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Poor Vonage..

vonage001.jpg Disclaimer: I don’t own Vonage stock, but I am a Vonage customer for both residential and business.
Poor Vonage.
Being racked with patent violations and having to pay telephone patents really sucks. The fact that jurors handed over a 5% revenue stream to Sprint-Nextel alongside a $69.5 million judgment will put Vonage in the hole I’m sure. That was after Verizon got awarded a 5.5% royalties and $58 million judgment.

vonage002.jpg

Stocks wise, the company is just going downhill since its IPO at $17. It’s really sad, since I believe in this company and it stands for a lot on fighting businesses that have been giving the screw-over to the consumers for years. Let me put it this way… I switched by business line years ago to Vonage because I went from a local plan on a Bell, that cost me long distance, over a hundred dollars a month when it was all said and done without unlimited calling. Vonage cost me close to sixty dollars a month that gave me an extra fax line and unlimited to anywhere in the United States and Canada.
If that doesn’t say anything, let’s look at it a different way. My residential line went to Vonage also a while back. For about $30 and change, you can get the same unlimited deal for a land line. By comparison, the local cable company wants an extra five dollars more for the same exact service.
What exactly would you do as the consumer? And we’re not even talking to the Bells anymore. Even some friends are holding on for dear life hoping that their lines don’t go dead like my own.
But really…. Vonage is about competition and all about fighting the crap that we have to deal with as consumers. Why should we put up with this? Why should anyone? People should support Vonage based on three things.
  1. Service. Vonage has never let me down. I want to switch plans? Fine. Commitment? None. Selection? They keep coming out with some new features that I’m pretty impressed with.
  2. Reliability. Pretty much have no issues with service. Once in a while, but then again, that’s what my mobile is for to fill in the blanks.
  3. They stick it to the man. In this case, the Bells and the cable corporations. Why should we the consumer pay more for same service? Why?

Obviously, investors don’t agree since they don’t use the product. Too bad too. I’m hoping that if Vonage goes under, they hand their business over to someone like Packet8 to continue the fight. I for one, do not wish to change services ever unless those three things change. Vonage has shown me a way where I can escape without having to pay for some awful service for something that relies on the same technology.
Alas… poor Vonage. I hope you stay afloat.

Vitamix customer service: the ordeal to get a blender

vitamix.jpg Disclaimer: This situation was probably isolated but it did happen.
Last week I wrote about a recent purchase I had made from Vitamix. I mentioned a customer service situation that at first had me outraged. We’re talking serious annoyance.
Let’s first take a look at Vitamix customer service history. Historically, it looks like people have been very well received and have been happy with the customer service. Yet, I had a terrible experience at the beginning of the build.
Let’s go through the timeline.
TAXES:
When you purchase something over the Internet, the general rule is that unless the seller has a brick & mortar store in your state, you are not charged sales tax. The seller usually absolves this responsibility to the consumer. Look at Amazon. Sales tax is only charged in the states it operates in. Not so with Vitamix. They charge sales tax in all states and have a break-out for state and county tax. If you don’t know how this works, be prepared to be confused like I was.
I seriously would love to see the accounting books to see if that money disappears and ever makes it to Uncle Sam’s coffers. But that’s a whole other matter in itself. If you’re used to seeing the sales tax as one single state percentage, be prepared to floored. I was, and the customer service at Vitamix was of no help. They told me to call my Councilperson. I called both Forsyth County and City of Winston-Salem, where both didn’t know what I was talking about until I got to the state level. Apparently counties get their cut but the states do the distribution of funds. The tax departments at the local levels just deal in real estate. Fun stuff.
Oh one more thing. I assume it was coming off of Labor Day weekend, and the lady was groggy or something, but she was pretty rude about the whole thing. Talk about bad first impressions.
So got that figured out. No problems now right? Wrong.
BUILD TIME:
My next issue came when it took about two weeks to build the machine. I called customer service and they told me that it takes 14 days. The website (when I ordered it) said 7-10 days, but has since been changed to reflect 10-14 days. And for those that are Google freaks, no the cache date was a day or so after I had reported to them that the build was taking a pretty long time.
Fine, whatever. At least this lady was nicer than the first about everything.
SHIPPING:
This one really perturbed me when I saw the shipping notice go out. After everything above, you would think that for something that is SO expensive, there would have been a check done before they went online with a shopping cart service on the corporate web site. I had a billing address that was different from my shipping address. So lo and behold when I found that they were shipping it to my billing address.
Wait one second here. One would go back and check the orders to make sure right? So I did. I checked every single confirmation email (which I still have) and what not. Everything up to the “we have shipped your product” email had the shipping address. Go figure that one out. I had to again call customer service, and at the beginning, they even told me that it would cost $10 to change the UPS shipping. Talk about nickel and diming. I had to explain my situation and explain that their code was screwed up and that they had to fix it. I even made screenshots and assisted them with their code. Maybe I should get paid to help them troubleshoot their site.
In any case, I didn’t have to pay the money and they got my product to me. Finally. Two customer service ladies helped me with this one (not the same as the ones before) but the whole thing was an ordeal. Nothing like the situations mentioned online about how great their customer service was or could be. I have to mention that the end part of it and they had apologized profusely for the screw-ups and did pay for the UPS change.
OUT OF BOX:
When you read the product description, you’ll note that you get a few things. Guess what wasn’t packed? Yes, I didn’t get my cooking DVD. A $25 value apparently too ( we won’t go into inflated bonus values here). Alas, this was just not worth the customer service call after everything above.
SYNOPSIS:
I didn’t get the same customer service as what many other received. Perhaps the corporation has PR people that write that stuff on product reviews. I don’t know. I will say that the overall experience was pretty negative, although the customer service representatives that helped with the shipping were very apologetic and tried to get me everything I needed to get it fixed. They even did a call back when I wrote them an email almost right away. That’s a good response time at least. Between the order date and the product receive date, was a total of seventeen days which was still outside the fourteen day period.
For the sake of Vitamix, I hope that my incident was an isolated one at worst. Many of my family members all have Vitamix machines and all have praised the robustness of the actual product. But then again, none of them bought it direct like I did. My suggestion for this all? Fix the website, and explain the breakout of taxes or change it so that state tax is one single percentage. In fact, it would probably be good to even explain why you’re taking state tax at all in states you don’t operate in. And I truly hope that someone else that buys the product with different billing and shipping will not run into the whole wrong shipping address issue. They never did get back to me on if it’s fixed.
All of this to get a blender. Geez. The pot at the end of the rainbow? I’m a smoothie machine now. And hopefully I’ll never have to call them again.

