Read the Bill, Congress!

The US Congress recently passed the Cap and Trade Bill without reading through the over 1200-page document, which more than likely contained more pork than a Louisiana farmer’s pantry. It was a bill drafted by lobbyists and edited in closed door committees, paving the way for tons of very lucrative government contracts and taxes that will surely pad many insiders’ pockets for decades to come.

Now they’re getting ready to fast-track the House Health Care Bill, another over 1000-page document, introduced as H.R. 3200, which no one will likely read, except the lobbyists drafting it and the few congressmen whose larder needs refilling as the way for the bill is greased through the inner workings of our illustrious Congress.

What’s to be done about this? At the very least, Congress should bother to read the bills before they vote and sign them. Pretty simple, right?

That’s why the Sunlight Foundation came up with, a website which proposes a simple rule: post all bills online for 72 hours before they are debated. This was introduced as H. Res. 554 — a change to the House resolutions — and is slowly making its way through the approval process thanks to people like you and me, who are bugging our representatives to vote for it. The 72 hour delay would give constituents a decent amount of time during which to read through the proposed bills and see if they need to act.

I endorse the 72 Hour Rule

Let’s not forget President Obama promised his own 5-day delay on signing any new bills during his campaign, but has almost never respected that promise. So we’ve got a Congress and a President that don’t really bother to read all the bills they’re signing, and don’t even want to pretend like they’re doing it — at least not yet. It’s a grand example they’re setting for the rest of the world, isn’t it? They’re passing bills they haven’t read, and they’re telling us everything is on the up and up, and we have nothing to worry about, because they’re hard at work on fixing America. Whoopee!

Please tell your friends about Go there, sign the online petition, and bug your Representatives to pass the 72-hour rule.

Read The Bill from Sunlight Foundation on Vimeo.


Goodbye, Duke Nukem

When the Duke Nukem series came out in the late 90s, I was a huge fan. There was a time when I played it every day, and I knew almost every trick on each level. I even bleached my hair once to get the Duke Nukem look. Given that I was also working out regularly back then and had some fairly serious muscle on me, it was a pretty good approximation.

As with all such phases, my obsession with the video game passed on, but I still looked forward to the sequel, called Duke Nukem Forever. I waited, along with countless others, since 1997, only to find out last month that 12 years later, in 2009, work on the game stopped altogether.

It was, by all means, an expected conclusion to what had become a game industry joke and cliché. Still, when I see the trailer for Duke Nukem Forever, released in 2007, I still feel regret for the promises made so many times that never came true. I’d have loved to play the sequel, if only for nostalgic reasons. This should have been awesome. Instead, it ended up in the crapper. What a shame.

[Video from Don MacAskill’s Duke Nukem Forever gallery at SmugMug]


Thank you Congressman Van Hollen!

This is Congressman Chris Van Hollen, the man that represents our district on the Hill. He’s got our heartfelt thanks and gratitude.

Do you want to know why? My wife and her students had to suffer for seven months at her piano studio — without heat in the winter and without air conditioning in the summer — because of Pepco’s unbelievable (one could call it criminal) inability to fix a panel on the outside of the building where she works and had caught fire. (Pepco is our local electricity company.)

The store owner and store manager called Pepco on numerous (countless) occasions to ask about the status of the repairs. They’d get one excuse after another. Usually, Pepco tried to blame the county, who they said was moving too slow in their approval of the repairs permit. Most often, they simply didn’t pick up the phone. Too busy, I gather. Hah.

The store owner even tried to contact the Washington Post, to see if they’d be interested. They weren’t. Shame on them. I guess the story was too small to bother with, right?

This went on for SEVEN MONTHS. I’d love to know how an electricity company that can respond within hours in case a tree downs a power line can’t get their act together and fix an electrical panel in SEVEN MONTHS.

I wrote about it here on my site back in April. Nothing came of that, either. I guess Pepco doesn’t care about bad PR unless it airs on big media, like the Washington Post — who didn’t seem to care.

Long story short, do you know who cared? Congressman Van Hollen, that’s who! We wrote to him on 5/27/2008, and a day later, on 5/28, he wrote a letter back to us and promised he would look into it. He put us in touch with one of his staffers, Miti Figueredo, who even called us to confirm that the congressman was interested in helping us.

Fast forward to 6/09/2008 (yesterday). It was horribly hot — temperatures approached 100 degrees. Pepco showed up in force, with a large team, and got the panel fixed within hours. The store and the studio now have air conditioning once more!

Thank you, Congressman Van Hollen! Thank you for caring when no one else seemed to care! You have our many thanks and gratitude! Thank you for truly representing your district and for caring about your constituents!


