Sorry sir, there’s nothing I can do

Aren’t computers the worst?

As we have become more and more reliant on them, and as they have sort of wormed their way into all sorts of important business functions, they have become infallible gods, whose word is law.

Maybe it’s because I write computer programs every day, so I know how prone they are to error (at least the ones I write! :-P). But then again, doesn’t everybody have experience with crappy computer programs (I mean, come on, the vast majority of us use Windows, right?)

The other day I got a letter from a collection agency. This is not something I see every day, and it caused me quite a bit of panic. It turns out the charge was only $10, but I was still imagining legal action and destroyed credit.

The thing I couldn’t figure out was, how did I not pay this bill? It was from the doctor’s office, and we’ve obviously paid many bills before and after. How could they not get ahold of us in their “repeated attempts”, when every other bill is fine. My wife WORKS there, and they couldn’t get ahold of us?

Something seemed fishy.  For all I know, this company is scamming me for $10! That made more sense to me than there was one bill that they couldn’t get ahold of me for, while we are meanwhile paying all these other bills.

So the first thing I did was call the hospital. I spoke to 2 different billing divisions, and they both agreed I had no balance. Ah ha! Gotcha! So I called the collection agency back. (several times in fact, since their “computer system was down” and they would “call me back later” which they never did) Finally, they verified that it was one of the two billing departments I had spoken to previously.

Me: “But I already spoke to them, and they said I didn’t owe anything.”
Lady: “Well, if that’s the case, then they can email us and we will close the account.”

::sigh:: Very well.

I called the number she gave me and spoke to the same department I spoke to before.

Billing person: “Yes, you do have an outstanding balance, but it’s not with us, it’s with the other billing department.”
Me: “I just got off the phone with the collection agency, and they said it was you. They gave me this number.”
Billing person: “Well I just got off the phone with them and they said it’s the other department.”

Oookay, so I called the original billing office back:

Billing person: “Yes, you do have an outstanding $40 balance”
Me: “…but the collection agency is saying I only owe $10.”
Billing person: “Well, they should be telling you you owe $40.”

Okay, so now my head is starting to spin. First I didn’t owe anything, now suddenly I do. First I owed $10, now I owe $40. And why doesn’t anybody know who I’m supposed to owe money to??

But, of course, nobody knows nothing. It’s just in the computer that way, there’s nothing we can do about it.

Eventually we figured out that my guarantor (billing) address was incorrect (because I asked them to check, not because they suggested it). At some point the patient address had been changed, but the guarantor address had not been updated in the computer. Since Sara is the guarantor for herself and the kids and her guarantor address is correct, all of the other bills had been sent to the right location.

Now here’s the thing. If we can’t question the almighty computer because it is all-knowing and all-wise, then how come it wasn’t smart enough to get ahold of me. Supposedly, they’re trying and trying, doing anything they can to get ahold of me. And yet they never tried the other address they have for me? They never used the phone number? They never looked at the address for my spouse or children? Hit me up for the money when I called to pay a different bill? They never WALKED DOWN THE HALL to where my wife was working? Nope, collection agency.

VERY WELL. We have the root problem identified and fixed, so let me just pay up and be done with it.

Well, the hospital told me to pay the collection agency, but the collection agency couldn’t find any record of the other $30 the hospital said I owed. So then I had to pay $10 to the collection agency and $30 to the hospital.

I wanted confirmations of all of these payments, especially from the hospital, so I didn’t somehow end up double paying when the collection agency finally turned up the bill for the other $30 that they couldn’t find. But when I get the confirmation email from the hospital, MY BILLING ADDRESS IS WRONG.

Back on the phone with them and the lady says, “Ha ha, I can see the address is in there, but she didn’t actually switch it over yet. Maybe she was going to do that later, but I can just do it now.”

I find absolutely nothing funny about this.

If it takes 2 seconds to do, and she could do it while I was on the phone, why didn’t the first lady just do it, instead of saving it for later? And why in the world would I have any faith that it is going to work the second time?

And by the way, the original (wrong) billing address had a typo in the street name to begin with, so even the wrong address was wrong.

