Chatting with Comcast

Several days ago, reports began to come in that some people were finding Amherst Media channels unwatchable. And not just because it was another interminable Select Board meeting, but because the transmission was garbled. You can see the picture, but there are tiling and other digital artifacts and the sound has stops and skips. The signal leaving Amherst Media is fine: it is happening somewhere between Amherst Media and the TV -- that is, inside Comcast.

I tried calling Comcast on the phone. A robot walked me through a series of steps: rebooting the cable box and then sending a message to "enhance the signal" which "might take an hour". This had no effect.

Today, I did an online chat with, what was reported to be a human being named Tina who said things like this:

Tina > Sorry to know you're facing issue with the channels.
Tina > Let me quickly try and get you to the path of resolution.

I was asked a series of robotic questions and then to provide the serial number. Eventually "she" said:

Tina > I'll try to enhance signals to the box which may disrupt the connection of other devices.
[...]
Tina > Since we've restored the device now it would take upto 30minutes to 1hour for the box to get updated.
Tina > And to get this fixed.

Eventually I just asked the question. Note that our Comcast bill is still in Lucy's name, so I was pretending to be Lucy.

LUCY_ > There is a rumor that this is the result of Comcast changing from MPEG 2 to MPEG 4 and that older boxes need to be replaced. Should I take my old box to the Comcast office to be replaced?

She did not comment on the cause, but admitted we could try swapping the box. As if it was probably unrelated to the problem. Then, however, the conversation takes a different turn.

Tina > However while I was going through your account I came across an awesome saving package.
Tina > Where you can get the box upgraded and also extra channels with HD service and Internet Blast speed
Tina > Currently you're paying approximately $XXX for the internet and Tv service.
Tina > However I can give you the new package for $XXX for 12 months

Wow. Just wow. Your service doesn't work, so this is a *great* time to upsell someone. Not to be outdone, I asked another question.

LUCY_ > Does it include HD for my local cable access channels?
Tina > Yes there would be HD for local channels.
LUCY_ > Given that we just re-negotiated the cable franchise agreement and the Comcast representatives stonewalled the town on allowing HD broadcast of the cable access channels, I think your statement unlikely.

She continued to badger me again and again with various offers until I eventually put an end to the chat session.

LUCY_ > Trying to upsell me when the service isn't working, is not an effective strategy.
LUCY_ > Thanks for your time or computational cycles.

So, there you go. It's just about exactly what I have come to expect from Comcast. Supremely bad service from poor, ignorant customer service flacks. I feel sorry for "Tina", assuming she's a human being. It must be awful to work for a company like that.

Trading in your fly-swatter for a hammer

I don't have any inside information about what's been going on in the schools in Amherst, but I had an insight many years ago that provides a lens to help me understand what's happening now.

When my children were in elementary school, Alisa got involved in the Parent Guardian Group (PGG) at Mark's Meadow. Later, she ran for School Committee and, after a relatively tough campaign, won a seat. What struck me more than anything else was our first parent-teacher conference after she was a school committee member rather than a parent: it completely transformed her relationship with the school. And she discovered she needed to be very careful of what she said and what issues she tried to address: because everything she said was interpreted differently.

I came up with an analogy that helped me understand what had happened: As a member of the PGG, it was like she had a fly-swatter, which was great for addressing small problems in-and-around the school. But it wasn't effective for crafting policy or making real change. When she joined the school committee, it was like trading in her fly-swatter for a hammer. A hammer is great for accomplishing real work -- but it's terrible for swatting flies. And if you try to use it for swatting flies, you just break everything. This is exactly what I think we've had over the past few months.

When you serve on a committee, you choose to invest your effort in helping the committee craft effective policy. But it means you lose the ability to try to address problems directly, outside of that venue. You get to influence the actual policy but, if you don't agree with the outcomes, you have to either accept and support them — or leave the committee. What you *can't* do, is try to have it both ways: you can't have an inside track in trying to affect policy and, at the same time, try to rabble-rouse outside the committee to put pressure on the process. You have to choose one or the other. When you don't, you end up with outcomes like what we've seen: where the committee has lost the ability to provide effective governance.

Tago dua de ARE

La dua tago de ARE estas la plej longa. Mi partoprenis du programerojn kaj faris mian propran kontribuon.

Unue, Orlando Raola gvidis programeron pri te-trinkado. Li klarigis kio estas teo, kiel oni kultivas ĝin, kaj kiel prepari kaj trinki ĝin. Ĝi estis tre interesa sed mi konstatas ke mi ankoraŭ ne ŝatas teon.

Poste Ron Glossop legis prelegon pri la signifo de la nuna "homara epoko". Montriĝis ke temis pri monda federaciismo kaj Esperanto kiel internacia lingvo. Kia surprizo!

