Monthly Archives: October 2012

Why Obama will win

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am pretty right-wing. I am opposed to socialism. But I am calling this one  for Obama.

I haven’t watched the debates, I haven’t seen the ads, I haven’t kept up with the news. And I haven’t changed my mind.

Why is this? Let me count the ways.

  • Obama was not as bad as the right had feared. When they accused him of not being born in the US and hounded him for his birth certificate, I warned that this sort of behavior was beneath them and would come back to bite them.
  • The economy has improved in the past four years. Not as much as anyone would have liked, to be sure, but it has been a good run.
  • The GOP is a mess. They have lost touch with their conservative roots and have turned into a party of Big-Government, Big-Corporation, Big-Military. And the way that they ignored Ron Paul at the RNC was downright shameful.

But the biggest reason that Obama will win is that elections are not won, they are lost.

  • Gore lost in 2000 because of Clinton’s scandals.
  • Kerry lost in 2004 because of doubts about his character.
  • McCain lost in 2008 because he could not prove that he wasn’t GWB – and the country – myself included – was sick of GWB.
  • Romney will lose because he is not offering anything new.

Indeed, I suspect that in spite of their huge ideological differences, there would be little real difference between the two candidates when in the White House – and when that happens, the incumbent has the advantage.

So Obama will win. And it won’t even be close.

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Stop thief!

I went into my local Wal-Mart (or WalMart or Wal*Mart if you prefer) to buy some toothpaste.

A week later, I opened the box and found.. this

At first I thought that it was a simple mistake. Then I realized the price difference; a tube of Aquafresh costs about $3, while a Tube of AIM costs about 88 cents. Yep, someone had pulled the old switcheroo… they took home the “nice” toothpaste in the cheap box, while I paid Aquafresh price for a tube of AIM.

I suppose that I could take the toothpaste back to the store and ask for a refund, but it occurs to me that they might think that I was the one trying to pull a fast one. Using a different toothpaste will not kill me, so I’ll just use it up.

I’m sure that the person who did this thought that they were very clever in getting “something for nothing”, but the universe does not work that way. That person is a thief, pure and simple. Whether they stole from a big corporation or from me is irrelevant – they are still a thief.

So I’ll take this for what it is; a lesson in caution. From now on, I will be checking the contents. Eventually I suspect that the manufacturers will start sealing the boxes. And all because someone wants something for nothing.

And we are all made poorer as a result.

Taking a Liberty

It’s not often I write a car review. In fact, this is the first time I have ever done so on this blog. But I felt strongly enough about this particular vehicle, that I felt but it’s merited a review.

We were headed to Kansas to attend a wedding. Since our “new” vehicle was 12 years old, we decided to rent a vehicle for the trip. We had reserved a full-sized car, but when we got there, they did not have any full-sized vehicles immediately available, so they offered us a Jeep liberty.

Those who know me will be fully aware of my disdain for SUVs. However, since this was only for three days, I decided to try this vehicle to see what the fuss was about. You only live once.

My first impressions were: “that is one big bad bruiser of a vehicle”; it looked quite mean. Fit and finish were good, and the doors closed with a hefty “thunk”. On starting the engine I was rewarded with a rough grumbling from beneath the bonnet, and away we went.

Throttle response at low speed was sluggish; you had to push the accelerator pedal down a long way before anything would happen. The flip side was that you didn’t need to hold the brakes when stationary in traffic.

I had picked up the vehicle after dark, and in the cold light of day a more detailed inspection in my driveway revealed the rest of the story. The level of equipment was underwhelming. For instance, forward-backward seat adjustment was manual, there was NO driver seat height adjustment at all, which would have made it difficult for Her Royal Shortness to drive it were she so inclined.

The radio had no Bluetooth or iPod input – which I expect as standard on ANY new vehicle. There was only one cigarette-lighter-power-source; on an “outdoorsy” vehicle like this I would have expected at least two in the front and one in the back. I was surprised at how little interior space there was for a vehicle this big. Her Ladyship’s Camry actually had more room. Thankfully, my passengers were small and cabin space was not a problem.

