Tuesday, July 30th, 2013
Google Now Fail

This morning Google Now on my phone told me it was time to go home from work. Google Now, in case you didn’t know, strives to provide “helpful cards with information you need throughout your day, before you even ask.”

Unfortunately this wasn’t helpful or accurate.

First, I was at home when Google Now suggested I leave work to go home.

Second, the route suggested by Google Now didn’t even make sense. Get on the highway to get home? Really?

Also, somehow Google Now thinks my office is literally on the highway. Our building is indeed next to the highway, but to get on the highway I have to go to the Main Street on ramp.

I’m sure Google Now will become more useful as computers become ever more powerful but this counts as a fail.

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
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.

Monday, May 20th, 2013

Ineffective SPAM

Ring, ring! Pick up the clue phone, RingCentral!
RingCentral won’t leave me alone.

On May 6th, Bryan McDonald sent me the following email:

I am doing some research on your company to determine if there is any interest in a cloud business phone system. Your business will benefit from more control, more features and 50-70% lower telecommunications costs.

Fair enough. Technically, because this is unsolicited email, it's SPAM, but it didn’t seem outrageous, so I sent a short reply:

We already use 8x8 for our phone system and have no interest in switching.

So I was a bit annoyed when Bryan McDonald sent another message on May 9th, saying, “Just following up on the last email I sent you about your business phone system.” Yeah, if you’d actually read my reply, you wouldn’t have needed to send a followup message.

So I filled out RingCentral’s online contact form (no use replying to Bryan McDonald), saying again that we weren’t interested in switching from 8x8.

I got a reply back from Rheychelle N, apologizing and saying, “we assure that we will inform Brian McDonald or other account representatives not to contact you anymore.”

Today I get an email from Jenny Lindgren. Surprise, surprise, the email has the exact same text that Bryan sent.

I am doing some research on your company to determine if there is any interest in a cloud business phone system. Your business will benefit from more control, more features and 50-70% lower telecommunications costs.

Um, no. Just no. I’ve set up a filter to automatically delete any messages from anyone at ringcentral.com, which is what I should have done in the first place.

And I’ve also written this blog entry, so people searching for info about RingCentral will know what kind of marketing practices they endorse (hint: the kind that guarantees that people won’t want to deal with RingCentral).

Update 6/24/2013: Today Denny Merrow sent RingCentral’s standard boilerplate SPAM message to the finance director at the company I work for. We’re still not going to buy hosted VoIP services from RingCentral, even if they send their SPAM to each one of our employees.

Friday, May 17th, 2013



, I do not want to say Happy Birthday

Google+ wants to be just like Facebook.

Like everyone else on the Internet I use Google’s service every day. Gmail for personal and work email, Google Calendar for personal and work calendars, Google Maps, Google News, Google Translate, and, of course, the original Google, Google search.

Google+ wants to be as annoying as Facebook Today I was searching for something, and Google decided to be all Facebook on me.

If you use Facebook, you know that Facebook tells you every day which of your friends have birthdays that day, encouraging you to “write a birthday wish on their timeline.” And now Google wants in on the game.

Sorry, but I’ve gotten into enough trouble on Facebook that I’m not going to get in the habit of visiting Google+ every day and getting into the same issues there.

I do still participate in Happy Birthdaying on Facebook. It’s the least I can do. It takes almost no effort to post Happy Birthday on someone’s timeline, and many people appreciate it.

But the very same person Google wanted me to say Happy Birthday to on Google+ is someone I’d already said Happy Birthday to on Facebook.

If that person would be upset by my refusing to wish her Happy Birthday in multiple places, she can unfriend me (or whatever the Google+ equivalent of that is).

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

If you’re wearing red today, thanks…

but I hope that’s not all you’re doing. Wear red or you don't support marriage equality?

As it happens, I am not wearing red today. It’s not that I don’t ever wear red. It’s not, of course, that I don’t support marriage equality (and I’m not some crazy homocon against marriage equality).

It’s just that I find the idea of changing my Facebook profile pic “in solidarity” or of playing “high school Spirit Day” by wearing red a bit silly.

I’ve been out a long time. Very out. My car has also been out a long time, and not with an HRC sticker that most straight people don’t even recognize. “GAY CAR” is pretty explicit, a lot more explicit than red (although, as it happens, red’s the color both of my first gay car, a 1991 Mazda Miata, and of my current gay car, a 2009 VW EOS).

Wear red like you mean itSo if you’re wearing red today for a reason, make it count. Go up to strangers today and ask them if they know why you’re wearing red. Then explain it.

While you’re at it, explain that it’s still legal in most of the United States for employers to refuse to hire LGBT people because of our sexuality or to fire us when they find out. (Not in Dayton, though, due to the courage of then-Mayor Rhine McLin as well as Commissioners Nan Whaley and Matt Joseph and no thanks to Commissioners Dean Lovelace and Joey Williams.)

Yes, we each have to come out when it’s safe and when we’re comfortable, whether we’re coming out for ourselves or for our family or friends. But think about how far you can come out. Is wearing red all you can do?

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Outlook 2013 sucks! or Why I switched back to Outlook 2010

I don’t use Outlook as my primary email or calendar application but instead use Gmail and Google Calendar, but I do still use Outlook to manage my contacts. It’s just more convenient, or at least it was.

Yes, I know I can manage contacts in Gmail, but with a few quick keystrokes I can quickly pull up contact information in Outlook. <CTRL>-<SHIFT>-o to switch to Outlook (thanks to an AutoHotKey macro), <CTRL>-y c o <ENTER> to go to my contacts folder, and then the first few letters of the name of the contact I want to see, and presto! I have the information I need. I’ve typed these keystrokes thousands of times and been productive.

What do I keep in my Outlook contacts? Well, contact information (name, address, phone, email), of course, but also notes. Notes on who someone is or what I’ve last done for them. Also notes on my credit card numbers and passwords. Information I want at my fingertips.


Yes, I know about Gmail keyboard shortcuts and that I can type g c to go to contacts in Gmail and / to search, but I’m not really comfortable keeping stuff like credit card numbers in notes on contacts in Gmail. Moreover, when I pull up a contact in Outlook, there’s no pause, however brief, as “Loading...” flashes, and most importantly, Gmail doesn’t show the notes for a contact in the list that comes up. That alone is a deal breaker for me.

So I just upgraded to Microsoft Office 2013, and for the most part I like it well enough. Somewhat new look, a few new features, but I can still do my work.

Except for Outlook 2013.

The fuckers at Microsoft decided it’s more important for Outlook 2013 to look pretty than to be functional. How so? Take a look:

My contacts in Outlook 2010:

My contacts in Outlook 2013:

How a single contact looks in Outlook 2010 and in Outlook 2013:

As you can see, the idiots on Microsoft’s Outlook 2013 team decided that no one really needed to see notes. “Who uses notes?” they must have thought. “We’ll just hide the notes away and make them difficult to quickly get to.”

So, no, I won’t use Outlook 2013. I uninstalled it (but not the rest of Office 2013) and re-installed Outlook 2010.

Here’s a tip that I found for re-activating Office 2010 if you install it (or part of it) after Office 2013 has been installed. Open a DOS prompt, CD to C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft Office\Office 14, and then run this command: cscript ospp.vbs /act

Now I’ve got the best of both worlds — fancy new Office 2013 minus its sucky Outlook 2013 plus my old trusty Outlook 2010.

(And yes, I know I’m a whiner, but I haven’t whined about Microsoft since I got Office 2007.)

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

How to make sure I never take your calls

HP logo Dear Aaron from HP (603-994-2023),

The secretary in my office screens all our calls. When you call, she tells me who you are and asks if I want to talk to you. If I’m not expecting a call from you (and since we use Xerox and not HP, I wasn’t expecting a call from you), I ask her to put you in my voicemail.

If you then leave a 2-second “click” hang-up call, it just makes me realize that yep, I didn’t need to talk to you, and it makes me even less likely to take future calls from you.


Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

Happy first birthday, Occupy Dayton!

Click to embiggen the above screenshot of
Occupy Dayton’s likes on Facebook
You may know that I “like” Occupy Dayton.

I put “like” in quotes because I actually don’t like them, bless their hearts, but I “like” Occupy Dayton’s page on Facebook. Now although I don’t really like Occupy Dayton, I don’t dislike them—I sympathize with them and their goals—but I think they’re rather silly and ineffectual.

I don’t actually give them a lot of thought—I haven’t blogged about them (and their process-y-ness) since a couple posts last fall. The only reason they came to mind today is that, because I still “like” Occupy Dayton on Facebook, I see their posts, the most recent of which was one today about their planned rally tomorrow on Courthouse Square to commemorate their first rally there exactly a year before.

Unfortunately for Occupy Dayton, not many other people in Dayton think about them either. When I first blogged about Occupy Dayton, last November 11th, 5,325 / 537,602 = 0.991% there were 4,046 people who “liked” them on Facebook. A year later 5,325 people “like” Occupy Dayton on Facebook. That’s growth of 31.6%, but unfortunately 5,325 is still only 0.991% of the 537,602 residents of Montgomery County.

In other words, Occupy Dayton is the 1%. No, not that 1%, but still not the 99% they hoped to represent.

Click to embiggen the above screenshot of Occupy Dayton’s online forum, innundated with SPAM
Their website, not at its original domain of occupydayton.org (which the group lost after some of the processing and bickering they seem to have continued after I blogged about them last year) but rather at the new domain of occupydaytonoh.org, also does not paint a pretty picture. The last post on the home page is dated June 20th, the last General Assembly minutes are from February, and the forum is awash in ads for products I will not name here for fear of drawing unwanted visitors to my site. No one, not even any of the 1% of Daytonians who purport to care about Occupy Dayton, is minding the Occupy Dayton store.

Of course, not being part of the solution, I am part of the problem. I could go to the rally tomorrow, but I won’t. Instead I sit in my easy chair and poke fun at a group made up of earnest, well-intentioned volunteers rather than doing anything constructive myself to try to make a difference. Shame on me!

I’m jaded, and old, I admit. Once I was a newly out 20-something who was a member of Queer Nation Dayton, a group that liked to process and that perhaps did a tiny bit of good but that didn’t last. Perhaps, in some ways, I’ve turned into one of the older fags despised by those of us in Queer Nation back in the day. (But only to a certain extent—I’m still visibly out, I still do some volunteering, and I’m not a member of the Log Cabin Republicans or GOProud.)

Will Occupy Dayton have a second birthday? I wouldn’t bet against it, but I also wouldn’t bet any money that they will either. I will, however, predict that they won’t have many more Facebook “likes” if they don’t change something about what they’re doing.

Friday, November 11th, 2011

Occupy Process Dayton (to death)

I’m one of 4,046 people on Facebook who “like” Occupy Dayton’s Facebook page. I like it in part because I do, theoretically, support the Occupy movement’s goals of attempting to rein in corporate greed and influence, but if I’m honest, I’m not part of the 1% who are the Occupy Dayton movement.

4,046 / 535,153 = 0.756% 1%, you ask? Wait, I thought the Occupy folks were the 99%.

Well, let’s do some math, shall we? According to the 2010 Census, Montgomery County, Ohio, has 535,153 residents. Take 4,046 divided by 535,153 and you get 0.756%, which, if you’re feeling generous, is 1% of Montgomery County’s population. (If you’re not feeling generous, you’d reduce that 4,046 because some of those people do not live in Montgomery County and because some of those “persons” are instead other Occupy movements—for example, Occupy Northside-Occupy Clifton “likes” Occupy Dayton on FB, or you’d reduce it because there have never been 4,046 people at Occupy Dayton’s camp or any of its marches.)

I’m also not a part of the more famous 1% because I’m not so wealthy that I don’t have to work or that I can afford multiple homes. I’m not poor though. I have a financial cushion that most people don’t. If I weren’t gay, I might selfishly think that the incessant Republican drive to reduce taxes for the rich could be worth voting for. (In case you wonder, no, I’ve never voted Republican, and yes, I voted No on Issue 2/SB5.)

So I’m in neither 1%, not the über-rich nor the people so angry they are protesting in the streets and Occupying public spaces.

But would you like to know another reason, besides my being an employed white man with a financial cushion, that I’m not part of the Occupy 1%? It’s that the Occupy movement, including Occupy Dayton, likes to process things to death.

It’s an indication of my lack of privilege in one area, being gay, that I have experience with processing things to death. Because I am queer, I have been involved in the gay rights movement. I was a part of Queer Nation Dayton in the early ’90s. I have Marched on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal rights and Liberation. I have volunteered on LGBT political action committees and Pride Dinner committees and attended countless meetings of more groups than I even remember now. I have been a co-facilitator for the Dayton Dialogue on Race Relations. I have served on the council and on committees at a justice-loving church. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I probably wouldn’t have done any of these things if I were a straight white man instead of a queer one, but I am queer, and believe me, I know processing.

It’s only because of my lack of privilege in one area and consequent involvement in these things that I even recognize the enormous privilege I have from all the other aspects of my life (being male, being white, being American, being lucky in family and personal connections). And I know that it’s because of the enormous privilege I have that I’m able to say I can’t stand all this processing. But I can’t, and I won’t.

How much processing, you might ask? Here’s a sampling:

Occupy Dayton General Assemblies
Date Start time End time Amount of processing
10/22/2011 3:15 p.m. 4:00 p.m. Only 45 minutes of processing
10/29/2011 3:15 p.m. 5:35 p.m. 2 hours and 20 minutes!!! of processing

Best comment: are yall still only holding GAs on saturday only? in eugene and portland we hold them every night. i think the camp is bigger here though. that way we can vote on pressing issues everyday rather than putting them off till next week… just a suggestion. and maybe get more involvement if people know that issues are voted, came to a consensus, every day [italics mine]. more people might come down to the camp??

11/2/2011 7:20 p.m. 8:42 p.m. 1 hour and 22 minutes of processing

Now on Wednesdays too

11/5/2011 3:35 p.m. 5:15 p.m. 1 hour and 40 minutes of processing
11/9/2011 7:13 p.m. 8:27 p.m. 1 hour and 14 minutes of processing

Followed by 239 (and counting) comments on Facebook

Why are there 239 comments on Facebook about the 11/9 GA? Because that GA had a special guest, Sandy Gudorf, of the Downtown Dayton Partnership, who came to ask Occupy Dayton if they would, pretty please, decamp to Dave Hall Plaza for the period of 11/23–11/25, during which time the Downtown Dayton Partnership has a permit for the setup and lighting of Dayton’s Christmas tree, the “Grande Illumination.” Want to instigate some processing? Ask the Occupy Dayton 1% to move so the larger crowds who fill Courthouse Square can continue a decades-long Dayton tradition.

This is not something that is going to end well. The Dayton Daily News is already putting the spin on this, saying that “Occupy Dayton protest must relocate for Grande Illumination.” If you wade into the 11/9 GA comments on FB, you’ll see there is dissent as to what the Occupy Dayton campers should do. And Occupy Dayton is not the only Occupy movement facing eviction.

So, no, I’ve not been down to the Occupy Dayton camp to use hand signals to participate in a General Assembly. By writing this blog post, I guess I can be taken as an opponent of Occupy Dayton, a viewpoint that if the Occupy Dayton campers take I can understand.

I think that’s a bit strong though. I wouldn’t count myself as an opponent of Occupy Dayton. They have valid points about the vast inequality in America and the world and about the power of corporations. I’m just too comfortable in my privilege to deal with their processing. That might turn out to be a poor decision on my part.

Update 11/13/2011: The number of people who “like” Occupy Dayton’s Facebook page has been growing since all this Grande Illumination publicity. Now 4,125 people (including “persons” such as other Occupy groups including Occupy Columbus, Occupy Wright State University, Occupy Ohio, Occupy Toledo, Occupy Detroit, Occupy Indianapolis, Occupy America, and Occupy Wall St.) like the page, an increase of 79 people or almost 2% since Friday (bringing them to 0.77% of Montgomery County’s population).

Also, the processing continues. In the last 24 hours there have been 173 comments on two posts about a possible counter-protest against Occupy Dayton and 44 comments on a post about whether a Dayton police officer was being truthful or misleading when he told a camper that driving on Courthouse Square was inadvisable because its foundation is crumbling and it might fall in (despite, as commenters have been pointing out, Dayton police pulling their cruisers onto the square, heavy equipment being brought onto the square for the Christmas tree, and plans for huge Grande Illumination crowds remaining in place).

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Really out-of-date SPAM marketing lists

I just got an e-mail that made me laugh out loud, from someone working for roam4less.com. Roam4Less logo
Logo of a clueless corporation
What made me laugh was the line, “I'm sure that  The Mazer Corporation 's executives are looking for ways to reduce IT costs and diminish international cell phone roaming charges.”

Mazer Corporation logo
Logo of a dead corporation
Two problems with this e-mail from roam4less.com:

1) I haven’t been concerned with reducing IT costs for the Mazer Corporation for about ten years now.

2) No one at all at Mazer has been concerned with reducing IT costs or anything since the company abruptly shut its doors the last week of 2008.

Looks like the folks at Roam4Less need better marketing intelligence.

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

The last frozen caramel I will ever get from Panera

Panera of Central Ohio a.k.a. Breads of the World LLC is incapable of serving frozen caramels without drips running down the side
You win, Panera of Central Ohio a.k.a. Breads of the World LLC.

It turns out that it’s not just your Brown Street employees who are incapable of making large frozen caramels without drips running down the side. This is also too difficult for your Town and Country employees as well.

The woman today, unlike the woman on Friday, knew she’d made a mess and tried to wipe things up. She should have offered to make a new one, one that wasn’t filled to overflowing and thus wasn’t dripping, and I thought briefly about asking her to do so, but then I thought, fuck it.

Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it, fuck it. I’m done.

A MyPanera card cannot get you a drip-free frozen caramel
A MyPanera card cannot get you a drip-free frozen caramel
Unfortunately for Panera, today fits in with “How to negate a customer loyalty program” because this last frozen caramel from Panera was, courtesy of their MyPanera program, free, well almost free, since to get a large I paid 50 cents.

Whether it’s a message from God or from Panera’s employees, I get it. What I cannot get is a drip-free frozen caramel from Panera, and I hereby promise to never again try to get one.

Having managed to get me to promise to stop asking for these drinks, you’ve also taken away an incentive for me to visit your restaurants, but I imagine we all can live with that. My friends will be glad I’m not whining about you, and you’ll be glad I’m no longer posting about you.

Friday, October 15th

I’m not mentioning any names or locations but some employees of a certain location of a certain restaurant should realize that if they hand me beverages with drips running down the side, not only will I be asking them to wipe the drips off (even if I have to hand the drink back to them multiple times pointing out the drips on the other side that they missed) but I will also be calling the customer relations manager of their franchise.

Yes, I’m an asshole with privilege, but come on, is it really that much to ask that you wipe the drips off the drinks you serve your customers? That’s not privilege—that’s just basic customer service.

Friday, October 8th, 2010

How to negate a customer loyalty program

1) Offer a frequent customer a free sausage egg and cheese Ciabatta sandwich.
Yes, damn it, I’m complaining about Panera on Brown Street again.

2) Make that sandwich without egg.

