Latest news

I’m getting lots of kudos on an article in today’s Faith and Values section of the Southern Illinoisan newspaper. It’s a Mother’s Day article on Carbondale mom/grandmother/great grandmother (and all-around great person) Aveniel Cherry. http://bit.ly/a4hfJm.

Watch for my special Mother’s Day column tomorrow!

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What a week!

It’s been a whirlwind week for this freelancer. It’s always rewarding when weeks worth of work finally hits the streets, and this week has been a downpour. Among items released this week:

  • The latest issue of Southern Illinois Magazine featured my cover story on tourist destinations in the region. The article, “Follow the Signs,” focused on the attractions along several of the area’s highways.
  • Saluki Illustrated‘s most recent publication also hit newsstands this week. I was fortunate to have written the cover story for this one, too, a profile of Southern Illinois University Carbondale track and field coach (and former Olympian) Connie Price-Smith.
  • Wow three covers in one week! Southern Business Journal for May features my article on the summer job outlook for everyone from high school students to those left unemployed by the recent economic downturn. A sidebar article featured job hunting tips.
  • A piece in the May 1 issue of The Southern Illinoisan focused on the use of “secret worshipers” in area churches. These are efforts by congregations to learn how they interact to first-time visitors and guests through the use of consultants or paid visitors who attend and critique everything from the parking lot to the way they are treated by members of the congregation. Read it here.
  • The Annual “Leaders Among Us” special issue of Southern Business Journal was released on Thursday. This publication profiles 15 individuals across the region selected for the contributions that they make to their communities. It was my privilege to write eight of the 15 profiles.
  • In an ongoing series of posts for Certified Financial Planner Jeff Rose’s popular blog, Good Financial Cents, I’m writing posts based on what my wife and I are learning as we attend Financial Peace University. FPU is a 13-week program offered by syndicated radio host and author Dave Ramsey.
  • And, of course, my humor column appeared in the Life section of The Southern Illinoisan newspaper. In the first of the series of “He Said, She Said” columns, I shared my experience in going shopping with my wife, sister-in-law and daughter. In today’s edition, my column partner Martha Peebles (She Said) outlines the cure for mens’ shopping sickness. (Click the columns tab to read my take on shopping.)

News Flash: Martha and I will be guests on Dee James’ radio show, “Just Say It”, Tuesday afternoon. Tune in to WINI 1420-AM at 1 p.m. to hear us

    After all of that, I can’t wait to see what this week holds!

    Categories: Uncategorized

    Lots of news…

    April 24, 2010 Leave a comment

    It’s been a busy few weeks with lots of exciting news, including:

    — I am co-author of a brand new humor column launching in The Southern Illinoisan newspaper on Sunday, April 25. “He Said, She Said” will be a weekly look at life from the unique perspectives of men and women. The first column will feature my take on shopping. Martha Peebles, a delightful humor writer from Willisville, Ill. will counter the next week, sharing her theory as to how men “just don’t get it” when it comes to shopping.  Martha and I will be alternating Sundays in The Southern.

    –Speaking of partnerships with Martha, we’ll be guests on Dee James’ “Just Say It” radio show, Tuesday, May 4 on WINI AM 1420. We’ll be sharing about “He Said, She Said” and about life in general. Catch us beginning at 1 p.m.

    –My work has appeared frequently in The Southern during the past week. “Going to the Dogs” is a feature about a Carbondale woman who not only bakes and sells dog treats, but who has also just published a cookbook for dogs. In anticipation of the upcoming season of American Cancer Society Relay for Life events, I was the primary author of a special section about the relays, caregivers and survivors.

    –The new issue of Southern Illinois Magazine features a number of articles I wrote including the cover story, “Follow the Signs” (about destinations along the region’s main thoroughfares, an article on the growing tour bus and limo industry and a small piece on river ferries in the area.

    –Certified Financial Planner Jeff Rose this week introduced some posts I’m writing for his popular blog, Good Financial Cents. I’ll be sharing my experiences as a student in Financial Peace University, a 13-week program offered by author and radio host Dave Ramsey.

    –Finally, Jeff also announced that we are collaborating on a new book project. It’s a personal finance work with Jeff’s unique twist. We’re putting the final touches on the introduction and first chapter. While we can’t release details yet, I can say it is a very interesting project that I am very excited about. Watch for more information!

