Category Archives: Cellphones

Milking The Herd At T-Mobile

Cows - 600 x 456

T-Mobile is milking us dry, and that's no bull !

T-Mobile USA’s (aka Deutsche Telekom AG) catch phrase used to be “Get More”, before they dropped it (like so many dropped calls) for their “Stick Together” campaign.  Well, now it seems that their next advertising slogan might just be “Pay More”.

We know times are rough.  T-Mobile is probably hurting just as much as the rest of us.  Evidence the bad news they’ve included in customer’s bills over the last few months.  First, they made the decision to charge customers who wanted to continue to receive their call detail on each month’s bill.  I believe they are charging $3.00 a month for the privilege of seeing what they are charging you for.  Then they decided to charge an additional $1.50 a month for the privilege of getting a paper bill in the mail each month (isn’t it nice to know that T-Mobile is saving the lives of innocent trees).  After what must have been a torrent of subscriber defections to other carriers and complaints from customers who didn’t bolt, they dropped their plan to charge for paper bills (but they’re still charging customers who want to see the call detail on their bills).  Apparently, T-Mobile decided that trying to milk their customers with yet another new monthly charge was going to cost them more than they would have realized in additional income (see “T-Mobile Customers Demand Traditional Paper Bills” at dailyfinance.com).

T-Mobile’s latest bills have included a strangely vague warning to their customers that they may be paying more for minutes used beyond their calling plan’s allowance.  But they don’t tell you how much more they are charging per minute. If you are a T-Mobile subscriber, and you decide to dial 611 to ask them about the rate increase, better do it during the day.  T-Mobile used to provide customer service 24 hours a day, but now,  if you try calling T-Mobile at night, you’ll get an announcement telling you to call back during the day.  That brings to mind another possible advertising slogan T-Mobile might consider… “Pay More, Get Less”.

Why the lack of specifics regarding their rate increase ?  (they tell you to check out their website for details)  Well, it seems to us that T-Mobile, just in time for Halloween,  is trying to scare subscribers into moving to more expensive monthly plans.  Is it really necessary to raise what are already exhorbitant per-minute charges if you go over on your plan’s minute allotment.  We believe those per-minute charges were already in the range of 40 cents to 60 cents per minute, even before their recent increases.

Those folks at T-Mobile must also think their customers are a bunch of idiots.  Here’s how they broke the good news to customers, via an insert in their bills titled “An important message about your additional minutes”…

“T-Mobile is committed to providing you the coverage you need at the price you want.  Therefore, it’s important to tell you about a change to ensure you are on the plan that best meets your needs.  Starting on September 1st, the price for the minutes you use over the minutes included in your plan will increase for some rate plans.  Those rates apply to all additional minutes, including calls to voicemail and call forwarding.”


Don’t you love it how companies always begin their notices of price increases on an upbeat theme ?   How about leveling with the customer and starting off with something like “We have some bad news for our most loyal customers” ?

When we first spotted their billing insert, we thought that perhaps T-Mobile was increasing the number of minutes in their calling plans, or perhaps that they were lowering their charge for additional minutes.  Unfortunately, it was nothing or the sort, but it is certainly reassuring to know that T-Mobile is so concerned about us.  Why then all the secrecy ?  Why not just say how much they’re charging for additional minutes, right there on the billing insert ?  And the fact of the matter is that they can’t legally raise their rates without notifying their customers.  We guess that T-Mobile figures that this indirect method of notifying their customers of a rate increase fulfills their obligation to notify their customers.  How lame can you get ?

We wonder what little bit of good news T-Mobile might be planning to stuff into the envelope with your bill, next month.  How about charging a fee for speaking with a customer service rep, or charging you $1.00 every time you check how many minutes you have used up.  There’s probably dozens of ways they can come up with to squeeze more out of their customers every month.

Long time T-Mobile subscribers might remember the pre-T-Mobile days, and perhaps even the pre-Voicestream days.  The T-Mobile U.S. cellular network started it’s life as “Omnipoint”, circa 1996.  (Does anybody remember Fred, the Omnipoint parrot ?  See Fred in this Omnipoint TV Commercial on Youtube.)  One of Omnipoint’s selling points was “No Contract Required”.  As any T-Mobile customer can tell you, that is not the case with T-Mobile.  But for T-Mobile customers who have fulfilled their contract (and maybe even for those who haven’t), all of  T-Mobile’s recent attempts to nickel and dime their customers to death might signal that it is time to move your mobile number to a different network, one that is more customer-friendly, and one that gives it’s subscribers a little more credit for being able to see through a thinly veiled attempt to increase profits.  According to this article at cellphonesignal.com, T-Mobile’s decision to increase their per-minute overage charges means that subscribers who are under contract can opt to terminate their contract without incurring an early termination fee (ETF), which just may be the silver lining in this network’s cloud.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject, when is T-Mobile going to bring back Jamie Lee Curtis as it’s spokesmodel ?

– Routing By Rumor

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The Death Spiral At The New York Times

Extra, Extra… Read All About It !

The New York Times hikes its cover price yet again.

Another New York Times price increase.

Get ready to shell out more for your copy of The New York Times.

Extra, Extra !

