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10 Aug

I bought a blouse pattern recently from Hot Patterns.  I’d heard great things about their patterns, and decided that I would try the Classix Nouveau Peasant Blouse.  It looked like a simple, straightforward kind of blouse.  Most importantly, it looked like one that I could get on and off easily without help.

Now sewing may seem like an odd choice for someone who is disabled enough that I choose clothing for its easy on/off abilities.  The reality is that I have lost almost everything that I dearly love in terms of hobbies due to the same disability.  Everything is now the abridged version, if I can do it at all.  None of it can be done without someone helping me through some of the process.  For an independent person, that’s nearly torture.

I waited over four years before even trying to sew.  I was terrified it was going to be another thing that I could not do, and not trying meant I didn’t have to face another barrier that was not going to vanish.  Finally though, I gathered up my nerve and tried.

I can sew, but I have some serious limits that mean that everything takes a lot more time than recommended, and is far slower than my previous abilities would have allowed me to complete things.  A two hour project now typically takes at least two days.  There is no such thing as quick and easy anymore.

I discovered that regular scissors were hopeless.  Too much reaching, too much hand movement, and it resulted in too much pain and frustration.  Special scissors, approved for arthritis patients, made things easier.  Electric shears, which I had used before, require too much arm movement and work more quickly than I dare go with an arm that sometimes has its own agenda, unrelated to the rest of me.  Greg is also willing to help me with anything I am trying to do.  It’s likely much easier to help rather than deal with me during a total melt down.

I have a fantastic sewing machine that nearly sews things for you.  It has little vibration and rarely misbehaves. So with that running, I can get to work.  For 5-10 minutes, or about enough time to do one seam.  Then, it’s break time.  It’s aggravating to someone who likes to just finish something now, but I’ve had time to adjust.  I only get mildly annoyed at this continual interruption that being me mean I have to have.  The payoff of facing that mild annoyance is the ability to create something without excessive pain resulting.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment that I can rarely have independently anymore.

So, without focusing on the restrictions that my disabilities have foisted upon me, I can now tell you about the pattern I am attempting to sew.

I’ve learned a lot.  First of all, if you want to use Hot Patterns patterns, you had best have internet access or else enough experience that you really don’t need written directions.  They have great tutorials on YouTube and they are also on their website, but the directions aren’t written for someone who prefers to see it written down in black and white.  Okay, I’ll suffer through trying to watch a video and then translate it to what I’m doing on the table and sewing machine.  I am not sure I like that though—it’s a pain to have to go back to the tutorial and then try to find the spot, say for the neck, and replay that portion.  I also am one of those people that do not do well with being told how to do something, but rather I prefer to read how to do something.  I was told long ago that it is a learning style, and I need to see it clearly rather than hear it.  Until now, that had never been a problem with learning how to put a particular pattern together.

The other thing I learned about Hot Pattern is that I should watch the tutorial for a pattern before I buy it.  The blouse I bought is put together differently than I am accustomed to, and it hasn’t been easy.  That may not be their fault, but rather the old rut thing—doing something differently is probably good for me, but like many other people, I sometimes get into ruts of wanting to do it exactly the same.  Nothing about this pattern has been the same.

Including the measurements.

The pattern is multi-sized, and I took my measurements (with help even) and then re-took my measurements, just to be sure.  As I checked my size, I told myself it was high time to get a bit more serious about weight loss than I have been, as the size I was going to require was two sizes larger than my usual off-the-rack size.  That’s not uncommon with patterns—they don’t use the same sizing as clothing manufacturers do.  I think it’s part of a global conspiracy to further erode the confidence of women and ensure they remain ambiguous about their personal body image.

But body image aside, I laid out the pattern pieces, cut out the cloth, and proceeded to start putting this blouse together out of some cheap fabric I had bought out of a clearance bin.  It’s not pretty fabric—it’s a rather bleah medium brown with small white dots.  It certainly isn’t a slimming or fun print, but it didn’t require pattern matching or fussing a I was cutting it out.  I felt like I was sewing a tent together.  Not only was the construction method different than the patterns I’d sewn in the past, but it seemed huge.

I felt like I was literally making a tent.

Finally, I reached a point where I could try on the garment, though it was far from finished.  Greg laughed.

It was quite obvious that I had been sewing a personal tent.  The garment was big enough that Greg and I could both wear it.  At the same time.

There is a reason Hot Patterns advocates making a “muslin” (test garment out of cheap fabric with a similar hand to the planned garment).  Maybe it is because their sizing chart isn’t very accurate?

So, I was now faced with a choice.  I could rip out the seams, cut the pattern pieces down two sizes, and resew it.

That’s a lot of work.  I also can’t really see the thread I sewed with (dark brown) to make ripping it out very easy.  Greg does a lot of stuff for me, but did I really want to ask him to rip out all of those seams?  I thought about the problem for a bit.  Then, I thought about the oversized “blouse” in a cotton fabric.

