Friday, November 19, 2010

Stupid Ideas to Save the World: Water

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There’s a lot of concern about what will happen in the potentially near future with regards to how much water we have; both that there will be too much and that there will be too little. I have a few thoughts to help redirect some of that disaster. Read on and I’ll explain…

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Anti-Equal Opportunity?

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With election time coming fast, Arizona voters will soon have to decide whether or not to pass Prop. 107. This is not a final decision on the matter, rather it is a response to a news/opinion story I just read.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Experience of Our Species - Part III

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Ever marvel at the things we humans can do, or the crazy inventions we come up with? Well, I do, and I feel like sharing that wonder with you. This is the final part of that journey.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Another Break?

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I don’t plan on these interruptions in updates, but they seem to keep happening. I guess that happens when you’ve got a new child - especially one with so many issues. Good news is, there’s nothing (so far) seriously wrong. Bad news is, there’s little time for much else anymore. I’m still blogging, and will continue for now. The only difference is I won’t be nearly so prolific for a while. :-) Thanks for reading!

Monday, July 12, 2010

“This is News You Need to Hear”

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“This is news everyone needs to hear.” How often do you hear that phrase while watching one of your local television stations? How many times do you hear that promo line in the middle of your early afternoon news broadcast? Of course, there are other variations, such as “this is something no parent will want to miss” and “if you own a home, this is the most important information you’ll get all day”, and the list goes on. As often as such a catchphrase is thrown about, you might think the world is coming to an end (that’s a topic for later). There’s a problem with these ‘important’ messages, however, since they’re played only once throughout the day, during the late-night broadcast.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Stay Illegal for Less

1 comment:

You’re familiar with Safe Auto, yes? This is the car insurance company with the jingle that makes me want to shoot myself; the one with the overly clean-cut Justin Case (har har on the name, guys). Well, they advertise that they can help keep you ‘legal for less’. I’m about to demonstrate to you why that’s just not the case, at least from their advertising perspective.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Being a Grump

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I complain a lot. It’s how I work; it’s the way the world makes me. However much I complain, though, I’m still not the only one. The Curmudgeon is also out there, and his blog is worth a look. He typically writes about as much in a post as you’ll find in this one, so it’s a quicker, easier read than mine. He also frequently gets me to chuckle. Check him out, and leave a comment or two!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Experience of our Species – Part II

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Ever marvel at the things we humans can do, or the crazy inventions we come up with? Well, I do, and I feel like sharing that wonder with you. This is the second part of that journey.

PART II: WHERE WE ARE TODAY

Monday, July 5, 2010

How to Kill Trees While Wasting Money

2 comments:

There’s a new product out there, designed to help keep your home more sanitary, which seems to have come from some backward-thinking developers. When it seems more and more people are hopping aboard the ‘green’ bandwagon, the folks at Kleenex thought that now was a good time to market an anti-environmental practice, to strike out one of the three ‘R’s - reuse, and push for the use of one-time use hand towels.

Friday, July 2, 2010

All Hail ‘King James’?

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In an age of corporate bailouts, and financial hardship for middle-class America, there’s a certain class of person who is still doing well - and actually striving. To join this elite club is not difficult; you don’t have to go to college, and while you may possess a certain skill, that proficiency doesn’t actually have to be of any use to the general public (i.e. craftsmanship, leadership, etc.) Want to know the secret? Just ask ‘King James’…

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Experience of our Species – Part I

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Ever marvel at the things we humans can do, or the crazy inventions we come up with? Well, I do, and I feel like sharing that wonder with you.

PART I: HOW WE GOT HERE

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Attention Shoppers!

5 comments:

Today while grocery shopping, I had to deal with a particular kind of ‘shopper’ – not the kind that we usually run across and can avoid or get away from quickly. Today was a doozy, and has prompted me to vent here, as opposed to punching someone in the face over it.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

When was the last time you thought it was ok to assault a cop?

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If you said ‘never’, then apparently you’re misinformed. However, if you think this is something to do on a daily basis, then welcome to Seattle, WA! If you haven’t heard the story yet, I’ll link you to it. There’s been so much buzz about it, it’s already getting hard to find some of the original stories that broke on it, so if you follow any news, you should have heard something about it by now. Again, if you haven’t heard, and if you also don’t like to follow links, I’ll summarize, hopefully neutrally before I tell you what I think.
(Video after the jump)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Blogging and Little-Known Music

5 comments:

When I get bored, I do a little bit of blogging research. You know, how to get hits, how to make it look pretty, and other general information. According to the intarweb, you’re supposed to share an re-link other blogs that interest you, especially if the other blog is in your niche. Well, I really have no idea what niche this blog fits into.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Political Advertising

1 comment:

John McCain, senator of Arizona for well over 20 years, the guy who lost the last presidential election, whether you like him or not, is running for reelection in 2010. I don’t know for sure, of course, but if I had to guess, I’d say he’ll still be here another 4 years. Partly because it’s still a little early for me, I haven’t done a ton of research about who I’m going to vote for personally. At this point, I know of only two candidates – maybe? There’s the incumbent, and then there’s this other guy, J.D. Hayworth.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Seriously, is anybody really fooled by this?

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Have you heard about “Blueprint”, the new credit card service from Chase Bank? Well, let me tell you, it’s the most fantastic thing that’s ever happened to the credit card business and to customers! With this new service, which Chase hopes will encourage many more consumers to sign up with them, you can now pay off your card in so many ways, you’ll never look at credit cards the same way! But, then again, maybe you will? See, some of the new features are so exciting and avant garde, you may not realize they’re anything new at all!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

More Red Light Info

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Following up on my initial tirade (which if you haven’t read, I suggest you do to avoid confusion) about the red-light camera ticket, I now have more information to provide. I did some research, and it appears I may have been somewhat misinformed about some parts of the situation, but given what I found, I’m surely not the only one. First off, I’ll make some clarifications. The ‘red’ line from the first post should be indentified as the ‘prolongation of curb’. This is the imaginary line from one side of the intersection to the other, as indicated by the end of the curb. However, for red light camera intersections in Tucson, this line does serve a purpose: This is the legal stopping line for the intersection. There’s a problem with that, which I will describe in a moment.

(Prepare yourself, this one’s a long one!)

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Tax Evasion

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You know, of all the things I complain about, one of the most bothersome things to me is people who don’t pay their taxes. If you are not able to pay your taxes (as opposed to just not wanting to), then maybe there’s some excuse for you. However, if that’s the case, then maybe you’re living outside your means… If that’s not the case, and you just don’t like to pay them, then I don’t like you. Sorry, but that’s that. However, beyond the individuals who do this, something worse to me is companies who advertise the practice.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, let me describe one of the commercials these kinds of companies put out. Imagine a person in a pleasant, reasonably wealthy looking home environment. Maybe they’re in their driveway getting out of their Mercedes SUV and in the background, you see their weekend sailboat sitting beside the house. Not too modest, eh? Now imagine they start to talk, and this is what comes out their mouth: “I owed $250,000 to the IRS!” For some reason, they seem to be in a good mood about that. Most people would be quite upset about this, perhaps distraught with worry, and may even be ashamed to talk about it.

Now wait, though. The next utterance explains everything very clearly for us: “Then I called Company X and they settled my IRS debt for me. I only paid $500!” Well, now of course we can see why they’re so excited. They just got out of paying a huge sum of money, and now get to enjoy their sailboat without fear of being indebted to the government. Wouldn’t you just love to be excused from having to pay thousands of dollars as part of your responsibility as a citizen, all the while cheating the rest of us who follow the rules?

So what’s the problem with this? First, for every dollar they don’t pay in taxes, that’s either one dollar more someone else has to pay or that the national deficit increases. Second, whether it is actually the case or not, the company sells their services as if there are no consequences of going through this process. Now, I honestly can’t say that I know how the whole system works, and there may very well be no negative repercussions for the individual enlisting Company X’s help. While that might be the case, I’m inclined to assume that this would involve some sort of bankruptcy filing, which is something I’d rather not have to deal with, personally. Either way, regardless of the potential fallout, these companies encourage people to avoid paying their taxes, with the enticement that they will have the fault cleared for them at a future date.

With all the government spending – for everything that tax money is spent on, whether it benefits you or not – to withhold that money entirely does nothing but damage the system. Whether you support the ideology that government should provide everything to citizens or nothing or anything in between, the fact remains that they’re involved in just about everything. By helping yourself out by avoiding paying your dues, you end up hurting everyone else. Ultimately you hurt yourself as well in the process because you’ll be missing out on the services those taxes will provide. If you do this, shame on you. Double shame on these companies for trying to get you to do it!

