Can you hear me now?

Cellphone carriers have you coming and going. Once one has you in its clutches, it takes more than a superhero to free you. It takes cash and a lot if it.

There once was a time, back in the good old days, when it was much easier to deal with cellphone companies, and leave them.

They sold you a two-year plan and gave you a phone. For free! If you wanted the top-of-the-line phone, then you’d pay a little up front, anywhere from a few dollars to $150 or so. Easy peasy. The phone was yours and you were theirs for two years.

Once the two year contract ended, you could either get a new FREE phone with another two year contract or you could bail for a carrier that had a better deal.

This kept carriers honest. They had to give out decent phones for FREE or give other incentives to lure in new customers and all was right with the world.

Then one of them got the idea that if they could sell the phones on the installment plan, they could keep customers locked in while making the customers think this was a better deal. “See? We dont have two year contracts any more, you can leave any time. Just pay off your phone.”

And that was the catch. Because the phones, which we once got for a mere $150, now cost in the neighborhood of $700 or $800 or more.

And if you have a family plan with four or more phones, guess what? That buyout can end up costing you quite a bit of cash out of pocket. Add up the remaining phone balances plus your final bill (which can be two months worth depending on when you leave), and you find you have to plunk down $1500 or so to leave them.

And that was their evil plan. Hold customers hostage.

Until smaller companies questioned, “How can we get customers away from the Big 3?” That’s when they came up with their buyout plans. “Come to us and we’ll buyout your contract!”

Which sounds great on paper, until you go and talk to them and find out they don’t pay you in cash, they pay you in credits. 

In other words, if you think you’ll borrow money earmarked for your mortgage payment that month to pay off your cellphone contract with the Evil Empire in the hope that your new friendly Rebel Alliance cellphone company was going to give you cash back to pay for your house, you’ve got another think coming.

Those Rebel Alliance credits are only good for buying Rebel Alliance stuff, like to pay for your new phones, thus reducing your monthly bill or to pay your bill off for several months, so you can be bill free for a while.

Neither of which are truly bad if you can afford the initial buyout of the Evil Empire. If you can’t, you’re shit out of luck.

However, if you do manage to scrap together the extortion fee to pay off the Evil Empire, then it is possible to move to a new, more affordable cellphone carrier.

Which is what we finally were able to do. After being held hostage by Verizon Wireless for over 10 years, having to pay $350 a month, we left them for US Cellular where we’re already saving over $100 a month, and once we get our buyout credits, that price will drop even more.

Can you hear me now?

Tomorrow’s blog will talk about how good it feels to be rid of my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.


Your account is locked, have a nice day

Ever have one of those computer security days where you know damned well you typed in your user name and password, but you kept getting the frustrating “user name or password was incorrect.”?

Yes, that was this morning.

I wanted to pay our car loan. I got out my little black password book and typed the access information CORRECTLY three times. It locked me out. Now could I have typed it incorrectly three times? Possible, but highly unlikely. Could my fingers been on the wrong keys? No. I’ve been typing for 42+ years. Was the caps lock on? Nope. After the first ” access denied” i was slow, deliberate, and I checked and double-checked what I was typing. Their system was just being an ass.

I then went to their ” Forgot password” link. Guess what? I needed to know my loan number. Not my email used to register. Not even the three security words they had me create when I registered in the first place (so then, what was the point of creating them?). My loan number, which I didn’t have time to search for since this was making me late for work. I hate computer security.

So I had to call their customer service line. Good thing for whoever would have answered that I had leave for work because I was steaming mad and would have launched into them with a tirade about their stupid security procedures that would have melted their earpiece.

And yes, I realize it isn’t the operator’s fault and I shouldn’t take it out on them. Heck, I get irate phone calls too and understand how it feels to unjustly take on someone else’s anger.

Still, I was irrationally pissed.

Once at work, now calmed down, I called and explained what happened. Somehow, I was locked out.

“Do you know your loan number?” No. “Can I have your social security number.” Yes. “Sir, you’re not listed as having setup a profile.” Huh? “Everyone can setup their own profile to access the account.” Huh? “Your wife has a profile, but you don’t.” I’m the one who registered on your website (and probably used my wife’s info since the loan was in her name). So now what? “I can give you the loan number so you can reset the password.” (Doh!) That would be nice. Thank you. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” No, you’ve done more than enough. “I’d suggest setting up your own profile so this won’t happen again. Have a nice day.” Bite me.

