Sunday, December 31, 2006

Best Buy Calls 911 On Customer Asking For Refund

Best Buy calls 911 after Consumerist reader RJH asks for a refund on a nonworking Tony Bennet CD.

Sooooo RJH buys the CD and goes to his car to play it. He gets "Disk read error" three times. RJH walks back in with his three minute old album and receipt and asks for a refund.

The clerk tells him there's state and federal laws against refunding money. Our guy calls him a fool.

Manager comes and says the guy can have a substitute disk or leave, or else the manager will have him arrested for trespassing.

Guy laughs.

Manager calls 911...

RJH writes:

    "I was out shopping with my daughter, Z and her brother yesterday, trying to use those dreaded gift cards, the one of interest was from Best Buy.

    While they are looking for music, I see the new Tony Bennett CD, kind of a Duets and I decide to spring for the fifteen bucks.

    We get to the car and I pop it in and see "Bad Disk" on my player. I tried unsuccessfully three times to get it to work, but alas, it must have been a bad disk. So I walk back into the store with my three minute old receipt and show it to the door guard who shows me to the return line. Now I have owned this thing for three minutes and I just want to swap it out. It is three days after xmas and I really do not want to go through the entire return process so when I finally get to the front of the line; the customer service trainer is waiting on me. I tell him, forget it, just give me my money back, it is a bad disk.

    He tells me there are state and federal laws against them refunding my money at which I literally laugh out loud. I said there are no such laws. He claimed there were and I said, if you believe that you are a fool. Then I asked to see a copy of the law at which point the "manager" showed up. He said that he would show me the law it was right out the front door and If I did not leave, they would have me arrested for trespassing. At this point the manager says I can have another disk or be arrested for trespassing. I asked again to check the CD, it was a bad CD.

    I am thinking this is a riot, let's just see where this goes.

    Sure enough, he calls 911 for a trespasser in his store.

    I am literally laughing out loud. I go back to the car where the kids are and explain that I will be a few more minutes. I get my phone and call my wife and tell her what is going on.

    Then I call corporate in MN. I explain what is going on and the "senior customer consultant" tell me to please hold after he agrees that it is an out of control situation. The first question that corporate asked me was if they actually checked the CD to see if it was bad. I told him that they did not check it in spite of my requests.

    About this time the manager comes to me and says that it looks like the cops ain't coming so he will give me the money back.

    Now the cops show up, (three officers in two cars!) I have the customer service people refunding my money, the three cops looking for me, and me on hold with corporate.

    I get my money then approach the cops and explain my side of the story. They just shake their head. I apologize for the store manager wasting their resources. I was kind of hoping that they would arrest me.

    I finally get the guy from corporate back on the line and he commits to calling me tomorrow with resolution.

    Turns out it wasn't a call from him I got today, the store manager called. I went over the details with her and after what seems like a thirty minute discussion she admitted there is not a federal or state law against a store refunding a customer for a defective product. She then asked what it would take to make it right, I told her to think about it and call me back. She did call back later today and offered me a twenty five dollar gift card. I asked her to donate it to Salvation Army and guess what, they can't do that either."

Pathetic. Kudos to RJH for standing up to these Best Buy mendicants. They didn't count on a customer calling their bluff. Doubt RJH will be purchasing many Tony Bennet CDs from them again.

What this means for your weekend: If you believe a store is wrong, stand up for yourself.

Meet their threats with complete confidence.

Be like Violent Acres, who, on the advice of her Marine father, kicked a bully in the nuts with her Cabbage Patch rollerskates and yelled while standing over his body, "I'LL EAT YOUR EYES! I'LL EAT ALL OF YOUR EYES!"

See you in 2007.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Introductory DSL Prices on the Rise... because they can

Industry analyst Dave Burstein takes a peek at how consistently high cable broadband prices have allowed the major phone companies to raise their introductory DSL prices of late. As BroadbandReports recently noted, Verizon bumped the price of their $15 768kbps DSL tier to $20, and Burstein claims AT&T's website reflects a recent price-hike as well. "Compare those rates to France, where twice the speed, 60 channels of TV, and free international calls have settled at about 30 euro, or $40," laments Burstein.

That means customers who want reasonably priced service had best get on the stick and order DSL service soon. Otherwise they may find themselves facing price parity between DSL and cable modem service instead of enjoying the steep discounts we have been getting for the past year or so.

Customers can check pricing and availability using Anyion's DSL & Cable Modem Availability website.

Monday, December 04, 2006

5 years later, WTC mail keeps coming

NEW YORK - It's the kind of holiday mail that might have been tossed aside, discarded like any other piece of junk mail: a special offer for a facial at a local spa.

Only the address on the letter no longer exists. And the woman the letter is addressed to died more than five years ago in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Hundreds of pieces of mail destined for the former trade center still arrive every day at a post office facing ground zero — the relics of the unfinished lives of Sept. 11 victims.

Telephone bills, insurance statements, wine club announcements, college alumni newsletters, even government checks populate the bundles of mail. Each bears the ZIP code once reserved exclusively for the twin towers: 10048.

"I guess sooner or later they'll realize the towers aren't back up," said letter carrier Seprina Jones-Sims, who handles the trade center mail. "I don't know when."

Some of the nation's most recognizable companies and organizations, from retailers to research hospitals, are among those sending the mail. Much of it seems to result from businesses not updating their bulk mailing lists, said U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman Pat McGovern.

The postal service declined to identify the senders and recipients of the letters according to policy. Several companies formerly housed in the towers also declined comment.

The trade center mail meets varied fates once it arrives at the Church Street station.

A handful of companies pay for a service that forces the post office to hold the mail until a messenger picks it up. The rest of the mail travels various routes. Some will be returned to the sender, some will be forwarded to the company's current address and some will be sent to a Brooklyn recycling firm to be destroyed.

That the Postal Service is even forwarding mail from a nonexistent address five years later is rare. "Normally we'd only forward mail for a year, but we're making an exception here," McGovern said.

The trade center's mail used to travel from the Church Street post office and up through the towers. It would start on the ground tucked in the letter carrier's bag and continue up higher and higher — to the 68th floor, the 89th floor, the 104th floor.

The morning's mail never made it through the flames and smoke on Sept. 11, 2001. It stayed put with the letter carriers, who silently observed the chaos that unfurled outside the post office.

Flying debris blew out most of its windows. After a three-year restoration, its doors officially reopened in August 2004.

Rafael Feliciano delivered mail to floors 78 through 100 of the south tower for three years. He watched the tower collapse on television from a bar several blocks away with a co-worker.

"He turned to me and said, 'You just lost your route,'" Feliciano recalled. When the dust cleared, he spent weeks identifying office workers who came to pick up their mail, searching for familiar faces to see if they had survived.

Mail addressed to people who were killed was marked as deceased right away, he said. But it kept coming.

"It's been five years later. How many people don't know the towers are gone?" he said.

Jones, 39, took over the trade center mail after Feliciano — too shaken to enter tall buildings any longer — left his route to become a driver. She gets to work at 5 a.m. The mail is carefully divided among white plastic trays labeled by company name.

But the Church Street post office — built in 1935 and now on the National Register of Historic Places — is no longer the bustling hub it was when it stood just steps away from the city's tallest buildings.

Between 2001 and 2002, the total weekly volume dropped from 1.2 million pieces to just 485,000. It has risen slightly in the years since.

The neighborhood is slowly awakening, attracting more and more residents and businesses after the exodus that occurred five years ago. The post office's marble floors are newly polished and the building is brimming with employees. When they gaze out the long bay windows overlooking ground zero, they see nothing but blue sky.

"You start flashing back to that day," Feliciano said. "That's why I got off the routes. It's like a movie that plays over and over in your head."

Friday, December 01, 2006

100 million free 411 calls = providers nightmare

Jingle’s free 411 service has announced that users have now placed over 100 million 411 calls.

Jingle isn’t creating a new market - they are destroying an entrenched, $8 billion market with an ad supported, free product. Every call processed by their system is $1 to $1.50 that won't end up in a greedy telephone provider's pocket.

Their profit per call is minimal... but in volume it has potential. And the biggest benefit is it encourages people to continue using their phone (especially cell phones) to get directory assistance. Jingle's call automation techniques make their costs to provide the service much more sustainable than traditional directory assistance models.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Staples shafts customers, loses my business

Yesterday I ordered a Brother MFC-5440CN from Staples in their Monday sale. It was late in the afternoon - well after the crush of Monday morning traffic. The unit was priced at $49.95. A good deal.

