WGHubris on January 21st, 2014

Recent news reports suggest that Sprint is looking into the possibility of buying out rival wireless carrier T-Mobile. On one hand, this is a possibly strategic merger between the number three and number four wireless carriers. Even with the buyout, Sprint would remain the number three carrier beyond the much bigger Verizon and AT&T. On the other hand, this is a desperate move for Sprint whose strategic vision ended up being hopelessly flawed.

Several years ago, Sprint bought out Nextel. The idea then, as it is now, was that two smaller carriers could join forces to compete with the bigger carriers. The only problem is that it didn’t work. Sprint backed the wrong horse in the 4G technology race and wasted valuable time deciding what to do with Nextel’s network and spectrum. By the time it realized that it was leaps and bounds behind the bigger carriers, it was too late.

Now, Sprint has barely begun to roll out 4G coverage in the biggest markets, and there are plenty of markets where it hasn’t deployed any 4G at all. My home town of Denver, Colorado is case in point. Denver is the 23rd biggest city, and the 21st biggest metropolitan area in the US, but Sprint’s 4G coverage is nowhere to be found. The constant drumbeat of “it’s coming, but there are no dates,” has grown old and customers whose contracts come up tend to jump ship.

Why Sprint’s 4G Failure Matters

Just a few years ago, there were plenty of wireless customers who didn’t really care much about 4G coverage. Sure, those who cared about cutting edge technology were already there, but the iPhone didn’t even have 4G until 2012. Today, however, 4G is everywhere, and Sprint’s lack thereof in major metropolitan areas is a growing embarrassment.

The biggest issue is that even non-techies are now very aware that 4G means faster. Sprint’s only real hope for customers buying new phones is inertia. That is, that customers who already have Sprint service will just buy a new Sprint phone without asking about 4G, but even that possibility is fading fast. New services like the NFL’s highly touted “Football on Your Phone” are abysmal, if non-functioning, on Sprint’s slow 3G network. The same is true for any Comcast, HBO, or other video service on Sprint’s network. Once a customer sees those services on other phones, it is only natural for them to assume that there is something “wrong” with their service.

The catch is that you can’t just flip a switch and go 4G. Sprint has to switch out its old equipment to get 4G signals. The worst part is that it is taking down parts of its 3G network to do so. That means that not only to Sprint customers not have 4G, the 3G network they do have is actively getting worse.

All this brings us to Sprint’s desperate bid for T-Mobile. T Mobile has 4G networks in some of the same areas that Sprint is missing them. Ironically, however, they aren’t the same networks or the same equipment meaning that until the merger goes through, and until customers buy new phones, they will just get the same old, same old from Sprint.

How bad is Sprint’s position these days?

Well, I have an employee plan from way back in the day that adds up to approximately one-half the monthly cost of the other carriers for unlimited data and voice. I’ve told my wife that there is no way we are switching. I even bought new Sprint Galaxy 4S phones for both of us last fall, even though I knew Sprint didn’t have 4G in Denver. After all, I figured, the company dies more every day it doesn’t have those speeds, they have to be coming soon, right?

However, if I don’t have 4G in Denver by this Spring, I think I’ll take T-Mobile up on its offer to get me out of my contract and go over to them instead. Of course, I can’t do this if Sprint buys up T-Mobile. Me and the millions thinking the same thing are the reason Sprint needs to buy T-Mobile, and to do it fast. Everyone else has already deserted for ATT or Verizon at this point.

Otherwise, Sprint is headed for life as the low-tier carrier for folks who still just want a flip-phone.

(Or, of course, it could actually start lighting up 4G networks in bigger cities instead of trying to pad its numbers by rolling out dozens of smaller communities every three months in big press releases designed to show that it is moving forward more quickly than it actually is.)

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WGHubris on December 30th, 2013

New light bulbs have arrived and the old versions of 100 watt bulbs and 75 watt bulbs have begun to disappear from store shelves. The new light bulb laws now mean that the old, hot, inefficient 100 watt light bulbs that power old-fashioned Easy Bake Ovens are no longer available. Is the new light bulb law a problem, or will this just be a phase that quickly passes.

