And First Place goes to...

Wells Fargo!!! A heartfelt thank you for not waiting until the last minute to send out my tax documents. The deadline is January 31st for financial companies and employers to send out the various tax forms (W-2, 1099, 1099-INT, 1099-R, 1099-ad-nauseum) so that people will have plenty of time to file taxes before April 15th. In this age of computers, where I get *everything* as e-statements or other online forms, should we really have to wait for companies to sit on their cans to pop something in the _snail_mail_ on January 31st? Come on people. Does it really take that many compute cycles to calculate how much interest you have paid? Because I recall seeing something like "YTD interest paid" at the top of my bank's web page last time I logged in. And every *electronic* pay stub I get has "YTD taxes paid" and "YTD Total W-2 Earnings". I could get a W-2 and a 1099-R every day without ANY extra compute cycles.

Thank you again Wells Fargo. When the rest of the companies I do business with get it together I might be able to file my taxes and get my refund. Oh the waiting.

Theft deterrent or just a pain in the... knee

My '96 Geo Prizm is going on 15 years old this year with almost 130000 miles. I purchased her used in 2001 just before a long road trip to Austin, TX, for an internship with IBM. She has been a great car. I have had very few problems (and this post will likely jinx that). I finally noticed that her clutch was starting to slip. Yesterday I got her back from the mechanic to find that the radio was locked. Theft deterrent is what Delco (the radio manufacturer) calls it. I call it a pain in the butt. I call up my local Chevy dealer and they tell me they will get the code for me for $51. Gee, thanks. I just paid $1000 for new belts and a clutch. Sure, I would love to spend even more money to FIX THE PROBLEM MY MECHANIC CAUSED. I started to call the mechanic, to give him a piece of my mind, but all I got was the answering machine (I picked up the car just before closing). Tomorrow, I tell myself. Then I start poking around on google. I start searching for "geo prizm radio code" and come up with a question answer page with answers from real mechanics telling how to get the radio code for a Geo Prizm. Here is the answer they gave:

Here is a procedure if you lose power or remove the radio while the secuirty is activated.

If the security function is activated and the radio is disconnected from battery power, the radio will display "LOC." The radio will not operate until the correct code is entered. If the customer code is lost or unavailable, use the following procedures to determine the factory backup code. This procedure requires a tone dialing telephone.

  • Turn the ignition switch to "ACC" or "ON" position.
  • Press and hold the "2" and "3" buttons until a four-digit number appears on the display. This is the radio display code; record this number.
  • Using a tone dialing telephone, call 1-800-537-5140 (USA and Canada).
  • When the computer advises, enter the appropriate dealer code using the telephone keypad:
    Chevrolet/Geo Dealer Parts Code: Enter a "1" and the last five digits of your Chevrolet/Geo dealer parts code, then press "*" (star key).

  • When advised, enter the four-digit radio display code obtained in Step 2, then press "*" (star key). The computer will respond with the factory backup code; record this number.

To unlock the secured radio, refer to "Unlocking System After Power Loss" earlier in this section.

Armed with this information, I went to my car and got the "radio display code". I have no idea where to find a dealer/parts code. I figured that it MUST be a secret number that dealers have so that thieves cannot just call up the 800 number and ask for the unlock code. Not being a thief, I figured it was okay for me to call the number and guess a number for the dealer code. I did just this. The first number I guessed was not valid. But the second number was. Then it asked for the display code and it gave me my unlock code. Just like that. If it was this easy for me to obtain the code, this really does fall into the "pain in the butt category" rather than the "theft deterrent" category. I wrote my code down and filed it away. Thanks to Google and the fine mechanic that posted the answer, I didn't have to pay my local dealership $51 and I have a working radio again.

The Emperor's New RF Exposure Calculator

It has been twelve days since I made my RF Exposure Calculator available for all to use. I admit that there were a few bugs in it when I first released it. But nothing that didn't get fixed within a day or two. You see, it being open source and all, I figured I should release early and release often. So what you see today is about 26 commits newer than the original.

I just can't believe that it was my own naïveté that expected a warmer reception to the ham world. I mean, there are no other RFE apps that can even come close to how cool mine is. And I am not just saying that to toot my own horn. All the other applications make you type in numbers and information time and time again. For each little change you have to type new stuff in again. And they don't remember what you typed in yesterday. Come on folks, get on the Web 2.0 bandwagon already (or something buzz-wordy like that). I got some positive feedback, for which I am very thankful. (This mad machine runs on props!) But I also got a bunch of "I don't get it," and "Where is the program? - All I see is a tabbed help page!" or "nada". All I have to say to you folks is RTFM!

