Thursday, December 29, 2016

Good Customer Service Brings me Back

“Kudos to Amazon.”

I’ve had some success dragging my wife into my fountain pen addiction — she now possesses two fountain pens. A low-priced Pilot is the newer of the two. I recently “found it” in a box of her “stuff” in the den. I remembered giving it to her quite some time ago. “Look, Hon, do you remember this?” I waved it at her.

“What’s that?”

“A pen.”

Clearly she didn’t remember. We filled it with ink and found it still wrote reasonably well. This gave her a collection of two fountain pens.

“I need a dual pen case, like yours,” she said, “to carry my pens in my purse. I have the felt bag for the Waterman, but never felt comfortable using it in my purse … and now I have two pens!”


This was our second Christmas and the first one at home after our dear friend Loretta died. We consciously changed some Christmas traditions.

We kept our spiritual traditions and our tradition of exchanging gifts.
( This is not big stuff; the fun is the passing out and opening of a large number of stocking-stuffer kind of gifts. “Is this my calendar, Mom?” and, “Where’s my religious gift this year?” capture the spirit. )

I remembered Ellie’s dual-pen case need when I began shopping, which wasn’t until early December. I shopped Amazon without fear of running out of time and found many pen cases. Single, dual, triple. A variety of colors and styles. I viewed some very nice single pen cases, but settled on a very nice leather dual pen case.

Ordered Pen Case
Amazon notified me it had been delivered. I snuck it past my wife’s eyes ( this was not difficult as we both know how to stay out of each other’s way around Christmas ) and took it to my office. I was excited to see it. I beheld a very nice pen case, genuine leather, nice color. For. a. single. pen.

I was crushed … annoyed … irked … then doubtful. “Did I order the wrong item?” I went to Amazon, reviewed my order: “dual pen case.” Not what I received.

I noticed a link, “Trouble with your order?”

Yes, exactly.” I clicked. Several new links, including “What I received is not what I ordered.”

Shipped Pen Case

Wow!” I clicked again.

A new email opened, addressed to the supplier, containing the order number and item description, with additional non-editable text: “This item is different from what I ordered. Please send me a replacement. If you want the original item back, please authorize a return and provide return shipping instructions.” There was also a box to add text if desired. I desired; I described the discrepancy and added, “This is to be a Christmas gift, so please send the correct item post-haste.” ( I saw no way this was going to be worked out by Christmas. )

Amazon marketplace responded nearly immediately, stating to contact them if I had not heard anything in two days. I heard the next day. “Wow.

“Are you able to send us a picture of the item received?”

A picture?” I was flabbergasted, enraged, outraged, but, finally, compliant.

Almost immediately, “Thank you for sending us the images. We do appreciate it.”

Two more days and I wrote again. Almost immediately, “We have contacted the manufacturer and we found out that the double pen case has been discontinued and that is why they just sent the single pen case instead.  We are not sure why the manufacturer did that and we are truly sorry.”

Then the money part, “We can go ahead and issue you a full refund back to your account”

Then the truly impressive part, “and you can keep what you have received.  Would that be ok?”

OK? Are you kidding me?” Given where we were, that was perfect.

I returned to Amazon, found a nice dual pen case with a promise of Christmas delivery ( in four days ), and received it two days before Christmas. Ellie now has need for another fountain pen, as she has three slots in nice pen cases and only two fountain pens.

Kudos to Amazon!

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Where do I Go from Here?

So I've decided to leave, but where will I go?

I've come up with five criteria.
  1. It has to be in the US.
  2. It can't have winters anything like what we experience here.
  3. I must have a good job with a good wage, coupled with a good cost of living.
  4. I have to like it there.
I'd like to retire abroad; maybe even do an early half retirement if I can get a job in the US that I can do from paradise.  But that's a long term goal.

And weather is one of my primary reasons for moving, so it wouldn't make sense to find another frozen wasteland to live in.  So we've already narrowed down the earth quite a bit; only the US, and only it's warmer parts.

I can't expect to make much more than I do now, so the cost of living can't be much higher, but that's easy to compare.  Job opportunities are a little harder.  I have a degree in computer support, and I should have eight years of experience by then.  I haven't looked for a job since I've made these developments in my life.  I expect I'm pretty employable in any city.  It's just a matter of finding a job I like that pays well.  It would give me a lot more leeway if I could get my CCNA by then.

Another thing to consider is, there are people with my job title at my company working completely remote.  It's not ideal for the company, but they have allowed it.  In fact, I'm positive that they would allow me to work remotely from a city with no company office if I had my CCNA.

Now where would I like to live?  I'll need to visit a few cities, but now is the time.  Starting this spring I'll have an extra week of vacation each year.  Not counting my planned vacation next month, I'll have 9 weeks of vacation between now and the time I'm planning to move.  If I can't find a place I'd rather live in that time, I should probably reevaluate moving.

There is already tentative talk about visiting my cousin in San Diego next January, and maybe heading down to Mexico for a day.  I've never been, and it's very close.  Neither of those fit my criteria, but Las Vegas is on the way, and that does.  It looks like I could fly there, then take a greyhound to San Diego for $25 once I've had my fill.

Las Vegas is actually the only city that has come to mind so far.  I don't mind the heat.  I'm a nocturnal person, and the city is very active at night, when it's cooler anyways.  The cost of living is great, and housing is literally 30% to 50% cheaper.  I listen to two podcasts out of Las Vegas every week, and it seems nice there.  They talk about interesting events and conventions all the time.  Taxes are low because they get most of their's from tourists in sales tax.