Executives at The New York Times must be taking business strategy lessons from the same experts that have guided the once mighty General Motors to the brink of bankruptcy and needing to take federal bailout money to stay alive.  Shares of GM, once considered a “blue chip” stock that was among the most highly regarded of all investments, and which were trading at close to  $90 a share ten years ago, are now virtually worthless.

The New York Times has announced yet another round of price increases, the third in less than two years , that will hike the newsstand price of their Sunday edition to $5.00 or $6.00, depending on the geographic edition.  The weekday New York Times increases to $2.00 !  And you still don’t get any comics.  The price increases are effective June 1st.

$6.00 for a newspaper?  Are they joking ?  Perhaps New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, Jr. hasn’t yet taken notice of the new kid on the block.   Mr. Sulzberger, we would like to introduce you to Mr. Internet.  He’s big, he’s getting bigger all the time, and he’s eating your lunch.

The Internet is eating everybody’s lunch.  This Time Magazine article names the ten most endangered newspapers in America.  And according to this CNN article, at least 120 U.S. newspapers have folded since January, 2008.

Faced with a sharp drop in advertising revenue and falling circulation, the price increases at The Times are likely to just exacerbate the problems facing the newspaper.  Price increases will inevitably produce a further errosion in circulation, which is sure to further weaken advertising income.  A decision to increase prices at a time like this, for many businesses, is tantamount to committing suicide.  We believe that the New York Times has made the worst possible decision at the worst possible time.

Our readers will note that we have not raised the cover price here at Routing By Rumor;  reading our blog is still free!

Understandably, the bean counters at The Times are desperate.  They’re being squeezed from all directions.  But you have to wonder who made the strategic decision that may very well seal their fate.  Perhaps a price decrease, coupled with an agressive advertising campaign would have been the right course to follow.  We believe that with the increasing competition for readers that the Internet has created, along with belt tightening by consumers in the depths of this economic recession, and the drastically shrinking size (the number of pages) of newspapers over the last few years, including the Times, newspapers are increasingly becoming  irrelevant to more and more readers.  It’s not unlike a phone company that keeps increasing it’s rates, in an attempt to offset the loss of revenue from customers who are dropping their traditional phone service, and using cellphones exclusively.  Price increases will only serve to accelerate the trend.

Will the New York Times disappear completely? We fully expect to see a copy of the New York Times on the newsstand in the near future, with a headline of “THE END”.  The fact that you are reading this blog, when you could be reading The New York Times instead, isn’t helping the Gray Lady one bit.  We believe that their print editions are in mortal danger,with The Times becoming an online-only newspaper.

Better buy your Amazon Kindle now !

– Routing By Rumor

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Companies In Mirror Are Closer To Bankruptcy Than They Appear !

Objects In Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR

This article will be of interest to anyone replacing the rear view mirror in their General Motors (GM) or other vehicle, whether you are purchasing a replacement mirror from GM SPO, Gentex, Donnelly, or another manufacturer.

Installation information is included for Do-It-Yourselfers (DIY), including wiring harness connector pinout data.

Perhaps the most valuable tip we can give to a vehicle owner planning to purchase a replacement mirror is COMPARE PRICES !

The U.S. government can throw as many billions of dollars at General Motors as they wish, but they’re unlikely to change the fundamental problems at the automaker. Problems that have brought what was once a cornerstone of the American economy to the brink of extinction, dependent on a government bailout for it’s survival.

GM is not competitive for many reasons. They are hobbled by high labor costs. They lag in innovation, particularly in the area of electric and hybrid vehicles. In our opinion, they can’t compete with Japanese auto manufacturers on quality (or perceived quality) or customer loyalty. They’re certainly not competitive on pricing when compared to aftermarket parts suppliers. For most vehicle repairs, we think you’ll spend a lot less, and get a better job done at a private garage, then you would at a GM dealership. This might come as a shock, but in our opinion, Mr. Goodwrench isn’t.

As we’ve stated previously, we believe that their new vehicle warranty isn’t worth the paper its printed on. And GM seems to follow pricing policies usually associated with companies that sell hammers and toilet seats to the Pentagon.

Case in point…

Our GM vehicle was built with an auto-dimming electrochromic rear view mirror. Some rear view mirrors in late-model vehicles are marvels of modern technology, containing On-Star controls, handsfree cellphones, compasses, thermometers, back-up camera displays, garage door openers and other gadgets. But our mirror is just an auto-dimming mirror, with none of these other bells and whistles (see this NY Times article on these “bells & whistles”). On most of the auto dimming mirrors that we’ve seen in GM vehicles, after a few years of service, the magic liquid inside tends to leak out of the mirror. This either renders the dimming feature inoperative, fogs the mirror, or leaves it with an uneven or blotchy reflective surface.

For the past few years, the liquid crystal stuff (or whatever the chemical is) in our mirror has been leaking out, increasingly producing areas on the mirror’s surface that are either always clear or always dark. We finally decided to replace the mirror.

We checked with our friendly GM dealership’s parts department. They quoted us a price of $284.00 for a replacement rear view mirror, excluding the cost of installation.