The grand old story of The Emperor's New Clothes comes to mind. I wrote this awesome RF exposure calculator that only works for smart people. So if it doesn't work for you, well... sorry. Only I am not really that sorry. I mean it would work for you if you could only read. I designed it so it would start with help text showing if there was nothing else to display (thus the tabbed help), which TELLS YOU EXACTLY HOW TO USE IT! GAAAAAHHHHHH!

Okay. That felt good. And really, this post was half therapy for me and half directed right at the anonymous coward who says that "Blogs are the verbal equivalent of vomiting!" with reference to my blog. This barf's for you.

Schmucks and wool

In an unprecedented effort to cover their tails, Apple has released a statement saying they were wrong, but not in the way you think they were.

For the last couple of weeks, proud new owners of the iPhone 4 have been complaining about poor reception and dropped calls. There seems to be a pattern with the problems: using your left had to grip the phone and you lose several bars and maybe your call. In fact, the problem seems to be so widespread that there are class-action suits against Apple in at least three states as of this writing. There are some remedies: 1) don't hold the phone with your left hand; 2) buy some iPhone protector thingy that seems to ameliorate the problem; 3) DON'T BUY CRAP FROM APPLE. Oh, I think that last one may have been my own solution.

Apple has come up with a new solution. You see, they claim there is no problem at all. They say that the loss of bars is a software glitch. More correctly, they claim that there shouldn't have been as many bars in the first place because of an error in the formula used for the calculation of the number of bars.

You don't have any bars because they were never there. These are not the bars you are looking for.

The problem with this solution is that it doesn't answer the problem. According to their statement, this solution applies not only to iPhone 4, but the iPhone 3G as well. But this problem was not reported on the previous versions. Also their solution does not account for the actual signal quality of those who USE the phone. If an iPhone 4 drops more calls when held "improperly" than when it is held "properly" it seems that this is not merely about how many bars are displayed. People are not only complaining about how many bars; that is just a convenient metric with which to measure signal strength.

Apple: yes, you may have found a grievous error in the bar calculation formula, but that doesn't account for what your customers are complaining about. Stop being schmucks and trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes.

Question and Answer

Today, The Man is any company large enough that they have grown past caring about individual customers. I hate The Man.

I recently felt the need to buy some new jeans. I am a tee-shirt and jeans kind of guy and I go shopping about once every two years to replace the stuff that is wearing out. I was going to go to the outlet stores down in Woodburn, but that is an hour away and I figured it wasn't worth the savings that I would have over just going to the mall. I had a 20% coupon for Eddie Bauer, so I figured I would check them out. I had purchased stuff from them in the past. I tried on many pairs of jeans and much to my dismay, they didn't have the style I wanted in my color and size. So I look online. Out of stock. I contact customer service and get a nice response from one of their agents. It was nice, but not terribly helpful. She said maybe I could try another style. <sarcasm>Oh, yeah, thanks, I hadn't thought of that.</sarcasm> But I don't want another style, I want this style. I reply and ask some *specific* questions, like when can I expect these to be in stock again? She responds, quite quickly, with a fluffy, content-free mail that did not answer any of my questions.

When someone asks you a question, and your only reason for existence is to answer questions, ANSWER THE @#$&%$^$ QUESTIONS!!! Don't reply with "I am sorry you are disappointed" or "Try this alternative" or any of your other fancy methods of circumlocution. Be straight with me and give me the truth. I can handle the truth. I promise. But obviously The Man does not care enough about individual customers to at least feign interest in keeping them around.

Levi Strauss, here I come. But not really with any higher hopes I had of Eddie Bauer. My heart is heavy for the current state of The Man.

Stupid Ubuntu Theme Change

Ubuntu usually does things right, but this time they screwed up. They moved my buttons. It is worse than Windoze, which changes the UI every release (every 2 years), because my UI is changing every 6 months.


I installed Lucid Lynx a while back because I wasn't happy with Karmic. And as they are getting closer to the release, they changed all their art. And themes. AND MY BUTTONS. I logged back in after an upgrade and found all my buttons on the left of my window instead of the right. After some digging, apparently this is a configurable thing, but unless you have set it, they changed the defaults.


That tells how to change your order. I prefer gconf-editor because messing with the registry via a command line never works for me. Note that for right-sided icons you want the ":" before all the icon names, not after.

