Notice of Credit Limit Reduction on my personal account from American Express. “In this difficult economic environment, we all need to make choices about how we spend and save.”
Discussions of Happy Cog new business activities in various stages of ripeness.
Note about a magic berry that will make me look like a princess.
Fast high-speed access for NYC internet professionals
I’m home watching a sick kid and waiting for Time Warner Cable to come make a third attempt to install a cable modem. If you’re good at math, that means Time Warner Cable, the market leader in my city, has twice failed to install the correct cable modem in my home.
Because the web never sleeps, even web professionals who work in an office need reliable high-speed access when they are at home. Speakeasy provided that service via DSL in our old apartment (our previous DSL provider having been wiped out, literally, on September 11, 2001), but, as documented in old posts on this site, it took two months of comedic mishap for Speakeasy to get our home DSL working. And after Best Buy bought Speakeasy, it became harder and harder to contact the company’s technical support people to resolve service problems—of which there were more and more. By the time we moved out of our old apartment in December, 2007, frequent gapping and blackouts made our 6Mb Speakeasy DSL service more frustrating than pleasant to use.
The monopoly wins the bid
So when we moved to the new apartment, we decided to immediately install cable modem access as a baseline, and then secure reliable DSL access for redundancy. Time Warner Cable had set up a deal with our new building, and no cable competitor was available to service our location (you read that right), so the Time Warner got the gig. They came quickly and the system worked immediately. The digital HD cable fails once a week, probably due to excessive line splitting, but that’s another story, and we don’t watch much TV, so it doesn’t bug us, and it isn’t germane here.
Unwilling to repeat the failures and miscommunications that marked our Speakeasy DSL installation, I went ahead and had Time Warner Cable set up the wireless network. It costs extra every month, and Time Warner’s combination modem/wireless/Ethernet hub isn’t as good as the Apple Airport devices I own, but it makes more sense to pay for a system that’s guaranteed to work than to waste billable hours debugging a network.
Due to the thickness of our walls, the wireless network never reached our bedroom, but otherwise everything was hunky-dory. Within a few days of moving in, we had reliable, wireless, high-speed internet access. Until Time Warner told us otherwise.
Last spring we received a form letter from Time Warner stating that they’d installed the wrong modem, and that we were not getting the service we’d paid for. Apparently this was true for all customers who chose the service. Some of our money was refunded, and we were advised to schedule a service appointment or come to the 23rd Street office for a free replacement modem.
I went to the 23rd Street office, took a number, and within about fifteen minutes I was sitting in front of a representative. I showed him the form letter and requested the new modem.
He asked me for my old modem.
I said I hadn’t brought it, and pointed out that I hadn’t been instructed to bring it.
We both reread the form letter.
“It’s implied,” the rep said.
“Implied?” I said.
“Sure,” he said. “If we’re going to give you a new modem, of course we’ll want your old modem.”
I guess it was implied. But it wasn’t stated. And when you charge an installation fee, a hardware fee, and a monthly service fee, and then give people the wrong modem, you probably shouldn’t rely on inference in your customer support copy. To avoid compounding your customer’s frustration, you should probably be absolutely explicit.
I didn’t say these things to the rep, because he didn’t write or approve the copy or send the wrong modem to all those homes. I left empty-handed and continued to use the modem we had. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with it. Whatever the poorly written form letter had to say about it, as a customer, I didn’t have a problem with the modem.
A visit from a professional
As summer ended, Time Warner Cable sent me a new form letter. This time I was told, rather darkly, that if I failed to replace my modem, I definitely would not get the service I was paying for. Indeed, my service level would somehow be lowered, although it appeared that I would continue being billed a premium price.
So I called Time Warner, arranged a service visit, and spent the day working at home.
Around the middle of the service window, a Time Warner Cable authorized technician showed up with a regular DSL modem (not a wireless modem).
“You have wireless?” he asked in amazement.
“Yes,” I said. “Doesn’t it say that on your service ticket?”
“Hey, I’m just a consultant. I don’t work for Time Warner Cable,” he helpfully informed me.
“So are you going to get a wireless router from your truck?” I offered after a pause.
“I don’t have those,” he said.
We looked at each other for a while, and then he said, “Besides, you don’t need to replace your modem. There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your modem. You don’t need to replace it,” he said.
Then he called someone to inform them that he hadn’t swapped modems.
Then he asked me to sign a form.
