Monday, 04 May 2009

NoScript and the mysterious updates

I use AdBlock Plus and I use NoScript from Firefox (when I am not running IE8).  I selectively enable ads on sites where I care about the advertising (usually technical sites).  I absolutely loathe the ads I see on most mainstream sites (usually some idiotic dancing baby/man/woman/thing hawking predatory loans), so I don't feel bad in the slightest about blocking them.  That might seem strange given that I run ads on my blog site.  However, I honestly don't care if folks block them.  My ads happen to be targeted at technical folks so they should be largely relevant to the vast majority of my visitors.  Given that a huge proportion of my visits are via RSS readers, most folks never even see the ads anyway.

Over the last few months I have noticed that NoScript has been updating basically every time I open and close the browser.  I thought, "wow, these guys must have found new and interesting exploits almost daily".  Nope, turns out it was a spat between the author of NoScript and the maintainers of AdBlock Plus.

It seems clear to me that NoScript was in the wrong on this one.  People who have enabled AdBlock Plus want it because they don't want to see ads.  It really doesn't matter if NoScript likes it or not.  It is not their settings to mess with.  Respect your users's choice - end of story.  It also doesn't bode well for the security architecture of Firefox that these things can mess with each other, but that is another story.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

My Comcastic Reaming Adventure

I recently moved and had to get Comcast.  Is there any other business entity in the world that is so despised as cable companies?  The RIAA is close, but you are much more likely to deal with cable companies than the prior.  Warning: ranting to follow...

Part I: Ordering

Calling Comcast to order packages found on comcast.com is an exercise in futility.  First, the rep will spend 20 minutes trying to upsell you to their damn $99 triple play bundle.  My favorite part of that experience:  If you tell them you are not interested in the phone service (I am not) and you use the word VOIP, they will correct you: "no, no... it is not *VOIP* sir, it is *secure* voice communication over your cable line".  Ahh... I forgot that Comcast sells magic flippin' fairy dust that makes the IP packets carrying your voice a.) turn magically secure, and b.) not be called IP packets.

I didn't bother correcting her as I realized she was just a script-reading monkey making commissions on selling Triple Play.  After firmly insisting that no, I really didn't want magic non-VOIP, 'secure', VOIP communication, I asked what the price of basic cable was.  I was told it was something like $53 for just basic cable.  Note, you cannot find this price on the website, you can only find the price of bundles.  I tell her that I know for a fact that people can get cable for $20 or so and she tells me, "oh, you want *limited* cable!, yes that's $20".  She then proceeds to tell me that you can either have limited for $20 or what they call the "Digital Starter Pack" for $53.  I tell her that Comcast's website says that there is a package in between called "Basic", and she denies it.  Perhaps they should fix their (censored) website:

 

image

So, at this point she is just lying to me and I know it, so I decide to test her a bit.  I ask her about adding internet to the package and bundling the price.  She tells me that is the $53 + $43 or $96 a month and that there is no bundle for that.  She then mentions that the triple play would be a better deal at $99 with more channels (plus phone!!).  I love it when the $8/hr. help tries to treat me like a retarded cave man.

I point out that the a.) the internet is $20/month on the website and b.) internet + cable on the website is only $60 a month there as well.  She tells me that it is a special deal only through the web.  So, I press the point:  "are you telling me that you do not offer a "Double Play" bundle like the website, but you *do* offer the same "Triple Play" bundle as the website?  Do you or do you not sell a Double Play option?"

The truth slowly bubbles to the surface.  It turns out yes, they do offer a internet + cable bundle called "Double Play" she corrects herself, but it is $70 a month, not $60.  I ask her why she told me $96.  She tells me she thought I wanted only basic (Digital Starter cable), while the "Double Play" version she sells includes "Digital Preferred" or Premier, I forget.  So in essence, she was willing to sell me an inferior package for more money than admit there was a bundle that offered more for less money to prove her point that I should be buying the (censored) Triple Play still.  She still won't admit there is a "Basic" cable tier between Limited and Digital Starter either.

I end up telling her that I will order through the website since she can't even sell me the same things that are being offered and she hasn't been entirely forthcoming with me.

Part II:  The Installation

After ordering the $60 Double Play bundle including a nice $45 charge to "install" the cable, I confirm online that I want the HD equipment and 2 boxes for my two HD capable TVs.  The technicians (contractors) show up on Saturday (1 week ago) and guess what they don't bring?  If you said HD boxes... you're right!

After calling support while the contractors were there, the support rep tells me that she will add the HD equipment to the account and that she will call me back.  I tell her I want the fee waived since the install is botched - she agrees to waive the fee (yeah!).  Guess what happens?  If you said, "she won't add the boxes and totally will not call you back and will not waive fee"... you're right!

So, after dickering around a bit, I get the contractors to give me an 'extra' HD box they have in their truck and they call and get it added to my account.  Then, they tell me that I will have to drive to the store to get another HD box and "later man", they are gone.  At no point did they actually test to make sure that I was getting the programming package that I paid for.  So, guess what happens?  If you said, "Ryan won't get any of the channels he paid for"...  you're right!