AFS Monitor

AFS Monitor is a monitoring application for MacOSX that shows the connection points for AppleFileServer (AFS), the users that are connected and keeps track of what has been created or deleted by the users via AFS. It also keeps track of current online users via the dock icon. Useful for those that do sharing through AFS.

Wii Charge Station

Sometimes, you just have to eye an accessory for a while before you actually get a hold of it. This charge station was pretty intriguing basically based on the fact that there were a lot of reviews on it already. And being that it was one of the better performers, there was really nothing to say except to get one to see if it was true.
So far, it charges and keeps the charge as expected. It was easily installed (couple snap in batterys and new battery covers) and you just plug those bad boys in. Keep your old battery covers around though in case you’re having a all-day and all-night Wii-off and you just won’t last with the charger batteries.
I have to say that with the strap on, you have to adjust it a little to make the Wii remote fit right. It’s not a huge deal, but watch for that. Also, the connection to the back isn’t as clean as you would like it since the pins don’t stick out much. If you don’t get it right away, adjust the Wii Remote a little bit and make sure the strap isn’t in the way.
All in all, this is a pretty great accessory for your Wii-fanboy. The Wii Charge Station [affiliate] will run you somewhere around thirty dollars USD.

Picture Namer

Picture Namer takes a folder of pictures from your digital camera and allows you to either add numbers to the group of pictures, add a group name, or even preserve the picture order as it came off of the camera. Freeware for MacOSX.

Migrating to Google Apps for nonprofits



Recently, I shifted my nonprofit’s Internet presence to . And I can definitely say that I’m impressed. I had beta tested Apps back when it first came out, but it really came down to laziness for not actually integrating it into my nonprofit.
Well, it didn’t take terribly long to do so. Now I have integrated email, calendar for event planning and meetings, and Gtalk and website building if I ever wanted it. It even allows you to incorporate Google Docs so that the groups can share documents back and forth. Currently, I’m only using the email and calendar since it’s a lot more stable than my current server, and it’s plenty for a nonprofit that doesn’t have much resources. Definitely worthwhile shift for any small organization looking for some online presence.
One little caveat… if you don’t have your 501c3 (which I do not since we’re umbrella protected by our fiscal sponsor), then you have to settle for the Standard edition. Doesn’t bother me any, but it might bug some people not being able to migrate their old mail. You are also limited to twenty five users, and 2G space for email.
On the flip side, it’s not only encrypted (SSL) but you can customize the start pages, assign controls to certain users, have multiple different plugins to your start page, use your logo within the email, and much much more. It’s a fabulous service provided by Google and definitely one that I would recommend all small organizations to take full advantage of if they have not already. You can’t beat free, and if you use Gmail already for your personal email, there should be no scares at all since all of the technology is the same. Google Docs takes care of most of your Office suite needs, and all you need is Internet access. In fact, if you have Google Gears installed, you might be able to get away with some offline access too.