So I got a temp password. Created a new password (actually, the same one in my little black book. Why waste one unnecessarily?), and paid my bill.

Still have no clue what went wrong. It wasn’t like it was a new password I had incorrectly written down, I’ve successfully logged on in the past.

Did I mention I hate computer security?


The more things change…

My laptop arrived with Windows 8. I’ve been dreading the day I’d have to migrate over from Vista. I had my first exposure with Win8 last Christmas when I purchased my son a new laptop and tried to set it up beforehand so he could be up and running when Christmas Day rolled around.
I made it through the HP set-up and then was greeted by … tiles! Flashing colorful tiles! WTF is this? I was overwhelmed. What was I supposed to do? Where was I supposed to go? Where the hell was the infamous Windows Start button? I gave up and shut it down to let my son figure it out. Surprise! A new operating system nobody knows anything about! Merry Christmas.
Well, six months have passed and I’ve watched a few videos, read portions of some books, on Windows 8. I believe now I have a vague understanding of it. So last night when I finished running the HP set-up and was greeted by the tiles, I wasn’t so intimidated. And I knew how to reach the charms, which would then take me to the Start button and Shut Down.
But the whole uproar of Windows 8 reminds me of another time when Microsoft released Windows 95. Win95 was a radical change from the familiar Win3 desktop everyone knew. Win3 was a simple GUI shell that overlay the MS-DOS core. It was almost primitive in its application. If I recall, you used the File Manager window basically opened a graphical representation of a DOS. Programs were listed alphabetically and you’d click on a folder, say MS Word, then click on the Word.exe, launching the program.
We’d laugh at Mac users who were isolated from the inner workings of their operating system with their GUI. Heck, we could still call up the “C:” prompt and get our hands dirty working under the hood if we wanted to.
And we liked things that way.
Then Win95 came out. I first saw it at a trade show where our software company was demonstrating their latest integrated manufacturing and business management software. I was a documentation specialist, which was a fancy name for a technical writer who also did the design, layout, and desktop publishing of the documents and allowed the company to pay us a lot less than if they had hired people to do handle of those jobs. But that’s neither here nor there. And no, I’m not still bitter about it. Thanks for asking.
My point is, I had my first exposure to Win95 at that tradeshow and I was aghast. Where was menu bar? What is this “My Computer” icon all about? And WTF is this “Start” button? What if my computer is already started?  Where do I go to find my programs? And I see a start button but where’s the stop or off button?
Then the critics started asking: Why is it named Start? Why didn’t they name it Home, or Menu, or even Launch?
Back then, the introduction of the Start button caused as much anxiety, anger, and ridicule as the elimination of it in Win8.
And you know what? We learned how to navigate that new OS.  Microsoft didn’t backpedal or cave in to public whining like they did with Win8. They left Win95 just as it was and we had to accept it. And after 18 years it had become old and familiar.
But the world was changing. The old OS was a dinosaur. There were touch screens and tablets and smartphones and Microsoft had to do something to keep up, to stay viable.
Win8 is it. So stop your whining and man up. Pick up a book, watch some YouTube videos. Learn. Accept. Embrace.
If this old DOS dinosaur can learn to use and appreciate Win8, then you young whippersnappers should be able to also.
Now get off my lawn!

Learn little about a lot very quickly

So I saw a review on a new app, Summly. Basically the gist of the app is it summarizes news stories using some AI logarithm to create short summaries of longer articles. So I guess its for web users who have absolutely no attention span whatsoever

I gave it a go and downloaded it, then went through the process of organizing the topics and customizing which sources I wanted or didn’t want. Sadly, it seems you’re limited to topics and sources the app’s creators thought were important.

You can arrange the topics in order of preference. Once you’ve chosen the sources, you’re set to let the app run.

When you open the app it defaults to a home page with whatever headline is trending. You have no control of that. So if Justin Beiber is trending, the app opens with a headline on him.

When you get to your topics page, you select a topic, say Science, and it opens the first trending headline in Science with a summarized paragraph on the story.

The review I read of Summly claimed the summary paragraphs Summly provides are very accurate and well parsed. I found them wanting.

For instance, there was a summary of Antarctic drilling being halted. The summary told me “what” — that they are drilling to find a fresh water lake buried deep in the ice — but to find out “why” they had to halt, which was the reason for the story in the first place, I had to go to the actual article source. Which to me defeats the entire purpose of the app.