Almost $300.00 for a rear view mirror ? Sounded awfully expensive to us, so we started to look at aftermarket mirrors. Virtually all American cars use a standard “wedge” type glass mount. The mirror attaches to a glass-mounted “button”, which hopefully stays attached to the windshield when you remove your old mirror from the vehicle.

Our search for a replacement mirror lead us to products manufactured by two predominant manufacturers of automotive mirrors, Donnelly (now called Magna Donnelly?) and Gentex (see company info). It seems that Donnelly sells exclusively to automotive manufacturers (OEMs), and not to the automotive aftermarket. Gentex sells to OEMs (probably the vast majority of their business), but they also sell their products to aftermarket suppliers (in our case, through a distributor named Mito Corporation).

We ended up purchasing a brand new, in the box, Gentex electrochromic rear view mirror that is virtually identical to our vehicle’s original mirror, for under $70.00, including shipping ! That’s less than a quarter of what General Motors wanted for a replacement mirror.

When you consider the fact that GM certainly pays much less for mirrors than the RoutingByRumor Corporation does, that probably equates to a markup of 400%, 500% or more.   What word best describes that sort of profit margin ?  “Criminal”  might be a bit too strong.  How about egregious.  How about unconscionable.  How about stupid ?  How many businesses that try to fleece their customers are able to stay in business ?  It certainly seems to indicate that GM doesn’t make their money selling cars.  They make their money (or at least they did) by selling parts and service;  Service that we’ve never been very impressed with in the first place.

The only caveat is that we had to replace the wiring harness connector that powers the mirror, because the Gentex mirror uses a 7-pin connector, while our original equipment Donnelly mirror used a 3-pin connector (our vehicle does not have auto-dimming external mirrors, and the Gentex mirror we installed does not have a temperature or compass display). But replacing the connector was a quick and easy procedure. The hardest part was getting the old mirror off of the windshield. Maybe it helped that we popped our Stevie Nicks album “The Other Side Of The Mirror” into the CD player while we installed our new mirror. To quote Stevie, “This is me talking to you. This is me talking to ya”.

The Gentex mirror we purchased came with very limited hookup information. We found the following pinout data on the Web, and we’re guessing that this information will apply to all Gentex mirrors that use a 7-pin connector.

JST "VH" Series Housing (8-pin version shown)

JST "VH" Series Connector Housing (8-pin version shown)

If you’re trying to figure out what type of connector Gentex (and Donnelly) use on their mirrors, our research indicates that the 7-pin Gentex harness connector (as well as the 3-pin harness connector on our original Donnelly mirror) are “VH” series connectors, from JST Manufacturing. Their U.S. website is at www.jst.com. View JST’s data sheet for the VH series connectors here. These connectors (and the necessary crimp terminals) are available from Digi-Key.

We’re not sure if the wiring color coding is standard on all vehicles, so we would be more concerned with the function associated with each pin on the connector (pin numbers are molded into the connector housing on the wire-side of the connector, but you might need a magnifying glass to read them).

WARNING: Before you begin working on your mirror’s wiring harness, we strongly suggest that you either pull the fuse(s) that protect your accessories (ACC, RAP, ACC1, ACC2, etc., depending on your vehicle), as well as the fuse that protects your backup lamps. In lieu of pulling the accessory fuse(s), remove your key from the ignition and open a door to deactivate the Retained Accessory Power (RAP) circuit, if present and utilized by the mirror. If you really want to play it safe, disconnect your vehicle’s battery, following your vehicle manufacturer’s recommended procedure (for your safety). This will prevent you from blowing a fuse, should you inadvertently short or ground a lead while working on your mirror’s wiring harness.


PIN # …. HARNESS WIRE COLOR …………. FUNCTION

. 1 …………….. WHITE …………………………. +12v (SWITCHED B+)

. 2 ……………. BLACK …………………………. CHASSIS GROUND

. 3 ……………. LIGHT GREEN ………………… FROM BACKUP LIGHT CIRCUIT

. 4 …………….. GRAY …………………………… TO AUTO DIM OUTSIDE MIRROR

. 5 …………….. PINK …………………………….. TO AUTO DIM OUTSIDE MIRROR

. 6 …………….. DARK GREEN/WHITE ……… TEMPERATURE PROBE

. 7 …………….. BLACK/WHITE ……………….. TEMPERATURE PROBE

Notes:

At a minimum, you must connect pins 1 & 2 (+12V & ground) for your auto dimming Gentex mirror to operate.

Not all Gentex mirrors or all vehicles will utilize all pins, but we believe pins 1 – 5 should be functional on all Gentex mirrors. If your experience differs, please let us know by posting a comment to this article.

Pin 3 is used to clear the mirror when the vehicle is placed in reverse. (DO NOT connect pin 3 to ground, since this will blow a fuse (or possibly damage your mirror) when you put the vehicle into reverse gear.)

Pins 4 & 5 are used to control outside mirrors on vehicles equipped with auto-dimming outside mirrors.

Pins 6 & 7 are used on mirrors that incorporate a temperature display. If a temperature probe is connected, either lead from the temperature probe can be connected to either pin.

Of course, your best source of information is your vehicle manufacturer, or the manufacturer of your new mirror. The above information is believed to be correct, but we take no responsibility for its accuracy.