Luggage space, however, was. The trunk was not long enough to lay a suitcase lengthwise, so two suitcases and a folding wheelchair required folding down one of the rear seats, another six inches of bootspace (Hey! I made up a new word!) would have made a huge difference

On the road, it felt like I was driving a tank. There was a feeling of invincible sluggishness about the vehicle. It could really shift if you “gave it the beans” (thank you Mister Clarkson, I love that expression), but you got the feeling that it really didn’t want to. It also felt unexpectedly stable for such a high vehicle.

One annoyance is the the Cruise Control did not actuate the accelerator pedal, which made transitions out of cruise quite jarring as accelerator input suddenly went from sixty percent to zero. Another was that in spite of the HUGE mirrors, there was a massive blind spot at the eight-o-clock position, thanks to the thick B-pillars. Several times I was about to swap lanes and was surprised to find someone already exactly where I wanted to be.

At our destination, there were several very steep inclines; the brute had no trouble with them. However, the engine, while powerful, is very noisy and sounds rough, particularly when under heavy load. The noise was actually embarrassing, as you felt like the car was snarling at bystanders.

Perhaps the biggest Achilles’ heel; gas mileage absolutely stinks, thanks, I suspect, to the vehicle’s “Barn-Door” aerodynamics, but I had expected better than 21 miles per gallon on the freeway at a steady 70. That was the car’s idea of “Economy” driving; it isn’t mine. This was compounded by the fact that the fuel tank was only 16-18 gallons, which is too small for freeway cruising. Watching the fuel gauge dropping was highly annoying, as was having to pull over every few hours to refuel. This vehicle should have had at least a 20-gallon tank.

Last night, when I handed back the car, it was with a sense of relief. Most people refer to their cars as a “she”, but this one was obviously very much a “he” – to the point of Testosterone poisoning. It reminded me of a flabby old Pit Bull, big, grumpy, loud, powerful, lazy, flatulent, past its’ prime, somewhat incontinent, and generally badly-behaved. I could almost imagine it snarling at strangers while eying the Vicar’s leg with a dangerous glint in its eye. Some would find such a dog winsome, I am not one of them.

It served its purpose well enough – it got us there and back, in safety and reasonable comfort, and the price was excellent, but I was unimpressed with the vehicle in particular and the breed in general. In contrast, driving my car to work this morning felt like I was wearing a jet-pack.

Bottom line: I still don’t like SUVs – and will not drive another as long as I have a choice – but now,  at least I know why.

eBay/Paypal is at it again

I found this in my mailbox yesterday afternoon.

Yes, it’s a real card. No, I didn’t ask for or sign up for it. I have seen ads for it on PayPal’s website, but did not want one, so I ignored it. Apparently they don’t take “no” for an answer, and decided that I needed one whether I wanted it or not.

This is truly evil, and here’s the main reason why.

That’s right – if you activate the card, you set yourself up for nearly $60 per year in charges and fees before you have even used the card… all for the privilege of being able to spend your own money. I have two bank debit cards, and neither one costs me a penny – if they did, I would drop ’em like a hot brick.

eBay is a de facto monopoly on the web, and PayPal is a de jure monopoly on eBay – they no longer allow other methods of payment. And their behavior stinks. For instance, as a seller, you are required to link your PayPal account to a real-world bank account. In the event of a dispute, PayPal can lock the linked bank account for up to six months without warning or explanation. they can also reverse transactions. This is the main reason that I stopped selling things on eBay and closed my eBay seller account.

PayPal is not a bank. And they like it that way. There are several reasons/excuse for this:

  • PayPal does not “move money around”
  • PayPal does not engage in fractional reserve banking.
  • “PayPal doesn’t have a charter, thus it is not a bank”, say the FDIC
  • “PayPal does not physically handle or hold funds placed into the PayPal service”. (er… neither do my accounts with ING direct or Perkstreet Financial – and they are both banks).

