Tag: customer service

A Phone Tree of Twisty Little Passages

aerial shot of maze
Photo by Tom Fisk on Pexels.com

I had to make–for me–a rare call to the bank to get some information about the title to a car we’d paid off. I put this off for as long as I could because calling support for just about anything is one of my least favorite things to do. Alas, there was no option to perform this particular activity online, and when I could wait no longer, I dialed the number. As the automated customer service line opened up, I was transported into some Kafkaesque hell. Here I was, a lone adventurer, like the one in the classic text adventure game, Zork, standing in a maze of twisty little passages.

The first problem, always, is figuring out how break out of the maze and get to an agent. The usual spells didn’t work. I tried casting an “agent” spell, but the menu of options was just repeated. I tried casting a “zero” spell, but the support center “did not understand that request.”

Unable to break from this prison, I tried to establish the “shortest path” to my goal. After several fledgeling minutes, I found a promising avenue. I was asked to enter the last four digits of my social security number. I did that. I was then prompted for my account number. I did that. The system didn’t recognize my account number. Rather than ask me for it again, it went back to the “last four digits” cavern. I repeated the last four digits of my SSN, and then, thinking I may have miskeyed my account number, keyed it in very slowly.

No luck.

All I wanted to do was talk to a person and ask a simple question that wasn’t among the dozen or so most common options that the phone tree was designed to support.

They say the definition of insanity is trying the same thing more than once and expecting different results. This time, I entered the last four digits of my SSN, keyed in my account number carefully, and then, on whim, finished by hitting the pound key. That worked! (The system never told me to hit the pound key. I double-checked.) I had escaped from one passage, only to find myself in another. I navigated trees, branching left here, right there, wandering in what seemed like darkness, until finally (finally!) ten minutes into the call, I was told, “please hold for our next available representative.”

Then I was told that “call volumes are higher than usual” and would I please wait. I can no longer remember a time when call volumes were not “higher than usual.” This is never an encouraging sign. If so many people are calling the support line of a service that their call volume is constantly higher than usual, it tells me there is a problem with the underlying service. Why else would anyone commit themselves to the hellish nightmare that is automated phone support?

Two minutes later, however, “Chris”–a real live human being so far as I could tell–came on the line. I had been on the phone for 12 minutes at this point. Ten in the phone tree of twisty little passages and two on hold with loud music. I still can’t decide which was worse.

Chris was able to answer my question in under two minutes. The entire call lasted 14 minutes. The usual part of the call lasted about 2 minutes. How on earth is that efficient?

I no longer see the point of automated phone support. One might argue that not everyone has access to the Internet and the phone support provides access for those people who can’t get online or use a computer. I can’t see much of a difference. The phone tree swallows people whole. Given how many times I have personally given up on phone trees, I can’t see that they are much better than no support at all. These days, I even prefer bots to phone trees.

Companies that use automated phone support as a primary support tool should not be allowed to claim that they provide anything better than “mediocre” customer support. I don’t mind a phone tree that triages some basic information that makes it easier for a support person to find my account, so long as once I enter the information, I am directed to a real person and not a tree. Those companies can continue to claim they provide outstanding customer support. But if all you do is tie up customers in a maze of twisty little passages, the best you can say is you provide customer support. No superlatives allowed.

Written on March 16, 2022. (A day after the events described above, when I have had a chance to cool down and think more clearly about this. If I had tried to write this post yesterday, it might have caught fire.)

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Too Many Surveys

close up photo of survey spreadsheet
Photo by Lukas on Pexels.com

I have given up completing unsolicited surveys for services I receive. There are just too many of them. All of them want 5 minutes of my time, and if I spent 5-minutes completing each survey I received I’d have to give up writing, or family time, or something–there just isn’t enough time in the day.

On our recent vacation, I received a surevy after checking out of each hotel we stayed in. When we went out to dinner one night, I received a survey asking about our service. On a few occasions when I bought a quick lunch, the receipt came with a QR code that I could use to tell them about their service. The food was relatively hot and it didn’t make me sick: what’s there to tell?

