Thanks to all of you who have dropped me get-well e-mails and posted comments on Facebook and on this blog showing your concern. I am pleased that you’re glad I am still among the living, despite how the computers at Capital One and the credit bureaus have been reporting my demise.
Actually, I feel something like Superman, defying the fate of mere mortals. How did the line go on the old TV series? Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound…
My prognosis is as good as can be expected in my corner of the virtual unknown, as the C-One server has now accepted the fact I am alive. That company has so issued e-mails, finally, to the three credit agencies (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) that rule our lives. The first two of those agencies have acknowledged that by resurrecting my credit files, and I am in hopes the third will do it in time for me to close on a home.
A few of you have actually chimed in with stories similar to mine, wherein computer glitches have erroneously wiped your friends or relatives off the planet, or have confused you with someone else who has the same name but a vastly poorer credit rating, sticking you with his rating.
Misery loves company
Apparently it’s not just me that Capital One is somehow targeting out of spite or, more assuredly, incompetence.
One (hopefully) final snafu did pop up early last week, however, when a very self-satisfied Capital One worker from the Probate Services Department called me to announce that my request had been handled successfully. “That’s great,” I said. “You mean you have notified the credit agencies I’m alive?” I realized I was being unrealistic, however, when she replied, “Oh! Is THAT the problem? I was just calling to tell you that we are sending you new credit cards.”
Do you need credit in the afterlife?
Thousands bite the dust
One writer commented on my post a couple days ago that his brother – and a lot of others like him – had gone through the similar experience of being declared dead prematurely. He wrote, “My brother Barry went through this same scenario, but with his military retirement and the Social Security Administration… Seems that during a ‘computer upgrade’ they ‘killed’ about 85,000 vets! Working through personal contacts, he was able to find what actually happened, but had to do some of the same things you are doing albeit w/o the call center routings. Glad to know you are alive.”
That post came from a friend I haven’t seen in decades, and it made me realize how my premature funeral had reconnected me with long-lost buddies. So I guess I have at least one thing to thank Capital One for.
A soul mate in SFO
I was not surprised to find another situation identical to mine which occurred earlier this year in San Francisco. You can find the full story and a KGO-TV video on http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2010/02/11/woman-mistakenly-declared-dead-by-credit-reporting-agency/ Here is how writer Mitch Lipka reported this story:
“Anne Howe is not dead, but her credit report said otherwise. So, as far as the bank refinancing the mortgage on her Bothel, Wash., house was concerned, there would be no loan. After all, she was dead. If you’re dead you don’t have a credit score. Without a credit score you don’t have a loan.
‘Never mind that Howe was a regular at the bank, had an active account there and signed a notarized statement that read: “The report of my demise is inaccurate information.’”
A final irony
I do find it ironic that the same new-age communication environment that can bring lost souls together via Facebook and computer dating sites, can also cause our world to become so faceless and nameless where, at the absolute best, you are talking to a powerless first name and I.D. number. And this individual works where? At a corporation’s forgotten and underfunded department carrying the name of the most absurd misnomer ever devised:
A plot in one of the old Twilight Zone episodes featured a guy, let’s call him Adam, who was pictured walking through his normal daily routine with one notable exception: he was invisible to everyone else. Adam couldn’t understand why, and his stress level was rising accordingly.
The light went on when he was informed that his light was off: that he was, in fact, dead.
I’ve been feeling like Adam all week, ever since I was informed on Monday by a computer-driven corporation that I am deceased. Such is life in the virtual unknown.
But such errors were also known long ago to wits like Mark Twain who gave us the heading of this post. Twain was quoted as saying this after his obit appeared in the New York Journal.
Tip of the iceberg
The news of my demise came in the form of a “credit alert” from Experian, one of the three major credit reporting agenices that seem to run our lives. It said a “potentially negative item” had just been posted to my credit report by the good folks at Capital One. They’re the credit card folks with TV commercials featuring Middle Age Vikings who are as inept as the company itself.
The credit alert stated Capital One had posted one of my accounts as being “charged off as a bad debt,” although I’d been paying regularly and on time for a few years. When I checked with Capital One to see what was going on, I was redirected to the Probate Services Department where a guy named Doug said I was supposed to be dead.
