Reminder… Don’t Quit a Service You’re Happy With Unless You’re Ready to be Unhappy

A short story about crappy customer service and persistence.
We had Dish for our home TV service. As far as pay TV providers go, Dish is a good company, in my opinion. Helpful/responsive customer service, competitive or even industry-leading feature offering, reliable, etc. But expensive once you get past the new customer discounts.

On a whim, we switched to DirecTV. The new customer rates cut our bill in half. The DVR appeared to have some superior features, features that we actually cared about. We were also sold on a few incorrect statements by the salesman, but so be it.

Around Jan 1, 2016 we were live with DirecTV.

But we had immediate issues…

  1. Were supposed to get a referral discount (and so was my sister-in-law, who referred us). Did not get it and were told we could not get it as we didn’t sign up online.
  2. DVR immediately established a trend of just not recording shit randomly. Not due to conflicts, or new/rerun issues… shit would just not record or show up as being an upcoming recording. Something wrong with their guide database I guess.
  3. We had an equipment protection plan added to our account without any notice (these plans are typical in the satellite world, but it was something we opted out of while signing up. It’s a roughly $8/mo annoyance. Some people swear by those plans, and that’s fine, my contention is I said I didn’t want it).
  4. We were way oversold on the streaming capabilities of the DVR. Dish has Sling built in, and you can watch any channel live or any recording on your DVR from any device that is on the internet. We were told DirecTV is virtually the same. Nope. DirecTV can stream some (seemingly totally random, I’d guess related to content agreements) shows, can’t really stream anything from your DVR and a lot of the streaming features
  5. When we got our next bill, the price increased.

That last point is pretty insane. You sign a 2 year agreement with satellite TV service and you know going in that the first 6-12 months are going to be a great deal to get you to join, with the contract backloaded with price increases (errr… expiring discounts). Plenty of folks live with that. Others will call to renegotiate after the first year. Either way, it’s in the contract and you know it’s coming.

Yes, the contract also says that your rates and service offering can change at any time. It’s a really shitty contract in that sense, as you are stuck for 2 years with explicit penalties for early termination, but the company can do whatever they want. Still, it’s reasonable to assume you’ll make it more than 30-45 days before getting hit with rate increases.

Luckily, in Wisconsin, the law is at least kind of on the side of the consumer. I’m sure at least some other states have this kind of protection, but at least here, you have the right to terminate your service without penalty in the event of a price increase or change in channel offering.

There’s a handy PDF guide about it here:

The language about this situation is laid out in pretty clear terms.

A provider may not make any subscription changes, such as a price increase or change in channel offerings, without providing you a written notice at least 25 days but not more than 90 days in advance. The written notice must state that you may cancel any service offering affected by the change without incurring a cancellation charge or disconnection fee. To cancel your service, you should inform your service provider both orally and in writing.

Maybe it was the timing of me signing up compared to the timing of a global rate increase, but regardless, I received no such notice. Just a bill that showed higher prices. That, combined with the list of annoyances and misleadings, pushed me immediately into being fed up.

Shortly after getting that bill, I called to cancel. I stated that I had a rate increase and wanted to exercise my right to terminate early. The phone rep I spoke to said, without hesitation, that I would be charged no early termination fees.

I got written confirmation of the cancellation, no fees assessed at that time. I sent back my equipment promptly and was ready to go on with life as a cord-cutter (should note that Dish offered plenty of great incentives to go back to them, but since I knew that once those incentives ran out I ultimately didn’t want to keep paying the full price, it wasn’t worth doing that dance again. Also, watching less TV is good).

Then we got a final bill, which had a $400 early termination fee. Ugh.

Accidents happen, I suppose, so I called up and disputed. The rep I spoke to couldn’t find any information about Wisconsin laws on their end (and they aren’t able or allowed to visit any websites). But they passed me to an escalation team, which reversed the fee. I got written confirmation of the fee credit.

The only minor issue was that we were told we had to pay our final bill (including the fee) and on the next billing cycle the reversal would go through and we’d be credited. So be it.

Next billing cycle came, sure enough, fee reversal noted and we now had a credit due.