    Categories: Projects, Uncategorized

    Neurologist says more health care fixes are needed

    April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

    Health care reform may change the way Americans receive medical care and how the costs of that care are paid, but the changes in the nation’s health care system do not address some key problems, a local neurologist said.

    Dr. Lori Guyton, a Herrin-based neurologist, said that Congress’ failure to permanently fix the way doctors are reimbursed by the federal government and the way that specialists are reimbursed will ultimately lead to a shortage of physicians.

    Guyton said that all physicians who treat patients through Medicare are subject to reimbursement payments that do not reflect today’s costs and the payments do not cover physician’s expenses of running their practices.

    “This is not even part of the Health Care Reform bill,” Guyton said. “The payments are tied to what’s called the Sustainable Growth Rate formula. SGR measures how much Medicare can grow without borrowing more money. After Medicare passes this rate, it must reduce reimbursement to facilitate growth. Therefore, when the government spends more on Medicare than is budgeted, the government threatens to reduce the payments to doctors.”

    She said that each year, Congress has to act with a stop-gap measure to prevent the cuts in reimbursement.

    “Last year Congress threatened to reduce payments to physicians in January, then it got pushed back to April, before they subsequently voted not to implement it,” she explained. “The problem is every time they delay, ‘the fix’, the current deficit in Medicare increases”.

    As of April 1, the Senate did not delay the anticipated cut and the 21 percent Medicare reduction to physician payments went into effect, becoming law. In 2011 an additional 24 percent cut is anticipated.

    Dr. J. James Rohack, who serves as president of the American Medical Association said Congress needs to act now.

    “It’s time for all of our representatives and senators to do what is right to protect access to care for seniors and military families, and to assure the viability of physician practices with reimbursements that meet the costs of keeping an office open,” he said.

    Guyton agreed. That is why she recently traveled to Washington, D.C. with colleagues for the American Academy of Neurology’s “Neurology on the Hill”. In Washington, the neurologists visited legislator’s offices and urged them to find a long-term solution. Physician incentives were also discussed, and amendments to the H.R. 3200.

    “We told them we’d like a permanent fix instead of temporary patches, and soon,” Guyton said. “We’re concerned with the reduction that’s looming in the future and the access to care for patients.”

    All total, more than 100 neurologists met with legislators as part of the annual program. The academy called the program one of the most effective ways of sharing physician and patient concerns with elected officials. This year’s representatives, including Guyton, urged lawmakers to make permanent revisions to the reimbursement program.

    Guyton said that the problem with Medicare reimbursements could affect the quality of care patients receive, the timing of health care and ultimately the quality of life in southern Illinois.

    She explained that with a troublesome reimbursement program, many physicians and specialists may leave practice, retire early or decide to stop seeing patients who rely on Medicare.

    “If that happens, I’m concerned with what it will do to patient care. If there are fewer physicians, patients may not be able to get the care they need,” she said. “If more citizens are provided healthcare, the que for services may reach extraordinary waiting periods to be seen.”

    Guyton said that there are only four practicing neurologists in southern Illinois, and often the wait time for an appointment can be several months.

    It’s a problem that she doesn’t expect will get much better for patients.

    “Access to care is a huge issue,” she said. “Today neurology spots are not being filled in medical schools; there are very few students entering the specialty.”

    According to the American Academy of Neurology, many reimbursements are based upon procedures performed by physicians, not ongoing principal care services such consulting with patients and ongoing care for chronic conditions. As such, procedure-driven specialties are better-reimbursed and in the past have attracted more medical students. That may change as bonus incentives for primary care physicians is anticipated to begin in 2011. However, such bonuses do not apply to specialists such as neurology. Guyton explained that efforts such as the “Neurology on the Hill” program express to members of Congress that specialists such as neurologists should be included in the bonus incentives.

    “One in six Americans have some neurological problem such as migraines, seizures, Parkinsons’s Disease or Alzheimer’s, and we remain the primary provider for many of these neurologic conditions”, she added.

    She said that is why she’s working with other neurologists to encourage lawmakers to fix Medicare and provide incentives for physicians to go into neurology and other specialties as well as primary care.