Sorry to disappoint, Doug.
An actual admission of error
The human error by Capital One (which they actually admitted to in a letter I got today) remains unrecognized by their comptuer server which has to notify Experian and the other credit agencies that — oops — we made a little boo boo. But the computer won’t do that until Capital One launches its own investigation into my life-or-death status.
And I was told this morning by Ray, one of Doug’s colleagues over in C-One’s Recovery Department, that that can take from 60 to 90 days.
Yet another probe
Meanwhile, two nice – albeit powerless – women at Experian named Maggie and Mrs. ____ (I’ll respect the surname privacy), say that Experian will have to launch its own investigation as to whether I am still alive. The law gives them 30-45 days to do that.
In the interim, my credit report is frozen to the point that even I can’t see it. More importantly, neither can any would-be lenders.
Oh, and did I mention I’ve just moved to a new city and I’m trying to get a home mortgage? Not surprisingly, one cannot achieve that goal with an invisible credit report.
The epicenter of India
Monday’s saga actually began futilely talking to a C-One call center rep in India who didn’t have my problem on her script. The conversation went south from hello when she asked me how I was doing, and I responded, “I am dead. How are you?”
Again, the response wasn’t on her crip sheet, so she had to check with her manager who decided it was time I talk to someone at the Capital One ranch.
Ironically, Monday ended right back in India at another call center after I was told by Maggie at Experian that I should talk to their “online credit manager.” I foolishly assumed there was a real person with this authority who was awaiting my call. So I called the 866 number Maggie gave me, and got another call center rep, this one trying to imitate a Midwestern accent (there is such a thing, but she didn’t have it).
In any event, she knew nothing of any online credit manager, so another dead-end. I sometimes feel for these sub-minimum-wage call center workers who are paid to act as screens so the fat-cat executives can keep the walls up between themselves and their customers. These workers, meanwhile, have no power to solve problems and can’t even address any not on the scripts they are provided.
Tuesday was spent in a last-gasp hope for a quick resolution by finding a local notary who signed off on a letter containing all my identifying stats that any computer hacker would love to have. The letter said I am still among the living, although this experience is sapping life from me minute by minute, and would Experian be kind enough to let the records reflect that soon so I could buy a home in my new town?
One week and counting
As of 30 minutes ago, no luck. I’m still dead according to Experian. Chalk up Week One of Capital One’s mistake. And of my afterlife.
There’s a P.S. to this saga which arrived in the mail this morning: Even though Capital One still officially lists me as dead, they have just sent me a new credit card.
All of this made me realize something that most of us really know already: In a world driven by corporations, computers, and cutbacks, we have little control over our daily lives when push comes to shove. And the chance of remedying someone else’s human error is nearly impossible — at least not for 60 to 90 days — when you have trouble even connecting with a human voice and/or when that human says simply as Ray did over at Capital One this morning:
“There is nothing we can do. The computer is in control.”
At least, he said, until the human investigators are satisfied I am alive.
As writer and program host Rod Serling used to say, “There’s a signpost up ahead; You have just entered the Twilight Zone.”
My grandfather was a Presbyterian minister who lived in the pastoral town of Aurora, Missouri, with his wife Janey. It’s a quaint little farming community (think Mayberry) in an area of the state now famous for the chaos of Nashville Lite, better known as Branson.
My dad would take us to visit Grandpa and Grandma once or twice a year, as our family boarded a Frisco rail car out of Oklahoma City that stopped in Aurora on its eastern run. If you have never experienced a night journey on a passenger train, you’ve missed something special.
Grandpa was one of the links in the chain of influence that led me into writing. Specifically, it was the sight of him and Grandma Janey sitting in their study at their big, facing mahogany desks and writing letters or sermons that stuck in my memory.
A quiet focus
Occasionally catching the other’s eye over their twin Royal manual typewriters, they were surrounded by rows of antique, glass-doored bookcases. There I was first introduced to James Fenimore Cooper’s books, like The Last of the Mohicans, and I found the whole experience of the books, Grandpa, Grandma, the desks, typewriters, and bookcases to be riveting.
Quiet reflections taking place in a cozy setting overlooking a vegetable garden on a sunny afternoon or moonlit evening.
