December 2003

Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 12/31/2003

Just in time for the 2003 cutoff:

“Just think of it as well-seasoned butter.”

Explaining fois gras to someone who didn’t like the texture.

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On the portability of numbers

by Michael Alderete on 12/29/2003

Rochelle and I recently tested the early waters on mobile phone number portability, by switching our mobile phones from AT&T Wireless to Verizon Wireless while keeping our existing mobile numbers, in the third week that it was possible to port the numbers.

We wanted to switch for a variety of reasons:

  1. My phone (using AT&T’s GSM service) works well everywhere except in our house. According to the research I did, for a variety of reasons Verizon has the best coverage in the Bay Area and nationwide.
  2. Rochelle’s old (and free) “stick-style” phone keeps dialing me from her purse. A new clamshell design should fix that.
  3. Rochelle’s plan was killing us when she overflowed her minutes or roamed, which happened every other month.
  4. Our old plans were old, and not getting us the features or minutes that were available today.
  5. Rochelle’s company switched their preferred wireless provider to Verizon, and Verizon was offering killer discounts on plans and new phones.
  6. OK, we admit it, we just wanted to get polyphonic ringtones.

I did almost a week of research, inputting our old bills into a spreadsheet to review our historical usage patterns, comparing different carriers’ available service plans, learning more about mobile phone technologies (e.g., TDMA vs. CDMA, 800MHz vs. 1900MHz, etc.), finding the right phone, finding software for the right phone that would connect it with my Mac, etc.

In the end, Verizon having an arrangement with Gap, plus the ringing endorsements and explanations of technical superiority, made it impossible not to go with Verizon. Picking phones was a little harder, but after narrowing the options to three phones and Googling around for reviews and other info, it became clear that the LG VX4400 was the way to go for us. I’ll write more about our phone selection in another post.

Once the decisions were made, Verizon’s corporate rep made it incredibly easy to place the order and get the ball rolling. During the order process he was very careful to caution us that, because of the very early nature of number portability, it could take between 2 hours and a week for our numbers to completely transfer from our old carrier.

It turned out that AT&T wasn’t happy with our decision to switch, and our phones were deactivated immediately after they were notified we were transferring to Verizon. Since this was a few days before we got our new phones, let alone activated them and the number transfer, it seemed a little harsh, but making do without mobile phones for a couple days wasn’t a big deal.

In the end, the number transfers were anti-climactic. When the phones arrived I charged them for a few hours, and then followed the two-step procedure to activate them. Instead of it taking 2 hours or a week, the phones immediately came up with our old numbers. Yay Verizon!

So far we’re pretty happy with the new service and phones. I still don’t get perfect reception in the house, especially not in the computer room, but the phone is definitely usable in what is apparently a very tough environment for mobile service. After hours of “dicking around” (Rochelle’s term for it) with BitPim, the phone sync software, I managed to get our contacts copied from my computer to my phone, along with a bunch of custom ringtones and wallpapers.

Those poly ringtones make it all worthwhile.

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Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 12/24/2003

“The room was spinning, so I decided to sit up and drink.”

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Good experience with SBC Yahoo! technical support

by Michael Alderete on 12/23/2003

Helping a friend set up his new 20” iMac at his house yesterday, we had occasion to call SBC Yahoo!, his internet service provider (ISP), to collect some technical details and verify the correct settings for accessing the e-mail account that goes with the service.

I resisted calling them until I couldn’t think of anything else to do, because my experience with large ISP’s technical support is that it is universally abysmal. But now I have to retract that, because we got through to a tech almost immediately (less than 2 minutes from dialing), and Gail was friendly, helpful, and extremely competent.

My usual experience is you wade through the phone tree and then hold for 20 minutes, only to have someone reading a script tell you to power cycle your Xmas tree lights. In this case, Gail answered all of our questions quickly, specifically, and correctly, before my usual hold time was up.

PacBell’s DSL experience used to be terrible, so something more than just changing their name (to SBC) has happened to improve the service — probably the influence of Yahoo!. If you’re thinking about getting broadband internet service, the SBC Yahoo! pricing is excellent, and I can definitely endorse their tech support.

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Symantec sucks less

by Michael Alderete on 12/22/2003

After my last post about Symantec’s crazy rejection of my rebate form, I spent an hour tracking down the rebate within their processing system, in the end reaching a human being who said he would validate the rebate, and I should look for it in a couple weeks. That check has now arrived, so I have to say that Symantec in the end made good.

But they didn’t make it easy. It took an hour because of a Byzantine rebate web site that in the end couldn’t help me, and a terrible phone system that never offered me the opportunity to speak to a real person. It was only by visiting every menu and sub-menu, and repeatedly pressing “0” for the operator, that I actually reached a happy conclusion.

Which just goes to highlight the fake nature of these “rebates” that are offered by virtually all of the consumer software companies. They offer you $30, but they know the numbers. A certain percent won’t send in the card, a certain percent won’t fill it out correctly or in time, and a certain percent won’t fight a rejection, even if it’s bogus. I would imagine that a $30 rebate translates to about a $5-10 discount off the actual per-unit revenue to the company.

So don’t be fooled by those rebates! Or at the very least, be religious about filling out the forms and sending in the paperwork, the same day you make your purchase. That’s the only way the rebates work out for you in the long run.

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Symantec sucks

by Michael Alderete on 12/8/2003 · 1 comment

I just got a card in the mail, from Symantec’s rebate center. I am due a $30 rebate on updated anti-virus and personal firewall software we just bought for Rochelle’s computer, and their rebate center rejected the rebate claim. The supposed reasons are:

  • Invalid Postmark Date
  • Missing Purchase Date

The first reason is completely bogus, because (a) it’s not my fault, it’s the USPS; and (b) they don’t need a postmark; the rebate claim was submitted well within the required period, and even the rejection card itself got here within the mandated period. Postmarks are only necessary if an item is received past an expiration date, which isn’t the case.

The second claim is, in a way, even worse. The claim submission included a copy of my Costco receipt. I know Costco receipts, and they always have the date. Just because some minimum wage processing drone in Florida can’t find it in the 60 seconds they’re allowed to spend handling each claim doesn’t mean the purchase date isn’t there.

This is yet another example of the false savings that “rebates” represent. I can’t tell you the number of rebates we have failed to get, due to denied claims, or just laziness in submitting. One of these days I may actually wake up and realize that rebates are not savings, they are a bet, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

I should note that this rebate is offered — and processed — by Symantec themselves. I’ve always had good luck with the rebates that get processed by Costco (which are the ones where they print the rebate form directly onto your receipt, extremely convenient).

What’s really ironic is that I dithered in the store, with both the McAfee and Symantec packages in my hands. About the same price, equivalent features. I eventually went with the brand I’ve purchased in the past. But if Symantec doesn’t come across with my $30, they’re going to lose a customer forever.

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The island of lost resolution

by Michael Alderete on 12/6/2003

Rochelle found the following snippet on her computer, dated at the end of last year:

“Crap Reduction and Abatement Program — While we have remained committed to the idea of having less stuff, we still have way too much crap. Michael has promised to get rid of his BeBox collection by January 17th (the one year anniversary of their arrival). I have promised to throw any remaining BeBoxes out the front window on January 18th. I have vowed that since Spring semester doesn’t start until February, I would dedicate a couple of weekends in January to weeding through the dressing room which, despite our good intentions, has reverted once again to the Island of Lost Crap.”

For the record, all three of these things will be on our resolutions list at the end of this year, too.

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