It would make a great over-blouse to wear in cooler weather.  It’s practically a painter’s smock in its original design, with a simple shape, raglan sleeves, and an open v-neck.  Add a couple of spacious patch pockets, and I’ve got a great top to wear while doing things and wanting an additional layer, plus it’s already sized to wear over clothing.

Am I just rationalizing my laziness?

Maybe.

So I’ll make it two sizes smaller in more cheap fabric.  That’s okay.  It seems likely that it will be easier to sew after the first one.  I also know that making these test garments is good practice anyhow.  Nothing is more disappointing than using expensive fabric only to have it be ill fitting or make an error in construction.  Not all fabrics are forgiving of having seams ripped out either.

I’ll finish the garment—it has three steps left now before I’ll be snipping off the last stray thread tails and deeming it done.  Unless I add the pockets, which will be relatively easy to do.  I think I will add them—and sizing one just to fit my Kindle.

I’ll call it my indoor jacket for when I want an additional layer, but not an actual coat.  It will go great over a t-shirt, as well as being something easy to pop on to go to the mailbox or make a store run too.  Yep, definitely a case of rationalizing going on here!

 

Notice: Don’t forget–this blog is being moved to www.exogenynetwork.com very soon.  During August, posts are being made in both locations.

Customer service?

27 Jul

Almost all big stores, especially with chains, are going to have a customer service desk.

Well, that’s what they call it anyhow.  They really should call it the customer annoyance counter.

Why is customer service so hard?  Why is it so hard for companies to find employees that will honestly try to do their jobs to the best of their abilities while remaining courteous to customers?

I have a few ideas on the subject.

The first is that good old bottom line.  Most companies are not particularly concerned about the quality of employee they hire and retain, but rather how cheaply they can hire and retain someone that does what they are told.  Even retention of employees isn’t a huge concern for most companies anymore–it’s cheaper to rehire than retain, especially if there is a possibility of having to pay for benefits or retirement somewhere down the road.

Employees who really try to do their job are even apt to be penalized for doing so.  We’ve all seen articles about employees who did a good deed of some kind while at work, ones that didn’t cost their employers a penny, and yet they were terminated for some technicality.  Many of us have been the employee who was taken advantage of repeatedly by unethical co-workers and employers because we did try to do our jobs well, only to end up missing out on promotions, overworked to the point of burn out, failed to get promised raises, or had some other less-than-wonderful result from our hard work.  Immediate supervisors will often even deliver disciplinary action or termination as a result of trying too hard, simply because it makes other employees or the supervisor themselves look bad.

Corporations may have a lot of power in the political world, but they are also incredibly powerful in everyday life.  Everyone either works for one or is forced to do business with these large corporations because of the monopolies they have in many areas of our live in America.  Telephone, natural gas, cable television & internet providers, and electric companies are all privileged to have monopolies in most communities.    Other companies have apparently coordinated their needs with their so-called competitors, resulting in contracts that prevent customers from terminating service with them for a prescribed length of time, typically from 12-36 months.  In these situations, the corporations have very little motivation to try and please their current customers.  After all, if they don’t like the service or the customer service, what can the customer do about it?

Manufacturing companies have moved many of their production facilities overseas for cheaper labor and fewer regulations, and quality control seems to have become random in how stringent it is.  Companies that were once known for high quality products no longer can boast of that same quality.  Unfortunately, they have also often moved their customer service centers overseas too.

Then, the American consumer is inflicted with a customer service representative that may not understand their particular dialect of American English, and it is just as likely that the customer is going to have a great deal of difficulty understanding the representative’s  version of English.  A number of people have claimed (unverified by me) that these representatives are judged by how often they have “successfully resolved” the customer complaints, and that disconnecting the call is one way to successfully resolve the issue.  I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that with certain companies, disconnections are frequent as soon as it is apparent that the issue is not going to be resolved easily or if the customer asks to speak with a supervisor.

Even with American based customer service call centers, there is the “wrong department” issue.  It’s always that you have called the wrong department and then you will have to be transferred.  These transfers usually occur after an extended wait time for a human to begin with.  (I’ve waited as long as an hour.)  Then, without a number to skip the wrong department and go to where you are supposed to call, you end up disconnected.  How many hours do you want to spend on the telephone to get a warranty replacement of a $50 small appliance?

For businesses, the latest buzz has all been how to use social media to engage their customer base.  It’s gotten to the point of more annoyance than engagement, however, as they follow some plan dreamed up by a guy who didn’t shop there to begin with.  Do you really want to “like” that company or follow them on Pinterest to enter that contest or get that coupon?  The end result is that customers feel like they are being coerced, and it does little to endear the company or product with their potential customers, especially if they are using the current customer disservice model that most seem to be using.

So what is the real reason that companies no longer bother with good quality customer service?

It still boils down to that bottom line, folks.  It’s the fault of the consumer.

Accepting crappy customer service from any company, whether they have a monopoly  or not is allowing their bottom line to show that they don’t have to supply customer service.

So what can you do?

Complain.  Loudly.  Repeatedly.

