Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

Rotary sight lines

July 26, 2017

The State of Vermont has installed quite a few rotarys in the past few years, mostly because federal funding is available and we love that federal money.  The rotarys take intersections that were working just fine and make them more difficult to navigate.  This is due, in part, to the fact that they have very small diameters (because not much room was available). Larger rotaries work much better.

One of new rotarys, in Waterbury, has “pretty” plantings in the center.  I drive a sports car most of the time, and I sit low, so that those plantings make it very difficult to see oncoming traffic at the rotary.

I complained to the State, saying that sight lines needed to be assessed with an eye height of about 42 inches, so that people driving sports cars could see safely.  My guess was that most road crew personnel drive huge trucks, and do not consider what it is like to drive lower vehicles.

The first surprise was that the State does not maintain the rotary on a State highway; the town of Waterbury does.  Really?!?

The second, and more amazing surprise, was the following from the State:

“The main objective of a roundabout is to keep traffic moving at a very SLOW rate of speed. There are many factors utilized to make this happen. One of which is the inability to see through the roundabout. This tool forces our road users to only focus on their entrance/exit strategy. I’ve attached the exact language that dictates this standard.  In essence this strategy forces people to slow down and prevent serious crashes. Many studies have been conducted on crash data within a roundabout. All of which have concluded that the slow rate of speed and angle of traveling vehicle significantly reduce serious injuries.  Note that ISD=Intersection Sight Distance.

NCHRP 672 (Roundabout Guide, Second Edition) Section 6.2 which says: “…to provide no more than the minimum required ISD on each approach to the roundabout … excessive ISD can lead to higher vehicle speeds that reduce the safety of the intersection for all road users (motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians).  Landscaping within the central island is effective in restricting sight distance to the minimum requirements while creating a terminal vista on the approach to improve visibility of the central island.”

So, the objective of a rotary is to prevent drivers from seeing oncoming traffic.  We spend so much time trying to ensure sight lines everywhere else, but here we give up on that notion?  It simply makes no sense at all.

First off, it they really want to eliminate sight lines, why not put up 10 foot walls around the center of the rotary?  No one does that, so the claim that they want to limit sight distance seems unfounded.

But, more importantly, the sight lines for truck drivers remains unimpeded.  They are only making it difficult for car drivers (especially sports cars) and not for the more dangerous vehicles (large trucks and buses).  So, dangerous vehicles drive faster, while cars drive slower.

Again, federal guidelines with bogus logic dictate local requirements.

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Federally mandated road signs are way too reflective

July 26, 2017

I live out in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest street light perhaps 5 miles away.  When I drive at night, the only illumination comes from my headlights, usually on high beam.

Over the past 5 or 10 years, new federal regulations have mandated that road signs be replaced with “newer and better” sign technology.  In particular, the signs are much more reflective (brighter) than the older ones.  This is not simply because an old and worn-out sign has been replaced by a newer one: the signs are designed to be much brighter.

When driving in a city, with lots of street lights, the brighter signs are useful, but out in the country, the new signs are dazzling.  They are too bright to be read (other than as a dazzling blob) and they make it very difficult to spot people or animals near the sight line of the signs.    They are unsafe.

This seems to be another example of stupid bureaucracy run amok.  What is good for the city is good for the country.  This is simply not true.

But the levels of bureaucracy that need to be penetrated to even get heard is beyond my level of stamina.  So, new signs will be installed in town this year, and they will not only be a huge waste of money, but they will make driving more difficult and dangerous.

Credit Card Disputes

June 13, 2017

I recently disputed a large (almost $4K) credit card charge, for a 3D printer.  I had gone back and forth with the manufacturer, and eventually returned it when it failed to work properly.

After I disputed the charge, the manufacturer was given an opportunity to respond to my dispute.  They did so, with 35 pages containing all of the emails that we had traded back and forth.  They also said that they agreed to refund my money.

The credit card company (Citi Bank’s AT&T Universal MasterCard) then reversed the credit that they had given me.  They did this after their “investigators” had “investigated”.  I guess their investigators cannot read English.

The credit card company claims that if a merchant responds to a disputed charge at all, that the credit card company is required, BY LAW, to reverse the credit.