Well, today I get a form email from Staples:
Dear Valued Staples Customer:

Item: PRINTER,MFC-5440CN qty 1

Due to high demand for this item, our stock has been depleted. Please note that you were not billed for it. It cannot be backordered or reordered and no substitute is offered.
How annoying. I guess the holiday shafting has begun. The annoying part is that before I could order it, I had to put my zip code in so they could "verify item availability". Guess their ERP system sucks major.

There's a new commandment in my operating instructions now. It says "Thou shalt not shop at Staples." Too bad for them... I've only spent $12,000 on office supplies this quarter with them. I'll be sending my Staples Account Rep the URL to this post.

Merry Christmas Cindy! Let fulfillment know that 3 strikes and they're out. Told you that upfront.

Good thing CostCo called yesterday to ask if it would "offend me" if they increased the size our business credit line.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Wilson, NC Residents to Get High(speed) Fiber Diet

'Fiber To The Curb' Is Coming: City Of Wilson To Make Fiber Optic Network Access Available To All

The Wilson, North Carolina, City Council has voted to approve a $26 million, 30-mile fiber to the home network that will serve area residents with the triple play. "If we are to compete in this global society, we’ve got to have the infrastructure that’s necessary to do so," says assistant city manager Alice Freeman. "This fiber is as critical today as electricity was in the late 1800s," she says, adding that "this is economic development pure and simple ... We are just trying to give our citizens and businesses what they need to compete." The existing network is being used in firefighter training.

Friday, November 10, 2006


Like Cornered Rats, GOP Losers More Dangerous Than Ever

NEW YORK--"My fellow Americans," assured incoming president Gerald Ford hours after the Watergate scandals forced Richard Nixon to resign, "our long national nightmare is over."

I'm tempted, in the aftermath of the widest and most stunning electoral repudiation of Republicanism since Watergate, to mark the Democratic recapture of governorships, the House of Representatives (and probably the Senate) as the beginning of the end of Bush's fascism lite, and thus a long overdue vindication of what I've been saying about him since his December 2000 coup d'├ętat.

Back in 2001 and 2002, state-controlled media called me radical. Now, with most Americans seeing things my way, I'm mainstream. Yet I'm more scared now.

"Iraq," I wrote a week before the 2003 invasion, "will probably be Bush's Waterloo." And so it has been: Exit polls found voters more motivated by opposition to the war than any other issue. "There was general revulsion in the country, particularly among Democrats and independents, against the conduct of the war in
Iraq," said pollster John Zogby. "This was, at the grass roots, a referendum against the war and the president. For Republicans, there was significant disappointment about opportunities lost through enormous budget deficits, threats to civil liberties, a failed social agenda, and the war." Although Democrats failed to nationalize the election, Iraq succeeded: a pitiful seven percent of respondents to the latest Gallup survey still want to "stay the course."

A White House controlled by an unpopular, highly partisan lame duck, a rival party majority without enough votes in Congress to override his veto, and the early start of a highly anticipated 2008 presidential campaign add up to one likely result: gridlock. Bush's legislative and military agendas are dead. But our long national nightmare has just begun.

A Frightening New Security State

We'll be cleaning up Bush's mess long after his scheduled abdication on January 20, 2009. But the trillions of dollars in national debt he has run up and his two losing wars will drain our economy for decades to come. We've provoked a new generation of terrorists. Yet even more damaging and nearly impossible to unravel will be the threats to Americans posed by the neofascist national security apparatus the Bushists will leave behind--unless they use it to remain in power.

Shortly after 9/11 Bush began the first of a long series of power grabs that have transformed him from the leader of a country beholden to its people to an authoritarian despot. He signed a secret executive order granting himself the right to declare anyone in the world, including a U.S. citizen, an "enemy combatant"--without proof--and order him assassinated. Violating federal law and privacy rights, Bush authorized the NSA to listen to our phone calls and read our e-mail. FBI, CIA and HomeSec goons "disappeared" thousands of people into a horrible new matrix of concentration camps and secret prisons.

On October 17, 2006 Bush signed the Military Commissions Act. The new law, scarcely mentioned in the media, is breathtaking for the breadth of its attack on basic rights. Under the MCA either the president or the secretary of defense may declare you an "enemy combatant"--as usual, without proof. Under that designation you may be jailed, without the right to an attorney, for the rest of your life. You can even be tortured. Your U.S. citizenship can't protect you. And it's all "legal."

Concentration Camps

In January 2006 HomeSec awarded a $385 million contract to Kellogg, Brown and Root, the subsidiary of Halliburton Co., to build "temporary detention and processing capabilities"--internment camps--"in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."

The question, asks Progressive magazine editor Ruth Conniff, "is what is the government planning to do with mass roundups of people?" After all, Bush and other Republican leaders have spent five years calling Democrats and others who disagree with them traitors and terrorists. Following so much hateful rhetoric, you can't blame liberals for wondering whether they too are about to be declared "enemy combatants." They're not paranoid; they're just paying attention.

And Now, Martial Law

About a week ago some left-wing bloggers began circulating rumors that Bush had secretly signed something called the "John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007" that "allows the president to declare a 'public emergency' and station troops anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, in order to 'suppress public disorder.'" I couldn't find the text of the law at the time, formerly H.R. 5122, or a reliable media account, so I decided not to report on it.

I can now confirm the bloggers' account. Bush signed the JWDAA hours after the MCA, in a furtive closed-door White House ceremony. There is, buried deep down in Title V, Subtitle B, Part II, Section 525(a) of the JWDAA, a coup. The Bush Administration has quietly stolen the National Guard away from the states.

Here's the relevant section of Public Law 109-364:

"The [military] Secretary [of the Army, Navy or Air Force] concerned may order a member of a reserve component under the Secretary's jurisdiction to active duty...The training or duty ordered to be performed...may of operations or missions undertaken by the member's unit at the request of the President or Secretary of Defense."

The National Guard, used to maintain order during natural disasters and civil disturbances and the sole vehicle available under U.S. law to enforce a declaration of martial law, has previously been controlled by state governors. They have now been stripped of that control. Thanks to the JWDAA, Bush or Rumsfeld can now deploy National Guardsmen in American cities without obtaining permission from state governors.

Section 526 of the Warner Act goes further still. It states that the "Governor of a State...with the consent of the [military] Secretary concerned, may order a member of the National Guard to perform Active Guard and Reserve duty..." The key word is "may." A governor can no longer deploy the Guard in his or her state without first getting Rumsfeld's permission.

Patrick Leahy (D-VT) sounded the alarm during senatorial debate, but U.S. state-controlled media ignored him. The Warner Act, he said, "includes language that subverts solid, longstanding posse comitatus statutes that limit the military's involvement in law enforcement, thereby making it easier for the President to declare martial law...We fail our Constitution, neglecting the rights of the states, when we make it easier for the president to declare martial law and trample on local and state sovereignty."

Only one governor, Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, made a fuss over the Warner Act. A spokesman for the National Governors Association requested a wimpy "clarification" concerning what circumstances might prompt Bush to impose martial law. As far as I can determine this column marks the first time the JWDAA has been mentioned in the mainstream media.

Now the dark men who engineered America's post-9/11 police state have watched the public reject their policies. The incoming Democratic majority Congress will be able to hold hearings and launch investigations that could lead to their indictments and removal from office. John Dingell, the liberal incoming chairman of the Commerce Committee did nothing to dissuade GOP fears of "a blizzard of subpoenas": "As the Lord High Executioner said in 'The Mikado,'" Dingell recently joked, "I have a little list."

A year of crisis commences.

As ugly secrets surface, Bushists will turn desperate. Democracy has failed their grand schemes; token resignations like Rumsfeld's come too little, too late. Only tyranny can save their skins. Will the beleaguered neocons led by Cheney and Bush, cornered like rats, unleash their brand-new police state on their political opponents? Or will they tough it out and suck up the fines and prison sentences to come? The next year or two could go either way.

The nightmare is not over.

(Ted Rall is the author of the new book "Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?," an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America's next big foreign policy challenge.)

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Broadband in the Boonies

Look Ma! I made a news. Jackson West over at Web Worker Daily picked up a guide I wrote for called "Getting Internet to Your Business in the Boonies". Hopefully it will help out some of the rural entrepreneurs who are struggling to make locating in the new or growing businesses outside the major metro areas.

I personally live on one of those rural areas and love the fact that my cost of living is now 1/3 - yes, a 66% decrease - what it cost me to live in cities like Dallas and Atlanta.

Like me, many folks locating in rural areas have to pre-plan what they will be doing for broadband. It's usually not as simple as getting a phone line and ordering DSL or calling up the local cable company for a cable modem. In most cases there is no cable company anywhere near the location. And if the local central office does have DSL, you're too far out to get it. Those are the breaks that come with country living.