Since we weren’t DirecTV customers any longer, it’s not like that credit would apply toward future service. So I called in again to make sure they’d cut us a check for that amount. That’s when it got weird. The first rep I talked to could not understand that I had paid the fee AND the fee was reversed – thus my payment needed refunding. So they passed me on to a different department.

At that point, the confusion of the first rep made more sense. As this person said there was no crediting of the fee on my account. I was charged an early termination fee, I paid that fee, had a zero balance. That doesn’t make sense. There was, of course, nothing this rep could do. So I was transferred again.

Third rep/department, same story. Apparently one day after I got the fee reversed, someone reversed the reversal. It was just noted that the fee was valid, and I was liable for it. Thus, the fee had been paid, no credit owed to me. This rep claimed there was nobody further for me to dispute this with. It had been decided. Case closed. Almost as an insult, they said that if I wanted, I could go onto and fill out a billing dispute form.

So I did. And disputed with my credit card company. And complained on social media, etc.

A few days later, another email showing the fee had been reversed. Once again, credit owed to me. This also came with a message from the billing dispute team that they determined the fee SHOULD NOT have been charged, and I was in fact owed a refund.

We’ll see how long this holds up. It’s certainly not an enjoyable situation and I would much rather just have the service I was initially promised at the price I agreed to pay… But for now, victory.

Trunk Club & The Case for Convenience Over Price

Full disclosure: This post is not sponsored/promoted by Trunk Club in any way. However, links to their site do contain a referral code. If you click on these links and sign up, you will be referred to my stylist and I will receive a $50 credit when you spend $50 or more. If you’re interested in signing up but do not want to participate in that referral program, I still recommend you work with my stylist. You can just that by visiting this link.


There are a lot of reviews out there for Trunk Club, along with virtually every clothing subscription service out there. Believe me, I read a lot of them before deciding to sign up. The big trouble I’ve had, which I’m attempting to improve upon here, is two things. One, every review I found involved the reviewer not continuing with the service or even keeping one item. Not out of dissatisfaction necessarily, but because they just wanted to write a review. Two, many are written by fashion bloggers. In my case, I needed help with fashion and happen to be a blogger, but this lengthy post was something I decided to do after signing up, not as the impetus to signing up. Continue reading “Trunk Club & The Case for Convenience Over Price”

Club W: Oversimplified Recommendation Engines

The secret to advertising a product is to make lives better or easier. Or do the same thing cheaper. So when it comes to selling wine, Club W takes the approach of making it easier to pick out a wine you like. Their concept is pretty simple. They ask you a handful of questions about your food preferences, and match your answers up to types of wine. Of course, there is a timer counting down until your new customer discount expires, just for some extra urgency.


I gave it a shot, as I know enough about wine to know which varietals I like and can generally pick out a good bottle in the store. But there’s far more I don’t know, and would love to explore new regions, grapes, etc.

Here’s some of their suggestions:


By way of comparison, here’s what recommends for me – based on my shopping habits:



If you don’t know anything about wine, that’s okay. Essentially Club W suggested I get fruit punch and suggested bourbon. of course has it more accurate, as their suggestions are simply based on products that other customers viewed after viewing the same products I did. I really like big reds, so they suggested more of the same. I do not like sweet wines, fruity whites or light red blends. But apparently because I enjoy oranges and don’t eat mushrooms (it’s mostly texture), I must like bright and sweet wines.

Sorry Club W, you’ve got it wrong. Maybe the bulk of people will find this system to work to their benefit. But I’d guess not, as I’m already seeing this trend of curating products based on lifestyle or semi-related surveys dying off.

I’d love a compromise and maybe give people questions about basic types of wine to narrow down favorites. Most people know the major characteristics if you give quick definitions (e.g. acidity makes the side of your tongue tingle). Everyone knows red vs white and has a general idea of sweet vs dry. Maybe such a recommendation engine exists. I suspect it involves going back to my local wine shop and talking to the employees.

