Friday, January 23, 2015

Surrender - the Surcharge Conquers

Today it was a course in Telecom Billing 401 - including calls to Cincinnati Bell Telephone and Verizon.  The complexity product choice and configuration has made billing (and customer understanding) next to impossible.  Part of this stems from the creative marketing and pricing of options to differentiate from competition.

(1) First let me blog boringly about the Cincinnati Bell one hour discussion.  Back in August when I ordered FiberOptics bundle, I was careful to understand "all the charges" including the fine print.  Almost like a 10 page legal contract, I carefully read back my understanding to the Rep and agreed upon monthly cost (gross and net).  Four billing cycles later (and three phone calls) they still were not correct on the bill.  My understanding (and past experience has told me to document every phone conversation - name of rep, time of day, and agreed upon numbers) was that my bundled TV, phone and Internet would be $145.36 per month (all in) excluding taxes.  In addition, I was to receive 10 months of $10 credit ($100) for account referral.

In the end Cincinnati Bell honored the commitment but the billing system had no hope of showing this easily.  Finally, the supervisor just decided to create a new order with promotion (good for one year) that would simplify the bill and actually delighted me in savings for a new monthly total of $113.69 excluding tax and ..... you guessed it fees.  You know those irritating fees that you think are trivial but find out in your first bill the are $8 - $10 [ 911 (phone), Universal Service Fund (phone), Carrier Subscription Charges (phone), Relay/TDD Service Surcharge (phone), Admin Recovery Fee (Long Distance) and Franchise Fees (TV).]

Stay tuned for the real "final answer" for what the monthly bill will be.

(2) Second was attempting to correct the billing snafu's of Verizon.  Two weekend's ago Ellen and I went to the Verizon store to get her a new phone.  This was complicated by the fact that I was transferring my "upgrade" to her.  Also I decided to use the upgrade for the tablet we had configured when Jenna had engineered a way to get Susan a new phone last March.  I give Verizon an "A" in creativity and flexibility on family combined plans.  But I give them a "D" on the ability to get the billing correct.  After two phone calls and a return visit to the store, I'm still not sure they have it correct.

I have just added an additional pet peeve (my first is the $35 activation charge) to my list of Verizon dislikes.  On the January bill I discovered a $43.87 sales tax charge on the full retail price of Ellen's new phone (even though we didn't pay the full retail) - 6.75% of $649.99.  This is another hidden way that Verizon surprises the customer with "add on" one time costs (like activation charges).

Of course Verizon has their own set of Surcharges also - Fed Universal Service Charge, Regulatory Charge, Administrative charge, OH Tax Recovery Surcharge, OH TRS Surcharge, OH Reg Fee, State/Local E911, and of course the normal Ohio and Hamilton County sales tax.  This adds to $18.34 per month on $233.20 (7.64%).

So what can be done about these "hidden" non trivial charges?  Absolutely nothing (other than complaining by blogging).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Stairway to Heaven

Today, at the Vistage check-in,  Al. S. asked us to be creative and choose any number to quantify our overall score for our personal and professional lives (vs our normal rating system from 0 - 10). 

On the flip chart Al inked what I thought was the infinity symbol (a flattened horizontal 8) for his number.  I quipped -  "It must be Al thinking about Heaven".  For me pondering infinity is like thinking about Heaven.

No - it wasn't infinity - it was his two dimensional picture of the Mobius Band.   I was embarrassed, as a Math major, to be unaware of the Mobius properties and equation (although Geometry was never my love in Math).  Al educated us about the unique properties of this band traveling the inside brings you to the outside without crossing an edge.  Wow - there are some deep philosophical things to relate to this point. 

Initially I thought maybe this was a great way to depict infinity in 3D - see the following pictures:

But - I'm not sure it works.  Needs further study ( a good 2015 project).

These looping visuals  put me in mind of M.C. Escher's artwork of the continuous stairway.

1953 Relativity

What about a Stairway to Heaven :)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Scoring Confusion

A discussion last night with S.S. revealed that the new Congress (starting with the House) is already making waves in the detail fine print of the revised rules.  The one that caught my attention is fiscal legislation will now use "dynamic scoring" (vs static) when scoring legislation.  

The major impact of changing rules (like scoring or accounting line items) is the misunderstood comparison of today's score with prior history scores (hence the word dynamic).  Measuring change becomes a moving target.  In the finance an accounting world, restating the past data for proper comparative purposes helps to "train" the uniformed rule audience about the change.

I'm not arguing for or against dynamic vs static scoring (this will be a fun project for a statistician like me to research).  However, I can be confident that changing the rules will create an infinite set of arguments for an against the new analysis ....  and confusion for all (especially the non-informed masses).

Monday, January 12, 2015

Thy Kingdom Come

The Sunday evening small fellowship group that meets at our house is studying "A Good and Beautiful Life" by James Bryan Smith.  It is the second in a series of three books he has written.  Last night's discussion was about the Kingdom of God - or in my view Heaven. 

