Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Dear Esurance: Why I dumped you

Esurance just sent me an email wondering why we broke up. Poor Esurance, it seems hurt and confused, and yet it should have seen it coming. Sure, we had three great years where they provided me with car insurance and I gave them money, but the magic in our relationship vanished in the last month.  

"We're sorry to have lost you as a customer," the company wrote me. "We'd appreciate it if you told us why you canceled your Esurance policy. If it's something we could have done better, we plan on fixing it."

Thanks for asking, Esurance. It's a little painful for me to talk about, but perhaps if I explain it, it will help someone else from getting hurt like I did.

Here goes:

It all started when I got my car insurance renewal from you, Esurance. For some reason, the new rate was 25% higher than last time. That's on a six-month renewal, so this amounts to a 50% increase in annual terms.

Why, Esurance, why? Did I do something to hurt you? During our relationship, neither I nor my wife had an accident or got a speeding ticket. We never made a claim. And what thanks do we get?  A 25% rate increase?

I suppose I could have called it off right there, just walked away without a word. But I felt this was something we should talk about. So I called you.

It turns out that it's not that easy to talk to you. I waded through a phone tree of options, was transferred and waited on hold for about 8 or 9 minutes before finally reaching a human. This woman looked into my account, put me on a hold a few times more and then, after I'd spent 20 minutes on the phone, I was disconnected.


Maybe, Esurance, you felt like you didn't need to work on our relationship. After all, the policy was set for automatic renewal just a week later, and you'd get your money even without talking to me. I don't like to be taken for granted, so I emailed you and told you to  "NOT automatically renew my policy." 

I thought this would spur you to talk to me, but, alas, you misunderstood. I received an email back from you saying, "As requested, your policy has been canceled." No -- that's not what I asked for! Good communication is so important in a relationship.

I tried to call you again, but I was kept on hold so long, I gave up. I tried a third time, but like the first time, that call ended with you hanging up on me.

OK, I get the message. You didn't want to talk to me (but why do you want to talk now?).

I tried one more tact. I applied online for an Esurance policy just like a new customer, but the rate was again too high. I had to face the fact that our relationship was over. 

But the next day you called. You had seen my online attempt to renew our courtship, and you wanted to know what you could do. We had a long talk, but when I said that was an existing customer, not a new one, you suddenly turned cold. You couldn't help me, you said. Why? You were surprised to know about our three-year relationship?  It was like you didn't know me anymore. 

I put you out of my mind and started a new car insurance relationship with someone else. Then one Saturday morning you called again -- so early in fact that it woke up three of the four people in my household. I tried to explain what had gone wrong, but you -- or your "licensed agent" anyway -- didn't seem to want to hear it.

So that's what happened. I suppose it would be nice at this point to say that our breakup was more my fault than yours. Except that wouldn't be true. 

 (Please support this blog by clicking on an ad, or by donating via the Paypal button below.)

Friday, September 19, 2014

American Systems, maker of EZ Macros, closes shop

Computer users who employ software programs such as EZ Macros, Spam Crusher or Print Screen Deluxe won't be getting any new versions, any technical support or any updates to the products. The maker of those programs, American Systems, has gone out of business.

The phone number for the company, based in Fort Worth, Texas, no longer works. Email to the company is not returned. Many links on the company website are broken.

The company, established in 1994, seems to have been on a downward spiral for a while. It has never produced software for Windows 8, the operating system introduced in 2012.

At one time, EZ Macros was an effective way to improve computer use efficiency by creating "hot keys" to automate repetitive tasks. But the software has shown significant bugs lately.

 (Please support this blog by clicking on an ad, or by donating via the Paypal button below.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

EZ Macros ate my files

Do you like doing the same work over and over ... and over? Of course not. That is why for years I have used a program called EZ Macros.

EZ Macros is a program that has allows you to record a set of specific keyboard and mouse actions, and then recall those later with a shortcut.

Let's say you need to frequently need to send emails that say "Your order has been shipped." Rather than typing that each time you could just hit, say alt-y, and the phrase would be automatically typed and the email sent.

I have liked EZ Macros so much that since buying it for the first time in 2008, I have three times renewed my registration at a price of $34.95 each time.