Finding a Place to Live When You Hate Everything

I’m always interested in the idea of moving somewhere else. Milwaukee has little to offer to even the biggest optimist1, so that is part of it. But I also like the idea of finding a place that really balances fun and comfort. Not too much day-to-day stress but also an abundance of things to do. I’ve considered all sorts of formulas that manipulate population density, thinking that was a key. Average temperature, number of sunny days and amount/types of precipitation matter a bit too. I’ve thought about cost of living, typical education levels, crime rates, and more. But there’s clearly no magic bullet number that indicates the place for you.

And then there are all these lists. Best places to live. Best cities for one occupation or another. Cities with the most beautiful people. Blah blah blah. Most of it is probably 100% made up 2. But it’s also a lot of meaningless data. What constitutes a “best city” for someone at CNN or Buzzfeed likely does not mean the same to you or I.

So I think we need to attack this problem a little more creatively. I’m thinking of a website that allows voting, possibly. And maybe just focus on the top 50 cities by population3. As a voter, you could maybe select where you live and be given a lot of questions/attributes that may apply to your city. You can pick whether something applies or not. People interested in moving can fill out a profile with the things they like or don’t like, and be given a list of cities that fit them. Almost like dating.

The thing is, you don’t want to ask questions about crime or weather or jobs. You can find that data anywhere. You need to ask the types of things that you can’t possibly learn about until you move somewhere. The things that end up really mattering, at least if you’re hateful like me.

Here’s some possible examples (with semi-fictional results):

City with people least likely to talk to you on an airplane

  • New York
  • Cincinnati (nobody wants to admit they live there)
  • Chicago

City with people most likely to talk to you on an airplane

  • New York (this only applies to people who say they’re from NY, are actually from NJ)
  • Wichita
  •  Kansas City

City where you’re most likely to be late to work because a cyclist refused to use the bike lane and held you up

  • Denver
  • San Francisco
  • Portland

City where you’re most likely to be screamed at by a homeless person for no reason

  • Boston
  • Portland
  • Austin

City with the highest population of people with “Coffee Shop Patron” as a career

  • New York (we’re rolling Brooklyn in here)
  • Portland
  • Seattle

City where people drink the wimpiest beer

  • St Louis

City where you’re most likely to be punched at a sporting event

  • Philadelphia
  • Oakland
  • Philadelphia

City where you’ll be most ashamed to tell people where you’re from

  • Detroit
  • Oakland
  • Cleveland

City where you can’t just sit down for a drink without some jackass trying to bother you with their bullshit

  • Nashville
  • Milwaukee
  • San Antonio

I could go on, and on, and on. Someone should make a site that tracks this stuff.

  1. Beyond cold weather and murder
  2. I swear I saw Delaware on a “best cities” list
  3. Sorry Montana, Wyoming, Alaska, Delaware, etc

Email Marketing Laziness Rocks

Because the marketing efforts by Musicians Friend & Guitar Center are so lazy, I’m going to follow their lead and not bother writing more than 50 words in this post.

I’ve gotten more than one of these emails… Yes, some high paid manager decided it was worth sending this twice.




What If We Just Slowed Down?

In the early days of the internet, it was all about accessibility.  You could find up to date information on all sorts of topics.  You could join newsgroups and constantly learn more about your favorite subjects without waiting for books to be published.

Then things got bigger.  Lots bigger.

And then we had twitter and blogging and everything was about instantaneous information.  You’ve gotta have the latest news and opinions NOW!

Sure, instant has a ton of downside and there’s crazy pressure to put out a story, even when you don’t have all the facts, but it’s still a good deal overall.

But now, we’re beyond instant.

Now we’re at constant.

And constant really sucks.

There’s endless content all the time from everywhere.  It doesn’t matter if it’s anything useful as long as more pages are being created and more pageviews are happening and ad revenue keeps climbing.

So we go from people being excited to share ideas to people feeling pressured to share ideas fast, to people just sharing regardless of whether an idea exists.

2-13-2014 12-48-34 PM
As absurd as sports reporting is… it’s nothing compared to reporting about sports reporting.

The content hurricane is so fierce, we’re even reporting about that.  Yep, we’re making content about making content.  And we’re doing it by the truckload.

2-13-2014 12-58-03 PM

But why?