Part III:  The Cleanup

So, after 1 day I notice that I don't have many channels... in fact I have very few channels.  I start an online chat to get those turned on.  The rep there can't get them on despite "sending a signal to the box".  He schedules a technician visit for me.  I explicitly ask for three things (I have this in a transcript): a.) my channels turned on, b.) the missing HD equipment with firewire output for my media center, and c.) to waive the service charge since this a botched thing on their part.  He agrees on all three things and tells me they will be there tomorrow between 8am and 12pm.

I wake bright and early on Monday in case they decide to show exactly at 8am.  I realize of course that if I am ready at 8am they won't show until 12pm, but if I am not ready at 8am you can bet that will be when they show up according to Murphy's Law.  Around 11:20am I decide to give Comcast a call to confirm the scheduled visit.  Turns out that the previous rep left no notes to why I called and that they were not going to send anyone.  One emergency page later, I have a Comcast technician showing up exactly at 12pm.  He admits he has no idea why he is there however and asks me what he can do.

The only bright part in this entire story is that technician.  He was a nice, competent guy that actually got things done.  He determined that they had just botched configuring the box back at the main office.  A few phone calls later, my box is turned on and channels are fixed.  Next, he happens to have the HD box I need, so he hooks me up there.  He apologizes to me and admits that none of this should have happened and that it could all have been easily fixed on the first attempt.  All in all, I think I am done with this tragedy.

Part IV:  The Lingering Stink

Today, I got my Comcast bill.  Guess what?  If you guessed that I would be charged not only for the first $45 botched install, plus the second $20 install to fix the first and would be facing a $150 cable bill for < 7 days service... you're right!

So, today I decide to email them through the Comcast website and see what gets resolved.  I explain nicely and in detail what has occurred to this point and try to submit.  Of course, nowhere does it explain there is a limit to how much you can email (side note, I forgot that most email systems choke up under 4 paragraphs of text these days).  So, many shortened revisions later, I try to submit my story for resolution and here is what I get:

image

My comcastic adventure is just getting better and better.  Naturally, I decide to look up "comcastic" to see what the actual definition is:

comcastic (adj.)

1. A blithe attempt to screw consumers.  "The comcastic enterprise left few consumers happy with the reduced service higher prices, and hidden charges".

2. Lacking follow through or resolve.  "That fat lazy bastard approached his work like he did exercise:  with comcastic resolve."

synonyms: see LIARS, UNRELIABLE, CRAPTACULAR, PRISON SEX

Turns out that is was my fault for not checking the dictionary first when I was told that my experience would be "comcastic".

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

On Retaining Customers

When I see companies act against their own interests it really no longer surprises me.  I suppose I have become so jaded in a sense that I can now accept that people and companies are completely inflexible from what they have been told to do.  I see this all the time, from the people at TSA that cannot make a judgement call on whether a 5 year old is a terrorist, to company presidents that believe a good business model is to sell a single screw for 50 cents and ship it for $7 (not to mention who get pretty mad when you ask if they are serious).

Case in point, I tried several months ago to upgrade my craptastic HTC Wizard phone to the new slider phone from T-Mobile called the Shadow.  My office mate, David has had good things to say so far about it, so I figured I would give it a shot.  Here's the rub - I have been a long time T-Mobile customer, so I no longer have a contract.  However, that does not mean that I get new customer pricing.  In fact, it means I get zippo for being a loyal customer.  If I want the phone, I need to pony up either the full price or I have to pay $150 and get a new two-year contract.  Keep in mind, if I was a new customer, I would get the phone for $79 and get a two-year contract.  Where's my motivation?  If I switch to AT&T, I could get the Blackjack 2 plus a much faster 3G data connection (T-Mobile is still on pokey GPRS) for only $69 and *no* contract (Microsoft has an awesome deal with AT&T).  Even if I wasn't getting a stellar Microsoft deal, I could get that phone and data plan for much cheaper by switching companies.  I mean, if you are gonna get screwed into a 2 year contract, why not take the one that screws you for less?

I pointed out that it was cheaper and faster to go with AT&T than remain with T-Mobile to the representative on the phone.  They told me to try going to the store in Redmond as they might be able to do something there more for me (as they deal with Microsoft all the time apparently).  A few weeks later when I finally got to the store, the answer was the same - "Nothing we can do" and "I don't have the authority to do that".  I don't think I was asking for a lot - just give me the same pricing as a new customer and I will even take a 2 year contract.  T-Mobile keeps me as a customer, and I get a new phone - a win, win.  Sidenote: I wasn't really surprised because as I mentioned, I am used to this now and I was dealing with the same company, that if you change your service plan to a higher (more expensive) tier will automatically add a 2 year contract.  "We punish you for spending more on our services" is the motto here - how does that make any sense?

Long story short, I quit T-Mobile and I am using AT&T again.  I was able to get the new Blackjack 2 phone, plus all the accessories and a 4GB data card for *less* than the price of the T-Mobile Shadow, plus get a much faster 3G data connection to boot - all without a contract!

Don't get me wrong, I am probably trading one problem for another, but at least I was able to get a decent phone for now and walk away feeling better about the whole situation.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

No Soup For You!

I have a Lian-Li case, which features a unique hard drive mounting system.  This mounting system requires you to have a special sort of stand-off screw that mates with their mounting system and holds the drive in place.  My stuff is still in storage from my move, so I didn't want to try and dig through boxes looking for extra screws.  These are not very complicated parts, so I figured they couldn't be more than a couple bucks.  Boy was I wrong...

