Thursday, January 26, 2006

A dream world vs a better reality

tourism, vacation,
economy, escapism,
self-development, growth

A recent blog posting by Michael Phillips on the value of tourism in a local economy has caused me to remember my thoughts about a certain aspect of the tourist trade which I have found disturbing.

From a certain point of view, it seems to me, that, in essence, almost all tourism, the vacation business, the "get-away-from-it-all" type of concept is nothing more than an illusion.

After all, what is a person left with after their dream vacation? They step into a fantasy world for a few hours, days or weeks in which they pretend to live a life they cannot hope to continue living, and in the end return to a dull, dreary, routine, often in debt to pay for their brief fantasy over the next few months or longer.

Now, I wonder if most people wouldn't be better served, wouldn't have much more rewarding lives, if, instead of trying to escape from their drudgery for a couple of weeks a year, they were to invest the same amount of time, energy and enthusiasm into looking for and developing some purpose and meaning in their lives as a whole.

Phillips blog spoke of the economic value in just one local economy. When I imagine the enormous worldwide economic value of tourism, vacation travel, tourist services, financing costs, and every thing else involved, including the enormous number of people who earn their livelihood working in these fields it makes me wonder how different the world might be if all this were directed to improving the human condition, rather than simply attempting to escape from it, or providing an escape.

On a very simplistic level, there may not be much difference between a person running an opium den and a person who provides some tourist service: they are both catering to a weakness of their client and helping them to avoid reality.

I am not judging the people who own or work in tourist-related activities as being bad, and I'm certainly not passing any moral judgment on anyone or their activities, but I am wondering how the world would be different if there were a shift in focus from escapism to a search for meaning and growth.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What's going to happen in 2006? Predictions

Predictions, 2006, technology, trends

Predicting the future is easy if you don't care about people coming back and telling you where you were wrong. But, if you put any thought into your predictions, based on a careful review and a good understanding of what's happening, it can be useful to look ahead -- even if you're wrong.

I came across a web page which has some ideas that seem to be perceptive and interesting about:

Broadband penetration

Implications of increased broadband

Voice Over IP

VideoVideo over IP



Growth and Scalability

Implications of Growth

Blogging, podcasting, vidcasting

Internet server Crash

Issues about Trust


Take a look at: 2006 Predictions. If you're interested in the developements in the world of technology you'll find this fascinating

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Free University Education


Education, university,

distance-learning, MIT,

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Did you know that anyone can get a university education free?
MIT has put on line 1,250 courses in the following fields:

Aeronautics and Astronautics
Biological Engineering Division
Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Chemical Engineering
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Comparative Media Studies
Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences
Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
Engineering Systems Division
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Health Sciences and Technology
Linguistics and Philosophy
Materials Science and Engineering
Mechanical Engineering
Media Arts and Sciences
Music and Theater Arts
Nuclear Science and Engineering
Ocean Engineering
Political Science
Science, Technology, and Society
Sloan School of Management
Special Programs
Urban Studies and Planning
Women's Studies
Writing and Humanistic Studies

They call their offer OpenCourseWare and describe it as a free and open educational resource for faculty, students, and self-learners around the world.

OCW is a publication of MIT course materials, it does not require any registration, is not a degree-granting or certificate-granting activity nor does it provide access to MIT faculty. It does, however, give anyone the opportunity to audit any of the courses offered and be guided, the same as a registered enrolled student in those courses.

Use this link to learn more about MIT OpenCourse Ware ...

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Complaining Effectively

customer service, complaints, personal relations

Recently I've been spending a lot of time talking about poor customer service and expressing the idea that it is important to complain when things are not as good as you'd like them to be.

Often we don't like to complain because it makes us look bad, or cranky, or it may produce an unpleasant situation that we'd rather avoid.

