Review: The Lamps Plus Saga

Okay, I debated a bit about posting this. There are too many people who would identify this story as a customer service “nightmare”. This isn’t a nightmare – it’s a first world problem that is a bit frustrating. Not being able to find food or shelter – that’s a nightmare. This is just a pain.

The story starts last fall. I was having some people over for a holiday party and I finally decided that I needed to replace some lamp shades that got busted in the move out to the farm – fifteen years ago. They weren’t that damaged when we moved in, but after having a number of kittens over the years all it takes is one small defect to interest them, and then, bam, that’s it.

As is my habit, I got on-line and did a search for lamp shades and found Lamps Plus ( It was a good website and I was able to narrow the choices down to exactly what I was looking for, and with relatively little hassle I got some quality lamp shades. The only real problem was that the tracking number I got in the e-mail kept showing as invalid, and I was worried that they wouldn’t show up in time. They did and all was well.

Fast forward a few weeks. Where the “first world problems” angle comes in is that we have access to a cottage near the coast of North Carolina. The only issue is that it needs some furniture and my wife, who is particular about such things, could never find furniture she liked. That is until Lamps Plus sent us a catalog with this picture in it:

She thought that room would go perfect in the cottage and I agreed. Thus started the current saga.

I was going to place my order on-line, but I could not find the white armchair in the foreground listed. Plus, I had the additional need that anything heavy needed to be shipped to the coast (three hours away) but anything shipped FedEx should come to the farm.

I got in touch with a sales agent (I should point out that all the sales agents I’ve spoken to have been friendly and courteous), explained my situation, and ended up placing three orders.

The first was for the little teal side table, the coffee table and a television stand (not in the picture). Those would come FedEx so I had them sent to the office where we have a full time shipping department in the building.

The second was for the sofa and the teal console (seen in the back right of the picture). Those would come freight. I stressed that I needed them to be shipped together, since I would have limited time to get down to the coast (it’s at least a six hour round trip) and she said they should since they were both in stock.

The third was for two of the armchairs. She told me that they would be back in stock in March and I was so excited I ordered two of them.

So far, so good.

For my job I have to travel a lot. This week I was in San Francisco when the three items from the first order arrived, and on the morning I was leaving I get a call from the shipper that the console had arrived. When I asked about the couch, they didn’t know anything, so I called back to Lamps Plus and was informed that the sofa wouldn’t ship until March 2nd.


I spent about an hour going back and forth between Lamps Plus and the shipping company looking for options. I have a completely booked schedule for the next week and going to the beach was going to be a huge inconvenience. I asked the shipping company if they could hold the console until the sofa arrived, and they said yes but they would charge a $48/day storage fee. I asked Lamps Plus if I could just refuse delivery so it would be returned to them and they could ship it with the sofa, and they said “no” and if I did there would be another fee. If I had the shipper send it to my house instead of the coast, the fee was going to be more than the cost of the console.


I had no choice but to decide to go to the coast and get the console. Of course the shipper was as helpful as Comcast with “we’ll be there between 11am and 4pm”. My plan was to return back to North Carolina Thursday night, drive to the office and put the boxes from the first order in the car, and then get up early Friday and drive to the coast in order to meet the delivery truck.

Operating on little sleep, I made it to the coast just before 11am and started unpacking. The little teal side table was fine, but it turned out the TV stand had been damaged in shipment. There was no exterior damage but something had poked through the back panel of the stand:

You can’t really see it from the front and the last thing I wanted to do was to have to pack the whole thing up again (you can’t imagine the amount of gauze, Styrofoam, tape and cardboard they wrap around these things) so Andrea suggested I just ask them if they would discount for the damage.

Also, after unpacking everything, I realized that we really didn’t have room for both chairs I had ordered, so I called Lamps Plus back with the goal of asking about the discount and reducing my chair order from two to one.

I was connected to Jackie, who has been a real soldier throughout all of this. She was able to put in the order change and then she just asked me if I could send in pictures of the damaged TV stand. She also helped me change the address for the sofa delivery. I’ll have it sent to the farm and worry about getting it to the coast on my own, because there is a good chance it will show up at a time when I can’t make it down there and I can’t afford ~$50/day in storage fees.

I sent in pictures of the damaged stand, and by this time it was about 1pm. I called the shipping company for a status and they estimated that the truck would be arriving around 2:30pm, so I went out and grabbed some Chinese takeaway and came back to find an e-mail from Lamps Plus canceling the entire order for the chairs.


I got back into the phone queue for Lamps Plus and actually ended up back with Jackie. She was frustrated about the order cancellation (she had specifically noted to only delete the one) and said she’d fix it.

The rest of the day went pretty smoothly. The console arrived without damage and, on orders from Andrea, I took lots of pictures of the furniture (her career is insanely busy at this time of year so she couldn’t join me) and headed home.

