Monday, June 3rd, 2013

Verizon’s cellphone insurance scam

It’s been some time since I’ve whined about Verizon. Samsung Galaxy S4
The fun new phone I got this time is a Samsung Galaxy S4
Most of the time Verizon is a decent-enough company, reliable enough that I don’t give them much thought, which for a utility is about what you’d want.

What prompted me to write this post was that I got a new phone. That by itself wouldn’t be a reason to complain about Verizon. I did have occasion in 2007 (LG VX-8100 to Motorola RAZR Maxx Ve) and in 2009 (original Motorola Droid) to write about some hassles related to phone upgrades, but I didn’t have any problem in 2011 and thus didn’t write about upgrading from an original Droid to a Droid 3.

Getting my new Samsung Galaxy S4 was uneventful and wouldn’t have warranted a blog post. The process didn’t take long, maybe fifteen minutes, and a joy of Android is that once you set up your existing Google account on your new phone, everything transfers automatically.

Two things I might have blogged about had they been surprises were losing my unlimited data by upgrading to a 4G phone and having to pay a $30 “upgrade fee,” but I already knew about these and thus was resigned to them.

Something else that wasn’t a surprise and to which I am also resigned is the $5/month charge for 250 text messages. Text messages cost cell phone companies almost nothing and so even $0.02 per message is a lot, but it’s not as much as $0.20 per text, and thus, unfortunately, the stupid $5 is worth it to me. Losing unlimited data doesn’t affect me. I keep track of my data usage and since December 2009 my average monthly usage has been 1.08 GB. I’ve gone over 2 GB only once, in January of last year when I was traveling. Now that I do have a cap, I’ll just keep an eye on my usage if I travel, and really if I do go over once in a while, I can afford it.

Being able to afford it is also why Verizon’s “upgrade fee” doesn’t really matter. Verizon says that they sell Galaxy S4s for $250 (with a 2-year contract), but actually they sell them for $280. Why Verizon has to be all airline-ish about their pricing, I don’t know. Do they think that people won’t buy new phones if Verizon is honest that the price has gone up by $30? Do they think people don’t notice the “upgrade fee”?


Something Verizon does seem to hope its customers won’t notice is the $6.99/monthly charge for “Total Equipment Coverage” they sneakily add back onto your account when you upgrade to a new phone. I didn’t have this coverage on my old phone, and if I’d been asked the other day when I got my Galaxy S4, I’d have declined the insurance again. However, I wasn’t asked, at least not verbally. The salesperson did specifically point out to me that by upgrading to 4G that I would lose my unlimited data, but he didn’t say, “Would you like fries with that?, err, Would you like an extended warranty?”

Now technically Verizon could say that they did ask me because the $6.99 charge was on my new contract, but instead of giving us paper receipts, Verizon now has its salespeople using tablet computers, which are positioned towards the customers for us to review and then to sign with a finger on the screen. Smart people would scroll up and review every line, but most of us, including me, don’t do that.

I do have to give Verizon a tiny bit of credit for emailing me today to let me know that an “account change notification” was available for me in MyVerizon. I retrieved it and saw a mysterious charge of $6.99/month for “Tec Asurion.” What’s that? I wondered, Feature charges on my new phone include a surprise $6.99/month for insurance
I knew about the text messaging
and the data package
but not the insurance
and Google was my friend, leading me to a bunch of articles, including one by BusinessWeek, “Is Asurion Cell Phone Insurance Worth It?

As you might suspect, I didn’t need BusinessWeek to tell me the insurance wasn’t worth it. Two years of monthly $6.99 charges equals $167.76, but there’s also a $99 deductible. Sure, there’s a chance I’ll lose my brand new phone tomorrow and then the $105.99 I’d pay would be better than $650 I’d shell out for a non-upgrade priced Galaxy S4, but I’ve yet to lose a phone, and if I found myself in a position to balk about buying a new S4, I could get a used S3 for a couple hundred bucks. If I would lose my S4 next year, after some other phone is the new latest and greatest toy, I could get a used S4. Insurance just doesn’t make sense.