In my search for these screws I came across the site called "FrozenCPU" that sells these screws (http://www.frozencpu.com/products/5741/scr-109/Lian-Li_V-Series_Hard_Drive_Mount_Screws_.html).  Note, the name of the product as well as the description are "Screws", not "Screw".  I thought that it was probably 4 screws (you know, enough to mount a hard drive), but there was just no way to tell since the site was poorly worded and gave no indication.  I was suspicious however, when I looked at the shipping charges and saw that the most basic shipping was $7+ that perhaps this was one of those places that makes up for low price by putting it into the cost of shipping.  After that, thoughts ran through my mind that perhaps they really were trying to sell one screw and trick people - turns out I was right as we will see.

Anyhow, at the time, I didn't know how many screws came in this packaging and it was impossible to tell from the site, so I decided to email them and ask.  The site doesn't look particularly sophisticated, so I also considered that perhaps they just couldn't show shipping prices for really little things that don't require packing.  Regardless, I thought I had better ask before placing an order.  Here is my initial email:

I am looking at these screws here:
http://www.frozencpu.com/products/5741/scr-109/Lian-Li_V-Series_Hard_Drive_Mount_Screws_.html
Couple questions:
1. How many screws are included?  This isn't .50 per screw, is it?
2. What is the shipping cost for this since there is no packing
material needed for screws... don't tell me $7 for a couple screws.

Now, I don't consider my request rude.  I just generally write terse help requests since it seems to cut down on confusion with support.  Remember, I don't believe that this place will actually charge $7 per screw - so I am giving them the opportunity to tell me the good news that no, that is not really the price.  Here is the reply from Mark Jr., President:

Ryan
Yes this 50 cents a screw. They are OEM Lian Li screws, They are not cheap.
USPS FC shipping is available for 3.50. Fed Ex is your option for 7.00
In the future when emailing a company questions, you may want to not be so
rude by voicing your disdain about prices that you dont agree with.
For Example- If you did your research on our website, you would have found
that these screws can be shipped for 3.50 not 7.
No offers this service for these types of products. We do.
The bottom line is perhaps you can choose to NOT shop with us but you will
NEVER find a shop that delivers in service, reputation and customer service.
Good Luck
Mark Friga Jr,
President
www.frozencpu.com
1.877.243.8266 (Office Toll Free)
1.585.425.2810 (Outside US)
1.585.259.0102 (Mobile)
AOL Instant Messenger- Skyjuice27
Yahoo Messenger- markfrigajr
Worlds Largest Selection of PC Modification Supplies and Services.

Wow, so this apparently hits a nerve with Mark.  Apparently questioning pricing (no matter how ridiculous) is considered rude now.  He really puts me in my place!  In the same snippy email, he tells me that his customer service is the best - I just don't think he gets the irony of that.

Naturally, I respond to Mark with a measured reply:

Thanks Mark -
Perhaps you can more clearly indicate on your site that this is per
screw next time and I won't have to ask.  There are really very few
people that would want to order 1 screw - so most times people sell
them in *multiples*.  Even your description notes multiples - "These
*screws* are used to mount your HD to the quick release rails on
V-series Lian-Li cases."  So, you can certainly read that as more than
one if you buy it - no?
If you think it is reasonable to mail 1 screw at $3.50, more power to
you, but most reasonable people will contact the company and ask if
that is a mistake or a limitation of the system before placing an
order - hence, again, my question.  My original email wasn't meant to
be read as rude, but more as wondering.  However, this email shows the
disdain that you were looking for.
As for your vaunted customer service that you extol... yeah, right.
After I get a snippy email back from the President, I seriously doubt
that you have any credibility to that claim.

To which Mark replies:

Ryan
Your email was snippy. It really was.
Please try another vendor.
Thanks

Mark Friga Jr,
President
www.frozencpu.com
1.877.243.8266 (Office Toll Free)
1.585.425.2810 (Outside US)
1.585.259.0102 (Mobile)
AOL Instant Messenger- Skyjuice27
Yahoo Messenger- markfrigajr
Worlds Largest Selection of PC Modification Supplies and Services.

The moral of the story here folks - make sure you don't ask questions about deceptively-labeled products or question the "you-gotta-be-kidding-me" shipping cost, or you will get the President all riled up and he will refuse your business ("NO SOUP FOR YOU!!").

Monday, 26 March 2007

Customer Appreciation Revisited

A few months back, I had written this entry about my experiences with HDTVSupply.  To recap, I had purchased a Component Video switch from them two years ago off of eBay (they are a power seller there).  During my move I had misplaced the power supply to the box.  Since neither the switch itself nor the manual states what the power supply specifications are, I thought I would ask HDTVSupply if they could help me and look at one to tell me the specifications in order to buy a replacement.  I called HDTVSupply and got two unique interactions:

  1. My first call got a pretty gruff and rude guy who basically told me to RTFM and all but hung up on me.
  2. My second call got the same guy and after I explained I had read the manual and purchased the switch from HDTVSupply two years prior, he told me I was a liar and I was looking for free support.  When I didn't have an order number (it was two years ago and from eBay remember), this pretty much confirmed it for him.