In business practice, it is often experienced that unsatisfied customers frequently don't complain, they simply stop doing business with the firm that gave them cause to complain. This creates quite a challenge for those businesses which sincerely want to improve, not only to redress the wrongs that they may have committed that have lost them customers, but also in winning new customers.

So, if you think your complaint, if it is something which a business can control, is not appreciated, think again. If you bring to the attention of the owners or management a fault which is costing them business, they may actually be delighted to receive your complaint.

HOW to Complain

Often, when you have a complaint, it is a situation which you find disturbing and you might actually be angry over something you've experienced. You want to strike out and hit someone. Of course, complaining under these conditions is likely to be unpleasant, but it doesn't need to be.

Try to cool yourself down before making a complaint and see if you can approach the situation in an objective frame of mind. Attempt to separate yourself from the situation so that you see what happened wasn't a deliberate personal attack against you, but rather an unfortunate event which you think the business will be happy to rectify, if you give them a chance.

Put yourself into the shoes of the person you a going to confront and see which approach would make you feel more cooperative:

  • "You guys are always trying to rip-off your customers with your shoddy service and inferior products. I'm not going to let you get away with this, I demand that you fix this NOW or I'm going to see that you suffer ..."

  • "I know that you probably didn't intend for this to happen, you seemed to me to be such a helpful and sincere person, but I've ended up with a problem that has left me unhappy with what I bought here yesterday and I'd really appreciate it if you would help me see how we can resolve the situation".

This, of course, is just an example, but the important point is the attitude which you display when you make your complaint known.

I know that I have often spoken or acted in ways which alienate others, so I don't consider myself a saint in this regard, but I do believe that even in some of the most horrible situations I've faced, there might have been better ways of doing them.

In this light, I would like to let you know about a newsletter I've been reading for quite awhile that has always provided me with helpful tips in dealing with people under difficult circumstances. It's called Winning Without Intimidation and it's available without any cost. If you check out the web site I think you will agree with me.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

An unusual Credit Card Error

Banks, VISA, credit cards, customer service

Today I had a most unusual experience, and in recounting it I want to give a public commendation to the customer service representative from TD VISA, named Abby.

I'm usually quite meticulous in reviewing my charges on my credit cards, and have, infrequently, found incorrect charges which, to their credit, TD VISA has always been exemplary in dealing with. I have only the highest complements for the service I've received from TD VISA in all the years I've been a customer.

Today I did something I never did before: I totaled up the charges for the month and compared my total with the total purchases on the statement.

I found a difference of $2.00

At first I couldn't believe it. I checked my addition several times and then called customer service and spoke with Abby. She ran her own total and agreed that there was a difference of two dollars and immediately told me that she'd issue a credit for the difference AND bring this to the attention of her supervisor. She also agreed to review all the statements I've received in the prior year.

I don't know if the root of this was some kind of internal theft, an error, or what, but my point in posting this is to suggest that it might be worthwhile, at least occasionally to thoroughly review your statements and ask for a clarification if there is anything you don't like or even anything you don't completely understand.

You may discover that everything is all right, but there's also a chance you might find something unusual, just as I did.

I believe that much fraud and identity theft which is so common these days would be nipped in the bud if more people would exercise greater vigilance in their accounts.

If you find any unusual things, or have had special experiences with customer service people in these fields, please comment: I'd be pleased to hear from you.

