Posts made in 2013

How Verizon scammed me to make a sale

Posted on Dec 20, 2013 in General | 4 comments

Ever have one of those door-to-door cable (I know, it’s not cable, it’s fiber) salesmen come  to your door hoping to change your provider? This happened to me three months prior to moving across the country.

I dismissed the salesman originally by telling him I was about to move and the savings would have to be huge to warrant the effort of switching from Comcast to Verizon. He showed me some numbers and the savings simply weren’t there. He walked away.

Five minutes later, he came walking back. He had called up the chain, found a way to save me money, and was ready to show me the new plan. It was a good deal and worth the effort to make the switch for the three month period.

Throughout this process, it was made abundantly clear that I was moving very soon (he was inside our house and we had already started packing boxes). He assured me multiple times that because I was moving to Portland, OR and Verizon does not serve the area, that I would be able to close my account without any recourse. We went so far as to actually confirm this lack of coverage on his phone. My wife was witness to this conversation; I’m not imagining things.

He left, we switched over, and were very happy saving $30 a month for what we considered to be a better service.

Three months later, we pack up, close the account, and make the move.

We receive our final bill, and sure enough, there’s a $210 early termination fee. $10 per month not served on our two-year contract.

I immediately contact Verizon support. They treat me like a piece of meat and spit me out saying that the fee is mentioned in the contract and I’ll have to pay it. I explain that a verbal agreement is a contract too. They disagree. I ask if it is common for them to not honor the words of their salesmen, and they more or less ignore the question. Infuriated at the lack of customer “service,” I end communication.

And then I traveled a month or so, ignored the issue, and hoped that someone from their billing department would take a second look and waive the fee. Nope. I continue receiving bills.

At the end of my travel, I take to Twitter to share my story. I am contacted by Verizon’s social media support team. I’ve dealt with such support groups when I’ve been vocal on other issues with other businesses so I’m left very hopeful. They’re pleasant, seem to listen to my case, and send it it up the chain. A day later, they receive word that there is no notice of a waive of the fee noted on my account. So apparently this is something that could have been noted when I originally signed up,  but the salesman neglected to make it happen? Not only did he fail to do that, but he first lied to me about it being a policy of not charging a fee when you move out of coverage. Double whammy of failure and lies.

So I paid the amount. This $210 fee, which cost them $0 will end up costing them a vocal supporter (I was an early adopter of FiOS and have always loved it) and future customer. They care not. They got their money and the case is closed.

What recourse or protections do we have as consumers anymore? The big companies want money at no cost and there’s nobody to protect us. I’ve filed my case with the FTC (should I do the same with the FCC?), but I’ll never see anything come of that. Had I stood my ground, which was the right ground to stand on, I’d have had my credit wrecked.

I wish I had an answer. All I’ve got is this blog.

Update: January 17, 2014 — Following a series of snafus with my bank (they froze my account after I sent a bill-pay to my landlord for rent and I was unable to get it unfrozen for a matter of weeks [I can’t run away from E*Trade fast enough, either, but I digress]), it turns out my payment did not go through. Verizon has since sent us to collections and added another $30 fee. Before receiving notice of this, my wife went in and paid the original amount again, but now I’m sure we get to deal with this extra $30 too since it was en route to us. Anyway, I’m fully fed up with the lack of service we’ve received on this and have notified Verizon of my intent to file with small claims court.

Update: April 29, 2014.

Book Review: Don’t Make Me Think – A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability

Posted on Dec 19, 2013 in Books, QA, Tech | 0 comments

A book review? Yeah, sure, kinda. I tend to highlight the crap out of professional books that I read. I rarely go back and look at the highlights so this exercise is as much for me as it is for you.

Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability. Not yet released. This is the one you want. My only complaint about the 2nd edition, which I read, is that it is awfully dated (I think he uses Netscape in an example or two). If you want to buy, use that link so I get a kickback. I’m not shy about referrals.

Good read. Short enough that it can comfortably consumed on a flight across the country (I did it in two because Candy Crush has got my attention).

