Tuesday October 2, 2012

The sad extent to which AT&T does not have their act together

AT&T envelope

It’s time to check in with AT&T. Last year, I needed to call technical support for their DSL service, which powers the internet at my work. The internet was down, so I pulled up their website on my iPhone to get their number. I’d encourage you to try — just try — to find a phone number on their website. You click a tiny “Contact Us” link in the footer or in a submenu of the main navigation. This takes you through a series of pages where you’re expected to answer a number of questions before they’ll give you a number, but the interface of the pages proved to not be navigable on the phone.

So I dug through my files, looking for a phone number for them, and eventually finding one. Turned out to be an old number for AT&T web hosting(?), but I dialed it anyway. The person on the other end was super nice, and tho he couldn’t help me, he gave me the number for AT&T DSL. Called that number, and got another super nice person. Gave her my DSL phone number, but she couldn’t find my account. After a bit of investigation she realized that I was calling from Florida.

HER: Oh, that’s why … you’re on Bellsouth!
ME: Bellsouth? You guys bought them years ago.
HER: Yes, but they’re still a separate department within the organization. Let me give you the number for them …

At that point I was thrust into an excruciating multi-day attempt to get them to even acknowledge that I was authorized to inform them that our service wasn’t working, but that’s a story for another day. I’ve always suspected that AT&T’s purchase of Bellsouth was mainly a talend aquisition for incompetence, and now I’ve got proof. Remember the insane Valentines Day mailer advert? Well, the same marketing folks are alive and well, and doing their work for AT&T. Above is an envelope I got recently. No mention of AT&T anywhere on the outside. Just my address in a bogus handwriting font, and a faux “real” stamp. Here’s what’s inside:

AT&T advertisement

A single fake-photocopied page, with fake pen annotations from a fake “neighbor.” I would like to believe that AT&T is having fun here, and that they expect us to be in on the joke. But on reflection it seems unlikely, which is depressing. AT&T is actually targeting the segment of people gulliable enough to fall for this. I don’t know who that would be, but it speaks to a pretty deep level of cynycism.

Now let me tell you what happened when I tried to order my iPhone. I attempted to log into Apple’s order page with my AT&T phone number. It asks you for the last 4 of your social, and when I punched them in it didn’t authenticate me, and I was stuck going through AT&T’s website. Logged in, checked my eligability (it incorrectly listed me as ineligable for an upgrade for over a week, but was resolved by last Monday, which is when this all started), and tried to order the phone. When I get to the shipping page, it tells me that it can only ship to my billing address. No way to change it.

This is straight out of 1999, before every other online retailer realized that most people actually have an actual job, and simultaneously do not want FedEx dropping things like iPhones in front of their door to sit there until they get home in the evening. That’s the first call to AT&T, which goes like this. First, you get a stern warning admonishing you to not text and drive. Second, you’re asked to punch in the number you’re calling about. Second, you verify the last 4 of your social. And boom: I’m out. I can’t get a human. I try hitting 0, but no dice.

Switchboard-Telephone-Operators A trip to Get Human reveals the trick: just keep hitting 0 through the repeated prompts to enter your phone number, and eventually you’ll get a human. (Which works. But take note: if you put in your phone number, but the last 4 digits of your social don’t match what they have on file, you can’t get a human. Play at home and see if you can figure it out why the last 4 of my social security number doesn’t match what they have on file for my account. Or just stay tuned: the answer will be revealed before this is all over.)

The human turned out to be super nice, and because of surplus staff brought in for the initial crush of iPhone orders I got her on almost immediately. She changed the primary address on my account to my work address, and promised to change it back a few days later. I thank her and log back into the site, where sure enough I can now order my phone. There’s something I don’t understand about having to change my data plan (and which may come back and bite me later) and I’m on my way, confirmation page printed to PDF. Off to bed.

The next day I check my email, and there is no confirmation or anything. I log back into the website, and it shows me as still eligable for an upgrade. What the hell? Is it really going to let me order and iPhone like I didn’t just order one last night? Yup, sure it does. A second confirmation page printed to PDF. I call. Texting and driving admonishment. Tap zeros. Get human. The human tells me, believe it or not, that she can’t access the system because it’s being reset (?!?) and that she’ll have to call me back. (This might be the point to remind you that AT&T has been dealing with the yearly influx of orders since 2007.)

