Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Abusing the system...

Since what seems like the dawn of time, Costco has had an absurdly liberal return policy for products bought from its warehouses. Basically, you could return anything, anytime, even years after you bought it, for a full refund. Well, thanks to the actions of a few who have taken advantage of this policy, Costco has been forced to change it's absurdly liberal return policy to one that's only reasonably liberal. [Costco tightens its return policy -Seattle PI 2/27/07] "Anytime" has essentially turned into "within 90 days", though has been supplemented with a new 2-year warranty. Of course, this wouldn't have been an issue, if not for the abuse by some unscrupulous customers who would buy a $2000 plasma TV, only to return it 6 months later only to turn around and buy a brand new model for half the price. As ridiculous as it sounds, it was fully within the letter of Costco's policy to do so, though certainly not within the spirit of it. It has become so commonplace that one customer, as noted in the PI article, even went so far as to refer to it as Costco's "free TV upgrade policy." As a result, the majority of honest customers to whom Costco has always tried to provide outstanding customer service are being penalized. Now I believe that their new policy is still FAR more than reasonable, and better than you'd find anywhere else, it's the principle.

The "abuse it because you can" philosophy stretches far beyond Costco, or even retail stores in general. It's an epidemic in American society. Cable television, cell phones, any service-providing company is a victim of this. I know people who call and haggle with Comcast over their cable bills every month, not because they aren't satisfied with their service, but just because they know if they complain about something they'll get months of free service or other discounts. When I've questioned these people in the past, it's always rationalized by "they charge too much anyway, it doesn't cost them anything to give me a discount," or "that's the way the game is played." The problem is that it IS costing the company money, and it's also costing every customer in a lack of quality customer service and companies standing by their products and services.

I believe that most companies genuinely want to keep their customers happy--it's in their best interests to do so. It's just that most often, they've been burned so many times in the past that they are skeptical of every complaint that comes in. They start assuming that the majority of customers complaining are just trying to get a free lunch, and as a result crack down on their policies and customer service. Who really suffers is the honest customers, who do in fact occasionally have legitimate complaints or problems. Take my recent bout with Nissan's customer service regarding my broken window regulator on my car. [previous blog thread] I don't believe I was at all unreasonable in my complaint and request for a repair, and ultimately I was able to convince Nissan that I wasn't just trying to get something for nothing, after which they stood by their product and fixed my issues. But no doubt they are inundated with requests from customers expecting them to fix problems due to normal wear-and-tear and the like, that no reasonable customer would ever expect a company to do. I could tell this just from my conversations with the customer service representatives I talked to. As a result, a company who genuinely cares about its customers ends up unintentionally driving away exactly the good customers it wants to cater to.

The value of knowing your customers personally, and customers knowing the company personally, is never to be underestimated. If the company knows you are an honest and valued customer, they are far more likely to help you out when you have a problem. It's a compelling argument for perhaps paying a bit more to buy a product or service from a more reputable vendor, though I definitely don't offer a blanket endorsement for the mom-and-pop electronics store either. Large or small, you just have to know who's standing by your products.

Sure there are unscrupulous companies and salespeople who try to take advantage of the honest, good-intentioned customers... but that's another rant for another blog.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Music from the Stage and Screen

Continuing with my apparent string of great performances, tonight I went to the Seattle Symphony Pops concert featuring Marvin Hamlisch and an outstanding musical lineup of great movie and Broadway show music. I must be on a roll this week, because this was probably the best Seattle Symphony concert I've been to all season. Marvin Hamlisch has of course scored countless movies and 8 Broadway shows, including A Chorus Line, and is an outstanding pianist. That in itself should make for a great performance, but what wasn't expected was that he's probably funnier than even many professional comedians I've seen. I should have expected an entertaining night as soon as the symphony opened with the distinct screeching strings from Psycho. The evening included the symphony performing from various movie scores, and shows such as My Fair Lady and Phantom of the Opera, featuring an outstanding tenor. Hamlisch provided the interludes and introduced each tune, telling various stories and even throwing around some Victor Borge-eseque piano humor. All this from a man who has 4 Grammys, 4 Emmys, a Tony and 3 Oscars (and took plenty of opportunity to joke about the Academy Awards, and his losing to John Williams several times, claiming all John has to do is pound on the piano and he gets an award for it). Absolutely outstanding... another 4+ star performance. Certainly as long as there are plenty of good shows, I won't be complaining. :)

