Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Still haven't closed my US Bank account...

... this is just to remind myself of doing it. I've spend at least half an hour yesterday with one of these stupid automatic menus ( "Sorry, I could not hear you, let's try again" - "CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE" ) before figuring out that it was a holiday in the USA. I think they should add an option "To decode German accent, press 5". Either way, for your further amusement here is an anonymous comment you find in the thread On the Edge, referring to my remark
    Bee: "What is currently much more scary is the global economical instability. I am not much of an an economist, but even I sense there will be some major economical crisis rather soon, possibly even this year. If you need any indicators, take Bush talking about the 'fundamentals of the economy being strong'."

    anonymous: "Incidentally, I don't agree with the premise that the world or US economy is in dire straits, nor would most economists. In fact its the best it ever has been viewed on historical timescales, despite the fact that we are on the tail end of a business cycle"

If you're still around I would be interested to hear your opinion on this:
World Markets Plunge on Fears of U.S. Slowdown

FRANKFURT — Fears that the United States may be in a recession reverberated around the world on Monday, sending stock markets from Mumbai to Frankfurt into a tailspin and puncturing the hopes of many investors that Europe and Asia would be able to sidestep an American downturn.

Here is what the White House said
In reference to the global stock sell-off, Jeanie Mamo, a spokeswoman for the White House, said: “We don’t comment on daily market moves. We’re confident that the global economy will continue to grow and that the U.S. economy will return to stronger growth with the economic policies the president called for.”

Feel free to comment on daily market moves. I know nothing about economy except that I'm so far happy to have left my savings in Euro, so don't expect any sensible replies from me.

Update: 3 hours later. After being transferred back and forth several times I failed on closing the account. Options are either wiring the money to my Canadian account, but for this I had to visit a local bank branch in California, or writing a check to myself. Which I can't do because I have no checks left. They have renamed 'customer service' into 'customer satisfaction'.

Update: 3 weeks later. I finally managed to close my account.


  1. Those voice recognition algorithms have never worked with my non-American accent plus background noise. I now refuse to talk to a machine. But I have found a way around it on some systems (e.g. USPS, not that that's much use to you but it may work elsewhere).

    If the machine says

    For blah-1, SAY blah'-1.

    For blah-2, SAY blah'-2, etc.

    then if you want blah-n, then you PRESS key n. It's worth a try at least. As I said it works on some systems.

    Also "customer satisfaction" is an abbreviation for "customer satisfaction is compulsory. We demand the customer's compliance!"

  2. In many cases, by pressing the zero key one or more times without speaking, you can persuade the automated answering system to connect you to a human.

  3. http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/bushgo.htm
    Bush the Lesser outgoing

    "I pledge to lessen employment until unemployment has nowhere to hide. I pledge to plague the helpcareless, help bury the old, and shorten the weak. I pledge to make poverty every worker's concern. I pledge to strengthen mortgage crises, raise interest rates for credit card debts, and inflatuate our dollar until a whole continental of Europeons cannot count high enough to make change for one of their coins. This work is already well begun."

    Bush the Lesser incoming

  4. Can't get no satisfaction... ;)

  5. Harhar. I've figured out a way to solve the problem though. I recalled I was sent a computer printed 'convenience check' at some point because I hadn't paid off my credit card debt. Looks as if everybody could print it, but it has all the necessary numbers so it might do.

    @ Anynomous: Almost all of these voice menus have a backup loop for speech or hearing impaired people or something. If you just babble utter nonsense or keep hitting menu options that don't exist you will sooner or later come to speak to a real person (after hanging on hold for 1 hour because there is only on 'real person' to deal with all the satisfied customers). I've done that on various occasions for the same reason you mention - the voice recognition works badly with accents (Can you believe I had to practice pronouncing 'Reschedule Delivery Attempt' to get a grip on my UPS package??) Either way, while I am at complaining, these so-called customer service centers are imho a sure sign for the decline of civilization. Best,


  6. I was just thinking maybe one should put together a list with the best toll-free voice recognition systems and suggest non-native speakers use them to improve their pronounciation. Just try until the mashine understands you. I imagine thousands of immigrants calling UPS making their loops through the menu.

  7. Do these 'customer satisfaction' hotlines have opening hours? I had bad luck, here in Germany, for the second time in a row and just missed the service hours of a hotline (after 6 pm, only a mailbox is answering...)

    Best, Stefan

  8. Hey, great blog. I usually stay out as it's above my head but this time why not.
    First (you've probably heard this one) - if a physicist has a theory but the data doesn't match the theory they throw the theory out. If an economist has a theory and the data doesn't match the theory they throw the data out.

    (damn it Jim ...) I'm a lurker not an economist, but it seems to me that when pundits/bloggers/etc make comments like 'the best it ever has been viewed on historical timescales' they are referring to an overall rise in standard of living, which, viewed on 'historical timescales' has been pretty spectacular for Europeans and Americans (by which I mean US-ians and Canadians). For the raw year in year out flow of excess wealth in the global casino/markets/shell game we are entering a period where the massive gains that the US and EU have enjoyed are now passed slowly along to the rest of the world. The problem being that the raw materials involved aren't available.

    The US is like a spoiled fat kid with a real bad gasoline problem. The coming detox won't be pretty, but unless it radically upsets the food distribution - which it could - or crazed imperialist oil barons go nuts trying to maintain a way out of wack per capita consumption (that'll never happen ... oh, wait), America should come through better than ever - after the hangover. The US is the only country in the world where the poorest of the poor have to drive a lot everyday to survive. That will have to change.

    Capital markets? They will be relatively stable until the US election. The smart money always pulls back when the power brokers play musical chairs.