As I retrace those memories tonight, I realize my wife Anne and I are replicating that pastoral setting of Grandpa’s study, but we’re doing it 21st Century-style in our living room, writing and occasionally catching each other’s glance – over our outstretched legs on which sit digital laptops.
No more Royals, just an HP and a Gateway instead. No more clacking of the cast iron key faces striking the paper and roller, just the nearly inaudible sound of our laptop keys striking … nothing. Not much need for rows of bookcases when you have the vast resources of the Internet at your command and resting upon your lap.
The magic of Grandpa’s study is gone.
The quandary of multitasking
Up until a few minutes ago, Anne and I were doing our laptop work while catching glances and while watching 20/20 on TV. All of us today know this scene as multitasking, and we’re getting pretty adept at it. The ability to do two or three things at once has become vitally important to many sojourners in the world of the virtual unknown.
In fact, I was leafing through an alumni magazine of Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Journalism today and found an article alerting readers to “25 Newhouse Alums to Watch,” as their careers are apparently soaring. In an interview with one of these 25 best and brightest, the young grad was asked what was the most valuable lesson that she learned in the journalism school.
Her answer was multitasking.
Back to the scene tonight in my living room. I am reminded that there are times with Anne that multitasking is not such a great idea. It only works well when:
- Both of us are doing it at the same time.
- Anne doesn’t want to engage me in conversation.
If she wants to talk and I want to multitask (ie. write and converse at the same time), things get dicey. Anne is big on eye-contact, and I haven’t yet learned how to train one eye on the screen while having the other wander over to her.
It’s at this point where Anne disagrees with me, however.
She believes she is the one who can multitask better than I, finding me too focused on the laptop itself to engage her. It’s a touchy debate, but I can see where we’re both right. Her idea of multitasking is to stop typing for a moment while she engages me in conversation; mine is to do both at the same time. I can see, though, how I’m sometimes less than convincing that I’m paying her as much attention as the computer.
In this, I doubt she and I are much different from other husbands and wives. I wonder how many arguments have erupted over multitasking? Maybe it isn’t so different as when our dads were reading the newspaper at the breakfast table while, on the other side of the large printed page, sat a frustrated wife.
It’s the principle
One might think — since the laptop screen is much smaller, hence the spouse so easy to see — the problem would be solved. Alas, such is not the case. I assume that the friction would even develop if the multitasking involved something as small as a Droid or i-Phone screen.
The principle is the same for the one insisting on eye contact: Without it, kiss the chat goodbye. And while you’re at it, kiss the good-night kiss goodbye.
Real interpersonal conversation remains old-fashioned. For best effect it requires the ability of each person to single-task. That’s not easy to do in this post-modern world.
Too many times we equate single-tasking with inefficiency.
Man in a hurry
If you’re a fan of TV Land’s ubiquitous The Andy Griffith Show, you may recall an episode called Man in a Hurry where a cigar-puffing businessman, barreling his way to Raleigh, is delayed
when his car breaks down in Mayberry on a Sunday and Gomer is asked to fix it quickly.
The multitasking executive is exasperated to think he has to endure a lazy afternoon on Andy’s front porch with Andy, Barney, Opie, and Aunt Bee instead of getting on with his important business in the city.
Exasperated, that is, until he falls under the charm of being rather than doing. He finds, in a 1960s way, that being requires the ease of single-tasking even if that task is simply enjoying a simple moment of simplicity.
The magic moment
When I see that episode, I think of my grandparents in their study where the most important time in the world to them seemed to be the moment they were in. And then I think about how far we’ve come from that; how we think the moment is wasted if we aren’t multitasking.
I know we can’t turn back the clock, but it would be nice just to turn back the laptop occasionally; leave it home on weekends or while we’re on vacation, and spend a little time just enjoying the beauty of the moment engaging family and friends.
I think we can do it if we can convince ourselves that, as smart as a computer is, we can be even smarter. At least as smart as my grandparents were back in Aurora.
In the summer before college, Dad took me to a big discount store for government employees we used before there was anything like a Walmart. The goal of this shopping trip was to buy me a portable tape recorder the size of a small suitcase – I think it was a Wollensak – that I could take to college in my freshman year and use to record in-class lectures. I could then play them back later in my dorm when I was studying.