Coincidentally that was the focus of the 2014 Wisner Christmas closing quote:  "A glimpse of Heaven is available to view - reflecting God, look around you".  My belief that there is Heaven on Earth that is available to each one of us.  My Vistage spotlight presentation (12/11/14) was focused on this point also.

Then as I was researching "Thy Kingdom Come", I stumbled upon this delightful video that does a great job of summarizing what I believe.  It's worth the 5 minute investment of your attention:

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Microsoft vs Google

Yesterday Ellen and I spent an hour at the Verizon store reviewing the family plan and upgrading Ellen's phone. I was amazed at the creativity of the Verizon Representative in sales and customer service. In addition to upgrading our plan to 10 gigabytes, I walked away with a Ellipsis 7 data tablet that I could use as an emergency hotspot at my office (a total gadget-aholic purchase!)

So this will begin the war between Google and Microsoft for my allegiance. The final decision will occur in June when my phone is available for an upgrade. Already, I'm impressed with the available apps and quality of the voice recognition which I'm using to compose this blog.

This mini tablet Ellipsis 7 could replace how I am using my Surface RT today. This proves that "it's all about the apps". 

Google is the early favorite.

Friday, January 9, 2015

DNA of the USA

For a least four years M.S.(mother-in-law) recommended watching Shark Tank and I ignored her suggestion.  Then I discover Jenna and Ellen watching it religiously about two years ago. I became more aware of the program when Cincinnati Tom and Chee (Shark Tank recipients) hosted Social Venture Partners Cincinnati's first "Fast Pitch" (February 2013) competition of Non-Profits. 

It was then I began to occasionally watch episodes with Jenna and Ellen (who were watching the older episodes on our DVR).  Sometime this year, I got hooked and began binge watching the nearly 30 episodes that were filling our the DVR capacity (CNBC syndication started in 2014).

It seems natural that I only discover (I like to believe it is proper vetting) the good shows after the fifth season.  But the reality is that CNBC's flooding the airwaves with promotion helped spark my interest also.

Shark Tank is now in its sixth season with over 100 shows and is in the top 50 programs watched with almost 8 million loyal viewers.

So now when Ellen and I watch (as we did tonight) episodes, I pause the DVR when the entrepreneurs make their offer ($225K for a 15% state) and ask Ellen to value the company.  It doesn't take too many episodes to understand  the Sharks thinking and standard questions - value, sales, trend, margin, competitive landscape, management capability/passion, market size, intellectual capital, product vs company, differentiators, branding, growth potential, and new by products.  What a great show to teach the 18-49 year olds about entrepreneurship.

There is a reason this show is so popular (and on a Friday night)!  It's in our genes - by "it" I mean entrepreneurism - the DNA of the USA.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Back again

I'm back to the blog -  and my back is the excuse.  Monday I came down with back problems and this may be a trend (Xmas of 2012 was a problem with trying to lift 55 gallon drums).  The culprit this year was moving furniture looking for lost keys.  Three days of pain, pain pills, and exercises (compliments of instructions from Susan and A.M. - the back ache experts).

31 million  Americans experience lower back pain at any given time from the ACA website ( a $50 billion dollar industry).  80% of the population will complain about back problems as sometime in their life.  If my memory is correct, I have been "down in the back" at least 8 times since my 40's.

So this is the kind of market size guys on Shark Tank would salivate about.  The trouble is there is no magic solution.  Age, diet (including being overweight), posture. bed, exercise. lifting, sitting, and even shoes are key variables in determining the amount of back problems you will experience (even smoking is an issue).  Someone once told me keeping a wallet in your back pocket will also contribute to back problems.

So what should a 30 year old do?  Back away from turning 40.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Holiday Winding Down

Traditional "tear down" of Xmas decorations arrives the weekend after New Years Holiday.  Today was an easy inside decision with pouring rain and foggy weather outside (outdoor decoration teardown deferred for now).  With help from Ellen (Jenna was absent this year working), the task was complete in 4 hours.

Think of the manpower of both putting up and tearing down Holiday decorations in the US only.  It would be in millions of person days.  Try to estimate just the home decoration effort - 100 million households and assume only 30% spend the time and effort of only 2-4 hours to decorate and put away.  That would be over 10 million person days. All for one day of celebration. 

Wow - what effort for a birthday party for a King.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Blogger's Resolution

If you have ever google something and found someone's personal blog, you usually discover about 2-3 years of entries.  The first year of blogging excitement with hundreds of entries.  Then as the years go - the middle years flatten out then the half life of blogging decline plummets.  The final year is a last gasp of sporadic, almost random entries as the blogger dies to silence.  And so it is with my blog:

2009 - 99 of 127 days (blog started 8/27/2009)    78%
2010 -  259 of 365 days   71%
2011 - 174 of 365 days   48% 
2012 - 206 of 365 days   56%
2013 - 181 of 365 days   49%
2014 -  93 of 365 days    25%

So with great intentions - my 2015 "Bloggers resolution" is to revive the "clicks of silence".

To blog or not to blog.....  that is the daily question.