This is beyond my belief.  I can understanding a reversal of credit if there are facts in dispute, but in this case, the merchant agrees with me: give me the credit.

Perhaps the people at Citi Bank were lying to me.  Or perhaps some legislators created this unwise and bizarre situation.

In any event, at this point I want the refund, the merchant has agreed to the refund, and Citi Bank is sitting in the middle, denying me the refund.

FedEx Really Screws Up

May 27, 2017

I ordered a product from “Amazon” (and I say “Amazon” because it was actually sold by a third party) on the 10th of May.  That package left Georgia via FedEx on the 12th of May, and arrived in Williston, VT, on the Tuesday the 16th of May.  Williston, VT, is about a 40 minute drive from my house.  FedEx delivers packages to my home regularly, from Williston.

FedEx attempted to deliver the package on Saturday the 20th of May. That is, no attempt was made to deliver the package on Wednesday the 17th or Thursday the 18th or Friday the 19th. The package just sat in Williston for 3 days.

They said that they would attempt to deliver the package again on the “next business day”, which for them is Tuesday.  They failed to attempt to deliver the package on Tuesday the 23rd, but promised (on their web site) to deliver on Wednesday the 24th.

They failed to deliver on Wednesday the 24th, but promised to deliver on Thursday the 25th.  I called FedEx.  They said that this was puzzling, and promised to fix things and that they would call me back on Thursday. They never did call me back.

They failed to deliver on Thursday the 25th, so I called FedEx again.  This time I asked to speak to a manager.  They said that Williston had failed to respond to requests for information about the package.  And then, suddenly, the FedEx web site announced that the package had been transferred to the USPS for delivery sometime in the next week.

The package was actually delivered by Priority couriers on Friday the 26th.  It took 16 days for FedEx to move the package from Georgia to Vermont.

It turns out that the local FedEx location is short of drivers, but that fact had been hidden from upper FedEx management.  And FedEx management apparently has no mechanism in place to detect and highlight package delivery problems.  FedEx central should have seen this problem when no attempt was made to deliver the package on the 17th, 18th, and 19th.

What could FedEx have done to improve the situation:

  1. FedEx central should have been aware of the problem more than a week before I called; they were clueless
  2. FedEx Williston should have passed the package off to Priority as soon as it became clear that they lacked the drivers to deliver the package in a timely manner; they did not
  3. FedEx Williston should have been honest with FedEx central about what was going on.  Instead, Williston tried to cover up what was going on locally.

Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

November 7, 2016

The guys from Freakonomics teamed up with a guy from FiveThirtyEight to create this podcast.  If you have lots of free time, and are looking for a way to distract yourself; or if you don’t really care if what you listen to is relevant or amusing; or if you are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, then this is the show for you.  Light, breezy, and virtually content-free, with lots of banter and ads, and with essentially no focus.  There was no need, at all, for this show to have been created.  It demonstrates that we have so much content available for free that the new content can be pretty much useless.  Go listen to a podcast that will inform you, educate you, or amaze you.  There is nothing to be seen here.  Move on to something interesting.  They even had the gall to use a name that was already taken.

The Planet Money Podcast – a Review

September 1, 2016

Promotions for Planet Money, and their Oil series, have been relentless for the last six weeks.  I did not start listening to PM because of that, but rather because a friend recommended the podcast.

PM is a very cute production, giddy with giggles and lots of laughs.  But the information density is extraordinarily low.  I imagine that the actual facts related in a typical 20 minute PM podcast could be read in just a few minutes.  The rest is fluff.

And they mixed up diesel vs gasoline as a fuel.  That is, they cannot keep their facts straight.

It seems that these light and breezy podcasts are all the rage, but I  do not have the time to waste on them.

GEICO is ridiculous

April 24, 2016

I sold a car, and called my auto insurance company, GEICO so that I could remove that car from my policy.  After that was completed, the agent asked if I wanted a quote for an umbrella liability policy.  This kind of sales tactic is called an “up-sell”.  I was a bit annoyed, but amused, so I said that I would listen.  I was then passed over to the liability insurance sales woman.  As my first GEICO employee passed me off, he said “She will help you with the insurance that you need”; and the new employee said “How can I help you get the insurance that you need?”.