Low Flow Toilet Law

Around twenty years ago, in 1992, Congress passed a law mandating that all toilets be low-flow toilets. A low flow toilet can only use 1.6 gallons per flush. The law went into effect a few years later. The implementation and after effects of this law may be instructive in looking toward how the new light bulb law will work out.

old light bulb pictureWhen the ban against higher per flush gallon toilets first went into effect, the reaction was pretty much the same. The opposition to the law insisted that higher gallon per flush toilets were superior for various reasons. In fact, early low flow models did not work as well and were prone to clogging for some people. There were report of some builders hoarding older toilets, and even stories of people bringing in higher flow toilets from Mexico. Critics of the law pointed to these issues as proof that the law was a failure, and insisted that the market should decide. The law was held up as exactly the kind of thing that government should not regulate.

However, over the next few years, things changed. Manufacturers, who could no longer rely on making their toilets work simply by throwing more water down the drain had to actual put some time, money and effort into better designs. This investment would have never been made without the law, in part because the end consumer often does not buy the their toilet directly. Instead, builders, apartment managers, and others buy the toilets without input from the end users. The result is a trend toward the cheapest toilets, offering no incentive for “better” toilets.

The new and improved low-flow toilets saved millions of gallons of water every year. This was particularly helpful in areas like Colorado where droughts followed huge housing booms. Reservoirs that ran near critical low levels would have fared much worse if those decades of construction had included higher water use toilets.

Today, only 1.6 gallon toilets are sold, millions of gallons of water are not wasted, and no one really notices or cares. Certainly, no one brings in old toilets from Mexico.

Old Light Bulb Hoarding and Nostalgia

So, what lessons can we draw from the laws to regulate toilet flushing?

Chances are that the first few years of newer light bulbs will have issues. Manufacturers, now forced to deal with developing better light bulbs that don’t have to compete against the cheapest possible bulbs, will likely improve the technology quickly. Ramping up production to full levels of scale will mean that prices will drop. Soon, the only reason to have older, incandescent bulbs will be nostalgia, or those who claim that the light is “better.”

In other words, don’t panic. By this time next decade, no one will remember or care that Congress banned high watt light bulbs and society will be silently reaping the benefits of a nationwide reduction in the usage of power. But, rest assured that more than a few folks will have horror stories and studies will point to the wasted dollars caused by the new law in the meantime.

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WGHubris on December 19th, 2013

I’m not a Rockefeller, and I don’t have a charitable trust fund, but I do pretty well, and occasionally, I do donate money to various charities. I also donate household items and clothing on a pretty regular basis since I have kids at that age where neither clothes nor toys last all that long. However, I’ve forever changed how I give money, to the detriment of the very charities that wanted me to consider them when giving.

Charity Update Phone Calls Scam

Phone Calls

Who can it be calling on my phone? Ring-ring. It’s that charity; they want more money to pay for more fundraising phone calls.

There are numerous charities that turn used home goods into good works. I like these charities because they serve triple-duty in my good cause book. First, they keep goods that otherwise have no home out of the landfill. I’ve got toys, books, clothes, and so on, and while I can have a garage sale, that isn’t really high on my fun list. Instead of throwing these items out I can donate them. Second, the charities turn sell these goods and use the cash to do useful things for their organization. Some of them even employ disadvantaged members of their communities producing yet another advantage. Third, they resell these items in their stores where people who really need to stretch a dollar can buy them for much cheaper than anywhere else. I like that my donation helps them as well. And, of course, in the end, I get a tax deduction, which is nice for me.

Like many others I get postcards from time to time asking me if I have any household items to donate. They need my donation so much, they are even willing to arrange for a truck to come to me so that I don’t have to bring my donation to them. This is particularly important for the smaller organizations that don’t have many locations, especially if none of them are anywhere near me. All I have to do is make a call, give them the address for the pickup, and my phone number so they can contact me.

Seems legit.

But, it turns out that too many charities are actually finely tuned fundraising machines and that address and phone number are used extensively for both. Several years ago, I had a lot of stuff to donate, so I scheduled pickups with two different organizations that I wanted to support. They picked the stuff up and they left a receipt for the tax deduction.

Everyone was happy.