  • Use the normal channels, whether it is a call to their call center or via their website.  Don’t scream or use profanity-that’s always counter productive and provides a good reason for your call to not be taken seriously.  Don’t use threats either.
  • Use promises.  Promise that you will never, ever shut up about how unhappy you are!
  • Record the calls.  If you get an exceptionally bad one, post it to YouTube. Keep the calls on file–you may need them later.
  • Write down names, phone numbers, dates and times.  It’s a great reference as your complaining becomes more prolific too.
  • If you are a blogger, blog about it.  Even years after I tossed my Tassimo machine, I still get hits daily on my experience with their crappy customer service.  It’s a great way to spread the word.
  • Review the product everywhere you can, including the customer service experience.  Many retailers will accept reviews on products even if you did not purchase it from them, such as Amazon and Walmart.  If you are reviewing the retailer or service provider, post those reviews anywhere and everywhere you can find as well.  Sure, it takes time, but what else do you have to do while you are sitting on hold?  I actually put my phone on speaker and then I can type with both hands.
  • Got Face Book? Twitter? Pinterest?  Speak up.  Tell everyone about your experience.  They may not be shopping for that item or service or company now, but they will remember what you said about them later too.  You may be surprised at how quickly someone from the company in question makes contact with you as well.  They may try and resolve the situation, which will make you happier than if you are ignored.  Some corporations often ignore social media complaints (yes, I’m talking about you,  Tassimo, Microsoft & Comcast!)  Smarter companies do monitor social media to engage dissatisfied customers and attempt to improve the customer service experience.
  • Post reviews to review sites such as Viewpoints.com as well.  For local companies and services, there are sites such as Yelp, Angie’s List (they require membership with a substantial fee,) Yahoo, etc.   Even lawyers, dentists, doctors, and medical facilities are reviewed!
  • Write the company an email.  Often, the corporate office is separated enough from customer service that they may not be aware of the type of experience you have endured.  Typically, the corporate website will have a “contact” tab at the bottom of the page.  Some have it in a bar at the top as well.  Be polite and explain the problem(s) clearly, along with your customer service experience, using dates, times, and names when possible.  Don’t forget to add what you expect the company to do to resolve your complaint as part of the letter.  Be reasonable with your expectations!

On the flip side of that coin is the excellent customer service experience.  When you have one of these, be just as vocal about your compliments, and use the same venues that you would use for complaints to voice your positive experience.   I had a terrible experience with Overstock.com once, and complained about it via Twitter.  Their representative on Twitter contacted me, we resolved the situation, and since then, I have enjoyed great customer service as usual with Overstock and would not hesitate to purchase from them again.  I also love shopping with Zappos.com and Penderys.com for the same reason–they provide good, dependable customer service.  I wish my representative and senators to Washington were as responsive to me as they are!

Expect reasonable and efficient customer service to be delivered with courtesy, and when you don’t get it–do something about it.  Do not ever accept it as just the price of doing business because it is not.  Make companies accountable!  That’s your job as a consumer!

Where’s the owner’s manual???

25 Jul

Being grandma is supposed to be just the fun stuff, right?

Turns out there is a clause in the contract.  It has been brought to my attention that grandmas are supposed to have answers when things aren’t going right.

Like when your darling grandchild misbehaves and keeps missing the boat that is delivering the message of why people are upset and they are in trouble.

Where is the owner’s manual???

I’ve always found owner’s manuals to be a wealth of information, but where the hell is this kid’s owner’s manual? It turns out that just like when her mother was born, there is none.

Each kid is different, even with the same parents, same household, and same everything else.  It is compounded by some unknown number when it’s a grandchild.  I have no real idea what happens when I’m not around, and everything from parents’ relationship to daily routines affect how a child behaves and misbehaves.

Good lord, how can I be expected to have answers to an unknown problem?

That’s the other unknown perk to being a grandparent.  You are supposed to have answers and give advice, but ONLY upon request.  Deliver it before that request, and you are a know-it-all, interfering busybody.

Oh, and there is another rule…

Never, ever say “I told you so.”

You will not win points.  You will not get $200, and you definitely won’t get past “Go home now.”

So what are my answers to the problem?

Suggested alternative punishments, suggested speeches (ones I already know will fall on deaf 3 year old ears, btw!) and perseverance.  What else could I offer?

I’d just had three days with the little darling, which had come to an end with a 4 a.m. wake up call,  breakfast being catapulted off of a fork, continual whining about when we were leaving to go home, and the last shred of my patience.  It had then been crowned with demands for presents and soda pop, along with trying to banish me after her demands got denied.  Endearing? Nope, not even to a doting grandma.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love her, spoiled brat moments and all.  And she was acting like a totally spoiled brat.  I was frustrated with her utter refusal to straighten up and fly right.  Nothing seemed to get the message through that her behavior was not cute, nor was it appreciated by mom or grandma.

But on the way home, I stopped at a flea market, and instead of buying a switch or a time out chair, I bought a “Hello Kitty” necklace for her.  (She’s a huge Hello Kitty fan for some reason, but I have no idea why.  Does this character even have a cartoon?)  It’s got beads in her favorite color: purple.