3) To really fuck up your loyalty program, be sure to wait for a carry out order to forget the egg so the customer whose loyalty you don’t really seem to want gets to his office before finding out you omitted the egg on his sandwich because most customers don’t check your work because checking your work is something that really you should be doing and not your customers.

4) When said customer comes back to get a new sandwich with egg, don’t bother to offer him anything, say a free pastry, until he’s waited a while and be sure to do so only as an afterthought.

5) Be sure to pick a customer who’s blogged about your poor customer service in the past in the hopes that he’ll also blog about this incident. After all, you wouldn’t want to waste an opportunity to negate your customer loyalty program on someone who won’t tell anyone about it.

Yes, this counts as whining. Tough shit.

Update 10/13/2010: I got a nice phone call from Marianne Hach, Customer Relations Manager for Breads of the World LLC (the Ohio Panera franchisee), apologizing for the incorrect order, saying that they’re addressing service at Brown Street, and offering to send me a gift card. I thanked her for the call and declined the gift card. I already got a gift card earlier this year when I complained about a messy frozen caramel dripping on my shirt—it really has happened multiple times (the drippiness, not the dripping on my shirts) because I’ve learned to double-check—but I’m not looking for gift cards or anything free beyond what’s offered in their regular MyPanera loyalty program. I just want non-drippy frozen caramels (which, so far, knock on wood, they do seem to be doing better at) and breakfast sandwiches that include egg.

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

I know this will count as whining, especially given my overly privileged life, but there’s something that happens continually at the
I love Panera, I really do, but…
Brown Street Panera that really bothers me.

Take a look at the photo to the left and see if you can figure out what bothers me. If you guessed the drippiness of the large frozen caramel that
It is never, absolutely never, acceptable to hand a customer a beverage container that is dripping liquid down its side.
was handed to me this morning by an employee of Panera on Brown Street, then you’re doing better than she did.

What irks me is that this employee knew that the beverage container she handed me was dripping, and rather than wipe the container off before handing it to me, she instead took the easier route of wrapping a piece of wax paper around it.

What irks me even more is that I have complained about this before, both on my blog and on Panera’s online survey site*, and yet the employees at Brown Street continue to hand their customers beverages with drips running down the side.

I’ve spent $308.01 $316.19 (as of this morning) so far this year at Panera and $500.35 last year and $364.13 the year before that. As I’ve written before on my blog, I love Panera. I recognize that my spending hundreds of dollars each year at Panera means I really am overly privileged, but it also means that I should be considered one of Panera’s valued customers, someone they should rather please and keep spending hundreds of dollars rather than someone they piss off so much that he whines online about bad service.

Perhaps the ongoing inability of Brown Street Panera employees (and it is just Brown Street employees, not employees at Miller Road or Dayton Mall or Centerville or Town and Country) to understand that it is never, ever acceptable to hand a customer a beverage container with liquid dripping down its side is God trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be buying so many $4.19 large frozen caramels. Yes, if I really wanted to follow Jesus (and if I wanted to take my doctor’s advice and lose weight), every time I craved a large frozen caramel I would instead drink some water and give the money I saved to my church’s food pantry.

And perhaps Panera’s new menu boards with calorie counts next to each menu item is another way that God is telling me to stop drinking large frozen caramels from Panera. Did you know that a large frozen caramel from Panera contains 600 calories? It’s true—visit paneranutrition.com and see for yourself.

But I’ve never claimed to be perfect and I’m not quite ready to forswear the guilty pleasure of large frozen caramels. If God really wants me to do so, God will have to have the Brown Street Panera employees continue to serve me messy drinks until I can’t stand it any more.

And not being perfect myself, I realize that just as God (and my doctor) needs to remind me of my faults, I’m going to do my part to remind the imperfect Brown Street Panera employees of their faults. Hand me a drippy beverage, and I’m going to complain. Sorry about that, but I’m not perfect.

*A note about Panera’s survey site: Something I like about Panera is that they (at least some of them, if not the Brown Street employees) really do listen. I’d complained earlier about drippy beverages, and Panera of Central Ohio sent me a letter of apology and a gift card. And I complained about the poor design of their survey website (read this post to learn what about their survey site bugged me), and they fired Questar Data Systems (the folks who designed PaneraSurvey.com), hiring Mindshare Technologies to design the new PaneraListens.com site.

**One final note: I’m not looking to get another gift card or any monetary compensation—as evidenced above, I can well afford to eat at Panera—I just want drip-free drinks!

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

American Express thinks I’m an idiot, or at least they’re hoping I am.

Why else would they send me a very important letter offering me “advanced internet surveillance scouring websites and public records,” “high priority alerts […] for immediate action,” and, best of all, “continuous benefits and convenient billing”? I’d be a fool to pass up their Single Identity-brand “24/7 monitoring and scouring [scouring must be important] of black market websites,” wouldn’t I?

All for the extremely reasonable price of $9.99 a month (“plus sales tax, where applicable”).

Or, to put it another way, $120 a year to do something I can do myself, namely keep an eye on my credit card statements, bank balances and credit reports.

They don’t even promise to do a good job, instead stating in the fine print that they “may not be able to apprise [me] of all [my] personal information that may have been compromised” and that they “may not be able to apprise [me] of all instances in which [my] Social Security Number may have been compromised.”

Say what? You want $120 a year, and you can’t even do a good job?

Perhaps I instead should take advantage of Kroger Personal Finance®’s generic identity theft protection, available now in your Kroger checkout lane for only $5.99 a month.

Oh, wait! Kroger has practically the same fine print! At least I’d be saving 40% with Kroger.

Update: PNC really thinks their customers are idiots, charging $12.99 a month for the same service Amex and Kroger sell (check PNC’s very similar footnotes).

Update 02/19/2013: Looks like Amex has gotten out of the identity theft protection business. Their singleidentity.net domain now redirects to a page on their main americanexpress.com site that says their ID Protect program has been discontinued as of January 1, 2013:
American Express ID Protect has been discontinued as of January 1, 2013

Update 04/10/2013: It turns out that American Express has a new, more expensive service for idiots, CreditSecure®.

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

If you didn’t know that on most forms on most web pages you can press the TAB key to move from one field to the next, or if you’re the type of person who prefers to use your mouse, this post isn’t for you because this post is my latest Web design (bad) post (it also counts as Whining). Today’s culprit? Panera Bread® of Central Ohio.

If you’ve visited my blog before, you may know that I like Panera, I really do. One of the things I like about Panera is that on every receipt is a link to a “tell us how we are doing” survey, a survey whose completion enters you into a drawing to win $2,000. What a great way to build customer loyalty.

The web developer who created the survey website for Panera, however, cares less about customer loyalty and smart user interfaces and more about making sure no one types numbers into his or her numeric fields. Look at the source for one of the panerasurvey.com pages, and you’ll see that numeric fields have onKeyPress="return TextCounterNumber()" attached. If you’re not a web developer, all you need to understand is that this bit of code looks at every character you type into the associated fields to determine whether it’s valid or not. Numbers are valid. Anything else is not.

That’s not so bad. It’s making sure users can’t mess things up by typing letters into a field that should have only numbers. Kinda smart.

Here’s the bad part. On the vast majority of forms on the web, users are not forced to take their hands off their keyboards and use their mouses to click on the next field in a form. That’s something the web inherited from non-web forms. Never mind that the vast majority of computers users may not realize they can advance from field to field with the TAB key; web developers should know that.

Once you’re in the order number field on this form, you’re trapped until you use your mouse to click someplace else. However, after you click on the month field with your mouse, you can use your keyboard to select values and press TAB to go to the next field.

You may think this isn’t worth complaining about, and in the grand scheme of things, you’re right. But Panera’s survey includes a screen on which they ask people to tell them of any concerns, and I’ve mentioned the fact that their survey form doesn’t adhere to web standards. Yes, it’s a small annoyance, but it’s also something that would be incredibly easy to fix. It’s also something I’m reminded of each and every time I go to fill out a Panera survey, something I’m prompted to do by each and every receipt I get from Panera.

What finally prompted me to write about this? Something else about Panera that bothered me—a Panera staff person not bothering to wipe off a drippy drink before handing it to me. So far that’s happened only once (and it wasn’t my favorite Panera staff person who did it), so I’ll leave that whining for another day (although, as it happens, my best friend just stopped by my desk as I was writing this, and he said, about the drippy drinks, not the poorly designed web form, “Oh, yeah, I hate when they do that”).

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

My number one petty pet peeve


Not Dave

I’ll own this pet peeve as being a petty one, minor especially compared to challenges others have to deal with over the course of their lives, but it’s a pet peeve I’ve had all my life and won’t ever give up. What pet peeve is this? Well, if you’ve been reading my blog since its inception almost 8 years ago, you will not have seen mention of it (and thus you know I’m not talking about drivers who don’t know it’s legal in Ohio sometimes to turn left on red*) because it is in fact something minor, but it’s something minor that’s come up for as long as I can remember.

I hate being called “Dave.”

That people just assume it’s okay to call me “Dave” I can grudgingly understand because there are just tons of people out there who do in fact prefer to be called by nicknames. The people who prefer this introduce themselves as “Pete” or “Charlie” or “Tom” or “Mike” or “Dan” or “Steve” (as opposed to “Peter” or “Charles” or “Thomas” or “Michael” or “Daniel” or “Steven”).

I’ve never, not once, ever introduced myself as “Dave.” Never written “Dave” on a nametag. Never, upon meeting someone, shook his hand and said, “Pleased to meet you. I’m Dave.” Certainly have never said “Call me ‘Dave’” after someone’s said “Hi, David” to me. And this blog isn’t hosted on davelauri.com.

You’d think people would pick up on my never introducing myself as “Dave,” and most people do, but there are some people who miss that clue, perhaps innocently trying to be friendly, perhaps from sheer obliviousness.

I rarely correct people who call me “Dave.” The people who matter most in my life already know what to call me, and that someone in the periphery of my life calls me “Dave” is not only minor but also a clue to me that he’s going to remain in the periphery. Pete the janitor in my building doesn’t need a lecture when he says, “Have a good one, Dave,” to me each morning—I can shrug that off and say, “You, too, Pete” (not, pettily, “You, too, Peter”). Someone new at church who calls me “Dave” (despite my nametag there not having “Dave” on it) isn’t going to earn a sharp rebuke—that wouldn’t be, I think, what Jesus would do.

I will, however, allow myself this whiny blog post, and I will leave this note to people who google me in future (and I know people do google me because people have told me they’ve done so): My name is not “Dave.”

Monday, May 24th, 2010

The futility of Facebook groups, and something concrete you can do instead

If you’re on Facebook®, something you’ve surely seen is the ubiquitous “join this group to show support for X.” These groups come in many flavors. A pretty common variety is the “I bet I can find 1,000,000 people who support X.” I have yet to figure out what precisely the consequences are of the success or failure of such bets. If someone who’s set up such a group fails to find 1,000,000 people who support X, does that person then have to give up his or her own support of X?

For example, there’s the group “We can find 1,000,000 people who DO believe in Evolution before June,” which, as of today, with only just over a week left to meet its goal, has found only 494,631 supporters—if, as is likely, they fail, do these people have to become Creationists? If somehow this group does manage to attract another 505,369 supporters by June 1, what do they think will happen? Creationists around the world will suddenly say, “Oh, wow! You’ve managed to convince me. I do believe in the scientific validity of evolution now.”

If you’re thinking that I don’t find such groups particularly useful, you’re smarter than I think most people who create or join such groups are.

However, some groups on Facebook do have some value, not by amassing some magical number of supporters but rather by dispersing useful information. A recent example is the group “Gay Rights are Human Rights even in Malawi,” a group whose founding was triggered by the imprisonment of Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga, a gay couple living in Malawi who were recently sentenced to 14 years’s hard labor. Their crime? Hosting an engagement party for themselves and publicly declaring their love for one another.

I include the link for “Gay Rights are Human Rights even in Malawi” not because I think you should join the group. If all you’re willing to do in support of Monjeza and Chimbalanga is join some stupid Facebook group, you might as well not waste your time.

The United States should not stand by and allow Malawi to imprison LGBT people just for being queer

No, instead, I urge you to do something I learned about from having visited this group’s page—write a couple letters. Someone in the group posted Monjeza and Chimbalanga’s address in prison and suggested that people send them letters of support, letters letting them know that they’re not forgotten, that they have supporters around the world. You don’t have to visit the Facebook group to get their address—I’ll give it to you right here:

Steven Monjeza
Tiwonge Chimbelanga
Chichiri Prison
P.O. Box 30117
Blantyre 3

Mailing a letter from the United States to Malawi costs $1.76 (four $0.44 stamps).

A letter to MalawiA letter to America

As you can see, I sent Monjeza and Chimbalanga a card. I don’t know if they’ll even get it, but I do know that someone in Malawi will see that these brave men have supporters in the United States.

You can also see that I wrote a second letter, to President Obama, and frankly, if you can make time only to write one letter, I’d urge you not to write to Monjeza and Chimbalanga but instead to write to the President. What I said to President Obama was that the United States should not stand by and allow Malawi to imprison LGBT people just for being queer, that the President should condemn this action and that the President should withhold any foreign aid to Malawi until not only Monjeza and Chimbalanga are freed but also Malawi decriminalizes homosexuality.

I realize that President Obama has been leery of taking on gay issues for fear of losing support among more moderate and conservative Democrats, but surely even the most hard core Christian can agree that imprisoning homosexuals is unacceptable. I have to hope that sending the President a letter will be at least a little more effective than joining a stupid Facebook group.

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
Rubbermaid 3B2703BLTN 36-inch Breathable Wardrobe Storage, Blue

You know, it really ought to be mandatory that companies that sell anything requiring assembly by the purchaser maintain a website of assembly instructions for such products.

Apparently neither Rubbermaid (despite a wealth of assembly instructions for other Rubbermaid-brand products), one of whose fine 36" breathable wardrobes I recently purchased from Amazon.com, nor Moran, Inc., the company one is to call if one discovers one is missing parts in a 3B2703BLTN wardrobe one has purchased, sees fit to do so; therefore I have rectified that by scanning and posting the PDF here in case some future Googler might seek it.

Update 5/17/2010: I hadn’t expected it to happen so quickly, but over the weekend I got an e-mail from a fellow purchaser of the 3B2703BLTN wardrobe thanking me for having posted the assembly instructions. Yay for the power of the Internet!

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Two morning errands — Post Office and Panera — and two cards

Back of a credit card, properly signed
The USPS just cares that the credit card you’re using is signed, not that the signature or card is yours.

This morning my first stop was at the Mid City Post Office in downtown Dayton, to pick up some Forever stamps. I like going to Mid City because it’s always much less busy than the Main Post Office and because the clerk who works there is much nicer (she greets people as they come in, perhaps because, unlike the clerks at the Main Post Office, she’s not overworked).

However, bless her heart, perhaps the Mid City clerk is assigned there for a reason. After I swiped my credit card for my stamp purchase, she asked, “Credit or debit?”, and when I answered, “Credit,” she said she needed to verify the signature on my card. I handed my card over to her, she looked at the back of it, she hands me my receipt, I get ready to sign, and she says, “Oh, you don’t need to sign for purchases under $25.”

Hmm. I guess when she said she needed to verify the signature on my card, she just meant that she needed to see that the card, whether stolen or not, did in fact have a signature.

A MyPanera card gets you free food
Yay for MyPanera cards and the free food they get you!

My second stop this morning was at the Brown Street Panera to get a frozen caramel and a bacon and egg ciabatta breakfast sandwich. Unlike the Mid City Post Office, Panera is always hopping, but like Mid City, the folks working at Panera are also friendly. My favorite person working at the Brown Street Panera is named Kathy. Something she and I have in common is that she has a brother named David and I have a sister named Kathie*. Kathy always greets me by name and knows that I like large frozen caramels.

Another good thing about Panera is their new MyPanera card. You let the cashier scan it when you order, and then not only do you not have to tell her your name (if she doesn’t already know it), but you also earn rewards such as free frozen drinks or free pastries or free bagels. I already liked Panera enough that I went fairly often, but this good marketing on their part makes me enjoy going even more. Thanks, Panera!

*Well, I get away with calling my sister “Kathie” because I have for decades, but you probably wouldn’t get away with doing so.

Friday, April 9th, 2010
Stupid parking:
Note to the driver of a Cadillac DeVille, Ohio license plate number AQZ 9981:
When parking in a lot that’s almost full, it’s really rude to pull your big ass boat of a car into a spot so crookedly that no one can fit in the spot next to you:
Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Frakkin’ obscenities

If you read a recent comment of mine on Esrati.com you can draw a couple conclusions about me.

Who the fuck do you think doesn’t know what “frak” really means?

The first conclusion you might draw is that I’m a fan of Battlestar Galactica (the reimagined version of the last decade, not the original 1970s one) because my comment uses the ultimate reimagining from the updated series, a form of the curse word “frak.”

If you draw this conclusion, you are in fact correct. I did quite enjoy Battlestar Galactica, I like to watch and to read science fiction (not, ugh, “SyFy,” a really stupid reimagining of the Sci Fi Channel’s name), I think Jamie Bamber’s frakkin’ hot (did you know he’s British — I’ve also been enjoying him recently on Law & Order: UK), and I currently enjoy the Battlestar Galactica spinoff Caprica (although I admit it’s a bit soap-operaish).

However, drawing the conclusion that I’m a frakkin’ Battlestar Galactica fan because of my comment on Esrati.com is frakkin’ fucking wrong. Although I have on occasion used the word “frakkin,” I did not then choose that word. No, my comment on Esrati.com started with the phrase, “Jesus Fucking Christ.”

David Esrati, as is his right—Esrati.com is his website, redacted my choice of obscenity, replacing it with a similar word that means the same fucking thing but which for some reason is found less obscene by many people and, apparently, by the FCC.

In case you are not a fan of Battlestar Galactica, let me take the opportunity to tell you that characters on the show and its spinoff Caprica use forms of their curse word “frak” all the fucking time. “Frak this” and “frak that” and “motherfrakker” and “shut the frak up” and “I don’t give a flying frak.” Who the fuck are they kidding, you might ask. You and I both fucking know what a Caprican (or a Tauron) means when he or she says, “frak,” just as we both know what Jon Stewart has said when he utters some word starting with “f” that gets bleeped out to keep the FCC happy about the Daily Show. What in Jesus Fucking Christ’s name is accomplished by saying “frakking” instead of “fucking?”

So the second conclusion you might draw from all my fucking swearing, in particular from my swearing in conjunction with our Lord and Savior’s name, is that I’m not a Christian. Sure, a Christian might blurt out, “Jesus Fucking Christ,” in the heat of the moment, but a Christian would feel guilty about having done so, would ask for forgiveness and would endeavor not to slip up again.

What would Jesus find most obscene?

Well, if you think I’m not a Christian, nothing I say is likely to convince you otherwise, but I will tell you that I am a covenant member of Cross Creek Community Church, United Church of Christ, on whose Coordinating Council I serve as the Justice and Witness Ministry chair. You may think I’m not a Christian (and by your definition, if it includes believing in Jesus as the only one who can Save us from a eternal life of hellfire and damnation, you’re right), but I do generally strive to be a Christian, which, by my definition, is one who follows Jesus’s example (“Jesuit” might be a better phrase but it’s already taken and reappropriating the term “Christian” is more fun).