Then, the phone calls started coming. Each charity called at minimum once per month to ask if I had anything else to donate. When I said no, they launched into what can only be described as a telemarketing pitch. Did I know that now, my donation was more important than ever? Thanks to [insert recent new event here] donations were down and needs were up, was I really, really, really, sure I didn’t have anything? And, if not, maybe I could write a check instead?

I don’t really like getting phone calls at all, least of all sales calls, which no matter how much these organizations say otherwise, are just what these are.

The calls never stopped until the day that we shut-off our land line.

The other day, I got a card, and thought about making a donation, but I remembered the continuous nagging phone calls. I’ll still donate, but it won’t be until I get around to it, and it will be with whatever charity has a location near where I am when I finally load it into my car. That charity, and everyone else who uses that method of raising awareness has lost my donation forever. Is it worth it to squeeze out a few extra pickups?

Even worse than this one is the charity update phone call. This scam works like this. I donated to a local charitable organization. It was a check, no strings attached. I got a call thanking me.

Everyone was happy.

The next month I got a phone call from the charity. They wanted to update me on their progress and explain how my donation was helping.

Seems legit.

For four sentences, I got an update on the organization. Then, I heard those familiar words written by the most reused copywriter in the history of man, “but now, your support is more important than ever.” And, here I was, taking a telemarketers phone call, because I was stupid enough to donate with a check that has my phone number on it. Needless to say, that charity will never get another penny from me.

Charity Thank You and Can We Have Some More

Several years ago, my wife coordinated the giving program at her work. Everyone pitched in and donated a few hundred dollars to Special Olympics. Since they don’t have any sort of permanent giving program, my wife just sent the money in as a single personal check. The charity sent a thank you note and some other things and my wife proudly took them to the office to share with her coworkers. But, every few weeks since then, we get another mailer asking for more money. Of course, our contribution is needed now more than ever. I guess we should have waited then.

By now, I figure that every charitable organization I ever gave money to has spent my entire contribution doing nothing but trying to get me to contribute again. A dozen or so mailers per year, times six or seven years equals something like 80 mailings. Eighty mailings written, produced, printed, folded, and mailed has probably eaten up $100 of the original $300 donation. In the end, we’ll have contributed nothing more than paying for junk mail to be sent to our house.

For other groups, it’s a fully staffed telemarketing center, employees, phone lines, and so on, all to get me to donate more. By now, the entire amount of any donations I made has been spent running that call center.

Where To Donate Without Being Begged for More

I still contribute. I still donate. I just do it differently. These professional money-raising organizations don’t get my money any more. Instead, my children’s schools get regular contributions. I know where the money goes and with the exception of a mention in each week’s email, they never ask for any more. I donate household goods to ARC or Goodwill, the two organizations that had drop off locations that I know of. I hand them over and drive away. No phone number, no contact info. Those guys sending the postcards have ruined it for themselves.

I had my bank stop putting my phone number on my checks a few years ago, for several reasons, and I never fill out that field when donating. If a form won’t work without a phone number, they don’t get my donation. Ever. Some friends just fake-number them. I don’t bother. If their goal is to get a phone number for their call center, I don’t want to give them my money.

This rant is brought to you by the stacks in my garage that I need to donate by December 31st, to get my 2013 tax deduction. I’d love to call some of those organizations and setup a charitable pickup, but it’s not going to happen.

I wonder how many thousands or millions of dollars these organizations lose every year by overly aggressive fundraising?

 

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WGHubris on October 1st, 2013

With the government shutdown, there has been a lot of talk about nonessential government personnel and nonessential government services. In particular, many people are asking if these people and the services they provide are not essential, then what are we wasting money on them for anyway. The answer, lies, as it so often does, in how to choose to define the term nonessential. For the purposes of shutting down the U.S. government, the definition follows along the vague line of services and personnel that affect the health and safety of citizens. That isn’t the only possible definition, of course. And, even using that definition leave a lot of gray area of interpretation.

Nonessential Services

To understand just what makes a government service nonessential, it helps to consider something smaller, your own life, for example.

government servicesTo protect your health and safety, there are some things that you must do without question. Continuing to eat, drink, and sleep is necessary if you are to stay healthy. You do not need to go to the movies to stay healthy and safe.