Anyway, my takeaways (personal comments or clarification in italics):

  • The most important thing you can do is to just understand the basic principle of eliminating question marks.
  • For most of us, it doesn’t matter to us whether we understand how things work, as long as we can use them.
  • Many designers tend to underestimate just how much value conventions provide.
  • Innovate when you know you have a better idea (and everyone you show it to says “Wow!”), but take advantage of conventions when you don’t.
  • Making the choices mindless is one of the main things that make a site easy to use.
  • The main thing you need to know about instructions is that no one is going to read them.
  • The concept of Home pages is so important. Every site needs a landing page of sorts that makes sense of the whole.
  • It’s no fun feeling lost. Navigation that is clear and logical is very important.
  • If the navigation is doing its job, it tells you implicitly where to begin and what your options are.
  • Every page needs a name.
  • The name needs to match what I clicked.
  • The most common failing of “You are here” indicators is that they’re too subtle.
  • Search. Every site needs it regardless of whether or not it makes absolute sense. Everybody finds things in different ways, and many are wired to look for a search field by default. It doesn’t need to be anything grand; a simple text search of your site will suffice in many cases. No need to make it keyword driven, which adds to maintenance.
  • Designing a Home page inevitably involves compromise.
  • Don’t confuse a tagline with a motto.
  • All Web users are unique, and all Web use is basically idiosyncratic.
  • Testing one user is 100 percent better than testing none. In reference to usability testing.
  • The best-kept secret of usability testing is the extent to which it doesn’t much matter who you test.
  • In general, if the user’s second guess about where to find things is always right, that’s good enough.
  • [as a user] should never have to think about formatting data.
  • Ignore all comments that users make about colors during a user test, unless three out of four people use a word like “puke” to describe the color scheme.
4 out of 5. The updated version is likely a 5 out of 5.

How to connect your Xbox One to hotel wireless

Posted on Dec 12, 2013 in Tech | 10 comments

Most hotels have some sort of web-based authentication in order to use their wireless networks. Some devices (Xboxes) are unable to handle those. The systems behind these wireless networks are based on device MAC addresses, which are basically unique identifiers of your hardware. Once you’ve authenticated with an identifier, it is “trusted” for a set period of time (typically 24 hours). It is possible to lie about your identifier, which is what we’ll be doing here. There are a number of articles on doing this with your Xbox 360, but nary a one for the One. Microsoft has made it a little bit easier this time around, but only slightly.

Previously, you had to spoof your MAC address (of your Xbox) on another device (I used LinkLiar on my Mac and most seem to use Mac Makeup on Windows), connect to the wireless, accept the agreement/enter your code, disconnect, set your MAC address back on your device, and then connect with your Xbox. You can still do that if you’d like, but there is another way assuming you have a device that you can connect to the wireless, can get the MAC address from, and does not need connected to the wireless in the future (think: your smartphone).

  1. Connect your device to the hotel’s wireless network
  2. Fill out the agreement and/or code that pops up
  3. Find the MAC address of the device you connected (Android | iOS)
  4. Disconnect your device from the hotel’s wireless
  5. Connect your Xbox One to the wireless (you will be told there’s one of a number of problems with your connection, which can vary depending on the system the hotel is using)
  6. Do not attempt any of the recommended steps and instead choose to edit your connection
  7. Go into the wireless connection’s advanced settings
  8. Scroll down to and select “Alternate MAC address”
  9. Put your other device’s MAC address in there (Note: Use dashes in place of colons)

Voila! Your Xbox One is now doing the spoofing of its own address. This was much easier for me than the old method of spoofing my Xbox’s MAC address on another device, connecting, unspoofing my other device, etc., etc.

I’m assuming all of the above can also be done with a wired connection too, but I’ve not had an opportunity to try it.

I’m still not sure why Microsoft can’t handle these types of network authentications now that they’ve included a full-blown version of Internet Explorer, but it is possible they just haven’t gotten to it considering how rushed they were to get the One out the door (let’s face it, we’re currently using a beta). We can only hope that they’ll include it in a future update.

Ten pro tips for bloggers

Posted on Dec 10, 2013 in General | 0 comments

I’ve now been “blogging” for about 15 years. I’m still not particularly good at it, but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that this will merely serve as my digital memoirs. I won’t get rich off it, I may never write a massively successful piece, but many years after I’m gone, hopefully these bits will still exist in one form or another to allow my ancestors to better glimpse into my life.