I took the car in for service and received a survey for that. I was prompted by the service manager to give them a “10”. They’ve always provided me with “10”-quality service, but no, I’m not going to fill out a survey. While on vacation, I ended up with an ear infection. I did a video visit with a doctor, who prescribed some antibiotics. I got a survey from the doctor, and a survey from the pharmacy, each wanting 5 minutes of my time. The video appointment only took five minutes and I think I was in and out of the pharamcy in under 2 minutes.

I did something to my right knee while on vacation. It bothered me enough that I saw my doctor upon returning home. But you know where this is going: I got a survey from my doctor. That was a particularly persistent survey. When I ignored it the first time, I got a second email reminding me to complete the survey.

It wasn’t always like this. I can remember a time when I was never bothered to complete a survey. Companies find the data useful in some way, and I applaud them for trying to improve. But I’m skeptical of how much improvement really takes place. It is hard to know. If I receive bad service, and fill out a survey saying so, I’m still not likely to go back to the same place and so I’ll never know if my feedback helped them improve. Then, too, what I am saying in a survey may be different than what others are saying.

It must be difficult to generate a response rate that is statistically signicant. Infer this from the number of surveys I receive that have incentives. These incentives are never what they seem, and rarely worth the time to complete the survey. Usually there is a chance to win a prize. I don’t want to waste my time on that kind of chance.

For hotel surveys, they often ask if you want someone from the hotel to contact you about your stay. On the rare occasion when there has been a problem and I completed the survey, describing what happened, and saying that, yes, I would like a manager to contact me, no one ever does.

The worst surveys are those that you fill out, and then suddenly find yourself on a screen where you can “share your results” on social media. In this case they are clearly not attemping to analyze feedback and improve, but simply providing a sneaky way to get recommendations on a website. I’ve often wondered if these types of surveys ask to post results when the results are not so hot.

When I receive good service, I speak up. I’ll send an email. I’ll catch the manager of a restaurant and tell them about my wonderful experience (I’ll leave a good tip, too!). I much prefer to engage directly with the person or persons who made the experience a positive one. I suspect they never hear about it one way or the other on a survey.

So, if you have sent me a survey, and are waiting on a response, you can stop waiting. You’re not getting one. I am officially retired from my role as a survey respondent.

Written on January 21, 2022.

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Good Customer Service at the Apple Store

Last week, while getting out the car after the Little Man’s baseball practice, my iPhone slipped through a hole in my pocket and landed, face first, on the concrete. At first I thought it was no big deal. I’ve dropped the phone before. But later, I discovered a long, crack diagonally across the screen, and was dismayed.

For a while, I thought I’d have to get a new phone, but then I remembered that I’d bought Apple Care+ with my iPhone last summer (2013). I checked, and from what I could tell, Apple Care+ covered a couple of incidents of accidental damage to the phone. So I booked an appointment at the Genius Bar for this morning at 10 am.

At 10 am, I arrived and was greeted by the Official Apple Store Greeter, who signed me in and asked me to wait a moment for the tech. A moment later, Tim arrived. I showed him what happened. He verified my Apple Care and then said that it would take about an hour to fix. It seemed to me that the Apple Care+ held the possibility of a $79 charge, but when he processed my order, there was no charge. He told me to come back an hour later, which I did.

I picked up my phone and it had a new display. The crack was gone! I didn’t even need to restore my data!

Tim told me that without Apple Care+, it would have cost me $129 to have the display replaced. As it turns out, it cost me nothing today. Of course, I did pay $99 for Apple Care+ when I bought the phone, but it has now more than paid for itself.

All told, it was a solid customer service experience. Quick, efficient, and entirely paperless!

Hertz and JetBlue: 3 good customer service experiences in one day

Before it slips my mind, I should mention the series of events from Monday that led to three good customer service experiences. The family was up early on Monday and we packed the Little Man and Little Miss into the car with all of our luggage and made the drive from Newport, Rhode Island to Boston, Mass. We pulled into the Hertz at Logan airport and, as usual, one of their people came by to check out the car and give us our receipt. I was about to unload the kids from their car seats when the fellow says, “Would you like a ride to your terminal in the car so that you don’t have to unload?”

“Sure!” we said.