  9. The United Airlines phone system for lost luggage is pretty good for voice recognition, at least for my voice. However, their mistakes can be so large, that a real person is necessary to solve the issue, which is where I used the (now known :-) ) speaking-gibberish-trick to trigger that human. Unfortunately, entering the United Airlines phone system sometimes requires a heroic patience to redial through the persistent busy signal.

  10. sciencetourist said:
    "... The US is the only country in the world where the poorest of the poor have to drive a lot everyday to survive ...".

    As an example of that,
    and to see how far the USA has fallen with respect to compassion and common sense,
    consider a homeless shelter whose policy is to deny admission to anyone who does not own a car,
    a policy which they attempt to justify by saying that they require those in the shelter to seek employment and it is impossible to seek employment without a car.

    No, I did not make that up.
    Yes, it is the policy of the homeless shelter in my home town.
    Yes, people have actually been turned down based on that policy.

    Tony Smith

  11. Bee - you might be able to open an account at ingdirect (they have a canadian sub) and get your money via them. They work by making a link to your existing checking accounts (no matter the institution) to their savings account.

    I'm to tired to get much into economic stuff, suffice it to say that 90% of the problems have been caused by interest rates that were too low (yes we are about to repeat the same mistake again).

  12. Hi Sci,

    “if a physicist has a theory but the data doesn't match the theory they throw the theory out. If an economist has a theory and the data doesn't match the theory they throw the data out.”

    I like this quote. You could perhaps finish it by stating this proves the old moral which is:

    “ That the fool and his money are easily parted.”

    In Bees case however this would be altered to read.

    “The physicist and her money are not easily reunited.” :-)



  13. !!!!! Uncle Al? You must be a Firesign Theater fan!!!!

  14. didn't work for me either

    Hey Sciencetourist:

    First (you've probably heard this one) - if a physicist has a theory but the data doesn't match the theory they throw the theory out. If an economist has a theory and the data doesn't match the theory they throw the data out.

    Yeah, I've heard this one, though with 'economist' being replaced with 'heavy ion physicist'. I just want to add that unlike say the structure of elementary matter or the CMB, the economy (local as well as global) isn't a natural phenomenon that has to be measured and the data to be stared upon with confusion. If an economist has a theory and the data doesn't match the theory, I'd say throw out the economist.

    We make the economy ourselves. If it doesn't do as we want, someone better think about a way to improve it. This is not about passively 'predicting' a complex system, it is about actively dealing with a complex system. If it is too complex to be dealt with, should we let our future be determined by randomness?



  15. > If an economist has a theory and the data doesn't match the theory, I'd say throw out the economist.

    If only that could be applied to elected officials.

    >should we let our future be determined by randomness?

    The question in the US is, as it was 100 years ago, is should we let our future be determined by monopolies? The 'hand' of the market is not 'hidden'.

    'If you didn't like the news today, go out and make some of your own.'

  16. I read today the Globe and Mail, and their predictions sound even worse than those in the NYT from yesterday. They are already counting how many people will loose their jobs. The main concern of the Canadians is though whether a recession will swap over to Canada. I think it's unlikely. The Canadian economy seems to me presently much more solid than that of USA. I'm not sure whether I should take this pessimism of the day seriously. I would expect things to calm down again until the election is done (unless there are some scandals coming up in that process). The problem is they can't afford that many people get unemployed. The gap between the wealthy and those who are struggling to pay their rent is too large for that. If it gets only a little worse, the crime rate will grow tremendously, especially in the larger cities (LA, NYC, SF, Chicago). That's not good for tourism, and causes only more problems. It's an entirely self-made disaster.

    Hi Sciencetourist:

    True. The hand isn't even invisible to begin with. What I was trying to say, even if it was, that doesn't mean one needs to follow it. The marketplace, free or not-so-free, is a tool that's meant to help our societies to improve, and not to punish them. In case you missed it, you find some of my thoughts on this here, see also the comments to that thread.

    Hi Tony,

    I can't even say whether I find that more sad or more funny. Best,


  17. Dear Tony: I always knew that I was homefull.

  18. Hello bee;

    I read your On The Edge piece and much of the commentary. I stayed out as I'm usually underwhelmed by the quality of my own punditry, but as this is the internet (where space is free and the wind blows hard) ...

    (generic thoughts on your previous post)
    Humanity has been forced to evolve quickly after November 1, 1952. The old way of doing business was obsolete and that fractured the equilibrium. I think you'll find the hungrier people get, the more many of them will listen to the thinkers. Will they listen to the 'right' thinkers? Hopefully they'll do some thinking. I think we've seen the peak of 'specialization': the generations of the future will have multiple skill sets / careers. Every man a king/doctor/piano player. / scientist / blogger / part time farmer. Specialists with time for hobbies, generalists floating in the labor / entrepreneur pool.

    I apologize for commenting on the earlier post in a later thread. Now back to the present.

    I'm a big fan of capital markets and especially some of the numbers they play with (the Elliott wave is way cool) but I think monoculture is unhealthy in agribusiness and capitalism and I have a fanboys disrespect when economics is called a science which is why I don't mind raving about it. I'm all for capitalism, but you can't let one plant choak the garden.

  19. There are several operator lists on the internet.

  20. somewhat depressing that the vast majority of these customer service lines is rated F = a disaster. why then, why, do companies continue with this kind of 'service'. How often did I speak to completely incompetent personnel that did apparently nothing than clicking through the company's own website, reading out the steps I already read myself? what on earth are these people paid for? don't they get any education? and while I am at it, how often did I have to speak to people who apparently couldn't pronounce clearly, or spoke incredibly bad local accents that were for me just impossible to understand (result: I have to ask 10 times they repeat a sentence, and they get annoyed at me.) wouldn't one expect if the employees have contact with the customer only via the phone, they should pick people who are able to at least speak clearly?


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