Enjoy the benefits

Today I got a love note from Verizon. FiOS is big! So darn big they need more of my money. Maybe they are too big to fail. All in the same letter, they announced changes regarding my service AND new bundle options available. First the good news: they will be upgrading my service to 10/2 Mbps in the next few months. Just because I am so loyal. Or is is because I am on such an old grandfathered plan that they haven't offered for the last 2 years that they couldn't justify me paying so little? Comcast did -- I had to beg them to let me cancel my $7/month basic cable package a few months ago. I told them it was just too much money for the value. Anyway, Verizon wants be be my friend and boost my speed. Right after that, they also tell me that they will also be boosting my billing rate from $39.99 to $49.99 per month. And here is the best part, a direct quote from the letter: "No action is required to maintain your service at the new rate — you'll continue to enjoy all the benefits your current Verizon FiOS Internet service has to offer. This rate increase is unrelated to the speed increase we will be implementing for your FiOS Internet service plan." Uh huh. Of course you won't make me do anything to start charging me more. We operate on an opt-out basis here in America; it is better for The Man. And not related, huh? I just don't buy that. You said it in the same letter and you put it in the 'bad news' section, right after the 'good news.'

Is it just me or does a 25% increase in price sound a little bit wrong when this year we have been seeing a -1.3% rate of inflation. So they are effectively raising my rates even more. I hate you Verizon and all your money grubbing managers. I started out very happily, paying $29.99 per month and have seen a steady increase in price over the past 4 1/2 years. Yet my service has stayed the same. If I wanted 10/2 speeds, I would have upgraded on my own. I just looked and saw that the current price for the lowest FiOS package is now $54.99 (for no phone service, which is me) and that is for the 15/3 speed. I feel like I am getting the short end of the stick here... I wonder if it is time to jump ship to Comcast again. You know, jumping ship every few years to keep the competition going. Verizon, you had a nice long run, but you are pushing my patience to its limit.

I just looked... Comcast does have a better deal going on right now...

"Cash for Clunkers" or a kick in the ribs?

I am not a licensed financial advisor, nor do I have a degree in economics, but I do have a brain. It seems that The Man does not.

The current view is that we have officially been in a recession for a year and a half now. How did we get here? Well, my view is that the country on a whole (The Man is waving the banner at the front of the parade) is living on a non-sustainable budget. Spending more money than one makes can only last for so long before you run out of credit. Oh look, Ma, a credit crisis! So how does The Man propose to get us out? Ooh, ooh! let's throw money we don't have at it. Fill the hole, loosen the credit markets and get the economy running again. My prediction: it won't work. Well, not for long.

My view is that the economy was fundamentally broken long before a year and a half ago. We have been in a slow death spiral for quite a while. At first, we didn't even know that we had a large tumor growing in our liver. We put on a few pounds but we chalk that up to eating out a little too much. Really, that few pounds is a malignant tumor that is taking up more space every day. One day, while out shopping for a new shiny gadget, we collapse, knocking over the salesman, who falls and grabs the store manager for stabilization. The manager tips over some manikins which conk the box-boy on the noggin, giving him a concussion. But he gets up and rambles through the store, knocking things over and leaving a trail of mayhem wherever he goes. The manager tries to keep the box-boy from wandering out of the store, but in a freak accident, the fluorescent light display near the door crashes down and sets the display on fire, blocking the exit behind box-boy. The store is consumed by fire, as are the neighboring businesses. Box boy leaves the area and shares his anti-Midas touch, which quickly infects every city on earth, which ends up as a smoldering rock orbiting the sun.

The first wave of digital-only TV broadcasts

We have been getting warnings from the government that come February 17, 2009, the world as we know it will end as a new, crisp, digital world will come into focus. The apocalypse? I think not. If Nostradamus was unable to predict that, what makes you think a bunch of suits in Washington can? No, I am talking about the end of analog terrestrial television broadcasts. If you haven't heard about this yet, you may as well crawl back under your rock because it doesn't apply to you.

Verizon is now on the Black List

February 6th, 2006 started a short, yet blissful relationship with Verizon. That was the day FiOS internet service arrived at my house. At the low introductory rate of $29.95/mo I was in fat city. I knew this was a limited-time offer so I was not surprised to see my monthly bill increase by $5/mo after my initial year was up. So for the past year and a half, my rate has been a low $34.95/mo and I was still thinking I was doing well. Until this afternoon when I received an email saying that my latest statement had been posted. I noticed it was about $10 more than usual. That's odd. I get on the phone and demand an explanation. You see, I never received an email, letter, phone call, or anything indicating a price hike. And so far, I have never met ANY utility bill that is actually self explanatory. I am not a rocket scientist, but I do have a post-graduate degree. My problem is that I see a higher bill than usual and it takes Verizon 1 1/2 hours, seven phone transfers, four departments, one disconnect and one returned call to finally figure out that they don't know what is going on.