So he got us a driver and we piled back into the car. The driver took us right up to the curb outside the JetBlue terminal and helped us with our luggage, too. We avoided having to get all of the luggage out of the car, as well as the kids, loading it all onto the shuttle bus and then waiting for the various stops until we got to ours. It probably saved us 30-40 minutes. Way to go Hertz!

Once inside the terminal, we headed to check-in where, as it turned out, there was no line. We checked our bags and retrieved our boarding passes and then headed to security where there were lines. However, we didn’t even reach the line when one of the security people took us aside and led us up to the front so that we could zip through with the kids and our luggage. This helped save some time as well. Nice job, Boston TSA!

Finally, we got to our gate and discovered that our flight was delayed about 40 minutes. The cheerful gate agent (dressed up as a hippie for Halloween) asked if we wanted some animal crackers for the Little Man to keep him happy while we waited through the delay. When it was finally time to board, they took us right away.

The entire day was made easy because of these folks at Hertz, TSA and JetBlue going just a little above and beyond for us. This was our first trip traveling with both kids. We’ve heard some nightmarish stories, but these folks helped make our return trip painless.

And there is a postscript! Ultimately, our JetBlue flight was delayed about an hour. Late yesterday afternoon–without any prompting on our behalf–we each, Kelly, the Little Man, and I, received an email for a $25.00 credit on a future JetBlue flight. The email apologized that our flight did not go as planned. Now, $25 may not sound like much, but keep two things in mind: $25 x 3 = $75; and I think we paid $49 each way for our tickets, so it represents a 50% discount on our flight.

That’s pretty darn cool if you ask me.

Props to Dominion Power and Cox Cable

Although the media coverage of Hurricane Irene was awful, I have to give credit where credit is due. We did end up having a power outage. We were lucky. It occurred right around 4am and lasted until 9:30am so its impact on our daily routines and power use was minimal. Between 9:30 and noon, everything was working great–and then the cable went out. With the cable, went our Internet connection and our home phone line. All of that was finally restored around 7pm.

We have Dominion Power as our electric company. I was following them on Twitter (I could stil get Internet access over 3G and we’d charged our phones and other devices over night so there was no problem using those devices during the power outage and Internet outage) and Dominion’s twitter account was making frequent and informative updates on their progress at restoring power. There were close to a million customers without power, but in our area, Dominion restored service quickly and I made sure to tweet them a thank you for their quick work.

Cox Communications is by far the best cable company I’ve ever had. Next to them, Comcast/Xfinity looks like some kind of evil dictatorship regime. They aren’t even close to being in the same league. Cox is particularly good when it comes to customer service, something almost unheard of in the cable company world. They were making frequent, regular updates to their Facebook page. I called once to report my outage and their computerized system already recognized that there was an outage in my area and they were working to resolve the problem. I tried not to sweat it, and indeed, when I flipped on the TV at around 7pm just to see if the cable was back, I was surprised to find that it was!

Both companies deserve props for their quick response to the storm and both companies did a good job in my book.

Kia is the new Saturn


We’ve had our 2011 Kia Sorento for nearly three months now and I have not a single complaint about the vehicle, but universal praise. And Kia as a company is at least Saturn’s equal in customer service. Yesterday, among the various junk mail that fills the mail box on a Tuesday, was a $20 MasterCard gift card from Kia, as a thank you for completing the customer satisfaction survey they asked me to fill out a month or two ago. I had no idea at the time I complete the survey that I was going to be rewarded with the gift card, and I was happy to complete the survey anyway, and rank Kia very highly indeed. It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find the debit card in the mail yesterday, but it is also typical of my experience with Kia thus far. I loved my Saturn, and I thought Saturn was a great company and I was sat to see them go. But I have to say that so far, I love my Kia even more, and I have been very impressed by their company and especially their customer service, and I would have no hesitation in recommending them to others.

Mystery of the Missing Lamb

After my talk on science fiction, the group split up into two camps to go out. I went with the camp bent on getting some food, since I was starving. We went to Lebanese Taverna. Usually, the food and service there was great, but this time, it was an interesting experience, to say the least.

Granted, we got there 10 minutes before the kitchen closed, so we had to rush to order.

I ordered a Mythos and lamb chops. I remembered the lamb chops from the last time I’d been there (a different location, but same chain) and we all sat around chatting while we waited for the food to come.