I don’t have a problem with Verizon trying to convince me I need insurance, as they just did when I called to cancel the insurance I didn’t want. I do have a problem with their trying to sneak it back on my contract, hoping that I’m a senior citizen who won’t notice some strange relatively minor charge on my phone bill.

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

They succeed, at sending SPAM

Back in February I got two emails from Jessica Walters of WeSucceed Solutions.

Jessica’s first email was to ask to speak with me about how WeSucceed could assist me with Microsoft Office SharePoint 2010 (MOSS 2007 & SharePoint 2010), Custom Application development using .NET, and Quality Assurance and Testing services. I ignored this email because my employer doesn’t use SharePoint or .NET.

In Jessica’s second email, she said, “I am following up with you on the below email send [sic] to you on Wednesday” and that she would like to “share our success stories and value adds we could bring forth working with you.”

Um, yeah, I’m not really interested in hearing about “value adds,” thanks.

I sent Jessica a reply, saying that we didn’t use SharePoint or .NET and that we weren’t looking for any outside consultants. I got absolutely no reply, which was fine.

In April I got another two emails, this time from Sandra Phillips. The first was an exact duplicate of Jessica’s first message, and the second was also a duplicate of Jessica’s followup message, including the typo of “below email send to you on Wednesday” (see “[sic]” above).

Late last month and then today I got another set of these same two exact messages again from Sandra.

I’m taking the same action I took the last time I got ongoing SPAM from a company wanting my business:

  1. Setting up a Gmail filter to delete all messages from the SPAMming company.
  2. Writing a blog post to let people know about company’s SPAMmy practices
Thursday, June 13th, 2013

I bought a CD at the Dayton Art Institute last night

Doing so wasn’t something I’d planned, but I got an email yesterday from the Dayton Art Institute reminding me that their first Twilight Concert was that evening, and I didn’t anything better to do, so I went. The program didn’t look especially interesting—it just listed “Gem City Chorus” and “Jeremy Collins, guitar”—but I live right across from the DAI and have a membership, so I figured I might as well go.

I walked over early so that I could stop at Leo Bistro for a drink and a bite to eat before the concert. Leo Bistro is the DAI’s fancy new bar/café, replacing their old Café Monet and in a much better location, at the front of the building off the rotunda, where the gift shop used to be. Leo Bistro’s run by the same people who own Roost Modern Italian, and the food, although limited in selection, is good. During the DAI’s flood exhibit I would walk over to have dinner at Leo Bistro about once a week, but since that exhibit closed, evening traffic at the museum’s been a bit sparse (lunch is still hopping though), and so Leo Bistro has reduced its evening offerings to a short bar menu. I had a glass of Casa Bianchi Malbec and the pepperoni and mozzarella arrancini.

That put me in a good mood for my stroll through the permanent exhibits—during which I did not encounter a single person although I did spy a large group of women in a cloister—on my way to the Renaissance Auditorium for the concert. It might have been because of the big media frenzy about the coming derecho, but not many people came to the concert. I know the audience was outnumbered by the 50 or so members of Gem City chorus, and I suspect we may also have been outnumbered by the museum staff as well.

I snagged a seat in the middle of the second row, which turned out to be an excellent choice because the concert turned out to be all acoustic. A poor woman struggled with a couple microphones for about 10 minutes before the concert but finally gave up. Actually performances in the Renaissance Auditorium don’t really need amplification (I know, having sung there with the Dayton Gay Mens Chorus). It’s a fairly small space and we were a rather small audience.

Jeremy Collins
That was the setup for the best part of the evening. The featured guitarist, Jeremy Collins, was on stage directly in front of me, so it was like having a private recital just for me.