Mia programero denove temis la verkadon de hajkoj. Venis eble dek aŭ dekdu homoj. Mi ĉifoje nomis ĝin "ginko promeno" kaj, post enkonduko, mi proponis ke la partoprenantoj promeno en la apuda ĝardeno por serĉi inspiron por hajkoj. Mi verkis du:

en la florĝarden'
ĉio jam fortranĉita…
krom la solidago

de la tilio
falas flava folio…
ŝia esprimo

Kelkaj verkis ĝis kvin aŭ ses! Ni rondiris la cirklon ĝis ĉiuj estis legitaj. Kia plezuro!

Post tagmanĝo estis prelegoj pri Youtube kaj la grupa fotado. Sed tiam mi estis tre laca.

Dum la libera tempo, mi decidis dormi kaj mi vekiĝis kun sufiĉa energio por la kultura vespero.

Por mia kontribuo, mi proponis legi la epopean poemon kiun mi verkis por la Belartaj Konkursoj. Mia poemo gajnis nenian premion, do mi ne rekte scias kion pensis la juĝistoj. Eble ĝi estis unu el tiuj aŭtoroj kiu, laŭ Giulio Cappa "rezignis pri la ebleco vere konkurenci por literatura premio kaj preferas ŝoki ĵurianojn kaj respondeculojn per personaj atakoj aŭ mokoj". Mi supozas ke mi neniam scios.

Tomaso proponis ke mi estu la unua. Mi uzis la komputilon por montri la duopojn dum mi legis. Mi ofertis mallongan priskribon pri la poemo, pri kio estas romanco, kaj mia celo ke Esperantujo havu epopean poezion por priskribi niajn mitojn kaj heroajn figurojn.

Mi voĉo estis ankoraŭ iomete malforta pro malvarmumo, sed mi sukcesis aŭdigi min. Je la ĝustaj punktoj, la aŭskultantoj ridegis kaj, ĉe la fino, mi ricevis grandan aplaŭdon.

Mi tre ĝuis la aliajn belajn spektaklojn: muzikon kaj kantadon, plejparte. Sed por mi la plej grava afero estis ke mi plenumis ĉion kion mi celis fari ĉijare kaj mi povis simple ripozi kaj ĝui la programon.

ARE Komenciĝas

Mi ellitiĝis je la 4a horo ĉimatene por finprilabori la programon por la Aŭtuna Renkontiĝo. Estis kelkaj plendoj kaj plibonigoj kiujn mi devis pritrakti kaj tiam iri al la oficejo por presi la paperajn ekzemplerojn. Je la 7a horo, mi estis en la aŭto kaj jam survoje. Sed ne al ARE -- ne unue.

Mia amiko Bug Rodger proponis ke ni iru al la Treehouse Bierfarejo por aĉeti bieron. Treehouse estas unu el la nunaj steluloj de la lokaj bierfarejoj kaj ili fariĝis ege popularaj. Mi aŭdis pri ili sed ankoraŭ ne provis la bierojn.

Ili malfermiĝas je la 11a sabate. Mi alvenis proksimume je la 8a kaj estis la 9a en vico. Rodger alvenis kelkaj minutoj poste. Ni pasigis la horojn per babilado. Dum ni parolis alvenis pli kaj pli da homoj. Kaj pli kaj pli kaj pli.

Line at Treehouse Brewery

Ili fakte malfermiĝis preskaŭ duonhoro antaŭ la 11a. Antaŭ ili malfermiĝis, ili disdonis mendilojn kiun oni povis plenumi por botelegoj de freŝa biero. Kiam oni eniris la vendejon, oni povis aĉeti ĝis 6 ladskatolojn de 2 specoj de biero, 1 botelo de "nativa" biero, kaj ĝis tri botelegojn de freŝa biero. Mi aĉetis la ladskatolojn kaj du botelegojn. Post nur kelkaj momentoj, mi estis jam en la aŭto kaj survoje al ARE.

Mi devis halti dum kelkaj minutoj en la posttagmezo pro laco sed alvenis kelkaj minutoj antaŭ la komenciĝo de la programo. (Kiu estas bone, pro tio ke mi kunportis la programojn!) Normando gvidis la bonvenon pro tio, mi ŝercis, ke mi alvenis sed forgesis kunporti la voĉon. (Mi estas malsana kaj la voĉo estas tre malforta).

Dum la Literatura Horo, mi parolis dum kelkaj minutoj pri Belarta Rikolto. Mi priskribis ĝin, parolis iomete pri la Belartaj Konkursoj, kaj konfesis ke mi havis en ĝi rakonton kiu gajnis honoran mencion. Mi legis iomete de mia rakonto.