I don’t know whether or not PayPal is technically a bank. Maybe they are, maybe they are not. But there are few businesses in the world in more dire need of oversight and regulation than eBay/PayPal.

If you are as outraged about this as I am, feel free to leave a comment – and write to your Congressman.

Dead Man Walking

I’ve been a fan of TiVo for a looong time…

More than ten years ago, I first found out about the product when it was featured on Oprah. Three years later I picked up a Series 2 TiVo at CompUSA for $150… with a $150 mail-in rebate.

Over the years I have paid tribute to TiVo here, here and here. I have also paid money to them to the tune of $13 per month – over $1200 in total – for the TiVo service over the years. A good product, a worthwhile service. It was money well spent. The TiVo has served me well.

Recently, when my 27″ Tube TV died, I replaced it with a 42″ LCD… and suddenly, Standard Definition was no longer good enough. So I started looking for a replacement TiVo that could handle high-definition TV.

A few months ago, I helped a friend to order and install a TiVo Premiere XL. As a result, I was familiar with the current state-of-the-art. Last week, I got hold of  a TiVo Premiere. I also picked up a CableCard from my Cable TV provider.

And that was when the trouble started. You see, TiVo chose last weekend to take their site down for maintenance, so it was not possible to connect the new box. I went onto chat and asked about this; all I got was lots of “I’m Sorry”. when I asked if this apology had “teeth” – like a month’s free service for the inconvenience – but the answer was the lamentably predictable “Sorry-but-no” that I have come to associate with too many Customer Service departments.

When Monday rolled around, I went to TiVo’s website to get the new TiVo set up. It was not possible to simply transfer the account from one TiVo to the other – that would be too easy; according to this page, you cannot simply transfer service from an S2 to an S4 (Premiere). There’s no reason for this; you just can’t. Activating the “new” device was easy enough, but I could not deactivate the old one online, and you cannot do it via a Customer Service “Chat” feature – you have to call Customer Support for that. The trouble is that they are not answering the phone; I have called three times, with hold times ranging from 20 minutes to an hour before I gave up in disgust. How convenient.

It takes years to build a great reputation — and only one bone-headed decision to ruin it.I don’t know what is wrong with TiVo. Maybe they have a new CEO who is trying to wring profits out of the company without pursuing excellence. Maybe they are trying to save a few dollars by skimping on Customer Service. Maybe they have just given up and are just milking this old brown cow for as long as they can before it falls over and dies.

If anyone at TiVo is reading this,I beg you to consider the following:

  • Invest in world-class customer service. Netflix has done it, why can’t you? “Sorry-but-no” just does not cut it.
  • Empower your CS Department: It doesn’t have to cost much – giving reps the authority to give out a free month of service to customers who have experienced inconvenience is an cheap, easy win: for only a few dollars of lost profits you get a whole lot of goodwill, and can turn a critic into a fan.
  • Build Decent Hardware: In a world where you can buy Wi-Fi enabled refrigerators, for you to expect customers to cough up an extra $90 for a proprietary Wi-Fi add-on is insanity. And putting gigabit Ethernet ports on your equipment costs only a few dollars but massively upgrades the top speed.
  • Match your product warranties to the contract length. Asking customers to sign up for a one-year contract while offering only 90 days of warranty coverage is a joke.
  • If you are going to take your system down for a whole weekend for maintenance, you had better have new features on the site when it comes back up.
  • The true measure of a company’s openness is how easy they make it to leave. Google, with their “Data Liberation” feature, shows how this should be done. Your website makes it easy to sign up, but incredibly difficult to leave.
  • Try to remember that you have competition: Ten years ago, TiVo was the only game in town. Now there are alternatives: Roku, Slingbox and other DVR solutions abound.
  • ANSWER THE DAMN PHONE! Before someone else does….

TiVo, I believe in your product, your service and your business model. But you badly need to get your act together, or you will be ground into dust by the competition.