Auslogics Disk Defrag

diskdefrag.jpg Auslogics Disk Defrag is another disk defragmentation utility. The reason why you need to disk defrag is that as you use your system with adding and deleting files, it begins to take something that was once clean and make it look more like swiss cheese. If your newer files filled the “holes” in the system, then the computer will take longer trying to find all the files and thus slowing your efficiency down. Disk defragmentation will solve that by moving all of the files closer together so you don’t have to do be jumping all over the place.
I’m personally unsure of the technique that is used in Auslogics Disk Defrag, but most third party defraggers are more efficient than the one that comes free with your Windows computer. Auslogics Disk Defrag is free to use and supports Windows XP, 2003, and Vista.
Dr.Bill < Auslogics

Cirque du Soleil: Saltimbanco performance was spectacular!

saltimbanco.jpg Caught a show of Saltimbanco, Cirque du Soleil’s arena show that was touring and happened to pass through Greensboro.
Not a stranger to Vegas type shows, but the first of many more Cirque du Soleil ones, I have to say that I was rather amazed that the arena show was worth every penny of the sixty five dollar tickets. The show itself was not lacking at all compared to its bigger siblings and I was thoroughly amazed not by the acrobatics which you come to expect….
I was amazed by the amount of choreography that went into the whole production. The arena show includes live music and singing which is something you rarely find from acrobatic type shows. It was also interesting that while you’re watching those that are flying through the air without cables (there were a few acts that required cabling), the performers below were not only dancing and twirling, but they were also paying attention to the main act to catch their comrades since they were actually the safety. That in itself was amazing.
The acts themselves were just as the website dictated but my favorite was probably the Duo Trapeze. What was interesting was that these two blondes were high above the arena floor, swinging and doing a choreographed dance while swinging away and then one would slip down the others legs and be held only by the ankles. Note that I didn’t say holding onto the ankles…. The girl above was literally holding the other girl with her ankles. That’s some shear muscle tone and power and you knew that you were watching professionals at work. Absolutely brilliant. Also interesting was the fact that wires were not used for practically the whole performance except for tricks that usually required the performer to leap without much of a safety at all.
Another amazing thing? There were actual errors in some of the tricks (which is to be expected) but the improvisation proved that only professionals could pull off such a feat without anyone in the audience to notice. The juggling act was one where the guy’s hands were so fast, if you blinked you would have missed that one of the balls hit his chest. He grabbed it and put it back into the array of swirling balls. There was another time where two balls bounced off and he continued on with the act while the two of the four performers below him danced away to retrieve the bouncing balls. Would never have known that it wasn’t part of the performance though.
The show itself was two and a half hours where twenty minutes of it was an intermission. It took about half the Greensboro Coliseum, where the other half was a staging area.
Parking wise was a nightmare since the Coliseum also had the Central Carolina Fair in the parking lot so it was tough to get in and out. There were no good signs that pointed to where you could get into the main Coliseum parking lot, so it was a good thing that I’ve been there before and knew that the entrance was around the back of Lee St. Only seven dollars to park there which was a steal considering that people were parking across Lee for five and you would probably get yourself killed trying to cross on a Saturday night.
Saltimbanco definitely proved to be a delightful evening experience and I am looking forward to attending more Cirque du Soleil shows in the future.

Head of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn’t know how to install carseat

NHTSA.jpg Scary. Another head of a governmental agency doesn’t know something about the exact thing that your agency is known to police. I had previously written about the head of the Copyright Office being a DMCA supporter but not owning a computer. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These are some seriously frightening things in my opinion.
Nicole Nasson, the head of the NHTSA, didn’t know how to install a child’s carseat and took a three day course on it. What’s interesting here is that Nasson’s background isn’t even in safety. Far from it. It looks like most of her expertise has been in congressional affairs, and governmental affairs. Also sports a JD (surprise surprise).
This just goes to show that if those that are running the regulations don’t even know how to do things that their agencies are regulating, then how are regular citizens supposed to feel safe and comforted by the knowledge that the “people that are supposed to know” don’t? On a similar parallel, this also falls straight in line with what I’ve been saying for years. Senior management of corporations need to know something about the products they make instead of thinking it’s just a “management” thing. Numbers might be numbers, but if you want to build trust with the consumer, you have to actually know what you’re talking about instead of coming out of left field. Consumers and citizens alike can smell that BS a mile away.
Frightens me anyways.

OpenAntivirus

openantivirus.png OpenAntiVirus is an open source antivirus definitions project along with java based scanners. What’s interesting about this project is that this is one of the few open source initiatives for antivirus protection and does a pretty decent job at detection.
There are also third party developer scanners that are written to take the OAV virus detection files and it basically takes care of any sort of dilemma you may have without having to shell out for an expensive commercial antivirus product. To be frank, I personally like non-Java based scanners better, but it does allow for multi-platform almost immediately. That is a good thing.