Archive for April 2009

I Fired Vonage

April 29, 2009

Yup finally got it done. I tried doing it on-line (like the goberment does) but they insist they need users to call in on a voice line. Presumably to verify orally that you are indeed who you say you are by providing a pin number. Never mind that you can go on line and change your pin number. I guess they are not that bright. Actually they are. They want to give you a hard time about cancelling. Probably because they are getting an abundance of cancellations now that you can get VOIP unlimited service from magicjack for about $43 a YEAR.

Okay, so I finally got to talk to customer service after (once more) suffering through their spanish language garbage. I was transfered to their accounts modification operator while being subject to some very loud and annoying music that had me holding the phone away from my ear to protect my hearing.

I finally got to talk to a real person with a heavy accent (probably located somewhere in the third world). First thing they wanted to know was why I was not calling from the Vonage phone. Then they wanted to know my phone number so they could call me back in case we got disconnected. Evidently these people are used to talking to fools and asking stupid questions.

I gave them my pin number to verify my identity and that seemed to open a new pandoras box of questions. How did I like the Vonage service? was the first question.

I was speechless for a few seconds. Then informed them this was not a social or courtesy call. I was calling to close the account and discontinue the Vonage service. More questions. Finally I got through to them by repeating the reason for my call, insisting they close my account effective right now, not bother me anymore with insane questions, and goodby.

I guess that finally worked because my vonage telephone is not working anymore.

They seem to make a big deal about ‘disconnecting’ when there is nothing to disconnect. I already did all the disconnecting needed by removing the phone cord from the modem. That is it. It is now disconnected. If it is a big deal for them to discontinue the service, that is their problem and I am not helping them solve it.

The modem? That is not an issue. I paid dearly for that thing when the service was started and I plan to keep it for now. Maybe put it on ebay later. Why keep it? Because I can run a router behind a router with it.

A word to the wise: When dealing with customers, be professional, attentive, and courteous. Don’t ask questions that are not appropriate. Don’t try to play good cop, bad cop. Don’t try to personalize what should be a business conversation. It is a very bad idea to try a hard sell on a person who is in the process of firing you. Don’t press your luck and respect people who call you. Also, if you need to put someone on hold, make sure they are not fed some annoying audio crap that will make them irritable and angry for the next person they talk to. A simple announcement verifying they are on hold and not disconnected is the way to handle that. No music, no sales pitch, no nonsense.

Lastly, this is not the first company that has angered me with their sloppy, unprofessional, arrogant ways. Makes me wonder if I am expecting too much. No, no way, these fools are expecting too much from their customers. Expectations that will never be filled as customers find alternate ways of accomplishing the same service. Thank God for free enterprise and open markets.

Oh, and for those interested in how I liked the Vonage service, it was fine for many months but recently it began to cut out during a phone call. Not a disconnect but a loss of audio like you get with a cellphone at times. Very annoying. The common diagnosis of this condition is that the bandwidth of the internet connection is causing the problem. (My guess is that it is not the bandwidth of the users ISP but the bandwidth that Vonage is providing. Less bandwidth, less cost.) Not enough bandwidth. Well, that might be a problem for Vonage but it is not a problem for the magicjack. Magicjack was loud and clear without interruptions running on the same internet connection as the Vonage device at the same time while the same internet connection was delivering flawless video to two TV set boxes at the same time. Bandwidth?, no, Bullshit! Evidently the highly qualified technicians vonage claims to employ can’t tell the difference.

Would I go with Vonage again? Sure would! At the time the MagicJack was not available and I really needed to fire ATT to prevent future improper billing, but that is another story.

The reason we went with the magicjack was purely economic. You don’t need a degree to understand that $43 a year for VOIP phone service is better than $333 a year with Vonage or $785 a year with ATT (landline).

So, basically we are getting cable TV, internet, and phone, for about $60 a month now. I know you can bundle all three together with other providers and save more but the fine print puts you at risk. We are not falling for anymore teaser rates for six to twelve months and then WHAMMO! We also don’t need to be giving out our credit card number to folk of questionable trustworthiness.

I would definately not return to vonage for service of any kind. I suspect they are dishonest if not outright crooked. I also predict they will not be in the VOIP industry in another year or two. Same goes for Comcast ( who is no longer in business in this area ) and Dish Network, but those are another story.

Mail-In Rebates

April 28, 2009

The next time you are offered a mail-in rebate, try this.