If you ask anyone that does marketing-ish stuff on the web, they’ll give some gut-reaction claim about how frequent creation/distribution of content leads to engaged and loyal fans who will see and click lots of your ads share your message with friends.

And they know this because they read it somewhere on the internet.

But it’s all simple math.  If we cared about advertising revenue, content should be scarcer and of better quality.  Quite simply, TV (despite the endless array of channels and reality contests) is infinitely scarcer and better quality than the internet at a whole.  Sure, there are great websites out there, but when you aggregate things, it’s not even close.

And engagement on TV is tons better.  I’m only 330 words in and the majority of you have given up on this post by now.  But those same people will have their eyeballs glued to a special one hour episode of Honey Boo-Boo.

And that’s why TV can charge CPMs of $40 and up, while websites are lucky to snag $3.

But let’s forget the whole revenue thing for a bit.  Because there’s a bigger issue than just dollar signs.

The web could actually be really really good if we just eased off the gas a little bit.  By not going for the constant media mentality, we’re unlikely to lose many fans because it’s so easy to get notified when new stuff is posted.  There’s RSS and email subscriptions and social networks and google now and hell, even bookmarks.

The idea that people only come to your site because you have something new to read every 3 minutes is absurd.  That model might work if you’re posting rubbish top 10 lists like the Huffington Post, but it doesn’t matter if you’re actually creating something worth reading (complete and total offense meant for HuffPo there – their site is shit).   So unless you know that nothing you write is worth reading, why get caught up in that game?  (And if you know none of your stuff is worth reading, why are you writing?)

The prevailing problem is we’ve tried this and determined it doesn’t work.  When things first went digital, all the long-form journalists from traditional papers/magazines went to the web and basically repurposed their print pieces online.  There were certainly some disappointing moments when people definitively knew what types of content readers were clicking on – but revenue was the big issue.

Again, ad revenue online is nothing like in traditional media.  And rather than find a way to charge more for ads, the major media outlets just tried to get more ad impressions.  So they focused on SEO-friendly articles, headlines that grab clicks, slideshows, etc.  Essentially they said “screw substance, we need volume.”  And that pushed us to the horrible place we’re in today.

But that doesn’t mean well done long form content doesn’t work online.  It does, just not the way we want it to.  For one, we can’t charge a paywall AND show ads – users will revolt and get their news elsewhere (unless you’re a niche source that helps people make money – like WSJ, MorningStar, etc).

You also can’t just throw ad boxes online and expect to be rich.  Check that, you shouldn’t expect to get rich from anything you do.  There’s a nasty entitlement from online so-called businesses, where they think just having a website grants them the privilege to cash in.  That mindset may have gotten you by for a little while in the late 90’s, but that was a long time ago.

We’re no longer stuck with whatever news can get delivered to our door.  We don’t have to put up with the one decent clothing store in town.  The accountant down the street isn’t the only option for getting our taxes done.  You’ve gotta really give people a reason to come to you.

And it pains me to write all this, because it’s nothing new.  Not a fucking word of it.  Yet, every day I see sites that are seemingly online for no purpose at all, yet expect to make money.

When they have the sad realization hit that nobody cares about them, they usually blame Google for not giving them more free traffic.   Then they go do some shady link buying or write even worse headlines to get more traffic.  And then things get worse and they blame Google again.

All the while, the website owners are the ones cheating the system and ruining the web with their non-stop garbage.

Whoops, I was in the middle of a statement.  Oh yes!  Ad boxes.  So many sites use contextual banner advertising, that tries to match advertisers up with the content on a page.  It’s usually a nightmare because the ad networks don’t really know what a page is about and the people buying the ads are largely morons that expect their advertising to be automated…

If you seriously want to make money, you need that traditional mindset.  You need to actively sell ad space, not just throw a change jar on your front door and hope people donate.  You think the Chicago Tribune gets Macy’s to buy two 6×21 slots in the main section of every paper because they put out an “advertise here” flyer?  Fuck no.  They get it because some salesman spends his entire life making sure the marketing folks at Macy’s are happy.  And even though their rates have certainly been slashed in recent years, the Tribune gets a ton of money out of that deal.