For me, the app Pulse is far superior, giving much better options to personalize. You can create your own topics and then search for news sources to plug in. I found the review about Summly through Pulse.

Summly does let you create a topic. You type in a topic or person and then it pulls all headlines it finds based on that phrase. At first this seemed interesting to me. I created “superheroes,” “science fiction,” “fantasy,” and “Doctor Who.”

And they worked, to a degree. Sci-Fi brought in trending headlines on that topic and “superheroes” did the same. But “fantasy” only brought in football topics, which isn’t the fantasy I was looking for and calling it “fantasy fiction” brought in no results. And “Doctor Who” was a mixed bag with articles on The Doctor, but also articles on ANY doctor.

So I’ve since deleted the Summly app. It just seems to me to be the very problem with society and the Internet: information in tiny, digestible chunks that leave you intellectually starving.

Forget Summly and get Pulse instead. You’ll be much happier as a result.


The Lumen Express

As the days continue to get shorter and the amount of sunlight we receive dwindles, it’s got me to thinking that maybe I should install some “daylight” bulbs in the house.

Daylight bulbs, for those who don’t know, are light bulbs that simulate the full color spectrum that the sun puts out. These bulbs are supposed to help with those of us who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is a depressive state brought on by the lack of sunlight.

As I understand it, there is a color temperature you should look for. Direct sunlight has 10,000K. Not sure what the K stands for but it represents the color temperature. They say a lightbulb of 5,000K or higher is a full spectrum bulb and simulates sunlight.

But good luck trying to find one of these bulbs. At least one that also is bright enough to do you any good.

I love to read. I need a table lap that uses an incandescent bulb of 100watts or more. This is the equivalent of 1700 lumens. I really love the 3-way bulbs that go up to 150 watts or more, because it really lights up the page and reduces eyes strain.

I went shopping the other day for light bulbs with those numbers in mind: 5000K and 1700 lumens.

Um. No. That combination doesn’t seem to even exist. The max lumens for Most CFLs and LED lights, it would appear, is around 700 lumens. Half what I want. And if I’m trying to also require it to have at least the 5000K, forget it. The 5000K bulbs that I found are even dimmer, less than 500 lumens.

There was an LED light with 5000K and 950 lumens, but it cost $21. Not quite bright enough and far too expensive.

Also, when dealing with CFLs, the glass spiral is often so large it won’t even fit into the standard lamp harp. Or if you have a lampshade that slides over a standard sized bulb, a CFL is totally useless.

I’ve been using CFLs for years now. I’m not adverse to them. In our basement, there are 6 wall sconces that the previous owners had 100watt bulbs in. The basement didn’t need any external heat source because of those lights! I put in 100 watt equivalent CFLs which I think are 15watt, but much dimmer. Still, I’m only using 90 watts compared to 600 watts. And I have them in other parts of the house, too.

But I want LIGHT in my front room. I want to be able to read and in winter I want something that can chase away the winter blues.

I’m having a difficult time doing that and being energy efficient.

I think I’ll just start stocking up in 100-150 watt incandescent lights so I have a lifetime supply when the ban goes into effect next year. (Or if you’re really lucky, find the 50/200/250w bulbs, that’s 3,335 to 3,955 freaking lumens!)

And as a public service, I will pass on all the information I compiled on “sunlight” bulbs I found on various websites. Enjoy.

Look for a color temperature of 5000k or higher.

There is a Color Rendering Index (CRI) that you can try to look for. The information I found suggested a CRI of 90 or more. Daylight and incandescent bulbs have a 100 CRI.

Neodymium bulbs have a coating on the bulb that filters out the depressing yellow light, which helps a little but they don’t have a color temperature of 5000k or higher, so there’s that trade off. They might help some people but not others.

In my notes I have “10,000 lux equals 1000 foot candles” but I have no idea why I wrote that down.

As far as lumens vs. lux, lux is the intensity of the light whereas lumen is the amount of light. One lux equals one lumen per square meter. Yeah. I’m getting a headache, too.

For some reason I always think of Monty Python when I hear lumen.

“Stand and deliver! Give me all your lumens.”

“What? Lumens?”

“Yes. Come on. Come on.”

“What do you mean, lumens?”

“Oh, don’t try to play for time.”

“I’m not. You mean the measurement of light, that lumen?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Well we haven’t got any lumens. Honestly.”

“Look, my friends. I happen to know this is the Lumen Express.”

And so on.