La Amika Vespero estis tre sukcesa. Ni faris multajn ludojn kaj mi eĉ gvidis ludon -- nur duone sukcese. Sed finfine, mi revenis al mia ĉambro kaj, dum ĝisdatiĝi pri la novaĵoj kaj verki ĉi tion, mi trinkis iom en la "Haze" biero. Bonege. Tre kremeca kaj bongusta. Kia bona momento estas por vivi.

Structure of Public Higher Education in Massachusetts

One topic that came up at the NTT gathering yesterday is the need for a chart, diagram, guide, or infographic, that concisely explains how governance and collective bargaining are organized in higher ed in Massachusetts. It's an incomprehensible alphabet soup until you learn how things work.

For example: in public higher education, the "board" might be the Board of Higher Ed, which governs higher ed -- except for the UMass system that has a Board of Trustees instead. Both UMass Lowell and UMass Amherst have unions called "MSP" to represent faculty, but they're totally different organizations. By contrast, UMass Amherst has MSP and UMass Boston has FSU, but they actually are legally one entity called JCC that bargains for both. UMass Amherst has three separate unions: MSP, PSU, and USA that cover faculty, professional and classified employees, but FSU does all three at Boston. Lowell, Amherst, and Boston are all affiliated with MTA, but Dartmouth is in AFT. Eventually, you learn all this stuff, but its impossible for someone who doesn't know it to understand how things work.

I think it would be a great idea to have a big chart or infographic that could show governance (from the top down, of course) and then union representation (from the bottom up) with names, acronyms, and leadership info. I think it might really help people get up-to-speed on the structure of things.

NTT Gathering

Last year, I attended the first NTT Gathering that brought together non-tenure track faculty from across the UMass sytem to talk, primarily, about issues of equity. They met again during the summer, when I was out of town, and again today. I drove with a colleague to Boston to attend the meeting.

It was a smaller group this time, but represented a sampling of the activists from Amherst, Lowell, and Boston -- as well as several community colleges. It was interesting to hear what's going on on each of the campuses.

Amherst just held an NTT summit where faculty came together to establish positions for bargaining. I was also able to report about the conversation I had with Marty Meehan last spring after our first NTT Gathering and read the letter I had drafted to him.

Boston has been struggling with a budget deficit where the administration was directed to make deep cuts in their NTT faculty. The union has been pushing back with actions to raise visibility and highlight the nonsensical false economy of cutting the NTT faculty that actually generate the vast majority of the revenue of the campus.

The Lowell group is drawn primarily from the adjunct faculty that have been trying to negotiate their first contract as a new union under very trying circumstances. They've made some progress, but talks have mostly been stalled for more than a year.

There was also a community college group that spoke to the challenges of organizing the adjuncts because it tends to be composed of three populations: (1) people who are full-time but teach an extra course or two to earn a little additional money, (2) people who are in business or a profession and want to teach as a hobby, and (3) people who are trying to make a living as an academic. Since these groups have very different interests, they're difficult to organize or mobilize toward common goals.

We talked about how to move forward and how to organize the group. I recommended avoiding the model of having a "board" with "officers" as I thought that was mainly necessary to provide oversight of money or assets, which we don't have. I suggested a steering committee with a chair whose members could serve as conduits to the other committees we might organize. I suggested it be less formal, but the sense of the group was to have equal representation with two from each UMass campus and a couple more that could represent the state universities and community colleges.

We set future meetings for November, February, and April with some goals to aim for to refine our message and plan some actions to raise visibility for the issues. I'm pleased to see it happening and, although I resisted efforts to get dragged into being on the steering committee, agreed to help draft the mission statement.

Cheap Shots

There have been a variety of posts coming out recently critiquing the left for dismissing Trump's candidacy (Hillbilly Elegy, Strangers in their Own Land, and others). Today, it's Fabius Maximuson on Matt Taibi.

These critiques claim that people on the right are offended by liberals who refuse engage with them on the issues: Why they lose: the Left tells us that Trump is like Hitler. I can see why they might call it a cheap shot.

But it's actually not. Trump ACTUALLY IS a fascist, by claiming irrationally that he's the only one that can fix things; by creating a cult of personality; by asserting that torture works and he'll use more of it; by claiming he can unilaterally circumvent the constitution to discriminate against people based on race and religion. Trump ACTUALLY DOES espouse anti-science and anti-reality positions. Trump is a fraud and a liar. It is not a cheap shot to point these things out. Rather, it is a cheap shot to claim that liberals "dismiss" Trump just because he spouts lies that some people want to hear. And a bunch of Trump's simplistic ideas are just stupid: like The Wall.

The US could build "a wall", but it would be a terrible use of resources. It would be much better to assess how best to effect change and to use the money thoughtfully for a hundred different policies (e.g. hire more staff, build better databases, etc.) and investments (buy drones, cameras, and early detection systems) that would give us the greatest bang for the buck. But that's complicated and requires policy wonks to develop and implement. And, unfortunately, that's not what a lot of people want to hear.