“What am I signing?” I asked. “That you didn’t do anything?” I said it more politely than it reads.
“You’re signing that I was here,” he said. So I did.
That evening, as I was bathing my daughter, Time Warner Cable called to ask if I was satisfied with the experience.
I said frankly I was confused why I’d had to stay home all afternoon for a service visit on a modem that didn’t need to be replaced.
The nice lady said she would talk to her supervisor and run some tests.
I was on hold about five minutes, during which my daughter found various ways of getting water out of the tub and onto me.
The nice lady came back on and said, “I’m sorry, sir, but we just ran tests, and you do have the wrong modem. We’ll need to send someone out.”
So here I am, two weeks later, waiting for a technician to come try again. Will this one bring the right hardware? The suspense is awesome.
Although New York is a leading creator of websites and digital content, the town’s home and office internet connectivity lag behind that of practically every other U.S. city. Two factors account for it:
An aging infrastructure. It’s hard to deliver best internet services over a billion miles of fraying, overstretched, jerry-rigged copper line.
Monopoly. How hard would you try if you had no real competitors?
In future installments, I’ll discuss our adventures securing high-speed access to our studios at Happy Cog New York, and discuss the pros and cons of Verizon home DSL.
We bought our apartment in December 2007, securing it with what might have been the last mortgage ever issued in the U.S.
The apartment was completely renovated, from its dark wood floors to its schmancy new super-quiet dishwasher.
Over the summer, the formerly super-quiet dishwasher began to emit a high-decibel grinding noise 15 or 20 minutes into its cleaning cycle. It sounded like two airplanes whirring their propellors into each other. Or like giant lawnmowers attacking garbage cans.
We couldn’t find anything loose in the dishwasher — no stray steak knife caught in the motor, for instance.
We used the dishwasher a few more times. The result was the same. After 15 or 20 minutes of cleaning, the thing began setting up a drone that would have sent Thurston Moore reaching for earplugs.
The machine didn’t break, and it did clean dishes, but the noise was beyond bearing, and it seemed to us that the dishwasher must surely be damaging itself.
When you buy a renovated apartment, everything is probably under warranty, but you don’t get the paperwork or any information from the seller.
It took weeks of research and a few dozen phone calls, but eventually the wife got the dope. Our stuff was under warranty and a repair guy would come. No, not that day. Not that week. The month was looking dicey. How did Autumn sound?
We rediscovered the romance of washing dishes by hand—it really is quite therapeutic—and tranquilly waited for the great day to arrive.
Today was the great day, and I volunteered to work at home and wait for the repair guy.
Around 11:30, he showed up. He was polite, professional, and spoke mostly Chinese.
He spent about twenty minutes taking things apart and putting them together, then he called me over to explain what he had done.
I don’t speak Chinese (although I’m sure my daughter will) and he didn’t speak much English, so it wasn’t what you’d call perfect client-vendor communication. But through gestures, sounds, and a technical drawing he dashed off rather deftly on a paper towel, the repair guy gave me to understand that he hadn’t found anything wrong, so there probably wasn’t anything wrong.
He showed me that when you first turn on the water, you don’t hear a noise.
I agreed, but pointed out that the noise kicks in after 15 or 20 minutes.
He indicated that he didn’t have 15 or 20 minutes to wait for it, but if there was a noise, it probably didn’t indicate a mechanical problem, because there was no sign of damage to the machine.
On the paper towel, he drew the parts he had checked for damage, and pointed to their locations inside the machine. Since no parts were damaged, no damage had been done, and there was nothing he could do to diagnose or fix the problem.
I asked if he had found anything that might account for the noise, but the question only led to more drawing.
Eventually, through mime, more drawings, and remarkably well-timed nods, he communicated that he understood that the noise was not normal or desirable. He also conveyed that when we hear the noise, we should let the machine keep running, because eventually something might break, and then he or someone like him could fix it.
Of late nearly everything I buy has been defective in one way or another, and my service experiences, like this one, leave the matter perpetually unresolved. Recently, too, I have had several unrelated medical problems, and a visit to the doctor or doctors never quite seems to set things right. It is as if everything is broken, and everyone knows it, and we perpetually postpone the reckoning.
We call ourselves web designers, but sometimes we are more than that. Sometimes we get to participate, in however small a way, in something much larger and more important than ourselves.