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story

Tonight I attended Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story at the 5th Avenue Theatre. One day after returning from an extended vacation, I nearly decided not to go--what a mistake that would have been!

Buddy is based on the life of Buddy Holly, famed rock and roll pioneer who died tragically in a plane crash on tour with The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens in 1959. I was expecting a good show, considering the quality and familiarity of many Buddy Holly songs, but was skeptical of this recent example of the aptly dubbed "jukebox musical" which have left me less than satisfied in the past. Complete enjoyment of such musicals rely heavily on one's recognition and familiarity with the associated songs. Fortunately for Buddy, it would be a challenge to listen to any oldies radio station for an hour and not hear at least one tune used in the show.

Understandably, the quality of the performance depends heavily on the quality of the music and musicians. There was absolutely no disappointment. If you came expecting above-average cover band material as I did, you would be completely blown away. Every one of the actor/musicians was absolutely amazing. Combined with the excellent script and production yielded an unexpectedly outstanding overall performance. My only real complaint was that the majority of the second act became just a rock concert. It was as if the writers had a set lineup of songs they wanted to fit in, but ran out of story halfway through, so decided to write one scene and just throw everything else in it. I was momentarily disappointed by this, but was quickly re-energized by the once again amazing musical performance.

As for the ratings:

Music - 5 stars, without any reservations whatsoever.
Technical - 3 stars, good all-purpose sets and lighting, without interfering with the great music.
Cast - 4 stars, at least half the cast were obviously accomplished musicians in addition to being excellent actors. It's always nice to see musicians out of the pit and on the stage.
Script - 3 stars. Good avenue for telling the Buddy Holly story.
Overall - 4 stars. The 4 that's closer to 5, rather than closer to 3.

"Buddy" was a late substitution in the 5th Avenue's season lineup after the Broadway-bound "Cry-Baby" was delayed out to next season, and as such I think has suffered a bit in its promotion. Quite a few different ticket deals have been released in an apparent effort to fill seats after lackluster ticket sales thus far, but it should be a crime to have empty seats for this show. Its three-week run continues through March 4th, and I highly recommend finding some tickets if you have the chance.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

California Adventures, part 1

Avid readers of my blog (if such a thing exists) won't be the least bit surprised at my latest vacation ramblings from Disneyland. But since this trip will likely sound much like the last one this past October, I'll spare the mundane "here's what I did" laundry-list of details. Right now I'm partially soaked after riding the Grizzly River Run which is one of those white-water rafting type rides over at California Adventure. Actually, I didn't get nearly as wet as I expected, I've been on similar, yet far worse rides, where you are drenched by waterfalls and the like. Not a fan of gratuitious drenching... but incidental drenching is fun and part of the ride. :)

Due to the disappointment that the perpetual favorite ride Splash Mountain is currently closed for refurbishment, this trip's Thrilly award for best ride goes to... The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. It's hard to beat the outstanding theming and excitement of a 13-story more-than-freefall in a runaway elevator. :) But while we're discussing it, this is the only place I prefer to be in any sort of runaway elevator.

Tomorrow after a morning in the parks, I'll pack up and drive over to Santa Barbara, potentially during a LA Friday afternoon rush hour. Me thinks it will be quite the adventure... fortunately, I brought my tunes with me... because I'll need it.