AT&TThey don’t call back (or I missed the call) and I try again the next day. Texting and driving admonishment. Tap zeros. Get human, who has absolutely no idea what might have happened. She suggests I check to see if my credit card was charged. Nope, it hasn’t been charged either time. Believe it or not I’m condensing this story, but suffice it to say that I called a half dozen times total. I’m not sure if neither of the orders were really processed and I would never have gotten a phone, or if somehow they both were processed and I would have gotten two phones, both at the subsidized price (or maybe free?), but eventually one of the humans I spoke with went into the backend and canceled one of the orders, and a single charge appeared on my credit card.

As of yesterday there was still no confirmation of an order though, either in my email or in my account on AT&T’s website. Being that even best case scenario I don’t get my phone until the end of October, I want to be damned sure there’s an order in there, which I guess means yet another phone call.

Texting and driving admonishment. Tap zeros. Get human. Just for fun, this time they can’t find anything about my order. Did I place this order online? Why yes, I did. Well then, I have to talk to the online department, which is a different phone number. I’m so beat down at this point that I don’t ask why everyone else I’ve talked to at this number could pull up my order. I hang up and call the number for online, and I’m not shocked at all when they can’t pull up my record. Oh, that order is through “Premiere.” I have to call Premiere, which is (you guessed it) a different phone number. At this point I have to go full Dave Barry on you and swear on a stack of Huffington Post Guides to Blogging (Amazon Affiliate link!) that I am not making this up. I read the nice person on the other end both my order numbers (It’s worth pointing out that for every single one of these phone calls I got a person with zero hold time, after just mashing on the 0 key on my phone for a bit, and they were all super helpful. It’s a testemant to AT&T’s profit margins that they can overstaff their call centers so lavishly, and a further indictement of literally every other thing about this process.) and sure enough, one is canceled and the other is processed. I suddenly think to ask why neither their system nor Apple’s recognized the last 4 of my social. Here’s why: my grilfriend and I recently got on a family plan (true love!) and since she’s the primary person on the account … you guessed it: the secret formula is my phone number, last 4 of HER social. I’m not baffled at all about why AT&T wouldn’t do something as simple as changing their phone prompt to specify the last 4 of digits of the primary accountholder’s social. After all, they’re powered by that old-school Bellsouth incompetence.


Friday September 28, 2012

Dragonboat weekend





Wednesday September 26, 2012

Norman Brothers Produce

norman brothers produce

If you should find yourself down in Kendall, there’s a nifty little produce market that you should check out. Norman Brothers is sort of a cross between a Fresh Market and Trader Joe’s (coming to Miami!), but it’s a one-off, family owned place, so it’s got a unique and funky flavor. Right at the entrance there’s a bunch of green ceramic grills for sale. I just snapped a few pictures as I checked it out a few weeks ago:



Tuesday September 25, 2012

The November 6th ballot: part 1: state constitutional amendments

i voted today sticker The good news is that you people are all going to vote this November. You have strong feelings about whether Obama or Romney would make a better president, and it looks like Florida will be the tie breaker.

The bad news is that the ballot will be a doozie. The ballot contents document, with the various questions for each of the municipalities, runs to 100 pages(!), the ballot itself will be 5 pages long, front and back. It’s the longest ballot on record. And remember what these things look like when you get into the voting booth:

sample ballot

One day we’ll get into just printing separate ballots for English, Spanish, and Kreole speakers, and it’ll be a happy day for printing budgets and voter sanity. But for now, there it is, and all we can do is prepare. Let’s look at the proposed state constitution amendments. There are 12. Let’s see how many we can get through in one morning. I’m going to give you the text of the amendment, and tell you how you should vote. Don’t scroll down, you’ll just get dizzy with how much of this there is. Feel free to not read the amendments themselves (because they are HORRIBLE) and you’ll be through it in no time. And by the way, I’m dipping into the Collins Center’s summaries and comments and the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting’s awesome trove of info. Ready? Let’s get busy:

For the love of god click the link and at least scroll through these:



