How Verizon Wireless Could Have Saved Some Money

So, against my better judgment and humanity’s better interests, I finally broke down and got a cell phone. My first bill arrives today.

I look it over, and they nicely split out the previous partial month’s pro-rated charges as well as the charges for this month. The usage tables were a little less clear but the important bit of information, that I didn’t owe anything for them, was clear.

Then there’s this $36 “Verizon Surcharge” charge. What is it?

Verizon Wireless’ Surcharge includes charges to recover or help defray costs and taxes and of governmental surcharges and fees imposed on us, and costs associated with government regulations and mandates on our business. These charges include a Regulatory Charge, which helps defray costs of various mandates, and a Federal Universal Service Charge and, if applicable, a State Universal Service Charge to recover costs imposed on us by the government to support universal service. These changes are Verizon wireless Charges, not taxes, and are subject to change.

OK, so, despite the questionable punctuation, it is more honest than what they list as if they were taxes on your landline phone bill. But $36 dollars? Outrageous! I’m not paying that every month.

So I checked with a friend to see if he got that kind of charge regularly, and then called up, ready to strangle someone through the cell phone. After spending time on their network on their dime, none of the online explanations (which were helpfully tuned to the fact that I was a new user) addressed my concern, so I opted for customer service.

First off, the woman didn’t have the same information about me that their automated service did. That’s pretty lame. But it’s also typical, so I ignore it.

So I state my question–namely what is this charge, and is it going to be this much every month? She responds, “Oh, there is a $35 setup charge, and it is a one-time charge.”

OK, great. But what in the above cited explanation on the printed bill leads you to believe that setup charges would be included?

Had they but taken the time to either add that to the explanation or do the programming to break out that charge into its own area on the bill, I would not have called. I may have only taken 10 minutes of the woman’s time and another 10 or so of the online time, but that probably cost them a sizable fraction of the setup fee itself.

If even 10% of other customers react as I did–and the instructions for new customers seem to indicate they get a number of these calls–that has to be a pretty big cost center for Verizon. Just giving your customers salient details (like explaining any one-time charges) will save you money. You can funnel those profits into a nicer hotel room for boinking your fellow executive. Then everybody wins.

Grammar Nazis…Attack!

People, people.

…is a VERB. I advise you on something by giving you my…
…which is a NOUN. You would be well advised to take my advice on this.

And while we’re at it! Exclamation marks! They look kind of stupid (even in parenthetical remarks!) in business writing! Seriously!

Schiavo Notes

First, read the most lucid, concise summary of the Shiavo case I have yet read, courtesy of Ars Technica. This puts a lot of misinformation that has been bandied about talk radio to rest. A few highlights about the husband:

  • Michael Shiavo has not signed book or TV deals, and has turned down offers of millions and millions of dollars. The medical malpractice settlement money he got has all been spent. So it’s hard to argue he is doing this because he got the money and now needs to dispose of the money.
  • He lived with the Schindlers (Terri’s parents) for several years, and they suggested he date again. So why do right-wingers keep bringing this up as if it were some horrible secret he kept from the world?
  • Michael tried some fairly extensive things, including experimental treatments, to revive Terri. It’s not like he was just hoping she’d die.

Now some unpleasant things about the Schindlers:

  • They have signed media deals. They are, whether cynically or not, profiting from their daughter’s condition. So any aspersion about Michael must be equally cast at them.
  • Their accusations of spousal abuse only surfaced after Michael decided there was no hope and Terri should be allowed to die.

I’m sure they are grieving. It must be horrific. But they are not angels, nor is Michael a devil. Yet many on the right are claiming just that.

