Thursday, November 3, 2011

A Failure to Communicate

Dear National Grid,

Let me begin this letter by stating many customers are suffering far worse than we did during this recent storm and power outage.  Many customers are still without power.  I thank you for restoring our power in 3 days.  This is not another call to have you criminally investigated for negligence, you've had enough of those come your way... this is about your communication policies.

While trying to communicate with you this past week, I recalled the scene from the movie Cool Hand Luke.   The question customers commonly asked was "when are you coming to our street?"  Your response was consistent - a link to your website which shows an Estimated Time to Restore, or ETR.  For my neighborhood during this recent outage, we had an ETR of 11:30pm on 11/3.  Considering the power went out on 10/30, this was an ETR of 4 days.  Ouch.

It's clear you're working hard to restore everyone's power.  I've followed your @NationalGridUS tweets and have read the comments on your Facebook page.  Kudos for using these platforms to communicate with your customers.  This is a great idea and yet the majority of people have nothing but complaints for you.  Why?  Here's my take - we keep getting the same response from you:   "the ETR for your location is..."

The estimates lead to a lot of questions... for those of us without generators, should we consider getting a hotel room or moving in with friends?  How long should we plan for?  There must be a better way to communicate with your customers.  I believe with more information and transparency many customer complaints would never come about...

Here's a sampling of your Twitter correspondence with me:
11/1:  National Grid US:  @ralphfyoung The ETR for #Franklin #MA is 11/3 at 11:45pm.

If you're going to be on Twitter, BE ON Twitter!  USE it, arm your technicians with mobile devices that report EXACTLY where they are!  I would have been much happier with tweets like this :

11/1:  National Grid US: We have 1 truck in #Franklin, doing #surveys only.
11/2:  National Grid US: We have 4 trucks in #Franklin, currently #restoring locations at Oak St., Lincoln St, and Miller St..  Next stop is ______ .

You could have #tags for each town and other tags set up for the type of work.  Your drivers could handle it. Heck, give them iPhones so they don't have to type.  Just a few words to Siri and everyone is happy.  Maybe the "next stop" is too much to ask but a little more detail would go a long way.

Some states have outfitted their snow plows with GPS devices with the ability to relay a variety of information back to the command center, including which streets have been plowed, what time they were plowed, is there salt in the spreader, etc.  Could you outfit your National Grid trucks with GPS devices?

Consider a plot map on a website showing where all the National Grid trucks are at any time.  This would go a long way towards easing people's complaints.  Everyone would recognize quickly the size of the job and the obstacles you are facing if they could just see you at work.

Anyhow, that's how I see it.  We had our power restored on Tuesday, 11/1 at 2pm.  Around 9 that evening we lost power again.  In frustration, I sent out a flurry of tweets to @NationalGridUS basically asking "what the heck just happened?" (I wasn't that polite)... Power was restored after I feel asleep that night and the following morning you sent me a tweet:

11/2 :  National Grid US:  @ralphfyoung The ETR for Franklin is 11/3 at 11:45pm. Crews working on restoration.

Thanks for the message.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lock the Door at Night

Do you leave the front door unlocked when you go to sleep at night?  What about your home network?  Do you leave the router on?  Most likely the answer is yes, as powering it off and on regularly can be a chore.  Here's a way to leave your router on but keep your network secure while you're sleeping.   It's easy - block all network traffic from going in or out of your network during a specific time period.

Using a browser, log in to your router.  Most likely the address is  For this example, the router is a NETGEAR WNDR3400 N600 Wireless Router.  If you've never logged into your router, the username is 'admin' and the password is 'password' or 'admin'.   Make sure you set up a good password and add encryption for all your wireless devices.

The NETGEAR software is navigated via the menu in the left-hand column.  Look for the Block Services option under Content Filtering.  From there choose the Add option, which will take you to the above screen.  Fill in the values as shown above.  Service Type is "User Defined", Protocol is TCP/UDP, Starting Port is 1, Ending Port is 65535, and give the Service Type/User Defined value a descriptive name, such as "all traffic." This will block all TCP/UDP traffic on all ports.  We want to apply this rule to "All IP Addresses."  Alternatively, you could specify a specific IP address or a range of IP addresses.
By selecting All IP Addresses, there will be no Internet traffic during the times you define (in the next step) for all devices in the house.  After entering the values, click the Add button, which will take you to the Block Services screen.  Here you want to set the Services Blocking option to "Per Schedule."

Now choose the Schedule option under Content Filtering.  You'll be presented with the following screen:

As you can see, for this example, I've selected every day of the week.  For the time range,  enter your time slots in the Start Blocking and End Blocking dialog boxes.   Here it is set to start blocking any services we defined in the previous menu at 1am.  The restriction will be released at 5:30am.

That's all there is to it.  This is a handy way to keep the kids from surfing the net at all hours.  By configuring your router, you're protecting all of your devices.  Xbox, iTouch, iPad, Android, you must have one or two of those, right?  Other routers may have different menus, but they will have a way to block services during a specific time period.  If they don't, it's time to upgrade your router.

Shut your router down, so you can sleep peacefully at night.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Install that Android upgrade!

AT&T sent me an email back in April -- they told me to create a blog post --  just kidding!  It has been awhile though...  in the email AT&T sent instructions on how to upgrade my phone, a Samsung Captivate, to version 2.2 of the Android operating system (code name Froyo).  The email had detailed instructions on how to perform the upgrade.  I did what I do with all emails from AT&T, I ignored it... I should point out I was quite happy with my Android, and an updated OS just wasn't high on my priority list.  My previous upgrade experiences with my iPhone didn't go smoothly, so I was in no rush... I've had no problems with my phone, performance has been excellent, so a couple months went by...

Well, recently I was doing some email cleanup, and lo and behold there was the email from AT&T... I hadn't deleted it, so it was sitting in the "Everything else" section of my Priority Inbox. (I'll have to blog on that at some point, but if you don't get it, you just don't get it)... I had some spare time and it was time to check out Froyo... 

First step, I backed up the data stored on my phone.  With an iPhone, this is straightforward, you crank up iTunes and sync your phone.  With an Android, there's more control - you have access to the phone's complete file system, directories and all, it's just another removable device once you connect the USB cable... and for the laptop I was using - just 1Gb of memory - I found this less painful than using iTunes, which struggles to run depending on what other programs are running... I was able to cut & paste my contacts, music, videos, etc. into a directory I'd created on my laptop.  First step complete.

Now, it was time to put my trust in Samsung.  I'm sure there are other ways to upgrade an Android, but Samsung provides a "Kies mini" software application to upgrade many of their phones, so I downloaded it from the link AT&T had provided me... in a few painless steps my firmware was upgraded, the phone rebooted, and then....

...all I can say is WOW.  Sharper colors.  Much faster performance.  More intuitive UI.  More fonts.  Lots of little improvements throughout... it's an entirely NEW phone.  I had no idea how much of an improvement the Froyo update would bring... 

My long term plan was to migrate back to the iPhone 5 come September.  Now... maybe not so fast... what will the next update bring?