Red Light and Speeding Cameras: My Newest Annoyance

3 comments:
Up until today, I’ve mostly been on the fence about whether or not I approve of traffic law enforcement cameras. Throughout Arizona, you’ll find many such image and video capturing devices set up on road, highways, and at some street intersections. There are some pros and cons to the whole idea of using this technology to aid law enforcement in keeping the streets safer for everyone and so far, neither has really outweighed the other. That is -before I got one myself when I wasn’t at fault. Before I go into the specifics of my scenario, here’s the good and bad of the debate…
  • PROS
    1. Reduces number of traffic related injuries/deaths, due to a lower incidence of traffic safety violations.
    2. Increases revenue for government agencies by tracking more violations.
    3. Reduces the need to have enforcement officers patrolling/monitoring streets for violators.
    4. If you aren't breaking the law, then you have no reason to be worried about the system.
  • CONS
    1. People don’t like being watched/held accountable when they break the law (even minor infractions).
    2. Some drivers ‘freak out’ when approaching a camera, thus creating more unsafe conditions than would otherwise have existed.
    3. Some drivers avoid the cameras and take a different route, or only obey the laws when a camera is present. In other words: they just aren’t effective.
    4. There is a cost to undertake such an initiative and to build the system, costing taxpayers more up front.
    5. Enforcement of issued citations is low, with violators frequently skirting the responsibility of paying the fine, rendering the system useless.
There may be more, but that’s all I can come up with at the moment.
TicketThanks to my citation, pro #4 is quickly taken back; I wasn’t breaking the law, yet I was ‘flashed’ by the cameras, and a few weeks later got my complaint in the mail. Apparently, I ran the red, and entered the the intersection when I shouldn't have. But that's ridiculous, and it's easy to see, just by looking at the video. I’ll start by highlighting the moment of the infraction. Along with the citation, access is provided to view the images taken of the incident online, as well as a video of the whole process. This image shows on the left the moment before the light turned red and the moment after on the right (my car is the only red one, on the right-hand portion of the frame).

Ticket3I want to highlight the striping here, for those that may not understand the conventions here in Tucson. In the image above(colored for clarity), the orange line is the ‘stop line’, the green lines are the outer limits of the crosswalk, the pink area is the sensor strip for the camera system, and the red line is a line that was added after the system was set up. I don’t know if this red line has a name, or if it really even serves a purpose (my honest guess is that it highlights where the curb ends), but it’s there.

Reviewing these images, it should be painfully obvious that I was beyond the crosswalk and the stop line and had already entered the intersection (see next section) before the light had fully changed to red. It’s not extremely clear if I was beyond the red line or not, but according to the law, that shouldn’t matter.
According to the Arizona Department of Transportation’s (ADOT) “Driver License Manual” (.pdf), this is how intersections may be indentified:
Ticket2
The intersection at which the photos were taken fall into the category at the bottom-right and as such, drivers must stop at the stop line when presented with a ‘stop’ traffic signal. That signal in the example is a stop sign, but this applies to red lights as well. The documentation also states that certain rules may apply and supersede the general conventions, and this will be indicated at the applicable location. I may have to go to the intersection itself and take a picture showing there are no posted signs indicating this line has any importance, but take my word for it, there are none that alert drivers to a change in this rule. There are signs telling drivers that traffic laws are photo enforced, however.
Although it’s not actually applicable to this case, I want to add that a right-on-red is legal in Arizona. When stopped at a red light, if the way is clear (no other traffic or pedestrians), then one may proceed with a right turn at that stop. This doesn’t matter here, since I was not at a stop (the signal was still yellow) when I began the maneuver. Had I been stopped, this still would have been a legal turn, since there was no other traffic to impede, as made evident by the photo provided above (and by the fact that I wasn’t involved in a collision as a result of that action).
Since I was already completely past the crosswalk, I was officially in the intersection. Based on all this, I can’t seem to understand how I am in violation. If someone wants to explain to me how I’m wrong, please do, otherwise I will not be responding to this complaint (as is the standard practice among many with whom I’ve spoken about this). In addition to this, I will take an official negative position on the whole concept of this camera business. Sorry, the ultimate saving grace that “if you’re legal, then you’re safe” has been thrown out the window.
Except for the hassle that would inevitably be involved, I almost want someone to serve me and bring me to court to plead my case, just so I can stick this back in somebody’s face. If you’re in Tucson, avoid making ‘illegal’ legal right on reds at camera intersections in the meantime to avoid this mockery.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where did I go?

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Hello everyone, and sorry that I’ve left the blog bereft of updates. Since my last update, a few things have changed. More specifically, I now have a son, and he takes up much of my time. On top of that, I have still been bothered by a few random things, mostly television advertising, but nothing quite enough to get me to write it down. Maybe my venting online has eased my stress and remedied my need to vent in the first place, or maybe being a father has cooled me down some (my wife may disagree). Either way, I guess I’ve got writer’s block, which isn’t so bad, considering I don’t write for a living. If anyone out there at least occasionally checks in here, keep doing so. I’ll be back eventually; this is just the first step in the journey to my blogging recovery.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Verizon Part XI: Not Sure What’s Next

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So far, things have been quiet with regard to Verizon and any potential unexpected data plan. Nothing has been charged to my account so far, but the billing month was up right about the time everything got settled, so it may not be until next month that I will see anything. (I’m keeping my fingers crossed.)

As to the BBB claim that was open, if it was not already made clear, I did agree to Verizon’s terms, so they got no negative report. I just added one drop to the bucket of successful resolutions. I did not stick to my guns and refuse their offer. They gave me something that resolved all my issues – at least for me personally. They told me they are strongly reconsidering the plan, and (through the anecdotes of others) it seems they also may be working on a plan to undo or at least partly change the new data plan policy. (I’ll believe it when I actually see it.)

For the FCC case, things are a little more uncertain. I received one letter from the FCC stating that they had received my complaint, then some time later, another that said they had received a response to it from Verizon, and that I should be receiving a copy of that response in a short amount of time. It’s been nearly a week, and I’ve got nothing so far. I may have to try again to get in touch with the FCC about this, but they are much less user-friendly than the BBB was, so that may be a bit more work than it needs to be. Also, in the second letter, they stated that they are satisfied with the VZW explanation and that if I was not, that I would have to file a ‘formal’ complaint with them, which includes a fee. I haven’t gotten there yet, seeing as how I have yet to see the VZW response, but it seems like a bunch of hoops to jump through. Thanks, FCC for being there to help us, the public.

Will keep you posted on how this FCC situation pans out for me…

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Cox Letdown

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I’ve actually been sitting on this one for a few weeks… The picture at left is of one of the duplicate mailings I get from Cox, which prompted all my prior Cox posts.  The image has not been not modified, except to remove my name/address. These came a few weeks after all my correspondence ended Cox2xwith them. It’d had been so long that I even posted that it appeared as though Cox was done sending me anything. Obviously that was wrong, but at least the frequency of their mailings has decreased.
There are more problems with this than just a second ad sent. The text on the front reads: “it’s ur time!” Really? Seriously? WTF is with ‘ur’?? There was other ‘txt’ talk in the ad, with the familiar ‘r’ and ‘u’ as highlights. This would have actually been reasonable if it was advertising mobile phone service, or even simple the benefits of having internet for IM-type conversations. But this ad really didn’t focus on that at all, making the horrible butchering of English a bit out of place.
On the other hand, this image is not the whole story. I thought it funny enough at the time to take the picture with the two envelopes, just because of the duplication, but a few days after tossing these out, a THIRD (i.e. triplication) came in. Since I did not expect any more, I threw the two previous out, so no reason to take a picture of the third by itself, but take my word on it.
To all you Cox subscribers, I remind you that this is how your money is being spent by them (spent first of course by you on overpriced services). Hope you enjoy it.

Friday, April 30, 2010

I’m All About Arguing

2 comments:
argument

Much to the chagrin of many around me, I love a good debate. So much so, that my good friends would call ‘debate’ a misnomer for what actually transpires. If someone says anything that I really disagree with, you’d better believe they are going to know it. It seems that this behavior is part of my nature. I believe I do have some tact, however, and I do not share my opinion openly with every random person I happen to overhear. My argumentative dialog is usually kept to those closest to me. Moreover, a full-on, heated rant-fest will usually only occur with the small number of those willing to give their own retorts. Most people who know me well enough just accept that that’s how I am.