When the food was finally delivered, I wasn’t paying much attention, engrossed in the conversation as I was, and so I dug right into my lamb chops–only to find that they tasted exactly like well-done steak. That’s when I noticed that they also looked like well-done steak, and not at all like lamb chops. The fact that it was steak and not lamb didn’t bother me so much, as I was hungry and perfectly willing to eat steak, but I figured I’d at least mention it to our waiter.

“I ordered lamb, but what you brought was steak,” I said.

He gave me a curious look and said it was lamb.

“No,” I said, “definitely steak.”

He went off to get the manager who came by and asked what was wrong. I explained about the steak.

“We cook our lamb differently,” she said, “and we cut it differently, too. We use different seasonings because some people don’t like the taste of lamb.”

I said, “Well that works out well for them, I suppose, since this tastes like steak.”

At that point several people in the group snickered.

There was no offer to recook them (of course not, since the kitchen was now closed), and like I said, it didn’t really matter since I like steak, too, and I was hungry, but an admission of a mistake on their part would have been nice. I can assure you that people who don’t like lamb would have had no problem with what they served me since they’d prepared it in such a way as to remove all lamb and replace it quietly with steak. People who don’t like steak would have been out of luck.

As we were finishing up, the waiter came by again and asked if we needed anything else, and I’m rather ashamed to say that I muttered under my breath, “Yeah, lamb.” But really, it wasn’t the waiter’s fault.

Excellent customer service from Jiffy Lube


This afternoon, on the way back from patrolling a bookstore, I took the Kia over to our local Jiffy Lube in order to get a car wash. The car had accumulated crud from the variety of chemicals spread on the streets to melt the snow, to say nothing of the dirt and grit from our two minor snowfalls so far this season and was in desperate need of a wash.

I went inside to pay for the car wash, and was told that they only take cash. Ah well, thanks anyway, I told the man at the counter, maybe next time. I didn’t have any cash with me and I wasn’t planning to run out to get any just for a car wash.

“Hang on,” he said, “I’ll give you a basic one. Just remember to bring cash the next time you come in for a car wash.” He rang up a basic car wash and when I offered him my credit card, he said, “No, on the house this time.”

Now that is what I call a positive moment of truth. Our Kia is brand new and we get our maintenance and service through the dealer, but you can bet that all my future car washes will be at Jiffy Lube. Nice job, guys!

The Comcast Saga

It started with our move.

Back in October, we moved from the Avalon townhouse we were renting to the townhouse that we bought.  The move was only a short distance, from Arlington, Virginia, to Falls Church, Virginia, perhaps 5 miles.  But it has resulted in at least one annoying side-effect:  Comcast, which provides cable, phone and internet services in Arlington, does not provide them in Fairfax, of which Falls Church is a part.

So, sometime in late September, I called Comcast to cancel our service as of mid-October, explaining that they did not provide service to where we were moving.  I assumed all was well.

Just before we moved, I got a bill from Comcast that had a larger than normal charge.  In fact, $450 larger than normal.  It turned out that despite the fact that our end-of-service date was not until October 21, they had put charges for unreturned equipment on the bill.  No big deal, I thought, since the charges would be removed once the equipment was returned.  And the day after we moved into our new house on October 21, Kelly took the equipment back to Comcast.  All’s well that ends well.

Jump ahead about a month to November 15 or so, when I received our "final bill" from Comcast.  It showed $21.06 for a partial month of service plus an additional $450 for an unreturned digital cable box and cable modem.  I picked up the phone and called Customer Service.  I spoke with Kate*and explained to her the problem.  I returned my equipment but the charges had not been removed.  Did I have a receipt for the returned equipment, she asked.  I smiled a Cheshire smile (which, of course, she could not see) and said, "Yes, I do."  Kelly had gotten a receipt when the equipment was returned.  Could I fax her the receipt?  I asked if I could email it but a high-tech company like Comcast, who provides Internet services to large parts of the country, is apparently unable to make use of said Internet within their own support organization.  I told her I would fax her the receipt the following day and the next day, the fax was sent.

