July 2006


Berkeley is flooded with sushi joints – some great (e.g. Kirala) but most not. There are a fair number, though, that are mediocre – pretty good rolls, questionable sashimi, and a decent value. It's a tough market to crack. I can image that it requires some ingeuity to develop a clientele in such a crowded market.

Enter Akasaka, a new place on Telegraph across from the Andronicos. Before I go further let me say: it's pretty good. The fish is quite fresh – fresh enough for sashimi- and the rolls are interesting. They also put a lot of effort into the space. It's very pretty and the waitstaff are all friendly and attentive. It's not an especially good value, but still. So first they put up a banner that advertises daily specials – UC Berkeley day, couples day, family day, etc. Nice idea. Free or discounted dessert, beer, etc. on each day. Then they put up a sign that said 'All You Can Eat Sushi.'

Erm.

Now, because I've been there before and I know it's good, I think '$18 for all you can eat sushi that doesn't suck?! Amazing!' Of course, most people haven't been there, and they think the opposite. The typical all you can eat joint is not one you'd necessarily want to throw your hat in with. (Is that even a real expression?) It conjures up images of stinky fish, chinzy decor, and endless potstickers and cucumber rolls. I had my share of experiences with that in college. So I started to tell friends they should try the place, and they all – universally – have said 'You mean the all you can eat joint?! NO THANKS!' That didn't even occur to me, of course, since I'd already been there. But if I were them I'd take it down. Fascinating how tricky marketing sushi can be.

Question:

If you had to give just one piece of general advice on life, the Universe, and everything, what would it be?

Sub-Question:

Do you follow that piece of advice yourself?

I thought it might be high time for a short update on the state of all things Mycroft. In general, the state is very, very good. We finished up the Masters Thesis portion of our project at the UC Berkeley iSchool last May, and collected the James R. Chen Award for excellence from our department. Since then, Ben and I have been hustling to turn Mycroft from an interesting academic project to a viable business. Things are going very well on that front, and before long you might find Mycroft replacing advertising everywhere you turn. At least, that's the idea.

Anyway, we're taking a bit of a step back. As we get all our ducks in a row in terms of technology, business, and legal, we're letting the existing network sort of hum along without developing it further. mycroftnetwork.com has changed too, and like any good Web 2.0 start up we've got a spiffy new logo and some rounded corners. And, of course, a teaser for the private beta release that we'll be putting out before long.

More formal thanks are to come, but I feel like saying here that we owe everything to the community of friends, family, and interested volunteers who made our proof-of-concept an astounding success by hosting, conributing, and otherwise providing feedback. So, thanks a million!

Update (12.7.2006): This post really seems to have struck a chord with other folks who have had problems with their cell phone companies. I think it's good for repositories of information like this to be public, so people can share their frustrations and maybe Sprint can come read about what their customers are saying. Anyway, if you're interested in keeping up with this post, or you know people with similar experiences, I've created a direct URL for this post that's easy to remember: sprint.isbadfor.us. Check out isgoodfor.us if you want a similar domain.

Continuing the tradition of attempting to publicly shame companies that have behaved badly, I'd like to share a story about why I hate Sprint PCS. In the end, it could turn out I am wrong about this, but considering how badly I've been treated by phone representatives who seem to take my questions and complaints personally, I don't much care anymore.

The nutshell: 2 years ago, I sign a two year agreement with Sprint PCS in June. In July, I add my wife to the family plan. I get one bill, in my name, and under the primary phone number, which is mine. If you have Sprint, this might all sound familiar.

So, I recognize that in hilly places, cell service is hard. But Sprint was sucking at it. Dropped calls, poor audio quality, but worst of all there are giant swaths of Berkeley and Oakland where I just can't get service. So, we decide to ditch Sprint in favor of Cingular. Go online, get some snazzy new phones and service, do number portability, which automatically moves your service and cancels the old.

So, after ordering I decide to call, just to make sure my account is closed. Oops! I owe a $150 cancellation fee. What, what, what?? Well, the already irritated woman tells me, since I added my wife in July, her telephone number hasn't expired yet, even though the plan has. Now catch that – phone numbers expire separately, even though the plan has expired.

I take a deep breath. Now, I've already done my due diligence on this point. Before I ordered new phones, I log on to the Sprint website and check when my 2 years expires. Login, My Account, Plan Details – sweet, my family plan is listed as expiring on June 6th! The webpage doesn't give me any details about the individual phone numbers, so why would I assume I needed more information? In fact, it doesn't give me any details at all. Nothing about individual lines. (If I'd only bothered to call and talk it over, my peeved phone representative tells me, I could have found that out. This sounds like an argument I had with my high school girlfriend) But wait, I say, isn't the point of the website to give people information so they don't have to call the support lines which cost Sprint an arm and a leg to maintain? Besides, why would I think to call when the website gave me the impression I had all the information I need?

I get attitude in response. Can I speak to your manager? Ok (knives in voice). Hold on. (A few minutes pass.) My manager is with another customer, but I explained it to her and she's going to tell you the same thing. Uh huh. I'm sure you explained it in a fair and balanced fashion, you Fox News watching witch. Can I speak to another representative? Etc., etc., etc… new representative is slightly more professional, but equally unwilling to listen. I decide to write a letter.

Grrr. Summary of problems:

  1. Sprint caused this problem because their website IA sux, they gave me bad information. I wish I had a screenshot of that page, but of course I'm locked out now. Anyone out there with Sprint who can do that? Of course, I run the risk of exposing that I'm wrong about the page, but it's a risk I'm willing to take.)
  2. I still owe Sprint for my last month's bill no matter what. This covers service through July 12th, which is, you guessed it, the day that my wife's phone number expires. Jeez – I'll pay the bill gladly, but this early termination stuff is killing me. I know that's how they make their $, but not from me, damnit. This is classic bait-and-switch stuff.
  3. The phone people were awful. I hate that.
  4. I'm so mad. Why are all phone companies worthless?

If you've gotten this far, then I must apologize for my boring rant.

Update: Today's NY Times has a great story called AOL Said, 'If You Leave Me I'll Do Something Crazy' that makes me feel inadequate for not having recorded my interactions with the jilted ex-girlfriend-like Sprint representative I talked to. Nor did I document my web experience appropriately. What's wrong with me? On the one hand, I can see that making an effort to retain customers who want to quit is important – but there's got to be a line there that was crossed a long time ago. Are AOL or Comcast or Sprint execs. just now realizing that the experiences of everyday people hating their company and documenting it is the marketing equivalent of assisted suicide? Self-assisted suicide. I guess that's just suicide. On the positive side, though, I think it's pretty great that under some circumstances number portability allows you to painlessly switch providers without all the hassle. Once you've signed up with someone else and ported your number, the old provider is pretty much SOL.