Friday, September 23, 2011

New or Forgotten

"There is nothing new - except what is forgotten"  Rose Bertin

I found this quote in a book I am reading - "This Time is Different - Eight Centuries of Financial Folly" by Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff.  As the stock market goes down, and the politicians play their sound byte games, it is interesting to hear the talking heads try to put cause and effect to the randomness of our emotional investing behavior and then speculate on whether we are in a recession; is inflation coming; etc

I liked Newt Gingrich's humourous  repeat of Ronald Regan's quote in the Republican debate last night -  "When your brother-in-law is unemployed it is a recession;  when you're unemployed it is a depression;when Jimmy Carter is unemployed it is a recovery".

It is so easy to forget how one felt Sept. and Oct. 2008 when the financial calamity came to the stock market's attention.  That is why I have investment journals to remember the emotions of that time.  Is it different today three years later.

Hmm.....  "There is nothing new - except what is forgotten."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Gold Databytes

I hit the limit today (on data, patience and pocketbook).  My phone reads 2.101 GB (although with the hotspot plan I get an addtional 2GB).  And I hit my limit of what I am willing to pay for the gold databytes that travel through the air into my phone or computer.  I will be taking back the Motorola Droid Bionic and chalking this up to a lesson in speeds and data downloads. 

How a family of four can afford smartphones is a complete wonder to me.  In fact how businesses allow smartphone employee expenses is also a wonder to me.  I have spent literally a week analysing internet data speeds and costs and I have come to one conclusion -  too much money is being spent on internet access and usage.  And there are alot of people using free wi-fi access points to attempt to keep the internet access charges to a minimum.

Adding Ellen back in August to the cell phone monthly bill was a 2 yr and a minmum $1,200 decision (not including the Apps she will likely pay for over the two years).  The Droid experiment that is about to end would have been another $1,500 decision.  A quick way to commit yourself to a $3,000 "ball and chain" around your financial neck.  All for the gold of data flying through the sky - untethered by wires or wi-fi. 

Back in 1996 when I was consulting with telecommunication companies, we said in the future the average family would spend over $400/mth in telephone, cable, internet, and other content. 

That future is here and the number is now greater than $400/mth and growing. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011


It's all about APPs - (short for Applications- for the technology dinosaurs out there). 

Today was a day of searching around for Apps for the smartphone.  New things to do with a phone. But once the novelty wears off and the demonstrations to other dumb phone users ceases (everyone who just gets a smart phone - like you R.M.  - is so enthused they want to show all the Apps they just discovered), I wonder if it just becomes a phone, text and email device?

So I discovered that Nielsen has been monitoring us. 

The 7th most used App (26%) is the "Adv. Task Killer Free".   Hmm -  we all want to kill tasks!

If you look carefully at the uses - it's all about social media (connecting by text vs voice), voyeurism (You Tube, Twitter, etc.), listening to music, directions (maps), and weather.

Nothing has changed - we want to find a cafe on a warm day - listen to music, sip on a drink with a friend and watch people walk by.  Except both people have their smartphones out with their eyes and fingers glued to the screen.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bionic Phones

Yesterday - in a weak moment (and spontaneous purchase decision), I removed my dinosaur telephony status and entered the world of smart phones - Yes I have a Motorola Droid Bionic with a Hot Spot Data plan. 

I have 14 days to "test" my satisfaction with it's use and should I return it (which is a possibility) there is a $35 restocking fee.  That is a small price to pay for a $1,500 spur of the moment decision ($299 for the phone with $50/mth for the next 24 months). 

While you can do an extreme amount of analysis (which I am prone to do) the best test will be actual use.  The next 10 days will be a good test. My test criteria are:

(1) Do I still need unlimited data capability? Sprint's (Grandfathered) 3G unlimited data plan at $60/mth)
(2) Is the Hot Spot as convenient and easy as a tethered Sprint USB device?
(3) Is the network (for data) of Verizon as good or better than Sprint's network at my office?
(4) Is there any quality issue (data or voice) with a simultaneous phone call with web surfing
(5) Are the speeds of 4G worth the price?
(6) Will I be happy with the ergonomics and quality of the voice handset?
(7) How is the battery life?
(8) Does it fit my need for easy scheduling and contact data?
(9) How well does it synchronize to my laptop tools?

Stay tuned for as series of blogs on the "smart world" of the new Bionic phone.