That's why I'm so disappointed in recent developments.

About two months ago, as I started up my computer, I got this message:

"EZ Macros detected that your macros are not compatible with this version. You will need to re-record your macros."

Sure enough, all of my 20 or so macros were gone. Completely gone. I was baffled by the error message. "Not compatible with this version" of what?

After fruitlessly trying to recover the macros, I gave up and started re-recording them. Then I got the same error message, and again everything was gone.

I uninstalled EZ Macros and downloaded a new, trial, version. Since doing so, I've gotten the message of death twice more.

The most troubling element of this is the response I've received from the maker of EZ Macros, American Systems, and its owner, Matt Porter.

I emailed Porter and got no response. I found other addresses on the American Systems website, and tried them. I got no response.

 (Please support this blog by clicking on an ad, or by donating via the Paypal button below.)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Soccer tournament review: McMillan Invitational in Costa Mesa

The 2014 McMillan Invitational, held Labor Day weekend in Costa Mesa, California, was one of the best youth soccer tournaments I've attended. Not perfect, mind you (see below), but overall the tournament did many more things right than wrong.
Action in the 2014 McMillan Invitational

Putting on a good tournament requires attention to detail, and the McMillan organizers did well in areas where some competitions fall short. For example:

  • Schedules for the tournament were sent to coaches (and presumably forwarded to parents) a good eight days ahead of time. That's nice and gives families time to plan. Some tournaments can't seem to get schedules done until just a few days ahead of time.
  • Game scores were posted quickly online and standings quickly updated. It was easy to tell where your team stood. Many tournaments don't even try this.
  • After each final, a small awards presentation was held for the top two teams. This was nice and helped the players feel special about their achievement.
There were other positives. The fields were all grass, flat, and  in reasonable, if not spectacular, condition. (Too often, in an effort to cram in fields, tournaments end up placing a field on a slope or across the dirt of a baseball diamond.)

Real bathrooms not porta potties were available, though perhaps the tournament should have had both. At one point, one of the girls' bathrooms had an extended line out the door.

The competition was fairly balanced, another plus. The McMillan tournament is specifically for "Extra" teams (selected advanced players) from American Youth Soccer Organization leagues. Perhaps because of this limitation, the games were pretty competitive, with only a handful of blowouts across all divisions. This is good; teams benefit most by playing opponents of equal, or near-equal, ability.

All that said, the McMillan Tournament did have some negatives.

  • The placement on Labor Day weekend is inherently a problem, for two reasons. First, some families may not like giving up one of their few three-day weekends a year for a soccer tournament. Second, this weekend falls smack in the middle of the hottest time of the year for Southern California.                                                                                                                         Even though this year's temperatures weren't particularly high compared to historical numbers, it was still in the low 90s at midday and both spectators and players out in the sun got roasted. If you do this tournament in the future, be sure to bring canopies and umbrellas for shade, and plenty of water.
  • The parking situation was poor, although I give the tournament some credit for at least pointing people to alternatives. "Parking is going to be a challenge," the tournament warned parents ahead of time.                                                                                                                                   The lots nearest the fields at Costa Mesa High School and the adjacent Jack Hammett Sport Complex filled up quickly, and many drivers found themselves circling in search of a space or, worse, trapped in a parking lot deadend.                                                                                     But families who paid attention to the tournament's warnings found some alternatives available. A neighboring church was charging $5 to park in its lot. And there was free parking, with a slightly longer walk, across the street at Orange Coast Community College. Some drivers, unfortunately, chose the wrong entrance to the college and ended up parking much further away than necessary (psst: The right answer is Lot A.)

  • There were too many champions. Seems odd to say, right? But nearly every division of the McMillan was split into two completely separate flights. Thus, there were two champions. Over here, for example, you might have one team celebrating because they are the Under-11 girls champs. But over on the other side of the field there's another team celebrating the exact same thing.                                                                                                                                       This just isn't right. It diminishes the value of the championship. To change this would mean some significant changes either another round of games, or fewer teams.  But in the end, it would make the title "McMillan Invitational Champion" more meaningful.