Spark Energy might not be a scam, but their business practices are suspect … a review, a recorded customer service call, and you

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Like many Americans, we get door-to-door salesman from time to time. Last fall, we actually welcomed a roaming door-to-door sales guy in from Spark Energy. Why? Because the sales guy was a friend named Mike. I worked with his girlfriend on a photoshoot and I used to see him every once in a while at my local watering hole. I tend to put trust in friends, basically because I want the same in return.

Spark Energy is a company that claims to work with your energy utilities to provide a cheaper rate than actual utility can, by selling you gas or electricity at reduced costs.

The sales meeting was suspicious to both Tina and me, but in the end, we accepted what this guy Mike was saying was truthful, because who lies to their friends?

By the way, the funniest thing was that the sales guy was not allowed to step inside our apartment. He did the entire transaction from the threshold of our place. “But we’re friends,” I told him. “Come on in.”

“Nope. I can’t,” He explained. “I could get into trouble.”

After he explained what seemed to be a good deal,  we signed up last September. We didn’t see much of a difference in our bills. We were contracted to use them for a year, so I was fine with sticking it out till the end. We weren’t losing money after all either.

Status quo is fine with me.

And the early termination of the contract would be $50.

But then we received our gas bill this month for over double last month’s bill. Further examination showed that it was an adjustment fee from Spark Energy. Tina called People’s Gas first, and they said it was Spark’s charge. She called Spark, and a robotic customer service rep kept explaining that the charges were an accumulation of three month’s of Spark Energy charges. He explained that when Spark sent invoices to People’s Gas, PG rejected the invoices.

The charge after three months of rejection was for $112.63.

So if you divide $112 by 3 and add that to our monthly bill, that’s almost $40 more each month.

So Tina was on the line talking circles with the customer service rep trying to understand where this charge came from and how to avoid it in the future. While she was on the phone, I googled Spark Energy and found a lot of websites like this or this from BBB with lots of negative reviews. On a Consumer Affairs site, Spark Energy representatives responded to each complaint and made some resolution statement.

The Better Business Bureau has not accredited them.

So I should have done my homework, but — like I said — I want to trust my “friends.”

What ended up being the kicker was Spark Energy’s own website. Get this.

On their front page, they claim to have a 5.0 customer service approval rating. I’m not statistician, but I read that to mean that no one, not one person, has given a negative review.

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But if you go into their comments and ratings, there are many ratings lower ratings than a 5. They apparently only keep about 22 comments at a time, because I can’t imagine a company has only 22 comments in all its 10 years of business.

Below is in fact what their ratings are based on 22 responses at the time of this writing.

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So their site isn’t exactly a very ethically sound one, don’t you think?

The guy that Tina spoke to finally agreed to give her to a supervisor. And I took the phone from Tina. I learned a trick recently that helped with a dispute with our bank over a $50 charge: I record my phone call.

My hope was to get to the bottom of the charge. And when the guy told me what he told Tina, I would cancel my subscription to Spark Energy and also ask them to waive the $50 early termination fee.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t get that shit waived. If you keep these guys on the line until you’re blue in the face, you will get what you want.

So … if you can stand hearing me stumble and bumble over my words … I’m posting our conversation below. I feel a little badly about calling him a liar, but it was a moment of weakness. I needed more leverage, and I thought I had a better argument going into the “lie” statement.

You gotta give the guy props, though. He never lost his cool with me.

All in all, we got what we wanted: to get out of the contract and to get the fee waived.

This is certainly a lesson learned. Don’t trust door-to-door without doing my homework.

Do yours as well. If one of these guys comes to your door, just do a quick google of their company before signing on the dotted line.

I couldn’t edit the clip for this posting, but I’ll revise it soon and upload it. Edwin, the customer service supervisor doesn’t pickup until about 0:30.

My extremely frustrating experience with Hasselblad USA: a review

Before Christmas, I was photographing tabletop with my Hasselblad H3DII-31 when I noticed something on my computer monitor. It showed me that there was something on the sensor. This is a common occurrence with medium format (MF) shooting, and one of the reasons why you should try to tether when shooting MF.

You spend more time cleaning dust and stuff off the sensor than with a DSLR.

When I removed the back to blow it with air, I noticed that the mark wasn’t the usual hair or fuzz, but a somewhat long scratch on the surface of the IR filter.

“SHIT,” I said.

I have owned my MF camera for over two years, and read often that it’s advised to send in the cameras for maintenance and repair. Thinking I need to take care of my baby; I mean, investment — I contacted Hasselblad repair in New Jersey to let them know I’m sending it in.

You must fill out a form and have it accompany your camera, stating the problem, your address, phone number, etc.

Seeing it was before Christmas and the turnaround time is around 2 weeks, I thought it would be an okay time to send her in hoping to have her back in early January.