But when you have a website, you expect the advertisers to come to you.  How backwards is that?  You’re the one with space to sell, go out and sell it.

Back to the matter at hand.  We’re quickly approaching more websites than people.  Damn near every one of those websites has a blog.  And probably 99% of them have nothing unique to offer, yet they expect your money.  The only way sites have figured out how to solve this is by attempting to grow rapidly and constantly via new content.  The ad impression race is a dull one, but it’s going to end in a  horrific crash.

Please, jump off before it’s too late.



The JC Penney Fake Twitter Super Bowl Controversy…

It’s not official, but I’m calling it regardless.  Twitter blew up after this happened:


And then this:



Plenty of comments about drunken social media mistakes, and PR disasters and the like.  It was one of those funny moment where we collectively rejoice in someone surely losing their job.

JCP seemingly regrouped nicely enough with this follow-up:



Here’s my problem with it… it’s a professional photo.  How do I know?  Because it’s the same prop they used in a tweet just hree hours earlier.



Could someone see the drunken tweets, get a photographer to drop everything and head to the photo studio, snap/edit the shot and send it to someone with access to the twitter account who was able to craft the idea & hashtag?  Sure…

Could the photo and messages been thought of and prepared all along?  More likely.  The only variable is the minor specifics relating to the game.

I’m just not buying this one.

I don’t want to jam. Is that rude?

“We should jam sometime!”

If you play guitar, you hear this often.  I usually don’t even tell people I play guitar (it’s almost like I’m ashamed), but it still comes up eventually in conversation.  And if it happens to come up with another guitarist, all too often you’ll be presented with the invitation to jam.  If you’re one of the people who hear that and are stricken with fear or disgust, this is for you.


Please note that when I say “musicians” I’m mostly referring to western rock/pop musicians.  People that generally play in 3-4 piece bands involving drums, guitars, etc.


Why do I have to share?

Music is fairly unique as an artform, in the sense that sharing is almost demanded.  Most other artists (writers, photographers, painters, etc) will certainly share their creations, but at their discretion.  They’ll have a portfolio, gallery, blog, or some other self-curated sample of their work for the world to see.  And that’s assuming they even want to do so.  There are countless people out there creating art just for themselves.  Nobody seems to pressure them to share their work with the world.  Especially not other artists.


That’s where musicians are different.  Musicians always want to hear what other musicians are doing.  You have to show off your bandcamp site, or  soundcloud tracks or worse yet, perform live.  It’s almost as though the only reason someone would play an instrument is to present their playing to the world.  Is this being taught in schools and I missed it?  Is it a competitive thing?  I don’t get it, but while I’m fine presenting my own self-curated collection of sounds to people, I don’t want it to be on-demand.  I don’t want to be put on the spot, handed an instrument and expected to perform like a trained seal.  And more than anything else, I play because I enjoy it (not because you enjoy it), and more often than not, enjoy playing alone.


Music is less collaborative than you think

Western music has its clearest origins in the church.  Those in power dictated which notes could be used, how songs were to be structured, etc.  The new Justin Timberlake album sounds like it does because of what the church did ages ago.  And as music evolved, a composer took these rules and created songs.  That’s one guy, dictating what a group does.  Not a group of violin players sitting down and working out how a sonata will go.


In the modern era, so much music is dominated by individuals.  The Beatles had 3 strong songwriters, but they wrote songs individually.  Some of the greatest names in popular music history are solo acts (Elvis, Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince; to name a few).  Even when there are multiple names on songwriting credits, it’s usually because one person wrote the song but had others fill in their parts.  The Rolling Stones are another great example, where Keith Richards would write the guitar part and come up with a vocal idea, and then hand it over to Mick Jagger to write all the words.  That’s two people writing the song, but working separately and alone.


So why do so many musicians not understand this?  My hunch is, again, out of competition.  If you’re jamming together, you have a chance to size up and show up the competition.  You can try to throw another person for a loop with a complex turnaround.  Or you can smoke them with your incredibly skillful licks.  This sort of thing plays out daily in guitar stores around the globe.  The one-upsmanship is what drives guitarists to play faster than anyone else, or louder, or heavier.