P.S.  Can smart people still have "dumb" phones?
         Can smart phones be used by "dumb" people?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Auditing Bills

My computer background of system testing at Accenture was training and planted the seed of trying to understand the detail bills I receive from providers.  Today, I decided to look over the Verizon Wireless bill that I received this month.  It was a complicated month because of adding Ellen's iphone (which included a data plan) to the family plan. 

The first revelation was the percent we pay for taxes and surcharges (beyond the monthly plan quoted).  For my last two bill it averaged over 10%  (10.5% and 10.8%).  WOW - that caused me to go into "auditing action".  The 10% consists of Verizon surcharges and governmental taxes.  Of course I can't change sales tax (as much as I would like to) which is 6.5% - but what about the remaining 4%?

Verizon has their classic answer to this question on the web site with the ultimate out :
Please note that these are Verizon Wireless charges, not taxes that we are required  [I love that point "required " - required by whom] to collect from you. These charges, and what's included, are subject to change from time to time.
But where are these charges defined and how am I sure they are calculated correctly?   Off to my phone to call the Verizon Wireless Customer Service (which is a very long story and addendum blog).  After two reps and two supervisors, I could get no detail answer on how some of these charges are calculated.  There are no less than six of these charges - some per line, and some based on some percentage that varies by zipcode. 

What I did discover that was unique to this bill is that Ellen's monthly fee was being prorated (for the 22 days of the partial month) but the surcharges were not.  After intense discussion and me training the supervisors - we concluded that I deserved $0.63 credit (8 days of the monthly surcharge overbilled plus tax). 

So are there any benefits of spending time to audit to this level of detail?  This time it was only $0.63  (the refinance mortgage closing audit resolution ended up being $175) - but you never know unless you take the time to understand what you are really paying for. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Waiting in Line

Today the line was long waiting to pay for my coffee.  I could tell my irritation was building.  I could see the stressful feeling of the cashier.  Should I just leave in protest - go across the street to Starbucks, skip the morning coffee or wait with escalating impatience and irritation?

"Impatience is selfishness with time" so says Max Lucado in his book Max on Life.  Somehow time and the pressure of it leaving us tick by tick creates an intense feeling of not wanting to waste it.  However we have the ability to control every second - every tick tock.  There are plenty of alternative uses of the time while waiting in line -  a short meditation; observing others; recalling blessings;  reviewing the "to do" list; the list goes on and on.

Or just being less "selfish" about the time can release the stress and irritation.  Afterall as Mother always said - "You are just hurting yourself ......"    Letting time create pressure only shortens your life - and interesting paradox. 

The more selfish you are about your time - the less time you have.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sounds Around - or Surround

When P.H. (Vistage Bud) handed me the Phil Collin's concert DVDs, I asked the question "What's the better audio - Digital Dolby or DTS?"  I had been wondering this ever since I purchased and installed my Sony Home Theater (HT-IS1000) system several years ago.  I had just never gotten around to do the research. 

Now that I have moved the Sony KDS 50A2000 SDRX  TV downstairs (awaiting a new 3-D TV upstairs), I had to reconnect the 50 wires to my complicated HD-DVD; Playstation; VCR/DVD Combo; and Time Warner DVR set tops and Sony Surround Sound Headphones.  But what to use for sound when not using the headphones. Since I had an old Samsung DVD/Surround Sound System, I decided to use it downstairs. 

Hours of complicated troubleshooting - optical digital cables with three way switch; wireless rear speakers; menu settings on all set-top boxes  - it takes a virtual audio/video technician now days to configure the components together compatiably. 

Add to that the complication of wondering if HDMI cables with the different certifications were causing the lack of digital audio sound coming from the TV (after all the Best Buy Rep informed me that 3-D video requires HDMI 1.4 compatible cables).

I do enjoy all this complication.  It is like a puzzle - and attempting to get to the perfect audio environment.  It reminds me of the early days of talking to my Dad about stereophonic sound and 3 head recording.  It amazes me how we continue to strive to get recorded sounds to perfectly match what we hear naturally with our ears.

Sounds good!

P.S.  The anwser to Dolby vs DTS?
"In other words, you need a thoroughly refined home theater audio playback setup to bring out the subtle difference in sound quality between these two formats."

