Saturday, February 19, 2011

Virgin America Support: WORSE THAN USELESS

Hey all, I realized that it's been a while since I've gone on a good rant.  Online rants are a fundamental part of my generation.  If us internet generation folk ever have our Woodstock, it'll be an epic 3-day flame war on 4chan.

So, without further ado, my unbiased and completely reasonable accounting of my experience with Virgin America support:

So back on Thanksgiving, the wife and I try to fly back from east coast to west.  We picked Virgin America.  They've got the cool new planes, the TVs in the seats, the hip staff and videos, decent prices.  None of the shitty service you'd expect from the older carriers that just survive on business travel (American, Delta, etc).

Flight gets delayed 90 minutes, then again, then again.  I guess there was a sensor problem, the leg from LA to DC was diverted to Chicago.  They said they had it fixed, then that they were waiting for a part.  Then that the plane was in the air.  Then that the plane was about to take off.  Then that the plane was FOR REALS, in the air.  Somewhere around 2AM, the plane lands and the folks from LA with the unexpected CHI layover finally deplaned.  THen after an hour or so, they cancel the flight at 3AM.  We'd been in the terminal for about 7 hours at that point and had a meeting in California that we were now going to miss.

Now, equipment problems happen and they suck.  Airlines don't want to cancel unless they're sure that they'll have to, because canceling is expensive.  So it's in their interest to string us along, and string us along they did.

Anyway, all the flights for Friday were booked long before our Thursday flight was canceled.  We had to wait until Sunday to fly out.  Definitely missed our meeting and had to get picked up by my brother at the airport at 4am on a Friday morning.  Sucks for us and him.

Virgin America Guest Care gives us each a $100 credit that expires in a year.  $100 isn't too much and we don't fly much so probably won't be able to use it, but I guess they did something.

Fast forward to now - my brother is trying to visit us.  Figured we'd give him our credits.  He tries the codes, no luck.

I call support and figure maybe I have to transfer them.  REAL struggle to get in line for a human.  Wait on hold for 30 mins or so and use their "we'll call you back" option.  They call back much later, after I'm already asleep.

Next day I call again.  I don't want to use the "call back" because I have a conference call in an hour and I don't want to miss Virgin's call because of my other call.  After 52 minutes I give up and write an email to support explaining my situation.  That was three days ago and support still has not responded.

Day after that, I call again.  7 minutes and I get a human.  YES!  Human says my brother needs "elevate."  Virgin America calls their frequent flyer program "elevate" I guess.  I suppose some inhuman marketdroid thought that sounded cooler than "frequent flyer program."  Whatever.  Like me, my brother is the opposite of a "frequent flyer," but I let him know that he needs to create an account.

Next day, he's created his account and sent me the number.  I call but it's late on a Friday and I guess the support line is down.

That brings us to today.  I call in in the morning and spend 45 minutes or so getting our credits transferred to my brother.  He goes to book the flight and the four days in between have apparently caused the flight to go up by 238 dollars.

So the process cost me all of my credits.  It's costing him $38 extra (well, not really - he's using a different airline...).

If support just told me that I couldn't do it and to book the flight, they'd have been useless.  No help, no harm.  They didn't accomplish that though - my experince COST time AND money.

They failed simple tasks like answering a phone.  They failed at less simple tasks like transferring credits with expedience.  They failed at the fundamental task of business - providing positive experiences for customers that would lead to customer loyalty.

At one point, I even recommended these guys to others.  Now I feel bad about that.  I'd like to get a list of everyone to whom I've said positive things about Virgin America and call them up in order to set the record straight.  I feel like I'd need to do that in order to protect my personal reputation as a reliable opinion.

Mostly, I'm bummed because my list of Airlines That Don't Suck was pretty short already and I'm sad to see it get shorter.

I'm also amazed because, as an engineer, I figure that the hard part about flying civilians across the country in 5 hours was, you know, the FLIGHT part.  Thing is though, we've nailed that.  We can put thousands of tons thousands of miles up at hundreds of miles an hour and land safely, all with food, TV, internet, reclining chairs and a reasonable cost.  No problem.

Compared to that, how hard is it to ANSWER A FUCKING PHONE?


