Award Winning Blog

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Internet of Infallible Algorithms

            Capital One, a major credit card issuer, offers customers access to a streamlined credit report.  Upon examining my score, I found a B rating for oldest line of credit in light of having had a card only for 12 years.  One needs 15 years for an A rating.

            Hmmmm.  My Bank of America credit card states “Cardholder since 1997,” yet repeated efforts to get that company to correct its mistake have failed.  I keep getting canned responses from—get this—a collection agency that has expended its service wingspan to providing unhelpful “answers” to bank algorithm failures.

            Bank of America has violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by refusing to correct a credit mistake within 30 days of notification.  The algorithm lists my start date as 2003 and that becomes the truth notwithstanding what my card says, or the verifiable truth of the matter.

            So the next time a credit card company has to issue you a new card due to a security breech understand that the clock starts at zero in terms of line of credit vintage.

            In other words banks and their algorithms win every time.  They are infallible and there is no way to correct a mistake.

            This should trouble you as the future promises more algorithms and things making decisions and determining “facts.”  In my case, my credit rating takes a hit based on a clearly wrong calculation of time.

            It’s a matter of time before you find yourself immersed in a dispute that you cannot win, because the algorithms knows all and serves as judge, jury and executioner.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Teaching Millennials

            Teaching mostly college juniors and seniors provides me with the opportunity to observe cutting edge early adopters of new technology.  I am mostly invisible; they regularly walk into me, not looking up from their smartphones as they walk.  I don’t even try this maneuver.

            Sadly, having to teach/entertain Millennials has a much worst aspect that probably will bring an end to my full time academic career.  It has reached a point where I am not certain even a 20% core of capable and conscientious students exist.  Only on a good day can I achieve direct eye contact with this 20% as they at least temporarily look up from their smartphones.
            But what likely will send me packing is a new deterioration in student-teacher relations regarding grades.  My Gen X and earlier students accepted a C minus knowing they really did not even deserve this grade, but were grateful to receive it..  On students’ transcripts a C minus translates into a C and eliminates the need for re-enrollment.

            Millennials largely believe they should receive something higher despite failing to take notes, participating in the discussion, or generating test performances above the already generous C minus.
            This semester, I experienced a remarkably animated and lawyerly bunch when I reviewed the first test of the semester.  The normally passive and distracted group became quite agitated when their answers did not conform to mine.  Surely their answers were as good, or better than mine.  How could I know better?  What does my 50,000 hours of experience mean in the first place?

            I cannot express to you the frustration I felt, despite regularly consuming heaping portions of humble pie as a Professor these days. On student when out of his or her way to lodge a caustic, unfair and untrue set of allegations on that special place on the web called Rate My  Remarkably that rating appears on the first page of a Google search using my name.  I found that out when I looked to see whether there was any press coverage of my Plenary Panel participation at a major global conference in Budapest hosted by the International Telecommunication Union. No ITU World Telecom Forum coverage, but Rate My Professor. Com has a new insight of how mean, loud, rude and unfair I am.
            For the record I cannot yell thanks to vocal cord surgery.  Of course I do have a lawyer tone which to some may come across as yelling.  The test mean was 72 and I goose scores a few points with a generous curve.  It may tell you something that the test range ran from a high of 94 to a low of 30.

            If you think college teaching and an academic career is a cake walk, think again.

It's Still the Cable Company--Part 179

            After months of regular and largely uninterrupted cable television service my home Video On Demand access suddenly evaporated.  Research on the regularly appearing error code showed that the problem occurred due to a weak upstream signal to the headend.

            As dealing with Comcast customer service rivals dental work, I tried several self-help options available on the web site, include several reset commands from the headend to my set top box.  No luck.
            Step two involved multiple calls to Comcast to make the case for a premises visit.  Understandably Comcast does not want to authorize a “truck roll” in light of the cost.  So customer service representatives—all of them in the U.S. India and possibly China—forced me to make the case repeatedly.  It got old fast, particularly having to undertake the same steps that did not work previously.

            Step three involved the first premises visit, a most unsatisfying event.  The technician arrived and noticed that I had cord shaved, downgrading my service to basic cable.  According to him, I am not entitled to on demand service, notwithstanding clear evidence to the contrary on the Comcast web page.  The technician left without replacing the set top box, or doing anything constructive. 
            This frustrated my wife and me.  Was this yet another Comcast upsell strategy, or could the technician honest believe I was not entitled to the on demand service?  How am I to order movies and add to me monthly bill?

            Step four involved yet more calls to customer service, various tweets on the 2 Comcast sites and an email nominally sent to the customer care VP of the company.  There seems to be fake, or unhelpful customer service and a real version should you make enough of a stink.

            Several days passed before Comcast agreed to send another technician with instructions to fix the problem.  The solution: removal of a defective and long unnecessary signal splitter installed by the company.
            There is not much good news to report.  Comcast still has deplorable customer service designed to prevent real people from providing a real solution.  The company still farms out customer service to individuals with limited English competency.  Nobody followed up, but a company representative did make good on her promise of a $20 bill credit based on the much touted guarantee for on time service remedies.

            Nothing much has changed and apparently the company still doesn’t really care.