So far, this is very easy.

However, it gets complicated very quickly. For example, should you still exercise? Exercise does improve your health, and it is safer to be strong and lean. On the other hand, you aren’t going to instantly become less healthy if you stop going to the gym.

What about cleaning your house?

Again, in the beginning, it would be hard to throw that into the essential services category. After all, an unvacuumed carpet is hardly deadly. However, the longer you go without cleaning, the more likely it becomes that the filth building up in your house will attract vermin, grow bacteria or mold, or otherwise begin to affect your health.

This is where the who essential versus nonessential thing breaks down. Many services that the government performs, and the employees who perform them, are not necessarily immediately essential. Just like the many tasks you perform, some of them can be skipped. Others can be put off. But, just because you don’t have to do something immediately, doesn’t mean that you never have to do it again. In other words, things that are nonessential at a specific point in time become very essential over a longer period of time.

It may not be essential to inspect bridges for safety this weekend. However, never inspecting them again would be incompetent. So, does that make the function essential or nonessential? While the passport office being closed for a week or two is just an inconvenience for travelers, never issuing a passport again, means locking every citizen within the borders of the country forever since international travel is not possible without a passport.

So, while it might be an interesting tweet about the size of government, many of the services being deemed nonessential during the shutdown are actually very essential over time. Furthermore, many “extra” services that are provided by the government are provided because we the people demand those services in exchange for the taxes we pay. Just turning them off to save money doesn’t necessarily square up with our desires as a people.

In the end, the question is moot for everyone who is not actually a government worker. The shutdown will end eventually, and both essential and nonessential government services will start back up. The true test of whether something is essential or not comes when we vote based on what we do and do not want.

 

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WGHubris on August 28th, 2013

At the beginning of this year, I renewed my webhosting arrangement with WestHost and immediately regretted it when my server suffered hours of downtime in February. Since then, I’ve “caught” my server down several times. This is particularly distressing because I don’t monitor it constantly, which means it could have been down numerous times when I just didn’t notice.

Unstable WestHost Shared Hosting

There are multiple tiers of webhosting. The cheapest, and therefore least reliable, is called shared hosting. The way it works is that the webhosting company loads up numerous websites onto a single server. Often, these websites are smaller, low-traffic websites, so it really doesn’t matter if there are a lot of them on one server. However, if one of them experiences an issue, it can affect all of the websites hosted on that server. To worst webhosts load up too many websites on a single sever compromising both the speed of these sites and their integrity. A very full server is more likely to be taken down by a spike in traffic or memory usage since it is running close to capacity.

I don’t know if this is WebHost’s problem or not. I really don’t care. What I do care about is that the WebHost Status page always says the same thing. First, the server “became unresponsive and had to be rebooted.” Then, a file integrity check was forced. If you know anything about computers, you know that they don’t like having the plug pulled. They like to be shut down nicely. If they don’t get shut down properly, they will often launch into a file system check that can take an hour or more. That means with every, “Oops, we had to reboot the server,” comes an hour or more of down time. For months, it seemed like this was a surprise to the WestHost engineers who posted estimated fix times to the webhosting status page of 10 or 20 minutes. Then AFTER the file check started, they changed the fix time.

westhost hosting quality

From 08/28/2013

I understand that shared hosting is the cheapest hosting, and I’ll be moving away from it on WestHost, at least, as soon as possible. However, it is inexcusable that a server just has to be rebooted so frequently. Obviously, there is a problem. Either the server is overloaded, or it’s monitoring is substandard. There is no reason a tech shouldn’t be able to notice that a problem is arising on server and make the necessary adjustments, or if there really is nothing that can be done, at least the server can be rebooted cleanly so that there is no need for over an hour of down time to run a system check.

My next move is to check the internet to see if someone monitors this sort of thing. If not, it should be a trivial task to take a screenshot of the WestHost status page every hour. That would catch most of these server reboots since they come with an hour long file integrity check. Maybe if the company knew that someone noticed just how often they had to reboot a sever and keep it down for a file check, they just might do something to keep it from happening so often.

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WGHubris on August 18th, 2013

There are many different reasons people use Twitter. Depending on why and how you use Twitter, you may have come across an interesting phenomenon where some people are very particular about how you retweet them.