So none of this is my fault, of course (nor is it apparently the fault of anybody I spoke to on the phone), but I have to be the one to do all the work to resolve it. Everybody just shrugs and says, “Sorry sir, computer mistake. Nothing we can do about it.” All’s well that ends well, I suppose, and they assured me that this won’t affect my credit. But isn’t it up to the person who wants my money to shoulder some of this burden? Or the collection agency? Or somebody besides me? ANYBODY besides me??

An Open Letter to the Chicago Public Library

Hello everybody. Today we’re breaking history here at the blog: I don’t believe we’ve ever had a guest blogger! So today’s post is brought to you by my lovely wife. Don’t be fooled, she has an ax to grind…

Dear Chicago Public Library,

You stink.  Not literally (maybe sometimes, or at some locations, or some patrons) but your employees certainly have trouble doing simple tasks.  Well, one particular task—checking in books left in the book deposit.  You would think I would have learned from the first, second, third, or fourth times you messed up.  Apparently, I am a bit dense. I have no idea if this is a system-wide problem, but I suspect as much, since it has happened multiple times to me and others at my two local branches (Blackstone and Coleman FWIW).  I have paid all the previous fines until now.  I think they were all $.20 or $.10 (prior to the fine increase), except one that was $2.40.

I can understand a book may slip out of the collecting bucket and you find it the next day so it is one day late (although, you would think any books this happens to would be checked in with no fine, since it was your fault it was missed and you don’t know how long it was lying in a dark corner of the deposit box…There was also the time when the person on the register managed to check out a book to me instead of checking it in but I digress…).

The $2.40 was the last straw.  I promised myself that I would always return books at the register.  This wasn’t a problem when you opened at 9am every day or when I was home every day on maternity leave.  It was less of a problem when I had a car.

So after a year or so of waiting every time at the register for my checked-in receipt, I even foolishly began to trust that when books were returned inside (just left in a stack beside the register because you don’t see fit to provide an internal book deposit), they would actually be checked in, so I stopped wasting paper and my time and just left them there.

Although my memory for this is understandably less detailed, I have had the occasional late book or DVD and certainly respect the system enough to pay my fine.  And if my daughter rips a book to pieces during her “relaxing time,” I have no problem paying for a replacement either.

However, this last mistake has driven me over the edge. 

One day, I get an email that I have a book overdue.  I had recently returned >20 books (to the dropbox, since the library doesn’t open before noon anymore on Mondays).  I checked my account and found that I had one book listed as returned overdue by 3 weeks with a $4.80 fine (Hat Heads) and two books (Babar and Charlotte in Paris) listed as 3 weeks overdue and not checked in.  (Sidenote–Why would you set up a system where it emails someone about the books three weeks after they are due instead of the first day they overdue?  Why bother with the email at that point?)  I did some research online and deduced that Hat Heads was checked out to another patron the day it was marked as checked in for me. Obviously the book had been reshelved and not entered into the system until someone tried to check it out (which somehow doesn’t trigger an automatic erasure of the fine). So, I called you, and spoke to the librarian…who absolutely refused to believe me!

I can understand some initial skepticism.  People lie.  No one likes to pay money.  Library users are probably especially against spending money—they’re either poor or frugal, that’s why they’re at the library in the first place.  However, two times I have checked out books only to find the system shows that the book was never checked in from the previous patron, so, I am obviously not the only person this has happened to.  If you are a public librarian, you are in the business of customer service, whether you like it or not.

Okay, so she didn’t believe me about Hat Heads.  I still had two other books on the list to tackle.  When I looked at my account again, the status of Charlotte in Paris had suddenly changed to being checked in late with a fine of $4.80 and CHECKED BACK OUT TO ME!

In the meantime, however, the librarian went to check for Babar on the shelf. Of course, she swore to me that it wouldn’t be there since it was from another branch and EVEN IF it had been brought back, it would have been shipped to the other branch and put back on the shelf there.  Well, yes if it had been checked in, I am sure that would be the case.  Since it was never checked back in, she of course found it on the shelf. 

Now, she was very apologetic about it, but only for that specific book.  She refused to believe that if one book was missed, it was also likely that the two others were missed as well.  Forget that this has happened multiple times to me before, and also at least twice to books that I have checked out.