Saturday, September 10, 2011

G-G-G or W-W-W

This morning Susan and I discussed non-profits and 501(c) 3 organizations. She is on the Board (Treasurer) of Emmaus and is also acting as a part time CFO for the Civic Garden Center. We were discussing the necessity of tax returns (990's) and external audits. I mentioned that churches have different rules - but didn't know the specifics. In fact when I was the Chair of Finance at Armstrong Methodist we had no external audit.

I remarked that Susan is a great Board member on Emmaus - as a Board member and Treasurer the money increases vs decreases.  It reminds me of P.F. of SVP Cincinnati's quote to me about the role of a Board member - G-G-G   "Give, Get or Get Off".   When I mentioned this in a breakout session at the International Social Venture Partner Convention in Long Beach last year, the facilitator rebutted -  I prefer W-W-W for describing Board members - "Work, Wealth and Wisdom".

Lately I have come to some conclusions that non-profits have weak (VERY WEAK) boards.  Alan Proctor highlights this in his book "Linking Mission to Money".  He was an excellent speaker to our SVP Partner group and we need to have him come back to Cincinnati and speak again.       

So make sure one of the W's on your Board is not WEAK!!!! -  Otherwise use the G - Get them off!

Thursday, September 8, 2011


At the Vistage meeting today, A.S. mentioned in his "3 Year Plan" he wanted the three C's.  To stay Current, Curious and Carefrontational.

Staying Current (especially with technology) is not an easy task.  It requires plenty of reading, listening, networking, and interpersonal training.  An open mind, and energy to take on new tasks are two attributes that are needed.

Curiousity takes energy and time also.  The willingness to take risk outside your comfort zone.  I'm not suggesting that it is prying or meddlesome - rather I suggest that curiousity is being interested and willing to learn about an area that may not be in any of your present fields of interest.

Finally - Carefrontation is a word that I learned from A.S. when I first joined Vistage.  It was one of the principles we use in the interaction of our group.  The caring style of confronting an individual with feedback and observations.  Not advice - per se - but opinion based on the background and knowledge of what you know about the person. 

Today's message hit a C-chord with me.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Heaven Board Entry #3

I'm predicting entry #3 on my heaven board 10 years from now. It will be the three apple trees that appeared in our backyard yesterday.  It required some "hounding" of Susan who felt that planting them was just creating a "deer magnet".  I assured her that with Fitch and Bella there would be two diligent sentries to protect the trees. 

Yet last night I put an extra layer of protection up by hanging bars of Irish Spring soap.  Add to that the chicken wire arount the trunk, and deer repellant mixture on the ground - it is almost a complete failsafe and redundant set of systems to keep the deer away. 

Why Heaven board #3?  Fruit trees remind me of many of the places I have lived.  The beauty of seeing them blossom in the spring. Eating apples from the tree in the fall.  And the magic number three will remind me now of Susan, Jenna and Ellen.

So it will be important to me that these trees grow long and prosper.  And I can now feel like Johnny Appleseed.

5/15/2017 Update:   Sadly the middle tree died in the Winter of 2016 but to keep with tradition, I added two new trees - after all Jenna and Paul getting married in May will be a new relationship mix in the Wisner Family Orchard.  

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Delighting the Customer

What a refreshing call to Cincinnati Bell Telephone.  When I called at 11:09 there were long wait times so I was given the option to be called back within 25 minutes - which I took.  At 12:14 (oops they had missed the window), I was called back only to be put on hold for about 45 seconds.  It is these little things that escalate the irritation of the customer. 

Elizabeth came on the phone asking me my full name and we began the discussion.  I told her that I felt $10 credit for three months was my expectation or that I would be considering discontinuing service.  She acknowledged that my file was full of repair notes and that this had been going on for quite a while (I mentioned to her since March 2010). 

Now here is how you turn irritation into "delight".  Elizabeth said she would be crediting my account $35 AND discounting my internet bill to $20/mth for the next year or until the service is completely fixed.  WOW!!  was my response.  I asked her how long she had worked at Cincinnati Bell - she said two years.  Not only am I impressed with her customer service style (listening, asking if service was meeting my expectations now, and acknowledgement of my issue), I am impressed with CBT's policy to let a 2 year rep make the customer service judgement and dollar authorization of $215 ($35 credit and $15/mth for 12 mths).

And it avoided the potential disconnect of the wireline.  Just last night Jenna and I were trying to convince Susan to eliminate our wireline service and use an extra Verizon wireless phone at home. Susan was wavering and if this call had not gone well, I would have eliminated all CBT service.

