What the heck is bonded leather – 2015 edition – Bob’s Discount Furniture is still at it.

bonded leather sofa  Isn’t it pretty?

I continue to see retailers like Bob’s Discount Furniture advertise and sell furniture made out of something called “bonded leather”.

I’ve written about this before. What’s new?  Reputable furniture sellers are now refusing to sell furniture made of “bonded leather” because so many customers have complained (and filed law suits) regarding bonded leather.

If you want to save money, and don’t care that your “leather” furniture will peel and flake like it has a sunburn within months of purchasing it, then by all means, run down to Bob’s Discount Furniture and have at it.

If you actually want something of better quality, something that will last, something you can be proud of – go somewhere else, and then ask a lot of questions.

If you already purchased your “leather” furniture from Bob’s or anywhere else, here’s an easy way to know whether or not you got real leather.

Do you find your leather furniture makes you sweat and stick to the furniture?  If so, it’s not real leather.  Real leather breathes.  It’s an organic product.  It won’t make you sweaty or sticky any more than a fabric sofa.  Don’t confuse this with automobile leather.  Automotive grade leather is often coated to withstand extreme cold and heat.  You can’t compare a car with leather upholstery sitting in the sun for hours where the interior can climb to 140 degrees F, to the leather on your sofa. However, you may notice now, that higher end vehicles come with leather that is perforated or mechanically cooled with fans inside the seats.

Bonded Leather shouldn’t even have the word leather in the name.  It is reconstituted hide scraps mixed with several other things – some recognizable, some not so much.  It is made in a similar fashion as paper – pulverized wood shavings, with other additives, are mashed together in a big blender and then extruded into sheets.  With bonded leather, it’s leftover leather waste products from actual tanned leather that is dried, then pulverized, then mixed with paper bits, cardboard, and any number of other things they find.  It is then extruded into long sheets that have a fiber or paper backing.  Industry standards vary by country.  For example in the U.S.A, bonded leather must contain 60% “leather fibers” (that doesn’t mean actual tanned leather).  In Europe the standards are higher with the requirement of 50% (wet or dry measure) of actual leather.  But in places like Asia requirements for use of the term Bonded Leather only require that as low as 20% of the pulp extrusion be leather fibers and/or leather products.  Much of the furniture sold in the United States at discount furniture establishments, and stored like Walmart, Ikea, etc. comes from China.

Bonded leather is leather like a hot dog is a prime cut of beef.

Recipe for Bonded Leather:

– Take 20% of leftover leather shavings that you purchase in bulk from a tannery,
– Add recycled paper products, cardboard, cut-up foam from yoga mats, rat droppings from the factory floor (anything really, because – there is no regulation).
– Put it all in a very large blender, on high, until silky smooth smooth.
– Pour that “slurry” onto a cookie sheet and bake in the oven at a very low temperature – maybe just keep it on “warm” – until it is dried out completely. Don’t forget to spray the cookie sheet with cooking spray (or any petroleum product you have lying around).
– When dry, peel it off the cookie sheet carefully and wrap it around a particle board frame.
– Sell it to Bob’s Discount Furniture as a “Bonded Leather Sofa”.  It’s completely legal.

To make it even easier you can simply pour the slurry into a “sofa mold” – similar to pouring Jello into a Bundt cake pan.  It take a little longer to dry (cure), but all you have to do it cut the mold away when you’re done.

If you don’t believe me about all of this.  Here is a video of how they make bonded leather:

And here is a video of how one company makes real leather:

Working with leather is an art-form that has been around for thousands of years.  Retailers like Bob’s Discount Furniture in New England (mostly) proudly sell furniture made of bonded leather, yet few consumers know about bonded leather.  They are too embarrassed to ask, thinking they should already know what it is.  And since it has the word “leather” in it, that’s good, right?  Bonded Leather is not real leather.  It’s a word gimmick.  It is the cheapest of cheap materials and it was invented because of what else? Greed – misrepresenting what a product is in order to sell huge amounts of it at cheap prices.

By the way, I just purchased a sofa, online, from a furniture manufacturer in North Carolina.  I was able to select my leather from the many, many swatches they sent me prior to my final purchase.  It’s a beautiful sofa and I spent about $500 more for it than I would have for bonded leather at the local furniture store.   The difference is, for $500 more I get a sofa I will have for 20 years, instead of 3 years.


Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning, Wells, Maine – Review


It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on my blog but I feel so strongly about this that I simply had to warn people.

If you don’t feel like reading this entire posting, the bottom line is, in my opinion, DO NOT HIRE BEN OLIVER FROM LIGHTHOUSE KEEPERS CLEANING IN WELLS, MAINE

If you search online for Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning service in Wells, ME, you won’t find much, if any, information. No web site for this company exists, no HomeAdvisor.com listing, and I could find no listing, even on generic indexes of business through various services like the online Yellow Pages.  I assumed this was a small business with not much of an online presence.  I should have seen a red flag. But I was in a hurry and made a rushed decision.

Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning, or specifically its owner, Ben Oliver of Wells, ME, was recommended to me by the person who cleans my carpets.  I found my carpet cleaner through Home Advisor.  He was excellent, professional, friendly, and stood behind his work.  He’s great at what he does and I will use him again.  I gave him high marks on HomeAdvisor.com where I found his company.  I don’t want to name his company here so it doesn’t get mixed up with this review. But, I trusted his judgment and recommendation.

I first met Ben Oliver when we scheduled a meeting at my apartment so I could get an estimate.  He seemed friendly, actually overly friendly, but nice enough.  When he entered my apartment he immediately started evaluating my “stuff” (my belongings), not the job itself.

