The other day, Denise and I went to pick up a package that had some postage due. No worries, I figured we'd jump into the car, breeze through the line at the post office and be done in no time. No such luck.

First, we had to find the place. Apparently the package isn't saved at the regular post office (the one with the pretty interior and heat), but at the carrier annex. We found this by looking at the address as we neared the post office and realizing we were in the wrong place. After finally finding the annex, which is not advertised, and is hidden at the back of a truck rental building, we had to figure out how to get inside.

While there was a sign outside proclaiming "carrier annex", there was no clue how to get in. Simply a large overhead warehouse door that opened onto a cavernous garage for a number of delivery trucks. No "this way" or "over here" signs to be found. Little light. No heat. All in all, not a friendly place.

After poking around for a few minutes, we found the service desk in the middle of this facility, and also two other hapless souls like ourselves who were trying to figure out how to get their packages. You see, the little button for the ringer, noticeable because of two very large "ring button for service" signs hadn't done a thing - and they had been there for ten minutes or more.

So we start banging on the door, on the roll-up window barrier, everywhere. A few minutes later, someone comes to open the window and acts surprised - "Why didn't you let someone know you were here?" he asks. Geez.

We wait patiently for the people in front of us to finish their transactions, hand the clerk our piece of paper and wait. And wait. And wait. About five minutes after he first received the slip, he comes back with the package and tells us we owe postage. Yup. So I hand him a credit card, and he looks at it like it's from another world. Apparently they don't take credit cards. Would have been nice if someone mentioned that.

Once we get back from the ATM, we find the window sealed again, and quickly rap loudly on the roll-up door to get service. The same gentleman comes quickly this time, recognizes us, and proceeds to take another five minutes to get the package again. I hand him money, including some coins so that I don't end up with even more pocket change, and it takes him another five minutes to make change.

Then he gets back, tries to hand me a mess of $1 bills and some quarters, all the while I'm trying to take the two bills I need out of his hands and be done with it. For another three minutes he tries to get me to take this conglomeration of small change (which is incorrect, I might add) and I try valiantly to get the correct change. Finally I get the two bills I need, put up with more berating because I didn't take it the way he wanted, and get the heck out of there.

What the heck happened to customer service? I'm not talking kiss-your-feet, the-customer-is-always-right kind of service. I'm just talking about some common courtesy. Why is it so difficult to be a customer these days? It's like you're inconveniencing these people, and they're the ones who choose to work where they do.

I went over to the SprintPCS website the other day, to find that there are a number of rebates that they offer. In the text of at least one of those rebates, you'll find this wording:

"Customers purchasing a phone without a PCS Free & Clear Plan with Vision will receive a mail-in rebate. See details below."

From this information, it suggests to me that I can A: Purchase a phone without a service plan and expect to get a rebate and B: Find out more information about that rebate below. It may be true that neither is possible.

Working backwards, we find the information on the mail-in rebate:

Mail-in Rebate: Customers qualify for rebate if account is kept active for 30 consecutive days. In certain markets, PCS Clear PaySM customers qualify for a mail-in rebate if the account is kept active for 60 days after the first invoice date and does not have any unpaid past-due amounts at the end of this period.

That doesn't help. I want to buy a phone without a service plan, and as informed earlier, I should receive a mail-in rebate. The details of this mail-in rebate specify activation, which means that I am looking in the wrong place. So I write SprintPCS Customer Care, which is always an adventure to itself. Their (repeated) response? That the rebates on the phone are only for new lines of service. I've yet to get a response (after four tries) from soneone who will tackle the issue presented in the quote above. So here it is again:

If I can purchase a phone without a plan, why is it that I cannot find out how much of a rebate that I'm able to receive on this phone? It's in black-and-white on your own web site that I should receive a mail-in rebate if I purchase a phone without a plan. How much is the rebate, how do I go about collecting the rebate, and why is it that none of your support staff have any idea that this wording is even contained within the rebate information?

Why do I want to purchase a phone without a plan? That's really none of their business, but I want to do it because I already have a plan. The "purchase with a plan" option is only valid on a new line of service, and I just don't want to do that. I want to purchase without, and when I get the phone, I'll transfer it to my current plan myself. Why is this such a difficult process?

I refuse to shop at at least one popular computer retailer who would not honor their rebate. Even worse, they didn't mention this until about the fifth time I visited the store to attempt to get my promised rebate. This was even with proof of purchase and proof of rebate (the filled out forms as well as the original advertisement) in hand.

I'm sure that the rules for redeeming rebates make sense, in a Dilbert sort of way. After all, if they don't give out the rebate, they make more money on the product. So why not make it as difficult as possible?

"US Airways can plan on whatever they want. We plan on taking them to court."

An interesting quote indeed. Who said it? You'd think it was a jilted partner, or maybe even a competitor who felt that they lost out to USAirways in the battle for gate space at an airport. I could maybe even see a city that felt slighted that USAirways reneged on a perceived promise to the city. No such luck though.