Monday, January 16, 2006

The abuse of statistics

Statistics, politics,
democracy, elections,
If you were invited to a party and were told that nearly half of the people there didn't like you, would you have some reservations about attending?
What if you were asked to lead a group in which you knew, even before you started that 5 out of 10 of the members were against you. Would you think twice about taking on such a job?
While I'm not about to discuss, Chilean politics, per se, I want to note that yesterday, Chile elected a new president, Michelle Bachelete, their first female president, with about 53% of the votes, her oponent, Sebastian Piñera, getting 47%.
It's clear that Bachelete gained a majority of the votes, but what is equally obvious, if you look at the figures is that nearly half of the votes were against her.
If you add to this, the fact that there were approximately 3% of the votes submitted in blank or spoiled, and consider that these abnormal votes could have been made in protest, then she received only a very slim majority ... somewhere around 51% of all the votes cast.
Jorge Luis Borges once defined democracy as an abuse of statistics. I tend to agree, especially when most people today live with the illusion that their participation in an election has a vital role in their future or the future of the world.
One of the major failings of the present democratic system in my eyes is that fact that people are forced to choose from a pre-determined list of choices. What if they don't like any of those choices? They are then required to select the lesser of the evils.
Use the just completed Chilean presidental election as an example. This was the second round, and there were just two candidates: the two who had received the highest number of votes in the first round, about a month ago. Regardless of what happened, one of these two candidates would be elected president.
What would have happened if there were a third choice on the ballot which offered people the chance to vote for

Would the 3% of blank ballots have been cast for this option?

More importantly, there were possibly another 30% of votes which were supposedly transferred from the candidates who were eliminated from the first round. Conceivably, in this election, the majority of the votes, might have been cast for the option of "None of the Above"

If this were the result, obviously the voters would be telling the politicians in the country that they didn't like any of the choices they had been presented with and they had better come up with a new list.

I realize that even this option, if it were available, would not be a complete solution to all the weaknesses and imperfections which democracy currently has, but the fact that it has never been made available in any election that I've heard of, is one of the reasons why I consider the popular notion about democracy to be an illusion and think that Borges may have been right on the mark.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The only reason to exist

Customer Service, banks, public utilities,
government agencies, monopolies

The discussion which followed the last blog I posted has led me to reflect more about the lack of good customer service which seems to exist in many parts of the world especially in banks, public utilities, and government regulatory agencies.

Why do these entities have such poor service and relations with their clients?

Mostly, I think, it is because the people who work in them, have never, themselves, experienced any better treatment that they dish out and, as such, perhaps don't even know that something better exists.

What I'm saying is that I don't believe that these people are inherently rotten and thus deliver bad service, but that they simply don't know any better.

It's very difficult for a bureaucrat in a government office to realize that the ONLY reason his job exists is that person who is standing in front of him after waiting possibly hours in a line, to have a problem solved. After all, that person HAS TO come to him to get his problem solved, there is no other way to have that problem dealt with, hence he (the bureaucrat) is actually doing this person a favor by having the patience to even listen to their concerns.

Furthermore, he's been doing this all his life and so why should he be worried about that customer being unhappy, no one is going to take his job away for that.

What this bureaucrat does not think about is the possibility that one day his service might become a private company and open to competition, and that his very existance as an employee will depend on whether or not there are enough customers for him to serve. This is what happens in a mature market-driven economy.

It is what is happening now in many countries and industries which are becoming more and more global and where even a local merchant is subject to competition from a competitor who is not only some distance away, but might even be in another country.

The internet, movies and sindicated television programs which are translated and spread around the world give people (read customers) more and more ideas about what good service can be. As more and more people become aware of what they're missing, more and more of these people are going to begin insisting on this in their own lives as customers AND if they work in job where they attend customers, they will have a new modle to follow in their conduct with the clients they attend.

These changes may take a long time to be put into place and become wide spread, but they are happening. I've seen this in Chile where I have been involved with a retail tire sales operation from it's inception a few years ago. Because I came with a different concept of customer service than was common, most of what I instituted was new and it was difficult to train employees to look at their customers as the only reason they had a job.

Now, after several years, it is gratifying to notice that we have set a new standard for service in the area where we operate, but many of the things which we pioneered are now becomming commonly accepted and practiced.

Still, the big institutions seem to be behind in these changes, even though some of them seem to be the leaders in this area. In fact, small businesses can change most rapidly but they tend to follow the lead of the big boys. The big companies have long established traditions and employees with many years of bad habits ingrained which makes them lag in implementing their reforms even though the management may be aware of the need for them.