I have it, but she may not get it for a while.  Just like I have several toys for her that she hasn’t gotten yet.  I like spoiling her, but I do not want her to think of me as the lady with the unending presents for her.  I don’t even believe in saving things for special occasions and I don’t shower her with the gifts.  She’s had a lot of gifts lately, and I’m withholding now for a bit.

Is it fair? Since life isn’t fair in general, I’m not worried about fair.  She is my one and only grandchild and yes, I do spoil her, but within reason.  She’s developed an attitude of entitlement over the past few weeks for some reason, even though I’m innocent of delivering anything to her in that time frame other than a skirt that I made for her.  That took about three weeks from fabric selection (she picked it out) to delivered finished ready-to-wear skirt.  (I am also slow to get projects done due to the limited amount of time I can work on them in each session.)

I’m going to make the other two skirts that I had planned for her, but I’m afraid she’s going to find that grandma doesn’t deliver a lot over the next few weeks, whether it is Hello Kitty, My Little Pony, Disney princesses, OR Minnie Mouse!

Birthday freebie!

12 Apr

Next weekend is my birthday.  Specifically, the 19th is.  So, while I’m keeping my mouth closed about my age, like any lady older than 21 tends to do, I am letting everyone know that I’m celebrating by giving away books.

Lots of books, I hope!

To start with, there are two books being given away.  (See Gulf Coast Foods blog to see which ones.  It’s right here!)  I’m writing about a totally different book here, even though you don’t have to choose which one you want.  You can get them all, and there are no strings attached.

They are Kindle books, however.  That doesn’t mean you are only given the option of Kindle–they are also available in paperback from Amazon.com.  You don’t have to have a Kindle either–there are free apps to let you read Kindle books on a variety of devices. (It’s right here.)

So what is the mysterious book being given away for my birthday?

It’s Freak Files: The Unexplained Tales.  It’s a collection of tales that were told to me or experienced by me, and are all from real life experiences.  Normally, it retails for $2.99 in Kindle format and $6.99 in print format, with less than 100 pages.  I hope you enjoy it, and that you leave a review!

So mark your calendar and remember, the book is free on April 19th and 20th.  (Yes, that includes Easter Sunday!) Enjoy the book, and thank you for your support of my writing efforts.

Freak Files 09 15 2013

Cell phones

23 Feb

Cell phones, those amazing little gadgets we’ve all become so dependent on, to the point that many of us no longer have a traditional land-line based telephone in our homes.

They are also something we’ve begun to get increasingly aggravated with, as carriers lock us into long term contracts with high financial penalties if we attempt to cancel the contracts for any reason.  Those contracts can look very attractive initially, but as time moves forward, and our lives change, they often become increasingly unwieldy monkeys riding on our backs.

Especially in the economy that has plagued us the last five years.

Faced with shifting fortunes, rising costs, and shrinking incomes, many people are desperate to reduce their monthly expenses, to get them to the point that their outgoing bills are less than their income.  That’s something our government isn’t very good at, not only for themselves, but for their constituents.  Corporations, however, seemed to have perfected the art of extracting blood from turnips.

With your cell phone carrier, they often have you over a barrel.  You can’t afford the monthly expense, but you certainly can’t afford the cancellation fee, or the negative notation on your credit history.  There aren’t a lot of options available, especially when you desperately need that cell phone, whether because it’s your sole connection with the outside world, or because you are searching for a job.

There are a few things, especially when faced with a temporary financial crunch, as well as some other things you can do to prevent being caught in the contract bind, while not causing undue financial hardship.

First, resist the urge to “upgrade” your phone at a reduced initial cost and renewing your contract.  This is where the cell phone companies are dangling a carrot out there, intending to keep you on THEIR treadmill.  Resist the temptation, and either continue using your old cell phone or buy another outright.  To keep costs down, you can often buy a used phone via Ebay or other outlets.  Do your research, make sure that the make and model is compatible with your carrier, as well as has some kind of guarantee from the seller that it will arrive in good condition.  You’ll still have to pay an activation fee.

If you don’t actually need a smart phone, skip the trend, stick with a basic function phone, which often can be used on a smaller data package.  These smaller plans without large data packages can save $10 or more per month, which can quickly add up.

Don’t add lines.  Each line comes with an additional contract, usually 24 months long.  If you have a need for additional phones, consider a prepaid option instead.  Then, if it turns out that it’s not needed anymore, you aren’t faced with an unnecessary bill.

If you are locked into a contract situation, and desperately need to cut your bills, there are a few options available.  Check to see if you can change the plan itself without altering your contract.  This option exists with many cell phone companies, and by switching to a basic phone with fewer bells and whistles, you can often cut your plan as much as a hundred dollars a  month.  Don’t cut it so short that you end up going over your limits however, overages are very expensive with many companies.

There is also the option of “suspending” your contract temporarily, usually up to 3 months.  This may have a monthly service charge, but it will allow you time to get your finances under control.

