Monday, April 29, 2013

Sometimes I wonder whether placing these consumer complaints in my ethics blog is appropriate.  After all, they are sort of self-serving - I am drawing attention to myself instead of to some ethical issue.  But on the other hand, I'm also drawing attention to what I have come to think of as dishonest brokering by gargantuan companies who use their size, a phone barrier, and a bunch of overseas representatives with limited English and limited power to problem-solve overwhelm consumers so that they just go away rather than demanding a working product.  So, here I am back to talk about DELL, again.

Below is the post I wrote to a guy named David Angelo, after posting on Dell's facebook wall.  He asked me to send him a private message.  I somehow missed the private part - probably because I'm feeling pretty public in my anger.  I'm not going to retype it, because I've already wasted over three hours dealing with Dell today.

David, here is the entire story. It's long and ugly. It starts in 2008 with the purchase of an M1330. I am a tiny person, and a "older" returning student, and I needed a small computer to carry back and forth to school. Unfortunately, that computer was a total lemon. If you're interested in checking the number of service calls, here is the express tag from that computer: 96K16H1. I probably logged 80 hours on the phone with Dell. It never worked, and eventually I had to spend another $1200 for a toshiba, which I'm still using, while I sorted out the problems with Dell. 

In April of 2011, I started screaming my head off. The blog above, and help from a Dell person on Fb. Eventually, in late May, I was offered a replacement - finally. Unfortunately, they offered me a very big, refurbished laptop. I protested that I spent money for a small, NEW portable - that Dell had my money but I had yet to have a working computer. But they told me that this xps L502 was the ONLY choice I had. Eventually, hitting a brick wall, I negotiated (or so I thought) that they would put a 3 year warranty on it since it was refurbished - like the original warranty I ordered on the M1330. I also still own additional "accidental damage" warranty that I purchased earlier. But the new DELL basically has been sitting on a shelf at my house. I've watched the occasional movie on it because the screen is bigger than the Toshiba, but that's it. The toshiba is portable. 

About two or three months ago, I decided to put my dissertation work onto the Dell, since I mostly work on it at home. It is the first time I have used the Dell in earnest since I received it. Over the last couple of weeks, the computer screen started doing weird things. This morning it gave me some sort of driver display error message. I called in and got a run-around that I will explain below. It ended with me telling the sixth guy I talked to that I hate dell, and hanging up. I knew it would end with a brick wall. I'm guessing Dell saves a lot of money by letting people hit a wall and give up. Nice.

Anyway, back to today's calls, I gave the assorted representatives the service tag number from the current computer: 7SDZPQ1, the refurbished XPS. I also gave them a lot of information - service tag and tech support reference numbers - from the OLD Dell, hoping they could find a paper trail that would lead to an order number for the current computer. I finally pressed them to transfer me to a supervisor, they suddenly came up with some order number that may or may not be mine: 427227529. But they said this order number is from 2010 and I didn't get this problem resolved until late spring or early summer of 2011

NEXT some other woman gave me an entirely different order number, 795097455. I don't know what's right. Unfortunately, I am in currently Flagstaff Arizona with my daughter who had a premature baby. I cannot get at the box that the computer came in, which may or may not still have an order number attached, is in Phoenix. I will not be able to get anything from that box until the baby is out of the hospital and I can go home. Meanwhile, the display device on my Dell is malfunctioning and if my computer goes down, I will not be able to work. 

Finally, I was transferred me to a FOURTH person who "attached" the second order number to the service tag number, and the call dropped. When I called back in, the FIFTH department informed me that this order number goes to the lemon m1330 I had before. Oy. He transferred me to person # 6. Your company SUCKS.

The last jerk I just spoke with did acknowledge that I owned the xps. But then he said the stupidest things ever. He said, "you were HAPPY when we sent you the replacement Dell, and it's not our fault you didn't use it." He also said nobody would have told me that they would give me a warranty with the refurbished computer. Well, how would he know? He wasn't on the call. Maybe they said it to shut me up - and then did nothing - but they did say it. Since they did not do the work to connect the order number to the express service tag, etc, why should we be surprised that they did not provide the promised service warranty? 