But let me get to my point about this post: I want to argue with someone. Maybe that’s the reason I even started this blog. I’m looking for people who will openly disagree with me about something. There have been a few comments on my main (non-‘syndication’) blog which have agreed with what I’ve blogged about; there have been slightly more that have disagreed. Let me just say, I love it. Please, to anyone out there, whether you follow me generally, or if you come to watch the Verizon Saga play itself out, or you just randomly found yourself here, please comment on something and tell me I’m wrong. Back it up with statistics and references even. I want to ‘get into it’ with someone. I don’t mind if you stay anonymous, or even what your opinion is – meaning, you actually agree with me, but want to play the devil’s advocate role. Just play nice and keep it kid-friendly, please.

Or, if there’s something you have an opinion about that you think I’ll disagree with that I haven’t posted something about already, bring that up here. Bring up anything you want - I may even expand the discussion into it’s own thread if I have a strong enough opinion.

I look forward to taking a jaunt with you!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Temperature Control

2 comments:

This one goes out to all those who think it’s too cold with the air conditioning set to a certain temperature, especially those who turn up the thermostat in response. In the world there are two kinds of people – well, it’s more of a spectrum with varying degrees (no pun intended) of preference, but I’ll simplify – those that prefer warmer air temperatures, and those who prefer colder. And for the sake of this argument, some people prefer one direction or the other to conserve energy in order to save money or to protect the environment. Put those reasons aside; I’m talking about pure temperature preference.

two-thermometers

I personally am one of the colder types and am completely comfortable inside at 60°F, 30s or so outdoors. I feel like I may be in a minority as part of this group, which may come up as an argument for the case I am about to present, but you’ll see that it doesn’t matter. Us ‘cold’ types are more likely to turn down the thermostat when we’re uncomfortable, which frequently upsets the ‘warm’ types. Of course the same is true for the ‘warm’ types, but being in the perceived minority, I feel the ‘colds’ upset the ‘warms’ more. So the two groups in my experience typically go back and forth, turning the air up and down and up and down, or else getting in senseless arguments over the difference of 2°.

Instead of this fighting and bickering, however, I propose another idea. You ‘warms’ just deal with it! And I don’t mean suck it up and deal with the cold that you dislike so much. Instead, how about adding a layer or two to your wardrobe if it’s that bad? Does that really seem too difficult? If you get too cold with the temperature setting low, then throw on a scarf or jacket, and the problem is solved.

Now look at the other end of the preference spectrum: the ‘colds’. If we are too hot, using that same logic, we can just remove layers. Tada! Problem solved again, right? Wrong. It may be acceptable in your own home to walk around in the nude (and then again, maybe it’s not) but when in a more public place, say the office or school, a little more discretion is required. If I go somewhere with a light t-shirt, shorts and nothing else – preparing myself as much as possible for the inevitable ‘warm’ adjustment – I have no such option to remove a layer. Not only is it illegal in most places to strip down beyond that, but I’m sure most people don’t want to see a bunch of ‘colds’ walking around in the buff or in their skivvies.

For ‘warms’ it’s easy to deal with the cold. It’s not so simple for ‘colds’. Please be considerate, ‘warms’, and leave the temperature at a lower level. We ‘colds’ will appreciate it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Verizon Part X: A New Hope

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I picked up my (like) new LG enV Touch yesterday, unpacked it, set it all up, and am now using it. So far, so good – No data plan added to the contract, contract still up in May (after which I plan to go month-to-month to continue to avoid the fee). It’s not even been 24 hours yet, but all in all, I’m satisfied with this particular experience with Verizon. I’m still unhappy about the company overall, however, which leads me to my next point.

I’ve still got my case open with the FCC, but the process for them is MUCH slower than the BBB. As that process continues, I’ll keep updating here. Hopefully, we’ll get somewhere and other customers (those still willing to stick with a company that would do this in the first place) will be able to avoid this ridiculous mandatory data charge, or else maybe VZW will put out a series of phones that are still good, but don’t require the data plan. All we have for now is hope that they will come to their senses – which still doesn’t really seem likely.

 

P.S. Hope nobody minds another Star Wars reference in the Verizon series titles… ;-)

Monday, April 26, 2010

Boycott Arizona!

1 comment:

Yeah! Let’s all jump on a bandwagon!

Ok, seriously. This country is hurting for cash right now - more specifically, individual communities, states, counties, cities, and the like are affected. Arizona happens to be one of those states struggling to stay afloat, fretting over budget woes. A supremely controversial state bill (pdf) has just been passed, requiring local law-enforcement agents to request proof of citizenship/legal presence if it is suspected that an individual is not a citizen when stopped by police.

Now, how exactly can you tell if someone is not a citizen (using a simple traffic stop situation – there are many other occasions where this new rule could apply)? Maybe they have a Mexican (common around these parts – any foreign country will do) license plate on their vehicle. But there are flaws in that: what if they stole the car on this side of the border; what if the vehicle is owned by a visiting Mexican relative, but is being driven by the citizen counterpart? If the license plate is from AZ or another U.S. state, then maybe they have darker skin? I don’t even need to discuss the problems with that one… The safe bet would be to ask everyone to provide proof of citizenship at any time; it worked great for the Nazis!

The bill has been called an answer to the U.S. government’s inaction regarding the violence at the U.S./Mexico border, but I fail to see how requiring proof of citizenship is really going to address that, especially given that many of the provisions are already federal law. It’s already illegal to knowingly hire an ‘unauthorized alien’ to work for you. It’s already illegal to traffic ‘unauthorized aliens’ across the border. The law simply restates many of these already existing federal laws, so the only new thing to add is this ability for any and all officers to request proof that an individual is here legally.

For those ‘illegals’ at the border causing this problem, there should be no change in current practice: Avoid being pulled over by not breaking traffic laws, and avoid other police contact by generally behaving according to our rules. If they’re going to kill someone, chances are it’s not going to happen in a crowded clear area with police present. Instead, what will happen is the non-violent immigrants will be subject to this new enforcement of immigration law. That part at least seems reasonable to me for this reason: if you’re going to have a law in place, then enforce it, otherwise, get rid of it. However much that logic holds, it still does nothing to fix the violence. I want to also clarify that statement by adding that if a good law is in place, enforce it, but if a crappy law in effect, then get rid of it.

Unfortunately for me and many others in this state, I’m now labeled a racist by association. People all over the country are now talking about ‘backwoods’ Arizona and its crazy, redneck, gun-wielding, racist citizens. The passing of the bill even got an SNL mention in a very short time span. Great for us. One of the people talking about the situation also happens to be an Arizonan. Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva’s (unofficial transcription for pronunciation ‘ra-OOL gree-HAHL-vah’) got a great idea: Boycott Arizona! Because nothing says we disagree with the decision of a state’s government more than cutting of revenue for the state that would potentially go to helping those racist citizens like me.

From the official government website:

Raul_Grijalva_109th_pictorial“Grijalva called on national organizations of all kinds to reject Arizona as a convention destination unless the bill is vetoed. A Super Bowl ban by the National Football League Players Association after the state refused to recognize Martin Luther King Jr. day was effective in changing the policy in 1993.”

While this may actually be effective in undoing what has happened, if it’s not immediate, this could be a huge blow to us the citizens. This is like a sucker-punch to the state, considering the man proposing this action is supposed to be representing the needs of those same citizens. We’re already strapped for cash when it comes to paying our police/fire/education workers. We’re even considering raising sales tax rates to help the situation, so why would anyone from this area consider encouraging anything that would further reduce the amount of money available for these critical services?

Agree with the new state law or not, Mr. Grijalva’s plan is egregious, and shouldn’t earn him any votes come election time. Unfortunately, I suspect many people will see this as a single issue, rendering irrelevant any corresponding effects his proposal may have, and as such will see him as a hero. There’s nothing like a controversy to help people forget about other issues that (used to) plague them. Thanks, Representative Grijalva for showing us you really care about the people you work for.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Verizon Part IX: Let’s Make a Deal

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In part because of ‘the network’ and my reluctance to actually change providers, I have decided to accept Verizon’s offer and take the enV Touch. Bottom line is this: I need a new phone, and the current plan I’m on is actually cheaper than anything else out there from competitors (until such time that Verizon decides to really force feed me data). This doesn’t really solve the overall issue, and everyone else is still affected; this is for my own personal benefit only.

LGEnVTouchWith that out of the way, after talking with VZW yesterday, I’m still a little anxious about this deal. I called and spoke to the executive relations representative again, and informed him that I’d like to accept his consolation. We arranged for the billing (reduced fee for the phone) and shipping, and that was that. After everything was settled, we got off the phone and I went about my business. About 30-45 minutes later, I got a call back (supposedly about 15 minutes after he was to leave for the day), to explain that they did not have any batteries available for the enV Touch, and that I would either have to wait for them to get in stock, or accept a Samsung Rogue instead. After my horrible experience with the Samsung Glyde, I’ve decided to stay way from Samsung phones for a while, plus the enV is LG, and I’ve always liked LG phones.