If you are not locked into a contract, you may want to explore other options, even if your finances and job situation looks bright and cheery.  By avoiding the contracts, you are free to explore other options as they become available, without having to wait.  That means everything from the latest iPhone to the different packages available.  It also means that if you are suddenly offered the perfect job in some exotic location, you won’t be biting off a chunk of that “early termination fee.”  Numerous companies offer prepaid plans, some even have iPhones and other smart phones available, complete with unlimited data and minute plans.  Straight Talk, available through Walmart, is one of them.  It is also serviced by the Big Three in cell phone providers: AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon, depending on your location.  If you move and your old phone isn’t served in the new area, the problem is solved by simply purchasing another phone, and you are never stuck with a two year contract that leaves all of the cards in the cell phone company’s hands.

Contracts, ranging from one to three years, have become the bane of the consumer’s life.  They are everywhere, increasingly restrictive, designed to reduce competition for our dollars for years at a time, and ultimately reducing the level of service we manage to choke out of the various corporations.  Once you are locked into their services, its virtually impossible to change suppliers, no matter how terrible their service becomes.  It’s not a good trend, especially in a world that has increasing numbers of monopolies to which the consumers are becoming enslaved.

We don’t really have a choice about our electric, natural gas, water, cable, or land based telephone service, yet these companies want to often lock us into contracts to continue receiving their services, and leave the consumer with early termination fees if they decide to move out of their service area.  Cell phone companies do the same thing, using the carrot of reduced cost cell phones to entice customers to their two year enslavement.

To make it even worse, a cell phone is locked to a specific carrier, preventing the consumer from going to another carrier and acquiring service for that phone.  That means even if you aren’t locked into a contract and have a $500 cell phone, you have to buy their service, or buy another cell phone.  Is this really fair?  After all, you bought the cell phone, not leased it.  The cost was not subsidized by the cell phone company.

Something has to be done about all of these corporate monopolies with their abilities to turn us into their indentured serfs for years at a time.  In the meantime, the only way we can avoid that trap ourselves is to carefully read the fine print, avoid contracts with penalties for early termination, and learn to pay as we go.  Prepaid cell phones are one option, and unlike the early days when their fees were outrageously high, they have become increasingly competitive.  Today, Straight Talk, one of the larger prepaid companies, is part of TracFone, and it is marketed through Walmart.  Their unlimited voice and data plans are $45 per month, with no contract and no penalties if you don’t like it, but you do have to purchase the phone, which range in cost from about $19 to nearly $500, depending on features, models, and brands.  Their customers seem to be about equally as satisfied as those who are paying $110 or more for the same service with a contract.

So what does a person really get with the additional $65?

You get a two  year contract, and a reduced price on your phone, plus a $35 activation fee.  That means that at $110 per month, you will pay an extra $1595 for that cell phone in lieu of just purchasing it and going with a cheaper prepaid plan.  Outside of that, there is little difference between companies.  Sure, there is “tech support” with your contract phone, but have you ever used it?  Did it offer you any help?

There’s another reason to consider the no-contract phone.  In the case of a Straight Talk phone, Walmart offers a protection plan that includes water & humidity damage, and costs from $6 on up, depending on the initial cost of your phone.  With most companies, the “insurance” on your phone is about $7 per month, and in the event of water or humidity damage, the replacement can cost you $100 or more, as well as has to be mailed to you anyhow.  With Walmart’s protection plan, there is apparently no deductible on the phone, which means that the difference (in 2 years) can be over $160 per month for better coverage.

Then there are the hidden charges on contract cell phone service, all of those mysterious taxes and service fees that really will surprise you, as they approach increasing the price 20-25% per month.  Without the contract, the fees are included, providing you with a manageable price per month that can be adapted to  your budget.

Sure, there are no “discounts” on the phones initially.  They have to be paid for, along with shipping (if you don’t pick it up in the store) and taxes.  But…in the first two years alone, assuming you don’t damage the phone or get a huge desire to have the latest iPhone or smart phone, you will save $1757, minus the cost of your phone.  Even the phone’s cost may not be as high as you think–it isn’t uncommon for the phone from the carrier to cost $100-300 more than your “discount”, leaving you with a big bill.  The same phone or a similar phone with similar features, may be available from a no-contract program at roughly the same price.

The no contract phones are also an excellent idea for parents with a child acquiring their first cell phone, a teen with a new cell phone, or even a college student’s cell phone needs.  It means no surprise overages resulting in bill shock.  An inexpensive phone for calls and simple texting can be a solution for a child, who is more likely to lose or damage a phone.  (Loss is not part of the coverage from Walmart’s protection plan.)  If a cell phone is lost, there are also no worries that there will be calls to Dubai and Hong Kong suddenly appearing on your bill either.  These cheap cell phones can also be considered a temporary or “throw away” solution to a short term cell phone need–if an additional phone is needed during an emergency or travel.  They also offer international plans, handy if calling out of the country, as well as plans for 3 months, 6 months, or a full  year.  Imagine trying to pay a year in advance on your contract phone!