    “The bottom line is access to care for patients,” she said.

    Categories: Uncategorized

    Forecast for The Weather Channel: mostly yuck with a chance of bad

    April 6, 2010 Leave a comment

    Remember The Weather Channel? Or, better said, remember the old Weather Channel? You know, the one you could turn to for forecasts and actual weather? It’s gone. Today it seems to me that TWC (as fanatics call it) is all about making celebrities and being something else.

    Take for instance early mornings on The Weather Channel. The shows used to have non-descript names like “Your Weather Today”. Instead now, we get “Abrams and Bettis”, from the “hosts” of the program. (When did weather start needing hosts? I thought all we needed were meteorologists.) The show is less about weather and more about them.

    Don’t even get me started on “Wake Up With Al”. If I want an “entertainer” (and that is a real stretch), I’ll watch something else. If I want bozos with signs outside the studio, I’ll watch one of the mindless network morning shows. Give me weather, not entertainment. I hate what NBC has done to TWC.

    Evenings are no better. In fact, they’re worse. Instead of shows with just a hint of weather, we get half-hour long attempts by The Weather Channel to be something else. “When Weather Changed History”: didn’t I see this on The Military Channel? “Storm Proof”: TWC tries (and fails) to be Mythbusters. “Cantore Stories”: The Weather Channel’s only legitimate “star” pretends to be Bear Grylls from Man vs. Wild. Then there’s “Storm Stories” or as we call them at our house, “Storm Bore-ies”.

    Don’t forget the other stupid segments. For example, iWitness Weather. I mean, who cares what it’s doing at Aunt Claudia’s house in Cheyenne. I don’t.  Of course, by telling people that the network will air footage of storms and tornadoes only encourages yokels who should be taking care of their families and finding shelter to instead stand by the window (or worse, go outside) into the path of serious weather for 15 minutes of fame.

    The tailgating forecast during the football seasons? Give me a break. It’s just a chance for drunken people to hoo like baboons on national television. Most of the games they give us forecasts for are played in domes. Hello?

    Please, TWC, give me back my weather. If I want entertainment, I’ll watch something else.

    Categories: Uncategorized

    This Vacuum Sucks.

    March 30, 2010 2 comments

    When are companies going to learn that a complaint from a customer is an opportunity to not only strengthen the relationship they have with their client, but also to perhaps create such a bond that the customer will stay true to the company for life? The company who built my family’s current vacuum—or sweeper, as my mom calls them—hasn’t learned this lesson.

    My Eureka moment

    Throughout our 20 years together, my wife and I have, when it comes to products such as microwaves, DVD players and vacuums, been, shall we say, very frugal. If some company would manufacture and market a line of products under the brand name “Cheapo”, we’d be among the first buyers. However, we are now becoming recovering cheapskates, especially with vacuums. Tired of hand-me-down uprights and yard sale dirt suckers, about a year and a half ago, we realized that every family in America needed a bright, shiny vacuum, and professed that you should buy the best vacuum you could afford. So, we did what most Americans do. We went to Wal-Mart.

    We left with a brand-new, expensive-for-us Eureka bagless model. It was construction yellow in color and had attachments to do everything except fix breakfast, and boy did it suck, but in a good way. I loved that vac and used it regularly. (We have to, our crazy beagle-terrier mix, Rusty, sheds all of the time. Then one day before the vacuum was even a year old, I turned it on and practically burst an ear drum. It sounded like a Harrier jet was performing a vertical takeoff in my living room. Rusty went bounding for the door to get away and I had to turn on the machine for fear of losing what little sanity I have.

    Like a good husband, I began to investigate. I checked the hose: no clog. I checked the belt: it was perfect. I even disconnected the belt and beater brush and then started the vacuum to see if they were part of the problem: nope. I realized that the problem had to be in the motor itself.

    Time to call the company

    I’m always hesitant to call the company, but I was willing in this case. After all, this was a new, somewhat expensive vacuum. I had to search diligently through the manual and finally on Eureka’s web site to find a customer service number. (Note to companies A: We, your customers, like it when we know how to talk to you.)