At this point, I was a little hesitant to just accept option A or option B, and the gentleman on the other end of the line quickly picked up on this. Suddenly, there was a third option of having the phone sent to me without a battery. If this happened, I would then be able to go to a VZW store and pick one up, the cost of which would be deducted from the bill. That remains to be seen, unfortunately. Given the new option C, and the fact that he really did sound like he was trying to be helpful (he may just be a very good salesman I may just be a sucker), I went ahead and opted for that.

So now I wait until about Mon/Tue when the phone is expected to arrive, then I’ll go to a VZW store and pick up a battery, then call the guy to confirm everything, and we should be good to go. We’ll see.
With all the phone specifics taken care of, I decided to also ask the representative about the ‘tying’ anti-trust law infringement on Verizon’s part. He qualified his response with the fact that he does not make the decisions and that he’s not part of the legal department, which I can understand. What I can’t understand is how ‘people can interpret the however they like’ is an acceptable response. Is this the same as saying, if I steal something from a store, I can avoid prosecution by exclaiming that I didn’t interpret the law to mean that I can’t steal? If that’s the case, then why even have laws?

I will give the guy a break, because he’s not part of the legal department, and he probably wasn’t expecting that question, but I’m thinking a better answer to this question (given the lack of knowledge) would have been to just not say anything?

In the next few days, I’ll be speaking with him again, and hopefully it will be on a new, fully functioning phone without a data plan or renewed contract. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Thoughts on School Funding

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Here in Arizona, voters will soon be deciding on whether or not we should pay an additional (temporary) 1% sales tax, two-thirds of which is designated for primary and secondary education, while one-third of the revenue is designated for both health and human services and public safety. This vote is in response to the current economic environment, which threatens to force public officials to cut or reduce funding for the above-mentioned services.
My take on the matter is that we should not drop school funding, nor should we drop public safety funding, unless that change is to ‘cut the fat’. (Staying on track with the title of this post, from here on out, I’ll remove non-education items from the discussion.) Losing teachers, especially well qualified ones, is a very bad thing for our children, and subsequently our future. I don’t think I’ve ever come across the opinion that if that happens (aside from saving the budget), that this is ever a good idea. If the tax will help prevent such failures from occurring, then I do not mind paying the extra penny for my McDonald’s dollar menu item.
However, reading the information distributed to the public regarding the ballot, I did come upon an interesting thought – an idea I don’t believe I’ve ever considered or had previously been shared with me. The plan, instead of raising the taxes, as this was an opposing argument, is to decrease the total number of school districts across the state, thereby decreasing overhead administration costs, while reducing the need to cut (as many) teachers.
According to the AZ Dept. of Ed., there are a total of 155 districts in the state (as identified by district websites), whereas the opposing viewpoint cited 250+, which was almost verified (229) by a third party. (Maybe part of the budget problem is that nobody seems to know just how many districts there are?) If organized by city, only those districts in Tucson/Phoenix would really make a difference if conglomerated, reducing the total in these locales from around 45 to about 15 (based on VERY loose estimates, assuming a 3-to-1 conversion).  If combining based instead on county (instead of municipality), and using a 2-to-1 ratio instead for consideration of the distance of some districts, the total of 229 could be reduced to about 125.
In the last year or so, three new superintendents were hired in the Phoenix area, each making in the range of $150-200k per year, according to AZCentral. With a larger district (as is the trend nationwide), larger salaries go to the person in charge, so this individual cost would possibly be a bit higher, but much less than the three combined. That number would also just cover the superintendent. Remember: there are a number of other administrators involved as well. Even though the individual/per employee costs may go up, there would also be a significant drop in the total money spent on administration overall.
While I said before that I would not oppose paying an increased tax to fix the problem, I think there are better ways to solve them. Add to that, I actually think the ‘temporary’ tax may cause more harm than good. Once that funding goes away, what position will the state be in? How do we know until we get there that the tax money will actually fix the problem, instead of just bandaging it. (this comic says it all...) Increasing funding permanently would address that, but it would also lead to more spending later on down the road. Reducing overall spending instead would also be a fix and not a bandage, so there are a few options. I think this is just one of the better solutions to the issue at hand.
**There is much more to the logistics than what I’ve presented here, but I am simply trying to make a generalization for the sake of understanding. Why pay three people to do a job, if one can do it? If someone would like to compile all the data and come back with some figures, differing examples/solutions/possibilities to either support or disqualify the theory, then by all means, do so – I would love to see it! I have neither the time, nor I think the access/resources.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Verizon Part VIII: Verizon Strikes Back

3 comments:
So, Verizon’s letter, forwarded by the BBB, just got to me (see bottom of post). It’s some very interesting stuff, being that they have offered me a deal to get me a 3G phone without requiring a data plan. Though it’s not the best deal in the world - the ‘new’ 3G phone would actually be ‘like-new’ and would not be covered by any warranty - it is rather enticing. It would be a refurb LG enV Touch, and would cost me $50 to switch to it. The phone is being offered to replace my current POS (Samsung Glyde) more than to settle this $10/mo data charge, so that to me doesn’t really resolve the issue. On one hand, my personal grievances would more or less be appeased, but what about every other customer who’s getting the same raw deal?
I called the number listed in the letter and spoke with the representative who’s been handling my case. I asked a number of questions to verify that certain things would not happen if I accepted this offer, and to clarify some of the terms of the deal, which were not originally specified in the letter. He said that my contract would not be renewed, so if I decided to ultimately leave Verizon in two month’s time after accepting the offer, I would still be free to do so. He indicated that I could try this new phone out for a week and if I was not pleased, I could return it for a refund of my $50 and continue on as though nothing had changed. I asked if this would result in some kind of restocking/cancellation fee, and he said that it would not. I don’t quite remember all the questions that were asked, but he did satisfactorily answer all that I had asked. That being said, I am tempted to take advantage.
For the other part of my dilemma, what to do about the horrible policy? If/when this new phone breaks, will I still be required to pay for that data when I replace it? For now, yes, but I asked the gentleman on the phone some additional questions not directly related to the offer on the table. I pointed out that this deal, however tantalizing it may be, really seems to be a distraction from the real issue of the mandatory data fee. He said that although he personally had no authority to allow any *NEW* individual plan to remove the data plan (see, my particular offer is without updating any contract), the VZW executives were “seriously reconsidering” the policy. He said that he talks to 4-5 people per week who are upset by the forced data and also pointed out that he is one of many employees fielding these customer concerns.
It seems as though the voices are being heard, though I am just a little skeptical of the whole thing; I won’t be completely satisfied until the policy is changed. You want me to believe you are considering anything? Then put your money where your mouth is and stop forcing customers into something they don’t want. It’s as simple as that.
Personally, I haven’t quite decided if I will take him up on this offer, but I am seriously considering it. At this point, the final outcome is still up in the air. However, to those out there who are still dealing with this fiasco, my suggestion is to do exactly what I did, and make sure Verizon knows about your dissatisfaction. At the very least, this all shows that it is possible to relieve yourself of the issue, and at best, with enough compromises being made, they may end up doing away with the whole thing. Despite whatever decision I make (actually more so if I stay with Verizon under any terms) I will keep pushing for VZW to revert to the policies in place before January of this year. Good luck everyone, and keep an eye out for more from me regarding this issue.
Letter From Verizon Wireless








Please click the letter for full view.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Another Problem with the Health Reform Lawsuit

1 comment:

This is just my opinion, but I feel as though people were looking forward to this lawsuit all along. If those representing their states (the attorney generals and governors and everyone else involved in the decision to hop aboard the lawsuit bandwagon) had gotten more involved in the lawmaking process a bit sooner (like, before the bill was signed into law), we wouldn’t have to be spending so many tax dollars to fight it today.

In my state (AZ, which is part of the suit now), I heard little from our local politicians (outside of our congress/senate seat holders) about the bill and their support or opposition to it, but now people are up in arms about it and going full speed ahead with the lawsuit. Where were these people before it was ‘too late’? Why is it only after the fact that the decision makers have decided to join the fight against the reform?

Speaking of after the fact, why are there now TV commercials thanking Gabrielle Giffords (my representative) for voting yea on the health bill passing? (I didn’t find a video of this online after a very brief search. If I can do so later, I’ll link to it here.) If it was really such a good idea, then why do we have to advertise to promote the decision after it has already been made? We’re stuck with it for the time being, maybe indefinitely, so why spend the money to tell people how good an idea it was to vote in favor of the reform? Why not spend that money on getting the process implemented, or better yet, on educating the public on how the bill’s passing may directly affect them and what they may need to do in the next few years to avoid any hiccups during whatever transition may apply to them?

