Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hold your horses

It's a weak explanation for the silence here, but things have taken on a life of their own at the tour company where I work. Despite my best attempts to alienate customers and never give more than 50 percent effort on any given day, I'm moving to a management role.

I know, I was hoping for zero responsibility for the entire summer, too.

Here, this should help to amuse you. Or you know, anger you. One of the two.

Also, this outstanding rant from Frankie. God, what a wonderful human being and he proves it by dropping this on unsuspecting readers of his blog:

Once again, the lesson for ordering pizza in a group is (1) meat, (2) cheese, and (3) shoot any dissenters. When it comes to ordering pizza, you need to put the sickle down like Soviet Russia.

We'll be back on line shortly.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

2K Games fails to keep up its end of our social contract

There are a lot of unspoken contracts in our modern American society. Seriously, just think about how much you aren't required to think about.

You go to any restaurant across the country and you fully expect to not only survive the experience, but to not get food poisoning or ingest any foreign objects like pennies. Likewise, when I buy a game from the store, I pretty much expect to go home, open the package, put it in my Xbox and start killing time.

Only, the video game companies of late have rushed games into production - sports games are notorious for this - and I got burned again by 2K Games which is rapidly turning into the biggest culprit in my little world.

That's not what's killing me, though. That special, irksome problem comes from the lack of respect for its customers that 2K has via its online help desk.

It's my opinion that the company is responsible for selling me a functioning product, especially for a console that has a limited number of variables. Granted, as Microsoft attempts to take over my living room (and next, the world) the consoles are becoming more complex.

Still the product should work out of the box, which 2K is now 0-for-2 on with my last two purchases. When you consider that Rockstar Games postponed the release their major cash cow, Grand Theft Auto, there's no excuse to ship a broken game to customers.

Barring that, the company should be honest and try to keep customers in the loop. If we're taking the time to go online and post to their forums with bugs and other issues we're essentially beta testing their games for free and that seems wrong.

For the $60 per game that customers plunk down, we really should expect more from those producing the games.

Finally, when users go the extra mile and do more than just throw up their hands at a problem and start flame wars on the boards - the "PS3 is better! Xbox is better!" arguements remind me of Billy Madison debating shampoo versus conditioner - they should have a human being on the other end respond, try to find an answer and let people know the updated status of their help desk tickets.

I sat down and wrote what the issue I was having, the steps I took to try and troubleshoot and the fact that the game worked for 45 minutes before crapping out. What I got back nearly two days after 2K said it would respond was a form e-mail that could have been sent without actually seeing my e-mail.

To add insult to injury, 2K won't accept a follow up from me on the issue for seven days.

I'm told to restart the game (duh), check the disc and perform a series of checks that my e-mail had already outlined as being completed. Then I'm basically told that the game should work and 2K seems to have the issue written off as addressed.

I expect more out of a company than a cut and paste job, especially when I'm taking the time to troubleshoot their defective product and outline what I've already done to try and make their game playable. Additionally, this is the second time that I've watched their message boards like a hawk to get word on when the updates to fix gameplay would be available. It's also the second time that their representatives have promised a date for release, seen that date pass and then hidden from their customers who only wanted to know what the new timeline looked like.

Seeing as I live for the new year's baseball title - which is locked up by 2K for the forseeable future - 2K's incompetence has me ready to buy a PS3 so I can buy Sony's baseball game next season and avoid 2K altogether.

Bioshock was great and all, guys, but not enough to make me ever want to do business with such a Mickey Mouse company in the future.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

Leadership lessons from Chef Ramsay

There are a few things I'm continually shocked by when we settle in to watch Kitchen Nightmares with celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey.

First, is that when you set your TiVo, you get the Fox version - filmed in America for American audiences - and the BBC's original version and the differences are night and day. While Americans know the chef as a foulmouthed bully who has a thesaurus of scatological terms to describe the food people prepare, the British version is a different picture.

Instead of the usual bombastic entrances, punctuated with vomiting and belittling of the waitstaff, Ramsey enters the UK's hard luck cases and almost immediately begins the hand holding and sympathetic looks. It's very different and makes me shake my head at what American audiences either demand or have responded to in the past.