And how many people will hear this story-  as many that will listen or read a blog.  Well done Cincinnati Bell.

Addendum -  I forgot mention why I was so impressed with Elizabeth.  After my delight, I mentioned to Elizabeth that I was anxiously awaiting Fiberoptics to my house so I could get higher speeds and cable content. However that I knew because of the low density that my house would be the last in Cincinnati connected.  She responded that if I got a bunch of my neighbors together and communictated this to Cincinnati Bell that there might be a chance that the service would be come faster to my community.  WOW - not only delighting the customer by attempting to sell more Cincinnati Bell service and loyalty.  I'm double-ly impressed.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Buying Invisible Speed

September must be my pet peeve blogging month.  And note Pet Peeve blogs are long and boring! - Unless you have the same problem and gripe.

Today's gripe is about internet service (and may even be a duplicate blog see On Hell Hold 3/16/2010).  I currently have Cincinnati Bell DSL service (and have since 1996 as one of the first subscribers).  I have experienced the service in three locations and have many stories.  At my present location, there are line problems after a heavy rain and after troubleshooting on the phone for hours, I have found after the weather dries - the problem goes away.

Lately, however, the problem has been different with slow speeds and complete disconnects/outages - again only to remedy itself with time.  The basic problem with paying $35/mth for internet service is that we are "buying invisible speed".  I am paying for a certain speed limit but never know if I am going that fast.

Example:  Cincinnati Bell offers "speed limit" plans for "UP TO" download and upload bytes per second:    $25 for 769Kbps; $35 for 5Mbps; $40 for 10Mbps (Fioptics); $50 for 20Mbps; $60 for 30Mbps; $100 for 50Mbps; and $300 for 100Mbps.  I haven't listed the upload speeds but this could be important for certain users.

The up to provides an "out" for Cincinnati Bell and their slow speeds,   Yesterday as I awaited a technician to arrive (after wasting hours the night before on the phone with a rep),  I played with two sites to measure my speed - Zoomtown Speed Test  and Ping Test.   The results showed that I was crawling along  at 127Kbps and a Ping Test line quality of "D" - (8% Packet loss; 79ms Ping; 55ms Jitter). 

By the time the technician arrived (at last minute of the 12-4pm reservation window), my speeds were testing 4.36Mbps and a Ping Test line quality of "B" (0% Packet loss; 43ms Ping; 11ms Jitter).  As I described my frustration to the technician, he acknowledged the intermitent speed issue and said they have been working on it and may ultimately lay fiber to the switch to aleviate the variable quality of speed issue.  "Please bear with us and Thank you for the business."

Well - time is up.  I will call customer service and ask for a $10 rebate for 2-3 months.  And if that is not provided - I will switch to Time Warner.  Stay tuned for the result.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Contracts vs Expectations

No matter how many times one get's burned on the fine print, it can happen again and again (no matter how old or how often you get scammed).   The triple witching hour hit last night as I spent too much time messing with contracts. 

First - the HUD settlement statement for the refinance loan that Susan and I are closing on today.
Second - the 2 year contract I entered into for Direct TV - and the resulting impact of cancelling the 2 yr Price Lock Guarantee with Time Warner.
Third - the 2 year agreement that I now have with Verizon after Ellen acquired her i-phone.

(1)  Guardian Saving Bank states on their web site that refinance costs are $250 (with some fine print about recording fees, credit score and LTV dependency).  My out of pocket - $740+!  There will be some $#%^&@ to pay at the closing today!

(2)  The Cable and Direct TV guys are in hot competition to steal and retain customers (the benefits of capitalism).  I price locked Time Warner in July 2010 for 2 years.  Tuesday the Direct TV salesperson in Sams Club convinced me to switch and lock into their 2 yr contract.  Trust me the common man's head would spin in the complexity of answering the question - did I really save any money and/or get better services.  I'm still trying to complete the analysis.

(3)  When I added Ellen to our Verizon plan with the i-phone, I established the time clock on a 2 yr agreement with all kinds of penalty clauses (that I really didn't read).  I'm sure not paying attention to the fine print on this one will "burn" me as I update my phone and when Jenna updates her phone.

The hard lessons of life are when you discover your expectations were unrealistic to what you signed - because you didn't spend the time to read the fine print.  Always be prepared for the customer service rep to say "Did you read what you signed when you ......."