This all goes to show (me, anyway) that the passing of the bill really was just a way to try and gain votes, and this applies to both sides of the argument. Those in favor are now praising themselves (i.e. asking for votes next election) for the decision, while those against are now promoting themselves (i.e. asking for votes next election) for being a champion against the evil socialist reform. I’m not saying the grass is necessarily greener on the other side, but its unfortunate that politics is really all about serving one’s self interests and not the greater good. </cliché>

Monday, April 12, 2010

Verizon Part VII: A Sick Twist of Fate!

1 comment:

So, I now have a bone to pick with BBB, which is the worst, given that they are supposed to be a consumer advocacy group. When I checked the status of my Verizon complaint this morning, I was presented with the update I gave in Part VI. After checking again during at lunch, lo and behold, the whole process seems to have been upended! From the complaint page at the BBB site:

Date – Activity

04/12/2010 - Case closed - ASSUMED RESOLVED

04/12/2010 - No Consumer Response- Assumed Resolved w/o Letter

04/12/2010 - Manually Forward Final Response to Consumer

04/12/2010 - Received Business' Rebuttal Response

04/12/2010 - No Response from Business re: Consumer Rebuttal

That’s right. After the business failed to respond (mind you this BBB update was already 2 days past the deadline for VZW), suddenly the BBB finds that a response has materialized and accepts it as a legitimate response past the due date. What’s more, not only did that letter magically appear and get accepted too late, but in a few hours time, I apparently failed to respond, so now the case is closed in Verizon’s favor! For reference, the above listing is in reverse chronological order, so the stuff at the top is most recent.

It gets worse! I called up the BBB and was quickly connected to the woman handling my case. When I asked about this, she sort of explained why this happened, but was more than rude about it. According to her, she came in to work in the morning, saw there had been no response, so she recorded that. Then, a short time later, the letter was delivered to her, and she forwarded to me (snail mail). So far, so good, right? But that was it, so I asked why then the case was marked as resolved in favor of the business. She said that ‘that’s for us to worry about. You only have to worry about responding if you don’t agree’ because then at that point, they will reopen the case. I pushed further and asked why that’s the default statement, and she responded that that’s just their practice and that when a letter is sent by the business, they automatically close the case. I again pressed and asked why then, after their first response the case had not been closed, to which she started giving me information about a reminder letter that had to be sent to Verizon in order to get them to respond.

I started to push again, but decided it best to cut it off there. She was not being very helpful, and I was getting too heated to be of any rational use to my cause. At this point, Verizon has ‘won’ the case with the BBB, but you bet that when I receive this letter in the mail that I will be re-opening the case immediately. If I have further issues, I wonder what the process is to follow up against the BBB, since they are supposedly the source to help resolve these kinds of issues.

Verizon Part VI: Finalizing with the BBB

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Verizon had until the April 10th to respond to my rebuttal through the BBB, and they failed to do that. The BBB records now show (on 4/12) that the business failed to respond, but they have not yet closed the case. At any rate, I would have liked to have been able to show a longer dialog between myself and VZW, but it appears there won’t one to show. Since this chapter seems to be over, I’ll post a modified version of my rebuttal for all to see. It’s ‘modified’, since I used the whole process as my basis for filing a complaint with the FCC. I made a few edits, helped by the original Verizon response, which gave me a few additional talking points. Really, it’s a blend of my original BBB complaint mixed with my rebuttal. Enjoy.

When I renew my contract with Verizon, I need to purchase a new phone, since mine is not functioning properly. My phone (Samsung Glyde) is a horrible phone, an argument to which Verizon conceded when they pulled it from their device offering after only a few months on the market. The vast majority of user reviews for the phone list it as one of the worst. My own experience is no exception, but in order to avoid extra fees for replacing it with a better quality phone, I have held onto it until such time that Verizon's policy allows me to acquire a new phone at a discounted rate. Now (as of mid-January, 2010), Verizon is forcing the purchase of a data plan for all but the worst quality phones. Some of these same exact phones were available the day before the change without a required data plan activation.

At this point, my phone is at time unusable. It has a touch screen that does not always accurately read my inputs and the phones internal system does not allow for bypassing of the touch screen for certain activities, such as placing a phone call. I have a real need to replace the phone, but I opted to wait until it was most fiscally feasible for me to do so. I want a phone with a QWERTY keyboard because I text frequently. However, (at the time of the original complaint) VZW only offers one phone with a keyboard without a mandatory data plan charge of $10 per month. I never use data, and I don't want to use data. I would rather just have the data access disabled than be forced to pay for it, since I will not use it. I know that I have the choice to move to another provider or buy a simpler phone, but as I consumer, I should also have a choice to not pay for something I don't want. I should have the right to refuse to purchase a good or service if I don't want it, but Verizon seems to think otherwise. I choose to stay with Verizon because they do offer high quality service, and up until now have not done anything so grievous as so make me terminate my contract with them.

Since I have done that, now in order to replace my phone with one that has comparable features, I must also now pay a $10 per month fee. This additional fee also applies to phones with less-than-comparable features, so even if I downgrade to something that will be less enjoyable to use (based on features, not quality - most anything will be better than my current phone in terms of quality), I will still be required to pay an additional fee.

Not all the phones with the new mandatory fee are touch screen or have QWERTY keyboards, but all touch screen phones and the vast majority of QWERTY phones have this fee. If I decide to get a touch screen phone or a phone with a keyboard, and I choose NOT to use the data plan that will be forced upon me for my selection, I will essentially be paying a monthly touch screen/keyboard fee. This is an example of how Verizon's policy is infringing on 'Tying' anti-trust laws, which state that a business cannot force the purchase of one product based on the purchase of another if that additional product is not required for the chosen product to operate/function. If I buy a smart phone, that data is mandatory because the data is in most cases actually required, or else the phone will not function. This is not the case here; as previously stated, the same phones were previously available without a data plan.

Verizon's answer to this has been:

"The new data plan requirement was made available to consumers as a method of permitting 3G Multimedia devices to function in their largest capacity, all the while eliminating the occurrence of individual $1.99 megabyte charges. Currently, activations of 3G Multimedia devices will require a data plan of $9.99 or higher; however, Mr. <NAME>'s feedback is certainly appreciated and valued, and can rest assured that it will be forwarded to the appropriate department."

This is an example of Verizon lying and misleading of customers about the situation. "The new data plan requirement was made available to consumers" Nothing has been made 'available'. Since when is a compulsory charge something that is 'available'. If Verizon REALLY had their customers' best interests in mind when they developed this plan, they would have allowed a data block. With a block in place, there can be no additional phantom charges, against which the mandatory data was supposed to protect. I realize that Verizon has been successfully sued for their practices of charging this 'phantom' fee for some individuals, but I am not one of them. As such I would much prefer a data block option as opposed to the policy Verizon decided to follow through on.

The problem is that Verizon is misleading and deceiving in saying they are doing the right thing for their customers, because they are really only doing it to make more money. To quote a quote from/about Lowell McAdam...

"Lowell McAdam, president and CEO of Verizon Wireless, ... stressed that Verizon's efforts with pricing were to get more people to use data. Such data use won't harm the company's network, he said. It will also bring in more revenue and keep the average revenue per user at the carrier on the rise."

(source: http://gigaom.com/2010/01/15/verizon-talk-is-cheap-data-is-mandatory-for-most/)

If Verizon's customer service reps keep saying that this change was to protect us from paying more money, then how is it that the CEO himself clearly states that this plan was put into place because he wants us to pay more money? I understand businesses are in business to make money, but then why not just increase all phone plans across the board? Why set up a scheme to force people into additional services then lie about the basis for that action?

In addition to this - again if they truly had the best intentions - they would also listen to other customers, whom I've heard complain about this piece specifically. Some customers are parents of children who do not want to allow unrestricted access to the internet on their child(ren)'s phones. I am not in this position, but it is still a point to be made. I've heard anecdotes that describe Verizon employees agreeing to allow the data block on these phones, but will still charge for the mandatory data. How is this even ethical? I know it's legal because this is what it says in the contract and if that's signed, then that's the way it goes, but that doesn't mean it's ok to do.

If the phone does not require a service in order to operate, it is not proper to require a charge for that service. I'm going to use an analogy, many of which have already been used over and over again on blogs, social networking sites and online bulletin boards about this situation:

This is nearly equivalent to an consumer electronics outlet charging customers for cable service when they buy a TV from them, even if the customer will not use cable service, either because they don't want it, or they already have an alternative service they wish to use instead (such as satellite service). If this electronics store did this, there would be an uproar!