I’ve talked to customers that have used Straight Talk, and they are generally happy with the service they have received, whether it was their first cell phone or a replacement for the contract cell phone.  I also know people with a number of other carriers, including Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and C-Spire.  The ones with other carriers are usually not as happy, and often are chafing at the bit for their contract to end, whether for financial reasons or because another company offers a desirable service or phone that is not available with their current carrier.  Sometimes it is due to relocation, and the service available in their new area is not as good as it was in the old area, leaving them paying for substandard reception or perks such as a local store that repairs their phone.

With a no-contract service, you are still free to choose to use a traditional contracted service at any time, if it turns out that you aren’t happy with it.  The sole complaint that I have noticed with no-contract services is number portability–it can be expensive, not available, or a pain.  If this is not an issue, one way to test the waters is to buy an inexpensive phone from one of the companies and try it before terminating your contract.

The phones can be served by one of three carriers, and not all carriers are available in all areas, and even in the areas that they are available, they may not offer the same type of reception.  There are also many issues with both 3G and 4G service, especially in small towns and rural areas.  Read reviews, find out which phones are served by the company that offers the best service for your area, as well as the areas in which you frequently travel.  In my case, I know that Verizon does not service the area in which my daughter lives, and therefore, I would not consider using Verizon as a contract carrier OR via a prepaid program.  Unfortunately, both AT&T and Sprint have spotty coverage throughout the rural areas of my home state, so either one could also leave me without a signal while traveling elsewhere.  That problem is true for most of us in the United States–no carrier provides complete coverage anywhere.

In addition to prepaid plans from companies like TracFone, the cell phone companies often offer a prepaid plan.  Unfortunately, they often don’t let you use the same phone that you may have used with their contract service, requiring you to purchase a different phone (at full price, with limited choices.)  Even with that, for many people, their services may be a better option.

Avoid the contracts when possible, and keep your independence and freedom of choice–it’s the best choice for your financial future as well.  Never set yourself up to end up with a big bill by adding friends or relatives to  your contract service unless you truly are independently wealthy.  Instead, opt for the no-contract version, even if you purchase the phone and plan, you will protect yourself from unexpectedly large bills in the future.

Write your representatives and senators, asking them to offer the consumer relief from these unwieldy contracts that favor the corporations, as well as to legally unlock cell phones and make them able to work with any carrier, and removing the monopolies that plague us all.  It’s high time that corporations began being accountable for their services, rather than able to rape the consumer with high rates, poor service, and long contracts with large penalties.

Marijuana, medical uses, and the pharmaceutical industry

29 Mar

Marijuana isn’t a legal substance to grow or possess in much of the United States.  Some states have legalized its medical use, but continue to face issues with the federal government disregarding their state laws.  In Mississippi, where I currently live, it is definitely not a legal substance.

In talking to various friends and acquaintances lately in regards to long term pain management, the differences between states became blatantly apparent in regards to the use of marijuana for this purpose.  Using it for pain management is in some ways far different than using it for recreational reasons.  Many people who had never experimented with it in their “younger days” use it in their middle age for pain management.  Even those who have used it for recreational reasons tell me that the type of  marijuana available in “medical grade” is far different from the street version, as well as more expensive.

The reasons people have for not supporting the legalization of marijuana are all things that they believe to be true.  But, when you really look at the reason, is it really true?

One reason is that people believe that many doctors will frivolously pass out prescriptions for marijuana.  This is true, otherwise we wouldn’t have any doctors ever disciplined for their prescribing habits through state medical boards.  On the other hand, is it really so common that it is going to be a wide spread problem?  How does frivolous marijuana prescriptions compare to the other types of frivolously prescribed medication compare?  I don’t think that it is going to be as big of a problem as many people fear, mostly because of the restrictions that are placed on when and where marijuana is used by the patient.  These typically are things like not using it before driving or while in a motor vehicle, not in public, etc.   Possessing it ceases to be a crime with the prescription, which allows them to take it with them while traveling, have it in their home, etc.

Other people believe that it will result in widespread addiction to marijuana.  Marijuana isn’t an addictive substance, this has been well documented in scientific research.  It is, however, like almost everything on earth, potentially psychologically addictive.  It’s a lot less addictive than most prescription painkillers, as well as having far fewer side effects.

Others fear that it will increase the number of people who use it as a recreational drug.  There isn’t anything to support this, and many people who currently indulge in marijuana use may stop using it entirely because of the loss of the thrill of escaping detection.  For those that already use it as a recreational drug, buying it through a legal source would mean that it is taxed, increasing revenue for local, state and federal programs of all kinds, from education to road construction.

Others believe that it is going to increase crime.  In reality, this has been proven incorrect by American history.  The Prohibition Era saw the rise of organized crime to unprecedented levels as the sale of alcohol funded their entire organization.  The same thing is true today with marijuana and other drugs.  By removing marijuana from their product offerings, we are removing one of their biggest income sources and turning it into a legitimate crop that both large and small farmers can raise and market legally.  These farmers, processing companies, and even marketing companies will then employ more people, pay more taxes, and help fuel a stagnating economy with a product that is legally produced and sold.  It is highly doubtful that we’ll see a sudden arrival of “marijuana booths” in local farmer’s markets any more than we see “tobacco booths” today, for largely the same reasons.