Are the trade-offs worth it for a techie? Absolutely! My living costs are dramatically reduced. My commute to the metro airport here is exactly the same as it was to the airport in Dallas or Atlanta. And my internet connection still works the same - it just costs a lot more (which is offset fully in my case by the decreased cost of housing). The only things I miss are nice resturants and quick access to tech toy stores like CompUSA, Best Buy, Fry's Electronics and MicroCenter. But... on the flip side, I'm now on a first name basis with the UPS, FedEx and DHL guys thanks to online shopping.

(PS... If you live in a rural area, Amazon Prime is a steal! I know I've more than gotten by money's worth on the free 2-day shipping and $3.99 overnight shipping. I can't figure out how they don't lose their shirts on it... b/c I keep ordering stuff that ways more than a pound or two and they keep shipping it to me overnight for $3.99.)


Wednesday, October 25, 2006

60 days til Christmas... What do I want?

Ok, it's that time of year again. People are asking me what I want for Christmas.

I told my parents I wanted a ThermaPen.

Other things that always interest me... let's see:
- Square faced watches. I have tiny wrists and always have to take links out though (so a nice gesture would be including a $20 bill for me to pay the jeweler to do it).
- SD card flash memory.
- Fancy food that doesn't contain dairy or eggs - i.e. no mayonnaise either. (Cheeses are usually ok though.)
- A good peppery olive oil from unexpected Mediteranian countries like Turkey.
- Gift cards to office supply stores.
- Chocolate. Not a big fan of filled chocolates though. Cherry and amaretto filled stuff is a good bet though.

I'm sure something else will strike my fancy but that's a good start.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

First Impressions with Presto Preview

Well... it's been a week on the Presto Preview - aka the HP Printing Mailbox powered by Presto. I have good news and bad news.

Bad news first: I don't have any juicy dirt to sling about the product. Darn!

Here are my takes so far concerning the service:

- The product is too hard for their target market to setup. They're targeting Baby Boomers - or anyone in the 60 to 75 year range for that matter. No way could my grandmother have set up the unit by herself without someone helping. She read the setup poster, looked at me with a blank face and said "Do what?" I proceeded to setup the unit without any instructions. It's the same problem we had with VCRs... if it's not intuitive to someone with no technology experience, it won't be used.

- The technology is great and does exactly what was promised. But not enough work has gone into turning the actual equipment into something that doesn't require a big, six way folding, double sided poster to setup. I'm going to lay the blame for the hardware itself not being made "idiot proof" squarely on HP's shoulders. Over the years they have - in my professional opinion - tried to simplify printer setup but have yet to break through the intelligence barrier yet. I'm betting it's because they have too many engineers working in the product teams and not enough normal people.

- Instructions for the unit read like an engineer is trying really hard to explain something to a normal person. They need another level of abstraction so things come out like a normal person is explaining it to another normal person. Most technology companies suffer from this same problem. More time is needed to get the important things up to the surface and the technology related stuff hidden under the surface.

- My generation takes a lot of technology things for granted. Even simple stuff. For example, the instructions said to purchase "printer paper from your local discount store". My grandmother had never heard of "printer paper" or "copy paper" for that matter. I fished around with a few other explanations and the one she finally understood was "typing paper".

- The back-end of the service is still a work in progress. This was experienced firsthand when one day last week I sent an email that got rejected. Later in the day, the Preview support staff sent an acknowledgment that I had emailed during a transition to a new server.

- Along the same lines, a few things are still missing from the back-end. There are only 2 email templates (and 1 for Halloween) to chose from and only 2 "subscriptions" (think of them as electronically delivered newspaper or magazine clippings). According to the documentation, eventually there will be templates for most holidays and special occasions.

- Scheduled checks for new emails work as promised. Although I have had a few occasions where emails I sent near the check time weren't delivered until the following check. I'm not sure how long it takes there servers to process incoming emails into the format the Mailbox uses but in once case I emailed 20 minutes prior to the scheduled check and the email didn't make it on that check.

- Speaking of scheduled checks, there's a glaring feature omission - no button to initiate a check at that specific moment. As a regular email user, I would have expected the equivalent of a Send/Receive button so that a check could be made in case you were expecting something to be sent right then. There is no such button. So you just have to wait for the next scheduled check. If you have all 3 daily checks set up it's not an issue... but if you're using the default single daily check that might be a problem. (Yep, the default is for the unit to check for new messages once a day.)

- The biggest surprise for me was that HTML emails actually retain their formatting and picture placement. I've copied and pasted a few web pages into emails for my grandmother. They come out the other side with formatting and web page images in place as I would expect. That's a welcome feature since it means no one has to print web pages off for her anymore when she sees things on TV.


Thursday, October 19, 2006

Problem w/ IE7 - Windows has detected a significant change in your machine configuration.

File this under capital A for annoying.

I took the plunge last night - after backing up of course - into IE7. I hadn't bothered with any of the betas because I've grown averse to being on the bleeding edge of Microsoft technology. Cutting edge will do for me, thanks.

Well, I got cut. After installing IE7 it wanted to reboot. Which I let it do. Upon reboot, I got the dreaded Windows has detected "a significant change in your machine configuration" message. Whoopie. Now I have 3 days to reactivate.

And oh fun... the internet reactivation declares I have exceeded my permitted number of activations for my license. Of course I have b/c Windows insisted I reactivate every time I added more RAM, upgraded the hard drive or swapped out the DVD burner for a faster one in this machine. So here goes a call to Microsoft's 866-Call-India activation help line. After reading off my series of digits to the gal, she quizzed me on about 10 different things. Finally she gave me an activation code... at the excruciating pace of 3 digits at a time - and she waited for me to acknowledge the receipt of each 3 before giving me any more.

So the question still remains... WHY did IE7 trigger the Windows hardware change reactivation? The world may never know.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Getting ready for Presto Preview

On Tuesday of this coming week, a new test will begin in our family... a test that will mark a new era for a certain grandmother. Thanks to HP, our family will be testing one of the HP Printing Mailbox units for Presto!

For those who haven't heard of what Presto! is about, here are a couple links:
- Presto puts digital photos in the hands of your grandma
- New printer delights the tech inept

Presto Printing Mailbox from HPThe short version is... The Presto! service combines a dedicated HP printer, modem and the Presto! service to make a hands-off unit that someone who is unfamiliar with technology can use to receive emails and photos. The unit looks like a slightly overgrown HP printer and has a place to plug it into a phone line on the back. Just install an ink cartridge, insert some paper and plug it into a phone line. When the little blue light blinks, you've got mail. That's it. Their target market is the Baby Boomer generation... specifically the 50+ year old folks who don't already have an internet connected PC or are timid about getting online with what they already have.

As the account manager, I get to pick and chose who can email the Presto Printing Mailbox. Each Mailbox unit gets a personal email address that can be given to anyone who has regular email. The trick is those folks can only send email to the Mailbox user if the account manager has added them to the allowed senders list or the Mailbox user has called an 800# and had the person added to their list manually.

During the preview, emails will be limited to email/html (the HTML being semi-unknown at the moment b/c I haven't seen how well they render it yet), JPGs and GIFs. That's enough functionality to allow photos to be easily emailed to the Mailbox user as well as family update emails and general cheer type messages.

I'm hoping they will expand the service to support PDF attachments and maybe Word docs. But for me PDFs would be perfect.

If this works well, it will revolutionize the way our family keeps in touch with the grandmother in question. Right now we all share photos and stuff via email with each other but she never gets to see them. This is the grandmother who swore she would never type after leaving a career as a librarian.

One of the coolest features of the service I'm waiting to validate is their auto-sensing of the account and hardware ID based on the caller ID of the phone line into which the Printing Mailbox gets connected. Supposedly, if I have setup the account before the Mailbox is plugged in and connects to the Presto! service the first time, everything will automatically configure itself and email from the Presto! account will just start flowing in w/o any further interaction from me.

Should this little piece of technological mash-up work as promised, I know what I'll be buying a few other 50+ year old family members over the next months.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Listen up AT&T: Protect the BellSouth Engineers!

Most people don't know it... but Bellsouth is home to the most experienced hurricane response team in the world. Bar none. Bellsouth - and pretty much any utility company in the south - has almost yearly experience recovering from some sort of natural disaster. They have successfully recovered from hurricane after hurricane, tornados, flooding, ice, etc.

After Katrina, it’s amazing that Bill Smith, Chief Technology Officer for BellSouth Corporation, and his team have yet to be guaranteed their positions once the SBC(ATT)/BellSouth merger completes. While Bill would be the first to tell you they have procedures that need improvement, the BellSouth response to Katrina and Rita's large scale crisis was professional and (relatively) effective.

Keep in mind that disaster preparedness is not revenue generating! And even in the best cases recovering from a distaster costs the company millions to billions of unbudgeted dollars. So we all need to remind the folks planning ATT/SBC/Bellsouth's 10,000 layoffs how crucial protecting these skills are.