Started in 1990 by four members of ACT UP, Housing Works helps people who are homeless and have HIV or AIDS. Housing Works not only saves lives, it restores dignity, purpose, and hope to those whom society has cast aside. Happy Cog is honored and humbled to have worked with this amazing organization and to announce the relaunch of the Housing Works website, redesigned by Happy Cog.
Our thanks to Housing Works’s Christopher Sealey and his team—we bow endlessly in your direction, sir. And my thanks and commendation to the amazing people at Happy Cog who did the work:
Awake at 4:30 AM at the end of a four-day heat wave. Sweating, but not from the weather. Running a business during a recession gets you out of bed with the chickens.
I have always moved counter to my time. I started Happy Cog as the dot-com boom went bust. We bought our first home in December 2007, as the U.S. mortgage crisis flared to full incandescence. And as the U.S. falls into economic narcolepsy, Happy Cog New York and Happy Cog Philadelphia are moving to newer, bigger, better, more beautiful, more perfectly located, and more expensive offices.
By daylight I hustle and count my blessings. We retire early, tired and contented. But at the first pale light of dawn, I’m awake and wired and already on the mental treadmill.
This morning as I lay there fretting over design and personnel questions, I heard our daughter cry out. I was at her side a moment later. She was dreaming; dreaming about bath time. Talking in her sleep, she gave voice to her nightmare:
“No, Mama, no hair wash. Let me skip it, Mama.”
I put my hand on her shoulder and told her she could skip the hair wash, and she instantly subsided to calm sleep.
I need five certified checks for tomorrow’s closing. To get them, I’ve come to the Chase Bank nearest me with my checkbook, a pen, and a list of payees and dollar amounts I culled from a half-dozen of our lawyer’s e-mails.
(Names changed to protect the innocent: Dewey and Howe are the seller’s lawyers. Prescott is our lawyer. Lincoln is our mortgage broker.)
Dewey and Howe were supposed to send final figures well in advance of closing. Instead they’ve chosen not to correspond with us. As one of New York’s five oldest law firms, they only busy themselves when Tildens and Vanderbilts are involved.
Waiting in a long line gets me six pieces of paper to fill out. There’s an inch of free desk space by the front door, which is propped open to better circulate the December winds. The seventh time the December winds blow my paperwork across the lobby, I kick the doorstop across Park Avenue and pull the front door closed, not caring who sees me do it.
Now that the paperwork isn’t flying, I can find out what the bank needs from me before it will issue the certified checks.
One thing it needs is the addresses of the payees. Who knew? Not me, not our lawyer.
I call Prescott; he looks up the addresses on the internet while I scribble. (He can’t tell me the addresses by looking at paperwork, because Dewey and Howe haven’t sent any.)
I’m sweating and my writing hand is beginning to cramp.
Prescott, whose AOL e-mail account was having problems earlier in the day, is now receiving a flurry of messages from Lincoln the mortgage broker. In-between looking up payee addresses, Prescott tells me what’s in Lincoln’s e-mails.
What’s in Lincoln’s e-mails is an additional $5500 in fees that will be owed to various parties on top of the original cash motherload we paid at the beginning of this mess and the second two-ton payload we’re converting into certified checks at this moment. In the absurd economy of middle-class Manhattan home-buying, nearly overlooking an extra $5500 is like forgetting to mention the dollar charge for gift-wrap.
The throbbing Christmas music that has accompanied all action thus far seems inappropriately sedate as I cross the lobby perspiring like a bridegroom, bearing my newly filled-out forms.
Now I’m looking at two cashiers and praying I did the addition right. (Long story. Short version: you have to subtotal all the amounts yourself before this bank will issue you more than one certified check at once.)
Now I’m looking at three cashiers working on my certified check order. The one twenty years younger than me is the senior cashier in charge.
The third cashier working on my order says I have nice handwriting.
Now it’s just me and the littlest cashier.
Now I have my five certified checks.
Now I have to proofread them against the payee list I compiled earlier. Thousand thousand thousand thousand thousand and 44 cents.
Amused by my aura of suppressed hysteria, the littlest cashier says have a nice day.
Thank you, I say, meaning it.
[tags]sentfrommyiphone, homebuying, homeownership, NYC, apartment, home, bank, banking[/tags]
No heat at $5,000/month
Libertarians blame rent stabilization for the problems of tenants in cities like New York, but there are few rent stabilized apartments left in this town or this building. Most people in this building pay $4000 to $5000 a month for a “luxury rental” the size of a working-class Hoosier’s garage. Certainly the fee the landlord collects is luxurious. Nothing else about the place is. Particularly not luxurious is the lack of heat, now in its second day. Snow falls, arctic winds blow, but the $5000/month luxury building is as cold as a dead seal.