Pictures to come, including some pictures of the fabulous Grand Californian Hotel, if I remember to take pictures around here... which is no certainty at all.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Memories of Grandma's House

Like most people, I always have fond memories of going to grandma's house. I was lucky enough to have grandma's house no more than about a 5-minute drive from our own, so much time was spent over there. Of course, grandma and grandpa had a big house, with a big backyard, and there was always something fun to do over there. (Oh yeah, and they had cable TV, which growing up we never had at home, which made it bonus fun.) Sure, the house had a distinctly straight-out-of-decades-past look, but that's what you expect when you go to grandma's.

But I'm not just waxing nostalgic for no good reason right now. First a bit of history... a few years back before my grandma died, she moved into an "old-people apartment" and we sold her house. I would have kept the house and lived in it, but alas I was just starting at the UW, and really wasn't in the place to live in a house in Federal Way. So what can you do? The house was sold to a nice couple who did some renovation work on the unfinished basement and (though I have never seen it) apparently did some nice things to the house. But last year or so they sold it. And that's about the last we heard of it... until my parents were talking to some friends who still live in my the neighborhood where the house is and we come to find out that the new owners were, how do you say... on the wrong side of the law? Apparently they bypassed the electrical meter and added some new lighting downstairs in the basement. Yes, that's right folks, grandma's house was turned into a illegal marijuana growing and distribution shop.

I recently stumbled onto a press release from the US DEA, ["Marijuana Manufacturing And Distribution Conspiracy Shut Down"]. The address is clearly listed on the press release, where apparently they found 394 plants and $35,000 in cash. Now there's something you don't see everyday.

Grandma's house, it is no more.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

If this is vacation, why am I so tired?

va·ca·tion (vā-kā'shən, və-) n.
A period of time devoted to pleasure, rest, or relaxation, especially one with pay granted to an employee.
Hard to believe I call this a vacation so far. I have spent the majority of the last 6 days putting in about 12-16 hours per day volunteering my time officiating for the 2007 US Junior National Curling Championships which have been held this year at our curling club. It's been a pretty exciting week actually, though with four draws a day at 8, noon, 4 and 8, it's been a loooong week. The only reason I'm not up there tonight is that the 4pm and 8pm draws were for tie-breakers (if necessary)... fortunately, they were not necessary. All that's left are two semi-finals tomorrow afternoon and the finals Saturday morning. While it's been a lot of fun, the long days have not exactly been the definition of pleasure, rest, or relaxation. More like stress, drama, and sleep-deprivation. That's why I was smart enough to plan a real vacation for next week.

And that, I will talk about more later... now I'm too tired.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Vacation + Sick = Bad

There's nothing like waking up the last day before you start a 2-week vacation, only to feel like you're starting to get sick. There will be NO sick while I'm on vacation.


It's not too bad right now, and hopefully I can ward it off. I'm kicking up the immune system and seeing if I can knock this off early. We shall see.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

HP Mania!

The mania has begun... you can't go two minutes without someone going "Hey, did you hear the new Harry Potter book will be out on July 21st? I have to get it as soon as it's out!" Oh the pain...

The book isn't going to be any different whether you get it one day or the next... so what's the big deal, folks? Sure, I'm interested to find out how it's going to end too, but geez. Why don't you just pretend the book will be released on 7/22/2007, order it on Amazon, and when it arrives you'll be like "sweet!"? Then you won't be disappointed. It's like people who set their alarm clock forward 20 minutes so when they ignore it and wake up 20 minutes late they're suddenly right on time. (Which, by the way, I never have understood, because 99% of the people who do this, KNOW that their clock is 20 minutes fast, and intentionally plan that into their day, so it really defeats the purpose.)

Sure, everyone wants to know what's going to happen with Harry Potter... they've been chomping at the bit for the past year just waiting for the finish. Maybe it's a sense of "beating everyone else to it"... so they can be the first on their block to know what happens. In this case, I wouldn't stand a chance regardless because I read slower than two turtles chasing each other across fly paper.

Myself, I plan on just waiting a week until everyone I know have each read it about a dozen times, then I'll borrow it and read it when I get the chance.