Of course, I did not “need” any insurance.  This is all part of trying to sell, trying to make the customer believe that they have additional needs, needs that they were not even aware of when they placed the call.

I answered a series of questions, after which the woman said that she was sorry, but I was not eligible for insurance because I was a “politician”.

I serve on my local Select Board, a kind of town council that is common in New England.  I get to go to a meeting every other week, and deal with other matters in between, all for a stunning $600 a year.  I think of myself more as an administrator and a public servant than as a politician.  But, whatever.

It irritates me that GEICO sees public service as making me an undesirable insurance customer.  Are that many politicians being sued these days?

Shame on you, Geico.  You turned a neutral call from me into an opportunity to get pissed off at you.  Way to go.

Penton Destroys Windows Secrets

February 4, 2016

I have been a loyal reader of the Windows Secrets newsletter for over 15 years. Each week, I could expect to receive an informative newsletter in my email. I could read it right there, although links were provided to additional content.

Penton purchased WS recently, and they turned a convenient information service into an annoying attempt to force people to their web sites to sell ads.  They now send out teasers and force the reader to go to their site, log in, and read the content there.

If I wanted to go to the web, I would have used Google in the first place, and bypassed WS entirely.  And that is what I am now doing.  The WS content was appreciated when it was convenient and easy to access.  Once Penton made it difficult, the WS content has no value to me.

I respect Penton’s right to make their content less available and more annoying, so I simply unsubscribed.  And this is where I got really pissed off.

Repeated attempts to unsubscribe and contact customer service have failed to garner a response, and the unwanted spam emails continue from Penton, now at the rate of 2 or 3 each week.  I imagine that Penton’s actions are actually illegal, given that I have unsubscribed repeatedly.

Not much you can do if a company like Penton will not listen to your communications.  I guess they want to keep their readership numbers up, even while people are abandoning WS in droves.  Good luck with bad customer service, Penton…

Credit Card Fraud

December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas.

I woke up this morning to be informed that 4 fraudulent transactions had taken place on my card on Christmas day before I even woke up.  My card has been canceled: I will get another in under a week.

This is not the first time this has happened.  The most recent time was less than a year ago.  And while the credit card companies brag about how we do not have to pay for fraudulent transactions, nor for replacement cards, the impact on me is significant.  I know that it will take months before I stop receiving  notices about bounced charges.  I already have a list of vendors to notify.  This is becoming routine.

If the rate at which cards need to be canceled increases, we may get to the point where we have not recovered from the last cancellation before the next occurs.

Something needs to be done.  The credit card companies need to increase their security.  Krebs On Security has noted that patterns of fraud are not acted on quickly and effectively; the credit card companies do not seem to care.  Why should they?  The “losses” that are incurred due to fraud are covered by the fees we pay for each transaction.  ATM scanners exist around the country, and using your credit card in a major chain store risks fraud and termination of your current credit card number.

All I get from the credit card company is apologies.  We need more than that.  We need effective action.

Makerbot must be stopped!

June 6, 2014

Seems as if MakerBot is trying to patent techniques that have been present in open source products for years.

http://www.freepatentsonline.com/y2014/0120196.html

I don’t know how we can stop this, but it must be stopped.  If we allow large companies to acquire open source designs as their private and protected intellectual property, then the Patent system is all screwed up.  I wish I had more optimism about that process.  I explored how to protest this, but the procedures are so complex and arduous that I gave up.  This is what I received from the Patent Office:

Thank you for contacting the USPTO Contact Center.

It appears as if you may be attempting to file a protest or perhaps a third-party preissuance submission against a pending patent application.  Please note:  the USPTO transacts business in writing.  See 37 CFR 1.2.  Official correspondence may not be submitted via email.  If it is your intent to file a protest, please see 37 CFR 1.291 and the Manual of Patent Examining Procedure (MPEP) chapter 1900 for more information.  Here is a link:  http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/pac/mpep/mpep-1900.html

If you wish to file a third-party preissuance submission, please see the information relating to the submission, here:  http://www.uspto.gov/aia_implementation/patents.jsp#heading-7

If you have any further questions or if you require additional information, please call the USPTO Contact Center at 1-800-786-9199 or (571) 272-1000