Wednesday, August 26, 2009

On the phone with Verizon

I do not own any land-based phone line, but my parents-in-law still use Verizon. Recently their phone stopped working, and Verizon sent a technician to fix the problem. Having revived the phone service from outside the house, the technician suggested that he could also change a wall jack in the bathroom. Why not, my father-in-law thought. So he got a new water-proof jack in the bathroom.

To their dismay, the phone bill for that month came to more than $100, out of which $91 was for "Labor Charges for Inside Wire Repair Visit", and $24 for the wall jack. Since it was unclear why there was a charge for "inside wire repair" as the actual repair took place outside the house, I called Verizon to have the charge explained.

Having punched in a long sequence of number options on my dial pad, I finally got a representative, to whom I had to repeat again the phone number that I was calling about, which I had keyed in before. The representative must have waken up on the wrong side of the bed as she sounded confrontational in the very beginning. She informed me that since the technician replaced a wall jack inside the house, there would automatically be the labor charge. When I patiently explained to her that the wall jack was not relevant to the repair, she insisted that once the technician did anything in the house, there would be a $91 charge. Seeing that she was beyond reason, I suggested that perhaps Verizon could send an invoice to me that explains exactly what was done to fix the original disruption of service. But that's not her problem, the representative argued, and had me transferred to the repair department.

The repair department apparently did not keep a record of what repair had been performed by its technicians. The new representative, a woman who seemed not to have waken up at all, told me that the only way I could find out the actual repair job was to speak with the technician who did the job. She said that she would have the technician call me the next day.

The next day, no technician called.

So I called Verizon again. This time a Theresa answered my call. I suspected that she was the same representative from last time, for she had the same confrontational tone in her voice. Or maybe that was inherent in the training of all Verizon employees. This time, I got a slightly different story - any time a technician comes to a house, regardless whether the repair is performed inside or outside the house, there will be a charge of $91. It was then insensible, at least to me, to call the charge "inside wire repair". Nonetheless, I said that all I wanted to know was what repair had been performed. When I visit the doctors, I always get a notice from my insurance that list exactly what procedures the doctors have performed and charged for. Should not the phone companies do the same, as a check against dishonest technicians who wantonly charge more than the necessary? Can Verizon just send an invoice explaining the problem and the repair? That seemed, however, too much to ask from Theresa, who repeatedly told me that the service was already explained in the bill. Perhaps to Theresa it was clear what "inside wire repair" actually entailed, but to a person not working for a phone company, that was opaque. So I asked to speak to the manager.

The manager was a man who sounded like he was jerked out of his siesta. Sorry, there was nothing that he could do, since he worked in the billing department, and I had to speak to someone in the repair department. Apparently, in the same company of Verizon, different departments do not share information. In this case, perhaps there was no information, except for the technician's words.

I gave up.

Monday, August 24, 2009

When God retires from heaven

Men used to believe that distinct laws governed the heavenly bodies and the earthly objects .The motion of the planets followed different rules than the motion of a catapulted stone. The genius of Issac Newton changed this view forever. Gravity, the first universal force discovered, follows the same inverse square law in heaven as on earth. Much of modern theoretical physics strive to unify all the interactions, and to reduce all matter to the composition of elementary particles. Modern science no longer separates the celestial realm from the terrestrial regime; the same laws apply to both.

This new affinity for unity between celestial and terrestrial affairs may be sound so far as the immutable laws of physics is concerned, but it can be dangerously misguiding when it comes to the search for extraterrestrial life. Most of astrobiology searches not for life but for life as we know it on earth: carbon-based, water-dependent forms that amazingly share the same genetic material. Yet the life on earth is nothing more than a historical accident, in that it happened to have evolved in a water world and in the temperature range where proteins and nucleic acids dissolve in water. It could happen differently in a different environment. On a much colder planet, for example, liquid carbon dioxide or sulfur dioxide can provide life's matrix that water is on earth.

Whenever a new paradigm sweeps away the old, it is often adopted beyond its proven applicability. The unification of the celestial and terrestrial phenomena, successful as it has been in the laws of motion, has yet to find any evidential support in the discipline of biology. Until then, it may be beneficial to keep an open mind, and regard life in the heaven as something different than that on this earth.