A few days passed and I heard nothing from Kate.  I had her "code" that she had given me, but I had no idea of how to get back in touch with her.  I called Customer Support again.  This time I spoke to Teresa* who was somewhat more helpful.  Once again, I explain the whole situation including my conversation with Kate.  She asked me to fax the receipt to her directly, which I did.  I even got a call back from her saying that she’d received the fax.  She gave me a ticket number for this issue.  She seemed to know what she was doing and I hung up the phone with the confident feeling that all was well in Denmark.

Fast forward to December 17 when I received another Comcast bill for the same amount as the previous bill and with the additional warning that non-payment would result in collections actions.  There was no way I was going to "loan" Comcast $450; I would never see it again.  So I once again called customer service.  This time, I spoke with Catherine* who apologized profusely for what had happened.  I gave her the tracking number.  She looked up the information and told me that they had, in fact, verified that I no longer had the equipment and that all that had to happen was for her supervisor to email accounting to let them know to reverse the charges.  She went a step further and told me that she would personally call me back when she was back on duty (two days later) to confirm that this had been taken care of.  Once again, I breathed a sigh of relief.  It was nice to know this was no longer hanging over me.

Cut to yesterday, December 30.  I checked my account balance online since I never heard back from Catherine, and wouldn’t you know it, it still had the full $471.06.  It was like nothing had been done since the very first day I called in.  So I called customer service once again.  I was at work and didn’t have all my notes with me, so it should be no surprise that Sarah* couldn’t really help me.  So I asked to talk to a supervisor, more, I explained, to have a single point of contact on this issue than anything else.  But there were no supervisors available.  She told me that she could have a supervisor call me but it might not be until tomorrow.  Fine, I said.  I asked for their name and with some hesitation, she gave one to me.

As you might imagine, I was pretty frustrated by the time I got off the phone.  Comcast’s customer support an inane bureaucracy was making it impossible for me to make any forward progress.  I had to explain my story each time I called, and I never was able to talk to the same person twice.  Having worked on a Helpdesk for many years, I know how things can get, but never in all my experience did I see someone have to do so much for so little forward progress.  I decided I’d had it.  I was going to take more drastic action.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that confrontational attitudes never work when dealing with customer support.  Instead, I always try to sound calm, sweet, and understanding, and perhaps mildly befuddled.  All I want to do, I tell them, is get this resolved once and for all.  I praise the customer support people for their help and they usually respond well.  This is the approach that I had taken all along, and I continued this approach late yesterday afternoon when I made one more phone call–not to customer service but to Comcast’s corporate offices in Philadelphia.

"How can I direct your call?" the operator asked.

"Office of the President,"I said.

"One moment please."  I waited.

Marjorie* answered.  She was an executive assistant and she asked how she could help me.  I explained to her my situation, I listed all of the calls I’d made over the last two months, how everyone agreed that this was a simple problem to correct, but no one seemed able to correct it.  "My resolution," I joked, "is to get this resolved before the New Year."  She took down information.  She apologized.  She told me that someone would call me back tomorrow.

At 7pm last night, Zach was in my lap, nearly asleep when the phone rang.  I put him in his crib (rather more sudden than he expected, which resulted in a minor fit) and answered the phone.  It was Cassie* from Comcast.  Corporate had told her I’d called and they’d assigned her to solve this for me once and for all.  I gave her all of the details (now that I was home, I had all my notes) including the ticket number and the names and dates of all of the people I spoke with.  She did several things.  She said she’d call herself to make sure the charges were reversed.  It might not be until early next week because of the holiday, she pointed out, but she’d call the appropriate department tonight.  I told her that I knew that I still owed $21.06 but that I didn’t want to pay it until the charges had been reversed.  She said not to worry about it, she was going to reverse those charges as well.  I thanked her for that.  She said she would also call their collections department to make sure no collections action was taken on me since this was clearly their mistake, not mine.  She told me once she confirmed that the charges had been reversed, she would send me a letter stating this had been done.  She told me she’d call me back next week to let me know that all of this had been done.  And perhaps most significantly of all, she gave me her direct phone number.  That, to me, is key because now I have a single point of contact with whom I can follow up if I don’t hear back from her next week.