I am a smoker and after 15 years of living here, I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to get everything cleaned perfectly. The landlord won’t repaint, so I was considering paying for it myself.  But to do that, everything needed to be cleaned including the walls and ceiling.  Ben Oliver assured me that he would talk care of that.  I was told that his company always starts a new customer with a “big cleaning”; which meant everything from top to bottom including walls, ceiling, baseboards, behind the fridge, etc.  He wanted to charge me $200 for this cleaning.  I asked if he could come down at all on that and we agreed on $175.  I thought, for that, it was worth it.

We scheduled it for a few days later.  I gave him my house keys during the first meeting because I intended to use him on a regular basis, once a month, after the “big cleaning”.  On the morning he was to arrive, I left a check for $175.00

When I got home that day, at first glance the place appeared to look good.  The first thing I noticed was a broken light bulb, still in its socket, in the bathroom.  I wasn’t too upset by that but thought it was odd he didn’t tell me.  When he was there giving the estimate we talked about previous cleaners I had used and how they had broken things and never told me.  I assured him that if something were to happen, it’s not that big of a deal, just tell me and if its something of value, we’ll work it out in some way.  He agreed.

The next thing I noticed was some white powdery stuff (it looked like comet cleanser) in front of my fridge.  I got out the all purpose cleaner and a paper tower to wipe it up.  But when I wiped it up, the paper towel came up completely BLACK.  i sprayed a little more Fantastik farther away from the original spot and the same thing happened; completely Black. I took a picture where I re-sprayed the original spot a second time.


So this is after I cleaned it once.  I should have taken a pic of the first one but didn’t think about the bigger problem until I had already thrown the first one away and took out the garbage. But this is what it looked like AFTER I cleaned the spot.  And as I cleaned further, it just got worse.

This is a picture of my range hood where he used BLEACH!  Can you see the white discoloration and permanent drip mark?


And this is a picture of the space between my fridge and the wall where some plastic molding from my fridge is wedged in there and I can’t get it out.. I don’t even know where it belongs.

fridge part

The Walls and Ceiling were NEVER cleaned.

When I called Ben Oliver of Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning, he acted like he didn’t know who I was.  How may people with my name did he have as a customer?  on that day?  When I started explaining the first issue of the kitchen floor, his response was “To be honest, your whole house was black”.  First, that’s insulting.  Second, it’s unprofessional. Third, we had already talked about smoke damage issues, and the linoleum flooring in my kitchen is something I’ve cleaned myself in the past and it’s never been black.  After a long day of work, I wasn’t in the mood to have some argument with him.  In my opinion, he was more concerned about being “right” than about the job he had done that was substandard  at best.  His response should have been “I’m so sorry, let me come back and take a look at it and fix it” to keep his customer happy and stand behind his work.  At the very least he should have agreed to come and look at it.

But in my opinion his personality, and ego, prevented him from being professional. It seemed that in his mind, he is right, he’s always right, and how dare I question him.

So I wrote an email to him about the issue.  I explained my concerns and gave him every opportunity to make good on is cleaning job.

He never responded to the email. I sent him a text asking if he’d read the email.  His text response was that he hadn’t received it and if I wanted to contact him I should do it between business hours Monday through Friday, 9:00 AM to 3:00 PM.

At that point, I was done trying to rectify the situation.  I sent him a text asking for my keys back.  I work in the town where he lives. So I asked him to drop off my keys at my office with the receptionist.  It wasn’t far out of his way and I was scheduled to be off that next day anyway; I didn’t want a run-in with him.  But as it turn out I did have to go into work that next day.

At one point during that day, I heard front door to our office slam and the owner of the company for whom I work came into my office with my house keys dangling in her hand and said “Some guy just dropped these off for you and said to tell you to never call him again!”.  She sort of stared at me funny.  My mouth dropped.  I was mortified.  To walk into a place of business, as a business owner himself, and make a scene over a set of keys, is reprehensible behavior.  It was none of anyone’s business but he made it personal.

The bottom line here is DON’T HIRE Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning in Wells, Maine.  From my experience, you will be overcharged for shoddy work, and he won’t take any responsibility for work that wasn’t done or for work done poorly.  He is unprofessional, and while I try very hard not to judge people based their personality, or who they are, or aren’t, in this case, all of those issues play and were a big part in how all of this went down.   Additionally, there are things missing from my house that I can’t explain or prove. I never even got into that with him.  I’m not a lawyer and can’t accuse without proof, and just wanted it all out of my life.

As I said at the start, I don’t post to my blog very often these days.  However, this situation warranted some action on my part.  I couldn’t find any reviews of him or his company, so somebody needed to speak up.  I wish I had some sort of review to go on; instead I took the word of someone I trusted.  I believe that Lighthouse Keepers Cleaning can’t be found online because he doesn’t want a place online for anyone to review him.

4-rth Sustainable Fashion – Unsustainable Business Practices – Don’t buy from them.

When you find a company like 4-rth (pronounced “for earth”) you want to believe…….

It took me a long time to find quality, somewhat affordable yoga clothes for men.  I wanted them not only for yoga but because they’re comfortable for everyday use, when made with quality.  When I found 4-rth online, they had some cool clothes for guys.  The most interesting, different, and fashionable was the cuffed yoga short for men.  People tell me I write too much (too long), so I’ll try to shortcut this with bullet points.