The FCC Commissioners recently introduced a new Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau. The new bureau will presumably continue the often complimented job (yeah, it's ok to laugh) of the FCC getting regulations out of the way during Katrina crisis. Regardless, D.C. bureaus and committees are not enough. Real public safety requires the most skilled professionals at the companies involved.

Hopefully part of the merger approval negotiations that are ongoing will include a quiet conversation between the FCC Chairman, Randall and Ed. A simple comment that the commission will continue to watch the staffing and level of investment in disaster preparedness should do the trick. AT&T has plenty of good reasons to take advantage of the BellSouth engineering talent. Let's hope they actually do the right thing. coupon: 10% off $199 or more

Get a jump on Christmas electronics shopping! offers dealnews readers 10% off most orders of $199 or more via the link in this post. The discount shows on the page where you enter your credit card information. It matches the best percent-off discount we've seen from this year. Excludes all Apple items and iPods, all PCs, and several name brands. Coupon ends October 14.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The true cost of residential fiber deployment

Fios Spending: $9,650 for Each Home?

Light Reading editor Phil Harvey e-mailed BroadbandReports to let them know he's crunched some numbers based on Verizon's Fios statements (discussed in full this morning), and has come to some interesting conclusions. According to Harvey, it's costing Verizon over $9,000 to wire each home (at least at first), with his math worked out as such:

"Verizon also says it will cost only about $650 to connect a "passed" home to its network by 2010. So what does it cost to hook up a neighborhood? These aren't absolute figures, mind you, but let's assume that Verizon passes each home in a 400-home neighborhood, then nabs 10 percent of the homes (40 homes) as customers. Take $950 and multiply it by 400 homes. That's $360,000.

Now let's hook up those 40 homes. That's 40 multiplied by $650. That's $26,000 added back to the cost to pass the homes, which was $360,000. So now we have a figure of $386,000 spent in just one neighborhood. But what has Verizon spent per customer? Take $386,000 and divide it by the 40 homes and you get $9,650."

He notes that Millennium Marketing analyst Kermit Ross came to some similar figures last week. Despite this, Verizon this morning stated they should see profitability by sometime in 2009.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Three month's til Christmas

Yep... Today is September 25th... that means it's offically 3 months til Christmas. Consider this your 90 day warning!

Sunday, September 24, 2006

White & Nerdy

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Only in California can they be so intolerant in their tolerance

There's a little PBS station in Orange County, California --KOCE. For years it has been run by the Orange Coast Community College District, but the expenses became too great, and the Trustees of the District resolved to sell it. Bids arrived, and a religious broadcaster, Daystar, bid far and away the most money.

The Trustees chose to accept a significantly smaller bid (*millions* smaller), and that one mostly paper, not cash. Daystar was offering all CASH. But the bid that was accepted was Seller Financing for 30 years w/ NO INTEREST! Not surprisingly, the California courts overturned the ridiculous deal - not once, but twice.

So did the Trustees do the right thing and gain the most cash for the district? No, they tromped off to the Sacramento based legislature to get special legislation allowing them to sell the station for far less than it was worth to their pals. Read More.

Now I'm a self-acknowledged rabid Dem... but a charismatic conservative liberal instead of a faithless radical liberal. In this case I thank God that not a single Republican voted for the legislation. It was carried solely by the Democrats.

Can someone PLEASE buy them a clue about religious intolerance? And remind them about the principles of separation of church and state. That principle cuts both ways... the state can't promote a certain religion... it also can't demote/stand against a certain one either! It will come back to bite them in the butt when they need ministers to perform civil union ceremonies! Would they have made the same choice if a Muslim Emon had been the highest bidder?

Friday, September 15, 2006

Rosie was historically accurate


Since the American Family Association is being trite with their campaign and apparently didn't study history, let me fill you in on some history. Radical Christianity WAS responsible for more murders than all the non-Christian, Muslim, etc. groups we have today put together. Here are 3 examples:

Remember that thing called the "crusades"? The Christian church from 1095 AD to 1300 AD killed anyone they could get their hands on who didn't bow down the Pope.

Remember that guy named Hitler? He wanted to wipe out anyone who didn't fit his particular mold of radical Christianity called "Positive Christianity" which included a Jesus who was recast as a killer of the Jews.

Remember that guy named Moses? During the trip out of Egypt into the promised land (in Exodus), after the incident with the Golden Calf, he told the men in the group who were Levites "27 Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'Each man strap a sword to his side. Go back and forth through the camp from one end to the other, each killing his brother and friend and neighbor.' " 28 The Levites did as Moses commanded, and that day about three thousand of the people died. Exodus 27-28. 3000 of Moses own brothers and sisters died that day!

Take a little time to learn history before you reprimand someone for their comments. Lessons not learned are repeated until comprehension - including the lesson of following the uninformed leader of some right wing conservative group off the face of cliff like a lemming b/c you didn't bother to educate yourself.

Even though I don't like Rosie's personal life choices and her severe liberalism, she IS historically correct in her statement. To complain about it indicates not only historical ignorance but also a lack of American pride. America is a place where we ALL are supposed to be able to express ourselves - whether the person sitting beside you - in your opinion - is right or wrong.


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Charles Schwab, the dyslexic who parlayed his discount
brokerage firm into a personal net worth of over
$3 billion, gives this advice to those who share his
disability: "Find out what you can do well, focus on
it and work double hard." Smart words for anyone in
the workplace -- dyslexic or not.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Dyslexia in the Workplace

Get the Tools and Support You Need
by Dan Woog, Monster Contributing Writer

As youngsters, Thomas Edison, Ted Turner and Charles Schwab felt frustrated. They had difficulty deciphering letters and numbers, and were labeled "stupid." Of course, they were bright enough to invent the light bulb, revolutionize television news and found a groundbreaking brokerage firm. Today, we know their problem was dyslexia, not stupidity.

Today's Edisons, Turners and Schwabs are being identified early with the disorder, which includes problems reading and writing, and poor short-term memory for sequences. Specialists provide coping mechanisms, and dyslexics -- whose learning differences vary from slight to severe -- receive support throughout the educational process. But what happens when they move into the workplace?

"For anyone who wants to be successful, dyslexia is definitely an obstacle," says Debra Brooks, a dyslexic who graduated from Columbia University and now works as a consultant on dyslexia in the workplace. "You have to find ways to do what successful people do."

The first step is "accepting that you'll work differently than most people," says Brooks. She recently fielded a call from an engineer who, despite hours of study, had failed a test to advance in his company three times. He wanted to learn how to pass the test, but Brooks told him not to take it the same way again. Instead, she advised him to ask to take it orally or write a paper on the subject. Both accommodations are valid under the Americans with Disabilities Act, she says.

Similarly, the Dyslexic Reader suggests requesting that instructions for tasks be provided orally, either in person, on tape, via voicemail or through a computerized voice synthesizer. Alternatively, because many dyslexics read a computer screen more easily than paper, instructions can be emailed, rather than written down.

Dyslexics often find it difficult to fill out forms. The Reader's answer: Dyslexics can answer questions orally or dictate their responses to a colleague who can fill out the form for them. offers other suggestions. Dyslexics should break large tasks into small, manageable chunks. The verbal and aural reinforcement of a small tape recorder or dictating machine can help you remember what needs to be done. Additionally, dyslexics should keep a "jobs to-do list" close at hand. They should cross off each task as it's accomplished, and check the list often.

Voice recognition software is improving rapidly. Speaking into a computer is a great boon for dyslexics, whose fear of writing may become paralyzing.

Spell-checkers also help. Programs like Texthelp can help with recalling words that dyslexics frequently misspell and add them to lists for auto-correction. A reading pen (available from can be run over a word that's difficult to decipher. The pen "says" the word out loud or through a small earpiece -- it does not speak entire sentences, however.

Low-tech solutions work too. Examples include highlighters for keywords or rulers to separate lines of figures. suggests tackling paperwork early in the day. Fatigue adversely affects dyslexics' ability to read, spell and work with numbers. Also helpful: Take short breaks throughout the workday to refresh concentration.

From the time of diagnosis, dyslexics should "learn what you can and can't do," says Brooks. "Be honest and upfront with the people you work with. Let them know you work differently -- but you work hard." In fact, she adds, employers and colleagues soon learn that dyslexics are intensely loyal. "We work like dogs."

"These are not ways of hiding behind dyslexia, or making life hard for coworkers," Brooks notes. "The work standards are the same. Dyslexics are just changing the way they meet them."

Schwab, the dyslexic who parlayed his discount brokerage firm into a personal net worth of over $3 billion, gives this advice to those who share his disability: "Find out what you can do well, focus on it and work double hard." Smart words for anyone in the workplace -- dyslexic or not.