Finally, she said that the library powers-that-be required documentation for her to do anything about it.  She asked if I had the paper slip from when they were checked out showing the due date as that could be used for documentation.  I don’t keep those things.  I don’t need any more clutter in my house!  And why would a slip showing when it was due support that I had actually returned it?  I explained that I always renew things online since I don’t make it to the library as often as I would like.  When she asked if I had taken a SCREENSHOT showing the due dates, I actually managed to laugh through my tears of frustration.

I’m sorry but I do not take screenshots of the library web page every time I renew a book and save it to a file on the computer. I don’t think someone with that much OCD has time to read books anyway.   And even if I did, I can’t figure out what it would do to support my claim that I returned the books.

Around this point, she noticed that Charlotte in Paris had magically been checked in and checked back out while I was on the phone with her. She broke down and agreed to fix everything.  I’m not sure why she had a change of heart.  Maybe after 35 minutes of listening to an increasingly frustrated person while she is pumping at work with people banging on her closed door because there are two add-on patients for her to see, she realized that no person would put herself through that if she were lying.

Anyway, the fines were removed.  Babar was marked as returned on time.  However, the magical self-checking-in-checking-back-out book couldn’t be checked back in since it was from another library and must be on the truck to that library right now (because, you know, nothing could go wrong with the system).  The other library would have to check it in when it was received.  I was told to call back in a week if it was still not checked in. 

Today, after waiting 15 days without it being checked in, I finally called.  After being forced to call back once and then refusing to call back the second time, I was finally transferred to the same librarian who helped me before. 

At least I didn’t have to explain too much of the story before she remembered me.  She reluctantly went to look for Charlotte in Paris on the shelf, and lo-and-behold it had MAGICALLY APPEARED! All three books, all showing up where I said they’d be, completely unrelated to each other, each one a surprise.

The librarian was very apologetic.  I appreciate this, but you can’t really apologize enough for me to feel better about the whole debacle.  It certainly caused a difficult day at work and gave me a lot of angst over the past couple weeks.

Other than making sure I return books and get a receipt, I am not sure what I can do about the problem.  If it ever happens again that I check out a book that hasn’t been checked in, I will be sure to talk to the librarian about it immediately because I would sure love to save someone the trouble I have gone through. I still don’t know why this doesn’t trigger an automatic removal of the fine.

Chicago Public Library, please figure out how to improve your system.  I know that you are a huge library, but between myself and my husband, we have never had a book not checked-in correctly at Kent District Library, Allen County Public Library, Tippecanoe County Public Library, Greensboro Public Library, Montgomery County – Norristown Library, or Radnor Memorial Library.

Your continuing patron (yes, I have been back during this ordeal),

Sara

Materialism

The American culture of disposable materialism seems worse every single day. It’s probably been getting worse every day more or less since the country was founded. So it’s not surprising that the older generation (of which, for the sake of this post, I apparently am a member of) would always see this going on and be disgusted by it. So I think it is safe to say that I am not the first parent to see this going on and object to it. Especially since people, as a rule, probably object to materialism in themselves very rarely. So it’s more when you see it happening to your kids that you notice it. After all, I want nice, shiny, new stuff as much as the next guy.

So all that being said, ho-ly crap! (and I mean crap in the “tons-of-stuff-we-don’t-really-need” sense of the word) If Evie continues to accumulate stuff at the same rate that she has thus far in her life, she will need a separate house to contain it all. And lets not kid ourselves, she’s not going to continue at this rate, she’s going to double it. Triple it. After all, she’s not even old enough to really want anything yet.

Evie just started preschool. I remember when I started kindergarten. There were two things that were particularly awesome to play with at my kindergarten: a parachute, and a set of giant cardboard blocks that looked like bricks. These toys were so great that you could get a fist fight or two, just by mentioning them. I wanted to play with those bricks so bad, I was willing to bleed.

Evie has both of these for her own personal use, a parachute and a set of blocks like that. Evie has her own slide.

That was part of what made school cool to me at that age. They had the toys that no individual person could possibly own. Now there is no such toy. In fact, kids today are probably like, “Why does school have all these lame, really old toys? They don’t even talk.”

In all of the time we’ve been reading the Little House on the Prairie books, I am always struck with how little personal possessions they had, and how happy they were. I understand this is a fictional account, but I can’t help but feel that it was a better time. Laura Ingalls had more love and appreciation and happiness out of a little rag doll than most kids do out of an entire mountain of toys.