Ask the person selling you the item for a 30 day interest free loan so you can pay for the item. Then promise to re-pay the loan as soon as you get the rebate.

Not surprisingly he is going to think you are nuts.

At that point you inform him that he just made the same request of you when he offered you the mail-in rebate. So if he did not think that was odd why would he think you are nuts now?

Rebates are nothing more than interest free loans to the vendor. They may or not be repaid and they are a sure indication that his stuff is overpriced. Vendors don’t offer rebates on stuff that is selling.

Look around. Do some shopping. Look for instant rebates (also known as discounts).

Rewards

April 28, 2009

Used to be that a reward was something awarded to someone who did something to benefit the rewarder. I guess that definition still holds when banks reward you for allowing them to overcharge you for services that may eventually get you into financial trouble.

Many years ago you could negotiate price on an item if you paid cash. I think it was called cash and carry. You paid in cash and carried the item out of the store (no shipping and handling charges). This was possible because it was common knowledge that using a bank card involved a fee charged by the bank. The customer never saw the charge directly. It was paid by the store owner who passed the charge onto the customer by adding it to the cost of the item.

It only seemed fair that if a person had cash he should not be charged with the costs incurred by the store owner for check verification and bank charges on credit cards.

That was a long time ago when people actually cared about being fair. That does not hold up today. So to make you feel like you are not being totally screwed banks offer you a ‘rewards’ program when using their bank cards.

Here is an example of how it works. The bank charges the vendor 5 to 10 percent on bank card transactions. The vendor passes those charges back to his customers by adding them to the cost of the product. The bank then ‘rebates’ 1 or 2 percent of what they charge the vendor to the customer and call it a reward.

The bottom line is that the customer gets screwed everytime but does not realize it because he is completely at odds about getting a ‘reward’.

Now the guy who is paying in cash is really getting hosed. If this is you, you might try negotiating the selling price if you pay cash. (Does not work at McDonalds. Need to reserve this tactic to big ticket items.)

Jumpy Mouse

April 28, 2009

I have a newer Dell computer that has been having jumpy curser problems. You drag the mouse, the curser follows, then stops, then jumps to the new location. Very annoying.

I tried a new USB mouse, plugged it in to a front panel USB port. The previous mouse had been plugged into a rear apron USB port next to the USB keyboard. Now the curser no longer jumps, but since I also did an update to XP, I cannot be sure what action was the magic bullet and I don’t have time to fool with it now to find out.

So, if you have a Dell, a jumpy curser, and a USB mouse, do one or all of those remedies listed above and let me know which one did the trick.

New Hard Drive

April 23, 2009

About the only thing birthdays are good for is to receive birthday presents, eat birthday cakes, and retrieve birthday cards from the mailbox.

This birthday I got a 500 gig hard drive. A full 500 giglebytes that I divided into two partitions of 250 gig each. That is so I can back up each partition with a 250 gig drive. 250 gig drives are cheaper than 500 gig drives, faster too. Although the 500 gig was not all that expensive or slow. Only $60 at Newegg and that includes shipping. I still recall paying $300 for my very first 10meg hard drive for my PC XT clone. An extremely painful memory. Just think, 1000meg is 1gig and this new drive has 500 x 1000meg or 500,000meg. 60/500000=.00012 dollars per meg or .0012 dollars per 10meg. By todays measure that $300 10meg drive would cost .12 cents today. Hey! that is just about what it is worth!

Well, now I can store all of my electronics and radio stuff on-line, on the hard drive, including 20 years of CQ, QST, and 73 magazine. All that and with full backup so that I don’t have to worry about data loss. All that and no need to connect that particular computer to the internet. No viruses or buggy virus elimination software for me.

And the other partition can hold over 100 movies!

Life is good again.

Subscribers

April 23, 2009

WordPress has the ability to allow readers to subscribe and become users. Users can post comments and do other things the likes of which I don’t remember. I believe that is a default feature that activates automatically when WordPress is first installed.

Well, exactly what a user can do is not important because the subscriber function of this blog has been disabled.

It was disabled because persons of unknown origin and intent were subscribing anonymously. At least that is what it looked like to me.

I did not set this up to be subscribed to. This is a log of my interests and experiences. If you want to log your interests and experiences start your own blog.

I guess you might say that I don’t care what you think and also don’t care about what you think about what I think. This blog is mine and you can’t have it. Go play in your own sandbox.