Hell is, other people

There are endless articles out there documenting the lives of introverts.  Many, dare say, most artists are introverts.  It simply gets written off as being “moody” or “reclusive” or even just “artsy.”  The truth is, they just prefer the ability to think and process things completely and without distraction.  That in depth take on issues is probably what leads to creating abstract work.  It’s what allows them to imagine things that don’t yet exist.  It’s why they don’t like to present in progress work.  And jamming, flies in the face of all of that.


Yes, social interaction is required if you ever want to be known as an artist.  But it is not required for creating art.  Personally, I do my best songwriting work alone and late at night.  There is nothing to get in the way of creating.  It’s quiet, it’s calm, there is nothing else to think about.  If I’m playing music in a band setting and somebody presents a new song idea, I’ll prefer to take notes and work out my part at home later.  I know a lot of people who operate the same way.  Sure, something could be thought up on the spot, but it might be less than ideal.  The time and stress involved in doing that could be much better spent understanding the song as it was written rather than just jumping in with a reflex-driven idea.


Our musical tastes aren’t the same, probably not even close

This is the one thing that amuses me most about the concept of jamming.  If two chefs meet, and one of them is a strict vegan and the other works for a greasy burger joint – they wouldn’t likely be eager to cook for each other.  But if you play late 80’s eastern European death metal and I play mid 90’s garage rock… why should we try to bring those sounds together?


Yet most musicians don’t even wait to ask that question.  They just discover another person that plays, and assume they want to jam.  At least ask the question of what kind of music the person enjoys listening to and performing.  If it sounds like there is a match in styles, then pursue further.


No matter what, I’m a jerk… or a hack.

Despite all logic and reason, in the end, the outwardly-focused jammer wins.  If you shrug off or flat out deny their request, you’re going to be looked at as a jerk.  There’s no nice way to do it.  If you try to make up excuses, you’ll probably get tagged as a jerk who can’t play.  It’s just assumed that being at all talented involves the ability to collaborate and improvise.  The only thing is, everyone assumes there is only one way to do that.

I know jamming has its merits.  I’ve done it plenty of times and it can even be fun in the right scenario.  I’m not saying it should never happen, but just hoping someone out there can at least understand the perspective of the anti-jammers.

Apartment life is miserable, ending

I’ve lived in apartments/rentals the vast majority of my life.  I’ve played an instrument for about 15 years, and about 85-90% of that time coincided with the rental life.  I cannot express properly how miserable that is for anyone claiming to be a musician.  Sure, there are countless people who play an instrument in an apartment and either A) don’t give a fuck or B) luck out – but I am not one of them.  I’ve had noise complaints, had the “e” word thrown out early on (that’s “eviction” in case you’re curious), and also have a lovely wife that I don’t want to piss off.

It all adds up to years and years of minimal noise.  In most cases playing with headphones or no amp at all.  It’s frustrating.  Frustrating to the point where you want to sell all your gear because you overreact and assume life will never change. Thankfully I did not do that.

Even better, the misery is ending, tomorrow.  We finally settled on both an area and a specific place and are moving into our first house in a few days.  It’s grand, as we are in the part of the country that has basements.  This means, at minimum, I have a dark and quiet place to go turn my amp up and make actual noise.  The more likely scenario, is that if we survive winter without any weird foundation surprises, there will be a music room built with some good sound isolation.  Which means the amp goes to 11.

I am rather excited about this, more excited than anything I can recall in recent history.  Now I just have to remember how to play with a respectable level of competence once again.

Another project??? I are moron

In the words of the poet B. Spears, “oops, I did it again.”  Sorry, that was an embarrassing way to start this.

So I had a Fender Champ 600.  I did not like the sound of a 6″ speaker.  I had a 12″ combo cab I wasn’t using.  See where this is going?  5W tube amp into a 12″ speaker.  Got an Eminence Cannabis Rex speaker.  Doing a convoluted setup to create a 2nd channel via mounting an overdrive pedal.  It will be silly, but sound good.

Moving into our new house in a couple days, so project will have to wait until we unpack most of our stuff for completion.  However, I am desperate to get this one done (unlike other projects).  I put my deadline at September 17th.