Second, is that amongst the drama, he has a pretty firm grasp of leadership skills and different approaches to problems with his staff. After countless hours spent in leadership retreats, seminars and training sessions, you start to see some of the usual suspects appear in his shows.

Ramsey employs a bit of verbal slight of hand in dismissing groups from the small meetings that take place mid-show with a quick, simple, "Yes?" It's positive, short and doesn't leave a lot of room for further discussion.

Ramsey will offer a rapid fire checklist of tasks (or sometimes wholesale changes that the owners may not be on board with) to rock people back and then shove them into action with that "Yes?" It's really pretty interesting to watch once you see what he's doing.

A new one I caught last night in the follow up show - where he returned to the restaurants from last season - is his urging that his newest protegees, "don't stop." It's a little thing, but it goes a long way from his position as a giant in the celebrity chef game.

It's nothing that will change your world view, but I'm betting somewhere in his home, Chef Ramsey has a dog eared copy of a book on how to motivate and inspire his troops. It actually makes me like the guy a little more.

Being a screaming loon can only make you so interesting.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Oh yes, that guy

As far as power hitters on our city tours go, the Soldier Field stop is pretty much the crown jewel of the South Loop. Regardless of the tour group (either locals or out of towners visiting our fair city) the conversation always goes the same way.

Me: So, this is Soldier Field.

Guest: So this is the home of the Bears? (Out of town) / Woo! Bears! (In town)

Me: Yup.

Guest: Why the hell does it look like that? (Out of town) / Jesus, that looks like hell. (In town)

Me: Yup. It doesn't bother me much, I like what they've done with Lambeau.

Guest: Packers fan? What the hell is wrong with Brett Favre?

To be totally honest, I only have one major problem with the whole situation (aside from ESPN's constant coverage and their feeding the story until it spun out of control like a Tilt-a-Whirl assembled by unsupervised carnies). I feel the team was in the wrong to go down and try to bribe Favre into staying retired.

I feel that showed a total lack of class, especially for a small market, old school team that should know better. It just felt dirty to me. I know Vince Lombardi would have dropped a handful of f-bombs if it would have been suggested in his presence.

Still, after spending some time around a pro locker room - and I think it's ultimately irrelevant that it was the Packers - I feel for Favre, especially as he prepares for his 39th birthday.

Obviously, the team was tired of the on again/off again Favre saga that was a tiring dance the past few offseasons and needed to move ahead with Aaron Rodgers or get ready to lose him to free agency. I worry now with what amounts to three rookie quarterbacks on the depth chart, but there's not a lot anyone can do about it now (and no, picking up Daunte Culpepper is not a viable option).

On the Favre side of the fence, if he sits this year, he's done. The rust crops up on a 39-year-old body and no one wants to go near him next season. Professional athletes have a very short window of opportunity - whether it's a teenager skipping out on college to begin his career in the NFL or NBA or taking one last shot before retirement - and I will never fault them for trying to make the most of their moment in the sun.

I will take teams to task for constantly signing retreads that have no business collecting a paycheck, but the players are hardly to blame for capitalizing on what the market is willing to offer them.

So, in short, I have no problem with the Packers sticking to their guns and going with the youth movement, especially when Favre has very little left in the tank from a calendar standpoint. I also have no problem with Favre coming to grips with his own shelf life and deciding to try and make the most of the time he has left (man, it sounds like the man is dying, doesn't it?)

It seems that most people have come to grips with this and I'm strangely proud of Packers fans who have drawn that line in the sand between being Green Bay fans and Brett Favre fans. I didn't give them enough credit in that department.

At the end of the whole soap opera, Favre comes out looking a bit foolish and selfish and the team looks stronger for standing its ground and backing the future of the franchise. The Vikings come up empty handed at their biggest weakness and the Bears are selling reversible Orton/Grossman jerseys while fans half jokingly await the Tim Tebow sweepstakes.

I just hope Packers fans are ready for life like the rest of the league now - living with an eye trained on the backup quarterbacks in case their starter is one of the three or four QBs to go down with a season ending injury.

This would be a good time to start hoping that there's no such thing as "QB Karma."

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