I don’t consider this issue completely resolved until I hear back from Cassie, but of all the people with whom I spoke, she seemed to be the one who could take care of this once and for all.

I have to say that during the time I had Comcast, I had no complaints with the service.  The cable and Internet always worked.  The one or two times I had to call customer support, I usually got a quick, accurate response.  But the interaction I had with them regarding the final bill was disastrous, from a customer service perspective, one negative moment-of-truth after another.  I think there are lessons here for people in customer service, whether you are a service person, or a customer service manager.  Why did it take 2 months to resolve?  Why could I only get resolution after calling the Office of the President?  How long would this have gone on had I not thought of calling the corporate office?  Clearly, Comcast support staff are not delegated enough authority to deal with these types of issues.  Of the 5 different support people I spoke to, none of them seemed to have the authority to deal with this.  Furthermore, their support operations appear to be siloed.  Communication between customer service and Accounting appeared as difficult (to me) as communication between Earth and Pluto (with some cups and string).

If I could make one single recommendation to Comcast, it would be to engage the talented and useful efforts of Ouellette and Associates.  They provide the most outstanding customer service training in the world (I know, I’ve taken several of their courses, as well as several courses from other companies and O&A’s customer service training is to other companies what Graduate School is to Kindergarten.)  I think Comcast could solve many of the issues I ran into with this training.

It worries me what will happen to support now that Comcast has absorbed NBC.

And here is the final, critical point of all this.  Despite being happy with the actual product I received from Comcast for 15 months, given a choice in the future, I would not use their service again.  When asked why, I would simply point to this fiasco and ask, "how can I possibly trust that this wouldn’t happen again?"

ETA: I just received a call from Cassie* telling me that the issue has been resolved, the charges have been reversed and that she is sending a letter to me confirming that this has all been taken care of.

*Names have been changed but believe me when I tell you that I have the actual names and dates of every person I spoke to, and the outcomes of each conversation and phone call. I learned a long time ago that having this information is invaluable in these situations.

Presidents Day

We headed back home today.  We had such a great time visiting with strausmouse  and rmstraus –too short, really.  We left their house around 10:30 AM and we were in our door three hours later, which is just how it should be.  I’m so glad we decided to fly and not drive.  We would have lost another 12-14 hours.  The convenience of Reagan/National cannot be overlooked!

After we got home, Kelly napped for a while and a little later in the afternoon, we headed to the grocery store to do our shopping for the week.  (It felt like a Sunday all day long.)  Kelly headed to the gym and when she got home, I started cooking dinner.   I made shrimp primavera, which marks the first time I’ve ever cooked shrimp.  I had to cut out some of the ingredients for Kelly (onion and garlic) but I added some mushrooms and it turned out pretty good.  Actually, I probably didn’t make enough, but we made due with what I made, plus some dessert.

A couple of bills in the mail, including the cable bill which appeared to be wrong.  I called and in fact, the bill was wrong (it didn’t reflect the recent payment).  I tried to get access to my account on-line, but needed PIN and was directed to call Comcast to get it.  So I called back.  I was told that the PIN would be sent to my Comcast email address–which I never use and which probably requires the PIN to access it.  I tried to point this out to the fellow, but he was boxed in by his script.  About the best he could do was mail it to me through the Postal Service.  Ah well, I don’t need it anymore…

Late in the evening, we caught up on Battlestar Galactica and Big Love.  Kelly headed off to bed and I read more of Adrift before heading to bed myself.  Heading to the gym first thing in the morning.

And he walked on down the hall

Another long workday.  My hours are going to increase for a while until we get over the hump, which will hopefully be sometime in mid-March.  In the meantime, I expect longer days.  More than likely I’ll start getting up earlier, working from home until Kelly is up and ready to go and then head into the office.  I’ll do my best to keep the evenings clear, but we’ll see how things go. 

I ate lunch today, but didn’t take a lunch break.

Finally got around to moving an automatic payment from an old account to a new one.  That took way longer than it should have.  Paid the auto insurance bill.  I’m annoyed as all heck that in Virginia you can’t pay the entire year in advance (I was able to do that in Maryland).  Apparently, in Virginia, the policies are written to be six months.  I just hate having to remember to pay these bills.  I went to set up automatic payments for it, but they automatic payments are deducted monthly and charge a $5 service fee.  You can’t do automatic payments if you pay the whole thing up front.