So do I think that Jesus would have been (oops, there I go again, being a non-believer— real Christians who believe Jesus is still literally alive and watching every word we say would have said “is” instead of “would have been”) offended by my interjecting the ultimate curse word (such a horrible word that it couldn’t even be allowed to stay on my Esrati.com comment) in his name taken in vain?

No, I fucking do not think that Jesus would have been offended by that.

Why not? Because there’s plenty of much more offensive comments in that Esrati.com thread than mine. Diehard Libertarians predominate in the comments on most Esrati.com posts, and this one is no exception. This post and its comments are about health care reform, and what drew my ire was the Libertarian idea that any redistribution of wealth whatsoever is an obscenity to be avoided at all costs. Forcing any citizen to pay a single cent of taxes when such taxes are not used as fees for services (services that ideally should not be provided by any level of government) that citizen himself has used but rather are used instead to subsidize the provision of services to someone else is a Libertarian High Crime.

Poor Libertarian John Galts across the United States just wish they could opt out of living in our society, wish they could retreat to some u(dys?)topia where they can keep every cent they earn, perhaps voluntarily donating some money to charity, but only if they choose to do so.

I admit that it’s unChristian to judge others (but I’ve already given you ample evidence that I’m a rotten Christian), but I can’t help thinking that Libertarianism is awfully unChristian. Read Matthew 25:40, and then think about whether Jesus was more concerned with every citizen keeping every denari he earned or whether Jesus cared more about the health and wellbeing of all God’s people.

I could be wrong, but I think Jesus wouldn’t give a flying fuck about anyone fucking saying “fuck.” What he would have given a fuck about is something really obscene, the state of Americans’ compassion for the wellbeing of our neighbors.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

I’ve been getting a lot of calls from 866-301-7344, a couple times a day, every day for a while now. Without knowing whose number that is, you’d probably assume that I’m late paying some bills and that some collection agency is trying to reach me. If, however, you instead googled 866-301-7344, you’d see that no, 866-301-7344 belongs not to a collection agency but rather to Sirius/XM.

Why is Sirius/XM calling me repeatedly? Do I owe them money? No, in fact, I do not owe them money. In August last year I bought a new Volkswagen Eos (love it!) which was equipped with a satellite radio that came with 6 free months of Sirius/XM service. Those 6 months were up last month, and despite (actually, in part because of) repeated calls in February from Sirius/XM warning me that my free subscription was about to expire, I opted to live without satellite radio.

I did enjoy having satellite radio, in particular 80s on 8, but I came to the decision that paying $12.95/month ($155.40/year, plus taxes) for radio that I could hear only in my car wasn’t worth it, especially when I have a 6-slot CD in the car.

Sirius/XM, every additional time you call makes it less likely that I ever want to do business with you.

Now it’s certainly fine for Sirius/XM to snail mail me some marketing materials to try to convince me to reconsider, and it’s also not terrible to try calling me once or twice. That’s once or twice, ever, however, not once or twice a day until I finally submit. Let me tell you, Sirius/XM marketing geniuses, every additional time you call me makes it less likely that I ever want to do business with you.

And I’m not the only former Sirius/XM customer to feel this way. Sirius/XM started calling Rob Sama twice a day every day in February 2009, bothering him enough that he posted about their stupid marketing approach. He’d told Sirius that he no longer owned the car with the Sirius radio and yet they continued to call him. He tried ignoring their calls, letting them go to voicemail, but then he finally answered one of their calls and threatened to file a complaint with the FCC.

One commenter on Sama’s blog points out that if you don’t answer a telemarketing call like this, you get “put high in the queue to try again” by the telemarketing company’s software.

I refuse to be forced to answer Sirius/XM’s damned phone calls just to threaten them with an FCC complaint in order to get them to stop calling me. Instead I’ve gone right ahead and filed an FCC complaint, I’ve set my Droid to send calls from 866-301-7344 directly to voicemail, and I’ve set my YouMail not to accept messages from Sirius/XM.

And this, Sirius/XM, is a lesson in how to take a customer who liked your service but declined to renew and turn him into someone who really hates your company, won’t ever renew, and will try to make people aware of your company’s stupidity.

Update 4/19/2013: It’s been over three years since I wrote this post, and this has been one of the most popular on my blog. I’ve gotten 1,209 hits from people who have searched on Google for 866-301-7344, 565 of those from the last 12 months. If you search for 866-301-7344, in addition to this post, you’ll find plenty of other posts from other people who have been stalked telephonically by Sirius/XM. How can Sirius/XM think this is a good business practice? Who actually succumbs to Sirius/XM’s relentless telemarketing and says, “Okay, okay, I give up! I’ll pay for your stupid service?”

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

You might remember that last month I bought a new Motorola Droid from Verizon Wireless, ran into a few problems during its setup and ended up, after complaining, getting a small credit of $15 as compensation.

This month, however, Verizon Wireless tried to get back their $15 credit and then some, and they would have gotten away with it too, if I hadn’t paid attention to my bill and been persistent with their customer service people.

Old calling plan:
America’s Choice
$39.99 per month
450 minutes per month

New calling plan:
Nationwide Basic
$39.99 per month
450 minutes per month

When is 450 minutes not 450 minutes?

The deal is that on my old phone I had the America’s Choice 450 calling plan, giving me 450 minutes each billing period while on my new phone I now have the Nationwide Basic 450 calling plan, which instead of 450 minutes a month gives me only 450 minutes. No, wait, that should be still gives me 450 minutes a month. More than which I never use.

Except that I got a new phone on 11/6 and so I really only got 218 minutes from 10/22–11/5 and another 232 minutes from 11/6–11/21, and instead of having had the foresight to plan my peak calling to match how my minutes would be prorated, I used 278 minutes during that first period, 60 minutes more than I was allowed on the America’s Choice plan that got prorated, costing me $0.45 per minute or $27.

Nice try, but no.

Why, if I paid $39.95 for 450 minutes, do I not get to use 450 minutes?

“That’s just the way it works.”

So I call *611 and get a Verizon Wireless customer support person named Crystal. I ask why, when I pay for 450 minutes per month, I should have an arbitrary split of those 450 minutes the month I get a new phone. That’s just the way it works. Nice try, but no. No one told me of these arbitrary rules that benefit Verizon Wireless and fuck the customer (do they even want their customers to be loyal?).

Well, Crystal can offer me a credit of $7.65. Why $7.65? Because I got a credit of $20.64 on my November bill for the portion of the America’s Choice calling plan I didn’t use, and $39.99 - $20.64 is $19.35 and $27 - $19.35 is $7.65. Ugh, but it’s better than nothing.

Despite the credit and addition of $20.64, I also paid $39.99 in November for 450 minutes
I paid $39.99 in October for 450 minutes

But wait a minute.

I may have gotten a credit in November of $20.64 for the portion of the America’s Choice calling plan that I didn’t use, but I also paid in November $20.64 for a partial month of Nationwide Basic to replace the time I could no longer use America’s Choice, and, looking back at my October bill, I see that I already paid a full $39.99 for America’s Choice for 10/22–11/21.

Of course I was already off the phone with Crystal by the time I was able to reason all this out, so I had to call *611 again, this time getting another customer service person, named Constance, who tried to explain the $20.64 credit to me again. I let Constance go through her spiel and then said, but what about my October bill? It’s not as if I just started as a Verizon customer in November!

Oh, you’re right, Constance says, and issues me a further credit of $19.35.

Jesus fucking Christ. Why is it that when I deal with Verizon I’m made to feel as if I’m the one trying to do the Paper Moon change scam?

Friday, November 6th, 2009
Verizon Wireless logo

Today a Verizon Wireless store manager accused me of blackmail.

Here’s a scenario that I could agree would be blackmail. Let’s say I walk into a Verizon Wireless store, ask to speak to a manager, and tell him I want to buy a Droid and I want $15 off, and if he doesn’t give me $15 off, I’ll write about his refusal to do so on my blog. That would clearly be blackmail.

However, that is not what happened today.

Motorola Droid
The fun new phone I got today
runs Google Android 2.0

What happened today is that I went to Verizon Wireless in Beavercreek to buy one of the cool new Motorola Droid phones. I waited patiently for a sales rep — they weren’t particularly busy so the wait was only a few minutes, played with a Droid for a minute or two, told him I wanted one, waited while he did the necessary paperwork, signed where he told me, waited while he transferred my contacts for me, got handed the phone and a bag of goodies and left, a low maintenance happy customer with a new toy.

I headed to Caribou Coffee, bought an iced chai and sat down to play with my Droid, and … discovered that I couldn’t make calls on it. “Your mobile phone has not been activated. Please contact a Verizon Wireless sales center.”

“Oh shit,” I thought to myself. I’ve made the stupid mistake of walking out of the Verizon Wireless store without double-checking that the phone I just bought actually works. Shouldn’t have to do that, of course — checking that the phone works before the customer walks out the door is the salesperson’s job, isn’t it — but mistakes happen. I got back in my car and drove back to Verizon Wireless in Beavercreek.

When I get there I ask to speak to a manager, and I get a nice woman right away. I explain my problem, she takes my phone, pushes some buttons on it and apologizes — the guy who sold me my phone hadn’t finished activating it. I accept the apology and ask for a $10 or $15 credit for my inconvenience. She tells me she’ll have to talk to her boss. Fine. I wait a few minutes and she comes back and says she can’t offer me a credit but that I can have 50% off on any accessories I might want to purchase. I don’t want to purchase any accessories. That rewards them for their mistake by turning the “compensation” they’re offering into additional sales for them. Can I talk to her boss? Sure.

Her boss, the manager of the store, a guy named Nick, comes to talk to me, and says they don’t do credits. That’s just unheard of, he says. Companies don’t do that. I ask Nick if he’d rather I write about this incident on my blog, and that’s when he says I’m trying to blackmail him.

Here’s the thing, Nick. Companies do in fact do this kind of thing. Mistakes do in fact happen, and I can understand not offering credits when many customers will be happy with just a heartfelt apology, but, as I told Nick, I know from personal experience that, some companies do in fact offer credits as a token way to compensate for mistakes on the part of their employees. For example, last year when I spent hours on the phone with Time Warner resolving a Road Runner issue that turned out to be their fault and not mine, I asked for and got a $10 credit. $10 didn’t cover the cost of a month’s RoadRunner or even the cost of my time spent convincing tech support droids that the problem I was experiencing wasn’t my fault, but it made me feel better.

It’s not like I was asking to get someone fired. I just spent $200 on a phone and am going to be spending $30 more each month on service — $15 is nothing to the corporate behemoth of Verizon Wireless. Which is more important? Saving $15 while pissing off a customer by calling him a blackmailer and getting bad P/R on the Internet? Or spending $15 — 7.5% of the retail cost of a Droid and less than 1% of a 2-year service contact — and making a customer feel that his wasted time was somewhat compensated for?

I don’t know if I’m getting a credit or not. Nick agreed to put my request in his system and send it up the corporate food chain. At this point, I don’t particularly care about the credit. What I’m getting instead is the satisfaction of teaching Nick a lesson about customer service.

Update 11/21/2009: Got my credit. Nick now knows that giving a customer a small credit as a token of a company’s regret for poor service is in fact not unheard of, even at Verizon.

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

Today’s blog entry is some whining about Packet 8:

You might just want to jump down to the summary if you don’t want to read all of my whining.

Packet 8, in case you’ve never heard of them, is a hosted voice over IP (VoIP) phone service. Kind of like Vonage but oriented towards small businesses, though they do, like Vonage, offer residential service. Because they are a hosted service, you don’t have to worry about being responsible for managing a server or software. Packet 8’s not bad—most of the time their service works fine, and the sound quality isn’t bad, especially with their new 6755i phones (which are rebranded Aastra phones marked up for resale and no, you can’t just buy the Aastra phones yourself, but that’s a price you pay for not having to host the VoIP solution yourself).

However, when we do have a problem with Packet 8, it can be infuriating. Something that comes with their service is Switchboard software that our receptionist uses so she can see who’s on a call and so she can more easily transfer calls. We’ve been using Packet 8 and also Switchboard since November 2007, day in, day out, and most of the time it just works, until suddenly it doesn’t, which is the case today.

Switchboard splash window Today our receptionist reports that when she tries to start Switchboard, it just sits there with the spash window saying, “Launching Switchboard — Please wait.” No error message. It just sits there. No matter how long she lets it sit there. Now Switchboard is a rather slow program to load, but she’s been starting it every morning for months, so she knows the difference between normal slow and never gonna do anything slow, especially since she gets in at the crack of dawn and I get in at a more comfortable 10 a.m. or so.

So I call Packet 8 and the first annoyance about which I’m going to whine today is that they’ve changed the prompts on their voicemail. For months you hit 1 for business service and 2 for technical support. Then a month or so ago they added another level after that so you had to hit 2 again for technical support as opposed to 1 for trunk service. And now they’ve switched it again so that you have to hit 1 for business service, 1 for Virtual Office service, 1 for tech support. Come on, guys, stop playing with your damned voicemail options. Customers don’t want to have to listen to the entire stupid menu every time we call just because you’ve changed the menus yet again.

I navigate the new menu prompts, get a technician, explain our problem, and he asks, have you installed the latest version of Switchboard? Well, we did the last time we had a problem with Switchboard—is there a new version? And if so, why can’t the Switchboard software check for updates and let us know there’s a new version to be installed or better yet install the new version automatically. He says, software’s complicated and can’t do that. Oh? Just like Adobe Acrobat and Sun Java and Microsoft Windows and how many other pieces of software can’t do that? Right. Oh. Well he’ll put in a suggestion that their programmers fix Switchboard to do that, but for now I’ll have to go download the software and install it, but, by the way, I don’t have to bother uninstalling the old version first. Okay, I’ll go do that and if it doesn’t work, I’ll call back.

Well, lo and behold, the version of Switchboard that’s on Packet 8’s site is dated 09/22/08, which is the same version we’re using. (And by the way, what’s up with not having version numbers?) So I download it again, install it and sure enough, it does not fix the problem.

I call back, navigate the voicemail prompts (more quickly this time since they haven’t been changed yet), get a different technician, and he can’t find us in their system, could I repeat our phone number? Oh, there we are. I guess that should have been the first clue that things weren’t going to go well with this guy. I explain what our problem is and what the first tech told me and that I’d re-installed the software and it still doesn’t work. Did I uninstall the software first? No, the first guy explicitly told me that I didn’t have to do that. Oh, no, he was wrong—you always have to do that. And by the way, software does tend to get corrupted over time, so reinstalling it periodically is a good thing.

Oh? And it just happens that the Switchboard software “got corrupted” on both the receptionist’s computer and on my test computer on the same day? That’s a bit of a coincidence, isn’t it? And actually, no, you don’t always have to uninstall the software completely—when we upgraded to the new 6755i phones I also had to upgrade the Switchboard software and I didn’t have to uninstall it first before the upgraded software would work, but fine, I’ll jump through the hoops and uninstall the software first before reinstalling it. Oh and I need to delete cookies in Internet Explorer too.

Fine. I uninstall the software, reboot the computer as prompted when the software’s uninstalled, delete cookies, reinstall the software, launch Switchboard Setup to re-enter our iPBX parameters and our parameters are still there. How’s that possible if I uninstalled the software? What good was uninstalling the software if it didn’t delete the parameters? He doesn’t know. At any rate, I launch Switchboard yet again and the same thing happens.

Hmm, well they did some changes last night on the back end and maybe I need yet a different version of Switchboard, the link to which he’ll e-mail me. I get the e-mail right away, click on the link and it’s a link to MegaUpload.com with a horrible captcha that I have to enter in order to be able to download the software. I finally get past the stupid captcha and MegaUpload informs me that I have to wait 60 seconds since I’m not a premium MegaUpload customer and MegaUpload pops up an ad that somehow gets past Firefox’s popup blocker. To quote Seth from Saturday Night Live, “Really?!” Packet 8 has its own website, Packet8.net, and they have to put pre-release software on a lame ad-supported file transfer site instead of on their own web servers? Really?!

So while I’m waiting the 60 seconds in order to download this other version of Switchboard, I ask the tech why, if Packet 8 knew they were going to make changes on their backend, they didn’t warn customers about that. Because most of the time it goes smoothly and customers don’t know about it. Really?! This isn’t the first time they’ve done this to us. I’ve had to call in for support before on Switchboard and been told to change the IP address of our iPBX server due to changes Packet 8 has made without warning us beforehand. And even if things were to go smoothly, what could it hurt to warn customers about changes? Well, he can note that in our file and maybe someone will read it, oh, no, rather all suggestions are read but they can’t take every one. Whatever.

I finally get this special version of Switchboard downloaded from MegaUpload and the tech tells me, oh, by the way, that in addition to uninstalling the old Switchboard software and deleting cookies again in IE, I should also empty the Recycle Bin, and I actually laugh out loud at him. Empty the Recycle Bin? There's nothing in the Recycle Bin. I can’t empty it. He acts kind of hurt that I laughed at him, poor guy. But I jump through the hoops one more time, and, you guessed it, this special version of Switchboard also doesn’t work. Guess the problem’s not not on our end, huh?

Nope, guess it’s not. He needs to escalate the solution of this and will call me back. Can he get my number? Um, hello, not only did I give you our number when I first spoke to you, but also you’re our phone service provider—you should know our number.

So an hour or two later, the tech does call me back and says that the escalation team is working on this and that it could be a couple days but hopefully today that it’s fixed and he’ll keep me updated. Something to do with a change in their Intraswitch software, the underlying “carrier” Packet 8 uses as their iPBX. Great. Googling Intraswitch, I found this page which says that Intraswitch is a great 100% Java iPBX supporting JTAPI 1.3, MGCP and SIP solution that other VoIP service providers can obtain from Packet 8 if they want. Or you can get it directly from Centile, which developed it.

So, to summarize, here are some suggestions for Packet 8:

  1. Don’t keep changing the options on your customer support voicemail.
  2. Fix your Switchboard software so that it checks for updates automatically.
  3. Put a version number on your Switchboard software.
  4. If you have pre-release software you want customers to install, put it somewhere on Packet8.net for customers to download instead of using MegaUpload.com.
  5. Warn customers before changing things on the backend, even if you don’t expect any problems.
  6. Make sure your customer support technicians are trained well enough to give consistent advice.
  7. Get your customer support techs to understand that when they deal with an established customer who’s used your service for some time, they might not want to be so condescending. Hell, they might even want not to be condescending with new customers.

And don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying to run from Packet 8 if you’re looking for a hosted VoIP solution. Most of the time they’re fine. It’s just that their technical support is par for the course. I could tell you similar stories about Dell (where a tech just yesterday asked me to look for the battery charge indicator LEDs on my mother’s Dell Mini Inspiron 910’s battery that wasn’t recharging [hint, batteries for Dell Minis don’t have charge indicator LEDs]), Earthlink, Time Warner, Covad, AT&T, Oracle and others—God, I need to get out of the computer business.

Update 03-19-2008: I heard back from this second tech once yesterday when he called back to say he’d escalated the problem but that it could take a couple days (!) to resolve. He promised to keep in touch, but guess what? Today our Switchboard software worked for our receptionist (without having to jump through any hoops such as uninstalling, deleting cookies, emptying empty Recycle Bins).