A Volt-Ohm meter is an indispensable tool for any installer, and we recommend that you use one whenever working on your vehicle’s electrical system.


In our opinion, the auto-dimming feature of the Gentex mirror performs as well as, or better than, our original equipment Donnelly rear view mirror, even taking into account how it operated when our vehicle was brand new. We saved more than $200.00 by not buying the mirror from GM, and probably much more than that, if the dealership would have installed the new mirror for us. The Gentex mirror we purchased appears to be manufactured in the U.S.A. (see this article about their Zeeland, Michigan plant & headquarters buildings), and came with a three-year warranty. We said the Gentex mirror “appears” to be made in the USA, because the only indication we were able to find was the letters “U.S.A.” on the carton label in 2-point type. Not “Made In U.S.A.” or “Assembled In U.S.A.”. Just “U.S.A.”. We’re left to guess that Gentex may be embarrased to admit where the mirror is manufactured. If their products are indeed made in the USA, why don’t they state that fact prominently on the carton, with “MADE IN U.S.A.” clearly visible, like they are proud of it !

We always welcome the opportunity to buy products made in America. We think that buying American made goods, and supporting American workers, is the best way to repair the failing U.S. economy. The U.S. Government’s economic stimulus plans certainly won’t do that.

Let’s hope that if we should ever have to file a warranty claim with Gentex or Mito (their aftermarket distributor), that they honor their warranty better than General Motors has, on the numerous occasions that we’ve had problems with GM products.

As an aside, here’s an article we stumbled upon about another Gentex product, designed to solve one of nighttime driving’s most annoying and dangerous problems.

So the question we are left to ponder is this… Why does General Motors think it can gouge consumers for replacement parts ? If you said “because they’re General Motors”, think again. In our case, they couldn’t. And when you consider the fact that they are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy, begging for federal bailout money, it’s clear to us that their policies, including their pricing policies, are a failure. All of the GM dealerships that have gone belly-up, and those who continue to struggle to survive, in an American new car market that has all but evaporated, are testament to their failed business model. And of course, the decrepit U.S. economy doesn’t help either.

Ya know, our mention of Stevie Nicks’ album “The Other Side Of The Mirror” is quite appropos, because when our GM dealer gave us their price for a new mirror, we suddenly recalled the advice that Alice received from the Mad Hatter… “Better run for your life”.

– Routing By Rumor Continue reading

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Amazon Web Services… Not Quite “Five Nines” Uptime !

…Not five nines,

…or four nines,

…not even three nines (99.9% uptime) !

If you tried to visit some of the Web’s most popular sites for a good part of the day yesterday, July 20, 2008, you were likely disappointed. Sites like WordPress (where this blog is hosted), Twitter, SmugMug and others, were impacted for hours yesterday because they depend on Amazon’s S3 (Simple Storage Service), which went down. Apparently, even some Apple iPhone applications were impacted by the S3 outage. It was the second time in less than six months (the previous outage occured on February 15) that AWS (Amazon Web Services) has experienced a major failure.

Based on what we’ve learned so far about S3, our best guess is that yesterday’s outage was caused by a software bug, a human error of some sort, or as was the case in their February outage, some set of conditions that occured within their system that overwhelmed their ability to handle traffic (interestingly, the latest problem occured early on a Sunday morning… not exactly a time when you would expect a peak load on their system). We view a malicious attack on the service a less likely cause, and hardware or connectivity problems a very unlikely cause. S3 is a decentralized system designed to survive the loss of some of it’s components and still operate normally. In many widespread telecom or network failures suffered by providers and carriers in the past few years, the cause has often been determined to be software related or human error (like a construction crew cutting a fiber optic cable they didn’t know was buried there).

As an aside, here’s some articles about human error that has caused some major outages…

Optus cable culprit found

The Backhoe, The Internet’s Natural Enemy

Cut in Fiber Cable Disrupts Internet Traffic Nationwide

The Backhoe: A Real Cyberthreat

The S3 outages bring to mind another concern among people responsible for the operation of the Internet itself. One of the services that the Internet is built on is DNS (the Domain Name System). The DNS system is what allows your computer to find a website such as this one, from among the millions of computers and websites on the Internet. There is concern among some that even though DNS functionality is spread across many servers on the Internet, in a hierarchical system, that a widespread DNS failure could occur. This would cripple almost all Internet traffic. Worst of all, if there was a major DNS failure, you might not be able to get to this blog ! Heaven forbid.

S3 is a “cloud” storage service. Internet-based computing resources are collectively referred to as cloud computing (see this Businessweek article on cloud computing). In cloud computing, resources that were traditionally located, say, in a company’s data center (disk storage, application software, servers, etc.) are offered by service providers via the Internet. Cloud computing is a relatively new paradigm, and problems similar to what Amazon has experienced are sure to make CIOs and IT managers hesitant to rely on the cloud when they can provide computing resources locally and have greater control over them.

