Technology


I recently switched from Verizon to AT&T. I wanted a phone that AT&T has. Mariya has AT&T. I have a brother that has AT&T. So, I switched.

I’ve been with Verizon since 1999. I’ve been pleased with the coverage. The phone selection stinks. Verizon is very annoying with locking their phones down, and I got my most recent phone on November 5, 2005, with a two year contract. In early October I was billed for the October 6 through November 5 billing period and the bill was paid.

I got my new phone on October 26th and ported my number to AT&T. Earlier today, I got a verizon bill in my email for $191.49. This was strangely high, since I am on a $32.80 a month plan.

My suspicion was that I had been hit with an early termination fee (ETF). So, I called up Verizon customer support and talked with Deandre (pronounced Dee Andre). I explained the situation to Deandre and what I suspected had happened. He confirmed that I had been hit with the ETF. I explained to him that this didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. I had already been billed for the total of my contract period. His stance was that I had technically terminated service before my anniversary date of November 5, so it didn’t matter what I had been billed for. My only option (let’s call this option #1), according to Deandre, was to port my number back to Verizon, leave it there until November 5 and then cancel. I could “get away with this” because Verizon has a 30 day guarantee where things can be “undone”. I explained that this is something that would just cause a lot more work for their system and for me, for not positive gain at all. Why do it? Why just just get rid of my ETF and we could call it good. He said he couldn’t do that. The system had it in there. So, he put me on hold for a few minutes.

So, he presented another option. He said that the best he could do was to credit me half of the ETF in liu of porting my number back and forth. So, it was now a $87.50 charge. So I said that I was basically going to have to pay $90ish to cause more trouble for both Verizon’s system and for myself. I tried to emphasize that this just didn’t make any sense to me.

He put me on hold again for a while. Came back. $50 fee. To get this, he had looked over my account details and had put me on a “variable” ETF schedule, where you get $5 of credit (towards an ETF) for each month you have your account in good standing past 6 months. I told him that I had been with Verizon for 6 or 7 years, so I shouldn’t have any ETF at all, based on that. He said that there was a $60 minimum ETF normally, and he was waiving that. Additionally, he said that the “variable ETF” schedule normally didn’t apply at all if you were porting your number to another carrier.

I told him that the purpose of an ETF was obviously to make sure that Verizon got its money. I had completed the terms of my contract, monetarily speaking. I had paid all of my monthly bills. I didn’t expect to get any proration of the last month’s bill. I had paid up to November 5, and I was totally happy with that. The ETF just didn’t make any sense to me.

So, we started looking at my bill. He said that it was $191.xx. I asked where the extra $16 had come from. I suspected taxes. He said there were something like $22 in taxes. I did the math in my head, and that meant $169 or so. So, I said that didn’t make sense with a $175 ETF. So, he looked farther, and saw that my account had been prorated to the tune of an eleven dollar credit for October 26 through November 5. At that point I said, why not just charge me the $11 and we can call it all good?! I said I couldn’t fathom what the difficulty could be with that. I had expected to pay the bill through November 5 all along.

He said that he’d put in to get it waived, since I was only a week away from having my contract completed. I told him that I’d like to fill out a survey or something telling that he had been willing to work with me on this. He said they didn’t have that, but he put me through to the voicemail of his supervisor. I then left a message on her (Marilyn Vinson) voicemail, saying that Deandre had done a pretty good job of helping me.

Satisfied? Well, I guess so. Bummer that I had to stay on line for 30 minutes to get this done. If I hadn’t been persistent, I would have been out the $175. So, internet readers.. pay attention. Put in your time, and you, too, can have proper outcomes to your difficulties.

Strange things are afoot in Kirbyland. The parking garage is probably 0.2 miles from my actual office here at Beckman. This morning I had made it into the building and was walking down the hallway towards my office.

I was apparently thinking about something else, and when I got about 20 feet away from my office door, I pulled out my car key and pressed the ‘Unlock’ button on the transmitter. Needless to say, my office door didn’t automatically unlock, and I think I was probably far enough away from my car that I don’t have to worry about it, either.

First time I’ve done that. Wonder what today holds…

I run firefox in Linux, and I’ve noticed a problem with the facebook extension. It seems like, if firefox ever shuts down abnormally (from dying, or from X-windows dying, etc.) the facebook toolbar gets stuck in a semi-bad state. Normally, after you login to facebook, the question marks shown below (next to the pokes, friend requests, and messages icons) disappear, and the toolbar notes the name of the person logged in.

Once the toolbar gets confused, this transition doesn’t occur. The look of the toolbar stays in a ‘not logged in’ condition. The toolbar will continue to popup little windows when certain events occur, but it won’t tell you if you’ve been poked, have friend requests, or messages.