In the case of Verizon, I choose to use the internet at home, and I don't have a need or want to have it on my phone. I don't care if it's more mobile/convenient; I don't want it. I suspect that the reason this issue has not become significantly large yet for Verizon is that customers don't know about it. Most seem to only be finding out AFTER they go in to change their phone or upgrade/renew their contract. This means that many consumers have up to about 1.5 years before they will even realize that this change has taken place.

Hopefully, the BBB will be officially closed soon with a negative mark for the company. Remarkably, at the time I originally filed my complaint, there had only been one negative/unresolved dispute for the company (with result “Company failed to resolve the complaint issues through BBB voluntary and self-regulatory process”). It appears they know how to work the BBB system, so if/when this new point is added, it will essentially be doubling their negative score.

From http://www.bbb.org/new-jersey/business-reviews/cellular-telephone-service-and-supplies/verizon-wireless-in-bedminster-nj-1001468:

These complaints were closed as:

14858 Resolved

1912 Administratively Closed

1 Unresolved

1 Unpursuable

Here’s hoping the FCC route turns out better!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Healthcare Reform and the Impending Lawsuit

2 comments:

If you’ve been following my blogs on the whole healthcare reform process, you’ve probably noticed that I am in favor of change. You may (or may not) have noticed that I am not really in favor of some of the changes made by the bill law that was enacted last month. However, there’s now something new to add to the story, which I’m still not really a fan of: The lawsuit being brought against the federal government on the behalf of (now) nearly 20 states.

While I don’t like the bill as a whole, it does do some good here and there. I think it has it’s shortcomings, but we don’t live in a perfect world, and I know not everyone thinks like me, so it is what it is. Unfortunately, this lawsuit (no links to this, there are so many articles out there – plus many frequent updates – that I’ll just let you Google the stuff yourself) is based on the fact that the passed legislation is unconstitutional, as it violates the states’ rights to their own sovereignty. Some of the suit’s proponents are also trying to make the point that the government is trying to change what it means to be a U.S. citizen by requiring the purchase of something as a condition of being a citizen, which they say is without precedent.

At no other time in our history has Congress passed legislation that required us to purchase a product or face punishment for not doing so.” –Peter D. Kinder, Lieutenant Governor, Missouri (Rep)

This bill is an unprecedented overreach by Congress and the President, forcing Americans for the first time ever to buy something as the price of citizenship…” –Mike Cox, Attorney General, Michigan (Rep)

Has nobody ever heard of paying taxes??? Since when has an everyday citizen (aside from some special circumstances), not had to pay some basic form of taxes, in the form of income, sales, or some other kind of tax? If you pay taxes as a citizen, you are paying for something, be it schools, public safety, or any number of other things. And guess what, Mr. Kinder? If you don’t pay taxes (i.e. if you don’t buy some things as part of being a citizen), you face punishment. This is not a new concept, nor is it unconstitutional, lest the taxes we pay also be deemed as much.

Sure I don’t agree with the bill, but this claim of unconstitutionalism is completely misguided. For example, how do you think the court battles are to be paid for? There are some private funds going to support this action (see the link for Lt. Gov. Kinder above), but much will come from taxes. Do these guys really think taxes come from some magical wonderland? More to the point, their very paychecks are funded from the coffers of the public.

I don’t know what the root cause for this sensationalism is - perhaps, the fame/spotlight that comes with heading the charge, perhaps overzealous opposition to the president/the democratic party/reform of any kind – but it’s time to come back down to Earth now. There are more logical and more feasible methods to have the law overturned, and there are better things to do with taxpayer money, especially given the financial hurt many states are already in.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Jeopardy ‘Geniuses’

2 comments:

Ah, Jeopardy! The classic game show hosted by Alex Trebek. It’s a trivia showdown between some pretty bright minds with wit and intelligence built into many of the questions asked. Some topics include the most obscure historic literary snippet you’ve ever heard to the name of a character on the Suite Life of Zach and Cody. Despite some of the more pop-culture knowledge displayed, to be a contestant, you have to know your stuff. Just to get on the show you have to pass a series of trials, and to win the game, you have to be smart and you have to be fast.

With that said, it boggles me that when a player does so well during the course of the game that they have a guaranteed win, they still manage to blow it. We’re talking simple math and a ‘sure thing’ bet gone horribly wrong. I’ll break it down into simple, fairly realistic numbers. Say player A – in first place - has won $15,000 up through the end of round 2, and player B – in second place – has won $5,000. This is a can’t lose situation for player A going into the Final Jeopardy question. The most player B can bet on the final question is the sum of their current winnings, or $5,000, which means the most they can end up with assuming a correct answer is $10,000, which is still 5K below player A.

Here’s the twist, if player A bets $4,999 or less, regardless of their confidence about the topic at hand, they CAN NOT LOSE. Yet somehow, of all the times I’ve seen this scenario unfold, a large portion of contestants who fit into the player A category bet more than that maximum. Of those, a large portion gets the answer wrong and ends up losing. If you’re that smart to kick so much ass the whole game, then how do you get to be so stupid as to blow a sure thing? UGH.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Drug companies the enemy?!? (Do Over)

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The first time through this was a bit rushed as I was strapped for time, and looking back, I can see that I did not really elaborate much. Really, it was just a few links and some nonsense response to them. Next time, I’ll take better care to not push something like this out. With that said, here’s a better version for you:

While the federal government (U.S.) pushed for the advancement (and ultimate passing) of the healthcare bill, they identified some key components to the ‘failure’ of the healthcare system in America. One of these components they claimed, is the health insurance companies. With very little searching online, you can quickly find negative remarks about the industry quoted from many parties (individuals, not necessarily political groups). Representative John Shadegg (R – AZ) at one time had this to say about insurance companies:

"I don't think that they [Health Insurers] are our friends, and that we ought to be protecting them."(source)

The president himself, the lead proponent of the passed healthcare reform was credited with this little nugget:

“They’re [Health Insurers] telling their investors this – ‘We are in the money.  We are going to keep on making big profits even though a lot of folks are going to be put under hardship.’” (source)

Unfortunately, this is not the only truth. Yes, insurance companies are in business to make profit. Yes, there may even be some actions on their behalf that put some people into financial hardship. But really, isn’t that was capitalism and corporate America is all about? Isn’t the point of running your own company to make lots of money? That’s the American dream! So the fact that those in the insurance industry fit this model is not a surprise.

What is surprising is that the federal leadership as failed to note the same behavior in other healthcare related industries – and worse, they have failed to take real action against it. Take pharmaceuticals, for example. Over the course of the last few years, Pfizer has gone and done what’s best for itself (and its shareholders) and not the public at large by promoting the use of a potentially harmful drug. Heck, they are even accused of lying about the FDA’s recommendations for use of the drug.

That drug is Bextra. Never heard of it? Well, neither had I until I came across this CNN news story. Google it and you’ll find lots of info pertaining to what I’m about to tell you. Almost a decade ago, Pfizer wanted to release a new Cox-2 inhibitor (painkiller), but they were blocked by the FDA when it identified an increased risk of heart attack and stroke related to Bextra.

Despite this hold up, Pfizer eventually got around to getting the drug out, approved for lesser pain such as menstrual cramps, and began raking in the profits. However, the company still promoted the product for more sever pain in an illegal practice called ‘off-label’ marketing. They actually instructed their sales people to push the benefits for which the medicine was not approved. A law firm whose target cases are those of government fraud even says this practice is actually smiled upon within the company.

Back to the healthcare debate, what was it that Obama said about the insurance industry and why we should focus the reform on that aspect of the system as a whole? “We are going to keep on making big profits even though a lot of folks are going to be put under hardship.” Now, isn’t that what Pfizer seems to have done? Only, the difference I see is that Pfizer’s actions have directly risked the lives of their customers, whereas the insurance industry has simply made it harder to get by.

Despite the ‘hardships’ insurance companies impose, think about the vast benefit they provide. Just for having insurance coverage, a single visit to the hospital is much less likely to bankrupt you (though it’s still a possibility). If you have group coverage through an employer, odds are that your bill is actually less than if you are self-insured. I’m not talking about premiums (which ARE lower in these cases), but the actual cost of care. Insurance companies negotiate contracts with healthcare providers that help increase total revenue for the doctors (by directing the insured to use them), who in turn are able to accept less in payment for the same services. While premiums may be high (and there are variances and not all companies are alike), insurance is a gamble, and should you need really need it, it will almost certainly pay for itself.