So, if you work in, run, or own any activity where you must deal with customers (or clients, or "the public") you need to keep in mind one fundamental thought each time you deal with one:

The only reason you exist (as a business, or in a job) is to meet the needs of that client who is facing you in the best way you can.

If you succeed in making that thought a fundamental basis of everything you do, your success in your field will be assured for a long time to come.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Telefónica Móviles: One of the World's Most User UnFriendly Companies

I spend a lot of time in Chile and have had the misfortune of having to deal with celular phone companies in that country.

One of the worst I've ever dealt with is now called Movistar owned by Telefónica Móviles. This company hugh -- it claims to be one of the biggest 5 in the world and operates in most of Latin America and many countries in Europe. (If anyone has any experiences --good or bad-- with other celphone companies I'd welcome a comment with details)

Their corporate literature contains the most blatant lies that I have ever seen:

From their web site on Corporate Responsibility they state:

Telefónica Móviles wonts to be a trusted company, not only due to its size and experience, but also due to its nearness to people, showing it has a definite vocation to understand and comprehend their needs, and above all, to be a company able to make commitments and to fulfil them. (Copied directly from web site complete with spelling errors-jf)

Why do I call this company a blatant liar?

When I contracted their services, they were the most friendly and accomodating company that you could imagine (and this would be completely in accordance with the corporate values stated above) , however, when I had occasion to cancel a service which I had contracted with them, the red tape and obstacles which were placed in my way made me feel that in signing a contract with them I had sold myself into perpetual slavery.

When signing up for a service, a sales rep came to my office, prepared all the forms which were needed to be signed, made photocopies on their time and at their expense, delivered equipment ... it short made it almost effortless to become a client.

The service I contracted was for several employees of a firm I administrate and when one person left our employ there was no further reason for our firm to have their service.

In order to stop that service I was required to visit a company office where I had to take a number and wait nearly an hour to be served. Then the customer service rep. took another 20 minutes to get the necessary records so that she could then inform me that I had to write a letter renouncing the service and then wait until the end of the billing cycle until the service was effectively stopped. It wasn't enought that I was physically present in their office with the equipment in my hand ready to return it. The service would not be terminated until I provided a written request.

This was not all, however. Afterwards, I received no less than 3 additional calles from different representatives, attempting to convince me to continue with the service.

Somewhat later in the year the remaining employees decided that they wished to change the equipment they were using and made the necessary arrangements on their own without any knowledge or participation on my part.

Now, when we were faced with the need to separate this service from our firm, Movistar, informs me that the change in equipment, which was made without my knowledge or consent, obligated the firm to a minimum of 18 months additional service and now, if we wish to terminate the service, they will charge us rental for each of the incompleted months.

In short, in order to terminate any service, they require a written request from me, however, they do not require any written authorization to put into effect something that will increase our obligation to them.

I have the understanding that Movistar is not the only cellular phone company in Chile which is user "unfriendly", but it is the only one which I can cite from specific experience. From what I see, all companies spend enormous amounts on advertising promoting new and varied ways for you to spend your money, and they make it extremely easy to make these expenditures, but if you ever have a problem, or make a mistake, heaven help you.

Chile is reputed, among other LatinAmerican countries, as being one of the easiest and least bureaucratic countries to do business in, so I can only shudder to think about what kind of conditions consumers in other countries might face.

My point in writing this is to encourage readers, especially in Latin America, to read the fine print and ask a lot of "what if" questions when signing up for any kind of on going service. In North America, many services are regulated and controled by laws which tend to be friendly to consumers, but most of these laws have come into being because of abuses to which consumers were subjected.

So beware ... the next contract you sign may not have all the protection you might expect.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Are you willing to stand up and be counted?

I've recently decided to come out in the open and declare publically how I view the world.

Not that I've been particularly mute on the topic, but I've never made a declaration for all to see, as I have now.

