Archive for the ‘Rants’ Category

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

The American Police State

March 11, 2014

Have I gone around the bend, or over the top?  I do not think so.

It is important that everyone listen to the following podcast:

http://www.onthemedia.org/story/on-the-media-2014-02-28/

The unrelenting and unrepentant abuses of power that are occurring both at and near our borders are scary and shocking.  Our tax dollars are being used to abuse people, and to cover up that abuse. Even members of congress are unable to acquire information about these abuses.  It seems that the Department of Homeland Security has become autonomous, and now has to answer to no one.  Did you know that Border Patrol personnel can stop you if you are within 100 miles of an international border, whether you have crossed, or intend to cross, that border, or not?  Did you know that you can be detained, taken to a hospital, have invasive procedures performed on you, and then be handed the bill to pay for that abuse?

Sound as if I have lost it?  Listen to the podcast.  Judge for yourself.

The only solution to this problem is for you to care enough to listen to the podcast and then contact your representatives in the Federal government. Spread the word.

Arbitrary Physician Protocols

February 20, 2014

My mother broke her hip last week.  When she fell, she bumped her head, so the trauma team that collected her put a cervical collar around her neck, “just in case”.

The protocol at Yale New Haven Hospital is that a patient in this situation must be evaluated within 72 hours to determine whether ligament damage occurred.  Damaged ligaments, if not allowed to heal, or repaired, can lead to neck instability and the possibility of paralysis. The evaluation can be done either by asking the patient to move their head, and determining whether symptoms arise (pain, numbness, tingling), or an MRI can be performed.  If the evaluation is not done within 72 hours, I was told that my mother would  “have to” wear the collar for another six weeks.

My mother has dementia, and also was receiving pain medication, so the former style of evaluation was not successful.  She could neither obey orders/requests reliably, nor report her observed feelings reliably.  It took 24 hours to arrange for hip joint replacement surgery, and then another 24 hours for her to recover a bit.  And then she was in pain.  Moving her for the MRI seemed to be quite an imposition.  We were repeatedly told, in urgent terms, that we were running out of time.

This all seemed out of proportion to the evidence, since my mother seemed to be quite comfortable, hip and surgical pain aside.  I began to push back.  It seemed to me that one could remove the collar and simply observe my mother for 10 or 15 minutes.  Visitors could enter the room to cause her to turn her head in curiosity.  People could see whether she winced or seemed comfortable.

Then I was told that there was no evidence at all that any aspect of this protocol was correct or useful to the patient.  Useful to the Hospital?  Yes.  It might reduce the chance of a law suit.  But necessary, or even reasonable?  Fears, yes.  Concerns, yes.  But no evidence, no studies.

I also pointed out that while they could recommend that my mother wear the collar for six weeks, and explain the possible consequences of not doing that, they could not require that she do so.  Their use of the phrase “have to” was really inappropriate.

Lessons learned?  When a doctor tells you that something must be done, often they are over-stating the case, either to cover their ass, or their attorney’s asses.  And while they often use words like “must” they almost never mean what they say.  They should be offering information and making recommendations.

Ask questions.  Push back.  Do not let the creators of protocols push you thoughtlessly in an uncomfortable or expensive direction.

One Important Thing for You to do When a Loved One Dies

February 12, 2014

My father died back in October. Because my mother is demented, I immediately had to forward all mail so that I could handle their affairs.

Big Mistake.

I now receive perhaps 40 solicitations per week from charitable organizations, all redirected from mail that they were receiving.  I never told these organizations about the change of address: they were notified by the post office.  I did not see any way to avoid having those notifications  sent out.

I have probably sent out 50 letters asking that this stop.  My bet is that my address is now being sold to other charities and catalog companies.  I do not expect that this will be easy to remedy.

I should have forwarded the mail to a post office box.  That way, whenever I am sure that the necessary people have the new correct address, I can just drop the PO box and let all of the unwanted advertising disappear.

Take my advice.  The American marketing machine is nearly unstoppable horror.

The Insanity of NPR and Fresh Air’s Censorship

January 8, 2014

I admire Terry Gross’ abilities as an interviewer, but a recent interview made a mockery of the censorship that pervades NPR and treats everyone as if they were children.

The interview was with Andy Samberg.  In it, they discussed a routine about “<bleep> in a box”.  There was no way to figure out exactly what <bleep> was, so I figured it must have been “shit in a box”.  The rest of the interview did not make much sense, although everyone was laughing.

Fast forward to Marc Maron’s WTF podcast/interview with Andy Samberg.  That uncensored interview permitted the listener to understand that in fact the bit was called “dick in a box”. At least that interview made sense.

When the coyness becomes so oppressive that one cannot even understand the interview, the time has come for a change.  In an era when 12 year olds are getting pregnant, is it really important that people not hear the word “dick”?  They all know the word “penis”, and they have all spoken to friends called “Dick”.  I mean, what is the fucking purpose of this insanity?

Same thing with “shit”.  It is not offensive to discuss “feces” or “crap”, but somehow “shit” is offensive?  This is absurd on the face of it.

I have no respect for NPR nor Terry Gross when it comes to their perpetuating these ridiculous rules, especially when it means that the content of their interviews becomes obscured.

Perhaps Terry and NPR would do well to stop discussing any issues that might offend at all, and leave that kind of reporting to the likes of Marc Maron.   He is heart-felt, honest, and transparent.  Too bad NPR and Terry cannot live up to Marc’s lofty standards.