Saturday, February 28, 2009

Misspoken Language

I’m always fascinated by how much information is communicated by spoken words or phrases. This is because tone of voice imparts an emotional component that colors and amplifies the expression. In fact, there are expressions that do not consist of words at all, but communicate information nonetheless. For example, “ugh,” “sheesh,” “hi,” and “uh-huh.”

Equally popular are one-word statements such as “dude” and “whatever.” These can take on a vast array of meanings depending on the way they are spoken.

Multiple-word statements that have become compounded into single-word statements seem to be gaining ground, such as “fuggetaboudit,” and “sup.”

But what really impresses me is when a statement is made that through laziness or regional accents has lost its correct pronunciation, but is no less intelligible. I once overheard a conversation between two men, in which one of them said, “yon yohn.” It took a second, but I realized he was saying “you’re on your own.”

A couple of days ago I watched a horrible movie called “The Holiday” with the English actor, Jude Law. In one scene, he uses the common expression “at all.” I don’t remember the exact line, but it was something like “I don’t understand this at all.” Because of his accent, he dropped the “t” and pronounced the “ll” as “w.” So it came out “a’ ohw.” Taken out of context, it’s almost impossible for an American to decipher. The sad part is that this line was the highlight of the film for me.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Like many Americans, we have cable TV service with a Digital Video Recorder (DVR). This is a marvelous device that enables us to easily record programming for viewing at a later time. This concept is known as “time-shifting.”

The problem is that my wife and daughter don’t seem to understand the concept of “later.” They perceive the DVR as a permanent electronic library; a place to collect things they enjoy, but may not choose to view for months or even years.

Typically, I record a movie or a series episode and watch it at the first convenient time (often the following day) and then I delete it. My wife and daughter record things that they have to be in the mood to watch. Moods being what they are, the likelihood of a given mood striking at a convenient viewing opportunity is remote at best. When this rare event occurs, they will watch the program, and then leave it on the DVR in anticipation of the next rare mood swing.

The DVR has a fixed capacity, which is prominently displayed on the selection screen. Once it creeps up over 70%, older items on the list are flagged for removal. I can’t let this happen, or I will have to explain the technology to my wife and daughter. It won’t help. Neither of them will understand why their particular show has been deleted, while all of mine are still there. It will seem unfair, and they will harbor a grudge against me.


So I find myself watching programs until the wee hours, just so I can delete them to keep the DVR under that 70% mark. But it’s a losing game, because they keep collecting more and more programs, which means I have an increasingly narrow window of opportunity to watch things that interest me. Sooner or later, the confrontation will occur. All I’m doing is time-shifting it.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Brink of the Abyss

The job market in our area for my particular profession has dried up to nothing since December. I had two really good interviews in early December, but both companies instituted a hiring freeze before the positions could be filled.

This has forced me to confront two possibilities:
  1. I may have to work out-of-state. I’ve done this before, commuting long distances, and it sucks. In this economy, not many employers are willing to provide a per-diem if you have to travel, and it’s expensive to live away from home.

  2. I may have to find some kind of menial local temporary work just to bring in a paycheck, no matter how small, until the job market loosens up. But with my aging knees, I can’t take a service-industry job where I’m required to stand all day.

Today I swallowed my pride and went to apply for a telemarketing job. The telemarketing industry is divided into “inbound” and “outbound.” “Inbound” means you receive calls from customers or prospects to handle their problems or inquiries. “Outbound” means you call people all day long and try to sell them something. I opted for “inbound.” One thing that attracted me to this place was that they advertised two shifts per day. I wanted to work the late shift from 4pm to 10pm, which would give me plenty of time in the morning to continue my search for a “real” job.

The telemarketing office was a small, shabby location that stank of mildew and cigarette smoke. Through a door I could see a dark room with people huddled in small cubbies, handling calls. I was offered a seat in the grimy lobby, where a half-dozen depressed-looking applicants waited for a guy named “Mike” to make his presentation. The gloomy atmosphere was contagious, and I started to feel pretty horrible.

Suddenly, my cell phone buzzed, so I stepped outside to take the call. It was a contract recruiter, offering to submit me for what sounded like a good job at Disney. Not great money, and it’s only a 7-month contract, but it’s a foot in the door at Disney, and it has to be better than telemarketing. I chatted with him enthusiastically for about 15 minutes. When I reentered the telemarketing office, all of the applicants had been tucked into cubbies, where they were muttering into headsets.

Mike emerged, and explained the operation to me. They have a service that makes automated phone calls to people with credit card balances in excess of $2,500, with interest rates exceeding 10%. I have no idea how they obtain this information. The person is told that they can reduce their interest rate, and is asked to press “9” on their phone to find out if they qualify.

The prospect is then transferred to a “Qualifier” (someone in one of the cubbies). The Qualifier asks a few questions to ensure that the prospect is eligible for a lowered interest rate, and then transfers the call to a “Closer” who makes the final pitch. There’s a fee for this, of course, but the idea is that the prospect’s interest rates will go down to a point where they won’t actually pay anything out-of-pocket. If the prospect agrees, the Closer passes the information to a “Negotiator,” who negotiates with the issuing bank to lower the interest rate to the point where the savings covers the fee.

There is no salary for this job. Instead, they pay a “Spiff” (bonus) to the Qualifier for every deal they pass along that closes. Here’s the payoff chart:


Mike handed me the script that the Qualifiers are required to read when handling calls. There aren’t any options for the Qualifier. It’s just a straight script, designed to extract some information needed by the Closer and the Negotiator.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand the flaw in this arrangement. The Qualifiers have almost no influence in the closing of the deal. The Closer and Negotiator determine the final outcome. In other words, the pay of the Qualifiers is not dependent on their skills or the hours they put in on the job. Their pay is based on luck and the skills of others.

Mike was unable to give me any metrics, so that I’d understand the average number of calls you’d need to handle before one of your deals closed. I’ll bet it’s a lot. I asked him if the second shift was available, and he told me that the second shift hasn’t been started yet. In a week or so, he’ll give me a call. I’m hoping I’ll be at Disney by then.