Cuffed Yoga Pants (Cinnabar w/Grey)

  • I purchased the yoga shorts pictured above.  Note the gray cuff around the bottom of the leg.
  • When I received them, I really liked them but noticed that the cuff was orange, like the short, not gray.
  • When I pointed this out, Doug Donahue (Owner, CEO?,- basically the only person that works there apparently) responded to my email as follows:
    • “excellent eyes you have! 🙂 sorry about that — in that production run, that was an oversight by our production team so they all came out that way but we’ll go back to the Gray cuff in future production runs
    • He also added “p.s. – we have TWO new color-ways coming out in that pant”
    • Translation: “Oops – you noticed, huh.  Oh well.  But we have more stuff for you to buy.
  • I responded to his email and told him that his response wasn’t really unacceptable.  He never offered to replace them or exchange them.  I explained to him how customer service worked and gave him several suggestions to make his customer service better.  I gave him every opportunity to make it better.  I wasn’t mean or snarky.  I was honestly trying to help him.  I wanted him to succeed – and I told him so.
  • Doug Donahue’s response was “Please feel free to use my friends & family discount anytime — it’s good for 15% off at any time of the year! the code is: 4RTH”
    • Translation:  Feel free to REPURCHASE what you already thought you were purchasing – because as I said the next production run “should” be OK.  And you can buy them at a 15% discount.
  • So I can buy the shorts that I thought I had already did buy – at a 15% discount.  How nice.  And they “may or may not” arrive as shown in the picture on his web site.
  • I explained that repurchasing an article of clothing, simply because what I received wasn’t as advertised, was not my idea of fixing the problem.  I explained further how customer service worked.  I explained that I had planned on buying many more items from 4-rth.  However, since I couldn’t trust that I would get what I ordered, or that the follow up customer service would correct the problem, I simply could not do that.  I gave him another opportunity to fix the problem.  I had worn the shorts, but considering they were a design that he didn’t even sell, why would he want them back anyway, even if I had never worn them.  All he had to do was send me the correct product, at his expense, and I would have been a happy camper.  I would have been ready, willing, and able to buy more items in his men’s line AND tout his company on my blog.

This was a ridiculous exchange.  Mr. Donahue should have simply fixed the problem.  He sold me a product that was manufactured incorrectly.  Some may say “It’s just a cuff on a pair of shorts – who cares”.  Well, there are such things as false advertising, integrity, standing behind your products, and good customer service.  Plus, to be honest, from a fashion standpoint, the gray contrasting cuff was what made these shorts unique.

Doug Donahue must have a huge ego for him not to just fix this – easily.  He could not and would not admit that he was wrong.  He sold me a product and the product I received was not like the one pictured.  It’s a simple problem and a simple fix.  I should not have taken many, many emails to address – only to get absolutely nowhere.

I noticed that on his web site, he has “celebrities” like singer Daughtry saying he thought the stuff was cool, and Queer Eye cast member Jai Rodriguez pictures with Doug.  I’m betting if I were a celebrity the problem would have been corrected immediately.  I probably would have received his entire line of clothing as a “gift”.  But since I’m not a celebrity and Doug Donahue’s goal is to be rich and famous and hobnobbing with the rich and famous, he could care less about me, a lowly customer who received a product that was made wrong in the factory.

I gave Mr. Donahue many, many chances.  I even told him about the power of word of mouth (or word of word).  I told him I would hold back from writing anything negative about him or his company because I believed he would do the right thing to rectify the problem.

He Didn’t.  And so I’m writing to let people know what they are in for if they choose to purchase merchandise from 4-rth.com.  Some will think I’m just pissed off and it’s just sour grapes.  I assure you that is not true.  At one point I told Mr. Donahue that I had a lot of experience with online shopping and would be happy to work with him to ensure his customers were satisfied at all levels.  The customer is always right and it’s a company’s job to make sure the customer is happy.  I wasn’t asking for anything unreasonable – I was only asking for WHAT I HAD ORDERED AND PAID FOR.

Restoration Hardware is less trustworthy than Walmart


When a presumed reputable company like Restoration Hardware has a sale, and they say the sale will end on a specific date, most believe this to be true.  RH had a “sale” going on that “ended” on February 10, 2014.  One of the sale items was a somewhat expensive linen sheet set in various bedding sizes, and colors.  A friend of mine had received them recently and had them on her own bed, and on the bed in her guest room.  I experienced these sheets on a recent visit to her house and was amazed. They truly are a unique and awesome item if you love your bed and don’t mind spending a few bucks on it.

Because of the cost, I was hesitant, but I really wanted these sheets.  I received an email from Restoration Hardware on February 10, REMINDING me that the sale was ending on that day.

I bit the bullet and placed my order.  I didn’t want to miss out on the sale price, or possibly experience a lack of color choices.  I order the sheets.

The next day, I happened to check the RH web site and guess what?  The sale had been extended for “one more day”. They specifically stated that the sale was extended to February 11.

I sent an email to Restoration Hardware Customer Service asking what the deal was and why were they actively participating in such low-class tactics.  I expect more from them.  I didn’t use those words; I was much more diplomatic, but I was clear about how I felt.  I never received a reply.

Now it’s February 12 and guess what.  Not only is the sale STILL going on, but the wording about the sale being “extended” has been removed.  After my email, the “end date” of the sale suddenly vanished.

For those of you who hold Restoration Hardware in high regard (as I used to), let me tell you that they are no different than any other retailer.  Amazingly, even Walmart ends a sale when they say it’s going to end.  I have purchased items from Walmart for our business, at times, because they had the best price.  But their sales do end.