    Positive Experience #1

    I somehow in trying to find the phone number discovered that Eureka’s customer service center was in Peoria, Ill. I felt a connection already, since I grew up just an hour away from Peoria. Even more appealing to me was that when I did call I got to speak to someone who had what broadcasters would call a Midwestern-American accent. To me it meant that I was talking to someone whom I could understand. (Note to companies B: Even though your telephone customer service representative may say her name is Mary, we know that the odds are good she’s located in the Provash region of some country we’ve never been. Your customers are here. In my opinion, your customer service should be, too.)

    Positive Experience #2

    After exchanging niceties about our days and about the Peoria area, I explained my problem to the customer service representative. I was impressed. Especially when she said, “Let me hear it.”

    I started the vacuum and aimed the phone at the wretched thing. After a few seconds, the customer service rep agreed with me: my vacuum was toasted. She thought probably a bearing had gone bad in the motor. She told me that the company would replace it.

    How long?

    I was thrilled that Eureka was going to replace my vacuum. She told me that I’d be getting the newest model, which was an upgrade from what I had. Again I was thrilled. All I had to do was to peel off the model and serial number tag from my unit and mail them in along with a 6-inch section of the power cord, including the plug. I’d have a new vacuum in six to eight weeks.

    How long? Six to eight weeks? You’ve got to be kidding. I want someone to explain why it would take nearly two months to get a replacement. Think about it: two or three days for my stuff to get to Peoria, a couple of days until someone can open the package, find my information in the computer and realize that they need to send me a new vac. It should only take an afternoon to pull a box off of a shelf in a warehouse and load it on a UPS truck. Then, a few days later, a new vacuum should arrive at my house. Even with weekends, it should be two weeks max. (Note to companies C: If you want us to buy your products now, don’t think we want the same level of service. Six to eight weeks is, from my perspective, lazy.)

    About six weeks later (after several awkward requests to borrow my neighbor’s vac), the new vacuum arrived. I eagerly assembled it and started its maiden voyage. It was great. This one was a modern looking device, white with light blue trim and a “comfort” handle that was a complete circle. It was one of the newfangled units with the clear canister and the tornado-like action where you could watch the dirt flying around in a circle inside the vacuum. My son said it looked like a piece of hospital equipment.

    The vacuum worked wonderfully the first few times I used it. I even empty the canister each time I finished cleaning the floor, just like I was supposed to. (This model featured a latch at the top of the canister that opened the bottom of the canister for convenient, no-mess emptying).

    Things turn ugly

    After a few months, I noticed that the little pieces of dog hair and dirt weren’t flying around the canister at NASCAR-like speeds any more. In fact, they weren’t flying around at all and my new Suck Dirt Special (yes, I named the vacuum) wasn’t really sucking like it was supposed to. Once again, I found myself taking apart a vacuum to figure out what was wrong. Once I found the culprit, I began thinking unkind thoughts about the engineers at Eureka.

    At the top of the canister is a filter that looks like a small air filter in your car. This filter is sits in a bowl with holes all around. It sort of looks like a colander or the place in the Kerplunk tube (if you remember the kids’ game) where you put the long sticks. Outside of these holes, there’s about a half-inch gap between the bowl and the canister. This is where I guess the suction starts.

    It’s also where the clogs begin. This chute and the holes in the bowl are perfect places for dog hairs, dust, dirt, little bits of paper and who-knows-what-else to gather and stay. The result is poor air flow, poor suction and a vacuum that either doesn’t suck or really sucks, depending on your perspective. As a result, every other time I vacuum, I have to take the canister apart and remove the clogs and debris, covering myself in dirt throughout the process.

    Turning to customer service—again

    So, I call Eureka again, and tell them that while I appreciate the new vacuum, it’s in no way as good as my old one. I tell them of problems with it and express that I really like the other old-and-not-improved model better.

    A Missed Opportunity

    The customer service representative listened very politely, but told me there was nothing she could do. “It’s policy that we only send out one replacement,” she said. “Well,” I replied, “it is now my policy to never buy another Eureka.” I told her that I was disappointed in both the vacuum and the level of service. I did not get a “let me see what I can do”, or an “even though we can’t do anything, I’ll let the designers know”. Never even a “I’m sorry.” I all heard was a statement about policy.