Later that day I got an e-mail offering $50 for the damaged TV stand (cool) and another one correcting my order to just the one armchair.

I thought everything was cool until I started showing Andrea the pictures. When I got to this one, she was like “what’s that?”

I had not noticed that they sent to us a brown coffee table instead of a white one, which was key to the look of the room.


So I wrote back to Jackie and asked what my options were. The best scenario I can think of would be to order a second coffee table. When that arrives, I will carefully unpack it and place the brown one in the box for a return. That’s the best I can hope for and I can think of a lot of other things that can go wrong, especially since I still have a sofa and a chair to get. As I sent that late on Friday I have not heard back as I write this.

I buy most of the things I need, outside of food, on-line. I am a huge fan of Amazon because they have insanely good customer service. I am comfortable dealing with issues, but I’ve been spoiled. I’m not sure what is up with Lamps Plus, but I think it may be one of those cases where they have taken on more things than they can handle. Like I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it is incredibly easy to buy lamp shades from them, but furniture is a totally different matter.

But the true measure of a company is how things are handled when things go wrong, and the jury is still out on Lamps Plus. I’ll update this post as the saga continues, and I hope it gets indexed by Google so that people searching for “Lamps Plus” and “furniture” and “problems” will have at least one data point to go on.

I just know that at this moment what was once a good vendor/consumer relationship has been soured, and I’ll be hesitant to order from them in the future.

Last night I watched part of the Grammy awards show. I tuned in just in time to see Beck take Album of the Year, and I thought to myself that maybe this year the Grammys would be different (they weren’t). Just for full disclosure, I would have been just as happy (if not slightly happier) to see Ed Sheeran win.

What really rubbed me the wrong way was that just before the “In Memoriam” section, some old, rich white guy in a suit droned on and on about how stealing music was bad. That’s not exactly what he said, but it was along the lines of artists should get paid for there work (true) but what he was really advocating for was the continuation of the status quo where consumers’ access to music is tightly controlled by the record labels.

Screw that.

For decades record labels have been sticking it to both artists and consumers. For example, when I moved to LA in 1984 my record collection was stolen in shipment. I used the (minimal) insurance money to buy my first CD player. Back then CDs were about $15-$20 each, mainly because both the technology and demand were low. Now I can burn a CD for about 5 cents, but music CDs are still pretty expensive. Why? So that music labels could protect their profit margins.

[In case you care, my first three CDs were R.E.M.’s Murmur, The Police Zenyatta Mondatta and The Alan Parsons Project I, Robot]

I could drone on even more about how broken that system is, but instead I want to talk about alternatives.

With the near ubiquitousness of the Internet, the role of record labels is diminished. I no longer need them to tell me what is available. I can rely on friends and friends of friends, etc., for recommendations (I’m currently listening to Jim Boggia at the recommendation of my friend Ben – if you click through please excuse Boggia’s lack of updates on his website), and I can buy things directly from the people who create them (see Louis CK and Radiohead). That can work out better for both the artist and the consumer. I spend a lot of money on music and where I can I try to put that money as close to the people who created the content.

Now, in the software industry we often talk about “recurring revenue”. This is kind of the holy grail – can you come up with something useful that people are willing to buy again and again? Think about it: for a lot of artists they create an album, their fan base snaps it up, but then sales tail off until the next release. I can’t imagine how hard it must be to plan for finances as a musician.

Some of you may point to superstars like BeyoncĂ© who don’t have to worry about money (billion dollars in an elevator, blah blah) but to continue with the software analogy for every Whatsapp there are a massive number of other applications without that kind of valuation.

So, what are the options? Recently I was introduced to This is a service that is building a subscription service platform to connect musicians and their fans. For example, I pay $5/month and I get access to Mike Doughty’s “drip”. He promises to post new content frequently and I get access to it for as long as I have my subscription. It’s mine – I can download it and use it on any of my devices – so the service is different from streaming where once you stop paying you lose access altogether.

But if you can download the content, wouldn’t that drive people to purchase a one month subscription and then drop it? Well, in drip all content that was added before you joined is locked. You get access to the new stuff, but you have “unlock” the older stuff using “release credits” which you earn for each month you remain a member.

At first I was a little upset that I had to unlock the other tracks, but mainly I was kicking myself for not signing up to drip when I had the opportunity. I supported Mike during a PledgeMusic drive and in return he offered us free trial access. I was too busy to check it out, and part of the reason for this post is to act as a public service announcement that if one of your favorite musicians starts a drip, sign up early (grin). You do start out with a number of release credits so you can get started unlocking right away, and it appears I’ve just gained about four more in just a week, so I obviously don’t have the whole thing figured out but I think it strikes a good balance between fending off the leechers without being too obtrusive.

I already think I’ve gotten my money’s worth. While Mike is promising us new songs moving forward, he has also uploaded a number of live versions of older songs and even complete concerts. To get another version of “Rising Sign” into my collection is cheap at twice the price.