Some background information…
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We are printing a large (multi-hundred megabytes) pdf file, and large embedded PDFs are causing problems. A guy wrote up this documentation on making them smaller. (Thanks Barry!) It looked like something that others might find useful. So, the writeup… This assumes that you are shooting for a max PDF size of 5 megs.

How to make your figure smaller:

–Very Short Answer: Use the PDF Optimizer function, in the Advanced menu of Adobe Acrobat 7.0 Professional. Many files shrink a lot, with no change to the output image, when using the “First Try” settings I describe below. (These settings don’t alter the image quality at all, they just discard hidden junk.) If this does not work, you’ll have to think about downsampling, dpi and image compression, also described below.

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(dozens of comments and growing) I’ve been thinking about starting a business recently.
I’ve also been asked for a business card, so I figured it was time to actually take the plunge and buy some of the things.

I did a little bit of shopping around. The company that I use to print my photographs actually makes business cards. You mail them an image, and they put it on a card. Quite simple, once you have the image designed. But, from looking at the price, I thought that I might be able to do better if I looked around more. I had heard about Vistaprint from various places. They supposedly had free business cards except for the price of shipping. So, I wandered over to their website (use your imagination to guess what it is) and, sure enough, they offer 250 business cards for the low, low firesale price of $5.25 to cover the shipping and handling. You don’t get to design your own image for that price. You pick from a selection of predesigned cards. Also, they mention that there will be a logo on the back of the card for Vistaprint. If you want to get rid of the logo, you have to pay more. If you don’t want the default card stock, you have to pay more. And so on.

But, all I really needed was the basic card, so I went ahead and designed myself the “free” version of the card. At each step of the ordering process, you are asked if you want to add this feature or that (like the things I mentioned above that add onto the cost). At each step, I carefully made sure to choose the option that kept things “Free”. Shipping times? want it this week? That costs more. Free gets it to you in about 3 weeks.

But, I wasn’t in any big hurry, so I went with the cheapest options all the way. Once you get to the end and have entered your shipping and payment information, you are offered the chance to continue clicking on things to “take surveys and win cash”, “get $10 off your next order”, etc etc.. Things of that nature. Needless to say, I didn’t bother clicking on any of the stuff.

So, the order was in. I got an email saying that I’d get another email when it shipped. I carefully watched my credit card transactions via the credit card’s website. Sure enough, $5.25 showed up from Vistaprint, just like it should have. All was well with the world.

The Vistaprint transaction posted on the 7th of the month, and the transaction was complete on the 9th.

Act 2, Scene 2 (AKA: where things seem to go downhill)

On the 9th, a new charge showed up on the credit card. It completed on the 11th. It looked like the following:

04/11/06 	247CS.NET(Services and Merchandise) 	-$33.36 

I didn’t have a clue what this was. I thought long and hard about what I might have ordered, and absolutely nothing came to mind. With a name of 247cs.net, it sounded an awful lot like a website to me. So, I typed that into the location bar of everyone’s favorite non Microsoft browser, and was presented with a page that basically said: “You’re here because you noticed a charge on your credit card for 247cs.net. This is for a music download service. If you think this charge is in error, click here. If you think this is fraud, click here.” etc etc. [The website appears to be down now. Go figure] Well, I didn’t have any desire to give them any information about me. So, I made a mental note of the website, and prepared to call my credit card company.

Upon calling my credit card company, I told them that I had an unknown charge. They found it, said that it was an internet charge, and that I could file a claim against it. It was some company out of New York, and the category was listed as Computer Software. They also called the 1-800 number for the 247cs.net company and connected me through to them. I spoke to a girl named Anyae, and she started looking up my information. I gave her my name. She couldn’t find it. I spelled everything out. I gave my address. She still couldn’t find any indication of the charge. She asked for my credit card number. I was leery of doing this, but the credit card company themselves had connected me through and were listening in on the conversation, so I gave the credit card number, and, finally, she was able to find the charge. Apparently (and this is the interesting part) in their records my middle initial had gotten included in the last name, so the last name that I was giving here wasn’t coming up on her computer. But, she found the charge, and said that she’d file a charge-back against it. I asked her how this could have happened, and she didn’t have any good answers. The call ended, and I started obsessing over my credit card company’s website to see if the charge would actually be taken care of. And, I started thinking about how annoying it would have to be get a new credit card number. But, if I had been a victim of identity fraud or something, I needed to get it taken care of.

Sure enough, a couple of days later, a negative charge came through for $33.36. A day or two later, I got a fraud complaint form from my credit card company asking me to fill out the forms and mail them back. But, they didn’t give me an envelope to mail anything in, nor did they even bother giving me the address of where I should mail to. So, that didn’t really go anywhere.