So if Restoration Hardware has lower standards than WalMart……….

UPDATE:  I received an email reply from Tricia Lavy in Customer Care at Restoration Hardware a short time after I wrote this posting, who said (and I quote exactly) ” Please be assured that the extension of this promotion was a last minute decision, and the promotion was extended an additional day to provide our customers with one last opportunity to take advantage of the sale. It was never our intention to make you feel misled by our recent decision to extend the promotion. ”

This was written to me TWO days after the “sale” had ended, and ONE day after the “extended” date, yet the sale continued.  Now it is February 13th.  Day three since the sale ended and TWO DAYS after the “extension”.  Guess what?  The “limited time sale” CONTINUES.  Restoration Hardware continues to mislead consumers.

Frank & Oak last rites

I have to hand it to Frank & Oak for trying.  If you read my last post about them, they were concerned about the bad press generated by said blog post, and offered my readers a 20% discount.

I also received a free item from F&O because I told them I wouldn’t rescind anything I said about the company unless I tested the products again:  It was a french terry pullover in dark blue.

To be frank (no pun intended), the pullover was “just ok” for quality.  The french terry was a very tight weave.  Even in an extra large (and I’m not really that big, but I ordered larger due to my experience with their sizes), I had to shimmy into the thing.  The fabric doesn’t move with you, or stretch at all.  It’s tight – like wearing burlap.  I gave it to a female friend of mine who is much smaller than I am, and while she liked the “idea” of it, she won’t wear it either because it is simply not comfortable.

With all that has happened between me and the company of Frank & Oak, I have to say I am finally done with them.  From what I can tell based on responses to my original review of Frank & Oak, there are many, many of you out there who are also “done” and will not do business with Frank & Oak any longer.

I wish the company the best; I honestly do.  But until they up their game in merchandise quality, accurate, detailed descriptions of their products, and better customer service, I don’t see Frank & Oak as a survivor.  Not unless they are relying on pseudo-style-conscious “men” who don’t give a damn about quality, of course.

I know pronounce my relationship with Frank & Oak dead.  I’m calling it.  Time of Death – 11:54 AM February 12, 2014.  It lingered way longer than it should have.

Frank and Oak is Frankly a Joke

Update (8/23/13) – see recent post: https://noagenda.wordpress.com/2013/08/23/frank-oak-is-taking-itself-seriously-finally-offers-discount-code/

Original Post:

Frank & Oak is one of a growing number of web sites that offer “convenience shopping” also called “crate services” on the web.  These services deliver products to your door monthly.  Some call it a crate, some call it a gift box, or just a box, but the theory here is that you sign up for their “service”.  They do you the favor of hand picking items just for you.  Each month you receive package.  Sometimes it’s a surprise and sometimes you are allowed to specifically pick what you want.  Products available via one of these “crate”services range from clothing, to home goods, to cosmetics and personal care items, and even food.  They sound like a good idea until you get down into the nitty-gritty.

Make no mistake, you aren’t saving any money (although some of these web site would argue with that).  The bottom line is, as it always is – BUYER BEWARE.

Frank & Oak is an online clothing store.  You don’t have to, but if you sign up for their “Hunt Club” you will be a member of the “crate” brigade.  On the first of the month you get an email informing you that they have released the hounds.  Supposedly, you can pick between one and three items of clothing and/or accessories that they are offering for that month.  You can’t pick from what will be their entire monthly collection; they hand pick certain items to offer the Create People.   Dress shirts,  Tees, Ties, Accessories, etc.  They claim it’s all hand picked, high-quality, and made locally. For them, locally is Montreal, Canada.  Frank & Oak claims to help “twentysomethings” dress better and they claim there is NO COMMITMENT.

Here’s how it really works.  First, you are notified on the First of the month that the Club is open for members.  You log in and TRY to select a few items you might like.  The first problem is that they aren’t prepared for that many users logging in and the site crashed the first time I tried it.  When I finally got in (the NEXT DAY), everything that “looked” decent enough to try was already SOLD OUT.  So for those exclusive members who got a chance at early pickings, there was nothing available – it was all sold out.  Except for a few scraps that nobody wanted.

I finally found ONE T-Shirt that I thought I would try just to see how this works.  After I placed that order for my crate, I got an email saying that since I picked something, they wouldn’t charge my credit card (already given to them when I joined) a $45 fee.  What?!. Yes, apparently if I decided I didn’t want to try anything and didn’t tell them that I wanted to officially “Skip this month”, they would have charged my credit card $45 and credited it to my Hunt Club account.  OK so I get it.  If I don’t want the crap you’re selling, or if one or two of the quality items are sold out, I have to tell you officially that I don’t want it or I’ll get a “store credit” for something I never bought.  Got it.

Now, the shirt I ordered was sent to me with no shipping charges and I had 5 days to decided if I wanted to keep it.  I didn’t.  My god, is 50% polyester/cotton considered high quality?  You can buy that at Walmart.  This was the most cheaply made T Shirt I had ever seen in my life.  The web site doesn’t give exact specifications on most of it’s clothing in terms of the exact materials the clothing is made of.  It will say “cotton blend” or something like that.

So I immediately sent the shirt back and I was not charged for it the shirt or for return shipping.

The following month came, and the same thing happened.  I got the email saying “release the hounds” and almost everything offered for the “membership has its privileges” crowd was sold out in seconds and the site crashed.  That left scraps for the rest of us.