Almost by definition, services offered in the cloud must offer high availability. The uptime standard that is generally used in the telecommunications and computing industries for critical systems is “five nines“, or 99.999% availability. That translates (approximately) to less than five minutes downtime a year, and generally does not include scheduled service outages. In the United States, the public telephone network operated by the Bell System was consistently able to achieve five nines reliability (so Ma Bell wasn’t that bad to us after all, may she rest in peace). Clearly, Amazon’s S3 service has failed this benchmark. It doesn’t even appear that AWS has achieved two nines availability (less than about seven hours downtime per month) this month. That’s utterly dismal performance that is unacceptable for critical systems, and it does not bode well for Amazon’s future in the cloud, or for cloud computing in general.

Interestingly, Amazon’s S3 SLA (Service Level Agreement) states that users are not entitled to a service credit unless their uptime drops below three nines (99.9%) in any month, and even if they fail to achieve two nines (99% uptime) in a month, they will only give users a 25% credit. They must not have a lot of confidence in their ability to provide four nines availability (less than one hour a year of downtime), which Amazon states is one of the design requirements that S3 was built to provide. And if they don’t meet their service levels, will they give their customers a refund? No. It appears all they will offer is a credit to be applied to future service. Not good.

But don’t expect disgruntled S3 customers who have been impacted by Amazon’s Simple Storage System outages to issue press releases critical of Amazon. Paragraph 4.2.4 of their customer agreement specifically prohibits that unless you get their permission first. Incredible.

With an SLA like Amazon’s, and especially because of their outages in the past few months, we might be inclined to use a service such as S3 only to store backup files. We don’t feel that the service is reliable enough to be used to support a live website or other mission critical systems. And even if Amazon had a 100% uptime record, there’s always this to worry about when deciding if you want to depend on services in the cloud (and to think that you were worried about the Y2K problem!).

Perhaps cloud computing is an idea whose time has not yet come.

– Routing By Rumor

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Need More Proof That The U.S. Economy Is In Trouble? How About Talk Of General Motors Seeking Bankruptcy Protection!

Things are tough in Detroit. For the first time since 1922, General Motors will not pay it’s shareholders a dividend. Even more omnious is speculation that GM may have to seek bankruptcy protection (see NY Times / Associated Press article). There are even calls for dropping GM from the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

While much of what ails GM is related to the sad state of the U.S. economy, not all automobile manufacturers are suffering the way GM currently is. There are many reasons for this, including GM’s reliance on large, gas-guzzling vehicles which have become white elephants, thanks to fuel that is selling between $4 and $5 a gallon.

For us however, GM lost it’s appeal long ago. Not because of the quality of their products, which by and large we’ve been quite satisfied with, but rather because of what we believe is their total lack of respect for their customers. As we have written previously, we are a strong believer in buying products made in the USA, and indeed we’ve owned only US-assembled GM vehicles for the past thirty years.

We’ve never had a good experience with repairs covered under GM’s new vehicle warranties. We have always experienced dealer service that was inept, shoddy, defective, or incomplete, and which in many cases took days or weeks longer than it should have, while our vehicle languished in some dealer’s lot. Almost all warranty repairs we’ve ever taken our vehicles to GM dealerships for have required one or more return visits to the dealer, either because repairs were done incorrectly or not at all. We believe that GM dealerships prefer to not do warranty repairs, and will try to avoid doing them whenever possible. There never seemed to be any incentive to do things correctly. The experiences we’ve had over the years at GM dealerships convinced us to never ever allow them to do non-warranty repairs on our vehicles where we would be paying for the work out-of-pocket.

We’ve dealt with dealership personnel from salespeople to service managers to owners, who have been rude, indifferent and downright obnoxious. In our opinion, it’s not so much a lack of caring or pervasive incompetence (although there’s plenty of that), as it is a culture of contempt for the customer. We feel that GM and it’s dealerships view customers as little more than an annoyance. As if they were saying “we don’t value you as a customer, and we couldn’t care less about your future business”. GM’s “customer care” has proven to be a worthless farce every time we’ve ever turned to them in an attempt to resolve problems with our vehicles. We decided years ago that our current GM vehicle will be our last one. It’s a bit ironic then, that GM may not be around much longer to sell us, or anyone else, their next vehicle. We think that in large measure, they can blame their current plight on the way they’ve treated their customers. Forget about Harry Gordon Selfridge’s old adage “the customer is always right”. At GM, it has always seemed to us to be more like “the customer is never right”.

This fellow doesn’t think The General has much better regard for it’s current workers or retirees.

We won’t shed a single tear if GM goes belly up tomorrow.

Where was I ? …Oh yeah, the dismal state of the U.S. economy. See what happens when someone mentions GM to me ?

So, GM is hurting big time, banking institutions are in trouble, home foreclosures are at record levels, soup kitchens and food pantries are reporting big increases in families seeking assistance (while at the same time finding it harder to get food donations), and the cost of living is skyrocketing, despite what government inflation figures claim.

IndyMac Bank customers in Burbank, California

Associated Press photo / Kevork Djansezian

The FDIC has compiled a list of 90 banks it says are in danger of failing, victims of the U.S. mortgage crisis.