The building once employed a certified plumber capable of fixing the constant leaks and other woes that plague this building and are common to poorly maintained high-rise apartments thrown up in the go-go 1970s. But the managing agent was always six months late paying the plumber’s bill, and often argued about the charges months after they were incurred.
“I’ll pay for one guy,” the managing agent would tell the plumber six months after the plumber used three guys to fix an emergency in the building.
In cheating the licensed plumber, the managing agent did not act on the tenants’ behalf or with their knowledge or consent.
Eventually the competent licensed plumber grew tired of losing money every time he saved the building from disaster, and stopped accepting jobs here. The competent licensed plumber’s competent licensed colleagues did likewise. Thus the building placed its tenants at the mercies of the incompetent.
In the past 24 hours, four different low-cost plumbing companies have come to this luxury high-rise to fix its unconscionable heating problem. As a result of their efforts, the doctor’s office in the lobby has been flooded, and a pipe broke on the third floor, filling a tenant’s apartment with steam and pouring boiling water on her floor. Into this boiling water the tenant stepped when the steam she mistook for the smoke of a fire awoke her. I am grateful to hear that she is not seriously injured. Meanwhile, there is still no heat, and our daughter is sick with a hacking cough.
N.B. As a long-time tenant, I do not pay anything like $4,000 or $5,000 a month, but most people in the building do.
Today was the day we were supposed to close on our new home. We were going to pack Sunday and move Monday. Then we were going to fill the Happy Cog New York office with furniture and computers. And then we were going to Boston to talk for 60 minutes, and to Washington, DC to listen for 90.
We’re still going to Boston and DC, but the rest of the schedule has called in sick. We can’t close today because we got a better mortgage from a nicer (but slower) bank, and the nicer (but slower) bank must produce a bowel movement in the shape of a swan before issuing our check.
The office move is connected to the house move. The house move is contingent on the closing date.
Chaos! We have furniture being hauled to the wrong buildings on the wrong days. We have deliveries to postpone and shipments to despair on. We have computers and tickets and widgets of all sizes being FedExed to doormen who will ring for us in vain, their lonely vigils mocked by blinking Christmas displays.
But it’s a wonderful life. For, no matter how nutty the next weeks may be, and no matter how many stay-at-home, can-of-bean meals we consume in the coming decades to compensate for the funds we have spent and those we are about to spend, at the end of this nerve-wracking knuckle-cracking tango with lawyers and brokers and bankers and movers, our family will have a home.
Tucked away in a quiet corner of The New York Public Library at 42nd Street sits a small, clean, neatly appointed classroom. At 3:30, we commandeered it for an impromptu meeting with an attorney.
For half an hour, the secret, quiet room was a lawyer’s office. In it, after discussing various ways the deal could end tragically, we signed five copies of a contract to purchase an apartment. I wrote the biggest check I have ever written in my life. And then, like bats startled by light, we flew off in different directions.
The attorney headed to his next meeting. The wife hopped a bus downtown to hand our documents to a secretary at the seller’s lawyer’s office. And I ran here.
We do not own a home yet. A lot could still go horribly wrong. But after two weeks of frantic paddling, we have dived cleanly into the murky deep.
The area above Madison Square Park in Manhattan is in a condo- building frenzy. Of course all of Manhattan (and Brooklyn and Queens) is in a condo-building frenzy. But above Madison Square Park there is a particularly feverish keenness to the activity, as the glamor of the Flatiron District moves north to a zone that was formerly best known for its gaudy wig and cheap lingerie wholesalers.
The richie rich are buying, and who can blame them? Proximity to Madison Square Park and the chic shops south of 23rd Street makes for an elegance that is almost Parisian—or at least suggests the possibility of such a way of life.
Huge signs affixed to newly rising high-rises and condo converted prewar office buildings trumpet the glory of living here. But there are other signs, as well.
Barely noticed in the builders’ gold rush, the poorest poor, pushed off the benches of Madison Square Park, take shelter in the very construction sites that signify their doom. When this building is finished, the rich will sleep here. ‘Til then, it’s the poor who do so. And what do they dream?