This quote came from Joe Tiberi, spokesman for the International Association of Machinists. What does he have to do with USAirways? Little, really. But the IAM apparently represents about 5000 mechanics with the airline, who would seem peeved about the decision to outsource some heavy maintenance to a third party.

I can understand the unease with the issue. If heavy maintenance on the newer planes is being outsourced, then as the newer planes replace old planes, and old planes are retired, jobs will be lost. But why is the first reaction to take the company to court? Shouldn't people working for the same company share the same interests? These days, it would seem all too often that the management of the company is on one side of the fence and the employees are on the other. Probably not a good sign.

You've probably noticed an influx of Javascript-based ads on web sites. You know, these are the windows that display over the page, but aren't really windows of their own, so they can't really be blocked by typical popup-stoppers (not yet, anyway). Sure, you could turn off Javascript, but that's a real inconvenience as it can make things less functional.

I don't really mind those ads, though as they catch on, I'm liking them less and less. Still, I understand that the companies need people to pay them to provide advertising space so that they can, in turn, pay the writers of their content. Despite some of my other posts on the subject, I'm really not against capitalism. I understand the need and the desire to make money. Where I have a problem is when the line is crossed so that it impedes functionality.

Most of these ads have a relatively unobtrusive (and often hard to find) option that allows you to close the window, or to minimize it and move it out of the way. The latest batch, however, doesn't seem to have anything of the kind.

Haven't seen these yet? Try InfoWorld. I was trying to read Cringely's latest article, so head to the site. No sooner am I there than I notice huge ads, and these ads keep me from reading the page. I figure I'll wait a few seconds, as sometimes those Shockwave ads have a built in delay before the "close" option pops up. Hmm. Nothing. Maybe these are those ads that automatically minimize themseves after a few seconds. Still nothing.

I've now been waiting for fifteen minutes. Three ads still obscure the article. Apparently they have to be clicked in order to remove them, as there are no close options as yet. This is ridiculous. Plenty of "click me" options, but no way to close and/or minimize these advertisements. To provide advertising is one thing. To require me to browse advertising is another entirely. Looks like I'll be skipping InfoWorld from now on.

Update: Here's the best part. I clicked one of the ads, it opens in another window. Guess what. I still can't read the article. Talk about moronic. Requiring me to browse advertising won't work, but I recognize that it might for some people. But when you browse the advertising and still can't read the article? Wonder how long it'll take them to figure out why no one is reading.

Update: I received an email reply from Cringe, and he mentions that he's heard of the problem from at least 4 other people just today. While he forwarded my email along to the techie people, as of 12:40 Eastern, the page is still unreadable. Unless you are interested in reading the ads.

The Internet is a pretty interesting phenomenon. It often seems that once something is published on the Internet - and published is a very loose term, often applying simply to email that appears to be from a source of authority - it becomes gospel.

Let's look at the most recent entry. The power blackouts of the Northeastern US (and parts of Canada) resulted in a number of blogs pointing out this alleged picture of the US as seen from space on the night of 8/14. There's at least one site taking this picture one step further and claiming that it is evidence of an EMP (electro-magnetic pulse). Of course, this site apparently sells emergency survival supplies, so it's naturally in their best interest.

Not long ago, a teenager was arrested at Logan International Airport in Boston for what can only be described as a joke in poor taste. The teenager, you see, had seen fit to leave a profanity-laced note in his bag, which when found by TSA screeners, apparently caused no end of anxiety. Why? The note contained the word bomb.

Obviously there is a need for certain licenses. These are easy enough to spot. They typically make sense. Not just to you or me, but to darn near everyone. Things like a driver's license fit into this category. It's reasonably nice to think that the person headed down the freeway with you has at least some chance of being able to adequately operate their vehicle. Of course, that's not always the case - but generally it seems a pretty safe assumption. A similar licensing/qualification scheme for something like an airline pilot is useful. I think most will agree with this sort of thing.

Okay, folks, time for a pop quiz!

You'd like to see a movie this weekend, but find out that all the theater is playing are PG-13 and R-rated movies. What do you do? What do you do?

A. Skip the movie. You don't need to see such trash anyway. Rent a Disney flick instead.

B. Skip the movie, because you can't find a babysitter to watch your 4-year old, and, well, it's not really appropriate for a 4-year old to see those kinds of movies anyway.

C. Find a babysitter to take care of your 4-year old so you can enjoy the trash without worry of causing others distress or harming the poor kid with the contents of the movie.

D. Make sure you take your 4-year old to see the movie anyway, then get upset when either everyone complains about the racket or if you aren't allowed inside.

If you're like some people, it looks like the correct option is D.

This was submitted to the feedback sections of both the Charlotte Observer and Creative Loafing...

We hear a story about a 79-year old lady putting having her dog put to sleep because it is too big, and this is the city's fault? Though I'm one of the most vocal opponents of the city on many issues, I don't think this is one of them. The city, or any government, cannot be expected to take care of everything. Many will argue that they shouldn't do much of anything.