Let me interject here.  The way these sites attempt to make more money and increase their customer base is if you can get X amount of “friends” to join the site, you build up credits.  It took seven friends to join before I got a $15 dollar credit on my account.  I made that happen and I’ll explain more later. But since I had that $15 credit on my account, I selected a passable T-shirt from the site as part of my monthly “crate” in the second month.

Except, they changed the web site and even though you click on the email link to choose your monthly crate times, you suddenly had to then select an item or items, and decide whether it was going into your CRATE or your CART.  See what they did there??  They confused the customer base.  They changed how the system works.  And if you didn’t specifically request that the item you selected go into your CRATE, then it went into your CART and they charge your credit card for the full price of the item.  No free shipping, no 5 days to try it on and decide, you bought it baby. And all because they relied on your memory of how things used to work.

When I went to go return the crappy T-Shirt (and I mean this thing I wouldn’t let my dog sleep on) I went online to get return authorization like I did the previous month.  There was no such thing because I had bought it already.  After numerous attempts at trying to contact “Frank & Oak” by phone (which was next to impossible) I finally talked to someone who explained that they had changed the way “things work” and that the customer had the responsibility to read the fine print of the web site.  Long story short, I about had a cow.  I yelled and screamed and returned the item and removed myself from their “club” and told them to shove it.

The joke, however, is on them.  Do you know how easy it is to make up 7 fake email addresses with fake names on Yahoo, Gmail, etc.  All I had to do was keep track the accounts I made up and sign in and become a member under those name.  You don’t even have to join the Hunt Club. They just want these “people” to join the site so that Frank & Oak can bombard them with marketing emails.

But is the joke really on them, or me.  I’ve broken ties with Frank & Oak because honestly, their products are crap and their customer service is worse. If their clothing is what qualifies as “quality, low-cost fashion” we are in BIG trouble.  I now have a $15 credit on my Frank & Oak account that I will never use because there is not one thing this “men’s fashion” web site sells that is worth buying.  It is all junk, every last bit of it.  This brand new T-Shirt I bought (and returned) was pilled when it arrived, freshly packed in its original packaging.  God, if it pilled on the way over, what’s is going to do when I touch it, or wash it.

Do yourself a favor, Don’t buy the come-on of places like Frank & Oak.  Maybe some of these “crate” sites are worth it, but not this one.  It all sounded like a fantastic idea.  In fact, when I first found out about crate services, I really thought that this was what Internet shopping was morphing into – and I liked it.  It was personalized shopping and a birthday gift (so to speak) every month.  It was fun.  But after seeing what it was all about, it was a huge let down.  If only Frank & Oak truly offered high quality merchandise that was readily available to its members, it could have been a beautiful thing.  It wasn’t.  It was a joke.

I can guarantee you Frank & Oak will fail.  I know this because let’s face it, this kind of shopping service is tailored made for the gay crowd (yes I am a member).  We may put up with snotty customer service one in a while, but there’s no way in HELL we’ll put up with cheap clothes.

BlackBerry Bold 9900 and why RIM is still #1

If you believe all of the media hype, RIM (Research in Motion, the company that makes BlackBerry) is about ready to shut its doors, its products are useless, and they have lost all of their market share. Nothing could be further from the truth.   BlackBerry somehow became the Microsoft of the smart phone world.  Everyone started to hate BlackBerry because they were at the top of the heap.  I’m not saying RIM hasn’t made mistakes, but like all global companies who grew very fast, sometimes the growing pains aren’t so easy to take.  But BlackBerry is getting itself back on track and is poised to retake the industry in the number one spot.

First, some house-cleaning.  Worldwide there are still more BlackBerry subscribers than any other smart phone.  Sure, maybe in the US, BlackBerry fell out of favor for a while, but worldwide, a BlackBerry is still number one.  And the BlackBerry does things that no other smart phone can do.  Three of the five top downloaded smart phone applications across all platforms are BlackBerry Apps.  They are BlackBerry Messenger, Twitter for BlackBerry, and FaceBook for BlackBerry.  I believe the number one downloaded app was “Angry Birds” – go figure.  Overall, worldwide the top cell phones are not BlackBerry, iPhone, or Android.  The top sellers are non-smart-phones, meaning regular old mobile phones, by Samsung, LG, and Motorola.  Consider that most people in the world can’t afford to purchase, let alone keep up with the monthly service charges on, a smart phone.

Now to the BlackBerry Bold 9900.  This is AT&T/T-Mobile’s version.  Each carrier  (like Verizon, T-Mobile, and other global companies like Vodafone-UK, Rogers-Canada) have or will have their own model with its own unique features.  Even the AT&T and T-Mobile 9900 versions are not the same.

As the mobile communications coordinator for my company, I have had the opportunity to work on many BlackBerry models including the 8800, 8820, 8310, 8320, 9000, 9700, 9800, 9810, and now the 9900.  I have also been exposed to iPhones of all types, and Android phones.

The BlackBerry Bold 9900 is the finest piece of smart phone hardware I have ever laid my hands on.  I LOVE it.  The full keyboard in a phenomenal achievement and never have I been able to glide and fly over that keyboard to type out an email or text like I can on the Bold 9900.  The phone is solid, the battery life is good, the screen images are crisp and clear; there isn’t anything I don’t like about the Bold 9900.