Now, it was completely possible that this was an isolated incident and the said gentleman was having a bad day at work.  I had pretty much written off the incident as such.  Imagine my surprise when I got this email yesterday:

HDTV Supply support@hdtvsupply.com

We have reviewed your blog and what you said about HDTV Supply and ask to
have it deleted as we do not have any orders from you and it may impact our
business.
Failure to do so will cause us to take further action.
Please delete it within 24 hours.
Thank you and best regards,
Legal Department
Kent Howard - Attorney at Law

HDTV Supply, Inc.
(805) 277-xxxx

This is pretty disturbing for a variety of reasons and shows a systemic disregard for their customers.  Also, notice that a generic mailbox was used as well to prevent me from replying directly to Kent.  So, instead of Kent contacting me and apologizing on behalf of HDTVSupply for a bad customer interaction, he (and by inference HDTVSupply) has instead contacted me to threaten me to silence.  Had this been a positive interaction by Kent, I would have simply updated the original post and let readers know that HDTVSupply made good on an otherwise poor customer interaction.  Instead, they threaten me with lawsuit (what else would 'further action' mean?).  It's an interesting tactic... not what I would do of course, but interesting nonetheless.

Tuesday, 20 February 2007

KJAM is finally back and i-mate still sucks!

What's 5 months amongst friends, really? Did I mention that i-mate sucks?

It turns out that the original repair company from Florida, TOPP Solutions was booted by i-mate for poor repair service and the contract was re-awarded to PocketPC Techs (makers of WriteSHIELD). The best I can figure it, TOPP had been sitting on my phone for some months and not repairing it while they were going through turmoil with i-mate. Naturally, they just sent the phone over to PocketPC Techs with no information. This also delayed the repair a bit since then I had to contact the new repair place and update them on what the phone issue was as well as where to ship the damn thing.

Why was this ultimately i-mate's problem? Some people might wonder why I am not more pissed at TOPP than i-mate. The fact of the matter is that i-mate is ultimately responsible for their product and should stand behind it. After the first month, they should have just sent me a new phone or at least a loaner while it was being repaired. I contacted i-mate about this after the 4th month asking for a replacement or a refund and here is what they had to say:

Also, regarding the replacement and the refund, we would like to inform you that as i-mate company Head Office, we do not sell our i-mate™ devices directly to our end users or customers but through our authorized distributors and resellers, so we cannot replace or refund your device.

That is a really original excuse: "we didn't sell it directly to you, so we can't do anything for you". Apparently i-mate believes that they are not responsible for the customer relationship. You can be sure I won't be purchasing an i-mate again and I really look forward to seeing that company go out of business.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Beware purchasing from i-mate

I didn't want to write this post.  Unfortunately, the time has come.  I was foolish enough to purchase an i-mate KJAM device about a year ago.  This is a Windows Mobile 5 Pocket PC Phone device.  I am sure I am butchering the name (Microsoft has branding problems, not me) of the OS.  Nino can probably correct me.

The phone is a rebranded HTC Wizard that I purchased through Mad Monkey Boy.  I should note here that MMB is in no way responsible for the problems.  In fact, I would highly recommend him for purchasing your Windows Smartphones and similar devices.

Anyhow, to make a long story short, my phone starting acting up in June of last year starting with the stylus falling out of the device due to some shoddy workmanship.  This seems to have been a common problem with everyone of the Wizard brandings (MDA, KJAM, Qtek, etc.).  Even worse, my phone started making a high-pitched whine each time I started or answered a call.  The whine would last approximately 30 seconds and then would stop suddenly.  I was about ready to pull out my hair it was so annoying.  So, before the warranty expired, I contacted i-mate and asked to get my device serviced and repaired.  It has quite possibly been the most frustrating customer experience yet.

Timeline:

  • 9/4/2006 - Ask for an RMA on i-mate web site
  • 9/6/2006 - i-mate responds asking me to reset my device first to see if it will fix my hardware problems.  Quite obviously a stylus problem will be fixed by a reset.
  • 9/6/2006 - I reply pointing out the absurdity of the canned response
  • 9/6/2006 - They respond asking for 5 pieces of information in order to process the RMA
  • 9/7/2006 - I respond with the requested information.
  • 9/8/2006 - They respond with a request for an additional piece of information
  • 9/8/2006 - I respond with the additional information
  • 9/10/2006 - I finally get an RMA so I can mail my device (at my expense) to a service center in FL.  Great, that only took 6 days!!
  • 10/6-9/2006 - Device is supposedly "repaired" and shipped back to me.
  • 10/20/2006 - I finally get my device since FedEx Ground center is located 30+ miles from my house and will not deliver to neighbor or leave package when I am not home (and I am on road 100%). Grrr...
  • 10/23/2006 - I leave voicemail to FL repair center indicating the major problem "the whine" was not fixed and even worse now.
  • 10/26/2006 - I leave another voicemail at FL repair center after getting no response.
  • 10/27/2006 - I email i-mate again and cc repair center explaining device was not fixed
  • 10/30/2006 - I finally get a response from repair center in FL and they agree to send a shipping label to me to send back device.
  • 11/1/2006 - A label is finally delivered to me (only 11 days!!)
  • 11/1/2006 - I indicate that now I have to leave the country and I don't want the device to be repaired and then mailed if I am not there to receive it.  I indicate I will have to wait until I get back to send the device.  In hindsight, this is incredibly dumb of me.
  • 11/20/2006 - I get back to the country and mail the device back to be repaired
  • 12/11/2006 - I receive notice that parts for my phone are on back order and will be in next week.  These are required for repair. Notice it was 3 weeks just to tell me this.
  • 12/11/2006 - I respond that I understand - I am so nice and patient.
  • 12/20/2006 - I inquire about the status of the phone that I have mailed in for repair the 2nd time one month ago.
  • 12/26/2006 - I receive notice they are still waiting on parts.  So much for the 1 week until parts get there.
  • 1/4/2007 - I ask about status again
  • 1/11/2007 - I ask yet again after no response for a week.  This time I cc i-mate support.
  • 1/11/2007 - i-mate responds (not the repair center) asking for the same information they asked for on 9/6/2006
  • 1/12/2007 - I respond yet again with the same information
  • 1/18/2007 - I ask yet again after no response from either i-mate or FL repair center.  Still waiting...