I tracked the camera and it arrived around December 17 to their offices. I received no word that they had it. When I followed up, a woman named Maryann Murphy responded on December 22 and said they are having the camera reviewed and they’ll send me a report and invoice.

On December 23, they day I spent driving down to North Carolina, I received an invoice. The jargon on the invoice was confusing. I googled a few of the things they said they wanted to fix. I couldn’t find answers. So I responded and said thank you for the invoice, but can you clarify these points: “What is an “ACC door modification”? “What are zoom rollers and why do I need 6 of them?”

I got no response.

I followed with other emails.


I gave Maryann Murphy the benefit of the doubt. It was the holidays after all. Maybe she was out of the office even though I received no “out of office” replies.

On January 6, I reached out to my Hasselblad rep and told him what was up. He said he would call and have Maryann call me back. He called January 7 and she STILL didn’t follow up with me. He said he talked to her.

I called a few times, but only left one voicemail, as I didn’t want to stalk Maryann, but fuck, I should have.

Finally on January 8, well over twelve business days since they received the camera, Maryann responds with:

I’m sorry I have had no messages from you nor did anyone call or email checking on your repair.  I sent you the estimate and have been
waiting for your approval.  You can give me your phone # I will call you for your credit card or you can call me at the phone # below or
you can send it in  an email.

I responded angrily that it was (A) ridiculous and (B) that she should have my information on file and to use her information to call me! I mean, after this awful customer service, maybe try to do something right!

And the phone call. The phone CALL! Do you wanna know how it went down?

My phone rang. It was from New Jersey. I picked up, “This is Jeremy.”

“This is Maryann from Hasselblad. I’m calling to get your credit card.”

Frustrated, I told her the card, the number, the expiration.

“We’ll get your camera repaired as soon as possible,” she said.

She hung up.

Huh. The Ferrari of Camera companies doesn’t have enough customer service experience for a genuine voiced apology on behalf of the company? She can’t have a conversation with a disgruntled customer?

Maryann must be a robot.

You think that with a name and reputation as lofty and lauded as Hasselblad, they would go out of their way to make their customers and fans feel like a million bucks … because the price tags on these things are more than many cars, and the leases — if you’ve seen them — are so high.

This experience has changed the way I view Hasselblad … for the worse. And while I wanted to stay brand loyal and I was starting negotiations to upgrade my camera for a more recent model, I’ve decided to stop negotiations and explore other upgrades.

I think Hasselblad owes me an apology. But who am I?

Namely PhaseOne. But have you seen those Pentax 645Zs? I mean wow. If it weren’t for the sync speed on those guys, wow.


What’s more frustrating when on vacation … a downed website!

On Monday, we left for our annual vacation in Carbondale, IL.

On Monday afternoon, I received a few messages from colleagues and clients that our Wittefini site was down.

“Ugh,” I thought. “The second I get out of town and have access to the worst internet connection apart from being in Cambodia, my site goes down.”

Since I had limited internet access, I emailed my host ( from my account on my phone. I explained that the site was down and to please help. The response was:

I am sorry, but the nature of the problem with is sensitive
and to discuss it properly would require providing confidential
information. As you have written us from an email address not listed at
an authorized point of contact for the account under which
is hosted, we can provide you with no information regarding this matter.

You will need to contact the owner of the hosting account for assistance,
and if they need help have them contact us directly. If you are the owner
of the account, you will need to either write to us from the email
address established as the primary contact email address for the account,
or otherwise demonstrate to our satisfaction that you are the owner of
the account.

To do this, reply to me with the answers to the following questions about
the hosting account:

1) What is your full name and address as shown on the account?
2) What is your mom’s maiden name?
3) What are the first 4 digits, and the last 4 digits, of the credit card
in your name last used to make payment on the account?

Once I receive your reply to these questions, and verify them against the
account records, I can further assist you with this matter.

I would very much like to help you and I appreciate your understanding
that it is necessary we confirm we are communicating with the owner of
the account before divulging any sensitive information with regard to our
customers’ accounts to protect the integrity and security of the account.

Any numb nuts would be able to see that the web site’s status and my inquiry really had nothing to do with each other. My personal information had nothing to do with the site’s status.

This is what happens when customer service acts like a bunch of fucking robots instead of mindfully helping people. It’s like the wait staff at a crappy restaurant. Refilling a glass or replacing an accoutrement takes very little more than basic observational skills. Only the customer service idiot is incapable of doing the one-step legwork of, “Oh man, it is down. If you sign into your account, you can likely restore the site within the host panel.”

Tah-dah … that’s good customer service. That’s GREAT customer service.