The Best Time to Buy Everything

By Kelli B. Grant
September 5, 2006

AT 50 CENTS a roll — instead of the regular retail price of $4 — buying wrapping paper after New Year's is an easy way to save. The same holds true for buying half-price inflatable pool loungers and patio furniture after Labor Day weekend.

In fact, bargain lovers know that there's a smart time to buy just about anything. For example, those looking for a great deal on a car should shop on weekday mornings in September. Groceries are cheapest on Sunday evenings.

We talked to the experts, and found the best time to buy everything from wine to wedding dresses.

Airplane Tickets

When to buy: On a Wednesday, 21 days (or a couple of days earlier) before your flight.
Why: Airlines make major pricing changes (and run fare sales) every week, typically on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings. About 21 days out from your flight, you'll see plenty of deals out there as airlines scramble to fill seats. Don't wait much longer, she cautions; prices jump significantly from 14 to seven days ahead of departure.

When to buy: During a holiday weekend.
Why: You'll find sales on select models all year long, but retailers bring out the big guns for holiday weekends, says Carolyn Forte, homecare director for the Good Housekeeping Institute. But don't worry about spending your Fourth of July and Labor Day weekends shopping for a new fridge — smaller holidays like Columbus Day and President's Day have their share of sales, too.

Baby Clothes
When to buy: During your pregnancy.
Why: Once you know your due date, keep an eye out for end-of-season clearances, recommends Alan Fields, co-author of "Baby Bargains." "If you're [newly] pregnant now, you know you'll be having a baby next summer," he says. "Well, right now, stores are closing out all the summer clothes." You can pick up newborn essentials like onesies for less than half price. (For more ways to save, see our column Oh Baby!1)

Broadway Tickets
When to buy: Hours before the curtain rises.
Why: How does a $25 front-row seat to the smash musical "Wicked" sound? Several musicals offer same-day ticket lotteries that offer up orchestra seats at inexpensive prices. If you'd rather not gamble on getting a seat, wait in line at the famous TKTS booth2 in Times Square. There, you can get tickets for hit musicals for up to 50% off. On a recent night, prime seats were available for "Hairspray," "Rent," "Sweeney Todd" and "Beauty & the Beast." (For the right times to drop by TKTS, and other ways to save, see our column A Midsummer Night's Dream3.)

When to buy: Weekday mornings in September.
Why: By September, all the next year's models have arrived at the lot, and dealers are desperate to get rid of the current year's leftovers, says Phil Reed, consumer advice editor for It's the prime time of year for incentives and sales, not to mention bargaining. "Any car that's been on the lot for a long time loses its value in the eyes of the car salesman," he says.

Heading to the dealership on a weekday morning also helps because there's low foot traffic, meaning you'll have ample time to negotiate and fewer people trying to buy the same car. The more demand, the less willing a salesman is to go down on price, says Reed. (For more, see our column Summer Car Savings4.)

When to buy: December
Why: Most people assume that because everyone wants a good bottle of Champagne for New Year's Eve that prices go up during the holidays, says Sharon Castillo, director of the Office of Champagne, USA, which represents the trade association of growers in the Champagne region. But due to fierce competition among the Champagne houses, prices are actually lower during the holidays than they are at any other time of year. (For more on picking the right bottle, see our column Break Out the Bubbly5.)

When to buy: Thursday evenings, six to eight weeks after an item arrives in stores.
Why: After an item lingers in stores a month or more, retailers start dropping its price to get it out the door, says Kathryn Finney, author of "How to Be a Budget Fashionista." These season-end clearances tend to be the same month that designers host fashion weeks (February and September) to preview the next fall or spring collections. So smart buyers can check the catwalk to see if any of this season's trends — say, leggings or military-style jackets — will still be hot next year, and then scoop them up on clearance.

Hitting the mall on a weekday ensures you'll get a good selection. "On the weekend, you'll only get picked-over stuff because the stores don't have time to restock," she says. By Thursday, most of the weekend sales have begun, but everything available is on the floor.

Computers and electronics
When to buy: Just after a new model is launched.
Why: When the latest and greatest of a product is released, you'll often see prices drop on what had previously been the best thing out there, says Tom Merritt, executive editor for CNET, an electronics review web site. Case in point: When Apple released the Nano last September, prices for the now-discontinued Mini dropped 12%, from $199 for a 4GB to about $175. So keep your eyes open for announcements from major manufacturers. Want a little less work? Time your purchases for after big annual technology show like MacWorld6 (next held Jan. 8-12, 2007) and the International Consumer Electronics Show7 (next held Jan. 8-11, 2007).

When to buy: Early morning or late evening on a weekday.
Why: Time your trip based on whether prices are rising or falling, advises Marshall Brain, founder of HowStuffWorks8, a consumer guide. Gas stations tend to change their prices between 10 a.m. and noon, so hit the pump in the early morning if gas prices are on the rise. Go later in the day if prices are falling. Tipsters on reported that on Sept. 3, a WaWa gas station in Lanoka Harbor, N.J., was offering regular gas for $2.85 a gallon. One day later the station's price had dropped to $2.65. In that case, going early would have cost you 20 cents more per gallon.

Try not to buy gas on the weekends, Brain says. Gas prices are often slightly elevated, as stations try to profit from leisure travelers. (For more ways to save, see our column Save on Gas9.)

Gift Cards
When to buy: A day or two before you give it.
Why: These days, gift cards carry a plethora of hidden pitfalls, from expiration dates to dormancy fees, says Dan Horne, a professor of marketing at Providence College known as the "Gift Card Guru." That countdown to fees starts as soon as you buy the card. "You don't want to short-change the recipient," he says.

When to buy: Sunday evenings.
Why: Store sales tend to run Wednesday through Tuesday, says Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game10, a consumer savings program. On Sunday, you'll also have the latest round of manufacturer's coupons from your morning paper. "You can maximize your coupons available for that shopping week," she says. Heading to the store close to closing time means you'll have access to sales on fresh items that must be sold by the end of the day, such as meats and baked goods.

Of course, you'll also benefit from in-season items that can be frozen for use later in the year, says Gault. That means turkeys at Thanksgiving and hams at Christmas and Easter. During the spring and summer, buy fresh produce. Peaches bought at $1 per pound now can be kept frozen for smoothies and pies throughout the winter, she says.

Shrubs, Trees and Other Plants
When to buy: Fall
Why: Take a break from raking up leaves to purchase trees, shrubs and other perennials for your yard. Prices nosedive after midsummer, as garden supply stores and nurseries try to clear out their stock. You can also get great deals on bulbs during the fall. Just store them according to the package instructions for best planting results next spring. For more, see our column Cheap Landscaping Tricks11.)

When to buy: Six to 12 months after a particular model is launched.
Why: A new TV drops in price after a few months on the market, says CNET's Merritt. Although there will be newer models out there, it's unlikely they'll offer any significant improvements to justify that brand new price. "The technology is proceeding at such a pace that the models out there are not going to be obsolete anytime soon," he says. (For more, see our column The World Is Flat12.)

Wedding Dresses
When to buy: Between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Why: Boutiques are stocked up on dresses for the post-Christmas rush (many people get engaged over the holidays), yet traffic is low, says Fields, who also co-authored "Bridal Bargains." "It's not a busy time to buy a wedding dress because people are thinking about the holidays," he says. You'll also have room to bargain.

When to buy: Early fall.
Why: For best selection, you can't beat the fall harvest season. That's when most vineyards release their latest vintages. Buying in August and September is also your best shot at snagging so-called "cult wines" — those with limited production and high demand, says Kathleen Schumacher-Hoertkorn, CEO of New Vine Logistics, an online interstate wine retailer. (For more, see our column Buying Wine Online13.)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

10 Avoidable IT Interview Flubs

eWEEK rounds up some of the worst offenses, and while we're certain that none of you would ever make such obvious errors, it never hurts to review before your next interview.

Make sure you don't forget the Thank You note. I know I personally won't hire you if I don't get one!


Do aspects of Christianity violate the Law of Non-contradiction?

Does Christianity and its tenets violate the Law of Non-contradiction?

Use the link above to listen to the answer.

For the uninitiated, the Law of Non-contradiction states that no truth can exist when 2 central theses are in opposition to each other. How can we believe in 1 God when we are told there are "3 in 1", the Holy Trinity.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Dyslexia is very annoying when...

  • You're trying to absorb a 700 page technical manual and your brain keeps getting full b/c it can't keep up with the pace of the alternative reading method you were taught.

  • You flip the digits of a phone number and end up calling someone you just dumped instead of the person you dumped them for.