Collins did his first piece, “Winter Dream” from his CD of the same name, in the dark. I guess the same woman who couldn’t manage the microphone also wasn’t up to the challenge of the lights. Collins mentioned being at a competition once where the power went out and a fellow competitor did his entire performance in absolute pitch black. We still had some light coming in from the doors on either side, so we could still see Collins, but the darkness made the performance seem even more intimate.

What we couldn’t tell from DAI’s rather sparse description on its website and in its email was that “Jeremy Collins, guitar” is actually a classically-trained guitarist as well as a composer. Think of a violinist’s vibrato and you’ll have some idea of how Collins plays guitar. “Winter Dream” was his own composition, made even more interesting because, as Collins explained, he adjusted the tuning of his strings for the piece, adjusting one a half tone down and another a full tone up (or something like that). I played violin in elementary school through high school but had never heard of non-standard tuning—the Suzuki Method doesn’t cover scordatura. Whether because of the alternate turning or just because it was classical guitar well played, I very much enjoyed Collins’s music.

The stage lights finally came up, and Collins did three more pieces. His other pieces weren’t his own compositions. The first was “Fandango” from “Tres Piezas Españolas,” by Joaquín Rodrigo and was what you might expect of Spanish guitar music. The second was “Elegy” by Alan Rawsthorne, who died while composing it (Collins said it was uncertain who completed it but Wikipedia says Julian Bream did)—it was a touch modernistic for my tastes. The last was “Introduction and Caprice” by Giulio Regondi, who Collins explained was rather noted for composing guitar pieces that were difficult to play, perhaps because guitars were smaller when Regondi was composing. I liked this piece very much as well. And that was it—the rest of the concert was the Gem City Chorus, although I’d have been happier if it’d been all Jeremy Collins.

Not that the Gem City Chorus was bad, but I wasn’t enchanted by them. Choral music can be fun if you’re part of the group singing or if the jokes are geared towards you (as those by gay choruses are towards me), but the Gem City Chorus jokes about men thinking women can’t drive well or about hearing aids fell on deaf ears as far as I was concerned. The woman who’d (luckily) been unable to set up a microphone for Collins did manage to set one up for the chorus, but fortunately it wasn’t on while they sang, only as various chorus members came up to do various bits of explanation. Given the loudspeaker’s horrible tinny sound (like a public address system, not a theatre’s sound system), they’d have done better to have avoided the mike and instead just spoken clearly and loudly. I did particularly like one of their songs, a rendition of Melissa Manchester’s “Come In From the Rain” sung by their “large quartet” comprised of 7 of their section leaders.

So after the concert I decided to buy a CD, Winter Dream, from Collins. I liked what I’d heard of his music and wanted to hear more, and I felt a little sorry that he’d trekked up from Cincinnati for such a small turnout. If you’re curious about scordatura, you should definitely check this CD out as each of his pieces on it use different tuning. You can read more about Collins and some background on the compositions on Winter Dream in this MasterWorks Festival interview with him.

And you should definitely come to the Dayton Art Institute for one of these concerts. Worst case it’s just a pleasant diversion. Best case you might learn something and discover something fun.

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013
Dayton Daily News FAIL #9? (See DDN Fail #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7 and #8)

If you’re a regular reader of my blog you know that I sometimes write about the Dayton Daily News and their failures, which should lead you to assume that I check out the Dayton Daily News fairly regularly, which I do. I live in Dayton and for better or for worse, the DDN is our local daily newspaper, so it’s worth checking for local news.

But is it worth paying for?

Cox Ohio certainly hopes so. For the past couple months, they’ve been promoting their new website,—a site whose design is an improvement over the old site—although I’m not sure they’ve gotten the results they’d hoped for.

Originally the free trial for was set to end June 4th but about a week before that deadline, Cox Ohio quietly changed the date in their free preview blurbs to June 25th. This week they’ve omitted all references to a hard deadline, instead saying the preview is for “a limited time.” That the original deadline moved leads me to suspect they didn’t get as many subscribers as they wanted.