So, in recap, it has been over 4 months since I have had a working phone.  It is still in limbo at the FL repair center and no one will talk to me.  i-mate is not stepping up and taking responsiblity and just replacing the damn thing.  Moral of the story:  if you buy a $700 phone, make sure you use an AMEX or something like that so you can at least get your money back when the manufacturer holds your phone hostage for 4+ months running and under no circumstances buy an i-mate device.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Customer Appreciation Ain't What It Used to Be

*Updated: HDTVSupply is not happy with me about this post.  Read more here*

I had a bit of a snafu recently with HDTVSupply that irked me.  I had bought a component video switch from them some time ago – I wasn’t sure exactly when, but I knew it was about 2 years.  The thing is ugly as hell, but does a great job at switching video without signal (quality) loss.  I had misplaced the power supply for the switch and could not figure out what the specifications were to replace it.  I checked both the website (linked above) as well as the online manual.  The only thing is said was that it shipped with a 9V wall wart.

The problem with Video-Storm (the maker) is that they don’t include a phone number to get ahold of them.  I really wanted to get this particular power supply replaced that day, so I knew that the email they provided would take too long.  I shot them an email anyway, but decided I would just call the store I got it from and ask nicely if they could just look at the wall wart and tell me what it says.

When I called HDTVSupply the first time, I got a fairly gruff guy that informed me I should check the manual.  Not knowing that the online manual was the same as the one that was originally shipped to me, I told him I had lost it (which I have).  He told me to then check HDTVSupply’s site and they have the manual and it should have it.  He then pretty much hung up on me.  It was hard to get a word in edgewise with the guy to let him know that I had already checked the manual at the manufacturer’s site and I was just hoping he could look at one for me.  To cover my bases, I checked the manual on their site, and it was of course the same as the one on the manufacturer’s.  I then called HDTVSupply back.  What came next was pretty surprising.  As I explained to the gruff man again that I had bought the switch from them “almost two years ago”, he accused me of lying.  He told me to be honest with him and admit that I didn’t buy the switch from them and that I was looking for free support.  He claimed they hadn’t been selling it for that long and yada yada that people were always doing this because Video-Storm doesn’t publish a phone number on their site.

I will admit a moment of doubt crossed my mind, as it had been nearly two years - but I was 99% sure it was HDTVSupply that I had purchased this thing from (on eBay no less).  When I couldn’t produce an order number for him, it really seemed to confirm for him that I was lying.

Well, gruff man from HDTVSupply - bite me:

I pulled this image from my purchase history on eBay.  Hmm… It appears to me that Mar 14, 2005 is pretty close to two years ago.  All in all, it was a rather unpleasant and unhelpful experience and it really makes me think long and hard about purchasing from them again.  Even if I had been one of those ‘free support’ people, it was his moment to shine and convert me into a customer with his amazing HDTV knowledge and customer skills.  It’s really a shame.  He blew that chance when he accused me of lying.

Video-Storm did end up getting back to me with the information I needed (~3 hours later) – but it was all for naught as I ended up finding the damn wall wart about an hour later!

Sidenote: The artifacts on the screenshot above are caused because I am running Vista RC1 still and nVidia has crappy drivers for it.  As such, WinSnap corrupts the image as it tries to capture it. *Updated:  fixed the artifacts*

Friday, 15 September 2006

Amazon Unboxes Crap

It is a little known secret that my father works for Amazon, so I generally buy everything I can from them and root for them when possible.  I remember him telling me a few years back that Amazon was purchasing an amazing amount of storage capacity.  I forget the exact amount he told me, but I told him that it was pretty much a mind boggling amount of storage and that a.) he must be wrong or b.) Amazon is going to rent/sell every video known to man digitally.  I guess it was b).

As I was casually inspecting the Unbox service (before I knew the TOS), I found that I could try any TV show or rental for free the first time with the $1.99 credit.  After quick download and install of the Unbox player I struggled to find a movie I could rent for $1.99.  It turns out that they are differentially pricing rentals depending on how old or popular the movie was.  I finally settled on ‘The Matrix’ because I thought this would be a good test of a feature length film and not some crappy TV show.  The first thing I noticed was the restrictions:

Usage: US customers only. Your rental video can be stored on your PC for 30 days. Once you press play, you have 24 hours to watch the video before it expires”

I might have interpreted this incorrectly, but this seems to me to be saying you can watch it only 1 time in 24 hours.  What happens if I miss something – can I rewind?  Pretty sucky terms at any rate.