Twitter Retweet Etiquette

When it comes to Twitter, there really aren’t any hard and fast rules. That being said, there are certain things that are frowned upon by users of the system. Spamming, obviously, is both unwelcome and against Twitter’s terms of service. “Stealing” people’s tweets by reposting them without any sort of credit is also universally despised. After that, however, many of the so-called rules of Twitter diverge depending upon who is doing the tweeting and the reading. This variety between types of Twitter users can lead to confusion about whose rules to follow, and when.

why get mad about manual rtThere are many types of Twitter users. Some use Twitter only for promoting their work. Some use Twitter only to read about certain people, events or places. Some use Twitter to keep up only with actual friends and co-workers, and so on.

One particular type of Twitter user likes to engage in posting funny, quirky or personal things. They have no objective beyond Twitter itself. There are no links to follow, no blog posts to promote, no brand to build. They have no objective beyond Twitter itself. For these users, retweets and favorites are a way to keep score, to see just how funny or interesting each tweet is. Instead of a thank you for ensuring that their tweet found a bigger audience among your followers, they’ll be upset that your “manual retweet” stole some of their thunder.

What Is a Manual Retweet Anyway?

Not long ago, the only way to retweet was a manual retweet. Retweeting was actually invented by the users of Twitter, not by the company itself. It started as a way to share something you found interesting, funny, or useful with your followers, while still giving credit to the original poster. To retweet, you copied the original tweet and added RT plus the user’s name, like this:

RT @arcticllama There is a great new post at FinanceGourmet about free online credit scores.

In this way, you can share the information that the user ArcticLlama (that’s me) originally posted while letting everyone know that it wasn’t your original material. This also provided the additional benefit of letting the original poster know that you valued that tweet because the @username resulted in the original user getting that post back on their own timeline. If people retweeted you hundreds or thousands of times, you know you wrote something that people found worthy.

Eventually Twitter incorporated the retweet as part of the official system. In doing so, it changed how a retweet works.

With the original retweet anything that retweeted looked to the people who received the retweet like it came from the person who did the retweet, not the person who did the original tweet. That is, if I retweeted something as ArcticLlama, as you scanned your timeline, it was my little picture that showed up. In a way, this makes sense, you know me, not this other user, and I’m the one sharing what they wrote.

Additionally, if you also found it worth sharing and retweeted it again, then both the original sharer and the person who did the retweet ended up in the next version like this:

RT @financegourmet @arcticllama There is a great new post at FinanceGourmet about free online credit scores.

As you can see, the original link is still there, and if you are a follower of neither FinanceGourmet or ArcticLlama, you have two users you might want to look at, and there is more exposure for the original user’s link, so that should all be fine right?

But when Twitter incorporated retweets directly, they changed up the system. Now instead of RT @username leading the message, the tweet just appears. In addition, the original user’s name and picture accompanies the tweet. On the one hand, this is better and offers more credit to the original poster. On the other hand, you have to pay more attention now to know just how you got this tweet, or more specifically who it came from. If you have no idea who the original tweeter is, but a lot of respect for the retweeter, this is actually worse. Of course, the biggest benefit is that you don’t need to use some of the 140 characters up with the RT and username.

You can, of course, still retweet in the original way if you like. However, in some user’s minds, this also splits the credit for the tweet. Imagine, instead of a link to a webpage that I would like people to read, this was a joke I made. There is no link. There is no exposure. On one hand, there is still no issue. The original poster still gets full credit for being the original joke teller. But, for some users, the retweet count is what matters. It is the score that a tweet gets for originality, humor, or whatever.

When you manually retweet, instead of using the direct retweet button on Twitter, then the retweets would count like this:

When I retweet the message, the original poster’s tweet shows that there has been one retweet.

When someone retweets my retweet, then the original poster still only has one retweet, and my post has one retweet. But, if we all used the retweet button on the Twitter webpage, then the original poster’s tweet would have two retweets, and my retweet would have none. Obviously, if retweet count is what matters to you, then one method is clearly superior.

Who Cares About Manual Retweets?

If all you care about on Twitter is getting the maximum amount of interaction from your tweets and having your posts and links seen by as many people as possible, this is all very moot.