So, to recap, first Dell replaced the lemon with a HUGE HONKING refurbished computer, even though I purchased a tiny little NEW portable one. Second, while Dell has had the use of my money for several years, I actually had to buy a second computer - a Toshiba that is still working - to use while i got the first thing settled out. When DELL finally offered me a replacement, and I objected to it's being both big and used, DELL said this was my ONLY CHOICE, and that i had to take it or nothing. But they DID tell me I would have a 3 year warranty on it. Yes, it's DELL's fault it's been sitting on a shelf for two years. If I had wanted an over-sized computer, I would have purchased one in the first place. I've continued to carry the Toshiba because it's tiny. When I finally found a use for the DELL, and moved my dissertation to it because the screen is bigger, it malfunctions within about two or three months. The display is wigging out, and a simple call for help triggered a six person hell, during which people tried to make it my fault that the service tag number didn't connect to a computer, that I ended up with a refurbished DELL without a warranty, and that I didn't immediately start carrying the monster when I did get it. So once again, DELL takes no responsibility and it's all my fault. THIS REALLY SUCKS. 

So I'm right back where I started in 2011. DELL has my money, I have a bad Dell, nobody in DELL cares, and the whole thing wasted so much time. 

Think you can do anything about this?

I bet nothing improves. David Angelo probably doesn't have the authority to make this right.  But if he does, I'll be sure to let you know.  Moral of this story: buy Toshiba.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Funders: Untie Our Hands - a Plea for Nonprofits

This morning I glanced at an article that started with this quote:  

"Dan Pallotta created two huge charity initiatives - AIDS Rides bicycle journeys and Breast Cancer 3-Day events. These initiatives raised $108 million for HIV/AIDS and $194 million for breast cancer. Both had their best years in 2002 … and then Pallotta’s nonprofit went out of business.

In the final session of TED2013, Pallotta shares why that happened: Major sponsors pulled out following a slew of bad press over the idea that his organization was investing 40% of their gross into recruitment and customer service."

There's a tension today for nonprofits.  We're told to "act like a business," but on the other hand, we're told to keep our overhead to a minimum, and as many dollars as possible in programs.  In fact, there are websites set up where donors can go, just to see what percentage of an organization's dollars are in administrative overhead.  Measuring programming dollars to administrative dollars is one way to help donors  know their dollars are productive, and also serves as one demonstration that funds are not being misused.  And yet, using this ratio as the barometer of good management can be short-sighted, and can prevent an organization from reaching its full potential.

In an economic environment where nonprofits are called upon to step up to the plate as governments reduce services, at the same time donor and funding dollars are shrinking, it absolutely behooves an organization to think more like a business.  I find myself advising organizations to look at their special skill sets through new eyes.  Ask "how can you 'sell' something you are good at to create new revenue streams?"  For example, if you're a drug rehab organization, why not offer classes to social workers, psychologists, school counselors, police and others in working with addicts?  This is a skill you have, and you can purvey it into a revenue stream that can be spent any way the organization needs to spend it.

That example is fairly straightforward and doesn't require much money.  Just a few extra hours of staff time to do the training, and whatever it costs to advertise your training events.  But other ideas may require an upfront investment of capital.  Take, for example, a botanical garden I consulted for.  They raise, sell and even patent plants that thrive in their local geographical area.  Their plant sales have been so popular that the organization has to purchase plants from other sources to satisfy the demand.  Plants they grow themselves cost pennies.  Plants they purchase for resale cost dollars.  If this organization could increase the size of their propagation beds, they could change the cost:revenue picture for their plant sales by quite a bit.  But doing so would require a large infusion of upfront cash in building and planting materials, and human time.  The organization felt it could go to a major donor and ask for a one-time investment that, leveraged into this project, would create an on-going source of revenue.  But it would also shift their administrative to program dollars ratio for "the worse" for a year or two.