This turned out to be one of those buys that sounds like a good idea, especially to parents envisioning a future scholar in the family and to the kid himself who thinks he will actually take the time to listen to the same boring lecture twice.
If I had held on to the tape recorder over the years, it would be in mint condition because I don’t think I ever used it. It would be the star of the Antique Road Show.
I was thinking about this old Wollensak one afternoon this week when I was at an electronics discount house and saw what today’s dad would probably think was a good idea for his college-bound son:
A smartpen. Officially, the Pulse Smartpen.
Part ballpoint, part microphone, part tape recorder, and part computer, this seems a worthy entry into all things new. And it doesn’t even come from Apple.
The secret’s in the glow
The smartpen is an interesting concept, if no other reason than it combines high-tech digital communication thinking with one of the oldest forms of communication: the pen, previously the quill, previously the hunk of charcoal that Cro-Magnon shamans used to draw pictures on cave walls 30,000 years ago. Although in place of the charcoal tip, there’s a laser light pulse aglow, recording what you write.
In between the very old and very new, there’s a touch of Maxwell Smart’s shoe phone in the smartpen or even James Bond utilizing the latest brainchild of that crafty gadget man known only as Q. Clicking this pen three times will not result in a massive time-delayed explosion, however, as Bond’s pen once did.
The latest iteration of the writing stick was developed by a company called Livescribe which touts its company and product this way:
“Livescribe is fundamentally changing the way people capture, access and share information with pen and paper. Founded in 2007,Livescribe has developed a breakthrough low-cost mobile computing platform which includes the award-winning Pulse smartpen, dot paper, smartpen applications, Livescribe Desktop software, Livescribe Online Community, and development tools. Since its launch in April 2008, the Pulse smartpen has won multiple awards, including Popular Science’s Best of What’s New 2008, Popular Mechanic’s 2008 Breakthrough Award, and MacWorld’s Best of Show in 2009.”
Links audio to writing
In short, what the smartpen does is to record and link audio to what you write so that you can play back the recording later or even playback your handwritten notes on your computer. Or you tap it on a special part of the paper and it records like an audio tape recorder. The Livescribe software allows you to search your handwritten notes for specific words to find exactly what
you’re looking for, and it allows you to share those notes and audio online for others to see. It even lets you transform your note, drawing and recordings into Flash movies.
Whew! A lot to ask from a ballpoint pen.
So far, reviews of the Pulse Smartpen have been pretty good. Laptop Magazine (www.laptopmag.com) tested it out and assessed it this way:
“During a meeting we simply began writing on the paper. There are no controls to start and stop the digital capture of handwriting; it begins when you power on the pen and press it to the paper. It stops capturing when you stop writing. However, if you want to record the audio as well, you have to press the Record circle on the bottom of the paper; the recording timer will pop up on the pen’s screen. After activating it, we no longer felt the pressure to write down every word spoken, which was a relief.”
“Three audio-sensitivity settings are available: Conference Room, Lecture hall, and Automatic. Using the Conference mode, the Pulse did a great job picking up the presentation made in our company’s conference room. However, we did hear the scraping of our pen against the pages in the background of the recordings. It wasn’t too prominent and we could still make out the spoken words.
“The pen’s scraping noises went away when we opted to use the Pulse’s included 3D recording headset, which plugs into the top of the pen. The headset functions like a normal pair of headphones, and on the back is a pair of binaural mics that enable 3D audio recording. If you are wearing the headset, the pen records from both mics, resulting in a surround-sound recording.
“When we played back the audio recorded from the headset it sounded just like were in the meeting again; when a person to the right of where we were sitting spoke, we could hear them in our right earbud. The surround sound didn’t transfer over to the 3D recording on the computer.”
The Pulse Smartpen comes in 2GB and 4GB sizes, ranging from about $150 to $190, maybe less depending on where you buy it. Both are available from stores ranging from Target to Best Buy. Like any pen you have to replace the ink cartridges when they run dry, and you can buy a pack of four for $6.
Sean Connery’s Bond would have found one of these things indispensible. But that bomb application would have been essential.