With so much time and over 1000 postings under my belt, I’ve developed (not to be confused with “always follow”) the following best practices:

  1. Write it down. Have an idea? You will forget it. Have a place to jot any topics you feel like writing about.
  2. Write more of it down. All too often I’ll write the subject of an idea and have plenty more brilliance to expound at that moment, but forget those thoughts when I sit down to actually flesh it out days or months later.
  3. Be patient. It can be exciting to hit that publish button. Resist the urge to do so prematurely. Be sure you’re really done with all you have to say. I sit on some posts for months as I gather data and thoughts. Note: This can be overdone; my list of drafts is pretty huge, but I simply haven’t had the time or interest in giving those posts the effort they need.
  4. Be more patient. Really done writing and ready to send it out? Do it tomorrow unless time is of the essence. You will think of more only minutes after you hit publish. If your readership is few and they receive you via a feed, they will likely read it near immediately and miss those extra thoughts you had. Most often, the stuff I add after posting is some of the best writing I do. If your blogging software has it, use a publishing scheduler and set it to make the article live in 24 hours.
  5. Preview. It’s not enough to view your writing in whatever editor you use. You need to see it as your readers will as this triggers some different, better editing function in your brain (this is purely anecdotal).
  6. Repreview (yes, I just invented that word). Think you’re done? Do it again. Be sure to read every word and sentence with care. You will find more to fix or reword on this second pass.
  7. Throw things away. A surefire way to get rid of readers is to write garbage. If you’re not happy with what you wrote or don’t think anyone will find it interesting, it is okay to can it. Keep the signal to noise ratio high.
  8. Get help. If you’re not a particularly good writer, find a friend who is and ask them to edit your work. This feedback will enable you to learn and not immediately eliminate readers like me who have no patience for spelling and grammatical errors.
  9. Read what you wrote. It can be very rewarding to see your writing ability improve. Even stuff I wrote as little as five years ago seems elementary.
  10. Backup. Put a repeating calendar item in your planner for backing up your site. This doesn’t need to be a full file structure backup, but be sure to get whatever holds your text.

Race: Pedalers at the Poor Farm/OBRA State Championship CX

Posted on Nov 9, 2013 in Cycling | 0 comments

Set my self up for failure? You bet I did, but I knew it in advance so it was really just getting a feel for “the scene.” In that sense, GREAT SUCCESS.

Last night, I did some browsing around, and discovered a race in the morning out at McMenamins Edgefield. Heather is out of town for the day or two so I’ve got nothing better to do with my morning. Take it easy? Nah. RACE. I’ve heard great things of cyclocross in the Northwest, which had me both excited and intimidated.

So why was I set up for failure? Going against me were the following:

  1. I have not been training. The month preceding to and following the move were more or less “rest.” I’ve gotten some decent miles in the past week or two, but I’m definitely not in great shape.
  2. I have not done CX training at all. This entails practicing lots of technique, working with mud, off-camber hilly turns, dismounts, etc. I can pedal a road bike on a flat road for 40 miles with the best of them, but this is vastly different with your heart rate going up and down and all around.
  3. Until two hours before the race, my CX bike was not built. I got up at the butt-crack of dawn, made my way over to our storage facility about thirty minutes away (luckily, near the race), pulled parts out of tucked-away bins and off other bikes, and made my commuter into a CX bike.
  4. My bike sucks. It is fine for a podium in a beginner’s race back home and tooling around town as a commuter, but it is a hack of a cyclocross racing bike and it was clear. It’s really first time its weaknesses have really shown (I’ve known it, but it never really reared its head so obviously). Gearing (1×9), weight (25lbs), and nearly bald tires do not make for good climbing of muddy hills; I’d have to dismount due to lack of traction and too much torque (lack of gearing) where others did not. It sucked.
  5. They are faster out here. Having spectated the beginner’s race and then experiencing the “C” race (they say it is 4/5 [they do not use USA Cycling], but it is more tike 3/4 at home), I probably belonged in the beginner’s race, but I really didn’t want to be the new guy showing up to town and running away with a race. Better safe and slow than embarrassed.

I managed to get a pre-ride lap in and was dreading what was to come. The course was a real beast. Numerous unridable hills (on my bike, at least, but luckily most [not all] of them were unridable by others too), massive stairs/climbs, downhill (fast) muddy dismounts, uneven grass the entire way, and no breaks… It put anything I’ve ever seen to shame and then some.

Rode around a bit to keep warm and then we started. I took it easy the first lap because I really had no feel for the bike (having not ridden it in a year). It came back to me pretty quickly, but I’m sure I left some speed out there not being fully comfortable with my braking and cornering abilities. I basically got passed the entire race, and unlike at home, my fitness did not have me pulling people back at the end. I finished 22nd of 29. Not my best result, but I gave it everything I had, and that’s what came of what was in my tank.

I need to get in shape, I need to get a real cross bike (maybe snag something after the season [only a few more weeks to go] on sale), and I need to practice. It was a good time and the competitors were a friendly bunch.

So yeah, cyclocross in the Pacific Northwest is no joke at all. I can’t wait to get serious too.

GPS boom.