Both the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries can be very profitable, but when it comes to the big hitters, the pharma companies bring home a much larger piece of the health care pie profit. Should we really be gimping the insurance industry over them? Why not both? You may say that the health bill addresses this by increasing taxes on drug companies (which it does), but who do you think is REALLY going to pay for that? I’m putting my money on the consumer.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Drug companies the enemy?!?

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You read right. While the federal government (U.S.) still claims that the insurance companies are to blame for the failures of the healthcare industry in America (here are just a FEW examples)…

Also, Rep. John Shadegg, a conservative Republican from Arizona, has proposed a bill to allow interstate purchase of health insurance.

"I don't think that they are our friends, and that we ought to be protecting them."(source)

“(Health Insurers) will keep on doing this for as long as they can get away with it. This is no secret,” the president said. “They're telling their investors this – ‘We are in the money.  We are going to keep on making big profits even though a lot of folks are going to be put under hardship,’” the President told supporters at a stop in Pennsylvania today. (source)

they are letting certain drug companies - who obviously are the absolute right in the debate - get away with knowingly putting consumers at serious risk, just to make a buck, according to CNN. A law firm whose target cases are those of government fraud even says this practice is actually smiled upon within the company.

 

Both the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries can be very profitable, but when it comes to the big hitters, the pharma companies bring home a much larger piece of the health care pie profit. Should we really be gimping the insurance industry over them?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Space: Give the People What They Want

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CNET has published a set of images that have been taken by NASA’s HiRise camera, a device created to capture high quality pictures of the Martian surface. These images are not the most awe-inspiring NASA has produced, such as the Hubble images the likes of which we have become accustomed to. However, these images are still something special: the targets were chosen by the general public!

The suggestions were made through a program called HiWish, which was specifically created to take input from non-experts about where the HiRise camera should be pointed. The CNET story states that as a result of this project, the camera has even been nicknamed ‘the people’s camera.’ Hopefully, with the release of these images, people will get at least a bit more excited about space exploration, even if it is just our next-door neighbor.

However, it’s not all smiles and happiness at this point from this author’s perspective. According to the CNET article, there have been about 1,000 suggestions made. That’s all since late January of this year when HiWish was initially launched. Of those, most came early on in the project, and now there are only a few suggestions per day, and the majority of those come from a small number of people.

While the project is open to the public, it seems not much of the public is aware of its existence. Worse yet, they just may not interested. A little publicity will hopefully go a long way to improve this case and encourage and excite people to join in. Many scientific discoveries have been made by non-experts, so it can’t hurt to have a few extra people looking into this, regardless of their individual technical knowledge.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Unexpected Cox Resolution: No advertisements in weeks!

1 comment:

Looks like I got the last word after all! The last bit of Cox advertising that came to my house was within a few days of my last correspondence with them. That means it’s been over 2 weeks since I’ve gotten anything, which is a significant difference from multiple adverts per week. It seems they will take your name of their mailing lists if you push hard enough, so if there’s anyone else out there who’s as annoyed as I was, send them a letter. The specific email address I worked with was Phoenix.Services@cox.com, but that came to me after I filled out a form I found from the main Cox website. Since each region is set up on a different website from the others, I would suggest going that route instead if you don’t live in Arizona.

 

 

On a completely unrelated note…

 

 

Bears.

Beets.

Battlestar Galactica.

 

 

That is all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Verizon Part V: The BBB gets involved

1 comment:

So, it’s not news that the BBB has a complaint on file regarding Verizon Wireless from me. (At least it’s not if you follow me.) There will hopefully soon be a series of emails posted here to show everyone the process I’ve gone through. I’m in the middle of these emails as I type this, so I will hold until complete resolution before posting them all. However, I have decided to post Verizon’s response to the filed complaint. Doesn’t help much, but here you go anyway:

 

On March 12, 2010, the business provided the following information:
March 12, 2010
Better Business Bureau of New Jersey
1700 Whitehorse - Hamilton Sq. Rd. Ste D5
Trenton, NJ 08690
Re: Complaint dated March 4, 2010, filed by Mr. <NAME> / Case #: <###>(Verizon Wireless Customer Account No. <###>; Mobile Telephone No. <###>)
Dear Ms. Bocchicchio:
This is in response to the above-referenced complaint filed by Mr. <NAME>, received by Verizon Wireless on March 4, 2010. Mr. <NAME> informs of his dissatisfaction with Verizon Wireless' new data plan requirement imposed on a majority of the handsets currently offered. Mr. <NAME> indicates that as a paying subscriber, he should have control over which device he selects and not be limited to lower-end devices that do not require a data plan. He is requesting that Verizon Wireless provide the consumer with the option to block services that they may not use or want, as opposed to forcibly imposing the requirement of a plan.
Our records indicate that Mr. <NAME> established service with Verizon Wireless on <DATE>. Please be advised that as of January 18, 2010, activations of 3G Multimedia phones began requiring the subscription of a data plan of $9.99 or higher. However, subscribers have been permitted to maintain their current equipment at a Pay-As-You-Go rate or with a data block, as in Mr. <NAME> case, so long as the equipment is not exchanged or upgraded to a device requiring a data plan.
The new data plan requirement was made available to consumers as a method of permitting 3G Multimedia devices to function in their largest capacity, all the while eliminating the occurrence of individual $1.99 megabyte charges. Currently, activations of 3G Multimedia devices will require a data plan of $9.99 or higher; however, Mr. <NAME> feedback is certainly appreciated and valued, and can rest assured that it will be forwarded to the appropriate department.
It is our hope that we have adequately clarified our position regarding the above mentioned concern/s. Verizon Wireless regrets any inconvenience this matter may have caused. Should Mr. <NAME> have any questions regarding this response, he may contact the undersigned at (866) 673-9561 between the hours of 7:00AM and 4:00 PM PST.
Respectfully,
Adrian Heredia
Executive Relations
Verizon Wireless - West Area

Though they didn’t really address the issue appropriately enough for me, it seems – based on their summary – that they at least do understand the issue. But don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t even begin to start giving me a more favorable opinion of them. If anything, it makes me more upset that they understand the problem, but still choose to do nothing to resolve it.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Verizon Part IV – Disappointment, no Surprise

3 comments:

According to this message, left on March 5th, I was supposed to have received further communication from Verizon Wireless about the complaint I filed with the BBB about their mandatory data service fees for non-smart-phones/data-not-required-to-actually-use-phones. (See the FaceBook page for more info…) Today is day 14, business day 10, and while there may be 45 minutes left of today, I think it’s a safe bet that I won’t be receiving another call in time. Looks like I’ll have to be getting back to the BBB to follow up. Since it is Friday night, I’ll wait until Monday. I suppose there’s a chance I’ll get a call tomorrow, but I won’t hold my breath.

Besides, what are they going to tell me? “I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is, so deal with it.” That seems to be the only message others on the web are getting for their similar efforts.

As a slight correction/clarification to my previous post about Verizon, the message states ‘about 10 days’, and not within ten business days. I did not mention the ‘business’ part before, but in my head I had really made the assumption. Either way, today is at or beyond that limit.

Addendum to Healthcare: An Additional Solution

4 comments:

As was correctly pointed out to me, in my haste to publish my original rant about the cost of healthcare, I failed to address a major contributor to the overall rising cost of healthcare (in America, at least): The effect of malpractice suits. To be more fair to the doctors who render services to the ill and infirm (I may have come across too negatively in the original post), a significant portion of a doctor’s pay goes to pay for malpractice insurance.

On one hand, that cost is justifiable, and really practical, given that something MAY happen. Even if you never get in a car accident in your life, it’s still a good idea to have auto insurance just in case. The same is true for doctors; they may be the best at what they do, but they are still human and may at one time or another make some mistake.

On the other hand, the cost of that insurance is extremely high. This is not necessarily the fault of insurance companies (though they could sacrifice a small portion of the bottom line to help), but rather the ‘victims’ of physician errors who endure ‘pain and suffering’ as a result. These patients are the ones who recoup their lost wages due to incapacitation and the costs to remedy the situation, but then also take additional monies above and beyond those costs at a frivolous and exorbitant level.

There’s nothing wrong with getting back money that was lost, but just taking more because of the hassle involved is a bit much. In many simple civil suits (small claims), a judge will not award more money than what was reasonably made unavailable to a plaintiff. Just watch Judge Judy or The People’s Court and you’ll learn that almost immediately! However, for other cases such as malpractice suits, punitive damages for can be awarded, and that’s where it begins to affect the rest of us.

When a doctor gets sued for millions of dollars (and they lose), where do you suppose that money comes from? Doctors make a lot more than a lot of folks, but not necessarily that much, so that’s not all going to come out of their pocket. Instead, they enlist the help up insurance companies by buying up malpractice insurance up front. In order to be able to afford this insurance, physicians and hospitals will charge a little more for their services. That ends up costing us (or our own insurance) more in the end.