It’s about expectations

Many of us have heard this before, but it bears repeating. Customer or user satisfaction depends, in large part, upon the expectations you set, as a service or product provider. Promise something you can’t or don’t deliver, and satisfaction goes right down the drain, no matter what you did right.

A great friend of mine put this another way: under-promise, and over-deliver. It’s plain, simple, and it should be the golden rule that companies use when they think about their products and services. I don’t mean you should set your sights on mediocrity, or that you should settle for the lowest common denominator. But you should ALWAYS make sure you promise only what you can absolutely deliver, and if you do anything above and beyond the call of duty, it’s icing on the cake, and it makes the customer ecstatic in a viral sort of way.

Have you heard of Micro Center? Neither did I, till a couple of weeks ago. Their website is certainly underwhelming — at least it is at this point in time, but I have a feeling that’ll change. I got a flyer in the mail from them, inviting me to the store for a free gift. I went in and was blown away. Their store has the coolest and best floor layout I’ve ever seen! It’s clean, well-lit, beautiful, stocked to the gills with cool technology, and everyone is friendly! Did they promise any of that in their flyer? No, they just promised the free gift and mentioned the new store. They delivered on the free gift just fine, and their store atmosphere was the icing on the cake that left me ecstatic.

And guess what? They have an in-store pickup option as well. I ordered a few CF cards from their site today, and went to pick them up in the evening. But do you know what they did? They didn’t promise a 20-minute turnaround. They actually put some thought into it. Their staff is new, their store is new, their systems are probably new or re-designed, and they knew they couldn’t deliver on something like that. They said the order would be ready for pickup in a couple of days. Was I disappointed? No. I got the price I wanted on the products I wanted, and as long as they were going to make good on their promise, I didn’t care. But I thought I’d test the waters anyway, and Ligia and I got in our car and drove to the store tonight.

When we got there, the same cheery atmosphere awaited us. The people were courteous and smiled, just like the last time we visited. We went to the customer service counter, where the representative looked up our order and explained that it wasn’t ready yet. No problem, I’d expected that. I asked if I could pick up the items from the store shelves and come back to the counter. She said yes. I browsed through the store, found what I needed, brought the stuff back to the customer service counter, and the representative fulfilled the order. She fiddled a bit with the computer system since it was new, but she was courteous and helpful, and I didn’t mind waiting an extra couple of minutes. In the end, I walked out with my order fulfilled, and the kicker was this: the price was the same as on their website.

It’s about setting the right expectations, plain and simple. Do what works for you, and more importantly, do what you know you can do! Under-promise, over-deliver, and you’ll have happy customers. Even if you go just a bit beyond what you promised, it makes a huge difference!


USPS Priority Mail is anything but that

USPSRecently mailed a package with Priority Mail, and it didn’t arrive at its destination on time. All the USPS website would tell me is that the shipping info was received. When I called them 7 days later — remember, Priority Mail is supposed to be a 2-3 day delivery — I told them I had a shipping/label number and asked what happened to my package. They couldn’t tell me anything. Their official answer was: “We can’t track Priority Mail packages.”

What’s the point of offering a tracking service if you can’t track it?

So I asked them, is there a way to start an investigation, and find out what happened to that package? What if it’s lost, what if someone stole it? What happens now? Their answer? “We can’t investigate Priority Mail packages. We can only investigate Express Mail packages.”

So I asked them what weight is carried with all of their “official” notices that say that tampering with or stealing postal mail is a theft, and is punishable under the law, etc. If there’s no way to tell where a Priority Mail package is, and they’re not willing or not able to start an investigation, does that mean people can go ahead and steal Priority Mail packages? No answer there.

There you have it. Not only is Priority Mail more costly than First Class Mail, not only does not take 2-3 days for mail to get there (it usually takes a week and the USPS only offers excuses when that happens), but the tracking service is non-existent, and you can’t find out what happened to your package if it never arrives at its destination.

What lesson are we to draw from this? My take on it is that Priority Mail is inferior to other shipping services out there. It may be cheaper than UPS or FedEx, but the packages can get stolen, they can get trampled on, they can be late or never arrive at their destination, and the USPS won’t care.

Updated 11/14/2007: I held a book drawing here, and one of my readers won it. After mailing the book via Priority Mail to him, the envelope got there damaged, opened and empty. We know we sealed it properly right at the post office and paid $8 to ship it. To add insult to injury, the message stamped on the envelope from the post office in his town that said the envelope was received opened and damaged. So not only did they damage my package and lose the book, but they lied about how the book got to be “lost” in the first place.

Updated 12/13/2007: The USPS has managed to top its previous performance. It has now taken them 13 days to deliver a local package to a distance of 25 miles.