Here is why I like BlackBerry in general:

  1.  You don’t need to connect the phone to your computer to download and/or install applications. With the iPhone, you do, and that need to do so, is a pain in the ass.
  2. RIM/BlackBerry provides a full desktop software interface that can manage a whole host of things. This includes wirelessly syncing your media to your device whenever you are in range of your computer. The software can also help me rebuild a broken BlackBerry that won’t boot up.  It’s quite amazing what you can do with the tools RIM provides.  And the more technical you are, the more you can do on your own and not have to call someone and wait on hold.  Try to manage your Android with their desktop software – oops, there isn’t such a thing.
  3. Attachments – BlackBerrys handle them with ease.  It doesn’t matter if it’s an Excel, Word, PowerPoint or PDF, you can save it and view it later.  You can also edit it.  Try to do that with an iPhone.  If you don’t forever save the email that contained the attachment, you’ll never see it again.
  4. BlackBerry Messenger – think of it as the way Instant Messaging or Text Messaging should be.  Between BlackBerry users, there is no limit on the number of characters you can type into a BBM message, and you don’t need a special text messaging plan to use it.  It’s free if you are a BlackBerry subscriber.
  5. The BlackBerry Network – You probably heard something in the news back in October 2011 about how BlackBerry services crashed in Europe and eventually affected North America for a time.  It was bad.  But the truth is, there is an entire network of BlackBerry servers and services around the globe, all inter-connected, allowing for BlackBerry users to do the things they do, like BBM to people all over the world at no additional cost.  Everyone with a smart phone needs a data plan, but you don’t need a separate Text Messaging plan if you are messaging other people with BlackBerry’s.  When RIM experienced the big outage, they responded to it by offering several application from its App World for free to its customers.  And they weren’t silly apps like themes or games (although they offered some of those for free as well) but rather some of them were Super Apps, like Vlingo.
  6. BESX – The original product is called BlackBerry Enterprise Server or BES.  BES is used by companies to link and manage all of their BlackBerry devices, push out custom applications to its users, and connect the users to data on servers within that company’s network.  BESX is a somewhat scaled down version FOR FREE.  Smaller companies or companies that don’t need EVERY SINGLE bell and whistle that BES offers, will do just fine with BESX.  Our company moved from BES to BESX and had absolutely no problem with functionality, in fact, just the opposite, we actually gained some functionality that was not yet included in the standard BES product.
  7. Self-Service – While I don’t expect every smart phone user to have access to an IT guy like me, for the people at my company, I am that guy.  And I can fix any problem myself, load any operating system on any device, control which apps are installed, and through IT Policies on the BES or BESX servers, I can control what my users can and can not do with their BlackBerry.  For example, let’s say I didn’t want them to be able to download apps from App World and be able to charge them to our company cell phone bill (this is an option available within BlackBerry App World – try THAT with an iPhone or Android).  I can prevent them from doing that.  OR, I can allow them to do it if the company want to do it as a perk.  Overall, I rarely have to call AT&T for any repair, functionality, or maintenance issues.  I can do it all myself.  The only time I really have to involve our mobile carrier is if a phone gets dropped and broken, and we have to file an insurance claim, or if a phone is so far beyond repair that I can’t fix it.  I haven’t had this last one happen yet.
  8. NFC – stands for Near Field Communications.  The best way to understand it is to think of a Mobil Speed Pass where you wave a key fob near the pump, and your purchase is automatically charged to the account you set up (credit card, debit card, Mobil gas card, etc).  This is just one function.  You will also be able to tap (or bump) your BlackBerry against another to share media like music, photos, and music.

When people try to put BlackBerry in a box, and say that the company is “dead in the water” they seem to forget that RIM is truly a global company.  There are places in Asia where 70% of the population use BlackBerry for personal use – not for business.  BlackBerry is the most respected smart phone world-wide.  I was recently in Boston for the weekend staying at a very large, upscale hotel.  I was surprised that most of the young people I saw walking around with smart phones had BlackBerry’s, not iPhones, not Androids, like the media would have you think.  iPhones and Androids may have great sales right now, but customer loyalty for those platforms isn’t there.  Many people are returning to BlackBerry once they got their taste of being “trendy” and keeping up with the Jones’s and it didn’t work out quite how they had hoped.  And luckily, RIM is ready for them.  In 2012 RIM will be releasing even more new models and the new QNX Operating System (which was supposed to be called BBX but RIM got sued over the use of that name – it will probably be called simply BlackBerry X or something like that).   The new OS will bring the BlackBerry smart phone (and tablet) closer to a fully functioning computer in your hand.

So folks, don’t count out BlackBerry just yet.  Many predicted that when Microsoft Vista came out, it was the end of Microsoft.  There was a mass exodus to Mac….until Windows 7 showed up.  RIM is in the midst of readjusting, refocusing, scaling down, and paring out the dead wood in the company.  They got fat and happy, and then realized it was time to get to the gym.  Now they are well on their way to being sexy, and desirable, all over again.

Josh Groban’s “Illuminations” quite simply SUCKS

When I think about Josh Groban, the first thing that comes to my mind is “I loved Josh Groban before anyone knew who he was”.  The first time I heard him, I was driving in the car.   It was a few months after his CD was first released in late 2001.  The very first notes I heard him sing brought me to tears.  I could not believe that such a voice existed.  I went to my local CD store in those next few moments, purchased the CD, and listened to it non-stop for about a year, I think.  And I listened until I could sing along with every song, whether in English or Italian.

Groban is a baritone.  Even though I’m not a great singer, I am a baritone as well.  I don’t recall ever hearing a “pop” singer, or a “classical” singer (let alone a cross-over) with a baritone voice.  It’s always been tenor, tenor, tenor.  So for me, it was great to be able to sing in my natural range.  With David Foster behind that first album, and Josh’s baritone voice, and the choices of contemporary classical music mixed with pop, it was a winner.  And I sang along.

