Boy, bye.

One of my least favorite things when you have a billing error with a major company is being told I don’t know how businesses work. It’s not that I don’t understand a company’s policies — I may or may not — it’s that company policies usually suck for the little guy. When a company error costs an individual a few hundred dollars, that may be small beans for the corporation at fault, but it’s no small issue for the person at home sitting on their hands and waiting for resolution.
 
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After well over ten years with my hosting company, I decided to pull the plug last week over a billing error. This latest fiasco — where my hosting company took $300 out of my bank account after I expressly asked them not to renew my services — is like being robbed, but because I’m “only” without that money for 5-10 business days I’m supposed to be okay with it. I asked customer service what they could do for me as a long time customer who had told them not to charge me for the very thing I was charged for, and the answer was nothing. They can reimburse me, or sell me another three years of service at a discount. After several days of runaround, several calls into customer service employees who were rude and impatient with me, (and three business days and five calendar days later, still waiting for my coin) I decided to go elsewhere.

A million years ago, I worked for Comcast, and it was exactly like this. I spent about three years at Comcast in the slums of customer service, and I was the person on the phone or at the counter who helped you — or didn’t.

I know, I know. Forgive me, it was a recession.

At this kind of company, as with web hosting, the social contract is that the company bills regularly for a utility (cable, web hosting, cellular service, whatever) and the customer expects continuous service at a set price for little to no maintenance. The customer doesn’t want to have to call in and finagle with the details, they just want the service to work and for billing to be predictable. And usually it is! Everyone is more or less happy with this arrangement until something goes wrong. 

The system is great when it works, but when it isn’t, it’s a consumer hell. Then, the customer wants fast and cheap resolution to the problem, and rightly so, because the investment for the person whose been billed at a regular term now has significant money and time invested in this company and expects the company to have a similar investment in the customer’s happiness with the product. But companies aren’t made to work like that. They mostly don’t care, are slow, and push customer service representatives to the front line to take the customer’s anger.

I know it sometimes doesn’t seem like your CSR cares about your plight, but they probably do, or did until they were subjected to hours of complaints, sighs, abusive language, and otherwise clipped and unpleasant interactions all day to earn a paycheck. They care, but they’re usually underpaid, disrespected, and unappreciated, and rarely have good resolution tools to help a customer with, because their real function is to be the buffer between unhappy customers and the operations of the company. So much customer service training is spent on telling CSRs how to manage their stress when they’re under incredible pressure and tension all day, and not enough attention is paid to whether the policies they’re expected to uphold are fair to the customer, and whether the policies create the conflict between customer and company, more or less to keep the customer out of the executive and operational equation.

But the tragedy of it is that while companies could empower customer service reps to help customers in a real way, management trends like lean operating initiatives, as well as a lack of prestige, education, training, trust, and more (for example, I would love to see studies on how the customer service industry in America, frequently staffed and managed by American minorities, when it isn’t outsourced to international minorities, is shaped by racism and sexism), stand in the way of executives giving CSRs the ability to engage in actual conflict resolution.

It seems like bad business to me. Every time I’m put in a situation where I have to call some company I’ve sunk hundreds or thousands of dollars into and beg them to hep me figure out what went wrong, and be told instead that I’m too dumb to understand their anti-consumer policies, I think how silly this scenario is, especially since it’s one of the few touch points where a company can really impress a customer.

TL;DR: After ten years with Bluehost and a tragic-for-me billing faux pas,  I’m moving to A Small Orange. They’re cuter anyway.

The Chickening

I wish I had before and after pictures of my yard. I moved into this house about eleven years ago, and at the time, most of the yard was dedicated to a massive garden. It was too big for me, so we eventually sodded it over and put in grass. There was a pond at one time too, the neighborhood watering hole for a family of cardinals and a place for moles and voles to drown while trying to get a drink. That was torn out too. Today this area is home to a greenhouse and chicken coop (still under construction).

Greens to the left, chickens to the right.
FREE LABOR.