  • Someone sends you a 700 page e-book to read and you have to pay to have it printed at Staples so you can read it.

  • You go to look up a new word in the dictionary... only to find out it's not a new word at all.

  • You keep misspelling your own name in letters and emails... and you consistently misspell it the same way every time. (Thank goodness for Word Auto-correct.)

The Banker's Sandwich

Heard of a new sandwich today... The BB&T. Hence the nickname "the banker's sandwich".

Ingredients: Bacon, Basil & Tomato.

Serve on toasted rye bread. And if you're one of those people who actually likes mayonnaise, add a good smear.

An even funnier named variation... The BB & TP. Bacon, Basil, Tomato & Provolone. Yummy.


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Cheap dedicated servers

I went on a quest a few weeks ago to find the most reliable cheap dedicated servers in the market for higher end applications. In the process I came up with a big handful of possibilities. Of them, I narrowed the list down to these:
  • EV1
  • Rackspace
  • 1&1
  • Hostgator
  • Pair
  • ServerBeach
- EV1 was elminated as too expensive.
- Rackspace was eliminated b/c they don't publish their pricing and I didn't like the quote I got.
- Hostgator was reasonable, but just reselling a ThePlanet server. Not a bad option though since it was cheaper than buying direct from ThePlanet.
- Pair I liked but their bandwidth packages didn't fit what I was looking for.
- ServerBeach was out of stock of the one I wanted. But their prices weren't great regardless.

So... that left me with 1&1. Which had the lowest price, was the only one offering Plesk 8, and offered double the RAM for the same money.

I'll report back on how things go later in the year.

PS... If you're looking for a VAR to help with telephone systems, routers, and VoIP equipment, check out VARNetwork.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Telcos Lobby CA: $19.7 Million in 3 Months

The push for a statewide video franchise

As California prepares to vote on whether to give the baby bells a statewide video franchise, the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Verizon & AT&T have spent a whopping $19.7 million, or $200,000 per day to influence the vote. A statewide franchise would exclude telcos from localized laws that require cable operators to build out to broad portions of communities.
"AT&T led the way by spending nearly $18 million on lobbyists; television, radio and newspaper advertising; wining and dining lawmakers at the Monterey Bay Aquarium; and Lakers basketball tickets for the chairwoman of the Senate committee that held hearings on the legislation, records show."
Despite consumer group (and of course cable company) opposition to the measure, "the legislation has yet to receive a single "no" vote during committee and floor votes," the paper observes. Final votes are expected on the bill this week.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Joshua 1:9 (New Living Translation)

"I command you--be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."

Monday, August 14, 2006

Oil crisis: It's only just begun

By Paul Salopek

Chicago Tribune

Marathon station manager Michelle Vargo keeps an eye on customers in South Elgin, Ill. A single mother, she has worked long hours to turn a profit in a business that actually makes tiny profits from gasoline.

Burke Transport Service driver Howard Dunbar guides his load of 7,000 gallons of fuel from a terminal in Arlington Heights, Ill., through the dark streets toward the South Elgin Marathon station.

Last summer, a gasoline station opened in South Elgin, Ill., an old farming village that's now being swallowed by the westward sprawl of Chicago.

As service stations go, it's an alpha establishment. A $3 million Marathon outlet with 24 digital pumps, a computerized car wash and a convenience store lit up like an operating room, it sells everything from ultra-low-sulfur diesel to an herbal "memory enhancer" to Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Howard Dunbar's Tanker Truck 6 rolled into the station one night last September and proceeded to unload 7,723 gallons of gasoline and diesel into underground tanks.

This bonanza would be sucked dry by customers in 24 hours, a small, stark example of the nation's awesome petroleum appetite at a time the planet appears to be lurching into an energy crunch of historic proportions.

By now, most Americans realize that something is profoundly awry in the global oil patch.

For most motorists, like the "swipe and go" customers at the South Elgin Marathon, the evidence is painfully obvious: record-high fuel costs that have surpassed last year's infamous price spikes after Hurricane Katrina. Prices are expected to go even higher, especially in the Pacific Northwest and California, after the shutdown of an oil pipeline on Alaska's northern slope.

Yet to fully grasp the scope of the crisis looming before them, Americans must trace their seemingly ordinary tankful of gasoline back to its shadowy sources. This is, in effect, a journey into the heart of America's vast and troubled oil dependency.

"I truly think we're at one of those turning points where the future's looking so ugly nobody wants to face it," said Matthew Simmons, a Houston energy investment banker who has advised the Bush administration on oil policy. "We're not talking some temporary Arab embargo anymore. We're not talking your father's energy crisis."

What Simmons and many other experts are talking about is a bleak new collision between geology and geopolitics.

Below ground, the biggest worry is "peak oil" — the notion that the world's total petroleum endowment is approaching the half-empty mark, a geological tipping point beyond which no amount of extra pumping will revive fading oil fields.

Peak-oil theory is controversial. Many think it alarmist. Yet even Big Oil is starting to gird itself for possible fuel shortages: Chevron, the nation's second-largest oil company, has bluntly declared that "the era of easy oil is over" and is warning energy-hungry Americans that "the world consumes two barrels of oil for every barrel discovered."

Aboveground, things look little better. Most petro states, aware that crude supplies are growing increasingly valuable, have limited drilling rights to their own oil companies.

Meanwhile, thirst for petroleum continues to run wild. Producing nations are pumping at maximum capacity. Yet the competing energy demands of America and rapidly industrializing China and India now threaten to outstrip global oil output. Chinese oil imports are projected to double to 14 million barrels a day over 20 years. Many credible analysts foresee a new "energy cold war" as the United States and China square off over the planet's last reserves.

The new Marathon station in South Elgin turned out to be an ideal laboratory to parse these sobering issues. Exclusive access to industry refining data made it possible, for the first time, to track oil consumed by this one gas station back to the dusty war zones, belligerent autocracies and tottering nation-states from where it came.

For years, oil companies have insisted that this could never be done. Conventional wisdom holds that America's colossal oil flows are mixed, swapped among companies and rebranded too many times to pinpoint the actual source of your $40 purchase of unleaded.

Yet, with a little research and proprietary data supplied by Marathon Petroleum, the Chicago Tribune could trace with unparalleled clarity virtually every bucketful of trucker Howard Dunbar's shipment to its distant origins.

On the hydrocarbon menu that September night, in round figures:

• Gulf of Mexico crudes: 31 percent

• Texas crudes: 28 percent

• Nigerian crudes: 17 percent

• Arab light from Saudi Arabia: 10 percent

• Louisiana sweet: 8 percent

• Illinois Basin light: 4 percent

• Cabinda crude from Angola: 3 percent

• N'Kossa crude from the Republic of Congo: .01 percent

Thus, $73.81 worth of unleaded pumped one Saturday by a Little League mom was traced not simply back to Africa, but to a particular set of Nigerian offshore fields through which Ibibio villagers canoed home to children dying of curable diseases.

Every day, the jaded tanker drivers brought human stories echoing in their trucks. They plunked their long wooden measuring sticks into the Marathon station's 40,000-gallon underground tanks, and the resulting subterranean gong evoked — depending on the changing oil vintage — an Iraqi ex-colonel's cavernous loneliness. Or the laments of a West African fisherman named Sunday, afloat on a fishless stretch of the Atlantic. Or the songs of Marxist Indians reveling in their newfound oil wealth atop a dusty South American plateau.

The voices of Chinese oil prospectors gurgled inside all of the fuel shipments. And diluted in the gas came a warning that many Americans seem unprepared to hear: Our nation's energy-intensive joy ride, powered by 150 years of cheap petroleum, may be coming to an end.

Journey to the pump

It was September. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had delivered their one-two punch to the energy-rich Gulf Coast, swamping New Orleans and disabling the offshore wells and pipelines that yield one-third of America's domestic energy production. In South Elgin, population 20,000, gas prices at the Marathon had broken the $3-a-gallon barrier, and people were stealing Michelle Vargo's gasoline.

"You'd think it would only be the crummy cars, but people in nice cars are doing it, too," the frazzled station manager exclaimed. "I never seen anything like it."

Vargo, 36, is too young to recall that this had happened during the Arab oil embargo of 1973 and the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979.

In typically murky industry fashion, the station is branded and supplied by Marathon but actually owned by an independent fuel retailer — in this case, Prairie State Enterprises of Barrington, Ill. Freelance shippers called "jobbers" haul the gas. And even though much of the station's petroleum does in fact bubble from Marathon's oil patches, the company as often purchases its oil from Exxon Mobil, Iraq's Southern Oil Co. or Venezuela's PDVSA, a swaggering national oil company with its own patriotic song.

