Thursday, February 28, 2008

Punching holes in the corporate box

I really think Verizon customer support is truly incompetent. My DSL saga finally ended today when a repair tech actually came to fix our problem. I know it's not much of a saga compared to some of the horror stories I read about online. Some people wait months to get Verizon to repair their problem. That level of customer service is really unacceptable. Verizon really tries to make it as hard as possible to get in touch with a human, and then the human agents follow a pretty strict script to deal with your problem. It's so rare to find a support agent who will think and operate out of the [largely unhelpful] standard corporate procedure.

I can understand the need for scripting to a degree, but it is pretty insulting to my intelligence and probably multitudes of other customers. Considering that I managed to get a Ph.D. in engineering and make a living troubleshooting problems, it's particularly annoying having to deal with first tier tech support. You'd think I wouldn't have to constantly go through the same song and dance after having called 5 previous times. Eventually I got so fed up, I rattled off a little tirade the last time I called. It went something along these lines:

I've already called 5 times, and my problem has not been resolved. I have no dial tone and no DSL. I've power cycled my modem several times to no effect. I've plugged and unplugged the cables to check for loose connections. I've switched the ends of the cables plugged into the modem and wall jack. I've tried three different cables, two of which are Verizon provided. There are no other devices plugged into any of the other phone jacks. I've tried every other phone jack. The are no filters in use. I've tried plugging in an analog phone and got no dial tone and the keypad did not light up. I've unscrewed the wall plate and confirmed that there's no voltage on any of the wires. Are there any other tests that I've missed?
If they hadn't sent a repair tech (who thankfully was quite competent, unlike the phone support), I would have called again and added a few more choice lines about having a dry loop data only line (making the dial tone test completely irrelevant) and hooking up my phone lines to a neighbor's connection to confirm that there was nothing wrong with my apartment's wiring. Since my first attempt at pre-emptive question answering was so successful, I had a new answer script planned to stun the phone support into issuing me problem ticket. I didn't have to use it this time, but I'm keeping it around just in case.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Right hand, meet left hand

People often joke about big organizations having clueless departments which have no idea how to interoperate with each other. Anyone having to deal with a big institution has experienced this at some point. Even though I know to expect this, it's still frustrating every time.

So, what happened? Our Verizon DSL went out two days ago. It just went kaput and stopped working. That also means our phone stopped working since we have VoIP (Verizon Voicewing). After a full day of it not coming back on and doing the suggested modem power cycle several times, I figure it's not going to fix itself and contact Verizon. First, I try e-mail since I'm at work (remember no internet and phone at home). After much digging, I find an e-mail form. But lo and behold, there's a little message at the top of the form saying that I will only receive an automated response via e-mail and no actual human will ever read my message. What the hell is the point of e-mail support then? If I wanted canned responses and bad AI, I could either call their automated 800 number or wade through their maze-like website.

Next up, I try live agent chatting. That was incredibly slow. I get nothing useful from that and am told to call in my support request. I get home and use my cell phone to call tech support. This is where the true left hand and right hand corporate disconnect horror story begins. I call DSL tech support and give them all my info (name, phone number, address, what the problem is, callback number, the phase of the moon, and some information about Barney's evolutionary past). They tell me that my problem is my lack of a dial tone and that it's the local phone company's responsibility to take care of it. Bear in mind, that I have no voice service, just a data Verizon DSL line on top of which runs my Verizon Voicewing. But they would have none of those rational explanations and transferred my call to telephone voice services. I give my info again and re-explain my problem only to be told that I have a dry loop data only line, and it's not their issue to solve. So, I get transferred back to DSL support.

I bet you can see where this is going. I repeat the spiel with DSL support again, and get transferred back to the local telephone company support. Except this time I get an automated message (not even a real human being) saying that I only have DSL and need to call DSL support, after which they hang up on me. So, I call DSL support again, get the same story, and get transferred back to an automated telephone voice services system, and dropped yet again. At this point, it's been a little over an hour, and I'm pretty annoyed.

I call back the telephone support number and try cursing to bypass the automated system which just automatically drops me. I had heard that this little trick often works on automated phone systems when you can't figure out how to get to a live rep. FYI, cursing on the Verizon automated system doesn't seem to do much. But for future reference, just say "representative" to bypass all the nonsense in the Verizon automated support. I finally just flat out said that I'd been transferred 5 times already and just wanted my DSL service fixed. If I didn't do mindfulness training, I might have started swearing at that point and abusing the service rep. But I can't blame the service reps though. I doubt they're paid or trained well enough to be deal with anything beyond the basic "is everything plugged in?" and "did you power cycle the modem?" sort of issues. I do blame the Verizon corporate machine for creating an incompetent customer support system that insults my intelligence and wastes my time.

Friday, February 22, 2008


I had a pleasant chat with someone at the gym today. I didn't realize that my exercise routine was inspirational for other people to watch. I also got to hear about how this person had lost the motivation to exercise and was just getting back into the swing of things. When I heard the story, I could see why exercise fell by the wayside. Burnout and boredom. It happens to even the most dedicated fitness buff at some point.