Others regard legalizing marijuana as tantamount to admitting defeat in the “War on Drugs” as marijuana has always been regarded as a drug.  Whether we admit defeat or not, it’s blatantly obvious that our “War on Drugs” has been a dismal failure as organized criminal gangs continue their home invasions, robberies, murders, assassinations, and kidnappings along the Mexican border, on both sides of that border.  Once again, by removing one of their primary sources of income, we will succeed in making business more difficult for them to conduct.  Besides, wouldn’t it be nice to have another legal “Made in America” product, in this case, raised in America product?

Marijuana production, especially for the medical trade, is perfectly suited to the small family farm as well, since it is a much more labor intensive crop than raising most current agricultural crops.  It would also yield higher profits per acre, making the family farm a profitable enterprise, and saving the family farms from extinction in the current climate of agribusiness and corporate farms.  Saving the family farm would preserve the same family values that our entire country was founded on, rather than destroying them, which is what many people’s fears of the legalization of marijuana are.    Creating more jobs in rural areas where it is produced by locating the plants to process and package the marijuana for sale would also help preserve this same traditional family value concept, as rural areas are always struggling to keep jobs and their economies alive.

People are not going to become marijuana addicts just because it is legal to buy, possess and use marijuana any more than everyone over 21 is an alcoholic or smokes tobacco, both of which are legal and have far more known side effects to their use than marijuana does.  Far fewer people, according to current research, are likely to become belligerent, aggressive, or violent when using marijuana when compared to using alcohol.  While most research indicates that marijuana does not contain carcinogens, even if it does, it contains far fewer than tobacco does, and tobacco is also addictive.

So why IS there so much opposition to the legalizing of marijuana?

I believe that the Big Pharma companies are one of the sources behind it.  If a simple solution such as marijuana use, which can also be grown at home by the patient and easily processed into the usable form without a laboratory, pharmaceutical companies will lose a substantial portion of their current giant-sized income on the sale and marketing of prescription pain killers and the drugs that are used to counteract their side effects.

These giant corporations can lobby Congress and state legislatures in opposition of the legalization process.  It’s simply good business to them, while thousands of people are left in a position to use other solutions to long term pain management, nausea, etc. that make them even more money while providing less effective relief and more side effects for the patient. It’s the same lobbying effect that makes herbal and wholistic treatment of medical conditions difficult, if not impossible, as these entities lean on the FDA for more regulations each year.  What better way to ensure that your company makes more money than by eliminating the competition from the scenario?

These same companies prey on the public, turning the issue from a  simple herbal solution to a loud protest about the idea, encouraging their opposition.  They paint pictures of derelict addicts neglecting their children, spouses, and jobs to smoke one joint after another.  They encourage the vision of drivers killing people because they are “high” on marijuana.  They lead the public to believe that every doctor will be on the street, hawking their prescriptions for marijuana like it’s the latest edition of the newspaper.

The complete legalizing of marijuana would move it from the jail house evidence room to liquor stores, where it would be available in a variety of brands and varieties.  There, it would be sold in packages of twenty like cigarettes with a hefty tax, just like cigarettes and alcohol.  Sure, some times, it might be your mechanic, co-worker, or doctor that buys a package to take home on a Friday night, and they may smoke the entire package over the weekend too.  But what does that mean on Monday when they come to work again?

It means a lot less than working with someone that has spent the weekend drinking currently legal alcohol.  There is no ‘hangover’ effect from marijuana, another research proven fact.  That means that they aren’t going to be inattentive and suffering from a headache and nausea.  They are less likely to call in “sick” to work on Monday, as well as less likely to make an error while on the job as a result of their weekend’s recreation.  Once the “high” effect of marijuana wears off, that is all that results from the previous use of alcohol.  There is also research indicating that it has far fewer long term effects than even occasional alcohol use.

So what does this mean for me personally?

Not a whole lot, other than advocating the legalization of marijuana.  It isn’t legal in Mississippi where I live, and I do believe in obeying the law.  I don’t know if it would be something that would work for me in terms of medical pain management or not.  I don’t really have an interest in using it recreationally, but I also don’t drink alcohol very often.  I personally don’t see it becoming something that is in widespread use by other people in terms of recreation either, although many people may buy a package just to see what it was all about, smoke one or two, and leave them on the shelf until the dust gathers on them.  I would far rather have my car repaired or see a doctor that used marijuana rather than one that was recovering from a weekend party.

What do you think?  Do you see marijuana as the downfall of our society, a good source of tax money, a potential “cash crop” or something else?

Investment or expense?