If on the other hand, Twitter is the end game for you, this matters because you want to have tweets with 2387 retweets more than you care about your tweet getting spread across Twitter as far as it can. That high retweet count is what “proves” that your tweets are great. Even more, services like Klout and Favstar count those retweets and then show them off or provide a ranking based on them. Those services don’t necessarily count the second and third retweets from the original toward those rankings. This feels like stealing credit then.

Ironically, how most users retweet has less to do with how they view the different methods than it does with how they use Twitter. I use HootSuite and the autoschedule function to keep all of my tweets and retweets from bunching up in clumps. This functionality generates “manual retweets.” Users who just use the Twitter webpage, do not have any sort of manual retweet option, unless they actually cut and paste.

Should you be upset about manual retweets?

Not if your goal is the maximum possible audience for your ideas. In that case, any tweet, retweet, or whatever is fine. If on the other hand, your goal is to get the biggest number of retweets credited to your account, then you’d probably prefer that people use the direct retweet option.

Either way, Twitter is a medium of the masses. People will do what they do, and how they do it. Be glad when people find your stuff interesting enough to do anything other than keep scrolling.

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A few years ago, Frontier Airlines jumped on the bandwagon with other major airlines to charge customers for checking bags. The justification was that all of those checked bags were making the planes heavier and costing the airline more money in fuel. It just wasn’t fair to lightweight traveling passengers to have free checked bags for flying customers.

More baggage fees for Frontier luggage.

It’s hard to know whether the people who run Frontier Airlines are truly clueless, or if it was all part of a multi-step plan from the beginning, but what happened next is obvious to anyone with more than three brain cells. Passengers, unwilling to pay more money just to take their luggage with them on a trip began to carry-on everything they used to check. Predictably, passengers try and cram too much luggage into bags that are too big and then spend too long trying to jam them into crowded overhead bins.

Instead of a checking a 40 lb. bag and leaving room for other travelers to carry-0n lighter bags, customers just carry on a 40 lb. bag. So, the airlines save no weight and no fuel, and don’t get the highly coveted extra fee. To top it off, frequent travelers often like to carry-on bags, but can’t because there isn’t enough space.

The whole policy is a bust.

Frontier Charges for Carry On Bags – More Fees

The solution, if you are not a price gouging company that, frankly, hates the cash pinatas customers you have to fly from place to place in order to actually make money, is fairly obvious. Change the baggage fees to something that both solves the weight problem, and prevents the delays and overcrowding of carry-on space. Ideally, the airline would charge a fee for heavier bags but allow normal checked bags for free. Then, you charge for carry-on bags instead. This both keeps the weight down, and it makes sure that only savvy, lightweight travelers (typically the highly coveted business travelers) are carrying on bags.

The result?

Lower weight, faster boarding, and uncrowded overhead space.

However, Frontier thinks it can gouge its customers for a little more money by charging them for carry-on bags as well. That way, if you take ANY luggage, you pay more. Ironically, by charging for BOTH carry-on and checked bags, the airline provides no incentive to do either, and considering no one travels with NO luggage, everyone pays the extra fees.

The result?

The same crowded overhead bins and the same weight problem persist.

How To Get Around Frontier Bag Fees

The smartest thing you can do to get around Frontier’s luggage fees is to be smart.

First, add the cost of your baggage charges to the price of your ticket. Frontier is counting on conversations like this one occurring all over the country.

“Hey Ma, Frontier tickets are $15 cheaper than this other airline. Let’s buy them.”

Later, at the ticket counter, “What do you mean I have to pay $20 to check or carry-on my bag?”

Don’t forget Southwest Airlines allows a free checked (and carry-on) bag.

You see, most people buy airline tickets based on price. Since all airlines give flyers the same tiny seats, the same lack of service, and no one offers food or drinks anymore, customers don’t see any reason to treat tickets as anything more than a commodity. By moving the amount paid by the customer to fees, the airline hopes people will be stupid enough to not include them in the price of the ticket. That way, it seems like a lower fare, even though it costs just as much or more than other options.

If Frontier’s double bag charge works, that is customers don’t book other airlines and complain loudly, other airlines will follow.

 

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