Annoying that no one called us back to let us know things were working or what the problem had been, but what’s even more annoying is that when our receptionist then tried to log into Packet 8’s website to change a ring group (ring groups are a means of directing incoming calls), she was faced with a new ring group voicemail password field that has never been there before. Great! Packet 8 made yet another change without informing their customers about it. She had to call Packet 8 technical support to get the password.

When I found out about this, I called Packet 8 technical support to complain about the lack of followup from yesterday and about the lack of notification of the ring group change and to ask to speak to someone at Packet 8 who I could try to make understand that communication with their customers might be a good thing. The tech I got tried to tell me that there wasn’t anything he could do—wrong answer! I made him transfer me to his supervisor, a nice woman who explained that Packet 8’s tech support is a separate call center and that they themselves had not been informed of the ring group change either and thus had been getting lots of calls from frustrated customers. She was in the process herself of drafting a memo to Packet 8’s corporate offices explaining the obvious to them, namely that they need to communicate changes at least with the call center that supports their customers. She’s going to add that customers such as me would like notification of changes. She also gave me Packet 8’s corporate office’s phone number, suggesting I call them directly to complain about this.

It’s not rocket science. Why on earth would Packet 8 think it would be a good idea to make a change that affects customers and just let customers find out about it on their own? Even if it was a change that emergency circumstances required be made on short notice, preventing notification beforehand, notification afterwards could be made.

So the lesson to be learned from all this is that Packet 8 is not a bad VoIP service—their service is fine most of the time—but if you’re looking for a hosted VoIP service and choose Packet 8, realize their customer service is no better than that of most tech companies.

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007
If you've visited my books page or if you're a long-time reader of my blog, you know I'm a fan of Dayton's library. I'm still a fan but this summer construction on St. Clair Street downtown has made trips to the library a real aggravation!

Construction started in the spring, initially just a small area of St. Clair near Second Street, but now, almost August, instead of cleaning up their mess as they progress down the street, the construction crews have managed to block off all of St. Clair between Second and Third Streets as well as starting a mess on the next block.

Why is this a problem? The library's main entrance, which used to be on Third Street, was relocated to St. Clair a few years ago because there's a whole lot more parking on St. Clair. Or at least there was. Now they've managed to block all parking in the block in front of the library's main entrance as well as access to the library's drive through window and handicap parking spaces. Now to be fair, sometimes they do have a single lane open on St. Clair, so the drive through and handicap spaces are sometimes available, but not so you could count on them!

Another reason this construction mess is a problem is that St. Clair, one of Dayton's infamous one-way streets, is a major thoroughfare through downtown for people traveling south on Riverside Drive heading for Patterson Boulevard and points south. Patterson Boulevard passing the library and Fifth Third Field is one way north, meaning everyone coming south is directed onto Monument Avenue and then onto St. Clair. Which now, more often than not, is closed at the library.

Brilliant planning. No end in sight. Ugh.
  (click pics to enlarge)

There's parking on Third Street near the front entrance if you're lucky, but then you have to walk across the construction

I don't know if this is new or slated to be replaced

It makes for an interesting photo at least

Capitol Tunneling of Columbus seems to be one of the culprits

No parking and no passage!
Thursday, July 26th, 2007
There's this gay artist, Andy Darrling, from Richmond, Indiana, who hangs out online in the Dayton 1 room on gay.com, and he sent me an invitation to his art show which was to be held in the lobby of the Murray Theatre aka the Richmond Civic Theatre last weekend and this weekend, coinciding with a

big beautiful begoinas
(click to enlarge)

Later versions of this poster, no longer available online, tout begonias, but I like bogoinas better.
fabulously gay production of Grease. I couldn't go last weekend (what with Harry Potter book release parties and Dayton Gay Mens Chorus progressive dinners), so I called (I had to call — their stupid online ordering wasn't working) and got myself a ticket for this Saturday, figuring if I was going to drive all the way out to Richmond, I might as well have double the fun.

Alas, it was not to be. Last weekend Andy reported to the room that he was asked to remove his art from the Richmond Civic Theatre because they felt it wasn't appropriate for a family environment (unlike musicals involving pre-marital sex and pregnancy scares). Now I don't have anything against Grease, but it's not on the top of my list of things to see and I certainly would not have chosen to drive to Richmond only for it, so Monday I called the RCT's box office (765-962-1816) in the hopes of getting a refund.

The box office is supposed to be open until 5pm, but they must have had things to do Monday afternoon because it was a nice woman from their answering service who took a message from me. I didn't hear a thing from anyone on Tuesday, so I called again yesterday afternoon, only to get the answering service woman again, who, recognizing me, forwarded me on to RCT's voicemail, where I left a message myself. I still had not heard from anyone by this afternoon, so I called again and again got the friendly answering service lady, who this time managed to get someone from RCT's office on the line for me.

This woman wasn't so nice. They don't refund tickets, but she could offer me a ticket to another one of RCT's productions if I wanted. No, I didn't want. I don't live in Richmond and don't have occasion to go out there. I only bought a ticket to Grease because of the Andy Darrling show. She pointed out that I could have gone to that for free, and I said, yes, I was well aware of that but
Stupidity from the Richmond Civic Theatre's website
A bit of snarkiness about RCT's website: In addition to random capitalization and typos, RCT's webmaster advises you to "get you [sic] tickets online" without bothering to include a hyperlink there to help you to do so.

And for one more bit of snarkiness, look at the dreadful HTML page he made up for the cast list of Grease.
knowing I was going to drive out there I figured why not see the play too and it wasn't my fault they canceled his show. She said she'd have to talk to the board to get their permission to refund my ticket money. Yes, do that, I told her. She sounded thrilled to do so.

I don't have much hope of getting my $15 back, the loss of which same amount, coincidentally, was the subject of another post a couple months ago. This one's not all RCT's fault — I should never have purchased a ticket to see one of their Midwestern productions in the first place — but they do get a share of the blame for being idiotic about booking art shows (they should never have agreed to let an artist use their space without being clear beforehand about what kind of art they wanted shown).
Thursday, July 26th, 2007 (#2)
Kelsey Timmerman byline in Dayton City Paper The Dayton City Paper has done it again.
This is the actual size as posted on daytoncitypaper.com
The City Paper doesn't really
want you to know how
to contact Kelsey Timmerman
(and can anyone really
read their text at the
size they post it online?)
They've run an interesting article ("We Have It Made") by an interesting author (Kelsey Timmerman) and said that he can be reached at contactus@daytoncitypaper.com. Well, yes, Timmerman probably will eventually get any message you send via that address, but you'll probably get a faster response if you e-mail him at kelsey@travelin-light.com. So why couldn't the City Paper have just said that and, while they were at it, pointed out his fun blog, whereamiwearing.com?

So why did I want to know more about Kelsey Timmerman than the City Paper was telling me? Well, it's because he mentions in his article that he was a "crazy shirtless gringo" who'd just given the Honduran-made T-shirt off his back to a factory worker in San Pedor Sula, and so I wanted to know what this crazy shirtless gringo looked like. Thanks to Google and no thanks to the City Paper, I found the actual shirt-giving event documented via YouTube and got to see the crazy shirtless gringo for myself (note to Kelsey, work on your tan before taking off your shirt).

Oh, and despite my griping, I do think that Dayton's lucky to have an alternative weekly newspaper.
Wednesday, July 25th, 2007
Ugh. Politics makes me tired, and here are two examples from yesterday as to how.

The first came after hearing Barack Obama respond on the CNN YouTube debates to a question about the difference between banning interracial marriage and banning gay marriage. Senator Obama say that he wants "to make sure everyone is equal under the law" and then proceeded to say that he thinks giving one set of people civil unions and another set marriage will accomplish that. Great, Obama's officially come out in favor of separate but equal.

So I took the time to look up Obama's campaign website and to send his campaign an e-mail in which I said that he'd never have accepted separate but equal in place of interracial marriages, so how can he think that's right for same sex couples?

And to Obama's campaign's credit, I got a response to my e-mail within 24 hours, but here's what makes me tired. Either their incredibly sophisticated e-mail response computer program or their incredibly stupid unpaid human campaign volunteer read my e-mail, saw "civil unions" and sent me back a lame response explaining all the rights for gay people that Obama supports (and explaining how great Obama is on AIDS issues — why is AIDS (including in Kenya?!) still just a gay issue?), completely ignoring my point that what Obama supports is separate but equal. I already knew Obama supports civil unions and did not need them to send me an automated e-mail telling me so. I might as well not have wasted my time.

The second political thing yesterday that made me tired was attending the Western Ohio regional meeting of Equaliy Ohio. One of the few political activities recently that did energize me somewhat was participating in Equality Ohio's Lobby Day earlier this year, not that it actually accomplished anything such as repeal of Issue 1 or passage of a state-level non-discrimination act, but it was a step. So when I saw that Equality Ohio was having a meeting, I figured I would go.

And what I saw when I got to the meeting, not counting the 2 Equality Ohio organizers who'd driven down from Columbus, was 14 people I already knew from Dayton-area LGBT groups and 1 new person I didn't already know. And what I heard, despite the Equality Ohio guy's asking us how many of us were already on Equality Ohio's mailing lists (all of us but the one new guy) and how many of us had participated in Lobby Day (almost all of us), was a repeat spiel of the history of Issue 1 and the formation of Equality Ohio and how Lobby Day works and how precinct analysis and voter identification helped us in the 2006 election (and how, in a state whose population is 11,353,140 and thus whose LGBT population is at least 113,531 [1%] and more like 1,135,314 [10%] we managed to get 6,500 [0.06%] postcards signed in support of ENDA). Brilliant. Way to reinvigorate the choir.

Finally after that spiel and another fairly brief spiel on the types of activities we could do (outreach, activism, education and visibility), we broke up into smaller groups to talk about specifics. Despite the loss of energy during these spiels, I did have a small energy boost at the idea of doing some local lobbying, similar to what we did on a state level in Columbus, so I headed over to the activism corner, to be joined by two friends from church and PFLAG and by the new guy. Most people, it seems, were more interested in the education-type activities, including, as it turned out, the new guy, who, when asked about what he wanted to do, kept talking about stuff like letting the public know about our issues. Goodbye, small energy boost.

We get back into the larger group, and to wrap things up the Equality Ohio guy wants to know what day next month would be good for us all to meet again. Wait, I said. Why do we need to schedule yet another monthly meeting for all of the same people (Diversity Dayton, Greater Dayton LGBT Center, Dayton PFLAG, Cross Creek Justice and Witness Committee) to come to? So we all came to our senses and did not schedule another Equality Ohio regional meeting, deciding instead that our working groups could stay in touch via phone and e-mail and meet separately if necessary.

If I can drum up some more energy, I might run the idea of a local lobbying effort past some of my friends and acquaintances and maybe something will come of it. Or maybe not.
Monday, July 9th, 2007
Dayton City Paper logo

Dayton City Paper lets
you see exactly how
each of their print
edition pages looks,
but good luck actually
being able to read them
Zoom in to try
Today's award for poor website design goes to none other than the Dayton City Paper, which underwent a major redesign (for the worse, in my opinion) in the past year. I've never been a frequent visitor to the site, although I do manage to pick up a hardcopy of the paper every week. Their previous online incarnation was at least usable, pretty much text only, but with a newspaper, the text of the articles is probably the most important part, right? Wrong, at least according to the Dayton City Paper, which has decided not to publish any text at all on its online site, only pictures.

So long as you don't use screen reader software (just one of many reasons websites should be mainly in text), you can read every page of the Dayton City Paper, provided that you don't find the font size too small. If you do find the text too small to read, tough shit, because it's not really text at all but a JPG of the page,

A sample paragraph at actual size
and thus increasing the font size in your browser does zilch. You could try something like the Image Zoom extension for Firefox, but a bit-mapped image of text zoomed to 200% is only marginally easier to read.

Perhaps the most important reason websites are text-based is that text is easy to search. Not on the Dayton City Paper's website though. They realize visitors to their website will want to search,
Dayton City Paper mocking search field
This is not a screen capture
—this is an actual image
I saved off their site!
and they mock us by putting a picture of a search field at the top of their site. Yes, literally a picture of a search field, not even a real field that does nothing. How insane is that?

Dayton City Paper miniscule calendar entry (actual size)
(actual size)
That the folks at Dayton City Paper even bother to save their calendar pages as images and upload them to their website is beyond my comprehension. Do they think that having those calendar pages online in that form is useful to anyone? Can you read the example calendar item to the left?

Now posting their pages as images does make life easier on the Dayton City Paper staff and might also make their advertisers happy (every ad is shown online exactly as it appears in the print edition), and they needn't worry about people plagiarizing one of their articles by cutting and pasting. I guess if the City Paper staff is happy, who cares whether the site's useful to readers?

One last whine about the Dayton City Paper before I move on, and that is that I find it incredibly annoying that they list contactus@daytoncitypaper.com as the e-mail address alongside the info about any of the authors of their articles, even if an author doesn't work for them. For example, last July they published an article by Dan Frosch (and misspelled his last name in the byline). Googling for the syndicated article, I found Dan Frosch's real e-mail address (and the real spelling of his name).

Dayton Daily News logo Now given that I sometimes like to make fun of the Dayton City Paper's larger rival, the Dayton Daily News, it's only fair that I point out that in comparison to daytoncitypaper.com, daytondailynews.com is a real pleasure. Actually Cox has really improved daytondailynews.com over the past year or so, by doing the following things:
  • No longer using Flash to display photos
  • No longer charging for access to the text of articles in their online archives
  • Publishing contact information (phone and e-mail) for the reporters who write DDN articles (and these reporters are willing to answer questions posed by e-mail—very helpful)
  • Making Dayton Daily News content available via RSS
  • Having content not available in the print editions available online (blogs such as Scott Elliott's on local education are a good local news source)
Now I realize the Dayton City Paper can't hope to compete with the resources the Dayton Daily News has (just as the DDN can't compete with the truly nice newspaper website the New York Times has), but that doesn't mean it has to shoot itself in the foot with a lame-ass image-only website. (An independent weekly that has a site I admire is Seattle's the Stranger, home of "Savage Love", a sex advice column by the paper's editor, Dan Savage, who once told me I was an idiot.)
Thursday, July 5, 2007
Verizon Wireless logo Dealing with the airline cellphone industry

So a week or so ago Verizon Wireless sent me a postcard to tell me that if I renewed my contract with them, they'd give me a month's free service. I was already aware that my VZW contract was up, and with all the iPhone hype, I'd already been feeling a little nerdish technoenvy and looking at new phones for a possible upgrade.

My old phone
—not so cool
any more
I wasn't contemplating shelling out $600 for an iPhone and certainly not contemplating switching to AT&T, but my old LG VX-8100, which seemed so fancy in 2005, was feeling thick and old (plus I'd lost the back cover), so when I read the magic phrase "This will not affect your eligibility to upgrade phones" on the renewal postcard, I thought, sweet! let's go get a new phone.

Verizon takes a customer they already had in the bag (me, someone who was going to upgrade phones anyway) and makes him even happier (by giving me a month free). Good deal, right?

So I take myself out to Verizon's Beavercreek store. When I get there, I'm greeted by a friendly associate who asks me to register on one of their fancy kiosks. This system is supposedly an improvement on their old system, where there were separate lines for sales, customer service and technical support. With the new system, tech support associates, off on one end of the store, can help sales customers if there aren't any people waiting for tech support. Nonetheless, with it being the day after a holiday, there were tons of people in the store, and I had to wait, almost 30 minutes.

Still, not the end of the world, as it gives me a chance to take a look at the various phones that are available. I was already pretty sure which phone I wanted, but I did take another look at various Windows Mobile phones (my friend Jim has a Palm Treo) to confirm that they're much bigger (too wide) than I want to carry around. The LG VX-8500's are cute, especially in white or cherry chocolate, but I really prefer a flip phone to a slider, and I had my eye on a newer phone that has a 2-megapixel camera with autofocus, namely the MOTORAZR maxx Ve.

My new phone
and more powerful

Now I'm either a tech sales person's dream customer or nightmare. Perhaps I'm a nightmare because I know what I want and thus he has little chance of selling me a bunch of extras. But I like to think I'm a dream because I know what I want and thus am an easy sale. Last year when I came to this same store to buy a Kyocera KPC650 broadband wireless card, I was in and out of the store in less than 20 minutes. So this time when my name is finally called, I figured, cool, this won't take long now.

I walk up to the counter, and an associate named Jon greets me and asks how he can help me. I tell him I want to renew my contract and upgrade to a new phone, and I hand him the promotional postcard VZW sent me. He looks at it for a minute and then tells me, sorry, I can't do both in the same billing cycle. If I upgrade my phone now and renew my contract now, I won't get the free month. I can renew my contract and come back next month to upgrade phones.

Not good! Why on earth should I have to drive out to Beavercreek and wait in line two times? I pointed out to Jon the phrasing on the card that said that renewing my contract would not affect my ability to upgrade phones and asked him where it said I couldn't do both at the same time. He admitted that it didn't say that but said that's how it was. I said if the card had said that I would have simply called to renew my contract and then come in the next month to upgrade, but it didn't say that and I was already there. Poor Jon acted utterly helpless as if there was not a thing he could do to help me, so I asked to see his manager.

Of course this entailed waiting for another 10-15 minutes, which gave me plenty of time to notice a big poster on the wall behind Jon's counter. That poster lists all the reasons why Verizon Wireless is better than its competition, and one of the reasons is that "If you ever have a problem, it becomes our problem the first time you call."
"If you ever have a problem, it becomes our problem the first time you call."
Jon apparently has never seen that poster. I had a problem, and Jon didn't make it his problem. If he'd has his way, it would still have been my problem. Fuck you very much, Jon, but it is in fact your problem, and if you don't want it to be your problem, get a job in another field.

Jon finally did come back and was pleased to report that his supervisor thought that I could in fact renew my contract, getting the month's free service, and at the same time upgrade to a new phone. Jon explained that if, for some reason, I did not receive the credit, I could call his supervisor next month, and he'd fix it. Jon worked on his computer for a while, trying to achieve the impossible, and after another 5 minutes or so had to excuse himself to confer with his superior again. After yet another 10-15 minutes, Jon came back and was able to work the miracle. He gave me my new phone, thanked me for my business and was ready to send me on my merry way. Not so fast, Jon! What's your supervisor's name and number? Oh, yeah, he said as he wrote the info down to hand to me.

Perhaps poor Jon realized I'd be writing a letter to corporate about my experience (which I did) or even posting about this on my blog. I don't doubt that Jon's a decent person and normally does a good job, and this really isn't about him so much as it is about Verizon overall. Don't tell me I'm the only person who got that postcard who wanted both to upgrade phones and to get a free month for renewing. They knew there'd be people like that because they took the time to assure us that renewing wouldn't impact our ability to upgrade. What they didn't do was to fix their systems or train their associates to handle that. In other words they took an opportunity to make their customers happier and more loyal and turned into one to make their customers unhappy and less loyal, leaving them worse off than if they'd done nothing. Great job, Verizon!