1 Feb

Once upon a time, a good employee was regarded as an asset.  Training, stability, pay, and benefits were all considered to be investments in a company’s future, for no company is any better than its poorest employee.  A solid team of workers ensured that a business ran smoothly and accomplished its goals.  A worker was expected to be loyal, and companies preferred workers that stayed for their entire career.  In return, companies were loyal, and worked to ensure that their employees were well compensated for their labor and loyalty.  That’s also how they attracted and held those desirable employees too.

Then there was a change in the business world.  Employees became mere expenses.  No longer were they regarded as an investment, but rather a necessary evil.  They were replaced like paper cups, and regarded to have about as much importance.  Employees no longer felt loyalty to their employers either.

We saw a lot of other changes happen too.  Product quality deteriorated, customer service became a joke, and jobs were outsourced to foreign countries.  Not only were the people employed now disposable, so were the products and services they were paid to deliver.

How many companies have any real customer loyalty these days?  How many have CEOs who make many hundreds times the wages and benefits paid to workers?  How does this compare to past eras worker wages versus executive wages?

Once, it was common for a worker to spend twenty or more years working for the same employer.  Today, the average worker has three different CAREERS during their working life.  That’s not just changing employers, that’s leaving a field entirely!  Many companies have a long established policy to discourage workers from staying beyond the ten year mark and even more discourage/prevent employees from staying long enough to retire.  Few employers are actually concerned about employee well being beyond the bottom line in the accounting office either.

It seems that Scrooge has taken over the business world, and maybe the recent economic woes are the visits of the ghosts of the past, present, and future.  It might be time for all of the “Bob Cratchetts” of the world to take notice and start voting with their dollars too, few they may be.

There ARE a few companies out there who try to attract, hold, and even retire the best employees.  Granted, not many of them are major manufacturers of anything.  Some are mom and pop shops, some are small retailers and distributors, but whatever they are…it’s a quarter past time to start supporting the businesses that deliver, both in terms of their employees and in terms of services/products.

It’s simple.  Happy, contented workers deliver better work.  That means that they care about their jobs, they care about the tasks they are assigned to do, and want to do the best job possible, each and every day.  Yes, it’s partly about the money, but it is also more than that.  It’s about knowing that your efforts are appreciated, that your needs are considered, and that at the end of the day, you have a name.  It’s about silly things like a birthday cake in the lunch room on your birthday, about the  boss dropping by when you have an open house when you buy your first home, it’s about someone playing Santa Claus for the kids at the company Christmas party.  It’s about realizing that those employees are not automated machines that deliver on demand, but people with real lives, problems, joys, and sorrows…and accepting them.

It’s also about employees being encouraged to give their best each and every day too, about how to improve their job performance with training and education, about how much more valuable an employee is after a decade of work.  It’s about not calling in sick because you drank too much over the weekend or want to go skiing with your buddies too, because not showing up means  your coworker has to do your job for the day.  It’s about caring about your job performance, because it’s more than just a job to get a paycheck because you get a lot more than just the paycheck from the job.  You get appreciation, respect, consideration, camaraderie, satisfaction, health care, dental care, vision care, child care, education, training, physical fitness…and you like it.

We hear all the fussing about Obamacare, about the health care industry crisis, about the economy, about our lack of a manufacturing base, about how everything is being outsourced, but what are we doing about it?

When I was a child, vacations were a big deal.  Most employers offered health insurance.  There were sick days.  And, you could buy American made products.  Yeah, we didn’t have as much “stuff” and it cost more to buy what we had, but it lasted…a long time.  It worked.  When it broke, it could be fixed.  Warranties were worth more than merely being a piece of paper.

Today, if it breaks, we throw it out.  Warranties require consumers to jump through hoops and beg and plead with some foreign customer service agent.  Our products are made in countries we can’t even find on a globe half the time.  Technical support, even from American based companies, requires us to be able to decipher thick accents and dense mindsets to understand what we are trying to convey to them…as they sit in a foreign country that doesn’t have the same worker protection as American laws provide.

We have products we don’t want shoved down our throats, and can’t buy things we want to and used to be able to legally purchase.  The economy is going down the tubes, unemployment plagues most regions, and consumers are pinching each and every penny.  We’re looking at an election year, and the candidates are causing national disgust and aggravation at the choices between rocks and hard places.  The Occupy Movement is losing steam, due to a lack of leadership and centralized spokesman.

We know there is a growing problem with the so-called middle class.  It’s poorer than ever, and increasingly unable to maintain the status quo.  Owning a home is a dream that has been shattered for many people.  The richer have grown richer but the middle class is sliding further towards poverty than ever before.  We look at our politicians and realize that they are coming from the uppermost reaches of economic class in the United States.  How can we honestly expect any of them to actually represent Middle America?

It’s time to start voting with  your dollars.  Buy from companies that support their employees and communities, and boycott those who merely skim off the cream to pay their CEOs and shareholders, with no regard for the environment, the economy, the community, or their employees.  Demand customer service, and don’t stop demanding it when it becomes a bit inconvenient.  Start demanding better representation for Middle America from the politicians who have made representing us their career too, and vote out of office those who fail to hear their constituents.  Change doesn’t happen by merely waiting for it to happen unless you want the weather to change!