Friday September 21, 2012

Beer snob weekend

beer snob





Thursday September 20, 2012

Optic Nerve 14 at MoCA

Joshua Hagler, The Evangelists

Music videos have given us thirty years of experimental short-form visual imagery. Films have given us a century of innovative narrarative approaches, with non-linear plotlines, surreal imagery, and a host of other effects. And television has spent almost as long feeding us easily digestible morsels of instant visual gratification. Video art has got it tough — it occupies the same screens as these other media, but it must set itself apart, must elevate itself from all of them. And it must do it while occupying the same screens, and in almost all cases with a fraction of the budget. More recently video art has had to contend with YouTube, which allows literally any jerk with a laptop to experiment with time-based visual imagery. Every piece of video art must answer the question before the discussion of its quality even begins: Why is this not a feature film? Why is this not a music video? Why is this not a television program? Why is this not YouTube piffle?

It’s a wonder how often it succeeds. The genre has produced a stream of works that re-imagine what a moving image can mean, and how it can interact with physical space. There is cross pollination between video art and the traditional video forms, but semantically video art has managed to maintain the same distinction between itself and “everything else” that is essential to all contemporary art.

Optic Nerve 14 contained, among much else: Cara Despain’s Timbre, a surreal stop-motion piece set inside a cardboard box and involving the clay heads of two creatures; Bill Fontana’s Acoustical Visions of the Golden Gate Bridge, a three-minute still-cam shot of the underside of the bridge, with car and boat horn sounds; an excerpt from Joshua Hagler’s stunning The Evangelists, in which four computer-enhanced disembodied heads discuss a mysterious religious event (arson on their apartment building, as it turns out); Yuliya Lanina’s Dodo Valse, a beautifully painted, folkloric-themed animation; Liz Rodda’s Cut, in which CG women’s muscles grow as far as the software slider will allow them to grow; Juan Carlos Saldivar’s Shift, a mini-movie with live-actors covered with paper-mache masks; Carmen Tiffany’s The Accident, a grotesque jumble of homemeade pupets in absurdist conversation and other video rift-raft; Dodrigo Valenzuela’s Diamond Box, black and white interviews of, perhaps, Mexican immigrants, each filmed so that you hear their voice as you see their unmoving face; Doug Garth Williams’ Back and Forth, a bit of clever green-screen trickery; and two YouTube style supercuts: one of all the bits of a Bill Cosby where he’s not talking, one of “The End” title cards from the end of movies.

This is the sort of variety that every edition of Optic Nerve brings. And yet the event feels remarkably consistent from year to year. The overall quality of the 15 or so videos, culled from hundreds of submissions, is always remarkable. Each is 5 minutes or less, so the viewer doesn’t get bogged down. And screening video art this way, rather than encountered on a small monitor in a gallery, makes for a compelling experience. MoCA’s no-thrills auditorium is the wrong shape for video screenings, and the production values are not exactly top notch. (This year: audio problems, and a visible computer pointer hitting the play and pause buttons and adjusting volume during the screening.) But the experience is enough like a movie theater to force the viewer’s attention the way a cinematic film does, despite the disparity of the work.

Bonnie Clearwater was shrewd to include the warped perspective of Carlos Rigau on the selection panel for this year. The man is absurdly smart about video art, and I pictured him fighting for inclusion of pieces like The Evangelists and Cut.

For years, Optic Nerve was a fleeting and elusive event: one screening, with an interested audience far beyond its capacity. But it’s improved: the program will be screened again at the De La Cruz space on October 13th. (It will also travel to the Big Screen Plaza in New York City.) Maybe next year MoCA will do a week-long run, which would allow for reviews like this to reach audiences and give them time to react, and would allow people to see it at their leisure, at the expense of some of the special-occasion-ness. We can also hope that MoCA will see fit to add text from the program to the event’s web page for archival purposes.

But mostly we should be grateful that Optic Nerve exists. Since it’s open to submission by anyone, it casts a wide net. It’s exposed several artists who have gone on to great things. And it’s helped raise awareness of video as art, and make the argument for its ongoing vitality (not as foregone conclusion as we might like to think: video was largely diminished in presence at last year’s Art Basel).