Now if you are a friend or acquaintance, someone I know and can identify, and you want to be a subscriber, send me an email request and I will add you to the user group.

Magic Jack

April 23, 2009

This is an Andy Rooney like rant about telephone service.

Well, we finally got a MagicJack and got it working. It helps to have a computer that works and has an active connection to the internet. After fooling with an improperly configured computer for a day we discovered that the installation, registration, and email verification process only takes a few minutes. The instructions ask you to allow a couple of hours.

We bought our MagicJack locally. Saved about 7 bucks shipping and handling. The local sales guy said we could change the telephone number. MagicJack says you can’t do that yet. Maybe later. Later is too late. Once I nuke my Vonage connection my old number will be history and I am not interested in paying someone to retrieve it. Moral, read the fine print, don’t listen to the sales guys, they are not going to tell you the downsides and most likely will embellish the upsides or create upsides that don’t exist.

We were fine with Vonage, sort of. We opted for the Vonage 15 dollar a month plan. A few months after that they bumped the fee up by three bucks. Last month the charge with taxes included was around 23 dollars. Not sure what they hope to gain by not including taxes in the service charge when they sell the service. Some would consider that a scam and false advertising. The only thing the consumer is going to care about is total cost. We all know it sounds better to claim the service only costs 15 dollars a month, but when you end up paying 23 instead of 15 dollars you might have made a decision not to participate before you found out that the 15 dollar fee was ficticious.

Oh well, no real harm done. All things considered we would rather pay $43 dollars for a YEAR of phone service including call waiting, caller ID, voice mail, unlimited local and domestic long distance service, than pay an initial 80 some bucks to get started and then 23 a month forever.

The basic charge for Vonage is currently 17 dollars with 3 of that going for Vonage greed. Lets see that is 3 dollars every month or 36 dollars a year because Vonage thinks they are worth that. But wait, that is not all, I also get to pay some do nothing tax collector 6 dollars a month for the priveledge of even having a telephone connection. Not sure why the goberment has the right to screw me out of money for a service they have nothing to do with. That is another 72 dollars a year I get to pay for taxes that will never do me any good. So, by dumping Vonage I get to save 108 dollars a year which I was being charged for just being here. That is not quite as good as what I saved by dumping ATT in favor of Vonage but it is another step in the right direction. Not just that, but I feel really good about not paying those taxes and letting Vonage know I don’t care for service charge increases. Who do they think they are, the cable company?

Another downside to Vonage that is neatly avoided by magicjack is the credit card number thing. I just don’t feel comfortable with some vendor having access to my credit card number to charge my account whenever they see fit. Yes, we can watch the charges and correct those which are unjustified, we can also use a debit card, but we have better things to do than babysit an account that is open to abuse. If they don’t have the account number they can’t charge to it and we don’t need to keep an eye on it. Keep it simple and you have more time to enjoy life instead of agonizing over some moron possibly charging you for things you don’t want or need.

As I recall that is the real reason we dumped the ATT land line. They were charging us for caller ID that we did not want. They removed the charge when we complained, but reapplied it the next month. I guess ATT has been around long enough to begin suffering from alzhiemers but I don’t have to suffer with them. We just could not get them to understand the concept that they were working for us, not the other way around. Thanks to Vonage we were able to fire ATT.

MagicJack is a one time cash transaction. Covers you for one year. Not sure what happens after that. Guess I will have to renew the service and it will most likely cost more than 20 bucks. Oh well, by then we will probably be looking at magicjack two, or magicjack three, or superjack one. MagicJack is too large a big deal moneymaker not to have others compete for the profits. Over time there will be more and more people looking for phone service of this kind. Especially if ATT keeps making their customers mad. Time will tell. Time also informs me that paying in advance for anything more than a year out is foolishness.

MagicJack advertized a purchase price of $39 for the jack and one year of phone service. That does not include shipping or tax. If you can find a local vendor and a way of getting there, it will cost you $43. The extra bucks are tax, sales tax. You will also be given the opportunity to buy into some sort of super service agreement to cover your magic jack for the next ten years. I believe that is another 5 dollar charge. Sucker bait. I would be very surprized if the magic jack was still around after one year without some sort of change. Then all that ten year service thingy gets you is someone telling you that your magic jack is obsolete, no longer supported because it has run out of magic. No thanks.

