Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Know Thyself

I noticed years ago that companies sometimes treat the weaknesses of their products as strengths in marketing.  At the time, a shampoo that was difficult to get suds from was being advertised as yielding mountains of suds while another shampoo that produced mountains of suds was advertised as effective against dandruff, a claim I found overstated as I brushed flakes off my shoulders.

Today I got a survey call at work from Duke Energy.  The interviewer wanted to know how well they were doing at keeping the electricity on, notifying us of outages, communicating hints and tips for saving energy, keeping rates down, etc.

As I stumbled through the questions that seemed to go on and on, I realized that I have no expectations of Duke.  They provide electricity with impressive up-time and bill us for it.  We pay the bill.  That's it.  When the lights do go out, we wait for them to come back on.  I don't remember ever hearing more than rumors about how long the power would be out during the several local disasters they have had over the past few years -- 36 hours or so for one outage.  Several of the questions were about the quality of such communications and I didn't know how to rate NO communication at all.  Is that a 1 on the 1 to 10 scale?  Is there supposed to be communication?  Have I missed figuring out how to tap into that communication?

Meanwhile, where I live (as opposed to my workplace) we get our power from an REMC.  R for Rural.  REMCs are the Rodney Dangerfields of the power world.  They don't get no respect.  Lights flickering in a breeze, out for the count at the slightest provocation, much higher cost than the city folk pay.

And yet ... all the things Duke wanted me to rate them on that they don't do at all, REMC does well.  They send out a monthly newsletter with both statewide and local updates on what's happening in the world of electricity, along with recipes, tips for using less electricity, and human-interest stories.  The rates are comparable to Duke's.  When I call to report a power outage, knowing that it may not be widespread enough for immediate notice on their end, they offer to call me when it is supposed to be restored.  (And if I don't answer they leave a message on my electricity-powered answering machine telling me the electricity is back on, which tickles my funny-bone when I hear it.)  They send out crews regularly to trim back the limbs that would otherwise cause flickering during wind storms (and took down a huge red oak tree for us once that was dead and threatening their lines if it came down -- at no charge).  We have no complaints about the up-time we get from REMC and, in fact, have had much less total downtime than Duke customers in recent times.  And REMC talks to us through that monthly publication.  All the things that the mighty Duke corporation was asking about for which I had no answers, I could have provided good positive feedback for my lowly REMC.  (And, yes, it's my REMC.  It's a Member-owned Cooperative and I am one of the owners.)

Just kind of funny.  I never even thought about expecting Duke Energy to provide the level of friendly hometown service we get from REMC.  Now that my eyes are opened ... I'll just be more grateful that I have REMC at home and Duke at work.  Is Duke really thinking about communicating with their customers in friendly, helpful ways?  They certainly have a long hill to climb toward that goal!

Monday, December 03, 2012

New direction?

This blog is going on eight years old and has lacked purpose from the beginning.  It didn't take long for me to vent all my angst on issues I considered fit for public consumption.  (Not that all that much public has shown up, but still...)  I find that I'm more inclined to jump into online discussions started by others than to do monologs here in blogland.  (I know, more readers would bring comments, which would be sort of like having a discussion, but I would still be responsible for initiating every new topic.)

Last week, however, I found a new love in the world of social media -- goodreads.com.  I know it has been around a while.  I've probably even seen it mentioned in my Facebook feed.  I just never paid attention to it.

What makes it so attractive now is that, after many years hiatus, I'm back to reading fiction for pure enjoyment.  This is prompted by two unrelated happenings that happened to coincide:

1.  I bought a mini-tablet off ebay -- an Archos 32.  Although it runs Android applications and does fairly well with them, it's goal in life, it's favorite activity, is to be an mp3 player.  It fits perfectly into a shirt pocket or will nestle down into the pocket of sweats and feed me audiobooks as I DO OTHER THINGS!  This is amazing.  Books have always fought to KEEP me from doing other things.  Now books are keeping me company while I clean or cook or do other mindless tasks that drive me crazy in their mindlessness.

2.  The local library joined a consortium offering not only ebooks, but also audiobooks, many available in mp3 format.

I tried nonfiction, but it's not a good fit.  Fiction flows more easily and requires less concentration, which is good since I'm DOING OTHER THINGS while listening and am sometimes only half listening.

This morning I was messing around over at goodreads.com and wrote a review of one of the most enigmatic classics I have ever read:  The Great Gatsby.  I noticed that goodreads would like me to post the review to my blog.  Aha!  This might be a good fit.  I'll try it and see.
The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have a list of New Year's resolutions for readers that includes the suggestion of revisiting a book you just didn't get when you were 18.  This suggestion prompted me to try The Great Gatsby again in my 40s.  I still don't get it.  A bunch of shallow people do shallow things.  And it's a classic.

This is obviously a sign of something lacking on my part.  Fortunately, I am more appreciative of other classics and my self-esteem is only slightly bruised by my inability to appreciate this one story which is so loved by others.  It remains a puzzle, however.  Maybe I'll try it again in my 60s and see if I'm to the point yet where I can appreciate it.

View all my reviews
That's it.  Not much of a review.  I didn't even particularly like the book.  (The second star was a recognition of the book's place in classic literature.  On my own, it would have been a 1-star rating.)  But we'll see where things go from here.  I was amazed at how little time it took browsing goodreads to pile up over 200 books on my "read" shelf.  I am only vaguely aware of how many books I have read over a lifetime, but it obviously must be a much higher number.  Still, there are many more that I haven't read and goodreads did an excellent job of zeroing in on my interests and pulling up titles that I immediately recognized as good friends.  I think I like this place!