Now a few facts about Terri:

  • Her CAT scans from 1996 show massive atrophy in the brain. There is simply little tissue she could use for awareness. These are rarely shown by press reports and never mentioned by right wing commentators.
  • Her heart attack was brought on by an eating disorder that so starved her it weakened her heart. That irony is rarely to never mentioned, and I heard one commentator deny it outright.
  • The electrodes from the experimental treatment mentioned above are still in her brain. Calls for MRIs are calls for manslaughter, as MRIs use powerful magnets for imaging and would cause the implanted electrodes to act as a blender inside her skull.
  • She cannot swallow (hence the feeding/water tube). Several “life-centric” protesters would have killed Terri Schiavo had they succeeded.

Clearly, there isn’t a lot of science education on the side of the so-called conservatives (in reality, big-government theocrats).

Their hypocrisy has been pretty stunning:

  • They claim to be conservatives, but are advocating government involvement in a private matter.
  • They claim marriage is sacred–at least when it’s between a man and a woman–but are seeking to undermine marital rights.
  • They claim to hate an unelected judiciary, but didn’t complain when it gave George W. Bush the presidency.
  • They claim that new advances might give Terri a chance at healing, but are against the stem-cell research that underlies most new neural treatments.
  • The claim that the liberal media is full of distortions and half-truths and innuendo, but as has been shown above, they’re only concerned about media integrity when it is practiced by liberals.
  • They claim this is about “torture” but fail to apply that standard to:
    1. Conscious Iraqi inmates of Abu Ghraib (“fraternity pranks” I believe was the term)
    2. People who are fully conscious who choose death over a painful terminal illness
    3. People who are denied certain classes of drugs because said drugs can be used in naughty ways
    4. Any similar case where the patient was not previously a photogenic white Christian woman, and there are thousands of these cases

However, liberals are not without hypocrisy in this matter:

  • They claim to value the rule of law and decisions of the court system, but set up an almighty whine when it selected George W. Bush instead of their guy. Both conservatives and liberals claim the circumstances are different, but it’s hard to escape the impression that they love the judiciary when it’s not their ox that’s being Gored.
  • They claim to value a personal right to choose, but seek greater medical regulation that removes choices not dealing with reproduction–in fact, in almost every area of life besides reproduction and choice of sexual partner. The days of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement are long behind us.

Two points versus six. I think the Right, as usual, wins the biggest hypocrite award. How power corrupts. Given that the thoroughly-spanked Left has two points, I wonder if they’ll remember the lessons they’ve learned when the wheel turns and they are on top of the DC power game.

Favorite Author, Favorite Artist

I just put up a poster I’ve had forever (and is slightly worse for wear) of my favorite artist (sorry, Todd), Sam Francis, of White Line (3rd painting on that link). I also recently got a collection I’d been trying to get for years of my favorite author, Clifford Simak.

I’m not sure anything other than me ties those artists together, except that I get a similar feeling of peace and belonging when I see or read their works.

Sam Francis uses colors and shapes that just resonate deeply with me. He also appears to be a Jackson Pollock-like figure who randomly splashes paint about the canvas, but he actually planned out many of his abstract works and would try a given subject several times–each one managing to seem like a happy set of accidents with a hint of overall form. However, he would plan out each blob of color–but the works always feel spontaneous, fresh, and usually peaceful or fun.

Similarly, Clifford Simak was once best described by a woman on the long-and-justly-defunct Prodigy message boards as “like reading a letter from a friend.” The first story in the collection I’ve been reading is called “A Death in the House,” and is typical Simak fare. An old widower farmer discovers something strange on his farm, and realizes this plant-like creature he’s found is injured. He tries to find help for it, but refuses to let folks outside his small midwestern town disturb the creature, which then dies. He ends up burying the creature with a small jewel he found among its remains, which then sprouts into another creature. That creature manages to make him understand that the strange wire contraption he found near the first creature is his vessel and should be repaired. The old farmer does so with some reluctance, as he’s grown fond of the quiet, uncomplaining, yet utterly alien companion. But repair it he does, and as a thank-you, the creature leaves him the jewel, which is sort of a companion by itself. It’s tough for the creature to continue its journey without the companion, but it gives the gift because it had nothing much else to give in repayment for the old man’s kindness.