911 is a big deal, evidently. If you use non-landline phone services the 911 central office cannot be sure of your location. I can see that is a big deal if you can’t tell them where you are and still need help. I figure if you can’t talk to them you might not even be able to dial 911 in the first place. It is my belief that automatic location identification is more of a benefit to the 911 service than the caller. Allows the 911 folk to hire people who don’t speak english or even employ automated answering ‘services’. I sort of like the idea that people who I call don’t necessarily know where I live until I tell them. Keeps you from getting annoyed for no reason.

So now we are testing the magicjack. Not sure how good the test is going to be. No one has our new number. We don’t want to give it out until we are sure we want to keep the magicjack. Sort of like which came first, the chicken or the egg.

Our Vonage connection has started giving us problems. Nothing serious. Just some dropouts during a phone call. Evidently the dropouts were only noticed at our end. The party on the other end never noticed any problems. So far the magicjack has not introduced us to any dropouts and the audio quality is very good.

Perhaps at the end of this month we can do a final dropout to Vonage.

Have we learned anything? Lets see.
ATT land lines are undesireable
Vonage is better but not good enough
MagicJack seems to be the way to go.
Trust but verify and don’t believe sales hype.

Finally, If I have a non-telephone associated internet connection and email capability, why do I need a telephone service? Well, for $43 I have bought myself another year to find an answer to that question.

The Game of Life

April 21, 2009

I read somewhere that in the game of life the person with the most toys at the time of death wins the game.

I believe that is a very short sighted outlook. My definition of a winning position is to be the one with the most toys that are still working when the end comes.

Recently one of my ‘toys’ broke. Several years ago I became the owner of a lawnmower that propelled itself. You did not need to push it. Just guide it and let it pull you along.

At the start of this season it required pushing. Lots of pushing. After half an hour of pushing I was all pushed out. This thing needed to be repaired or replace.

Replace was out of the question. New lawnmowers are now priced at what I would consider reasonable for a good used car. Guess I am still living in the 60’s. That is the 1960’s.

Repair was going to require parts. The main problem was that the drive bushing on the vertical shaft run by a pulley and belt from the main engine shaft was worn out. That and the fact that the worm drive gears were caked full with hardened grease was what was keeping the drive from driving.

Cleaning the gears was not all that much of a problem. Finding parts was another story. There are lots of places on the internet that offer parts for lawnmowers of all kinds including the one I have. All those places are completely worthless. Prices are outreagous, shipping is unreasonable, parts selection is non-existent. After cruising the internet for half an hour I was pretty well certain that I would not be able to find the part I needed.

Well, it turns out that I did not need to buy a new part after all. The drive gears are housed in a casting that bolts together. The casting is in two parts, upper and lower. The shaft that drives the wheels runs horizontally. The shaft that drives the horizontal shaft runs vertically. The two shafts combine in the casting and are supported by bushings. Two bushings for the horizontal shaft and one for the vertical shaft. The three bushings are identical! So, the horizontal shaft was polished so that one of the still good bushings could be removed. The good bushing was used to support the vertical shaft. The worn out bushing from the vertical shaft was used to support one side of the horizontal shaft. A worn out bushing on the horizontal shaft did not seem to bother the function of the shaft.

After a few choice words a few beers in celebration and a sharpening of the blade, I am again in business with a functioning lawn mower. It cuts, it mulches, and I don’t have to push it.

MailOrder

April 20, 2009

Purchase by mail is generally an accepted practice for items not conveniently available locally, but there may be other reasons to prefer this way of doing business.

Economy and convenience are not normally considerations. Mail order is going to cost as much as buying locally in most cases, but the costs may differ as to where the charges go. Local purchase is going to have sales tax added. Mail order, if out of state, will not have sales tax but it will have shipping and maybe handling charges.

Mail order is easier to shop if you have an internet connection and computer. Instead of calling on the phone or driving around from store to store you search for vendors on the internet. This allows you to do some effective comparison shopping very quickly. This can also divert you from your search. Some sites will reply to whatever you enter into a search engine and when you get there you find out that they have nothing of interest. Blacklist them and tell your friends. Fool me once and you get blacklisted. Sometimes comparison shopping services work but more often they just try to sell you stuff at high prices.