Chickens love compost. Give them some yard and kitchen waste and they turn it into beautiful compost. Above, the ladies are working over a pile of straw and scraps. Our ladies are brown egg layers and exotics, a mix of Wyandottes and others, a Cochin, an Easter Egger, and a Fayoudi. 

Obviously to use this beautiful compost, I needed to turn an old flower bed into a vegetable garden. 

Baby squash.

We are growing squash, tomatoes, cukes, zukes, eggplant, peppers, cantaloupe, and pumpkin this year. We planted a patch of asparagus and another for strawberries as well. Some of this will feed the family, and some of this will make it back to the chickens. 

Eventually the ladies will lay eggs, and after we eat the eggs, the ladies will eat their eggshells. 

Lady in front is called Adventure Chicken. She is an Egyptian Fayoudi.

They use the nutrients in the eggshells to keep making strong, hard eggshells. 

Further compounding the system we have going here is the greenhouse, where we can extend the growing season a couple of months on either end. I plan to grow greens, arugula, lettuces, and more, and the greenhouse should help keep the chickens warm in the cold season. 

The veggies feed us, the scraps feed the chickens and/or are turned into compost which feeds the garden where we plant the veggies that feed us, and so forth. 

I never thought I’d get this excited about compost, but hey. 

Biking With Google Maps

A couple of summers ago, my beau and I biked through Chicago from Logan Square to the Chicago Botanical Garden and back. It was a magical day: perfect weather, great company, and a lot of adventure. 

We didn’t have any maps to guide us other than Google Maps and a vague idea of where the bike trails go. It turned out Google Maps was an excellent guide for taking us through the city. Once we figured out how to find the trail heads, we were golden. 

The best part, at the end of a very long day, was coming back through Northwestern University’s gorgeous campus on the coast of Lake Michigan. We were a little lost, trying to find the trail head, when I looked up and saw the pristine Baha’i temple ahead, an imaginably ornate white dome bathed in pink against the bluest sky. 

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We pedaled in wonder, with the city and waterfront bathed in pink,  until the sun set. We were exhausted, euphoric, and grateful to be witness to such a golden moment.

But back to Google Maps. 

 

This trip was great fun, but in hindsight it felt reckless not to bring any other kinds of navigational equipment. We had our cell phones and our wits, and that’s all. 

Doubling down on our recklessness, we repeated this plan — nothing navigational but our phones — on a trip in Elkhart County, Indiana, that Fall, doing a sixty mile loop including the Pumpkinvine Trail, a rural rail-to-trail line through Amish country. On both trips, the Google Maps app gave us clear directions which included the best route for cyclists, using designated bike trails when possible.

Tip: get an inexpensive stem mount to hold your phone for easy use while in the saddle. Your friends will make fun of it until you lead them home.

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Purple Hat in Blackberry Stitch

  

I saw this hat on Pinterest and decided to try to make it without buying a pattern. I casted on 96 stitches (worsted weight yarn and size 8 needles), then 1×1 rib for about six inches, then blackberry stitch for about seven inches, then decreased and topped it with a Pom Pom. It’s super cute, but I did the decrease in stockinette which I don’t love. I’ll try it again and figure out a more attractive decrease. 

It helps to have an adorable model. 

Blackberry Stitch, aka Trinity Stitch, in the Round

I couldn’t find a straightforward explanation for knitting blackberry stitch — also known as the trinity stitch — in the round as when you knit a hat, so here goes. 
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The stitch is knit in multiples of four stitches. Knit in multiples of four rows until your desired length is reached. 

Row 1: Purl all stitches.

Row 2: *k3tog, (p1, k1, p1) into the next stitch; rep from * to end.

Row 3: Purl all stitches.

Row 4: *(p1, k1, p1) into the next stitch, k3tog; rep from * to end.

I’m currently knitting a hat from the bottom up. CO 96, (k1,p1) for 30 rows, then blackberry stitch until I decrease. I’ll let you know how it goes.

One tip is to keep the 1st and 3rd rows — the purl rows — looser than you normally knit, because knitting three stitches together will give you hand cramps. This is a remarkably satisfying knit, however, because the little bobs of yarn give you so much texture.