Simak’s stories have the same quality of peacefulness and occasional fun that I find in Sam Francis’s work. They are pastoral, usually set in some rural or semi-rural setting in a civilization that somehow resembles small-town 1950s America, frequently explicitly set in his home town of Millville, Wisconsin. People are decent but not overly fond of intrusion; generous but self-sufficient; and are set in their ways but willing to accept something strange that doesn’t make a nuisance of itself. Above all is a deep and abiding affection for the land.

Simak’s pastoralism is rather different from the technophobic back-to-nature types that arose in the 1960s or the know-nothing luddites that arose in response in the 1970s. His futures always have technological advances willingly used by his protagonists, but technology rarely is central to the setting.

His aliens are always extremely alien–nothing like your nose-appliance-of-the-week on Star Trek spinoffs. His characters are frequently repulsed by the difference, but usually they seek an accommodation, even if it is with tolerant humor. This lends his stories an underlying current of humanity even at their strangest and darkest–and as one heavily influenced by H. P. Lovecraft, his dark can be dark indeed.

The best example, if you want to read one, of Simak’s tolerance, humanity, pastoralism, and fun is probably The Goblin Reservation, which manages to combine science fiction, humor, fantasy, and Lovecraftian horror all in one.

Shiny Pretty

So my new shiny pretty is a 19-inch…monitor. LCD monitor. Specifically, a Samsung Syncmaster 193P.

Quick take:

I have it hooked up via DVI and at native resolution (on Macs, you can specify other resolutions even with the DVI interface). I was able to play Unreal Tournament 2004 at full resolution and didn’t notice any issues beyond the detail and immersiveness of this screen–I think I actually get more area than the Dull CRT it replaces.

The default calibration on the Mac is pretty much dead on–nice and bright and with great contrast. Color gradients look better than any other LCD I’ve seen. I can, as usual, see JPEG artifacts more easily. Text is not as pretty as on a CRT at certain font sizes, but it is much more readable. (I just checked, and sure enough, Mac OS X had already switched to an LCD-optimized antialiasing setting. I also enjoyed reading about the driver installation and setup instructions for various flavors of Windows and Linux but not Mac OS X–It. Just. Worked.) Since the monitor size is fairly large compared to the resolution, I can see a little teeny bit of the mesh pattern of pixels and a hint of moir´┐Ż in some flat color areas. Blacks are the blackest I’ve seen on an LCD. No dead or stuck pixels that I’ve yet detected.

Ergonomically, the monitor is very adjustable unless, as I do, you like it to sit a bit high. However, I was using a stand on every CRT I’ve ever used. I now have room to push the monitor back where I like it and stretch my arms out to the keyboard where they belong. However, the monitor adjusts along the z-axis as well (twisting the display to 90°). This is nearly useless for me as they don’t provide this software for the Mac (hello, one of your more loyal customer bases, Samsung). So it means that I’ve been twisting it a half a degree in each direction trying to find completely level.

Aesthetically it’s wonderful. A nice tannish silver which not coincidentally complements the color of both Mac laptops and G4 and G5 desktops. It works well with my charcoal electrostatic Monsoon speakers (the flat panels of the speaker world, and, by the way, well worth it–unbelievable the depth, richness, and lushness these electrostatics produce. I’d always thought electrostatics were dry and overly precise). It has a thin bezel, and the panel attaches to folding arm that rises from a round base. In the back of the base, under a lip, are three connectors: power, DVI, and analog. There is one button and a blue power light on the front. That’s it. All adjustments are made via the software.

The only place I’ve seen the dreaded ghosting is when switching between two Web pages with black backgrounds. I never saw this during the game I played. I’m prepared to live with it for the extra real estate.

It’s a little pricey but I’m satisfied I got what I paid for, and then some.