And if doctors don’t lose the suit? They still end up paying! According to a report (pdf) by the American Medical Association, while “more than 60 percent of liability claims against physicians are dropped, withdrawn or dismissed without payment,” it costs “an average of more than $22,000 to defend” that case. And while “physicians are found not negligent in over 90 percent of cases that actually go to trial … more than $110,000 per case is spent on defending those claims.” Wow. Hopefully a doctor facing these numbers personally is decent enough at their job so as to avoid doing this multiple times in a year (ever). So what’s to stop greedy, disgruntled patients from starting the litigation process? Not much, if they can find a lawyer willing to help them get that ball rolling.

Let’s go back for a second to when doctors end up being liable for whatever damage was done. If patient is out of work as a result of some shoddy medical care for a month and is therefore out of a few thousand dollars in pay. The doctor (malpractice insurance) will pay out a few thousand dollars. If this patient is also mentally distraught and decides they want additional punitive damages awarded, how much additional money will that be? According to one report, in 1999 the average payout for medical liability cases was around $1,000,000. Some states have set limits on how much money can be awarded for such a reason, but not all. As that average gets higher and higher, so do the insurance premiums physicians have to pay so the insurance companies will be able to afford it.

In California however, they seem to have gotten it right. In 1975, the Medical Injury Compensation Reform Act (MICRA) was enacted, which limited the total amount of non-monetary damages that can be awarded to $250,000 (1/4 the national average payout). Since then, California has stood out among other states as a leader in this kind of tort reform. According to the previously mentioned AMA report (pdf), the premiums paid by doctors for malpractice insurance increased more than 1,000% (that’s over 11x the original amount) nationwide in the 40 years from 1976 (the year after California’s reform) to 2007. That’s the national average, but in CA alone, the increase was less than 1/3 of that, or roughly 300% (4x original), during the same time frame. Keep in mind that the 1,000% increase also includes the very low California numbers, so if you take them out, the increase nationally is even higher. Remember, those increased costs for the doctors translate to increased costs for patients.

Real national healthcare reform could start just like it did nearly half a century ago in California, and we’d probably all be a lot better off as a result. If the federal government steps in and actually takes over the process, this cost will not be changed or reduced. People will still be able to sue for as much as they can squeeze out.

If anyone else has any good ideas or another point that I missed, please feel free to let me know!

Update: Just saw a commercial released by AHIP. Sound familiar?

Monday, March 15, 2010

How to drive – Lesson 2: Open Lane Takers

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Welcome to the second installment of the ‘how to drive’ lessons. In this edition, we’ll cover Open Lane Takers (OLTs) – those who leave their lane in a multi-lane roadway to enter another lane with fewer or no other cars ahead of them. Before we begin, I’d like to clarify a few differences from one OLT to another. There are three major groups to define here, and they are:

  1. Necessary OLTs (NOLTs)
    1. Fast OLTs (NFOLTs)
    2. Slow OLTs  (NSOLTs)
  2. Unnecessary OLTs (UOLTs)
    1. Fast OLTs (UFOLTs)
    2. Slow OLTs  (USOLTs)

*Fast here refers to travelling significantly above the speed limit or overall flow of traffic. Slow refers to travelling significantly below the speed limit or overall flow of traffic.

The first group is really not the cause of the issue we will discuss here, but I make this listing because I want to make clear the distinctions between all types.

Group 1 – NOLTs – are those that change lanes to an open lane because they need to. Most likely, this is because they need to make a turn in a relatively short distance, or their final destination is coming up. These may also actually be subcategorized into Fast and Slow (NFOLT/NSOLT) based on how they drive, but given that they have a need to change lanes, we can group them together.

Group 2 – UOLTs – are those that change lanes to avoid traffic, get ahead of it, or just because they feel like it. In this case, the subdivision of Fast and Slow (UFOLT/USOLT) becomes an important one. Here the individual reason for changing lanes is essentially arbitrary. While there are possible reasons to do so listed above, they are based on preference, not compulsion. That lack of need reduces any traffic impedance to simply an annoyance, which can lead to road rage, which can lead to accidents, injury, and death. I’m stretching a bit, and I don’t mean to say that UOLTs will cause people to die; it’s merely a slight possibility, but a possibility nonetheless. A bigger issue with UOLTs mucking up traffic is that they often don’t know they are causing an issue, either because they are in their own little driving bubble and don’t take notice of other drivers, or worse, they aren’t even paying attention to their own driving adequately.

UFOLTs are the drivers that want to be in the lead, or are just fast in general, and can’t be behind someone else. You know the type; they are those that change lanes constantly and, if they can’t change, they ride up on other’s bumpers. This may sound similar to non-OLT ‘fast drivers’, but be sure there is a difference. These drivers may accelerate quickly or reach a high speed while on the open road, but their driving is generally not erratic or volatile, and they typically go with the flow of traffic. UFOLTs swerve and change lanes frequently, especially in heavier traffic and in doing so can cause others around them to become anxious or even develop or bring about some road rage because of that anxiety. For those being tailgated who have a tendency to get aggressive in their vehicles, they may retaliate against the UFOLT by hitting their brakes or changing lanes to keep the UFOLT from advancing.

While the UFOLT may elicit some aggressive behavior in others, there’s a good chance that they are also easily aggravated. So in turn, we get a snowballing effect, wherein the UFOLT causes another driver to retaliate, to which the raging UFOLT will make a reprisal. This is not good for anyone - not the drivers involved, not the non-involved drivers who just happen to be on the road at the same time, not any pedestrians next to the road, or for property owners who have some investment made at the street. It’s unsafe, careless, and unnecessary. (There is more to be said about road rage in general, but that is for Lesson  #4 – Road Rage). For now, just realize that it’s a bad idea. Even backing down from the more serious repercussions just outlined, there is also the threat of legal fallout if you get pulled over for your reckless driving. (I will discuss traffic laws later in Lesson #3 – Traffic Laws)

On to USOLTs, these are the drivers that may be behind someone, whether or not that person is going above, at, or below the speed limit, and they do not want to be behind them (or anyone). Sometimes these drivers just like to be able to see the road ahead and be better prepared for any potential disruptions to traffic, which is a fair enough reason to do so. These are also the drivers, however, that when approaching a stop light, will change lanes to be at the head of the pack, even if there was only one person ahead of them in their lane to begin with. To be fair, UFOLTs do this as well, but the impact to other drivers is negligible, as we’ll see shortly. In general, these lane changes may or may not pose much of a threat to the normal flow of traffic, but when the driver making the lane change is a USOLT, they end up breaking down the system.

Faster moving traffic (normal flow/speed limit) will build up behind this person, and depending on the density of the flow, may end up being stuck behind them. which is particularly frustrating when the slower speed is far below the posted limit. In the case of the stop light example above, when the USOLT ends up ultimately being passed by the person in the lane position they vacated by changing lanes, it leaves others around wondering why in the heck they even changed. If they moved to get ahead (and then did so) this would be less confusing and thus more acceptable by other drivers. In a similar scenario, a USOLT changing lanes from behind another driver between intersections, but not advancing (consider the USOLT pacing themselves with the person they were behind). This is even worse, since then there are no outlets for faster moving traffic to move ahead. As with UFOLTs, this all can lead to road rage, etc, etc.

If your find yourself being a UOLT, stop and think about what consequences there are for yourself and others before you take an open lane, because it’s not just you out there. Along with not taking an open lane, also move out of the way of faster moving traffic, but also don’t be such an aggressive driver that you cause more problems for others. Is it really going to benefit you more to take an open lane than it will hinder another driver? If not, then don’t do it.

If you find yourself being affected by a UOLT, realize that they might not even know they’re doing it, and unfortunately, you’ll have to just deal with them. If you are a fast driver, but there is a UFOLT coming up behind you, check the following things about the situation:

- Do you need to be in the lane you’re in at the moment?

- Is there nobody in front of you?

- Is there room to pass around you to the side

- Is there traffic in the next lane that is preventing the faster driver from changing lanes already?

If so, consider changing lanes (signaling ahead of time) to allow that person to pass. Also, while they are passing, slow down just a little so as not to pace them and actually allow them to pass. This will help reduce stress and risk of accident as a result of the UFOLT being on the road. If you get stuck behind a USOLT, don’t antagonize them, as it will likely do you no good and will possibly exacerbate whatever stress you or they may already be under.

These suggestions assume practical, safe conditions, of course, but hopefully the spirit of the message is still tangible. Happy driving!