Friday September 14, 2012

Optic nerve weekend

optic nerve





Tuesday September 11, 2012

A tour of the Gusman/Olympia theater

gusman olympia theater downtown miami

Dating back to 1925 the Gusman/Olympia Theater is one of Miami’s real treasures. Last Saturday, as part of Downtown Art Days, the Gusman’s assistant director Robert Geitner gave a tour of the theater.

See the whole article and 25 photos


Friday September 7, 2012

DWNTWN Art Days weekend

ugly type

So, Downtown Art Days. Let’s take a quick look at how badly these asshats have set this up. This is the retardedly named DWNTWN’s big event weekend-long signature event. (DWNTWN = Downtown Miami’s cultural website, created by the Miami development authority.) Check out their website’s homepage. There it is: “Save the Date/Art Days/Sept 7-8.” Awlright, click there! Hmm… you can’t click that(!!). Ok, click the link right underneath, “See More Events>”. That takes you to this page, on which there is NOTHING about the downtown art days. You can “filter by month” at the bottom, but clicking on “SEP” does NOTHING. Note that all the events on the page have passed. Clicking “CALENDAR” at the top takes you to the same page you’re already on.

AHA! — there’s a link for DWNTWN ART DAYS up there. Hallelujah. Click it. That takes you to this page, which at this point it should not shock you has NO INFORMATION on it. (Remember: this event is so central to this organization that their URL is named after it!) There is a link to a PDF “calendar and map,” and this is where I really start to get mad. Anyway, here’s the PDF. Check it:

Are these people deliberately making this hard because they for some reason want a bad turnout? This is not snark or sarcasm. I am not genuinely wondering. (Please do not tell me that they don’t have the money to do better, because I’m looking at this website, and they have MONEY for DESIGN.) Also, I’ve wasted all my time, so the rest of this guide is going to be abbreviated. I guess you’ll just have to head downtown, find a copy of whatever this PDF looks like when it’s printed, and hope it’s worth your while.





Thursday September 6, 2012

A frolic in the middle Keys


Labor day weekend I spent a few days down in the middle keys with the family of a friend. There was some serious lounging, a lot of drinking, not a little fishing, and quite a bit of eating. While Key West holds on to its bohemian let-everything-hang-out party culture, this side of the Keys has a casually posh, almost Hamptons-style thing going on.

See the full article and 18 photos


Tuesday September 4, 2012

Get your election on


I know you’re disappointed with Obama. But look, you don’t want Romney and a Republican congress running the country for the country for the next four years. And if you think about it, you don’t want Obama going down as a one-term president.

And here’s the thing: Florida will decide this thing, more than likely. We’re the largest tossup state, and we’ve been picking the president since 1992 (when, amazingly, we voted to give George Bush Sr. a second term).

All of which is to say that you need to get ready to vote. If you’re registering for the first time, the application is at the bottom of this page. You should also fill out one of these if you want to change your party affiliation or if you’re moving. (Though if you’re moving within Dade County, you can just call the elections department, 305-499-VOTE, and they’ll do it over the phone.) If you’re submitting one of these forms anyway, you might consider changing your party affiliation, either to lodge your weak protest against the hegemony of the two-party system or because you’d like to vote in someone else’s primaries (like this year’s Republican primary). You should to enjoy perusing the list of political parties recognized in Florida.

Don’t get purged — make sure your Drivers License is up to date. You can update it through Florida HSMV’s charming Virtual Office. This would also be a decent time to consider becoming a Poll Worker. I bet you have no chance if you don’t speak Spanish or Creole, but you can give it a chance anyway. (As a hint, the link to the voter application PDF is broken at that link. If you click “ESPAÑOL,” you can get the application there.)

Do it today, otherwise you’ll be kicking yourself like those jackasses who voted for Nader in 2000.


Friday August 31, 2012

Vultures on a stick weekend


Your weekend weather: absurdly hot and not rainy. I shall be in an undisclosed location in the Keys and as per August there’s precious little going on anyway, but have at it:






Wednesday August 29, 2012

Parks Vie For Space In Miami’s Forest Of Condos on NPR. Long story short: the Brickell Green Space isn’t happening. Instead, the city will be creating small parks underneath Metromover tracks(!), highlighting the need to plan for parks ahead of time. The report features an interview with TM‘s Craig Chester.