A single mom with a hard-edged life, Vargo is one part in a ruthless business that earns a pittance from gasoline sales (oil companies and refiners snatch the bulk of the fuel's profits). Her station's income comes from the incidentals of frantic modern life: cigarettes, energy drinks, stay-awake pills, the Lotto, and sweet and salty snacks.

The clerks are a motley group. Many are the working poor. Some can't pay their bills. Several live with their parents.

Vargo drives to work in a car she can't afford — a white Chevrolet Suburban that churns out a ruinous 10 miles a gallon and rides so high that she has to boost herself into the driver's seat as if jumping into a saddle. Her two-hour daily commute, about 40 miles each way from Lockport, is roughly double the national average.

"I don't feel safe in small cars," Vargo said defensively.

The only perk for the station employees is free coffee. There are no discounts on gas.

From the ocean's floor

In 1940, the United States was the Saudi Arabia of the world. It produced 63 percent of the planet's oil. Today, it generates 8 percent.

About one-third of Vargo's fill-up on a recent day came from the last major pool of crude remaining in oil-starved America: the basement of the Gulf of Mexico. Trace it from seabed to suburbia, and you X-ray America's aging industrial innards.

It started 9,000 feet inside Earth's crust, in Miocene Epoch rocks that have the consistency of oil-soaked beach sand. The rocks simmer near the boiling point of water. This is known in the business as the "pay zone."

From that hellish place, the crude was sucked up into a 4-inch drill pipe that punctured the Atlantic floor near a submerged hillock called Viosca Knoll 786. It shot up 1,750 feet of pipe to an offshore production rig and was shunted ashore to a huge tank farm in St. James, La. There it began its long journey to the Midwest in a pipeline big enough for a person to walk in, albeit hunched over — a 632-mile-long artifact of our oil dependency that will doubtless astound future archeologists.

Arriving at the Robinson refinery in southern Illinois, it was cooked and cooled for five days inside 23-story towers. Then it gushed through 16- and 12-inch fuel pipelines for three days until it reached a 40-year-old tank farm near O'Hare International Airport. Finally, it traveled its last 12 miles to the South Elgin Marathon inside Howard Dunbar's truck.

"Takes a bit of power to bring it up," hollered Ferrell Martin, 52, a senior mechanic aboard Petronius, a drilling platform that juts above the gulf's waves near Viosca Knoll. "Our generators could electrify a small town."

The platform, co-owned by Chevron and Marathon, came on line in 2000. It cost more than $500 million to build, nearly what the United States shells out every 24 hours to buy imported crude. A masterpiece of high technology, it pumps the energy equivalent of 60,000 barrels of oil and natural gas a day — a gusher that matches Pakistan's national output and is only slightly behind Italy's.

More than 100 such gargantuan structures dot the gulf. As do an estimated 6,500 other oil-related features such as wells, pumping stations and helipads, not to mention some 30,000 miles of submerged pipelines tangled like spaghetti across the gulf floor.

"A whole new game"

One man who keeps Michelle Vargo's gas-guzzling Suburban rolling doesn't have an oil worker's rough hands. He sits in a red granite skyscraper in Houston.

"No question, we're facing a whole new game," said Jeff Rutledge, a sandy-haired New Orleans native and the senior geophysicist for Marathon. "Sure, there's a lot of resources still out there, but they're getting riskier to invest in, much harder to find and more expensive to reach."

At Marathon's technology and exploration department, desks are piled with what look like old eight-track tapes: computer drives that contain volumes of exploration data that beggar belief. Seismic surveys, the industry's main tool for locating oil, involve setting off small shock waves at Earth's surface and recording millions of "echoes" from the rock below.

Progress reports from 10 to 20 of these fantastically pricey, high-tech quests from Africa, Russia and the North Atlantic land on Rutledge's desk every day.

According to industry optimists, such Herculean efforts to squeeze out Earth's last high-quality oil are the best retort to doomsayers who worry the world is running on empty.

In the gulf, for instance, Petronius' 19 wells do things engineers couldn't dream of a quarter-century ago. They snake downward through almost 1,800 feet of seawater, bore vertically through a mile and a half of rock, then veer off laterally under the stony seabed for distances of up to five miles.

Such whiz-bang technology has encouraged the U.S. Minerals Management Service to boost the Gulf of Mexico's potential oil reserves by 15 percent, to 86 billion barrels. That's enough, in theory, to meet U.S. demand for another decade. Much of that, however, lies in deep, environmentally sensitive waters near the Florida coast and is prohibitively expensive to extract using current technology.

Many oil executives say environmental restrictions and stingy foreign governments keep valuable reserves locked up.

The United States gulps one-quarter of the crude pumped on the planet, industry critics point out, yet it sits atop just 3 percent of the globe's reserves.

"You can drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on every continental shelf and atop every hill in America for that matter, and you still won't reverse the fact that our oil production is in permanent decline," said Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., a senior member of the House Science Committee. "We're just sopping up what's left, digging ourselves into a deeper hole."

Bartlett belongs to a small but suddenly influential band of pessimists who are ringing alarm bells over peak oil.

The perilous "peak"

The theory of peak oil is based on the studies of M. King Hubbert, a pioneering U.S. geologist who correctly predicted in the 1950s that America's huge crude output would "peak," or hit a ceiling, in 1970.

Nobody disputes that oil will peak; the debate is over when. The output of all reservoirs begins to decline after about half of their oil is extracted. Today, peakists cite anemic oil discoveries since the 1980s, plus ominous drop-offs in production in major fields in Kuwait, China and Mexico, among other places, as evidence that the world, too, is reaching its fateful peak.

Estimates of when we will hit this milestone vary from "we've passed it already" to the U.S. Geological Survey's latest calculation of 2044 — hardly a reassuring date, given that rocketing oil prices and their attendant social chaos would stagger the industrial world well before that reckoning.

Using available technology, Rutledge said, Petronius' bounty likely will shrivel in 12 to 15 years.

"Just sinking away"

Ferrell Martin's ancestors had fished and trapped the watery maze of Bayou Terrebonne, a fabled swamp about 60 miles southwest of New Orleans, for more than 200 years. But today, Louisiana's lush wetlands, the richest in America, are dying, crumbling into the sea.

Home from his usual two-week shift aboard Petronius, Martin knelt at the bow of a bass boat steered by one of his numberless bayou relatives, trying, again and again, to get the boat unstuck from hidden bars of mud.

"I can't even find the same fishing holes anymore," Martin said, fanning away mosquitoes. "The whole place is just sinking away."

The U.S. Geological Survey thinks land in and around Bayou Terrebonne is starting to sag like a deflating wineskin as fossil fuels are pumped out in massive quantities. In some places, it has settled 11 inches. For a landscape that is in many cases only a few feet above sea level, the implications are ominous. Erosion and subsidence have eaten away at least two miles of coastline near Ferrell Martin's modest house in Montegut, La.

He recognized the irony: Oil has yanked thousands of once-impoverished Cajuns into the middle class, but it is now helping swallow their ancestral homes.

"Everything's a trade-off, I guess," Martin said.

This, too, gets burned up by the cars in South Elgin: a clod of southern Louisiana.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Positive Aspects of Dyslexia

* Dyslectics are often able to understand complex ideas and have a good overview.

* They can often see several aspects of a problem at the same time.

* They usually have a good spatial awareness and can see three dimensional objects from every direction, without moving themselves.

* They can use the potential of the brain to change their perceptions and to create new possibilities.

* They are extremely aware of their surroundings and have sharp visual and analytic capabilities.

* They are more curious than the average person.

* They think mainly in images instead of words.

* Their thought processing and perception is multidimensional as they use all their senses.

* They can experience their inner world as reality with their strong imaginative power.

As a dyslexic, I have experienced many of those aspects personally. The most profound positive for me is the ability to perceive and process in multiple dimensions at once. This one skill makes dyslexics who have been taught to visually process written language (i.e. through NLP) such good knowledge acquisition specialists. (It's also why we run circles around everyone else during brainstorming sessions.)

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Ever Wonder?

Why is bottled lemon juice made with artificial flavor when dishwashing liquid is "made with real lemons"?

Why don't you ever see the headline "Psychic Wins Lottery"?

Why do we have drive-up ATM machines with Braille lettering?

Why isn't there mouse-flavored cat food?

Why didn't Noah swat those two mosquitoes?

Why do they sterilize the needle for lethal injections?

Why don't they make the whole planes out of the same stuff they make those indestructible "black box" units out of?

Why are they called apartments when they are all stuck together?

Why do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front?

If con is the opposite of pro, is Congress the opposite of progress?

If Moses were here, would George W. catch on fire?

Why do banks leave both doors open and then chain the pens to the counters?

Since dogs seem to love to eat it whenever possible, why don't they make poop flavored dog food?