One last whine before I close. Verizon and its colleagues in the cellphone industry remind me of another industry, the airlines. The cellphone companies and the airlines give a lot of lip service to wanting to make customers happy, but really they want to make life difficult for us. Here, have some frequent flier miles you can't ever use. Here, have a sweet new phone that does Mobile Web 2.0, but its features are crippled and you've got to pay an extra fee for web and for every application you want to use. Both cellphone companies and airlines know they've got captive audiences. If you want to use a cellphone, you've got your choice of corporate behemoths that don't care about your needs, and if you want to travel by air, you've got your choice of corporate behemoths that don't care about your needs. Yay, capitalism!

Update—7/9/2007: I did get a follow-up call from Jon's manager who apologized for the screw-up and said that they'd do better. He explained that normally the stores get a bit of notice about these promotions so they can prepare on how to deal with them but that this time Marketing sent out the promotion without any warning. Well I can understand that this wasn't Jon's manager's fault, but it certainly wasn't my fault either. I hope Jon's manager has some luck in dealing with his corporation's bureaucracy.
Saturday, June 30th, 2007

This is just another brief whine about the misuse of Flash on the web for forms. Today’s culprit is SuperCuts, who will give you $2 off the first time and $1 each time off thereafter if you sign up for their haircut reminder service.

Bad Flash-based SuperCuts form
supercut.com’s non-functional form
(not as pretty as kyintrigue.com’s)

Unlike the fine folks at KYintrigue, SuperCuts doesn’t think babies born last year will be signing up (you have to be 18 at SuperCuts but not at KY), but their form is plagued by the usual problems. You can tab from first name to last name, but hit tab again and you land on email address. Don’t they want you to fill out birthday? Sure they do (it’s asterisked), but you must use your mouse to enter it. Ugh.

What makes stuff like this worse is the premium that corporate types are paying to get it. I know of a national organization that paid $10,000 for a Flash-based web site and then wondered afterwards why they couldn’t do things like highlight text and copy it or bookmark individual pages, all the sorts of things people have learned to expect from regular HTML pages. What’s even more insane is that it takes extra time (and thus extra money) to develop these forms in Flash that lack the functionality of regular HTML forms. Oh, but they’re pretty, aren’t they?

Update 5/1/2013: I had occasion to read this blog entry again, and sure enough, SuperCuts has updated its profile registration form to be just a plain HTML version. Not as pretty as their old Flash form, but oh so much more functional.

Monday, June 11th, 2007

kyintrigue.com's pretty but non-functional form
One of my pet peeves when it comes to websites is the use of Flash. There are times when it can be appropriate, to show an animation or for a game, for example, but there are many more times when developers use Flash just to make something pretty without considering how much functionality they're disabling.

Consider the pretty sweepstakes entry form at kyintrigue.com (don't ask how I got there) — a very sophisticated stylishly adult site featuring translucent dropdown boxes for state, month, day and year, none of which allow you to select values using the keyboard. See how easy the designer of this form has made it for babies born in 2006 and 2005 to select their birthdates? He or she obviously has no clue that in Firefox (and now in IE7 too) on a regular HTML dropdown you can select a value in the list by typing it. Would you rather select your birth year of 1965 by typing those 4 digits or by clicking on a slider and dragging it until you find 1965? You know my answer already.
Friday, May 25th, 2007

Remember that D-Link DIR-450 EVDO WiFi router I got on Ebay? Well, the price I paid for it, $100 plus shipping, while still a bargain, turns out not to be all the bargain I should have gotten because the seller, a certain NY Computer Professor aka Y. Presworsky, placed shill bids to raise the final auction price by $15, and he almost got away with it. No, actually he didget away with it, but I almost didn't notice.

The only reason I did notice is that I happened to see on his shipping label the name "Y.presworsky," which rang a bell because a ypresworsky placed the last three bids before mine. Now why was ypresworsky bidding on this auction? Not because he wanted a DIR-450 router, since obviously he had already one to ship to me. No, it's because he wanted me to pay $100 for the router instead of $85.01, the last bid before his.

I checked and it turns out that ypresworsky is a frequent bidder on items listed by nycomputerprofessor, sometimes even winning auctions, which I've since learned is a technique for avoiding losses — if an item you're selling on eBay is coming in under what you paid for it, bid for it yourself under another name, and then you don't have to sell it at a loss but can list it again instead.

I e-mailed eBay and told them of my suspicions, and they wrote back to say, "eBay is very concerned about any potential violation on our site. We have investigated your report and have taken appropriate action. Our actions may include issuing a warning, a temporary or indefinite suspension, or terminating the eBay membership. To protect the privacy of all our members, we can't discuss the details of an investigation with another member."

After receiving this, I checked and found that nycomputerprofessor's other auctions had been canceled, which I take to mean that his account has been suspended and also that eBay found some merit to my claim. However, when I wrote eBay back, they continued to say that they couldn't confirm that, nor could they help me to recover the $15 I lost to nycomputerprofessor. How incredibly helpful! eBay recognizes that fraud has been committed but will do nothing to help the victim.

So I emailed nycomputerprofessor (who sometimes uses the address nycomputerprofessor@gmail.com and sometimes uses the address nycomputerprofessor@yahoo.com), saying that I recognized what he'd done and that I wanted him to PayPal me $15. He replied, "[sic] If you are unhappy with the router please return it with original manufacturer seal, and i will refund your money thank you." Actually I'm not unhappy with the router — it works great — and frankly I don't trust nycomputerprofessor to refund me my money, so I told him if he chose not to give me the $15 back I'd post about all this on my blog.

So there you have it. Computer Professor, Inc., aka nycomputerprofessor@yahoo.com aka nycomputerprofessor@gmail.com aka Y.Presworsky, cheated me of $15 (not the end of the world, I know). He has a website (not a very good one) at www.nycomputerprofessor.com. His phone number is 718-849-3100 (he even enclosed a thank you note listing that phone number in case I had problems). His address, from the shipping label, is 12102 Jamaica Ave, Richmond Hill, NY 11418, and from his domain registration is Boruch Zipper, 147-36 70 Rd, Flushing, NY 11367 (different phone for that: 718-793-3290).

Not that this does any good. No one will search for him until after they've been cheated by him and have a reason to search for him. I feel a bit better though. And now I know what to check for BEFORE paying for eBay items I've won.

Monday, May 21st, 2007

One last "whine about Microsoft Office 2007" post, this time a brief one about Excel 2007. Excel 2007 shares many of Word 2007's annoyances but has one particularly bothersome annoyance of its own.

I've used Excel for a long time, starting 22 years ago (God I'm old) when it was introduced on Macintosh. Editing formulas directly in the cell is something I've never adopted; I've always used the formula bar and think it makes seeing formulas easier, especially for longer ones.

Excel 2003 handles long formulas quite nicely, automatically extending its formula bar as much as needed to display the entire formula:

A long formula in Excel 2003

Of course Excel 2007 has to fuck this up. Microsoft's evil Excel developers, perhaps because they never actually use the product, have sagely decided that one needs only to see one line of a formula at a time, or that one has to sacrifice screen real estate all the time to accommodate longer formulas. They've gone out of their way to remove functionality that worked well in Excel 2003. Damn them to programming hell.

A long formula in Excel 2007
Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Today, during "whine about Microsoft Office 2007" week, I am whining about Outlook 2007. I didn't think I'd have to do this because Outlook 2007, unlike Word 2007 and Excel 2007 was not supposed to feature the infamous ribbon. Instead it still has the familiar File, Edit, View menus and even retained my custom toolbar when I started it up. Oh, but Microsoft is devious.

Just when I'm lured into thinking that everything will be okay with Outlook 2007, I go to do one of the main things I do with Outlook — read or send an e-mail message, schedule an appointment, look up contact info — and boom, bye bye, menus — hello, ribbon. Fuck! That means that yes, in Outlook 2007 also, I'll be learning new shortcuts.

What makes Outlook 2007 even worse is that Microsoft's evil developers, having pretended to retain the old 2003 menus, don't even bother to include the mocking "Office 2003 access key" feature that Word 2007 and Excel 2007 have. Damn them!

Insert a file with Outlook 2003
Attach a file in Outlook 2003

Attach a file with Outlook 2007
Attach a file in Outlook 2007

For example, very often when composing e-mail messages I attach files. In Outlook 2003, that's just <ALT>-I (insert), F (file). In Outlook 2007, you have to type <ALT>N (insert), AF (attach file). Not only different keystrokes but additional keystrokes. Ugh. Sorry, Microsoft, but I had enough and reclaimed my old shortcut. I wrote an AutoHotkey script that checks for whenever I press <ALT>-I in an Outlook e-mail window, intercepts it and types Outlook 2007's stupid new shortcut instead, actually saving me a keystroke.

Reminder in Outlook 2003
Outlook 2003's conveniently located
appointment reminder

Reminder in Outlook 2007
Outlook 2007's obscurely placed reminder

Another common task, probably even more annoying now, is that whenever I create an appointment, I want to set a reminder for it. True, Outlook 2003 was a tad annoying in thinking that I'd want to be reminded only 15 minutes before an appointment, but setting the reminder to what I wanted was a simple <ALT>-R away. Outlook 2007 makes the assumption that I don't want to be reminded about appointments at all, hiding the reminder field away on the damned ribbon, accessible only after typing <ALT>-H, Q. Sure, that's not too hard to type, but I don't see that field (having hidden the space-grabbing ribbon) and thus am not reminded that I'd like to set an reminder, nor can I easily see if I set a reminder if I do go back to look at the details of an appointment.

And then there are tasks. Outlook can be a great tool for managing one's work, but Outlook 2007 doesn't want to make it easy. If you do different types of tasks or tasks for different projects, you might want to use categories, and in Outlook 2003, categories were only an <ALT>-G away (true for appointments and other items as well). Outlook 2007 does show already-assigned categories with nice colored bars, but to assign categories you have to type <ALT>-H, G and then arrow down to the category you want (and do this multiple times if you want to assign multiple categories), or, if you want to assign a category that Outlook doesn't display (it only shows 15) or if you want to assign multiple categories all at once, you have to type <ALT>-H, G, A.

And one last Outlook 2007 gripe, also related to tasks. I confess that I sometimes don't mark tasks complete the day I do the tasks. I still want to record the actual date completed, however, and in Outlook 2003, that was a simple jump to the details tab of a task (<CTRL>-<TAB>) where the first field was date completed. Well tasks don't have tabbed subscreens any more in Outlook 2007, so I have to learn a new shortcut, <ALT>H, L, to get to the same place.

Thanks, Microsoft, for working so hard to make my life easier.

Saturday, May 19th, 2007

Okay, Microsoft's stupidity means that I have to retract the good thing I said about them yesterday. I had been pleasantly surprised to discover a setting in Word 2007 that allows you to set cursor movement to "visual" in right-to-left languages such as Hebrew.

Well, guess what? It only works if you don't hold <SHIFT> down. If you do hold <SHIFT> down because you want to select some text, the cursor goes back to its old "logical" behavior, moving in the opposite direction from the way it moves without <SHIFT>. That is worse than having no changeable cursor movement setting at all. Ugh, ugh, ugh. I'm switching it back, so at least the cursor movement is consistent within a language. Damn you, Microsoft!

Friday, May 18th, 2007

Okay, yes, this is turning out to be "whine about Microsoft" week, and I do have another complaint about Word 2007, but I also discovered something positive to balance it out a bit.

Something I do a lot in Word is adjust the spacing before and after paragraphs. Word 2007 still recognizes <ALT>-O, P to bring up the format paragraph dialogue box, but, as I abruptly discovered after my muscle memory kicked in, it no longer recognizes <ALT>-E to jump to the spacing after field in that dialogue box. For some reason, Microsoft in all its wisdom decided that no, the short cut for that field has to be <ALT>-F now, which would be annoying enough (yet another new keystroke to learn) but it doesn't work if you have support for right-to-left languages enabled because guess what? <ALT>-F is also the shortcut the brilliant Microsoft developers assigned to "Right-to-left" direction. Hello, you morons! We hapless users see After and press <ALT>-F and our text is suddenly the wrong direction. Fuck! I suppose that I should be glad that I can type <ALT>-B, <TAB> and get to the spacing after field by tabbing from the spacing before field. It seems the devious Microsoft developers haven't been able to force me to use the mouse just yet.


Speaking of support for right-to-left languages, my positive discovery in Word 2007 is related to that. If you're a regular reader, you know I've been taking Hebrew and as part of that had to figure out how to type in Hebrew. One quirk of mixing text from right-to-left and left-to-left languages in a single document is that when you use the left and right cursor keys sometimes pressing <LEFT ARROW> will move your cursor right and sometimes pressing <RIGHT ARROW> will move your cursor left (e.g., if you're editing LTR text in a paragraph marked RTL [say you have an English translation in the midst of a Hebrew paragraph]). I just figured that's the way it works and that it couldn't be changed, but nosing around Word 2007's advanced options, I saw one that says "Cursor movement: Logical / Visual." Apparently to Microsoft's brilliant developers pressing <LEFT ARROW> and sometimes having the cursor move right is "logical," but at least they offer the option of having <LEFT ARROW> act "visually" and do what's advertised, i.e., move left. I don't know if this option is new to Office 2007 or not, but I like it.

Update: Ugh, I take back my praise of Word 2007's cursor movement setting.

Thursday, May 17th, 2007

Wasted space in larger Office 2007 File Save dialogue box Okay, this complaint about Office 2007 is really whiny, I'll admit, but the File Open/File Save dialogue boxes in Office 2007 are huge, 778x494 pixels or almost a third of my 1440x900 screen. The ones in Office 2003 were 601x392, so the new ones are 163% bigger and use another 10% of my screen. Why did I notice? Because I often want to name a file based on something in its contents, and I want to be able to see around the File Save dialogue box in order to see the contents while I'm naming the file. The bigger dialogue box isn't so maneuverable. Microsoft has a handy dandy window sizing icon in the corner of the dialogue box, but you can only make it yet bigger, not smaller. Gee, thanks, Microsoft for letting me control my workspace, not.

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Word 2007 fears allayed and realized

Okay, having played with Word 2007 for less than a day, two fears of my fears about it are mostly allayed, and one is not.

The first fear was that Office 2007 would run significantly more slowly than Office 2003. The great conspiracy theory about computer software and hardware companies is that they're in cahoots to keep people always buying both new software and then new hardware. I don't know if hardware manufacturers such as Dell slip software companies such as Microsoft money under the table, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did because every time Microsoft adds features to its software, the software requires more power and thus people are motivated to buy new hardware. Vista is certainly all about this theory.

Word 2007's not horribly slow but this trick will speed it up a tad

So when I started up Word 2007, I was half expecting it to run more slowly than its predecessor. I was pleasantly surprised to see that Word 2007 starts up about as quickly as Word 2003.

Word 2007 up-to-the minute word count
Why on earth do I need
a pencil to dance on-screen
and count my words as I type?

And then I started typing. I'm a touch typist. I don't hunt and peck, I don't watch the keyboard, and often, if I'm working from a hard copy or from something in another window, I don't even look at the screen I'm typing in. I just expect that the computer will keep up with me, and usually it does. Not Word 2007. Sluggish, sluggish, sluggish. It didn't lose anything I typed, but it just felt mushy, like what in the world are you waiting on, Word 2007? And then I noticed it, the little pencil at the bottom of the screen, dancing as I typed. Word 2007 dancing pencil Type, type, type, dance, dance, dance. And next to it, a running count of how many words I've typed so far. Ugh, what a waste!

Luckily, this is one thing in Word 2007 that Microsoft permits users to customize. (More on the issue of customization later.) Right-click on the running word count in the status bar, select Word Count in the Customize Status Bar context menu that comes up, and poof! Word 2007 suddenly doesn't feel quite so sluggish. You can also turn off the dancing pencil — it's really Spelling and Grammar Check — and Word 2007 still checks as you type, marking up your document with its curvy red underlines as you go (which actually is useful).

Word 2007 doesn't steal too much space on my screen

My custom menu bar in Word 2003 (click to enlarge)

Now another fear about Office 2007 that I'd had was that the new-fangled ribbon would eat up a bunch of the real estate on my screen. Long ago, before Office 2003, before Office XP, I tweaked my menu bar and toolbars in Word and Excel to put everything on one row. I didn't like wasting blank space on the menu bar after the menus, and I didn't like wasting space by having two or three rows of toolbars below the menu bar, so I shortened some of the names of the menus, and I put the icons I used on the same row (Adobe didn't play well, wanting to have a PDF toolbar of its own, but I got around that too). So I was concerned last year to read reports about Office 2007's "fat-assed ribbon" and how much space it takes.

And sure enough, when I opened Word 2007, there was that damned fat-assed ribbon, taking up tons of space on my screen, looking ugly as hell, and, on top of that, not even customizable (unless you're a developer). But, Gott sei Dank, you can press <CTRL>-<F1> and the damned ribbon minimizes, and Word 2007 actually takes slightly less space on the screen (97 pixels vs. 105 pixels, measured from top of the window to the top of the page in print layout view).

Of course I've lost my customized toolbars and can no longer easily see information such as what the current style, font, or font size is.

Fears realized

So two significant fears are allayed but many more are not. The big one, of course, is that nothing can be customized, and it's pretty much true. It's no longer easy to customize things. It's not that I changed the menus in Word 2003 much (if I had, I'd be fucked when it comes to Word 2007 and its support of Word 2003 access key), but I did write some macros to do things like toggle smart quotes or easily switch between English and German, and I'd been able to add these functions to Word's menus. Not any more.

Well actually you can add macros to the Quick Access Bar, but Microsoft doesn't allow you to put a text label on them, only icons, and you don't get to pick the keyboard shortcuts. The first thing on the Quick Access Bar is <ALT>-1, the second <ALT>-2, etc., so I'm going to be learning new shortcuts, damn Microsoft!

Of course, Microsoft promised its Office 2003 power users that we wouldn't have to learn new shortcuts. Even though the Office 2003 menus would be gone, we'd still be able to type the keystrokes we'd learned to navigate the old menus, and they'd work in Office 2007 anyway. Well, as with so many promises in life, it's only half true (like when I was told I'd get ice cream after I got my tonsils out when all they had was jello). In Word 2007, when you press <ALT> and a Word 2003 menu shortcut, a fancy "Office 2003 access key" window pops up to acknowledge that yes, Word 2007 knows what you want to do and is ready to support you. But it's really there to mock you, not support you. Just because we're power users doesn't mean we navigated Word 2003's menus blindfolded — we still could see and didn't have to remember all the shortcuts by heart, but not in Word 2007 — if you don't remember the Word 2003 menus by heart, you're unworthy of using the old shortcuts!

And more importantly, Office 2007's support for Office 2003 access keys is severely limited. For example, something I do a lot in Word is set up tables, and in Word 2003, I'd press <ALT>-A, I, <ENTER> to insert a table. Press those keys in Word 2007, and the "Office 2003 access key" window laughs at you! You moron, you can't hit <ENTER> to select a Word 2003 menu item — you have to know the shortcut. So even though I've pressed <ALT>-A, I, <ENTER> a thousand times to insert tables, now I have to press <ALT>-A, I, T. Table properties? I always typed <ALT>-A, <UP ARROW>, <ENTER>. No more! You can't use arrow keys to navigate Word 2003 menus in Word 2007. Damn you, Microsoft!