I've decided to make it know to all who care about it, that I consider myself to be a World Citizen and, surprizingly to me, I agree with most of the principles which are described in the article: World citizen in Wikipedia.

Since the purpose of this blog is to publish thoughts to stimulate thinking, I'd encourage everyone who reads this to click on the Wikipedia link and explore the idea more.

I know that there are many people who don't, or won't, agree with me, but my objective is not to seek agreement, but rather to encouage you to think about these topics and to come to your own conclusions based on what you've discovered through your own experience and analysis, instead of just parroting ideas (such as patriotism, loyalty, nationalism, citizenship, etc.) which have been hammered into your consciousness ever since you were born.

After careful examination and thought you may decide to continue to believe in some of the things which you have been taught. If this is because you have examined the issues carefully I'd encourage you to keep those beliefs, but if you've never examined them, how do you know that they're right for you?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Am I being taken for a ride?

Some people might skoff and say I'm be played as a fool. I know that what I'm trying is unconventional, and I have my own doubts, but when you've been subjected to over 4 years of chronic suffering, sometimes you are prepared to try ANYTHING to eçsee if you can find relief.

Traditional medicine doesn't offer me any hope. Specialists tell me that I have a degenerated spine and that all I can do is accept the fact, take pain killers to control my discomfort and learn to live with the condition. Maybe there are some people who would accept this diagnosis and not try anything else, but to me that is about the same as rolling over and waiting for the grim reaper to make his appearance.

So, I've been receiving osteopathic treatments, bee stings, acupuncture and other non traditional procedures which seem to have aided. Now, I've been subjected to a new therapy in the quest to deal with my chronic back pain.

In simple terms, I was given a foot bath in a saline solution which had a low voltage electrical current running through it.

In 1/2 hour the color of the water changed from crystal clear to the color of dark apple juice, or strong urine.

Apparently this treatment is supposed to remove toxins from one's body through a dialysis process via the feet.

So far I can't claim any great benefits or noticable changes in my body, or health. All I did notice, and it was impressive was the change in color of the water.

Some people have reported considerable benefit from this. I am still somewhat skeptical, but if you're curious to learn more about the process you can find it described on the following web page:

Detox Online - How it Works - The Truth:.

How is this supposed to help my back. The theory is this:
My back is a reflection of problems in other part of my body because of the nerve endings in my spine. Pain there is a symptom of other problems.

The detoxification through my feet is supposed to help remove toxic waste which had accumulated in my body, including a quantity of heavy metals. As these toxins are removed other organs will recover and the pain which is being transmitted to my back will diminish and eventually disappear.

Why would I believe this? Well so far, other things, recommened by my Naturopath, such as bee-stings have helped, so I'm inclined to give this a try because he recommends it. Will it work? Only time and experience will tell but I'd rather try this instead of pumping my body full of drugs some of which may have disasterous side affects in spite of their having been "approved" by the FDA or other regulatory agencies which are supposed to look out for our well being but which seem to only help big pharmaceutical firms line their pockets.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Punning in Spanish

As far as I know puns are not as common in Spanish as they are in English. If anyone can provide evidence that I'm mistaken, I'd like to be corrected.
The first Spanish pun I can recall is the answer to "How many stars are in the sky?" Answer: "Sin cuenta", which sounds the same as "cinquenta". The first means, literally, "without count", while the latter is "50".

Since I am an inveterate punster I frequently find myself playing with Spanish words in a way that few hispanics seem to appreciate. Recently we had a scam in the area where people were sucked into purchasing tins of Nescafe which when the buyers opened them, they discovered they were filled with sawdust, which is not coffee, or in Spanish "No es cafe". This led me to invent the following lable which could have turned the scam product into something legitimate.

Parody of Nescafe

This is my creation, I grant anyone the right to reproduce this on the internet as long as there is a link back to this blog.