How can I inspire that kind of appreciation in my kids? How can I fight an entire culture?

Sara and I try to do what we can. And of course by that I mean that we bought her said slide, parachute and set of blocks. Because the problem is, we want her to be happy, and buying her things is such an easy way to accomplish that. In the short term. And don’t think I’m letting myself off easy for my role in all of this either.

The real question is, what the heck are we going to buy Oliver? Before he was even born, he was set to inherit all the toys, clothes, books, etc. that he could ever need. Not to mention all of his own random stuff he’s going to accumulate through life. We can’t not buy him presents for Christmas or something. But I honestly don’t want to. He doesn’t need any more stuff. Neither of them do.

I hate not having a choice about this.

AT&T update

In a continuing saga here on the blog, I received yet another notice from AT&T attempting to verify that I ordered Cinemax (which, of course, I didn’t).  I am just about at the end of my rope with them.  I mean, with all of the trouble I’ve had, they supposedly put copious notes on my file saying they should block any movies, channels, etc. that are ordered.  I’ve supposedly locked it out on the box so it can’t be ordered there and, lest we forget, it is literally impossible for the box to malfunction.  Now, all of the people I have talked to since the original person have been extremely helpful and nice.  But I still have to wait on hold for 15 minutes to even talk to someone.  And the last two times I’ve called the person wasn’t sure if you had to lock out the pay-per-view and channels on just the main remote or on both remotes.  Well, if any of you AT&T people out there are reading this, you have to do it on both remotes.  And furthermore, it is actually more important that you do it on the secondary remote if that is the one using an RF transmitter!

It appears that what was happening was this:  one of my neighbors has the same satellite receiver and their remote was controlling my box.  See, there is only one box in the house.  The upstairs remote works through IR like a regular remote, i.e. you have to point it at the box.  But the one downstairs has to travel through walls and floors, so it works using radio waves.  So, if someone else is using an RF remote and they are close enough to you and they have theirs set on the same frequency as yours, they will control your box right along with their box (and vice versa).  I am fairly certain this was what was happening because 1) it makes a lot of sense and could explain why all of these mysterious charges were showing up, some of which happened while we were out of town, and 2) when I started messing with the remote to fix this problem, someone (else) started furiously changing the channel.

Now if you go back to my original post, you will astutely notice that was my first suggestion to the supervisor as a possibility, and it was quickly dismissed.  It must be a pretty common problem if even I had heard about it!  So when the current technician suggested it, I couldn’t help but laugh out loud.  I said, “I suggested that as a possibility, but I was told that was impossible.”  He shrugged.  “It is common enough that they tell us about it in the training course,” he said.

GRRRRR I am so mad at them.  It makes sense to me that this could have been the root of my problems, so hopefully this is no longer an issue.  But HOW DARE the supervisor insist that this couldn’t possibly have happened when it looks like it is EXACTLY what happened.  I have half a mind to call them back and see if they can look in my file and find the name of the original supervisor I spoke to, and then file a complaint against that person.  “Sure, if you don’t mind wasting your time.” said Sara.  And that is why I’m really so mad, because I’m so powerless against them.  My complaint wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans, especially since that supervisor was clearly doing what she was trained to do.  And it is not really worth canceling their otherwise superior product over this one (albeit long running) issue.

So I’m sunk.  But AT&T better never meet me in a dark alley…

AT&T is the Spawn of Satan

Why is the customer service of a company inversely proportional to the size of the company?

I had a call with AT&T that made me so furious today that my hands were literally shaking with anger.

We got our bill and we had a $40 pay-per-view charge for WWE Summer Smackdown or something like that (our dish network is through AT&T).  Now obviously we didn’t order this so I wanted it taken off the bill, but I just *knew* it was going to be a hassle.  So I called today and waited on the phone for literally 30 minutes before talking to anybody.  When I finally did get through to someone of course I had to be transferred.  Then, of course, my call was dropped.  (Ironic for a phone company?)  Now all of this is just what I expected so far, which is a shame in and of itself.  But I honestly thought if I slogged through all this nonsense, they would just reverse the charges and that would be that.  It didn’t get bad until I called back.