So, if it was actually identity fraud, it was, so far, a pretty mild case. I kept (and still am) watching the credit card transactions very closely to see any unexpected charges. But, nothing new showed up. About this time, I noticed that the timing of the Vistaprint charge and the 247cs.net charge were… interesting.. So, I started doing some web searching. Apparently Vistaprint has had a history of some bad practices in this area. I couldn’t find anything about Vistaprint and 247cs.net, but they have had some cases in the past where people have gotten signed up for subscriptions that they didn’t want, and have had a pretty rough time getting everything taken care of. Guess you live and learn, huh? So, I’m going to keep watching things closely and see what happens.

Oh, you’re wondering about the business cards? I actually got them quicker than they had predicted by a few days. The extremely poor quality picture I’ve included lets you see what they look like. More than anything else, the picture is useful so that you can get a feel for how big the logo is that they put on the back of each and every card. It says “Business Cards are FREE at www.vistaprint.com!”. I think I can live with that for now. My needs for the business cards are pretty minimal at this point, so I don’t really want to spend a lot of money on them. For me, the cards are acceptable. I would, however, caution everyone to be very careful about credit card usage with Vistaprint. I still can’t say that Vistaprint is actually responsible for the charge that I got from 247cs.net, but they are who I’m currently currently blaming.

~ is where the <3 is.

That’s all I’ve got to say on the matter.

On my picture website at http://pics.omnux.com I use the Gallery software that is probably the most widely used open source image gallery software around.

A few months ago, Gallery 2.0 was released. This was a pretty huge change from the Gallery 1 series of releases, and I was definitely excited about it. It seems to be almost a complete rewrite. It is now database driven (as opposed to flat files), supports modules instead having to code everything into the base code and should generally be the desired path going forward.

To this end, I have tested several different versions of Gallery 2.x. While it was still in beta I tried it; once 2.0 came out I tried it, and, I’ve tried the most recent release candidate of 2.1.

To make a long story shorter, I’m staying with Gallery 1.x for now. Here’s why, in no particular order:

  • The bulk watermarking feature isn’t yet in. Gallery 2.x has support for dynamic watermarking. You give it the watermark image and it dynamically applies it to source image before display to the user. However, it only automatically applies this watermark to new images that are uploaded. The only way to apply the watermark to existing images is to go in and do it one image at a time. This is a bit of a pain. This feature is listed as being #1 priority for the G2 folks, though, so I’m not too worried about it.
  • Performance. G2 is slower than G1. It’s as simple as that. Supposedly, once you get several thousand photos, the database backend should provide faster results. I’ve got a couple thousand at the current time. G2 just needs more CPU to give the same performance.
  • Keyword insertion into web pages. With G1, I have several keywords that describe the picture. G2 supports these keywords as well. G2 uses them for searching, as does G1. However, G1 also inserts the keywords into a META tag at the top of the individual image pages. G2 doesn’t do this. This hurts search engine optimization. I’m sure that this is something that I could tweak myself to get it working as it should.
  • I use Adobe bridge to work with my photos. I extensively insert titles, descriptions, and keywords from bridge. Adobe raw outputs the images as JPEGs, and I upload them using Gallery remote. However, the titles and descriptions (maybe the keywords as well.. don’t know) are being lost in translation. When the website gets them the meta data has disappeared. I could hack in the exif data work, but this should just automatically happen.
  • I use my phone to upload photos. This uses the galleryadd.pl perl script, and the script doesn’t currently put the photos in the right gallery. I expect this is because the folder name changed when going from G1 to G2, and I just need to figure out the proper syntax of the folders in the new G2. This is a pretty minor thing.
  • Finding where to change a setting is a headache in G2. In the G2 site config, I’m experience a definite learning curve. I remember seeing a setting somewhere but can’t remember where it was. I also assume this would fix itself over time.

So, none of this stuff is deadly. It just all adds up to more trouble than I want to deal with. I’ll let G2 mature a little bit more and investigate it again.

Linode.com

This is a shoutout to linode.com. Since I started my first website back in the 90s, I’ve tried out various web hosting companies. Most have been reasonable quality, but I’ve switched among several as the features and prices changed.

Last year, I purchased a small plan at linode.com. Linode is not your typical webhosting company. Typically, you get a web interface to control your site, and ftp to upload. With linode, you get a full linux “machine”. You choose the distro, you set it up however you want, and you choose everything to put on it. You buy a portion of a machine based on how much RAM, disk space, and monthly transfer that you want. It isn’t for the faint of heart. If you don’t have experience admin’ing a linux box I would recommend that you think twice about this service. But, if you know what you are doing, it provides the ultimate in flexibility.

I have now been with them for a year. I wanted to try out a small plan and see how the year went. I can safely say that it has gone really well. Reboots have been very infrequent (My uptime was over 150 days until a day or two back) and the service is top notch via a ticketing system and an IRC chat channel. Having been pleased with the system, I actually just purchased a larger plan. If you are thinking about this type of setup, definitely consider linode.

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