For those artists who aren’t BeyoncĂ© this may provide a nice, steady stream of revenue to keep them productive and, well, fed. He even talks about it during the “Live at City Winery” concert. Basically, give him money and he’ll use it to to buy these things called “sandwiches”. When I heard that I couldn’t help but think of MC Frontalot’s “Captains of Industry”.

Grrr – I just went to look for a link to that song and the first hit was Youtube. Since it wasn’t on Front’s official channel it appears some fan has dutifully uploaded most of his songs. While that can help gain exposure for an artist, it makes it hard for them to get paid, and that must be frustrating.

Anyway, as a drip subscriber, you get access to “Mainline” which is free content provided by other artists. And I love the fact that you can download your tunes in FLAC.

The website is pretty cool – easy to navigate and you can queue up songs and stream them if you don’t want to do that on your local device. It would be nice to have some sort of overall search facility. For example, I couldn’t find out if Frontalot actually had a drip. It will let me search my library, which includes the Mainline content, but it would be useful to see what other drips are available. My guess is that it is there somewhere, I just can’t find it.

To summarize: I think has a lot of potential, and I like thinking that I can buy Mike Doughty’s lunch for three or four days in a year versus paying for the first of many martinis for a record executive.

Review: Super Bowl XLIX

Even though I would not consider myself to be an NFL fanatic, I have a certain affinity for the Super Bowl.

I was born in Pittsburgh the year before the first one, and although we moved to North Carolina soon after that I’ve always been a fan of Pittsburgh teams (note that I do root for the Panthers as well, but when I was growing up there were no national sports teams in North Carolina).

Pittsburgh won Super Bowl IX on my ninth birthday, and continued on to win four of the first fourteen titles. Pittsburgh is the only team to have won six Super Bowls and is tied with Dallas and now New England at eight appearances.

When neither Pittsburgh nor Carolina are in the big game, I usually pull for the underdog, but I also tend to base my choice on who is in a better position to compete with Pittsburgh’s legacy. This year I wasn’t emotionally invested in either team, but since New England had the stronger Super Bowl record, I was pulling for Seattle.

Actually, all I was really hoping for was a good game, and this year’s title match didn’t disappoint.

Toward the end of the half it was 14 to 7, New England, but the score really didn’t reflect the game. New England was having a much better time of it on the field, and it was only an interception that kept the Patriots from having an even greater lead. But in a gutsy move, the Seahawks went for the touchdown instead of a field goal with minutes left and managed to tie it up at the half.

The halftime show was headlined by Katy Perry, and it was a nice change to see someone not eligible for AARP perform. Ever since Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” the NFL has leaned toward, say we say, “mature” acts. Even Prince was 50 when he did the halftime show. They also mentioned Lenny Kravitz, but while I think he is a very talented performer, I have no idea what he was doing there. Perhaps they wanted some adult supervision. Speaking of adults, I was happy to see Missy Elliot make a surprise appearance and add some life to the show. Perhaps it was because she’s been around as long as Tom Brady – I saw in the EW’s “Chart Flashback” that her song “Hot Boyz” was number seven on the Hot 100 back in 2000.

Speaking of entertainment, if my teams aren’t in it I watch the game for the commercials. My favorite was the Doritos airplane one

followed closely by the one from Loctite.

After the break it was all Seattle, and they increased their lead to ten. When the Patriots went three and out late in the third quarter, one might have thought the game was over.

It wasn’t. The fourth quarter was all New England, and with two minutes left in the game they were leading 28 to 24.

I find it amusing that when I watch football, if my team is up in a situation like this I am certain that the other team will rally and win, and if my team is down I think there is no way they will possibly score enough to win.

While this was a great game, one of the best Super Bowl games ever was the Giants vs. Patriots in Super Bowl XLII when the Giants put an end to the Patriots’ perfect season with an insane catch by David Tyree toward the end of the game. It seemed like history would repeat when Jermaine Kearse bobbled a pass deflected by Malcolm Butler but managed the completion. This left the Seahawks on the Patriot’s five yard line with over a minute on the clock and a strong running game.

Of course, in one of the worst calls in championship history, Seattle decided to throw it and Butler redeemed himself with a game winning interception.

Even then it wasn’t over. With Brady back in the end zone, he couldn’t just take a knee, but an unfortunate penalty gave them the five yards they needed to seal the outcome.

But what really disappointed me, and made me happy that New England had won, was the brawl that happened after the play. There was an actual fight, lead by Seahawk Bruce Irwin, that resulted in his ejection from the game – the first time in Super Bowl history and the first one I’d ever seen in 40 years of watching NFL games.

Combine that with the trash talk, the “poopdown” and not only did New England outplay Seattle, they outclassed them, and I just wanted to congratulate the winning team.