And sing I did.  I was obsessed.  Not only did I learn the lyrics in Italian, I didn’t want to just mimic the sounds, I wanted to learn the language.  So I would translate the songs myself from Italian to English and back.  I bought CD’s and books to learn more Italian and eventually got Rosetta Stone to learn even more Italian.  While I never became fluent, because I didn’t have anyone with whom to converse in Italian for practice, I learned what I could of the Italian language all because of Josh Groban.

The follow up CD’s (“Closer” and “Awake” as well as the live concert CD) all proved that Groban had staying power.  The music was always whole.  It was well-produced, evocative, sensual, emotional, and chock full of talent and good choices.

When I saw Josh in concert at a relatively small venue in Portland, Maine, it was the kind of moment in a life when you can say “I can die happy now”.  I finally saw my inspiration, my hero, and the man who got me through some very difficult times in my life, in person.

Along the way, I knew that Josh Groban was involved in his own music.  He wrote music, or at least collaborated, and lyrics as well.

The last CD that Josh released prior to “Illuminations” was his Christmas CD.  Many artists become disappointing when they attempt “the Christmas CD” but Josh Groban was in his element.  The CD was again, well-produced and the CD was a home run.   That was 3 years ago in 2007.  Josh is not the kind of artist who pumps out CDs.  He takes his time and chooses carefully what he is going to release in a collection.  So the long wait for “Illuminations” was painful.

But not as painful as listening to Illuminations.  I think every artist at Josh’s level produces a dog album at some point.  Even Streisand had a few real dogs in her massive catalog of albums.  But I was surprised that it happened to Josh this early on in his career.  It’s been about 10 years, give or take, since he has become famous.  He’s now a household name and known around the world as a superstar.  From the liner notes of “Illuminations” I saw that Josh wrote most of the music and lyrics himself.

The first run through of the CD was shocking to me.  The music sounded disorganized, rushed, and messy.  The lyrics were redundant, boring, and predictable.  Although this was all original music and lyrics, it did not have a fresh feeling.  After listening through the entire CD twice, there wasn’t one song that stood out, not one I liked, not one melody that was memorable.  And after my love affair with Josh’s voice and music, I was astounded that he let this happen.  Did he not have a sounding board?   And above all, most of the songs were in (god forbid) ENGLISH!!!!.

Did anyone have the balls to tell Josh Groban that they didn’t like what they heard?  He doesn’t seem the type to be a “music brat”.  The kind of artist that can’t accept criticism.  The kind of artist that is so headstrong and conceited that they don’t believe they can do wrong.  But, then again, I don’t know Josh Groban personally.  You never know.

Within 24 hours of purchasing “Illuminations” I was trying to figure out if I could return it somehow (you can’t really do that with music unless there is something wrong with the CD and even then they’ll just give you a replacement).  I spent a lot of time trying to think of  who I could unload this piece of junk on.  It was that bad.  I didn’t even want to have it in my possession.  I wanted it out of sight and I wanted to forget the whole thing.  My intention is to just move on, pretend he never released this thing, stick my head in the sand, and wait for the next CD.  Hopefully, he will have come to his senses and reassess the direction of his music.

I certainly give him credit for trying.  If I had even a tiny bit of talent for writing music and/or lyrics, I would do it.  I don’t know if I could accept the fact that I’m nott as good as I thought I was.  It would be devastating for me.  And this might be for Josh Groban.

There are a LOT of Josh Groban fans out there, obviously.  I’m sure many ran out and bought his CD or downloaded it from iTunes the moment it was released.  And I’m betting many of these fans feel the same way I do about “Illuminations” but are having a hard time thinking these evil thoughts about Josh’s music.  But take it one step at a time.  The first step is admitting that “Illuminations” sucks.

It’s not that we don’t still love Josh Groban.  But we can’t sit idly by and ignore the fact that “Illuminations” is a dark day in the Groban repertoire.

P.S. – If anyone out there wants the “Illuminations” CD, let me know.  I’ll gladly send it to you for free, including postage.

Customer Lack-of-Service in America

My blood pressure has been skyrocketing the last few weeks.

And that is because in the last few weeks I have had to make phone calls to either technical support or customer service for the following types of businesses:

Wireless Phone Service
The Post Office
Two online retailers dealing in stop-smoking products
Email provider
Mail courier service
Cable TV company
Regular phone company
Software company
Credit card company

I almost never spoke to a person that I could completely understand.  On NEARLY EVERY occasion I had to ask the person to whom I was speaking, to repeat what he or she was saying.  Sometimes I had to ask for them to repeat it 3 or 4 times before I finally said “I’m sorry, I have no idea what you are saying”.

On top of that, even when I could understand the person to whom I was speaking, chances were good that they had ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA what they were talking about.

Between the poor English, the poor customer service skills, and the poor knowledge of the product or service in question, I don’t understand how American companies can last.  For a long time, I think, people have been putting up with bad service and poor English because they thought they were getting a deal.  But let’s face it.  We all know it and sometimes refuse to admit it; YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR.

I know how to speak some Spanish, Italian, French, and know a bit about Latin and German; so foreign languages are not so foreign to me.  And I don’t feel like I”m some ignorant, self-centered American.  To me, there’s almost no such thing as “American”.  We all come from somewhere else if you go back far enough.

But, WHY THE HELL DO I HAVE TO PUT UP WITH THIS CRAP.  When I am calling a company for assistance, or technical support, or to purchase an item IN THIS COUNTRY, how can it be that I don’t understand a damned thing they are saying.