Most of the computer stuff we buy is mail order because of pricing. Not sure why but the local computer parts emporiums are nearly always 10 to 20 percent higher in price than what we can find on-line. True, you don’t have to pay shipping locally but you do have to pay sales tax and at close to 10 percent now that comes to 100 dollars on a 1000 dollar purchase. On big ticket items like that shipping is usually less than the sales tax you are likely to incur. So it is not difficult at all to go mail order when the mail order price for the item is also lower. Makes you want to mail order your next automobile purchase.

Not all mail order places are good places to shop. If the prices are TOO good check around to see why.
Product that is refurbished, reissued, or factory restored, is most likely junk. White box, open box, missing software and instructions, or factory direct warnings are reasons not to buy. Finally, check their return policy. An ‘all sales final’ announcement is a deal breaker. Return for store credit may also be a deal breaker. Store credit is where they allow you to purchase something of equal value but do not give you a refund. You have to decide if you want to take another chance after the first attempt ended in failure.

We find that there is absolutely no good reason to continue doing business with a vendor that disappoints. There are just too many other vendors with good reputations to waste time on a stinker.

Also beware of scams like free shipping, third party offers of 10 percent off your next purchase, or announcements of prizes. These usually come at check-out. If you find them trying these tricks, check-out without paying and blacklist the vendor.

While there is no such thing as ‘free shipping’, there may be no additional charges on certain items for shipping. All this does is promote sales and all they are telling you is they will not charge your twice for shipping as the shipping charges are already included in the sales price.

The worst thing about mail order is the wait. Tracking services just aggravate the wait. They give you something to do while you wait and how do you know that you are not wasting your time getting false updates? You can be pretty sure that the updates will not include notes like, ‘Your package has not been shipped yet because we are lazy bastards and already have your money, maybe tomorrow.’

If you can get stuff shipped USPS do so, but don’t pay extra for tracking, arrival verification, or insurance. If the item is worth more than 100 dollars yo might consider insurance. The USPS has never lost any of our stuff in over 30 years and we are told that it is next to impossible to get satisfaction from an insurance claim to the USPS. Also, their tracking is unhelpful and annoying. They tell you your package has been shipped. Well you already know that since you saw it placed in the shipping bin. Then they tell you that your package has arrived. You also know that because you have already opened it and are using the product.

USPS charges are going up all the time and there will be a point where those charges are no longer justified. That will happen when FedX or UPS charges are lower. Keep an eye on things and act accordingly.

Shipping damage? The only shipping damage we have incurred in over 30 years of very active mail order shopping was from a seller on ebay. UPS damaged an improperly packaged radio sent out by someone who had no business being involved in shipping things. The fact that UPS even excepted the obviously poorly packaged radio for shipment is an indictment of UPS. They don’t care either.

We have never received damaged goods from a real vendor.

NTFS

April 6, 2009

What does NTFS stand for? Maybe ‘Not This Friggin System’ Why should it matter what it stands for? All that matters to users is what it does? It allows your computer to have hard drive volumes larger than 32 gig and files larger than 4 gig. Those are the FAT-32 limitations. Guess maybe FAT-32 is not so fat after all.

If you are still using a commodore 64 or a vic-20, you may not even know what a giglebyte is, or care. Why should you? But if you are trying to store and move large video files, you need hard drive volumes larger than 32 gig capable of handling and storing files larger than 4 gig. This is where NTFS becomes necessary in the PC world. NTFS will handle our 14 to 20 gig video files

The video capture card in our PC regularly records up to 12 hours of programs at a time. When recording a program, it is easier to just turn on record ahead of time and not have to worry with a start/stop timer and time accuracy. We edit out commercials later anyway and we can edit out unwanted programming at the same time. (No, we don’t have a TIVO or real PVR and have no plans to upgrade our equipment. We would probably still be trying to use a commodore or vic-20 if P4 PCs were not so inexpensive.)

We also have an Apple iBook. It is the ‘apple’ of our eye. Neatest little notebook ever made. It can do everything and more that our desktop PC can do. It can even access the internet, magically, without using wires! The only problem it has is hard drive space. That 20 gig is just about used up.

No problem. We have lots of storage on an external firewire drive. Trouble is that drive is NTFS so we can store video files on it. Stock Apples don’t do NTFS. At least the iBook we have does not normally do NTFS.

Well, it does now and all is well in our computer world.

Yesterday we installed macfuse which allowed us to install NTFS-3G. Those two programs allow the iBook to happily read and write to the NTFS files system.