Friday, June 30, 2006

Google Checkout - My Take

Google is taking the classic business wedge approach. Find a market that is making good money and is related to another market that might make money in the future; then launch a product into the market that's making money and expand into the one that might make money later.

Google can immediately grab some low hanging fruit by approaching businesses first. Their rates for merchant transactions are a full 1% point less than PayPal for all businesses except those doing more than $100,000/mo in processing. They're basically offering the processing near cost and using the service to expand AdWords revenue.

From a business standpoint, that's a terrifically smart thing since their primary profits come from advertising sales and investors will want to see those sales continue to expand.

For business customers, this is also a watershed event. Hopefully it will force PayPal and the regular credit card merchant account providers to reduce their internet transaction fees. The average merchant fee for small and medium sized businesses accepting credit cards through a company like is 2.35% + $.35-50 cents per transaction + a $20/mo gateway fee and a $25/mo minimum processing fee.

Small businesses wanting to sell stuff online should be all over Google's offering. It's cheaper than their bank and cheaper than PayPal. Plus they will see the AdWords thing as free advertising since they'd have to spend that money on the credit card processing fees regardless. So the deal works well in favor of small businesses.

Later, I can see Google expanding and testing the waters with person-to-person micropayments. That market is pretty much non-existent (in terms of a percentage basis) here in the US. Outside the US there is more interest but even in those places it's still in limited stages of use.

For the micropayments business to work here in the US, however, there have to be some fundamental changes to the way the banking system works. The fees to get money on and off of ATM, debit and credit cards are still too high to make business cases involving the handling of large numbers of tiny transactions profitable. Just as any small quick service restaurant (like local sandwich shop) who takes credit cards... they'll tell you how bad it hurts to lose nearly 2% of the bill plus 30-50 cents of every transaction to fees. That's why in many of them you'll see a sign asking credit/debit card users to please make a purchase of at least $5-10 when paying with their cards.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Skype with a Windigo powered USB dongle & BT headset

OK, so I ventured off into the world of Skype recently. Here's the first thing I learned: Bluetooth headsets on Windows XP SP2 suck.

But all is not lost. I finally cracked the code on my particular combination.

What I'm using:
Motorola HS820 Bluetooth Headset
Cyber-Blue Bluetooth EDR v2.0 Dongle

I first tried using it with the included software which comes on a little mini-CD with virtually no identification. It just says Bluetooth and V2.0 on the CD. No company name identification, no nothing. You can see that CD and the dongle over to the right.

The software on the CD sort of worked but not really. It worked backwards with Skype. When you connected the headset and it was ready to talk, upon dialing a Skype call it would disconnect. How annoying!

Then I tried switching to Microsoft's Bluetooth drivers. What a crock that was. That was when I learned that in their infinite wisdom, Microsoft does not support the headset profile in their Bluetooth drivers. How sucky is that?

Cyber-Blue's website was useless. They're an OEM and this unit is just their generic house model that's sold cheap. (What was I expecting from a $9 purchase at They don't have any supporting files or anything on their site.

So, then I figured I'd check out the software provider's website - Windigo Systems. Linked from their homepage is a Support page. On that page they provide "Blue Manager 3.1c". Well that would be great except for the fact that what I had on the CD that came w/ the dongle was 3.2b and I certainly wasn't going to chance using even older software.

Off to the Google I went again. I found few references to Blue Manager software. The only thing I found was another OEM who was offering Blue Manager 3.3 if you used a form to request it - problem being that you had to own one of their devices and report it's serial number to get the software. Stinkie.

Back to Windigo I go. This time I noticed they had a support email address listed. "What the heck" I figured. At least I'll have spent $9 and tried. To my amazement I got an email back in about 4 hours with a link to Blue Manager version 3.4d. Now why didn't they have that linked to their support page to begin with!?! Oh well. At least they were nice enough to email me back (in broken English, so I assume they're staffed with native Asian speakers so they can work w/ their Chinese and southeast Asian manufacturing partners).

For some reason I was unable to download anything from their website w/o getting a notice from my unzip program that there was a CRC error and the file was corrupt. Poey. But I was able to download it to my office PC (thanks to Logmein) and FTP it to myself w/o problem. I still have no clue why I wasn't able to download it over my Sprint/Embarq DSL connection. No matter, I had the software now. There was no stopping me. Or so I thought.

I begin to run the software. It wants to uninstall all the old software. Kaboom. BSOD! Yep, a nice blue screen of death. So I unplug the USB dongle and reboot. The second time I ran the software it wanted to uninstall the old software, so I let it try again. No BSOD that time. Oh, but it required the obligatory reboot before it could finish. I let it reboot then started the installer again (manually b/c it wasn't smart enough to start itself back up). Now the real install begins. It gets 3/4 of the way through the install and it tells me it can't finish without my Bluetooth dongle being plugged in. So I plug it in. Windows installs it again from scratch as if it were a new piece of hardware. Kaboom. BSOD AGAIN! Bollucks!

Ok, so I reboot with the dongle attached this time. Windows seems happy when it comes back up. I have the nice Microsoft Bluetooth icon in the system tray. I start the Blue Manager 3.4d installer again. I am asked by the software if I want to install the COM port for VoIP and data or for VoIP only. Since I don't have a Bluetooth capable phone yet, I go with VoIP only. The installer chugs along. It gets all the way through this time and the Microsoft Bluetooth icon disappears. That's the signal that Blue Manager has taken over control. Oh but wait... the software needs to reboot my computer again.

So... here were are 5 reboots later - 2 of which were planned. The software appears to have successfully installed that last time. I am able to start Blue Manager for Skype. Joy, it's a 2 step process to start Blue Manager so you can use your headset. Instead of automatically starting when Windows does - there's not even an option for that - you have to start Blue Manager for Skype and THEN start Blue Manager 4.3d so you can actually use the headset. Annoying but livable.

I put my Motorola HS820 into pairing mode (how stupid were the Motorola engineers for putting every single function on this thing except volume - and I bet they tried that in development! - under the control of the single button!). If you don't master counting your button hold time, you're destined for failure. Then I started the discovery process in Blue Manager by hitting Refresh. After entering the pairing password - "0000" - they paired. Yippie.

Now for the real test. Can I make a Skype call. It took a little fiddling b/c the new Blue Manager 3.4d software did not automatically set the headset as the audio device in Skype. To do that, in Skype go to Tools -> Options and set Windigo Audio BT device as the default for your incoming and outgoing audio. Once that was done, I was able to just hit the button on the Motorola HS820 and Blue Manager kept a connection open to the headset. It even kept the connection open after I hung up the Skype call.

All is not perfect in this arrangement. I can't use the button on the headset to answer or disconnect a Skype call like you can on a cell phone. You have to acknowledge the call using the keyboard and mouse as always. And if you forget to connect the headset by pressing the button before you answer the call neither party can hear anything.

The good news is that battery life for the Motorola HS820 is about 6 hours of talk time. So it's possible to just connect the headset while you're sitting at the PC and leave it connected. That also helps with knowing when calls are coming in. Unless you set the Skype option to "Ring PC speaker on incoming call" you won't hear anything to let you know a call is coming in if you'd forgotten to "connect" your headset or if the Bluetooth connection dropped (in cases like when you left the PC to go to the bathroom w/o taking the headset off).

Hopefully Skype will get a clue and help these headset folks or Microsoft get a grip on Bluetooth headsets. They way the work now is manageable. But most definitely not optimal.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The coffee revolution has begun.

Introducing the Melitta® one:one™ pod brewing system, the best thing to happen to coffee drinkers in decades. Its special pod brewing system is designed to deliver coffee bar quality right at home. No measuring. No mess. And the ultimate cup of coffee in less than a minute... every time.

No Measuring, No Mess, No Wait. Just fill the tank, place a javapod™ or teapod™ in the pod holder and in less than a minute experience a gourmet cup of coffee. Regardless of cup size, the interchangeable spouts provide a seamless transition between your favorite cups.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Engage In Life!

There is nothing more dangerous than people sleep walking through life.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Feds Bust Major VoIP Scam

Duo made millions off of hacked VoIP deal

The New York Times is running an interesting story on two men who operated an Internet voice scheme that netted them more than a million in connection fees. It began with the men starting two smaller VoIP companies, and buying wholesale voice access.
"Instead of buying access to other networks to connect his clients' calls, Mr. Pena paid about $20,000 to Robert Moore, the man arrested in Spokane, to create "what amounted to 'free' routes by surreptitiously hacking into the computer networks" of unwitting Internet phone providers, and then routing his customers' calls over those providers' systems, according to the federal complaint.
The scam left more than 15 Internet phone companies with connectivity bills up to $300,000 each, without any revenue to show for it.