And not only that, but I discovered the hard way that Office 2003 access keys ignores entire menus. Something I do often is Page Setup (<ALT>-F, U). What does <ALT>-F, U get me in Word 2007? Not even the mocking "Office 2003 access key" window. Nope, Microsoft lied when they said they were doing away with menus and replacing them with the ribbon. The File menu still exists in Word 2007, and <ALT>-F brings up Word 2007's File menu, not Word 2003's, and on Word 2007's file menu there is no page setup! Argh! No, in Word 2007, your only choice is to type <ALT;>-P (page layout), S, P.

Actually for page setup, you can also type <ALT;>-P (page layout), M (margins), A (custom margins). Nosing around after my handy dandy page setup shortcut keys no longer worked, I found the page layout ribbon, which includes a bunch of presets for various margins. So if I want 1-inch margins all around or half-inch margins all around, I might be able to get them more quickly than I could in Word 2003 (Half-inch margins in Word 2007? <ALT>-P (page layout), M (margins), <DOWN ARROW>, <DOWN ARROW>, <ENTER>. Half-inch margins in Word 2003? <ALT>-F, U, .5, <TAB>, .5, <TAB>, .5, <TAB>, .5, <ENTER>). The difference is that I didn't even have to think about it in Word 2003, and I do in Word 2007. Ugh, it's going to be a long process.

Tuesday, May 15th, 2007
Office 2007 box
Office 2007 —
guaranteed to
drive you crazy!

Okay, this will show I'm not bleeding edge, because all the cool kids ran into this when Office 2007 was in beta release, I'm sure (actually the über-cool kids missed it entirely because they don't run Windows), but I'm finally getting around to installing Office 2007. As many Office power users have been, I too have been reluctant to make the move because it changes completely the user interface with which I'm so familiar and moreover for fear that that latest incarnation of Microsoft's bloatware will run more slowly.

But the non-profit for which I do a lot of contract work was able to get Office 2007 Professional Plus for $20 a copy (I guess Microsoft figures if they practically give Office 2007 away, it'll help speed its adoption by corporate America), and so I ordered copies for them, downloaded the install and set it up on one workstation, and before I've even run the damned program, I've run into my first problem — after churning away for 45 minutes, the installer, with the progress bar at 90% completed, pops up a message saying it doesn't have sufficient privileges to stop the Machine Debug Manager service! I was running the install under the administrator login, so if that doesn't have sufficient privileges, nothign does! I tried stopping the service manually, but it showed as already shutting down, so all I could do was click Cancel, which then rolled back the install. Brilliant! Thanks, Microsoft!

So after rebooting the machine and then stopping the Machine Debug Manager service first, I was able to install the behemoth Microsoft Office 2007. What a pain!

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

Remember when Joan Crawford, towards the end of her career, filled in for her daughter Christina on the soap opera The Secret Storm, playing the part of a character 30 years younger than she was? Okay, I don’t remember it either, except from Mommie Dearest, but from all accounts, it didn’t go well. I saw something this afternoon that reminded me of that, another actor playing a part 30 years younger, but apparently this actor’s been doing it for over 30 years. Ugh.

Ted Neeley in 1973
Ted in 1973 as JC
Ted now
Ted now
Which actor? 63-year-old Ted Neeley, star of the 1973 (yes, 34 years ago) film, Jesus Christ Superstar, come to Dayton in the national touring production of Jesus Christ Superstar: The Farewell Tour. Now I’d never heard of Ted before today, although I did see a production of JCS once, a local one in Centerville a few years ago, which I enjoyed in large part because of the cute actors playing Jesus and the apostles. So the bright young cast comes out on stage for the overture and I’m prepared to sit back and watch some eye candy, and imagine my surprise when the brilliant heavenly white spotlights focus on wrinkly weathered Ted! Jesus Christ you’re old!

It didn’t take long to get to a point of wicked irony. Voluptuous Tiffini Dodson, well cast as Mary Magdalene with her ample bosom about spilling out of her harlot’s costume, throws herself all over JC as Judas sings that JC’s relationship with her might be construed as inappropriate. It was all I could do not to stand up and shout, “Yes! It’s inappropriate! He’s old enough to be her grandfather!”

Next we have JC wailing (showing off his “vocal range,” as Wiki puts it, by alternating between high-pitched screeches and gravelly grumbling) about how he’s had three long years of ministry but it seems like 30 and he’s tired, and amazingly no one in the audience laughs, even though I was pretty sure even Ted thought it was funny. He likes this line so much he did the number in both acts, altering after intermission to three long years that seem like 90. Why do I get the feeling that despite the word “farewell” being in the tour’s title, Ted would love to still be playing JC when he’s 90?


The second act brought another point where most people weren’t laughing, although I was, laughing with pleasure actually, at the appearance of Aaron Fuksa as King Herod, decked out in his pajamas and bathrobe, backed up by a set of palace courtesans as he gaily dared JC to do a trick to prove his divinity. And I do mean gaily, because if this Herod wasn’t gay, then I’m straight!

As for the rest of the cast, there wasn’t a lot to impress. Ted’s highly-billed costar in this production, Corey Glover, lead singer of the band Living Colour, who played Judas, didn’t impress me either; Glover’s singing wasn’t unpleasant, but he violated one rule of musicals which is to sing so the audience can understand the words. And there were multiple times when various members of the company had their small solo bits and whoever was working sound wouldn’t activate their mikes soon enough.

I was a bit surprised at the overall depiction of JC, which seemed to waver between showing him as a man and as divine. Ted’s certainly got the benedictory hand gestures down pat, which, if the historical JC did as much as Ted did, would make me think he was a bit full of himself. But they did show JC as being tired of his duties and unsure of his future, both not wanting to die and doubtful as to how he’d be remembered. Yet in Gethsemane talking to God he ends up calling what’s about to happen God’s will. Earlier talking to Judas JC says Judas has to do what he’s going to do, and later Judas too says God chose him to carry out his plans. All this should meet with the approval of conservative Christians who see the Crucifixion as the only way God could save us all from eternal hellfire (the only way an all powerful God could save us?!). Yet the Crucifixion is the end of Jesus Christ Superstar — there is no Resurrection.

Actually that’s not quite true. Ted did his agonizingly long dying on the Cross and ascended into heaven (very theatrical but not at all Biblically accurate) to thunderous applause, and then shazam! he’s resurrected along with the rest of the cast, taking their bows before Dayton’s provincial audience who rewards them with a standing ovation. Jesus, Dayton’s faithful Broadway Series viewers will give anything that comes to town a standing ovation, but that’s another blog entry.

Thursday, April 19th, 2007
Don't back up in drive throughs

You'd think this would be obvious, and maybe the heading should actually be "Be sure your car is in drive before applying the gas," but a little while ago a woman in a big maroon Oldsmobile picked up her order in the drive through at Arby's on Patterson Boulevard downtown and then proceeded to put her car into reverse and back into the car behind hers, which, of course, was mine. No damage but incredibly annoying. She's either having a bad day or is too stupid to drive an automatic vehicle. Probably the former, but right now I'm thinking it's the latter.
Monday, December 11th, 2006
I got a call today from 954-970-0393, which after googling I found supposedly belongs to the National Benefits Consultants of Coconut Creek, Florida. When I answered, I heard a recording saying that I'd recently called them to inquire about personal or family health care coverage, at which point I hung up because I'd done no such thing. Why do they think I'd want to do business with a bunch of liars?
Monday, October 16th, 2006

Senator Mike DeWine
(soon to be retired, I hope)
I got an e-mail just now from Senator Mike DeWine. I'd e-mailed the senator on September 26 to urge him to vote against authorizing the use of torture and the suspension of habeas corpus rights. Senator DeWine's reply, dated today not only in the header but also in the body of the e-mail (so it's not like a timely e-mail message got delayed in transit), talks about the Terrorist Surveillance Act that DeWine introduced (Senate bill 2455), ending with DeWine's "hope that [his] colleagues will support this measure and give our nation an important tool that it needs to win the War on Terror."

Okay, I can understand that senators can be overwhelmed with correspondence, especially during periods when controversial legislation is being debated, so taking almost three weeks to reply to me isn't the issue. What I don't get is why Senator DeWine's staffer with the initials cak (the e-mailed was signed RMD/cak) would bother almost three weeks after my e-mail and over two weeks after the final vote to send a now-irrelevant e-mail with outdated information. Thank God I don't rely on DeWine's staff for information, or I'd think that the Senate was still considering this issue and might even vote to support DeWine's bill. I hadn't thought before today that DeWine (and his staff) might be not just conservative but also incompetent.

However, an article in today's New York Times, which says the Republicans have decided it's not worth spending any more money in the DeWine/Sherrod Brown race, means that perhaps the conservative DeWine and his incompetent staff won't be around next year.
Saturday, October 14th, 2006

Okay, I'll admit right up front that there are a billion more important issues in life and that I'm revealing my road rage tendencies by even writing about this. However, today no left turn some guy and I pissed each other off while driving, and there's a chance that he may be googling "left on red in Ohio" this very minute. My writing about this now will be too late for him to find this if he googles today, but someday he might see it, and then he'll know I was right. For all that's worth.

What the hell am I talking about?

Well, I'm not the world's most patient driver. I don't think I'm particularly reckless, and I don't have high risk insurance, nor have I had a speeding ticket in several years. However, I do not see the need to putz along, and I do think that most speed limits are set too low for normal conditions. In my defense a large plurality if not a majority of drivers agree with me about speed limits as evidenced by their behavior. If you don't believe that, drive 65MPH on an Interstate (or 55MPH where that's the limit) and count how many cars zip by you.

So today I was out doing some errands (I stopped at Fifth Third, Kroger and Trader Joe's), not really in any particular hurry. It's a Saturday, and I had no place I had to be.

Map of Patterson, Second and St Clair

On the way home I decided to stop by the main library to pick up some books and a CD that I'd reserved (reserving books online and picking them up through the drive through is ultra-convenient). I live downtown, a feature of which that some love and others hate is its grid of one-way streets. Dayton's main library is on a block bound on three sides by the one-way streets Patterson, Second and St. Clair, and coming north on Patterson, as I was, meant I had to make three left turns to get to the drive through. On a busy weekday that can mean waiting a bit, but on a Saturday afternoon with little traffic downtown, even if the lights are against you, you can turn left on red, so it's no big deal.

Except today, as I approached Second St., there was a guy in the left hand lane waiting patiently for the red light to change instead of going. The light changed to green just as I stopped behind him, we both turned left, and he putzed along slowly enough that by the time we got to St. Clair, the light there was red too. There was a bit of traffic there, but even after it cleared the intersection, he made no move to go. Now if the light had changed to green, and he'd still just sat there, probably most people would think I was justified in tapping my horn lightly to call his attention to the green light. Perhaps fewer would think I was justified in tapping my horn lightly to try to get him to turn left on red, but that's what I did. Yes, three or four times, lightly, pausing between taps (no, I did not hold the horn down so it blared, although I did just a few minutes later).

He flipped me off in the mirror, the light finally changed, we both turned left again, and wouldn't you know it, he turned into the library's drive through. He pulled up at the window, waited briefly, no one came to help him, and I'm sitting behind him, yes, this time patiently, no honks or anything, but cursing my luck at having to wait on him yet again.


He decides not to wait, pulls up but then stops as I pull up and stop at the window, gets out and comes to talk to me, starting off with, do you always turn left on red? I reply that yes, in fact, I do, that it's legal to turn left on red from one one-way street to another. He says, well if I wanted to get a ticket, that's fine, but he's not going to, and I repeat, that turning left on red on one-way streets is legal in Ohio and he can look it up online, and he says that I shouldn't tail gate him, and I say, if he'd just go, I wouldn't have to, and he says, I didn't need to honk my horn at him, and I say, all I did was tap it to get him to go, and he says, I honked it as loud as I could, at which point, I do hold the horn down and blare it to demonstrate that no, I'd just tapped it earlier.

Well that was kind of embarrassing because my blaring horn got the attention of the librarian who should have been at the drive through in the first place. She saw the other guy's and my little discussion and realized I hadn't blared the horn to get her attention. I quietly turned to her, handed her my card and said I was there to pick up some books, and he turned to get in his car and left.

On the rest of the way home I was able to make my left turns on red and couldn't help noticing signs that say, "No Turn on Red except left curb lane," signs which this guy apparently never noticed before in his life, else he'd have had to wonder why we'd need such signs if left turns on red were always illegal. And now I am at home and have done my own Google search and found that on page 33 of the Digest of Ohio Motor Vehicle Laws, published on the official Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles website, it says:

Under limited circumstances, it is legal to make a left turn after stopping at a red traffic signal. A left turn on red may be made only from the extreme left lane of a one-way street to the extreme left lane of another one-way street, providing there is no sign posted forbidding a left turn on red.

One-way street to one-way street

So yes, I was right, and he was wrong. He wouldn't have gotten a ticket if he'd turned left on red. Yes, I realize that if Jesus were driving, he wouldn't honk at people who decline to turn left on red, but then Jesus probably wouldn't even own a car, and even Jesus got angry sometimes, though admittedly at issues that are way more important than this. Yes, this is not a shining moment in my life of which I should be proud, but fuck it. If you're sitting at a red light in the extreme left lane of a one-way street with your left turn signal on and decline to turn left onto another one-way street, I'm still gonna be annoyed, and yes, I still might tap my damned horn to let you know it.

Tuesday, September 26th, 2006
Yesterday, after my friend Derek made me breakfast in his fabulous Twin Peaks apartment (pictures are in the galleries), I spent the day flying home from San Francisco, adding to my experience as a jaded world traveler.

Is this worth an extra $64?
From that experience I knew that it's good to check in online and print your boarding pass before you get to the airport. When I did that with United for my trip home, I was asked if I wanted to spend $64 to upgrade to Economy Plus seating. For an additional 25% of what I paid for my round trip tickets, I would get 5 extra inches of leg room on one segment of my trip home but no more elbow room (they still pack them in 9 across) and they'd still want an extra $5 to give me a box lunch! I declined. But checking in online did mean that when I got to the airport, I got to sail past all the hordes of people waiting to check in and had to wait behind only one other person to check a bag. Why more people don't check in online, I don't know.

The flight from SFO to ORD was uneventful. I had my snacks and my iPaq full of episodes of Brotherhood. On the way out to San Francisco I watched 4 episodes, and on the way back I watched 2 — I decided to nap some too on the way back.

Not a
terrorist weapon
We arrived on time at O'Hare, and I lucked out in that my United Express flight left from the C terminal, so instead of trekking over to the E terminal I had time to get some fries from McDonalds. I scarfed mine down before it was time to board, but the helpful gate agent announced over the PA that although food could be brought on board, beverages, of course, could not, nor could condiments such as salad dressings or ketchup, so "if you have ketchup, put it on before you board." A terrorist who heads to the onboard john with a fist full of condiment packets is obviously deadset on killing us all, but one who heads to the john with ketchup-soaked fries probably just wants to wash his hands.

Part of the irony about this is that by this time on Monday evening we all knew that in less than 24 hours the ban on dangerous liquids purchased in secure areas of airport terminals would be lifted. At 9pm on Monday the 25th, a packet of ketchup purchased at McDonald's in O'Hare's C terminal is a potentially deadly weapon, but at 8am on Tuesday the 26th it's not? And that's not even considering that TSA had no way to know whether I smuggled a packet onboard in my coat pocket, much as they can't seem to prevent Steven Levitt from endangering the lives of his fellow travelers by refusing to turn off his iPod when asked.

I got to Dayton safely and waited patiently in baggage claim only to discover, along with about 6 other happy travelers, that my checked bag had not made the trip with me. Waiting in line, I got to hear a disgruntled businessman in front of me harrass the poor woman at United's baggage counter about what he was supposed to do about getting contact lens solution at this hour (almost midnight) and whether United was going to reimburse him for his troubles. She truthfuly told him that they weren't going to do anything about that. Yay for corporate honesty. We've already taken your money, all the other airlines are as bad as us, so fuck you! Want to read more bad things about United? Check Michael Bluejay's rant or Untied.com.

When I got to the counter, I handed the woman my claim ticket, and she said, "What does your bag look like, Mr. Perkins?" Well, as I explained to her, my name's not Perkins. How did I get his claim ticket? It's what the agent in San Francisco gave me after accepting my bag. It never occurred to me to double-check her work. Apparently Mr. Perkins and my bag flew to Pittsburgh, but they'd ship my bag back to Dayton, assuming Mr. Perkins would part with it.

Today, I called United's baggage customer service number (800-221-6903) and waded through a bunch of options, only to have the friendly computer tell me they didn't have any information about my bag but that I could say "AGENT" if I wanted. So that's a new tip to add to my world traveler experience — if you call United, say "AGENT" right away, and don't bother talking to their computer. I got a nice friendly Indian woman who was able to report that my bag was in fact on its way to Dayton and would be arriving on flight 5806 at 1:25pm. They'll be kind enough to give it a ride home if it's willing to wait between 2 to 4 hours.
Friday, May 19th, 2006
Observing the ballroom packed with the attendees, I noted that racial and ethnic minorities were in the minority, possibly reflecting the multiple layers of discrimination in the GLBT ethnic minority population, who are bombarded by so many possible points of entry into the democratic process in order to improve the enjoyment of civil rights and basic human rights.
What's this cumbersome sentence from? A 3385-word, 21-paragraph report written by a member of Diversity Dayton (and a faculty member of an institution of higher learning here in Dayton) who participated in Equality Ohio's first LGBTA Lobby Day last Wednesday in Columbus. And it makes me tired, on more than one level.

The superficial level is that this sentence offends the inner English major in me. "Racial and ethnic minorities were in the minority?" That's hardly surprising. Except for women, who though a protected class technically aren't a minority of the population, yes, minority groups do tend to be in the minority (although that is changing). Yes, I get that the author of this sentence meant something like, "Racial and ethnic minorities were underrepresented," but couldn't she have said that? What she meant by the rest of that long sentence, I don't even care to try to figure out.

Another level on which the sentence tires me is that it's yet another indication of how things don't change, also on multiple levels. The "LGBT community," at least in Ohio, is a predominantly white affair. There's lots of talk about why that is and little success in changing that. Certainly it's not something easily changed given the intense homophobia among African Americans (though, to be fair, there have been exceptions) especially in black churches.

Something else that's not changing in Ohio anytime soon is the political outlook for queers. Equality Ohio made a big deal about the introduction of a bill (HB 28/SB 331) that would ban discrimination in Ohio based on sexual orientation and encouraged people, including people at home, to campaign for it on Lobby Day. Well no Republicans (count them, zero) have signed up to co-sponsor this legislation, and it has a snowball's chance in hell of passing this session. Californians got their state legislature to pass a law (later vetoed by the Terminator) giving gay Californians the right to marry. In Ohio we're struggling to get our legislature to agree that maybe queers in school do deserve some protections against bullies.

Now I don't want to sound completely like a curmudgeon. It's (usually) better to do something than to do nothing. For a first attempt, Equality Ohio had some measure of success. Over 500 people lobbied their state representatives and senators for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Ohioans, and these people were fairly well received. Speaker of the House Jon Husted (in whose district I currently live and who I had the chance to meet earlier this year on another lobby day) attended Equality Ohio's reception the evening before. I heard from a friend about his visit with a Republican who represents the rural district in which he lives, and apparently he (and two of her aides who are Miami of Ohio alums) gave her quite an education on the environment gay students still face in schools. Other friends told me that they feel the anti-bullying bill (HB 276) stands a better chance of having the list of often-bullied groups put back into it.