I suppose all the terms are really moot since I never got to try the thing anyway.  After selecting ‘The Matrix’ and starting the download process I walked away around 6% downloaded.  I came back several hours later to find… nothing.  The movie was gone from my media library (I never closed the Unbox client) and no trace of it could be found on my hard drive either.  There was $1.99 down the drain (though I didn’t know the extent of it yet).  Naturally, I dug around the Amazon site to determine if I just screwed it up.  I sent an email to support and told them what happened.  I suspected that the damn thing had downloaded, played, and deleted itself unattended while I was away.  Two days later, support finally got back to me that it should not have started automatically and to check to see if it was in my media library (duh, I just said it wasn’t).  After giving me the standard shindig for support, “make sure your PC is Windows XP SP2”, etc., I determined that they are either incompetent, don’t give a damn, or both.  In the meantime, I went back to ‘The Matrix’ page and figured I could click download to my computer again.  After all, my media library confirmed that I had downloaded the file, but had not yet played it…

Well… that was a big mistake.  This time, instead of prompting for CC information and allowing me to preview my order I was about to place, it just charged me another $1.99.  Annoyed, I fired off another email to support with the hypothesis that the exact same thing would happen.  This time however, I was prepared.  I went to the Amazon folder and put a deny ACL on the folder for EVERYONE to prevent them from removing files on me.  I allowed it to get to 22% downloaded and walked away.  I came back an hour or so later and *poof* it was gone again from the media library.  I have no idea if it successfully downloaded or not.  I checked my hard drive and found the 2.68 GB file however on the drive (thanks for my ACL I am sure).  I tried to play it but could not.  I just threw an error and refused to start.  It might not have been completely downloaded since the client preallocates space, but I am not sure.

The next day, Amazon was gracious enough to refund $1.99 for me (and let me know that it was extraordinary for them to do so).  So here is my recap of the cost of this rental:

  • Hours spent trying to download: 3hrs x 2 tries ea. = 6 hrs.
  • Money Spent: $3.98 (to be fair, eventually $0 out of pocket)
  • Tech Support Emails: 3
  • Useful Support Email Responses: 0
  • Number of times I watched ‘The Matrix’: 0

Summary:  Unbox is a filthy piece of crap. The content owners that are responsible for this farce as well as the programmers that made it happen should be beaten severely about head and mouth.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

The Case of the Missing Vdir

Yesterday, for most of the day, this blog site was down.  It was throwing an error that essentially said that my virtual directory was missing.  It was a bit stranger than that, but pretty close.  I have not been the biggest fan of my current provider.  I feel like their tech support is lacking and they are missing key tools that other provider's offer for self-management.  As an example, there is no way short of calling tech support to get a vdir created.  That seems pretty rudimentary to me.

After demanding more than a simple "it's working now" answer, I found out that an 'orphaned application cleaner' was run on their servers which managed to remove my vdir as an IIS application.  When I finally noticed it (of course they didn't notice), it only took about an hour to get it restored.  The part that really peeved me was the explanation from them.  It was written in the same manner as most passive voice, it's-not-my-fault prose that we have come to expect from our government.

A virtual directory for the blog folder had been created. However, it was not configured as an application in IIS.

This seems eerily similar to how the government describes casualties (note the passive voice that deflects responsibility):

3 soldiers lives were lost yesterday in a roadside explosion.

By contrast, I would have readily accepted this explanation:

We screwed the pooch.  Yesterday we ran a poorly tested application on the production servers that wiped out a number of our customer's applications.  Sorry about that, it won't happen again.

Well, that is really wishful thinking... I suppose.

Friday, 10 March 2006

How we punish our fans

How dare a fan drum up support for their favorite band!  I am sure glad this is a federal crime – they belong locked up with all the other socio-paths.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060310/music_nm/piracy_music_dc

What a disgusting story and gross abuse of our nation’s copyright laws by a few companies with vested interest.  Releasing copyrighted works before the ‘public release’ is now a federal crime with different penalties than had the content already been released.  Spare me.  Under this law, you can be locked up for whistling a copyrighted tune before the ‘public release’.  And they dare call it ‘Family Entertainment and Copyright Act’… (FECA).  I say it should be ‘For Egregious Copyright Abuse Law’ or FECAL for short.

 

Thursday, 09 March 2006

Goodbye Messenger BETA

Like other suckers, I installed the new MSN Messenger BETA 8 (why beta is in all caps I don’t know, perhaps to emphasize its inherent bugginess).  After using it for several weeks, I have given it the boot.  Why?

  • I am not a fan of 80+ MB memory footprints for I-frickin-M clients.
  • It crashes during the middle of chats constantly (yeah, I know its BETA with a capital B, but I wasn’t using fancy features here folks).
  • Waaaay too busy an interface for me.  I don’t dig adverts everywhere and anywhere and all the pop-ups and distractions are frankly just annoying.  It is not easily evident on how to turn all that crap off and I am not about to spend an hour (let alone 10 minutes) testing each and every option to figure out what it means.

