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.

Nothing.

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.

 

Watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the first time is like losing your virginity … that’s what I waited my whole life to experience? Shrug


A couple of days ago, Tina said, “I’ve never watched It’s a Wonderful Life” all the way through. Have you?”

“I don’t think so,” I said.

She looked on Netflix and any other OnDemand service we have and the movie isn’t available like that. In great American consumerism fashion, it’s either catch it while it’s on, rent it or DVR it.

We DVR’d it and watched it last night.

It’s supposed to be one of those top-ten Christmas movies of all time, and many seem to hold it dear to their souls claiming to watch it every year. It’s supposed to be this dear Christmas message. It’s supposed to blow your mind with amazing CGI and light saber scenes.

You’ve probably seen it. And maybe you like it.

But, damn, Tina and i were scratching our heads after it thinking, “What’d we miss?”

The buildup is like virgin sex. You’ve developed this high expectation in your head, and when it’s said and done, the payoff is a frown and a shrugged shoulder.

The message is shitty, too. It’s give up on all your dreams and revel in your failure, because otherwise, your town might have been filled with some really awesome sex shops and vice options.

Or some shit like that.

Another message is that if your hot wife doesn’t marry you, she’ll go to her grave as a hot spinster who happens to become a librarian. Boo hoo.

Jimmy Stewart’s character should have committed suicide so we could at least have a big splash in this pathetic piece of cinematic ennui.

 

It’s beginning to look a lot like that season


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You wanna know something?

I miss my daily blogging routine. I miss it a lot. There’s so many thoughts that I let slide, or don’t write down, or don’t keep in the forefront of my mind, because I’m “too busy.”

“Too busy.”

What a bunch of horseshit.

Priorities are what we decide is priority.

We are a good busy lately. We’re doing more of what I love than ever before. This month, we photographed a poster for a marathon.

We did portraits of an interior design duo. We photographed 33 packages of candy. And I photographed veterans who are given job opportunities through our great city’s safe passage program.

It’s work that I’m incredibly proud of. It feels like we’re doing more of what we want to shoot, more often.

I keep telling people that my dream is to photograph people and spaces. But the all-out dreamy-mc-dream dream is to photograph people in their spaces.

And that’s what’s happening. We shot the above this week, and we’re talking to an architecture firm now about photographing their principals.

We’ve been invited to parties that in years past we were hired to photograph it. Our dynamic in our industry is changing. We marketed the messaging that we’re not event photographers. We’re artists. And that message is starting to stick.

I’ve also re-designated time I spend here to marketing our work. I’m not a sales-y person. If you want to work with Tina and me, then I feel that hiring us should just feel right and not some choke hold pressure point that brings you to the ground and eventually kills you.

Or me.

I’ve been having a very artistic conversation with my brother over email lately.

It kind of started over the past year when we’ve talked about art, artists, the approach, the content and the process.

There’s people that inspire us. There’s art that I see or hear and I think, “Why isn’t that MINE?”

But the second I do something artistic, sometimes I struggle to find the “art” in it.

We’ve also talked a bit about religion. My brother loves his faith. He admittedly loves Jesus. He hashtags his work “#doesntjesusdeservebetterart”. And there was certainly a time when I completely agreed with him. Check out his work here and here for a very vulnerable and strong effort to raise the bar on faithful art.

What he’s doing is incredibly important for his cause.

I don’t agree with his beliefs. And that’s okay.

I used to be a very active vocal advocate for atheism. I’m not any more. I think the active movement, in and of itself, is somewhat dead.

I still call myself “atheist.” But I don’t find the passion behind it that I once did.

I also call myself an artist. And as an artist, I do believe that it’s my duty to represent art well, and to share my art … just like my brother is doing.

That’s all to say that I feel like I need to be more active expressing and talking about art. More than I already am.

There was one part of a recent email to my brother that I was somewhat proud of. It’s an idea that might need more fleshing out, but it’s in the context of religion and that if you’re a Christian, Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist, you’re likely to have been born into a family that also believed that. It’s like winning the lottery. You can’t tell me that happy Hindus, Muslims or Buddhists aren’t satisfied with their familial connection with their form of religion.

On that note, I think I like it when we all feel like we’re close to the same. Said and done, if you’re in the room with someone whose faith isn’t like yours, you will get along. Secularism is the great equalizer. We all know that certain public behaviors create harmony. And disruptive ones aren’t welcome. Here’s a snip of what I wrote on this topic:

When we were traveling internationally, almost every airport had buses ship us from terminal to plane and vice versa. So no matter where you were on the flight (coach or business), the bus at the airport became the ultimate equalizer. On the plane, you can dream about lucky folks in business or first class. In first class, you can scoff at the poor, uncomfortable yahoos in coach. But on the bus, everyone had to wait together. It’s like for 10 or 15 minutes, everyone is the same. Everyone has to face each other. No matter how fast you got though checkin or off the plane, everyone’s waiting in the damn bus.
I like the face to face time. I like the great equalizer.
If a man wins the life lottery by being born into a family who teaches about Christ, and another wins the lottery with a family that teaches teaches about Mohammed, or Buddha, or the zillion gods of Hinduism, they may all be on a flight together, but when do they get to be on the great equalizer?
Thoughts, ideas, responses … throw yourself in the conversation in the comments below.

I don’t see things in black and white … hashtag black and white challenge


On Facebook, I was challenged to the B&W challenge … the hashtag phenomenon that is the modern equivalent of a chain letter.

Like most photographers, I started with a basic SLR, a 50mm lens and a few rolls of B&W film.

But if I had a choice, I wouldn’t have shot black and white. I don’t care about black and white. I never have. I like when other people do black and white just fine. I guess I don’t love it either.

Sure film and photography got its start in black & white, but nothing compared to color. Sure, people almost fainted the first time they saw a train approaching in the Z axis. And nothing terrorized audiences like King Kong beating his chest in the original.

But it’s Technicolor that ended up being the milkshake that brought all the boys — and girls — to the yard.

Or that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

I see a lot of people receive the black and white challenge and they go find some beloved work, convert it to black and white and present it to the world.

Big fucking yawn.

Some people really do see in black and white. Like the folks who photographed the movie Double Indemnity. Those people are artists.

I have friends who love and work well in the medium.

But I’m sorry. I see in color. Or my version of color. And that’s what I like.

Maybe it’s the metaphor of not seeing in black and white. Maybe it’s that the world works in a form of color to me, and it makes me happy to see things “realistically.”

But I’m taking the fucking challenge anyway. And I’m debating  between these two images as my first submission …

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