I know we’re all supposed to be politically correct, but too bad, I”ve had ENOUGH.  I have started just hanging up on people, or asking to speak to somebody else, or I’ll call back, or I’ll ask for a manager.  I refuse to put up with this anymore.

And going forward, whenever possible. I will not purchase anything from a company that does not provide the best customer service for the particular product or service I am buying.

And I am asking all of you to do this:  when you make or receive a call from a customer service person or tech support person and you can’t understand them, or you are struggling to understand them, say to that person “please let me speak to somebody who can speak English that I can understand”.  I don’t think there is anything wrong with that.

If I moved to Japan, and took a job as a customer service person at a Japanese cellular company, and my Japanese was so bad that the local Japanese people calling could not understand me, would I really be surprised if they asked to speak to someone with better language skills?  Or would I be surprised to get fired?  NO !   I would not !!

So why, then, I ask you, is it OK for this to be true here in America.  Yes we are a melting pot, and people emigrate here from all over the world.  But they need to learn English and learn it well. before taking a job where they are dealing with the public.

And who do I blame for this?  American companies.  The cheaper they CAN do it, the cheaper they WILL do it, regardless as to whether it’s the right thing to do or not.  And Americans will PUT UP WITH IT.

In my experience, the ONLY company who has made some changes in the area is AT&T.  If you call regular AT&T Wireless customer service during regular business hours, you are likely to get someone in this country who can speak English.  So, for now I’m going to stay with them.  As for the rest – SCREW ‘EM.  There no sense in “buying American” when American companies don’t “buy American” when the stock their customer service shelves.

BluCigs (blucigs.com) Don’t waste your time or money

For anyone interested in electronic cigarettes (Ecigs or E-cigs) you’ll probably find it as difficult as I did to figure out which company you should do business with.

First, you need to understand how Ecigs work.  I didn’t know a thing about them and even after watching an online video I was still a bit confused.   Once I got them and read the instructions, I figured it out, obviously.

To be honest, I fell in love with the concept.  It was like a real cigarette.  It tasted good (at least the classic tobacco flavored cartridges did) and you inhaled and exhaled and “smoke” came out and it was GREAT!   The flavored cartridges were AWFUL and with BluCigs, they don’t give you an option in the Starter Kit.

That’s why I was so disappointed when it stopped working.  There are so many pieces to this that it was difficult to tell whether the problem was with the battery (equivalent to the white part of a classic cigarette), the cartridge (equivalent to the filter of a classic cigarette), the atomizer (this connects the two aforementioned pieces, or with the USB charged, the cable, wall outlet, or the fancy “Pack” that you charge to then charge the batteries (I know, it’s confusing).  After about twelve phone calls, I gave up and mailed the whole thing back for a refund.  Of those 12 phone calls, only one person, her name was Hayden, was nice.  The rest were mean, nasty people who only wanted to get off the phone.  With all the problems I had I was never offered any compensation, not a discount on a purchase or a package of free cartridges for my trouble, nothing.  Even when I asked for a little something I was told they couldn’t do that.

During these tech support phone calls I got so worked up I asked for a supervisor.  I was told that there weren’t any supervisors available.  ALL TWELVE PHONE CALLS OF VARYING TIMES, no supervisor available.  When I asked for their name, I got some fake name and they wouldn’t give me a last name.  When I say fake – how many people have a first name like “Kennedy” or “Manhattan” or “Carpenter” –  A FIRST NAME?  I asked for their employee number and was told that they don’t have employee numbers.

I had my BluCigs starter kit for one week.  Of that time, I thoroughly enjoyed “smoking” for about 2 hours total.  Every single piece of this thing had troubles and I gave up.  And I was pissed because I liked not smoking real cigarettes.  They didn’t stink, and I didn’t stink, and my car didn’t stink.  It was great.  I am still waiting for a refund and also a refund on some replacement cartridges I ordered before I decided to cancel.  I can tell already just from some initial inquiries that getting my money back is going to be a nightmare.  Plus I’ve read some seriously bad reviews of BluCigs online that I wish I had found before I did business with them.

Do your homework.  I thought I did mine.  So when you think you know the right company with whom you should do business, do some more homework.

I decided to try a company called “Pro Smoke”.  After I placed my order, I read somewhere online that they are affiliated with BluCigs, but I haven’t been able to corroborate that story.

Here’s one more piece of information:  BluCigs does not have any other mailing option but regular USPS.  No options for UPS, FedEx, or even USPS Priority.  It’s regular mail or nothing.  So if you don’t order your supplies a week or two ahead of time, you will run out.  And to make matters worse they use that MailExpress company.  For those of you not aware of MailExpress, it’s like a contractor for the armed forces.  They attempt to do the leg work for the Post Office and I’m sure they get paid highly to do it.  They undercut even the Post Office on their own prices.  MailExpress is a courier mail service that you, as a consumer, cannot use, but businesses use them.  MailExpress picks up packages from a retailer for dirt cheap.  Then the truck it through their own distribution system across the country and deliver it to the local Post Office.  The Post Office then delivers it to your house.  There is a “tracking” system which is completely unreliable and you never know where you package really is.

Bottom line – Ecigs are a great alternative to regular smoking.  I’ve been smoking for 30 years, and never thought I would stop.  But Ecigs have changed my opinion and my options.  I got to the point where I enjoyed my Ecigs more than my regular cigarettes.  But BluCigs? – Absolutely DO NOT bother doing business with them.  Try a different company and do your research.