Consumers are seeing utility bills increase 20, 30, even 50 percent. In New York City, the local electric utility, Consolidated Edison, recently hiked electric rates between 22% and 25%. Because of steep increases in fuel prices, there’s sure to be more double-digit increases in store. In New Jersey, Verizon, a regional U.S. phone company, has gotten permission to raise basic telephone charges 50% over the next three years, and cut the number of free directory assistance calls a subscriber gets in half, while tripling the price. This will no doubt accelerate the trend of consumers dropping traditional phone lines and making their cellphone their only phone. This is not only because of the cost, but also because traditional phone companies like Verizon still don’t know how to be competitive in today’s telecom market where Cable TV, Internet and cellular telecom providers offer highly competitive or all-you-can-eat calling plans that include a smorgasbord of features at no extra charge, and companies like Google are providing FREE directory assistance services. Isn’t Verizon still charging extra every month if you have a Touch-Tone phone? They are clueless.

Healthcare costs are increasing so rapidly that many employers can’t afford to continue providing coverage for their employees, and an increasing number of individuals and families have no health insurance.

Trips to the supermarket induce shock, while a trip to the gas station produces gas pains.

We’re starting to see panicked Americans creating a run on the bank, such as these customers of IndyMac Bank this week.

And, of course, we are still at war.

America is the land of plenty, where we are enjoying a bumper crop of bad news on the economic, political and employment fronts. There seems to be very little good news these days.

– Routing By Rumor

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Hey Verizon… When Will FiOS Be Available In My Neighborhood?

Verizon Communications is sure taking it’s sweet time rolling out their “FiOS” fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) fiber optic service.

Chances are that you just found this page on my blog by doing a search on “When is Verizon FIOS going to be available in my area?”, or “How long do I have to wait for FiOS?” or “When can I get Verizon FiOS?” or “I’m still waiting for Verizon FiOS” or “Can I get Verizon Fiber Optic Internet Service At My Address?” or something similar.

FiOS is still not available where I live. With all the buzz about Internet2 and Web 2.0, I sure wish they would get moving, so I don’t miss out on all the fun. Even the squirrels around here are waiting for FiOS (see why).

Speaking of squirrels and Verizon, we think a good advertising slogan for the telco giant might be “Once a Verizon Customer, Always a Verizon Customer” (read why). It reminds us of the lyrics from Hotel California by the Eagles… “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave”. Sort of like marriage vows. Till death do us part. Or like an Alfred Hitchcock movie, where some tormented soul rips their phone off the wall, throws it out the window, and it still keeps ringing. Maybe it’s why Verizon Wireless adopted the slogan “We never stop working for you”.

FiOS is still not available to the majority of Verizon customers. Fiber-optic service can provide very high-speed, broadband Internet connectivity, traditional voice phone service and television programming, all over the same cable.

While Verizon won’t be offering anything close to the maximum possible speeds over their FiOS network (especially to residential customers), I’ve wondered what the theoretical maximum speed might be. Fiber-optic Wide Area Networks (WANs) are currently capable of speeds measured in Gigabits per second (1 Gigabit = 1 Billion bits). I believe the fastest service Verizon currently offers to residential FiOS customers is a paltry asymmetrical rate of 30 Megabits per second downstream, and 5 Megabits per second upstream (1 Megabit = 1 Million bits). Of course, how much can you actually eat? How much is too much?

The fastest optical circuits currently deployed commercially are SONET OC-768 circuits that can carry almost 40 Gigabits/sec. There is a SONET OC-3072 standard, not currently implemented, which would provide almost 160 Gigabits/sec of bandwidth !!! At those speeds, I think the telephone poles may ignite.

For readers unfamiliar with Verizon, it is a huge telecommunications company in the United States that provides land-line and wireless phone, Internet and “cable” television service. The silly name Verizon rhymes with “horizon”, rather than being pronounced something like “Very-Zone”. I’ve always thought it was a real big mistake for such a large organization (made up of the former “Baby Bells” or RBOCs (Regional Bell Operating Companies) and other regional phone companies, that have been around as long as they have, to choose a nonsense name that many people did not even know how to pronounce properly. Alexander Graham Bell must be spinning in his grave. Verizon Communications includes the former Bell Atlantic companies (New Jersey Bell, Bell Telephone of Pennsylvania, Diamond State Telephone and the four Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Companies (C&P (District of Columbia), C&P Maryland, C&P Virginia, C&P West Virginia), as well as the former NYNEX (New York & New England Telephone), GTE and MCI companies. How’s that for corporate mergers! Verizon operates in much of the United States and has more than a quarter-million employees. You’d think a company with that much money could come up with a more innovative corporate logo than this…

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Reminds me of an old riddle… What’s black and white and red all over? (No, it’s not a sunburned penguin.) As bad as Verizon’s logo is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the logo of the former Lucent Technologies, known widely in IT and telecom circles as “The Flaming *******” (Sorry, this is a family blog. You’ll have to use your imagination). I wonder if the same person designed both of these logos. Maybe Alcatel bought Lucent just so they could get rid of this horrific logo…

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But I digress.

If you are still served by Verizon’s old copper “POTS” phone lines (they’re so 20th century), and you’re trying to find out when FiOS service will be available in your area, good luck. It’s easier to get the private phone number of the President of the United States, than it is to pry that information out of Verizon. Then again, perhaps even Verizon doesn’t know the answer.