So I guess when it comes to working for gay rights in Ohio, I'm ambivalent. I'm too tired to be an active participant of a group like Diversity Dayton (I've already done my share of sitting through long meetings), but I'm also glad that there's a new set of young, newly-out queers in their 20s excited about making a difference. I'm just not optimistic about what they'll accomplish.
Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006
You can get fast food or good service but not both (*)

I got a free lunch at Arby’s today, courtesy of Steve Judge, V.P. of Training and Personnel at GZK, Inc., Dayton’s local Arby’s (and Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken) francise holder (apparently they ran the Dayton-area Burger Chef restaurants too).

Why the free lunch? Because I’d gone to Arby’s (#01194 at 160 S Patterson) a few weeks ago and they messed up an order, and after I e-mailed to complain, Mr. Judge kindly e-mailed back to apologize and then sent a coupon via snail mail.

I wanted curly fries, damn it!
The irony in the situation? They messed up today’s order too. I ordered a Chicken Bacon ’n Swiss (*) sandwich, a medium curly fries and a medium iced tea. They gave me the right drink and the right sandwich but gave me plain fries instead of curly fries. Now you’d think they’d have taken special care to get my order right since a manager had to put her key in the register to zero out the cost of the meal and looking at the coupon would know it came from GZK’s offices.

However, it’s not just the Arby’s staff that hasn’t learned a lesson; it’s me too, the lesson being, never get fast food to go without checking your order before leaving the restaurant. It’s a lesson I should have learned first over 20 years ago when as the lowest person on the office totem pole (working as a keypuncher at Mazer Corporation), I often had the fun chore of heading out to pick up everyone’s lunch (often at Arby’s on North Dixie). Fast food workers don’t care now about getting orders right, and they didn’t care then.

And the karma gods were probably trying to tell me that I shouldn’t be eating Chicken Bacon ’n Swiss sandwiches anyway. I don’t get lunch out every day, but when I do, a Chicken Bacon ’n Swiss sandwich is a poor choice because it has 690 calories, 298 of which come from fat. It takes an hour on the elliptical machine to burn off that many calories!

I didn’t e-mail Mr. Judge back to tell him of the latest snafu, but if you don’t get what you order at a local Arby’s (and forget to double-check before you drive away), fill out the feedback form on Arby’s site, and you might get a free lunch too.
Wednesday, April 19th, 2006
Mac users are chained to their mice

I'm taking one class this quarter at Wright State, and it meets in Allyn Hall, which has one of the university's few Apple Macintosh labs. I get to class fairly early, mainly because of parking but also to give myself some time to check e-mail and read.

Many people these days have never used a Mac, but I used Mac even before Windows, having worked at a publishing company when the original Mac came out. I even touted the advantages of Macintosh to my friend Jimmy when he was editor and I assistant editor of Rightfully Proud (a trashy bar rag that was Dayton's premiere gay newspaper at the time). Microsoft's Windows was a poor imitation of Apple's MacOS, made up of copied and stolen features.

I've been using Windows for a long time now, however, and having revisited MacOS in the lab in Allyn, I have to say there are some things Apple should copy from Microsoft now, and enabling keyboard users is probably the biggest thing! I'm on my computer (a fantastic Dell Inspiron 9300 widescreen notebook) all the time for work, school and other projects, and I can do tons of stuff using only the keyboard, in less time than it would take to put my hand on the mouse, much less move it and click. Sitting in front of an OS X Mac, I get frustrated because so many things I can do easily on Windows using the keyboard * simply cannot be done without a mouse on Macintosh!
  • Select a menu, any menu: On Windows, sure there are special accelerator keys defined for certain items, just as on Mac, but you can get to any item even if it doesn't have an accelerator key by pressing <ALT> and the appropriate keys. On Mac, there are a lot of accelerator keys defined (a lot! — who can remember them all?), but if there's a function that doesn't have an accelerator key defined, you're shit out of luck.
  • Jumping to the next word, the previous word, the beginning of the line, the end of the line: On Windows <CTRL> plus left or right arrow keys will jump forward or back a word and with <SHIFT> down will select text; <HOME> and <END> will do the same to the beginning and end of lines. Office programs such as Word on MacOS work similarly (thanks Microsoft!), but try to do the same in say, the address bar or a form field in Safari, and you get nothing.
  • Speaking of form fields, on Firefox and IE in Windows, you can <TAB> to the next field, including radio buttons and checkboxes, which you can then select with the <SPACE> bar. On Macintosh even in Firefox, you can <TAB> between text input fields, but it skips blindly past checkboxes, which you can't check without a mouse.
  • Apple can't claim to be too good to copy from Microsoft since they did implement <COMMAND>-<TAB> to switch between running programs, but their implementation of that Windows 3.1 feature has broken the ability to insert a tab character within a table cell in Microsoft Word. You do this with <CTRL>-<TAB> on Windows, but on MacOS neither <COMMAND>-<TAB> nor <CTRL>-<TAB> works (yes, Mac keyboards have <CTRL> keys, something the original Mac's clunky keyboard lacked, but MacOS doesn't make much use of them). I ended up copying and pasting a tab from another cell.
  • MacOS does have the latest version of Firefox, a great browser whose fame comes in large part from its tabbed browsing experience, but if you want to switch easily between tabs in Firefox on MacOS, don't try <CTRL>- or even <COMMAND>-<PAGEUP> or <PAGEDN>. The blame for this falls not on Apple but on the Firefox developers, but the great shortcut chosen to switch tabs is <RIGHT COMMAND> plus right or left arrow. That's the <RIGHT COMMAND> button only, not the <LEFT COMMAND> button — what contortionist thought of that? Clearly a Mac user who prefers the mouse.
  • Googling around I did hear tell of a MacOS feature called Univeral Access, through which I'm supposed to be able to press <CTRL>-<F2> to access menus, like <ALT> in Windows (so I guess Apple wasn't too proud to copy from Microsoft yet again), but I couldn't get it to work on the iMac at school, even after pressing <CTRL>-<F1> to turn it on and even after digging up the Universal Access control panel. Accessing menus with the keyboard is something so special that it can't be turned on by default, co-existing with mouse access?
Now I don't hate Apple, and I don't think Microsoft or Windows is perfect, and of course I do use the mouse (or trackpad in my case), but Windows seems much more user-friendly in this area, which given the reputations of Microsoft and Apple is really surprising.

*Most of the functionality I use on Windows but find lacking in MacOS is built into Windows, but I do use two great utilities that make my keyboarding even more powerful: WinKey and AutoIt. WinKey is by Copernic but is no longer supported, though you can still find it various places online. AutoIt is a great freeware automation (scripting) language. With the two I can press a key combination and do things like instantly move and resize windows or quickly enter logins and passwords. They're great alone and even better together!
Friday, March 31st, 2006
Editorial differences

I took over responsibility for the Dayton Gay Men's Chorus website this month. Our director, Gregg Sewell, set it up, and it looks pretty, but it got stale to the point that our March concert wasn't advertised on it until a week beforehand.

Now, I'm definitely not criticizing Gregg for not keeping on top of the site because when it comes to stale websites, I live in a glass house and because Gregg's responsible for a lot, from picking music to preparing for rehearsals and retreats to finding musicians to getting demo recordings made. But still an up-to-date website can be an asset to an organization, so we're going to do better.

The offensive material
Trying to uphold that spirit, I updated the site after our fabulous March Savory Songs and Decadent Desserts concert to thank everyone who came to that and to promote our Pride concerts in June (the 10th and 17th). I even posted a fun picture taken in the choir room at Shiloh before the concert.

Well, the picture, or perhaps the caption, or perhaps both, was deemed inappropriate by DGMC's officers and board, and yesterday I was asked to take the pic down pronto, which I did. At first I thought it was an overreaction, but I asked my best friend to look at the site and tell me what he thought, and he did think it was a bit much. I do see that it may not have presented the image that DGMC's board would want for the group, and I agree completely that my role as webmaster is to maintain a site that shows what the board wants shown.

So what image should DGMC project? Part of it is that gay men aren't just about sex, which is an important message. Back in 2004, DGMC was disinvited from participating in the All Ohio Boychoir Festival because of what they felt people associate with the word "gay." So I can see that saying on our front page that our director was "getting a little horny with the boys before our Savory Songs concert" might not help our cause.

But do we have to pretend to all be characters from Gay as Blazes, a bunch of noble gay men interested in nothing but culture and good works? Pretending is what it would be. Gay men aren't just about sex, but sex and kidding about sex is part of who we are (a part of who all men are even), as anyone who would attend one of our rehearsals would quickly discover. At times we're like a bunch of junior high boys, laughing about anything that has the slightest sexual connotation.

Nothing to offend here,
and no one to recognize either!
Besides, a staid image, such as the one to the right, which is from our last Christmas concert and appeared on the site until this month, isn't going to convince people like Reformation Ohio's Rod Parsley that we're fine upstanding moral citizens who deserve respect and equal rights. The only thing that might please them is if we posted on our front page that we were becoming the Dayton Ex-Gay Men's Chorus.

One more thing about that pic from December: see anyone you know? No, of course, you don't because you're not supposed to. A concern the DGMC board has is that of displaying photographs or names of people in the chorus who don't want to be identified. There are no photos on the site of anyone in the chorus. Members quoted on the who we are page are identified by first names only.

If DGMC were allowed to have but one message, it should be that we're proud of who we are. I realize that not everyone who's gay feels comfortable coming out or is in a place to do so, and that's fine. But if you're singing in this chorus and marching with us for Pride, you have to have reached a certain comfort level in strangers knowing that you're gay. If you're a gay married Republican Southern Baptist preacher, then perhaps joining DGMC isn't the right decision for you.

DGMC's board is going to work on establishing some guidelines for what goes on the site, and it's going to be an interesting discussion. All opinions and viewpoints have to be considered. And I do see that even if we decide that there's room on the site for some fun pictures from rehearsals or parties, such pictures may not be what we want to showcase on the front page (though I do hope we don't try to lock them up tightly in a members-only section — do we really not want non-members to know we have fun?).

Regardless of how DGMC's site develops, I am glad that there's a site over which I have exclusive editorial control. davidlauri.com may get stale from time to time, but if I ever feel like saying something, I've got a place to say it!
Sunday, December 12th, 2004

When I'm surfing the web I hate it when a link opens a new window. Some people probably think this is nitpicking but many people agree that trying to force users to open links in new windows is wrong. There are several reasons why people think this practice is bad, but a key one is that it should be the user's decision, not some site's author's decision, whether to open a new window on the user's computer. One person who insists on trying to force links to open new windows is Andrew Sullivan. I sent him an e-mail telling him he should reconsider this practice, but he never responded and didn't change his evil ways.

I say try to force because Andrew Sullivan and others of his ilk can't make me open links in new windows if I don't want to. I right click on his links, choose copy link, hit F6, paste the link in my address bar, and boom, the new page opens in the same window, whether Andrew Sullivan approves or not. He makes me work a little, but I retain the right to choose, just as you can choose to open my links in a new window (or a new tab if you're using a modern browser) by right-clicking on them and choosing that option. Of course, sometimes I forget and get a link in a new window, but usually I quickly F6, copy the link, ctrl-W to close the damned new window, F6 and paste the link and am back where I wanted to be (*).

If you're as anal about this as I am, you probably have also already switched to Firefox. If so, you might appreciate TargetAlert, an extension for Firefox that adds a little new window icon behind links that automatically open new windows. It also will do icons for mail-to links and links to various non-HTML files such as PDFs, but I turned most of those other options off. Take that, Andrew Sullivan!

Update 01-04-05: I discovered a Firefox extension called This Window which adds a context menu option to force a link to open in the current window. Just right-click and choose this window!

Thursday, December 2nd, 2004

It was about this time last year that my friend Derek and I visited St. Croix. When we got back I posted pictures and an account of our trip in my gallery. That page is one of the most popular on my site, averaging around 70 hits a month, mostly by people who have searched on Google for information about or pictures of St. Croix.

In the year since our trip I've gotten only two e-mails about my St. Croix page, both from people rather disappointed in the tone of my account, feeling that I was too negative. My first correspondent was another gay guy, someone who goes to St. Croix often and actually bought property there this year. He was very pleasant, just wanting to note that crime happens everywhere (though he too experienced crime on St. Croix) and to point out aspects of St. Croix that he particularly liked. My second correspondent, whose e-mail I received today, was an anonymous woman who rather sarcastically said that she was "so sorry that [my] trip to St. Croix was sooo bad" and that St. Croix was "not perfect like everywhere else."

Perhaps my account of the trip was too whiny, but as another of Derek's friends who blogs points out, personal blogs tend to be a place where people can vent and thus can be perceived as overly negative. And what I said about St. Croix was truthful, even if it didn't include a disclaimer that bad things can happen anywhere and that St. Croix is the best place on earth and I didn't mean to offend anyone who absolutely loves it and can't take any criticism of it.

I did close my account by saying that it was "a good trip" and as you can see from some of my photos, St. Croix can be especially beautiful, as it was on our last day there. If you haven't been there, don't rule it out as a place to go. However, do consider that there are other equally beautiful places, including Key West, whose Fleur de Key guesthouse has much nicer rooms and and showers than the Cormorant.

Saturday, October 23rd, 2004

Understanding Republicans

I have a very close straight female friend who voted against Bush in 2000 who confessed to me last night that she plans to vote for Bush this time. The reason? She doesn't like John Kerry. She saw a documentary that said he lied to get his medals in Vietnam, and she's offended that he spoke against the Vietnam war. She thinks if Kerry wins we'll have socialized medicine. She doesn't trust John Kerry. She thinks that Bush is what this country needs to keep it safe against terrorism. To top it off, even Robin Williams, she says, is conservative.

I love my friend dearly but her using Robin Williams as justification for voting for Bush seems to explain Republicans in a nutshell. She'd been forwarded an e-mail that listed a bunch of sarcastic conservative statements that Robin Williams supposedly said. See, she said, even Robin Williams is conservative. Except it just ain't so. First of all snopes.com found the original e-mail with no mention of Williams. Second of all, Robin Williams does fundraisers for Democratic senate candidates and jokes that "Bush complaining about a lack of intelligence seems sort of redundant." My friend would rather take some conservative propaganda at face value instead of examining it critically. Are all Republicans like that?

The documentary my friend saw was probably the Sinclair Broadcasting program featuring information from Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal. Whether Sinclair's airing of this program was right has been covered by many other bloggers and columnists, but what gets me is that my friend criticized Fahrenheit 911 as being biased propaganda that she didn't need to see. She can make judgments about John Kerry based on one program, but it offends her sensibilities to even watch something that's critical of the president. I pointed out to her that Kerry is the man who risked his life in Vietnam while Bush pulled family strings to stay as far away from Vietnam as possible. That doesn't matter to her. She thinks Kerry lied to get his medals and then dishonored them by speaking against the war. She wouldn't put it this way, but for her a coward is better than someone brave enough to speak his mind.

She also said that most veterans are against Kerry. She's seen the "Swift Boat Veterans for Truth" ads. She hasn't bothered to do any research as to whether these claims are valid. She has a computer which she uses to forward chain e-mail (such as the Robin Williams one), but she can't be bothered to google "Swift Boat Veterans" and do any reading. I've sent her a link to a truthout.org report discrediting one of the Swift Boat vets. I've also sent her a link to MoveOn PAC's Republicans Voting for Kerry ads. Considering that my friend herself is a Republican who voted against Bush, I hope she'll take time to consider her decision this time instead of just voting against Kerry based on having heard only one side.

I had to laugh out loud when my friend cited Kerry's plans for socialized medicine as a reason to vote against him. First, I'm not sure "socialized medicine" is an accurate way to describe his plans for reforming health care. More importantly, I asked her if she thought Democrats were likely to take control of Congress. When she finally quieted down and listened to me, she admitted that Republicans would probably retain control of Congress. How then, I asked, was Kerry going to implement socialized medicine? Were Republicans in the House and Senate going to roll over and pass whatever he suggested? Hell, Bill and Hillary Clinton had a Democratic House and Senate and couldn't get health care reform passed. My friend is a nurse and so perhaps she knows more about our country's great health care system than I do, but even if Kerry's plans for health care are bad, couldn't she hold her nose and vote for Kerry anyway, counting on political gridlock to fend off major changes?

Understanding heterosexuals

My friend knows I'm gay, of course, and she has many other gay friends. She doesn't think we're evil or sinners. She's conservative enough that calling gay relationships "marriage" makes her uneasy, but not so uneasy that she hasn't gone to gay weddings. Yet she had the audacity last night to tell me that gay marriage wasn't her issue. That made me angry, it hurt me, and I feel betrayed. I told her I was disappointed in her. She tried to say that friends can have different political views, which I guess is true if you disagree about taxes or health care, but to me it's not quite the same when it comes to amending our state and federal constitutions to make me a second class citizen. I pointed out to my friend that she's been divorced twice (a low blow, perhaps, but it's the truth that she, like so many heterosexuals, is hardly in a place to tell gay people anything about how sacred marriage is) and asked her how she'd feel if these amendments were about restricting marriage to people who'd never been divorced. That thought had never occured to her, because heterosexuals just take their rights for granted. It doesn't matter that she's failed at two marriages; she automatically assumes that she should have the right to marry again if she wants. That I would not have the right to any recognition of a relationship, not even civil unions, is less important to her than feeling safe against terrorists.

"Marygate" came up, and my friend, who doesn't think homosexuality is a choice, said she was offended by Kerry's having brought up Mary. Never mind that Mary was already out, never mind that Dick Cheney himself mentioned Mary specifically when asked a general question about gay marriage, my friend was offended by Kerry. Why would she be offended by Kerry but not by the fact that Bush and the Republicans have demonized homosexuals? I truly do not understand. My friend is not alone, however, because most heterosexuals, even those who say they have no problem with homosexuals, were offended. I've already accused Lynne and Dick of being hypocrites about the matter. They're also quite sly, too. Tap into the latent homophobia that most heterosexuals have and divert their attention from real issues. It works well, and I have a very personal example of it.

Feeling tired

I was angry at my friend, but now I'm really just tired, and yes, a bit bitter. Tired, because I really don't feel like wasting the time it will take to try to get my friend to think, to read information she wouldn't go out to find on her own, to see other points of view, to make an informed decision about whether she can really trust Bush more than Kerry. Bitter, because if my friend hadn't let her intentions slip, she would have gone on to vote for a man who uses oppression of people who are her friends as a way to retain power. This is not an apt comparision (at least I hope it's not), but I feel like a Jew in Germany in 1932 whose Christian neighbors held their noses about Hitler's anti-Semitism because they liked the feeling of security and national pride he brought them. Ironicially in 2004 I think I'd rather live in Germany than the United States.

Tuesday, October 12th, 2004
Today was a pretty gay day for me. I was part of a queer panel for a psychology class at Wright State, and I attended a presentation at UD called "Gay and Straight, Our Common Ground" by renowned gay Catholic Brian McNaught. The panel was organized by the Rainbow Alliance (formerly Lambda Union -- I'd point you to a web site, but they don't have one, an issue I'll speak more about in just a minute). I don't go to many Rainbow Alliance meetings, in large part because I'm older than many of the members, but I'm on the mailing list and I wanted to do this panel. It was rather serendipitous that the panel and the McNaught presentation were on the same day since they stirred some of the same thoughts for me.