Avalon finally got the new website up so that I can once again pay the rent automatically.  Recall from a while back that I had this all nice and working, and then Avalon decided to cancel it all so that they could revamp their website.  After a few months, they got the new website up and announced it today.  Thrilled, I went to it and couldn’t for the life of me figure out where to set up the payments.  Long story short:  the site only works with Internet Explorer; no Safari, no Firefox.  Fortunately, I figured this out by logging into the site on a whim using Internet Explorer on my work laptop.  The message that indicates this is not displayed when you log in using another browser, only using Internet Explorer.  I was able to set up my recurring payments, but I’ve got to say that this has been a customer service disaster from end to end.

I also paid the water and cable bills today, now the only two remaining bills that have no eBill mechanism and no way to do automatic payments.  (Not entirely true.  Cable does, but it involves calling customer service, and I’m through with that for a while.  It’s easier to pay the bill via BillPay.)

We booked our travel to warm and sunny Albany, New York.  Yes, there’s no place like Albany on Valentines Day, and that’s where we’ll be, visiting strausmouse  and rmstraus  in the dead of winter.  The original plan was to drive but I’m in no mood to spend 14 hours of my weekend in a car.  So we bit the bullet and bought fairly reasonable plane tickets.  Nonstop from Reagan-National.  Total travel time should be under 2 hours and that includes going to the airport.

Kelly’s belly seemed to have a growth spurt over the last few days.  She is looking increasingly pregnant.  We have a doctor appointment tomorrow morning.

I’m going to try and squeeze in a little pleasure reading before heading off to bed.  I’ve got the fireplace going, now all I need is a glass of chocolate milk.

Catching up, part 2

I went upstairs to read at 7 PM last night and couldn’t get through a page before falling asleep.  I woke up at 6 AM and Kelly and I decided to stay in bed (and keep warm) until 7:30.  So I basically slept for 12 hours last night.  Then it was off to a busy day in the office.

The days are flying by and blurring into one another.  I only got to the gym one day this week.  On the other hand, I did a good deal of writing and I’m happy about that.  I’ve been trying to catch up on NEW SCIENTIST.  I was two issues behind, and now I’m only one issue behind.  But that’s taken time away from The Best of the Best.  I hope to make better progress on that  front.

Kelly’s belly is getting bigger.  People other than me can tell she’s pregnant.  She’s generally been feeling much better than she was feeling in the first trimester.

The garage door didn’t work again this morning. This marks the fourth time I’ve had problems with it, always on cold days, and I ripped the maintenance manager a new one, I’m afraid.  I asked the to replace the garage door opener, seeing as how I appear to be the only one having the problem.  I played the "pregnant wife" card and made it clear that I didn’t want Kelly to have to manually open and close the garage door.  The damn thing is just defective.  They "fixed" the problem today by adjusting the tension, but even after that, I went to the office and made sure that I wanted it replaced.  It involves paperwork and going through the management company, but I’m not backing off this one

Re-upped my SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN subscription through 2012.  Received three of The Year’s Best Science Fiction in the mail yesterday.  I’m slowly going to work my way backwards through the series.  And today also marked two straight weeks of packing my lunch for work.

It was extremely cold here today.  Below 0 at times.  Right now, the temperature is 7 and 0 with the wind chill.  At least the heat in the house is working.

We head to New York tomorrow to visit he11o_sunshine  and stubiebrother  and Sadie.  Yup, we’re flying US Airways to LaGuardia and back.  A couple of people have pointed this out to me so I’m just confirming it.  We are looking forward to seeing Jen and Jason and meeting our niece for the first time.

Inauguration is Tuesday and I haven’t described what it’s like in the D.C. area with respect to that, but it will have to wait for another post because I’m getting ready to go to bed.  Suffice it to say, it will be interesting here over the next four or five days.

Just finished watching the season premier of Battlestar Galactica and I thought it was good.  Looking forward to the remaining nine.  (And when there are only five episodes left, I can already predict the tag lines:  "Don’t miss the ‘final five’".

And I’ve got a small headache.