So, I had an idea… Are you a Verizon customer that already has FiOS service available in your neighborhood (regardless of whether you personally subscribe to it) , or have you learned that it’s coming by a particular date? If so, post your information as a comment here, and I’ll organize the comments into a searchable file.

Please provide the following information; Your state, your city or town, your area code + the first three digits of your phone number, and the date FiOS became available or will be available, plus any pertinent comments, such as “My entire town now has FiOS service”, or “Only the South end of town currently has FiOS”, or “It’s only currently available in the downtown area”.

If enough people submit info, I might even create a website with the information.

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You Have The Right To Remain Silent

…But it might not do you any good.

Forget about rounding up the usual suspects. Now, every one of us are suspects.

This story is about what you get when you cross George Orwell’s 1948 novel, “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1984), with Steven Spielberg’s 2002 movie, “Minority Report“. This, however, is not about science fiction. What I’m going to discuss is happening today, in the United States. It’s scarier than any movie, and it affects every American.

In “Nineteen Eighty-Four“, Big Brother was watching you. It was a totalitarian society, with the “Thought Police” and the “Ministry of Truth”. There was the inescapable network of telescreens. Resistance was futile. “Thoughtcrime” was punishable by death.

In “Minority Report“, which was a look at law enforcement in the year 2054, a computer decided who the suspects were. Since it was incapable of making mistakes, it was a foregone conclusion that the suspects would be found guilty. The Police “Pre-Crime Division” would not arrest you after you committed a crime. They would arrest you before you committed a crime. Not willing to go quietly? No problem. They’ll just “halo” you. If you have any doubt, just ask John Anderton (aka Tom Cruise).

Fast forward (or rewind) to the year 2008. I just read a newspaper article (here’s another article) about a relatively new tool that police departments around the United States are using (also see article from Wired Magazine). It is called the”Mobile Plate Hunter 900“. The MPH-900 can be used in a fixed location, or mounted in a police vehicle. The system records the license plates of vehicles that pass, or are passed by the police vehicle containing it’s set of cameras. The system identifies the vehicle tag, and does a lookup of the vehicle tags against data in FBI, state and local databases. It will alert the police to something as innocuous as an expired vehicle registration, to more serious things like stolen vehicles and vehicles associated with wanted persons.

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The “Mobile Plate Hunter 900”

In my opinion, what we have here, plain and simple, is a high-tech fishing expedition. Not that this tactic is anything new, though. I suspect that ever since police departments started installing data terminals in police cars in the last few years, many police officers with nothing better to do have “run” tags through the system with no cause for suspicion, but rather just to see if they could catch some fish. The “Mobile Plate Hunter 900” simply automates the process, allowing as many as ten thousand tags to be checked during an officer’s shift. Of course, if you’re not a criminal, you have nothing to fear. Or do you?

Perhaps the most troubling part of what I’ve read (see newspaper article), is that the police are building historical databases from the data gathered by this system. They are mining that data to identify suspects to crimes that might have not even been committed at the time the system recorded the vehicle tag! Talk about Pre-Crime!

According to Remington ELSAG, the manufacturer of the MPH-900…

This system reads plates from a stationary location or at highway speeds and cross references them against an onboard hotlist. The system alarms within a second of identifying a plate on the hotlist and can process hundreds of plates per minute. An onboard image and GPS coordinates of every plate scanned are stored and can be referenced later.

Here’s an excerpt from the newspaper article I referenced earlier…

The plate hunter had success in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where a State Police car using the cameras in January of last year identified a tag linked to a vehicle owned by a man who committed a quadruple homicide.

Once Mark Serrano emerged as a suspect, authorities were able to search the system and determined his vehicle was near the scene on the morning of the murders, said Sgt. Ira Promisel of the New York State Police. A jury convicted Serrano of first-degree murder last year, based in part on information the cameras gathered.

If that isn’t straight from the Pre-Crime Division in Minority Report, my name isn’t RoutingByRumor. What does the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have to say about something like this? I don’t know. But here’s what the New York Civil Liberties Union said…

…such efficiency comes at the expense of every motorist’s civil right to avoid police surveillance unless a law has been violated, officials with the New York Civil Liberties Union argue.

“Police really should be in the business of investigating crimes, not tracking law-abiding citizens,” said Barrie Gewanter, executive director of the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

“When we are driving and we are always having our licenses plates examined, then everybody on the road is being treated as a suspect,” she said.

In 2008, we may not have George Orwell’s telescreens everywhere, but we do have video iPods, camera phones, and surveillance cameras everywhere. I find it amazing how many crimes are recorded on video these days, whether by law enforcement, businesses or private citizens. The police may not have the Halo yet, but they do have the Taser. Are you scared yet?

Don’t Tase Me, Bro

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I think the closest thing the police have to Minority Report’s “Halo” is the Taser. The police use of the Taser received wide coverage in September 2007, after Andrew Meyer, a 21 year old University of Florida student uttered the phrase heard around the world, “Don’t Tase Me, Bro”, and was promptly tasered by police (see this youtube video). His crime? Attempting to ask a question at a UF town hall meeting featuring (U.S.) Senator John Kerry (see Kerry’s bio), and as some have accused him, being obnoxious. Unfortunately, I searched the Florida criminal statutes hoping to find the specific statute that covers obnoxious college students, but I couldn’t find one. I find it quite disturbing then, that the University of Florida Police were able to use potentially lethal force against Mr. Meyer, since his crime does not appear to warrant the death penalty.