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Dvorak, one year later

I've been typing using Dvorak for a year now.  Pre-switch querty was about 95wpm.  Test today says 102 sober, 93 drunk.  Not too bad.

Vim took a while to get used to.  I didn't map everything so that the positions were the same - I actually learned the new positions.  So the hjkl is not exactly the same.  The only major change I made was that cw is mapped to cg (looking at your keyboard, that mean that change word is 'iu' instead of the harder-to-type 'i,'.

Starcraft was tricky until they allowed custom key mappings.  Prior to that I had a hotkey to switch back to qwerty for that game only.  My story won't be the same for others though - I play with the grid set up and a lefty mouse, so I'm pretty unique there.

The iPhone hasn't bugged me - the keyboard is too small for the different layout to compete.  The ipad is a bit more troublesome but not really - I'm typing by sight there anyhow.  Bluetooth keyboards connected to iPads can use Dvorak anyhow - it's just the software mapping that doesn't support it.

Switching was really only bad for a month, I'm faster (if only slightly now than before), and it's working out pretty well.  If this means I'll dodge the repetitive stress so common for folks in my industry, it's worth it.  Of course there's no real way to tell...

Monday, February 7, 2011


So Melch had this to say about things that I've had to say:
Apparently, I vicariously read a lot of blogs through Pinto. He was reading about the value of creation and the idea that if you’re not creating things, you’re merely using other peoples’ creations to express yourselves. I find a lot of truth to that, but I don’t think that using other peoples’ expressions to express yourself is a bad thing at all.

It takes time to develop skills. When you mix that with different levels of “natural talent” and chance, it becomes probable that somebody else will have created something that expresses you or a subset of you better than you could have.

Tumblr has no comments, so let me say this about that... here.  This is unedited, so expect a bit of rambling.  No, I'm not high.  Perhaps I should be... =)

Firstly, the thing she's talking about is WhyTheLuckyStiff's quote: "When you don't create things, you become defined by your tastes rather than ability.  Your tastes only narrow & exclude people.  So create."

Secondly, Melch and I are differing a bit here at a rather fundamental: the identity of self.  I took a course on this in college many moons ago, which is scant qualification to hold forth on the matter.  On the other hand, this is the internet so why should I let that silence me?

When you express yourself... what exactly are you expressing?  Is there some pre-existing, invariant identity that Melch merely lacks the ability to express via words, music, visual art or other means?  Is it that hidden reality that will be more professionally revealed by someone else?

I propose to challenge the invariance and amend the implied direction of influence.  Imagine the creative endeavor of basketball.  Imagine Michael Jordan looking back upon his efforts to create in that space and thinking "well, what I did was good, but I'm glad that Kobe and LeBron have come along to more capably express what I was about."

Perhaps Michael Jordan actually did a pretty good job of expressing himself, but... what self?  Did the 18 year-old Jordan possess the "self" that famously won the dunk competition with the foul line flight that lives on in every Nike sneaker that bears his name?  Or did the later creativity come as an organic result of tens of thousands of hours of practice, grinding, thinking and competing?

I think the path is two-way.  When you paint the canvas, the canvas is painting you.  You create yourself by creating.  Jordan expressed himself on the foul line using muscles that he created... by expressing himself. 

Did Picasso express himself with Cubism?  He had painted for decades before creating Cubism.  What self was he expressing before then?  Did those years simply enable him to create the language he needed to express what he had always been?  Or was he a different "self" after all those years?  Did the process of learning how to invent Cubism turn him into the sort of "self" that he used Cubism to express?  I think it's a two way street.  Picasso created Cubism and Cubism created Picasso.

Consuming is a raw ingredient for creation (think "standing on the shoulders of giants"), but it's an insufficient ingredient.   If you just consume various creations of others and then say "there's nothing left to do!  I'm that!" then you're not noting that they're expressing you.  You're passing on the chance to create an identity, preferring instead to freeload on theirs. 

I don't think anyone just "gets lucky" and finds that Picasso just happened to be expressing them too.
Cubism can't mean to you or me what it meant to Picasso.  We weren't there when the canvas was blank.

This tracks  back into Sapir-Whorf territory.  If you find someone expressing you, is it you that they're expressing, or is it their expression that you're using to create your own identity?  If you're using someone else's language to express yourself, then all you can be is whatever you can interpret from what they give you.