I don’t like the way this beta product is leaning.  Part of the reason I used to like Messenger was because it was light, clean interface, and easy to use (contrast that to the horrible AOL client).  It had file transfer, voice and video capabilities, and the chat client worked well.  I don’t need games, winks, farts, tweaks, tickles, or whatever other stupid term is coined for annoying crap bouncing on your screen.

I am back to the older client and I will hang onto it for dear life until Messenger goes back to the basics:  Improve voice and video, file transfer, and mobile options for chat.  Stop the clutter and useless features (or at least let me not install the crap).  Enough ranting… back to work.

Tuesday, 01 November 2005

A solution for loquacious co-workers

I subscribe to some internal mailing lists at work.  Oftentimes they are informative, sometimes amusings, but lately they have just become increasingly annoying.  I think I finally found the solution.  Essentially, it is a Do-Not-Disturb sign on the inane blatherings of a few mildly annoying individuals.

I am going to give it a shot as soon as Omar releases it to see how it works.  Right away I can think of another feature I would like it to have:

  • I want the ability to mark messages not only by thread, but by individual.  Certain individuals seem to have nothing better to do than spam the mailing lists and annoy everyone.  This way the thread could be killed regardless of subject if it was originated by someone.
Unfortunately for me, most of my email access during work hours is using OWA, so this won't help me there.  At least my hours in the evening will hopefully be less painful when using the full client.

Tuesday, 04 October 2005

On how to screw your customers

Living in the wonderland known as Cleveland, I rarely get to enjoy watching the Seahawks from my native city.  As such, I decided last year to buy Directv and get the Sunday Ticket.  It was great – I could watch my Seahawks in HD almost every week and it didn’t hurt to be able to flip to some other exciting games during timeouts or the other Sunday timeslot.

Directv notified me that ‘for my convenience’ they had automatically renewed my Sunday Ticket subscription.  Now, normally I don’t like automatic renewals, but in this case I was not bothered since I was going to get it again anyway.  I assumed I would be getting the same package as last year given that it was the same price (~$200).

Everything was fine until this last Sunday when I tried to watch the Seahawks in HD and found that all my HD channels were now blocked.  Yep, they gave me the HD channels for the first few weeks, then pulled the rug from under me.  I called to ask why I didn’t have the HD anymore and the informed me that it was only for the next tier called ‘SuperFan’.  The asking price?  Another $100.  At first I just did not believe the CSR – I mean, why would you jack the price up 50% for what was standard last year and have the audacity to blindside everyone with this new packaging?  I mean, if you are going to auto-enroll me in something, you better damn be sure it is the same f*ing thing that I paid for the last year.  It was all the more confusing when I got the HD for a few weeks and they told me that was because they were allowing me to ‘preview’ it.

I argued with the CSR and eventually got a manager to give it to me for only $50.  Well, I find out later that that was the price that they were giving to everyone since apparently thousands of angry Sunday Ticket buyers have been flooding their lines.  Apparently, there are a lot of people that complained and got it for free.  Directv wasn’t going to let me know about this of course.  I am pretty salty about this whole affair as now they have gouged me out of another $50.  They know that once you see HD games you will never watch it in SD again.  They hook you, then screw you.  I am thoroughly disgusted with Directv at this point.

Friday, 29 July 2005

CAPTCHA gone bad

I was trying to buy a ticket from Continental today and I was interested in reading the restrictions on the ticket (crazy, I know).  For some reason, apparently this is privileged information as I was presented a CAPTCHA challenge.  You tell me:  what the hell does this say?

Captcha

 

Wednesday, 08 June 2005

TechEd Podcasts

Similar to Mr. Avery, I was not particular enamored with a bunch of people running through a session, interrupting it, and taking everyone off track.  If I was a speaker, I would have told them to bugger off, but Don Box was particularly gracious with the interruption.

 

Saturday, 14 May 2005

Apple wins trademark ruling

An interesting turn of events… I wonder how fast Apple would sue a company releasing “AppleOS”?

http://www.appleinsider.com/article.php?id=1076

It seems to me that I recall everyone getting excited about Microsoft losing its ‘Windows’ trademark as it was too generic.  I would think both ‘Apple’ and ‘Tiger’ would qualify as well, then.

 

Wednesday, 20 April 2005

DVD Censorship Bill Approved

In mixed news, the House passed a bill authorizing technology makers to permit skipping of objectionable material on DVDs.  For instance, a built-in filter on your DVD player would allow you to selectively edit nudity, swearing, violence, or other objectionable content.  While I personally won’t use this technology, I firmly believe that users have the right to view DVDs on their own terms.  I absolutely hate the fact that warnings, trailers, and outright commercials are shown on DVD now and I cannot skip them without breaking the copy protection.

The bad news to this bill is that now people that camcorder a movie in a theatre are eligible for up to 3 years in prison.  Call me crazy, but if I was to actually physically steal a DVD from a store, I probably would not get that kinda time.  Is this punishment commensurate with the crime?  Have you actually seen what a camcordered theatre release looks like?  That should be punishment enough.  We already have laws for copyright protection, we don’t need more special case laws.

