The Man

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.

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.

The Caring Carnivore

Last night, Lauren and I watched Food, Inc. because it was the next thing in the queue. I had put it on the list quite some time ago, but had forgotten about it until it showed up in our mailbox. I know that half the point of the movie is to shock, shame, coerce, cajole, or otherwise convince you to save the planet and shun The Man. In this case, The Man is a few corporate agriculture giants that deliver the vast majority of the 'food' everyone in America eats. We are talking of companies like ConAgra, Monsanto, Tyson, etc.

I think I already knew most of the stuff in the film. I had seen footage from CAFOs before. In fact, I have driven past a few and seen (and smelled) them in first person. I don't care for them at all. The Man does such a good job of distancing our neatly packaged cuts of meat from the terrible places that the animals are raised and slaughtered that we forget about the sickening truth. In fact, the treatment of animals at such places could almost convince me to be a vegetarian. I know some people who are vegetarian for that very reason. But I am not a vegetarian. I am an carnivore. Or more correctly, an omnivore.

This film convinced me that I can do better for myself than what I am currently doing. Lauren and I have been kicking around the idea of getting local meat for a couple of years now. We just haven't done it. But after talking about it after the film, we have decided to be more careful carnivores than we were before. We decided that we would take the money we spent on corporate meat and use it to buy local meat from farmers that we know and trust. Farmers that care about the land and the animals more than the siren's call of corporate cash. We haven't actually figured out what the meat budget was before, but it is a sure thing that we won't be able to buy as much local meat as we have been eating. It's not like we are gorging ourselves on animal flesh every night, but we will certainly have to introduce more beans and lentils into our diet to pick up the slack.

Really, with this change, we are winning on every front:

  1. We will be eating meat more 'in season.' With loads of local, fresh fruits and veggies from our garden and the farmer's market during the summer, we will be eating less meat. The meat will get saved for the lean winter months when fresh veggies are not so plentiful.
  2. We will be eating meat that has a lower negative environmental impact. I admit that meat is not the most environmentally friendly food. It takes a lot of food to raise the animal which could otherwise be used to feed people. CAFO animals also require more stuff: waste disposal, more medications, transportation, etc. Locally grown, grass-fed beef leaves no trace. All the animal waste is distributed by the animal itself (mostly evenly) back into the fields where it acts as organic fertilizer. They don't require as much medication because they are not in such close quarters. They don't need as much transportation since they are grown close to where they are eaten. Less environmental impact on every front.
  3. We will end up eating less meat. According to the movie, Americans eat, on the average, about 200 lbs. of meat per person per year. I don't even think our family eats that much meat per year in total. But even so, a little less meat never hurts. Yes, now and then I get a craving for a thick, juicy steak or a perfectly grilled pork chop. This won't change, but it will mean that it won't happen quite so often. We are a middle class family. That means we can't afford to make the switch to local meat without cutting back on something. We chose to cut back on meat, merely spending the same amount.

At the end of the movie, they try to be motivational and convince you that you can do your part to change (save) the world. Sure if everyone in the world started to only eat local foods The Man would go out of business. I am not so sure that my dime makes that much of a ripple in the world's pond. I don't know how much of an environmental impact our family's decision will make, but if nothing else, it grants me a peace of mind that I am not sure I could find otherwise.

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.

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.

Analog TV transition

I really think the FCC screwed this one up big time. Not the actual transition, but the switch in transition times. They had done such a good job of publicizing the February 2009 date for the transition that when it moved to June, I completely forgot about it. It wasn't until I saw it in my google news that I realized that it was finally upon us. Oh yeah. Digital TV. Blah.

I am not sure how many of the people who were not ready in February are actually ready now or if it was just a waste of time and money to try to convince the procrastinators that they need to stop procrastinating. Still today, according to Nielson's reports, 2.5 percent of American households are without digital TV capabilities.

Honestly, 2.5 percent of Americans without TV is not such a tragedy. After all, watching TV is not one of America's more healthful pastimes. Maybe a new revolution in more healthful activities will be ignited by the TV procrastinators. Or they might turn to violent video games and unleash the violence on the rest of the world. Watch out!

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.