I've been fortunate in that I usually can keep myself motivated to continue training, but I think a number of factors have contributed to that success and perseverance:
  1. Surrounding myself with people who love training, whether it be martial arts or fitness.
  2. Understanding how to set [achievable] goals, determining milestones to gauge my progress, and committing myself towards achieving those goals.
  3. Keeping my training regimen fresh by maximizing variety and rotating in different exercises on a regular basis.
  4. Treating each training session as a mindfulness drill and really trying to focus my mind on controlling and feeling my body to correctly perform the exercises.
  5. Making my training multifaceted by incorporating skills, conditioning, flexibility, strength, speed, coordination, power, neuromuscular body control, etc. exercises into my training.
  6. Eating enough to fuel my training.
  7. Taking days off to allow my body time to recover and avoid burnout.
Of course, it probably doesn't hurt that I'm vain. My Chinese zodiac symbol is the snake, which is described on those restaurant paper placemats as being "vain and intense." If that's true, it's no surprise that personal fitness has become an important part of my life.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Back from NY

Well, I took a four day trip to New York for some I-Liq Chuan intensive training. It gets a little easier to do every year. The first year really drained me. The second year was tiring because we were training heavy. This year, my legs only got sore by the 3rd day, and I thought the meditation training was a little on the short side. I've come to realize more and more the truth of what my Sifu keeps saying: he's not teaching us anything new, we're just gaining a better understanding.

However, the thing that I realize the most is just how much work I have left ahead of me. Each time I train with my Sifu, the difference between my skill level and awareness compared to his becomes more clear to me. I already that he was a lot better than me, but now I'm beginning to comprehend just how vast the difference in mental focus and perceptual abilities between us is.

On the plus side, interacting with my senior gongfu brothers and with my Sifu has inspired me to ramp up my training again. I had been on cruise control for a while just getting my training from teaching. I really ought to be doing more personal training. So, I'm committing myself to getting at least 5 minutes of training and 5 minutes of meditation every day. Usually, if I make it through 5 minutes, I get more training in just from sheer momentum. Let's see if I can work my way back up to 30-60 minutes a day of training and meditation.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Brrr! Tales of the cold.

When there's nothing else to talk about, we make small talk about the weather. The past two days I've been waking up to temperatures in the teens. That'd be ok since I'm not usually outside, but we haven't had heat in our apartment for the past two days. Thank goodness I didn't just sell off the space heaters in my mission to declutter my life. Apparently, our apartment is the only unit in our complex that sits above ground rather than above the basement. So, the working theory (if we are to believe the apartment management and repair guys) is that there is ice in our radiator pipes impeding the flow of hot water.

How are we supposed to fix this problem? By running space heaters everywhere to try to thaw whatever section of pipe has the frozen obstruction, that's how. It was a logical theory presented by the maintenance guys. Simple. Based on sound principles. The only problem is that the apartment isn't really wired to be running that many high load electrical devices. The breaker trips every time we attempt to run too many heaters.

Oh, the joys of apartment living.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Oven fresh goodness

I decided to try my hand at baking today. It's been a few years since I last baked bread, but I started getting the knack for it again after reading through a few recipes and getting my hands into the dough. Today, I attempted herb wheat bread.

How's it taste? Well, let's just say it's too bad you can't smell or taste it. I forgot just how good fresh out of the oven homemade bread tastes. A slice of fresh bread with Nayonnaise and some baked marinated tofu squares is just divine. Now, I hope Gen doesn't get too addicted to homemade and expect me to bake all of our bread from now on.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Cheesy eating habit

I have a somewhat strange culinary preference involving cheese. I'm mildly embarrassed by it actually. I can cook up a mean Chinese noodle soup (湯麵) or have a very typical home-style meal of rice porridge (稀飯) with leftover stir fry. Both dishes are tasty on their own. Yet, I love putting cheese into those dishes. And not even good cheese. Cheap American cheese is my preferred cheese choice, though these days it's mostly soy cheese that I'm using.

It's not really fusion cuisine. Or if it is, it's not particularly good fusion cuisine. I don't know what to call it other than comfort food. I believe this odd habit comes from my childhood. You see, my dad couldn't cook worth squat when I was a kid. He once tried to get me to eat steamed white rice with jarred pasta sauce, and I quite emphatically refused to eat it. I'm still traumatized by that foul creation to this day. The only thing he could make that I actually liked was rice porridge or noodle soup with a slice of American cheese melted into it and some peanuts sprinkled on top. To this day, I still love eating both rice porridge and noodle soup with a slice of cheese and peanuts. The cheese melts into the broth, adding a creamy texture and pleasant flavor undertones to the dish. For me, it brings back happy childhood memories... and quite possibly blots out the other horrible food creations my dad may have tried to get me to eat.