I have watched a couple of videos of the UF tasing event, and read some of the police reports on the Meyer incident that were posted to the Web. Mr. Meyer is not some thug or terrorist. He graduated from Cypress Bay High School in Weston, Florida, where he was a member of the National Honor Society. He is (or was) a journalism major, and on the staff of the UF student newspaper. But I also think he was a self-appointed agent provocateur, who appears to have been out of order when he commandeered a microphone to ask Senator Kerry a couple of loaded questions, after the Q&A session was closed. Perhaps Mr. Meyer was seeking his 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps he just wanted to embarrass Senator Kerry. Perhaps he has some mental health issues. I don’t really know what his motivation was.

What I am quite certain of is that there was absolutely no reason for the Goon Squad to treat Mr. Meyer to an electroshock therapy session, or the audience to a horror show. The police report states that Mr. Meyer was “arrested and transported to AC/DC”, which it later indicates is the “Alachua County Detention Center”. Then again, perhaps “AC/DC” refers to the electrical waveform of the electroshock torture they administered.

If you watch this video of the arrest from The Gainesville Sun, it is clear that there were a half-dozen goons piled on top of Mr. Meyer. Yes, he was yelling. Yes, he probably should have just gone limp and let the goons drag him away. But he clearly was not going anywhere, and was not a threat to the members of the audience or the police officers.

My opinion is that he was tasered to punish him, and possibly just so the goons could get their jollies and assert their authority. Police do not have the latitude to determine guilt or decide on a punishment. It was an unnecessary use of force and an abuse of police power. But I think it was also exactly what Mr. Meyer wanted. His intention was to create a scene. The more controversial, the better. The messier, the better. The more publicity it generated, the better. He has certainly gotten his 15 minutes, and then some. He has appeared on NBC’s Today show.

RoutingByRumor awards Andrew William Meyer it’s 2007 “Most Memorable Quote Of The Year” award, for his contribution of “Don’t Tase Me, Bro!” to the American lexicon, and for unwittingly bringing the Taser issue to the forefront. The incident has caused the University of Florida to reconsider whether to arm it’s police department with Tasers. Sometimes, good things result from bad situations.

In some instances, the Taser has become a weapon of torture, used to inflict pain, punish, and in some cases, unintentially kill suspects. More than 300 individuals have died as a result of being tasered. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has said that Taser use “constituted a form of torture” (see this article). Amnesty International USA has called for a moratorium on the use of Tasers by police, saying “The penalty for resisting arrest should not be death” (see this article). Read Amnesty’s Taser abuse article here.

Because it is viewed as a less-lethal weapon, police are much more likely to use it, as opposed to a firearm. But because of it’s potential for abuse, including being used to torture, and the potential to cause death, the Taser is much more dangerous than Minority Report’s “Halo”. Police feel free to use the Taser in situations where they would never consider shooting an individual. Watch this youtube video (viewer discretion advised) of a Utah Highway Patrol officer tasering 28 year-old Jared Massey, who was suspected of nothing more than speeding. His most serious crime, it seems, was asking the officer how fast he was speeding.

The Utah Office of Tourism might want to use Jared Massey as it’s spokesman.  Under a heading of “Come See Utah, Close Up”, they can show Jared face down on the asphalt, eating gravel and writhing in pain, as Utah Highway Patrol’s Trooper John Gardner repeatedly sends 50,000 volts through his body, while Mr. Massey’s wife screams hysterically in the background.  Oh yeah… that horror show should draw tourists to the great state of Utah.

Why am I digressing the discussion of the “Mobile Plate Hunter 900” into a discussion about misuse of the Taser? I don’t think it’s too far fetched to assume that sometime in the not-too-distant future, if it hasn’t happened already, something similar to the following scenario might play out…

A police officer on patrol is alerted by his “Mobile Plate Hunter 900” to the presence of a stolen vehicle. The officer approaches the vehicle, but because of a language barrier, the occupants do not understand the officer’s instructions. A confrontation ensues that causes the officer to use his Taser on one of the suspects, who goes into cardiac arrest and dies.

It turns out that the vehicle was not stolen. The license plate number of a stolen vehicle had been entered into a police computer incorrectly. The dead suspect had done nothing wrong. He was, as they say, just “in the wrong place at the wrong time”. If police were not going on high-tech fishing expeditions, the fellow would still be alive.

Of course, I’m ignoring all the cases where criminals are caught, and stolen vehicles are recovered, thanks to tools like the “Mobile Plate Hunter 900”. The issue I am raising is whether Americans are well served by the use of such technology, or whether it infringes on our constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties.

You have reason to be concerned if your local police use either Tasers, or the “Mobile Plate Hunter 900”. If they close your municipal swimming pool so that Agatha, Arthur and Daschle can take a dip, you’re really in trouble. You’ll need to talk to Dr. Iris Hineman (Lois Smith).

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Agatha (Samantha Morton), one of the three “precogs” in Minority Report

…To be continued

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