If nonprofits are to succeed like a business, where there is a solid, mission-driven reason to do so, they need to be given the latitude to spend money on research, on pilot programs, on hiring good people, on investment in ideas with a down-the-road payoff.  All items that cost more in overhead than conventional wisdom allows. This tension between acting like a business and presenting the conventional low overhead image is something that the nonprofit "industry" needs to spend more time talking about, and educating board members, funders and donors.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

No Horns. Don't Look So Surprised.

Can you sum up your thoughts about race in six words?  

NPR's RACE CARD PROJECT asks you to write your story about race in six words. Then it lets you provide some back up material, if you have something else to say. I heard this on NPR, and immediately wanted to participate. 

Here is my six word race card story:
No horns. Don't look so surprised.

I was moved to participate in this project after reading a story about a museum in Germany housing a "Jew in a Box" display. Every day during the exhibit, a Jewish person sits in a glass box for two hours, so that passersby can look at him or her, and ask questions about Jews. Today there are only about 200,000 Jews in all of Germany, since the Holocaust cleared most of us out. Many Germans have never seen a Jew.  This exhibit triggered memories of growing up in Kansas, where I was generally the token Jewish kid in my classes, and the same later in Arizona. The Jewish population of Arizona is fairly substantial now, but when I first moved out here, the city was much smaller, and so was my Jewish community. I've been peppered with questions like "You don't have horns?" and "Can I learn the things Jews know about money, or would I have to convert?" and "I thought all Jewish women were loud and bosomy" (ouch at two levels!). This might sound like the stuff of Catskills humor, but taken to its extreme, the lack of awareness about Jews has enabled entire populations to believe we do horrible, crazy, cultish things like killing children to use their blood for making Matzah and wine (blood libel). These claims that have been - and still are being - used to instigate hatred and violence toward Jews throughout history. But, you ask, who could believe that? Well, why not believe it? There are religious societies practicing animal sacrifice. There is a cannibalistic tribe or two out there somewhere. Why not believe this about those exotic Jews? And it's also hit close to home. I once bit my tongue when a neighbor, who came by to borrow sugar, stood telling me how much she and her husband hated their Jewish tenant. I bit my tongue. I was a single mom living alone with two toddlers. Her hatred was palpable and it frightened me. It was hard to explain this hatred to my children, who wondered why we only decorated for Chanukah inside our house, not outside like our Christian neighbors. Some will ask, even so, is this about race? "Jew" is not a box you can check on the census race form. Many people see Jewish as a religion. I could argue it either way. If you want to convert, it's not a racial thing, and I welcome you in. If you're my nephew, who suffers a rare double recessive Jewish genetic disease called ML4, it is a racial thing. But the real reason to participate is because of what the "other" person thinks. He thinks I should have horns. That can only be true for him if he sees "Jew" as a race. Come get to know me. I'm more normal than you might think.

Most of you leave your posts on my Facebook wall, but this time, I hope you'll tell me what six words would be on your race card.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Jewish lady, a gay Mormon teen & Jesus have lunch

During which, a straight middle age Jewish lady learns something very cool from a gay Mormon teen.

Today on Facebook I posted a father-son article from the Washington Post about Matt Salmon Sr. and Jr.  Senior is a Congressman (R-AZ) against gay marriage equality, while Junior is an openly gay young man.  The article referenced Junior's personal blog, and I popped over to see what a gay Mormon son of a Congressman might blog about.  Before we pop, let me just say that the Post article, which contains videos of both father and son talking about Junior's coming out, is really rather touching.  The father is coming to grips with himself, and the son is very patient.  They are both loving.  But what I learned in the blog has nothing to do with that.