Apple did that to me before. I called for the answer to a simple question, and they wanted to verify everything from my underwear size to my mother’s maiden name. “You need all this to tell me how to reset my PRAM?”

The folks at DreamHost turned a site down for two hours into a site down for a week. A week when new customers and old ones were accessing its portfolios to determine whether we were the right fit for their company or project.

After sifting through a mire of responses with how to fix the problem via web sites that are expired or not down, I spotted a link to how to fix a site that has been infected with malware, which they claimed was the problem. Fixing the site ruined by malware required backing up our site and its databases. It required deleting EVERYTHING from our host and then sifting through the code of the sites to see what did and didn’t belong. I was to remove what didn’t belong and re-place everything on the host. Voila! All would be better!

The fix seemed so Sisyphean that I needed to wait till I returned from vacation and get on a faster speed internet connection. My head spun with all the info and all I needed to do to fix my issue.

Out of frustration, I twittered DreamHost today. I received immediate responses. Because public complaints are worth more to their customers than private ones. They’re approached more mindfully.

In the end, their responses were more concerned with my profanity than with helping.

While doing a major backup of the site, I found a button in the DreamHost panel to restore the Wittefini site to a backup. I clicked it and Pow! Within 5 minutes, the site was back up to the exact way it was when it went down. I had updated it Monday morning with a blog post, and that post was in tact.

Something we could have done on Monday afternoon from my phone took a week of headaches, frustration, piss-poor, absent-minded customer service before I finally found the solution on my own.

I’m dubious that DreamHost will apologize. I’m not expecting any kind of reimbursement from the possibility of missed jobs. So what they will fail to do in customer service and in the absence of refund, I’m charging them in the form of this negative review.

Shame on DreamHost for not going the extra mile to help me eliminate the problem, quickly and easily at my first request.

Robots are bad customer service representatives, DreamHost. Grow up. I contact you so very infrequently. One time in 10 years should certainly warrant a marginally better experience.



Hey United States Postal Service! It’s okay to be nice.


I came to the studio today to let in People’s Gas to turn on our service. I checked the mail, and I found this note on a piece of mail the carrier left.

Keep in mind, the mail was made out to our exact suite number.

I don’t think the USPS has a right to piss people off right now. They’re fast going extinct.

I’m not sure what the problem of leaving mail made out for that suite number might be. But apparently it is.

The issue is that — not only are we sharing the space between three artists — my company is incorporated under r25 productions, inc. but we’re now doing business as Wittefini.

Bill is under his name and we have the other artist. So we might get business mail under many different names. So the names I had to put on the box were many.

But seriously, you can’t leave a nice note or have a printed piece of paper that explains the mail protocol? If it’s so important, it’d be the case.

I had no idea that a mail box required more than mail to a certain group.

The poor carrier is going to have to learn all our business names before leaving us one parcel.

I felt that the note was a little yell-y. Like, “Hey asshole, put your fucking names on the box or you’re not getting shit!”

They also retaped off the box so that the carrier would remember NOT to put mail in our box.

Like I said, the USPS is going extinct. We’ll likely bypass them all together at some point with direct deposits and online bill paying.

But really, you should be nicer. It makes a world of difference!


The Pope predicts my miserable future … and his own

The Pope — that genius — told people that it’s better to have children than to keep pets, like dogs and cats or else wind up miserable and bitter.

That’s according to this article anyway.

The article reads:

The Pope criticised couples who decide not to have children during the service, saying they had been seduced by the myth that a life of material comfort is better than raising a family.

‘You can go explore the world, go on holiday, you can have a villa in the countryside, you can be carefree,’ he said.

‘It might be better – more comfortable – to have a dog, two cats, and the love goes to the two cats and the dog. Is this true or not? Have you seen it?’, the Pope added.

‘Then, in the end this marriage comes to old age in solitude, with the bitterness of loneliness,’ he went on to say.

Well, firstly, it wasn’t my decision not to have kids. We tried. Even employed science with a little more investment than I would care to admit.

So either god or evolution made that decision for us at the moment.

Yes, we know there’s adoption. But I hate adopted kids.

[I’m adopted, you bozos!]

But, you know what? Isn’t it weird that the Pope himself is making a judgement against himself and people like him? Isn’t it better for him to stop his Popedom, get married and have some fucking kids?

What giant douchebag.



The random incoherent thoughts of Deepak Chopra


Screen-Shot-2014-05-21-at-4.44.53-PMAlthough a joke, this web site generates random words into sentences very similarly to the always dimly lit bulb Deepak Chopra.

I mean, really. The guy confuses otherwise smart people to think of him as intelligent. He’s a random word generator mixing science with the art of woo.

I love these two random generations:

The universe is at the heart of universal balance.


Perceptual reality constructs a jumble of fulfillment.

Generate your own Deepak Chopra quotes here.