = 8760 hours in a year, so we have one person finishing every 8760 / 4K = 2.19 hours.

$HOME/Desktop/.. — what were you doing in there anyway?

Friday, December 1st, 2006

Over on the Python Dev mailing list, discussion has been raging about home directories, hidden dotfiles, user interface, etc. See this recent posting for the latest in a debate that was kicked off in November under the innocuous-sounding subject Python and the Linux Standard Base (LSB).

In the meantime, I have been forwarded a confidential Apple email from CEO Steve Jobs laying out his “roadmap for the Desktop”. In it, Jobs says he “saw the Desktop light” after former Disney CEO Michael Eisner called him a Shiite Muslim for his refusal to support efforts to root out subversive use of dotfiles and home directories in general.

Highlights from the memo:

  • Campaign branding: “A man’s home is his Desktop”.
  • Plan to completely phase out $HOME. Terminal will start in /Users/USER/Desktop. Use of cd .. to be monitored.
  • Henceforth Apple developers are to refrain from directly mentioning user’s home directories in public, in blogs, etc. Internally, when mention of a home directory cannot be avoided, the approved phrasing is “Desktop/..“.
  • There is a plan to put a small Supporter of Computational Liberty and Freedom flag icon on users’ Desktops. This flag cannot be removed, but automatically disappears if a user does ever access $HOME directly.
  • There is a “four-part plan to undermine $HOME”:
    1. Jobs expresses admiration for the Microsoft warning dialog that appears when users try to access C:\WINDOWS and plans a similar feature for OS X.
    2. Once $HOME has been completely “annexed”, user related program activities will be moved into system-owned and managed 0700-mode /usr/sys/users/USER/home directories.
    3. User interaction will then be moved into /Users/USER/Desktop/MySpace where users can do anything they want. The parent /Users/USER/Desktop directory will then transition to being primarily managed by the system, and users will be discouraged from putting any actual files in there.
    4. Support for $HOME will be removed from bash, to be replaced with $HOMELAND (a synonym for $DESKTOP). $DESKTOP will be default destination for the cd command. ~ will also map to $DESKTOP.
  • Perhaps most disturbing of all, there is an explicit plan to use PR and the media to fuel anti-$HOME sentiment. Use of $HOME is to be portrayed as un-American, subversive, terrorist, and effeminate. Only terrorists and insurgents use $HOME. Deliberate use of dotfiles to hide things is to be tied to terrorist use of stenography.

Folks, this is a clarion call to action. We cannot stand idly by as mute witnesses to the slow-drip erosion of personal liberties. Next we’ll be hearing that they’re taking away $HOME because we weren’t using it anyway.

Make no mistake, Big Government is behind this, egged on by the Disney lobby. I suspect they’re pushing for the infantilization of user interface, though I’m not entirely sure why (I have my suspicions). Jobs is clearly the go-to man they’re using to get it done and the route is ?? -> Disney -> Pixar -> Jobs -> Apple -> Consumer, with probable use of cut-outs. I wonder how they got to Steve.

These bastards know how to use the media better than anyone. Apple are clearly backed all the way by Hollywood and the MSM. All you ever read about these days in the media is the Desktop and how Web 2.0 is the new Desktop. Gone are the days when you could catch a glimpse in a movie of someone using a keyboard, or even ftp’ing into to someone else’s $HOME.

It’s all Desktop now, all the time.

This may all sound highly improbable. But that’s exactly what they want you to think! They want to spread doubt. They want to ridicule us, to divide us, weaken us, and to scoff at us. We must band together, with one voice, with the voice of freedom and of liberty, and collectively support our home directories. Don’t let them take it away. There’s no time like the present – we must act before it is too late.

As a UNIX command-line user, you have an inalienable right to a home directory. It’s part of our history, our tradition, our identity. Let us not forget who we are!

Just remember friends, it’s not a conspiracy theory when you’re right.