After the Massachusetts primary, I mused about the situation as I saw it: namely that there is a strong anti-establishment wind blowing in both parties and that it was a terrible mistake for the Democrats to double-down on the one person who is perhaps the greatest living embodiment of the elite establishment candidate.

while establishment Democrats would probably line up behind whoever the nominee is, the disaffected people will not. I suspect they will probably be a lot more willing to cross party lines: They don't care who burns everything down, as long as someone does. I really worry that being able to tap into the disaffected vote of both parties might be enough to carry Trump to victory.

The Democrats could have chosen Bernie. This is a consistent fatal pattern with the Democrats: picking the candidate whose turn it is, rather than looking at what the times and circumstances require. Still: we live in a democracy (sort of) and the people have spoken (sort of) and we'll just have to live with the consequences.

Brewer Stew

Brewer Stew

Today I made a pot of Brewer Stew. This is an invention of my own with two main influences. Several years ago, at the tomato festival, a guy made something he called wild man stew which I liked a lot. And Buzz Hoagland makes a rather different stew that's also excellent. Mine is a sort of synthesis of the two. My recipe is rather simple: fill a big pot about half full with water. Throw in two pounds of italian sausage (I use links that I cook for a while; then remove, cut into slices, and then throw back in), diced potatoes, carrots, and sliced mushrooms to basically fill the pot. Season with pepper, salt, two bay leaves, and rather a lot of red wine. This is why I call it "Brewer Stew" because if you're drinking beer, what else are you going to do with the wine?

After it simmers for a couple of hours, it's ready to eat. And so am I.

Trump does not take positions

If one thing makes me angry about coverage during this political campaign, it's the assertion that Donald Trump might change his positions. From the Guardian:

Some in the crowd sensed that behind the brash reiteration of mass deportations Trump was in fact edging towards a more moderate, viable, policy. “I think he’s loosening up, becoming more realistic,” said Nancy Lewis, 56, a retired law enforcer. “And I’m OK with that. I have Hispanic friends.”

No. If one thing has become clear, Donald Trump does not take positions. He says whatever comes into his head at the moment. He does have some tendencies and prejudices that show up frequently, like xenophobia, ignorance, and vituperativeness. But these are not policy positions. He does not have a set of well-thought-out or carefully considered set of policies on anything.

Perhaps this is what attracts some people to him. Perhaps most people are like him in this regard: it's the rare person that can actually develop and maintain a coherent set of positions. In fact, nobody can really do it without a broadly trained set of policy advisors. But the mistake is believing that anything that Trump says represents an underlying, considered position. The only thing that is a constant is his ceaseless effort to angle for a momentary advantage.

It's a very weird election cycle.

Pintkunveno en NovJorko

Je la 25a de aŭgusto, mi partoprenis pintkunvenon de ne-registaraj organizaĵoj fare de la Fondaĵo pri Monda Disvolviĝo. Mi iris al la Unuiĝintaj Nacioj kun Humphrey Tonkin kiel reprezentanto de Universala Esperanto Asocio. Partoprenis proksimume 50 homoj de diversaj ne-registaraj organizaĵoj por diversaj prelegoj kaj diskutoj.

Humphrey Tonkin

La celo de la pintkunveno estis disvastigi informojn pri la Celoj por Daŭripova Evoluiĝo.

Ediola Pashollari pritraktis la procezon por disvolviĝi politikon. Enuhee Jung gvidis diskuton pri tergloba civitaneco, la rolo de globaj firmaoj, kaj arto. Felix Dodds priskribis novan libron kiu temas la historion de la disvolviĝo de la celoj. Alice Chen kaj Robert Swap priskribis klerigajn programojn kiuj montris kiel oni strebas al la daŭripovaj celoj. Radhika Iyengar gvidis diskuton kiu ofertis starpunktojn pri la celoj de la malgrandaj insulo-ŝtatoj de Palaŭo kaj Maldivoj.

Finfine okazis dancan kaj muzikan spektaklon fare de trupo de ĉinaj junuloj de Ĵianga Etna Orfejo. Ili portis buntajn kostumojn kaj kantas kaj dancis bele.

Dancistinoj

Ne tute fifine, ĉar poste iu ĉina kuracisto montris diapozitivojn de sia oficejo kaj diversaj aparatoj. Mi supozis ke li donacis monon por subteni la kunsidon kaj pro tio postulis la rajton tedigi la partoprenantojn per siaj bildoj.

Poste, mi tagmanĝis kun Humphrey por diskuti kiel la Esperanto-movado povas ekuzi la celojn por daŭripova evoluigo por vidigi la Esperanto-movadon al la Unuiĝintaj Nacioj. Kaj por levi la demandojn pri lingvo kaj lingvaj rajtoj, kiuj mankas al la celoj.

Pages

Subscribe to Bierfaristo Blog RSS