Luckily I had gotten the direct number of the division I needed to talk to so I was able to call back later.  When I finally got through to someone and explained what happened, she got really rude.  She told me that pay-per-view was non-refundable and there was nothing she could do.  I was irked, but I immediately asked for a supervisor.  I have been literally told in the past by other supervisors at other large companies that you will only reach a supervisor if you ask and they are the only ones who can do anything.

The supervisor was 10 times ruder than the regular person.  I told her I wanted the charge removed and she said it couldn’t be done.  She said that it showed the pay-per-view was ordered from our remote so the only possibility was that someone in my house ordered it, so therefore they wouldn’t waive the charges.  I told her that perhaps there was a hardware malfunction.  She said that was impossible.  Impossible!  She said that these units had been tested “thousands of times” and the only possibility was that we ordered it.  I told her maybe the neighbor has the same remote code.  I said maybe I dropped the remote and it fell in such a way that the proper buttons had been pressed.  She just kept saying, nope, impossible.  I or someone in my house had ordered it.  I asked her if she was calling me a liar to my face?  She said no she wasn’t, but it is impossible (Impossible!) for the hardware to malfunction and someone in my house ordered it, which is totally different than calling me a liar.

Now, I don’t know what happened.  Maybe Evie did it by accident.  Maybe Sara snuck out under the cover of darkness to watch some WWE Smackdown after I was in bed.  Maybe someone broke into our house and ordered it.  I don’t know.  But neither does she and the fact that she kept insisting that it was *impossible* that anything happened other than that I ordered it.

So finally she agreed to reverse the charges.  In order to “punish” me she informed me I would lose my ability to receive pay-per-view programming.  This was quite excellent since it was my next order of business!  However, it quickly went downhill from there.  Here is a rough estimate of our conversation:

“I will reverse this charge ONE TIME but after that if you have any more we will not reverse the charges! So if you have any at home you have already ordered you will be charged and we won’t reverse it.”
“No. Cancel any charges now, cancel pay-per-view and cancel any charges in the future. I don’t want any pay-per-view.”
“I will reverse this charge ONE TIME but after that if you have any more we will not reverse the charges! So if you have any at home you have already ordered you will be charged and we won’t reverse it.”
“I don’t agree to that. I don’t know if my equipment is malfunctioning or what, but if there are any more pay-per-view things I don’t want them!”
“I can’t tell if you have any more, but I’m just letting you know that if there are any more charges, we won’t reverse them.”
“I don’t agree to that! Cancel everything!”
“I can’t cancel any you’ve already ordered. We won’t reverse any charges in the future!”
“I don’t agree! If I get charged I’m calling back!”
“But we won’t reverse the charges!”
“I don’t agree! I know this is being taped! I want it on record that I don’t agree to that!”
“This is the only time we will reverse the charges!”
“I don’t AGREE! Make a note on my file that I don’t want any more!”
“Too bad, we won’t reverse it!”
“I DON’T AGREE TO THAT!! I DO NOT AGREE TO THAT!!”

And honestly, no joke, that wasn’t even the end of it.  Yes, I admit, I was hysterical.  I realize that makes me sound like a psychopath, so I’m counting on the readers of this blog to know that I am a reasonable, even-keeled person.  She did eventually reverse the charges, but she made it clear she was only doing it because I was such a pain.  Fine, I as a pain.  That’s part of the worst thing about it, that I had to be a pain to get my charges reversed.  It is the only way to accomplish anything with companies like that.  I pay them how much per month and they make me scream at them to remove a $40 one time charge.  That is ridiculous!  To be treated like that…despicable.  Reading the text really doesn’t do it justice.

And that is really the worst part.  I could cancel my service, but I’ve had just as bad service with everybody else; Comcast, Verizon, ComEd…all of them.  This is just the way these companies work.  And there’s just nothing I can do about it.  I could cancel and go with another just as bad company.  I could call and complain to someone but they wouldn’t care.  I’ve read enough exposes to know that they are told to act like that, to be aggressive to get people to pay the charges.  Everything in their system is designed to force me to give up. And if I canceled my service, what do they care?  One less customer, boo hoo.  And what else can I do?  Write my congress man?  Write a blog post?

Okay, I guess I’ll do that, but it sure doesn’t make me feel any better.