Part of the serendipity of today was that if a couple of things had been different I might not have gone to hear McNaught. I'm not Catholic and I've always sort of thought of McNaught's message as being more for Catholics. I knew some of his story, and left to my own devices, I would have thought it was good that he was speaking at UD, but it wasn't really for me. However, Juli Burnell, the woman who worked so hard to arrange McNaught's visit, not only for tonight's presentation but also for his workshops with UD faculty and administration, is a friend of mine from Cross Creek. Seeing her excitement about the event I wanted to go if only to support her. In addition, as it happens this quarter, I'm on campus at UD every Tuesday and Thursday evening for my GER361 class. How could I not go?

I'd seen a video of McNaught's years ago. Speaking of being older than most Rainbow Alliance members, I guess today is in some part also a day for me to feel old. His video was called "On Being Gay... A Conversation with Brian McNaught," which, when I looked it up on imdb.com, I was surprised to remember was from 1986, 18 years ago, and longer than I've been out. He also had a book with a similar title, On Being Gay: Thoughts on Family, Faith, and Love, which I also read years ago. The thing I remembered most about the book, however, (if McNaught ever googles himself and sees this, I'm in trouble) was thinking that he was cute. He's still not bad looking, but he no longer matches the picture I've always had in my mind of him.

McNaught is a very powerful speaker, more so than I remembered or could tell from a video, and what makes him so powerful is his ability to express things in ways to which so many people can relate. Part of what he spoke today of was the importance of "singing our song." He said that he thinks that after he dies, God is going to ask him whether he sang the song he was taught, and that each of us has a unique song to sing, songs that tell who we are and let people get to know us. As McNaught pointed out in his speech, his audience was made up of all sorts of different people, including openly gay people from the greater Dayton community, including PFLAG members whose meeting this month was to come to this presentation, including UD students and faculty who heard about the event and wanted to come and including students of Greek 101 who were required to come (I'm impressed that Juli pulled that off).
     I think McNaught's words were aimed primarily at the non-gay students in the audience, perhaps especially frat boys who are stereotyped as being unfriendly to gay people, to try to get them to understand what it would be like growing up gay and being unable to sing one's song and to get these non-gay people to understand how their own words and actions are songs that send messages to the gay friends they most certainly and usually unknowingly have. However, McNaught's words were also aimed at gay people in the audience to remind us how important singing our songs is both for straight people who think they don't know anyone gay and for gay people who are following us out of the closet.

I felt good because I've been singing my song, even though at times it's tempting just to let others sing. I arrived at Wright State this morning half an hour before the PSY200 class the panel was for was supposed to begin, only to find no convenient parking and tempted after 15 minutes of stalking to just go home. I went ahead and drove to the other side of campus, parked in lot 4 and made it to the classroom with a few minutes to spare, only to be asked, "Oh, are you in this class?" "No, I agreed to be on the panel; don't you remember?" As it turned out, they needed more men, so I stayed, and I'm glad I did. Students in that class needed to hear that although I am gay, I'm also Christian and that there are churches including mine that not only oppose Issue 1 but also support same sex marriage. A female African American student in the class responded emotionally to a panelist's comments about the civil rights movement by pointing out that she can never shed her black skin if she decides one day she's tired of dealing with discrimination or worst case wants to avoid anti-black violence but that gay people can simply deny being gay. Perhaps another panelist might have said something equally appropriate had I not been there, but I was glad to be able to tell her that she was right, that black people face oppression every day and cannot get away from it but that black people also are usually born into black families that love and accept them and help them to deal with the ugliness they encounter while gay kids are usually born to straight parents to whom they cannot turn for support when they first are called fag or dyke (a point that McNaught also brought up tonight).

There was something about which I thought briefly as I left that classroom that hit me more as I sat in UD's Kennedy Union later listening to McNaught, and that is how lucky I am that I'm in a place where I can sing my song. (Of course I wasn't thinking in terms of that metaphor earlier in the day at Wright State, but I like how McNaught uses it.) Taking a GER361 class now is not the first time I've been a student at UD. Exactly 20 years ago this fall I was a freshman at UD, attending courtesy of a full scholarship and feeling extremely lonely in the midst of a big crowd. I'd spent the past four years trying my damnedest to appear straight in high school, trying to date girls, even attending prom, being told that these years were the best years of my life, and failing really to fool anyone but myself. Yet I didn't know anyone who was gay, or at least I didn't know anyone who was honest about being gay, and there I was at UD, facing the prospect of four more years of the same thing. The guys on my floor in Stuart Hall were grabbing each other and pretending to butt fuck each other and calling each other fag, and to borrow McNaught's terminlogy, I wasn't liking the songs I was hearing. I dropped out and spent several more years feeling sorry for myself before I finally got to the point where I just had to come out, which I did at age 25.

     Look how much things have changed, despite so many things also not having changed. The Catholic Church still teaches that homosexual behavior is a sin (and accordingly endorses Issue 1), but the University of Dayton now has a non-discrimination policy that includes sexual orientation and has at least a few openly-lesbian and openly-gay staff members. Perhaps there are still guys in the dorms acting out their homophobic feelings by grabbing each other and pretending to butt fuck, showing through their nervous humor that they of course are not gay, but now prospective frat boys at least have to hear a gay man explain to them the effects of their behavior. I'm sure there are still freshmen at UD who think they will never be able to come out and be honest about who they are, but at least now they know there are gay and gay-friendly people on campus, including Student Allies, a gay/straight student alliance.

I suppose I should be jealous that Brian McNaught wasn't at UD to speak when I was a student there or that I should regret not having been smart enough to have come out then anyway, but I'm not and I don't. I've had a great time being in college this time around, at Wright State, not only saying things I wouldn't have said back then but also taking classes I wouldn't have taken back then. It's never too late to sing your song.

Now if I were a better person than I am, I'd end this posting on that idyllic note, but I'm not perfect and life does have some nitpicky frustrations, such as parking, as I noted above. Another frustration, also noted above, is that the Rainbow Alliance does not have a web site. It's great that Wright State, like UD, has a gay student group, but how do gay students find out about such groups? How do any students get information about anything these days? They google it. If I were 17 and picking colleges again, even if, or especially if, I were closeted, I'd want to know what gay groups were at the colleges. During the PSY200 panel today a student asked if the Rainbow Alliance had a web site, only to be told, "Um, no, we changed our name and therefore we don't have a web site." Stupid, stupid, stupid! Google "Wright State gay group" and you'll find the stale site for Lambda Union, the Rainbow Alliance's predecessor. There is a web site, it still exists, and they haven't bothered to even update the web site to say that there's a new name. To me not having done even that seems extremely bureaucratic.

However, as it turns out, I should cut the Rainbow Alliance some slack, not that they shouldn't update their stupid web site, but because it seems to be the nature of many nonprofit web sites to be rather stale and infrequently updated. The only event on UD's Student Allies' online calendar is a meeting from last January, no mention even of tonight's presentation by McNaught. The site for Sinclair's group is still under construction. And the site for my church, Cross Creek, still touts last month's Eyes Wide Open exhibit (by the way, another friend of mine, Bill Meers, has a simple but eloquent site documenting that event). So it's best to remember that these groups, including Rainbow Alliance, do good things such as today's panel, and nitpicky issues such as their web sites are relatively minor.
Sunday, September 19th, 2004
I switched my default browser from Microsoft Internet Explorer to Mozilla Firefox the other day. I'm sticking with Firefox, but there are a couple features I miss about IE.

Much as web designers rant, however justifably, about how IE violates web standards, most of those complaints are about design, not user interface. Web developers have to use workarounds and take additional steps not so much to make their sites functional in all browsers but more to make their sites display the same for all browsers. Now you could argue that functionality is dependent on display, such as in the case of Eric Meyer's cool pure CSS menus, which simply don't work in IE, but for the most part the reason IE's rule breaking annoys so many designers is aesthetics.

IE's rule breaking obviously isn't of much concern to its many users. Sure, a few are switching because of concerns about IE's security. However, the vast majority of web surfers go about their business quite happily with IE. Some might call these people naïve, but surely a few count as power users who simply like some IE features.

And that's where I come to one feature I've found myself really missing just in a few days. I'm not talking about having to learn a new access key for the menu containing my bookmarks but rather a feature that impedes my work. Firefox's find text feature, though nifty (it finds as you type), is not as functional as that in IE because Firefox doesn't search inside <TEXTAREA> input boxes on forms. IE's does.

Why does that matter, you may ask. Well, this very blog, though not maintained with a blogging tool, is updated via a database and web forms. After I type this entry up, I look at my blog in a browser, and I notice some mistake that I want to edit (say I misspelled "TEXTAREA" as "TXETAREA"). I go back to the page with my form, and I could scroll down in the <TEXTAREA> until I see the word so I can fix it, or, in IE, I can type <CTRL>-F, type "TXETAREA" and hit <ENTER>. Boom, the word is highlighted, and I type my correction over it. In Firefox, I type /, type "TX" and it beeps at me to say there's no occurrence of "TX" on my page. Well, yes, there is, it's just inside the <TEXTAREA>.

Minor problem? Yes. Easy enough to work around? Yes. But features that help power users are important, which is why, for example, Firefox goes beyond IE's <CTRL>-<ENTER> for automatically adding the "www" and ".com" to a domain typed in the address bar to adding additional keyboard shortcuts for appending ".net" (<SHIFT>-<ENTER>) and ".org" (<CTRL>-<SHIFT>-<ENTER>). Your grandmother doesn't care about typing the URLs of non-profit organizations more quickly, but I do.

Copying and pasting, IE vs. Firefox

You can use any table, but here's the one I used.

Sure, you have to resize some columns,
but the data is still tabular.

You might as well retype all the data.
(Pasting as text works somewhat better.)
Perhaps a more important problem occurs when copying information from a browser window and pasting it into a Microsoft Office product such as Word or Excel. If I am using IE when I copy a table from a web site and paste it into an Excel worksheet, all the information is transferred nicely into individual cells, and all the formatting is the same. If I use Firefox, all the table's data ends up in one cell in Excel. Not user friendly at all. Should Mozilla care about supporting the patriarchy integration with standard business productivity products? They should if they want business people to use Firefox.

However, Mozilla does a lot of things better than Microsoft, and one thing is having a site, Bugzilla, on which users can report bugs or make feature requests. (Click here to vote for Mozilla fixing the copy/paste to Excel bug.) Microsoft may also have one (I didn't search for it, though, and didn't have to search for Mozilla's since they make its existence so clear), but Mozilla, as the underdog, has more reason to listen to its users. That's just one more reason to use Firefox instead of IE.
Monday, August 16th, 2004
Today was college bureaucracy day, although it wasn't as bad as it could have been.

It actually started in June when I met with my German advisor before leaving for Germany to make sure the classes I was going to take in L?neburg would be applicable towards my German degree and to outline what I should take over the next year. Because Wright State's German program is small, only a handful of German classes are offered each quarter, not enough for me to graduate in June 2005. Dr. Hye suggested that this fall I take another German lit class at another college, explaining that I could pay Wright State tuition for it, through what he called "the consortium," which is actually, I learned today, the Southwestern Ohio Council for Higher Education.

Since I met with him just a couple days before I was to leave for L?neburg I didn't try to take care of things then but instead put it off until today. It's just as well that I hadn't tried to get it done beforehand because I actually wouldn't have had time.

First, I had to jump through hoops at Wright State. To register for a course at another college, one must, of course, complete a special form, and to get the form I was sent to the registrar's office (although while writing this entry I discovered that the stupid form is available online). This form must be signed by one's advisor. Dr. Hye had told me that if he weren't in his office, the Modern Languages department secretary could sign it, but today when I trekked back to Millett Hall I found a student worker covering for her. Luckily the department chair, Dr. Garrison, was there, and I was able to corner him briefly in transit to get his signature.

Back at the registrar's office (in the Student Union on the other side of campus from Millett), I realized that taking a 3.0-semester hour class at UD when added to my 16 quarter hours would put me over the 20 hour limit (3 semester hours = 4.5 quarter hours), requiring me to take a different form back to Millett to get permission from the College of Liberal Arts for the extra .5 quarter hour. UD's semester starts 2 weeks before WSU's quarter and ends 4 weeks after so the way I figure it, 1.75 of those 4.5 hours for the UD class are outside of my WSU class load anyway, but that doesn't matter. I trekked back to Millett, only to be told by the COLA secretary to leave my form so one of their advisors can look up my academic record and determine if I can handle the extra load; I can pick up the form tomorrow. After I explained that I'm not on campus every day (imagine that!), she said the advisors were both busy, but I could wait if I liked, which I did. However I lucked out again, catching one of them on her way to lunch but convincing her to sign the form without the background check.

Back to the registrar's office, and finally after almost 2 hours, I was done with Wright State paperwork. But can Wright State's registrar communicate with UD's registrar to register me for the class I want to take? No. I have to take a copy of my signed form to UD's registrar's office to register. I decided to go home to eat lunch to get some more strength to handle the next round of bureaucracy.

Refreshed, I drove to UD where, probably for the last time, parking is a breeze as I'm a visitor and thus entitled to park in a visitor space. The registrar's office is even close, in Albert Emmanuel Hall, and there's not even a line in the office. The friendly woman there explains that since I'm not in her system, I have to go to another office to get entered, but that office is just one door over. The woman there says I am in the system after all, amazingly since I last took a class at UD in 1985, and she toggles whatever flag is required to make me eligible for registration. Back next door, and I'm registered. Easy enough.

Of course, I'm going to need a parking pass, and the friendly woman in registration tells me where Parking Services is (on the other side of campus, but UD's got a smaller campus than WSU). Do I need a UD ID? No, not unless I want to use UD's library. I took a walk through the pretty campus enjoying the unseasonably cool weather and see the sign along the side of the Parking Services building stating, "Absolutely everyone must apply online for parking permits." I went in anyway and said that I saw their sign but need to know how to apply online. The friendly woman there explained that to apply online I would need to know my LDAP/Novell username and password and directed me to the help desk in Miriam Hall where I could get a sheet explaining how to set that up.

Luckily I was clever enough to realize that to deal with a help desk I'd need a student ID, and so I was able to stop at the Power Building on the way to Miriam Hall to get one. I got lost in the bowels of Miriam Hall but finally found room 53, and there the student worker at first thought I wanted a sheet explaining how to set up Novell (as in a Novell network, which, in my prior life, I've actually done). Once he realized I just wanted to set up my Novell account, he tried to look me up in the system, but my information hadn't migrated yet there from the registrar. I would have to come back in a few days.

Defeated in my quest for a parking pass, I went to the bookstore to get my books, and I was defeated there too. Tons of books for the other German classes but none for GER361. I guess that leaves some bureaucratic fun for later.
Thursday, June 10th, 2004

Have you heard of these facebook web sites that are apparently all the rage? Or perhaps have been all the rage for a while but have just made it to the Midwest? Well now Wright State has its own facebook. I got an e-mail about it on my Wright State account, and, wanting to goof off for a bit, I went ahead and set up an account. Well the true point of these places is to connect to as many friends as possible. The winner has the largest network. This being a new site, I didn't think I'd know anyone, but sure enough with less than 50 users so far I actually did know one person. So I clicked the correct link to connect to her and got an automated message saying she'd be notified and could then confirm that I was a friend.

Now this wasn't someone I see a lot of, not a close friend, but I figured enough of a friend to count as a friend on this site. And as coincidence would have it, I happened to have dinner with her this week. (Scroll down to figure out when.) I mentioned to her that I happened to see her pic online, and she laughed and said yeah, she got the e-mail. Well, now here it is a couple days later, and I still have no friends on the site, but if you bring up her profile, she does have friends. Yep, that means that no, she doesn't consider me a friend.

I'm not heart-broken, but I do think it's funny. If you bring up her profile, you see that she's involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, one of her hobbies is Jesus and she considers herself politically conservative. Do you suppose that she's concerned about people jumping from her profile to mine and seeing that one of my hobbies is gay rights and that I'm a liberal? LOL, who knows? I won't mention her name, but it'll be funny if she ever sees this. Love your neighbors and all that.
Friday, July 25th, 2003
Last Saturday I swapped out my cable box for one of TimeWarner's DVR boxes, which are actually Explorer 8000 Home Entertainment Servers made by They're the ones who really make the box in questionScientificAtlanta. It took two calls (short ones though) and a couple of reboots Saturday morning to get it working, but once it was working it was really fun. Perhaps not as good as a Tivo (certainly not if you believe everything on the web by Tivo owners) but integrated with digital cable and good enough, especially when you consider that Tivo costs $249 up front plus $12.95/month and TimeWarner's DVR costs $9.95/month (or $5.95/month if you have a premium channel). I recorded Bewitched and Match Game and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and movies and all sorts of stuff. More stuff than I could possibly watch if I weren't off school right now.

Your friendly conglomerate, ready to serve you I did have one complaint which was that the sound would sometimes go out for a few seconds, usually during bits with dialogue on top of music. Annoying but not unbearably so and certainly not to the point that I was motivated to wait on hold with customer service. I went into settings and reduced the sound level for recording, and that seemed to reduce, although not eliminate, the problem. I could live with it.

So tonight around 11 I get home, plop on the couch for a bit, press the "LIST" button, and I don't have any of the shows I'd told it to record this evening. Plus it's time for So Graham Norton and it's not recording that. I hit the "B" button to see scheduled recordings, and all the shows I told it to record, including So Graham Norton, are still there, even those whose times had passed. So I call Time Warner and wait on hold for 20 minutes, even though their Here's what an Explorer 8000 looks likerecording says that someone will be with me in just 1 minute, and the woman who answers, after hearing my problem, puts me on hold for another 5 minutes, perhaps while she reads up on DVR, comes back and asks if I'm sure I know how to record programs (well I'd been doing it for a week so I think I do), and tells me she'll have to send someone out, which she can't do until Thursday. Great. I'm paying for a DVR box I can't use. I ask her if she can reset the box remotely, she does, and I press the "LIST" button. The programs it missed are gone from the list, but Graham Norton, still in progress, is on the list showing that it's recording. So the symptom is fixed even if the cause is not.

I ask the woman if any other DVR customers have had this happen, and she says she's not aware of any and asks if I still want to schedule an appointment for a service person to come out. I tell her that I'll just call back if the problem happens again. And then I do a search on Google Groups and sure enough, this Time Warner customer service person may never have heard of this problem, but other Explorer 8000 users have had the problem and posted about it online, this one reporting that this recording problem happens after about 7-10 days. So either Time Warner's customer service people are ignorant or have been instructed to lie about the problem.

So we'll see what happens. While I have plenty of time to watch TV and to wait on hold with TimeWarner I'll probably keep the box. But when school starts again, my tolerance will decrease. I feel better having ranted though. I guess that's one reason to have a blog.

One more thing I found after posting this: there's a Yahoo! Group for the Explorer 8000. Lots of people have had various problems with the box. For now I'm going to take one tip I read there and reboot the box periodically. Luckily from another tip, I can reboot the box myself (on the front of the box press Volume + and Volume - and Info all at the same time) without having to wait on hold for customer service.
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