Friday, 15 April 2005

Busting those nasty pirates

Congratulations to the FBI for nabbing those horrible, nasty game pirates that were offering vintage and no longer available games. The worldwide market for "Duck Hunt" and "Mario Bros" has exploded in the last few months, so I am sure they were robbing Nintendo of valuable revenue.

http://www.newsday.com/news/local/wire/newyork/ny-bc-ny--piratednintendo0413apr13,0,6709023.story

In other news, federal agents actually worked on something worthwhile to the community and nabbed 10,000 suspects.

http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/washpost/20050415/ts_washpost/a53043_2005apr14

Hmm... so maybe the FBI's resources would have been better spent investigating, say, the rapists, murderers, and child molestors at large than busting 4 poor chumps dumb enough to try selling "Donkey Kong". That is just my opinion though.

Sunday, 20 March 2005

PyMusique & JHymn Offline

That was quick.  It looks like an update on Saturday by Apple has changed the way the PyMusique and JHymn communicate with the Apple iTunes store, so they are no longer working.  I would expect a game of cat & mouse here for awhile as each side fixes and then breaks the other’s work.

Pretty annoying actually – I just got a bunch of free Pepsi iTunes songs and I was hoping to put them on my PocketPC and Smartphone (not supported by Apple of course).  I guess I won’t get to play my music for now.

Friday, 18 March 2005

PyMusique Release - Unencumber your iTunes music

Buy DRM free music from Apple's iTunes store. I fully expect someone to be sued shortly:

http://fuware.nanocrew.net.nyud.net:8090/pymusique/

Just remember: You bought it. It's your music. Don't let the RIAA dictate what devices or uses you can or cannot use.

Wednesday, 16 March 2005

The Tyranny of DRM

Boing Boing posted an interesting piece on Apple's latest manuever to screw its customers (probably at the request of the sue-happy RIAA pigs). Imagine if you purchased a digital camera; It would be reasonable for it to operate as it was spec'd on the day you purchased it. However, suppose later the manufacturer decides that you can only take 7 pictures a week and forces the camera to behave as such when you connect to download your pictures or upgrade the firmware to fix the inevitable bugs. Who knows, you might be taking pictures of copyrighted objects, right?

Clearly, it is wrong and unenforceable to change the terms of contract after you have purchased a good - whether it be a physical good, service, or piece of IP.

Time to bust out JHymn and reclaim your music.

Tuesday, 15 March 2005

What ever happened to the raw sockets debate?

I seem to remember sometime back right before XP was released that a certain someone was on the pulpit and screaming to the masses about the dangers of 'raw' sockets. It's been something like 4 years now and to my knowledge no major internet meltdown has occurred. I wonder if/when the original author will update his site with a humble, "ok, I did not know what I was talking about".

If you don't know who I am talking about, I would encourage you to visit the parody site:

http://kumite.com/rsnbrgr/rob/grcspoof/

And then the visit to original site to see the unique writing style (or 'hype'):

http://www.grc.com/dos/intro.htm

Thursday, 10 March 2005

Frank Gehry and totally impractical designs

Why does everyone like Frank Gehry's work? Personally, being from Seattle, I thought the Experience Music Project (EMP) building was just ok. I went to the place only once and it was very unwelcoming with concrete floors and spartan utility. Then, when I came to Cleveland my Alma Mater decided to get a Frank Gehry designed business school. I spent a lot of time in this building taking classes and I can easily say that as interesting as the outside looks - it is completely impractical and crap-tacular in the inside. This is a business school - and it is wall to wall concrete and spartan design again. There are no rugs, there are no areas where students can congregate and mingle. There is a creepy feeling of a penal institution and a thoughts that Frank might actually have been drunk when he designed the building:

  • To Navigate the entire 3rd floor, you would have to get in an elevator from the 3rd, bring it back down to the 1st, get out and walk the length of the building and then get in another bank of elevators to go back up to the 3rd floor. I mean, why would anyone think that a 3rd floor should be continuous? Let me tell you the joy of trying to find room 311A - you can see it, but you can can't get to it.
  • Bathrooms, or more precisely the lack thereof. So, there are like 2 bathrooms that are accessible to most people in the building and only 1 of them has more than 1 toilet. Brilliant! I am sure everyone enjoys queuing up outside the bathroom like a bunch of girls at a downtown nightclub.
  • To be a "modern" classroom, we should have huge server racks installed into each lecture hall. I mean, listening to the roar of what sounds like angry custodians armed with Dustbusters is conducive to concentration for every student.
  • Snow... news flash, it snows in Cleveland occasionally. Designing a roof that tends to hold snow only long enough to gain critical mass and send an icy wall of white death from above is generally not in the public's best interest. I loved seeing the avalanches cascade down the side of the building in a low rumble reverberating inside. Good times... Good times.
  • Cold... so like, every now and then (5 out of 12 months) it is friggin freezing in Cleveland. Concrete is a fantastic choice of building materials - if you want a swimming pool. Yes, the freezing temperatures and lack of drains in the building caused major flooding when the not-so-properly insulated pipes burst and wiped out much of the basement level in the building... not once, but at least 2 (maybe 3) times. I got a kick out of dozens and dozens of computers up on the 1st floor drying out with signs on the "DO NOT PLUG IN!!". Great place for the computer lab...
It came as no shock to me to see this story the other day highlighting his other absurdity down in CA. Good grief, part of good design is an understanding of where it will be used. Frank needs to quit focusing on trying to be 'unique' (or weird) and get back to the basics - like creating a building that is actually useful for something other than providing lots of neat places to hide from bullets.