I understand that Cox has to make a profit on the Dayton Daily News. It’s not reasonable for readers to expect newspapers to be published at a loss. However, if Cox and other publishers expect readers to pay for their products, the products have to be worth buying.

An example of what Cox wants us to pay for is a story from today, “Parent company seeks to sell Captain D’s seafood chain,” the preview of which is available here and the full version of which is available here. For your convenience, I’ve included screenshots of the preview and the full version below:

Preview (click to embiggen)
Full version (click to embiggen)

The full version of this Captain D’s story, which in a few weeks you’ll have to pay to read, is only two paragraphs longer than the preview.

More importantly, the source for this story is available online for free (this article does include the source link but not all DDN stories do). Back in 2010, when Cox erected their first pay wall, I wrote a post explaining that much of what Cox wanted to charge us to read was available elsewhere for free. What I said then still applies—if you don’t want to buy what the Dayton Daily News is selling, go to Google News, do a search, and you have a pretty good chance of finding the news you seek on another source for free.

Now my critique of Cox’s latest paywall is not entirely fair. It is true that many of the stories Cox is selling are available for free elsewhere, but the Dayton Daily News does provide some local coverage that you can’t find elsewhere, except sometimes in Dayton’s free weekly newspaper, Dayton City Paper.

Actually the author of the article I used today as an example, Mark Fisher, the DDN’s food and dining reporter, is one of Cox’s more valuable assets, providing ongoing reporting on the comings and goings of restaurants in the Miami Valley. Most of his articles are more substantive than today’s post about Captain D’s. But even Fisher faces free local competition in Dayton Most Metro, “the Dayton Region’s Online Magazine,” which has a big dining section.

Hence the big ? next to my Dayton Daily News Fail headline above. Yes, this particular article about Captain D’s was a fail, just a link to a national story plus a couple local nuggets. But it remains to be seen whether enough people will value what Cox is selling and thus subscribe to For Cox’s sake I hope they have better results than they did with MeetFred.

Thursday, June 20th, 2013

Just shut the fuck up, Alan Chambers!

You may have heard that Exodus International, which for 37 years has been “proclaiming freedom from homosexuality,” has finally apologized to the queers and announced that they are closing their “ministry.”

Except Exodus isn’t really closing their ministry—they’re just rebranding. Their closing announcement says that they “unanimously voted to close Exodus International and begin a separate ministry,” to be named Reduce Fear.

Alan Chambers
Alan Chambers has said way more than enough and should just shut the fuck up.
Alan Chambers, the ex-gay heterosexually-married with kids but still struggling with same sex attractions President of Exodus, wants to “come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming, and mutually transforming communities.”

And to that, I say: Don’t. Just don’t.

You’ve done more than enough damage, Alan, and you’re not going to fix it by continuing to be an attention-seeking charlatan earning money going around now in the guise of trying to “host thoughtful and safe conversations about gender and sexuality.”

There are already plenty of people hosting such conversations, Alan, and you don’t really have any credibility, so just what makes you think you’d be a good facilitator for these conversations?

It’s great that you're shutting down one of the world’s most harmful ex-gay ministries, “We’re not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people.”
— Tony Moore, Exodus board member
and it’s good that you’re kind of apologizing for the harm you’ve done, although at the same time Exodus wants to be absolutely clear that it’s “not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people.”

Alan, perhaps instead of continuing to talk, you could just shut the fuck up for a while.

Stop blathering the evangelical Christian talk of God and “His Kingdom” and the “whole truth of the Gospel” and “coming to Christ” and “surrendering [your] sexuality to Him.”

Just stop talking.

If you want to be in ministry, great. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and then go serve silently in a homeless shelter or a food pantry. You've been talking for so long that it’s way past time for you to let your actions, not your words, show your beliefs.

If you’d do a few years of silent atonement in this manner, then, and only then, would I and others in the LGBT community give a damn about what you might then have to say.

Update 8:00 p.m.: I love John Shore’s “open letter to Exodus International’s super-remorseful Alan Chambers.”

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