    Do the Math

    So, I now either have to consider buying another vacuum (which will be some other brand) or I have to practically take a bath after each instance of emptying the canister of my current vacuum. Realizing that I will have to buy a new vacuum eventually, let’s explore the realities. Assuming that the life span of a vacuum is five years (which may be generous), that means I could purchase as many as eight or nine more vacuums in my lifetime. If they wholesale for just $50 each, that means my friends at Eureka will not see $400 of my money—it will instead go to the competition. Of course, both of my teenagers have seen me looking like a chimney sweep after cleaning our floor cleaner, so they’ve sworn off Eurekas also. That’s at least another $500 each.

    Bottom line, Eureka, your decision to follow policy and not send me a basic, non-clogging, unfancy vacuum to replace this top-of-the-line piece of junk, could cost your company as much as $1500. That may be nothing to you, but repeat this experience in household after household and with disappointed customer after customer and you’ve got a real mess that no vacuum can clean up.

    Categories: Uncategorized

    To Hot Card, Vol. 2

    March 24, 2010 Leave a comment

    As promised, I called the bank this morning to inquire about what I thought was a typographical error (see my earlier post). I assumed that “To Hot Card a lost or stolen…” was simply a mistake in typing or programming.

    I was wrong. It is a case of business not speaking the language of customers. Here’s what I learned when I called the bank this morning:

    The top of checking account statements are supposed to say “To hot card…”, the bank representative told me. “It’s bank lingo; that’s what they call it,” she explained.

    I wanted to ask, “who’s they?”, but I didn’t. So it is banker-friendly language, but I don’t think it is customer-oriented wording. How many of you have ever heard of the phrase “hot card” before? I’m guessing not very many, unless you work in the financial services industry.

    In an era of ATMs and bank-by-phone options, I would think that financial institutions would want to make everything they do with customers friendly. Don’t use your own insider-speak for correspondence with the public. Instead, make it simple. At the very least, put hot card in quotation marks so we can tell it’s a regular, albeit strange, phrase. Maybe even hyphenate it.

    Speaking of banks, did you ever wonder why they want us to trust them with our money, yet they always chain down the pens on the tables near the teller windows?

    “To Hot Card…”

    March 23, 2010 Leave a comment

    I just opened my checking account statement to balance my checkbook (and if you’re not balancing yours within 72 hours of getting your statement, you should be!) Anyway, I noticed a sentence on the top of the statement, just under my name an address. Here’s what it said:

    To hot card a lost or stolen ATM or debit card please call…

    What? “To hot card a lost”? I think it is supposed to say, “To report a lost or…”, but I’m not completely sure.

    Since I get bank statements every month, I decided to see if this is an error that has been on the statements before. I found the very first time it appeared incorrectly: April 2007. Wow. I can’t believe I didn’t see that before now. Even more curious to me is that no one else apparently has noticed either–nobody at the bank, none of the programmers that originally set it up and none of the banks other of customers. Either nobody ever looks at the top of their bank statement (or they’re only looking at the bottom line) like me or no one even opens their statements. Let’s hope it is the first one.

    Guess I’ll call the bank tomorrow to see if it will be corrected before next month. I’ll keep you posted.

    Weighing the cost of good customer service

    March 21, 2010 Leave a comment

    In a fabulous book about customer service, “Your Call Is (not that) Important to Us”, author Emily Yellin shares this information which, I think, gets to the real problem of customer service in our country. She writes:

    Exact figures vary by company and industry, but the approximate cost of offering a live, American-based, customer service agent averages somewhere around $7.50 per phone call. Outsourcing calls to live agents in another country brings the average cost down to about $2.35 per call.

    Yet one of the most frequent complaints about telephone customer service is that the customer service agent doesn’t truly understand the language or has an accent or dialect that cannot easily be understood by the caller. So my question to corporate America is this: Isn’t a positive customer service experience and a satisfied customer worth the extra $5.15? As your customer, my answer is, “Yes. Every single time.”

    Categories: Uncategorized

    Welcome!

    March 20, 2010 Leave a comment

    Over and over again, I’ve been asked, “why don’t you have a website?”. So, here it is. I hope you’ll enjoy my thoughts, insights, rants and complaints as well as samples of recent writings. I’m even going to include some of what people have said about what I wrote. Hope you enjoy it!

    Thanks for visiting!

    Categories: Uncategorized
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