Getting to Matt, Jr's blog.  It is filled with awesome things.  If you want to read first hand his experience coming out as Mormon youth, you must read into his blog.  He is incredibly brave and articulate.  But what I want to share today has nothing to do with coming out.  This is the thing Junior blogged that struck me today:

While finding himself, he has become more or less agnostic.  He said he has come to see Jesus Christ as "merely a symbol for forgiveness."

In one fell swoop, this statement gave me an entirely new perspective on Christianity.  I hope I'm not offending any of my Christian friends (and if so, I apologize).  I know quite a bit about Christian theology, and of course know that Christians believe Jesus died for the sins of the rest of us.  But, as a Jewish person, it is hard to separate this idea out from the bundle of ideas I've been taught about Christianity.  A virgin birth, for one example.

For me personally - as a Jew - there is no use at all for a concept of a child born without a father, or, another way it's been explained to me, as the son of God and a mortal woman.  That is the stuff of Greek and Roman mythology.  And again, I apologize if I am offending.  I am simply stating what the Christianity story sounds like to a Jewish girl who has been taught that God does not manifest in mortal form, and therefore does not have the faith to overcome the teachings of science - that there is no such thing as a virgin birth.  And so, not buying the first part of the story, I didn't bother to spend much time thinking about the remainder.

But Junior stripped away the story and drove me straight into the heart of a teaching.  I can get my arms around the need for a concrete symbol of forgiveness.  I can think about that, work with it.  Of course Jews also have a focus on forgiveness, but the difference is that, seen from Junior's perspective, Christianity puts forgiveness smack dab in the middle of a Christian's relationship with God.  Jews put other things - the yoke of the commandments, the role of community - in the middle.  Forgiveness in Judaism is about recognizing when you've put down the yoke or turned away from your community or your responsibilities within it, and finding a way to turn back.  This turning is called teshuvah, and does involve forgiving and asking to be forgiven.

When I see forgiveness as being at the center of Christianity, it raises some big questions that do beg answers. The first few questions that come to mind:  why is it so important to put forgiveness front and center?  What does the act of forgiveness offer an individual?  A community?  Humanity generally?  What is the relationship between forgiveness and God?  A lot of good thoughts about those questions come up immediately.  And, as it happens, there is still some forgiveness I have left to achieve in my life.  Who doesn't have some of that, eh?  When I'm not dissertating (no, that's not a real word and yes, I made it up), I will definitely go back to think about this.

Geshe Michael Roach
Not long ago, I went to listen to Buddhist Geshe (master) Michael Roach.  Each thing he said - everything - is an idea already present and known to me through either traditional Jewish teachings or mystical Kabbalistic teachings.  But the Geshe put his tenets out there through an Eastern lens.  Judaism was once an Eastern religion, but it's been a very long time since it's Westernized.  When these tenets were presented through their original Eastern lens, a light went off.  They suddenly became useful to me.  I could see how to make applicable things that had simply been "ideas" to that point.  I could even see how my Western perspective acted as a barrier to grasping the implications of these teachings.  The same way I could suddenly see how a story about a virgin birth could obscure the value of other Christian teachings.

Interestingly, a piece of what the Geshe taught also had to do with teshuvah, and forgiveness.  Based in the concept of karma, he called it something else.  Something akin to mitigating the effect of the bad seeds you've sown.  Funny how things connect back to each other.

I love Judaism.  I'm in no danger of converting to either Buddhism or Christianity.  Whatever I learn from another tradition will be filtered back through my Jewish perspective anyway.  I will think about it "like a Jew" and not like a Christian or Buddhist.

But we can learn from each other.  After all, its so many roads up the same mountain.  A simple shift in focus may help us see our lives differently, to think outside the box about matters that have been sitting heavy on us.  To move forward in spiritual growth.

So, there wasn't really a joke.  A middle aged Jewish lady, a gay Mormon teenager and Jesus have lunch. I know you were waiting for it.  I looked around for it.  I wanted it to be there.  But I'm just not that funny.  Forgive me.