It seems silly to be thinking about all of this when my vacation to Costa Rica is so close, but it's just what's been on my mind.  The weather here has done a 180 since I started writing this, and it actually rained on Christmas Day.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Merry Christmas

I pray each and every one of you has a holy, joy-filled Christmas, and that 2017 brings many blessings and even more grace. I will return next week with a new post.
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Monday, December 19, 2016

I've Decided not to Stay

I remember the day I found out not everyone had to deal with 30 below, or 100 degree days.  I guess I kind of knew, but I had never really thought about it.  I remember asking my mother, "Why do we live here?"  She mumbled something about good schools.  It was a 100 degree day at the time, and she was in no mood for stupid questions.  A week ago I saw an internet meme that said, "The air hurts my face.  Why do I live somewhere... where the air hurts my face?"  It didn't sound like a dumb questions to me.

Yesterday morning I opened my hand because my fingers hurt from the tight fists I was making.  I looked at my palm and saw my 98° hand was smoking in the -20° air.  I instantly came to two realizations.  The first is that my new gloves are very comfortable, but obviously let too much of my body heat escape.  The second is that I'm not going to stay.

Since the weather is my biggest factor in leaving, I think it's safe to say I'll be leaving before a winter.  The question is, 'Which winter?'  Or a better question might be, 'How many more Minnesota winters for me?'  Three seems like overkill.  I don't think I need that much time to figure out what I want to do.  One seems doable, but I don't want to rush.  So two it is.  I'm planning to leave fall of 2019.

As for "where?", I do have some ideas, but that's another blog post.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Making a Difference

“Thanks, Walter, you’re the best.”

I have found my volunteer jobs at my home parish richly rewarding. One of them, my work as the “Pathways IT Person” ( as I like to bill it ) makes use of my enjoyment working on a computer.

Pathways provides a meal and a faith-based training event one evening a week; the target guests are people on the fringes. Topics include things such as Spirituality, Healthy Relationships, Health & Wellness, Problem-Solving, Budgeting and Personal Presentation. Each evening requires a minimum of five volunteers and we offer an event on forty-six Thursday evenings every year.

As the IT person, I maintain electronic records of attendance, who pledged to graduate and who actually graduated ( and when for both ), records of who is volunteering for which of the five volunteer positions for each event, and, with the senior leadership of the program, solicit volunteers now and again. I also make the six month schedule template which we use to both solicit volunteers and to document who volunteered.

To experience what they’re like, I attended a couple events. I enjoyed meeting people whose names I had seen on an attendance list and whose attendance I had documented in an Excel spreadsheet. I particularly enjoyed meeting a couple of the people who had long since graduated but who continue to come virtually weekly. Many of the guests who’ve graduated continue to come, clearly having established a community on these Thursday evenings. The average headcount is nineteen or so.

The guests frequently report that their pledge to graduate and then actually doing it is one of the first times they’ve committed to do something and then done it. ( Graduating means they’ve taken each of the ten events. ) Some report that one or another of the interactions that occurred was very meaningful to them. Some guests have gone from being homeless to having permanent shelter.

It is rewarding to know that I contribute to this process that touches many lives, often the lives of people who are on the down side of their luck. Let me be clear: my work touches none of them directly. My work, rather, is an integral part of the infrastructure that makes the program possible.

“Walter, let’s get the first half of 2017 template for Pathways out to the volunteers so people can begin checking their schedules and signing up.”

By the time I get an email like this, I should have the first half of 2017 schedule ready for assigning volunteers … that is, a bare schedule with dates, topics and the three off-evenings documented.

“Walter, I’d like to Host on 12/15, 1/12, 2/23 and 3/2. If these dates are still available, please let me know,” is typical of an email I might get.

I will check the schedule, put these requests on if the dates are open, and respond with a schedule snippet of the dates mentioned to show the request implemented in the schedule. If one or more of the dates is already filled, I will, of course, so say, show that in the schedule snippet, and suggest other open dates the volunteer might consider. And then I get a response, “Thanks, Walter; you’re the best!”

“Walter, Tom Brenson was at Pathways last night and asked how many events he needs to graduate. Oh, and did he pledge? He’s not at all sure he’s actually pledged,” is another less typical but not unheard of email.

The name will probably be familiar to me; I check the Attendance worksheet and determine the answers. I respond, “Tom has not pledged but he has attended all the events. To be eligible to graduate, all he needs do is pledge.”

It is nice to know that my work integrates well with the efforts of the other volunteers to put on a program that helps people who recognize the Basilica community as a caring community … a community clearly attempting to carry God’s love to everyone.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why You Should Join Facebook

If you haven't joined Facebook already, you should do so because... everyone else is doing it.

Seriously though, it's so popular that most people you know are already on it.  I'd like the standard to be neutral like email too, but it's not; it's Facebook.  And if you want to be where your friends and loved ones are, here it is.

Want to send me an email?  I'll get it, eventually.  90% of the email I get is of little interest to me, so I check it a couple of times a week.  Every message I see on Facebook is from someone I told them is a friend of mine.  I check it every day.

Oh, and do you have my email address?  If you don't, you need to get that to send me an email.  With Facebook you can search for someone's real name.  But you rarely need to.  Most people I know are already friends of other friends.  Once you connect with one, it's easy to connect to the rest.

Facebook messaging can be used like email, with long full length messages.  Or you can use it for brief back and fourth messages.  It keeps a feed of each conversation partner, or partners if you're having a group conversation.  And speaking of group conversations, it's a much easier way to make sure your participants are not crossing paths, and responding to older messages.

But the biggest reason to join is that people you care about are living their lives there.  People you don't see everyday will post updates.  They'll comment on other people's updates.  Thoughts, opinions, and events are happening that you wouldn't know about otherwise.