Perhaps I should have listened to my dad about the starving kids in Ethiopia when faced with the rice and pasta sauce dinner. Maybe I could have appreciated his tales of food hardship and lectures on not wasting food. I think I may have guiltily picked up the spoon, but I just could bear to put the food in my mouth. Unfortunately for poor dad, I had already experienced real cooking and was stubborn enough to hungrily wait a few hours for mom to come home and cook real food.

Thankfully, I didn't inherit my dad's culinary sensibilities. I have my mom and the experience of growing up in a restaurant to thank for my ability to cook. In spite of his culinary ineptitude, he did leave me with one bit of cooking wisdom: cheese in brothy Chinese food is pretty tasty. Next time you whip up a bowl of noodle soup or rice porridge, try melting a slice of cheese into it. You may be surprised at just how good it is.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

All my bass no belong to me

Well, I finally did it. I sold my beautiful Fender Jazz bass guitar last night. Granted it was not that special of a bass guitar. It wasn't an American made bass, in which case I probably would have gotten a lot more money for it. As much as I loved playing it, I really hadn't picked it up much in the past 2-3 years. Given how much time working, I-Liq Chuan training, and my crazy gym routines take up, I just didn't foresee myself ever playing it seriously again.

Honestly, I was quite conflicted about selling it. I really enjoyed playing it in the past and had fond memories of just jamming with it in my amateurish musical endeavors. But the key to my decision was that it was the past I was hanging on to. Now, it's just another possession which I probably won't use it again. I turned to my de-cluttering goals for motivation. I also pondered the Buddha's insight into the impermanent nature of life. I realized I was irrationally attaching to the bass in an attempt to cling to my musical past. As soon as I let go of that attachment, my decision became much easier and I felt relieved. Now, the bass has a new owner who will probably use and appreciate the bass more, and I have one less useless possession weighing me down.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Cooking up a storm

So, Gen and I have essentially been cooking all of our meals the past few months. Before, when we had longer commutes, Subway was popular pit stop on the way home from the gym. Still, cooking is not always something we look forward to after a long day of work and a killer session at the gym. So, the solution is to cook over the weekend, and cook a lot. We must have set a record this weekend. Here's what we managed to make:

1. veggie quesadillas
2. tofu stir fry with mixed veggies and spicy bean sauce
3. stir fried Chinese broccoli
4. red bean soup (Chinese style, sweet soup)
5. veggie lentil soup
6. vegetarian chili
7. veggie patty home fries
8. Thai curry with tofu and mixed veggies
9. quinoa
10. banana pudding

It's a good thing we cooked so much. We've both just read Bill Phillip's "Body for Life." While we don't agree with everything in the book, we decided to try implementing the 6 mini meals a day and more focused, higher intensity, and shorter duration workouts. If we're going to eat that many times a day, it's nice to have a lot of various prepared food dishes around.

Luck of the draw

Woo-hoo! I finally won something!

I entered the drawing for a free copy of TurboTax, and much to my pleasant surprise, I actually won a copy. Just in time to do my taxes. Sweet.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Resolutions and Goals Checkup, month 2

I've already destroyed one New Year's resolution. Jumping rope for 10 minutes was achieved a little over 3 weeks into the year. Since I've repeated the feat two more times and can easily jump rope for over 20 minutes in 3-5 minute rounds with 1 minute jog in place "rests," I'm going to call that resolution completely fulfilled. I'll make it a new goal to get to 15 minutes straight.

The other goal of dropping 1% body fat, I have no idea how well I'm doing. My P.O.S. body fat analyzer keeps saying that I have 26.1-26.4% body fat. I've dropped 2.5 lbs since the beginning of the year, and if I put that weight change into the body fat analyzer, my body fat comes out at ~25.5%. If I assume the relative changes are correct, then I would have already dropped 1% body fat. I'm pretty that's not the case since I think my abs would look more defined if I dropped that much body fat. Oh well, I may have to pay for a set of calipers.

My fitness goals are coming along. I can hold a dragon flag for 7s, which means I'm just about 35% of the way to that goal. I can nearly do a muscle up, so I think that goal will be achieved pretty soon. The front lever and planche progressions are still hellishly hard for me, and I still have balance issues with the hand stand. But there's no reason to believe that I can't achieve those goals by the end of the year. I'm also finding that keeping a log of my workouts and diet is helping me stay on track and helping me assess how to improve my training/diet.

I didn't sign up for my 403b deduction in time this month, so I had a bigger paycheck than expected. I'm on a new financial path now since I actually pay significant taxes in the working world. I've already maxed out my Roth contributions so I can maximize my tax free earnings. I also moved money out of savings (keeping the 1/3 to 1/2 year salary in the bank) and into mutual funds. I can't bear to be paying ordinary income tax on earned interest when I could be paying a much lower 15% in long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. So, I'm making it a point to invest more in the market this year.

Overall, I have to say I'm pretty happy with my progress.