Black Friday

Just in time for this holiday season comes the latest tale of retail negotiation success.

I’ve been lusting after a new TV for awhile.  Since our move, my old big-screen just hasn’t been right.  Could be the five flights of stairs it traveled in the move.  Could be the two years of storage about a year into its life.  Could be the massive amount of evening TV I watch.  Whatever.  In any event, the TV repair folks told me that the cost to repair substantially outweighs the value.  Lucky (sorta’) for me, the deterioration causes visible problems that are driving Tina batty.  Hence my ability to actually look for a new TV.

The actual TV I’m interested in is irrelevant, so rather than bore you with the specifics, let’s just call it X.  X has been on sale recently, down about 45% from it’s suggested retail price.  I’ve been watching it on Amazon and at Best Buy and Amazon has beat BB by about $200.  So I was still debating the merits of X with Tina when I looked online this morning and saw it for another $150 off – essentially 50% from its MSRP.  Woo hoo!  Time to buy!

But I had to get final approval so I couldn’t click through quite yet.

A few minutes later and I was ready to go.  I clicked ‘Add to Cart’ and just before I clicked Buy, I noticed that we were back to the pre-Black Friday price.  Woah.

So rather than Buy, I called Amazon’s customer service line.  Invariably, I found “Peggy” (a person of obvious foreign persuasion, pretending to be in the US “for my comfort”).  It only took her 10 minutes to verify my account because she couldn’t spell, couldn’t validate my physical address and for whatever reason, would ask me the same question over and over.  But hey, once we got through that, I was confident that I would be able to explain my complicated issue to her and get resolution.

As Wayne Campbell might say “shah – and monkey’s might fly outta’ my butt!”  But hey, I’m nothing if not patient.  So I tried.

Twenty-five minutes later, we were no closer to resolution and nearly half that time had been spent with me on hold while Peggy tried to work things out on her end.  Her eventual response?  That I needed to talk with the folks in the “large items” area.  But, of course, they were closed (it was only 8am ET, so I was agreeable).  Peggy offered to take my phone number and have them call me back in an hour.

Perfect.  No problem.

Five hours later (after we were back in the car, having spent the day at the Zoo), I still hadn’t received a call, so I called back.  [Now, what I didn’t tell you was that I periodically called and after being on hold for 20-30 minutes at a time, decided to simply try later.]  This time, I almost immediately got through.  This support person was a native English speaker so we quickly got to the large item desk.

They explained that Amazon doesn’t guaranty prices until you actually Buy.  They also checked and told me that what I saw earlier in the day was “Sold by Amazon” and the one that was now in my cart was “Sold by” someone else, so Amazon had no power to make any changes.  If I wanted X, I was going to have to pay the higher price.  Grrrrr.  No deal (at least not yet).

I finished driving home and checked my e-mail.  Waiting for me was a “how’d we do” e-mail from Amazon.  Ahhh… revenge.  Only, I didn’t want revenge, I simply wanted to say how things were for me.  And, in my opinion, it wasn’t great.  So I gave the experience a bad grade.  Amazon’s automated process then asked me if I would be willing to let them take another chance to make it right – enter my phone number and let them call me.  So I did.

A few seconds later, I get a call from Mike at Amazon.  I explain the situation and he reiterates the earlier explanation of why they really can’t do anything.  So while he’s considering what he might be able to do, Cameron is yammering in the background.  This gives Mike the ability to be friendly… and for me to connect with Mike on a personal level.  He’s a dad, a grandfather and has been at Amazon for awhile.  He was able to see that I’ve been an Amazon customer for more than a decade (they keep the entire history).  We commiserated over the advances in technology and retail.

In between, however, I hear an opportunity – that if there’s a TV that *Amazon* sells, Amazon can budge on price.  I quickly locate the model of X that Amazon does sell – one model more advanced (this one has 3D, even though I don’t need/want it), let’s call it X+.  Unfortunately, it’s also a little more expensive.  I give Mike the updated model number and he pulls it up on his end.  I ask him if he can “work with me”.

While he’s checking (as he realizes I’ve asked for a pretty significant discount), we keep chatting.  A few minutes elapses.  He tells me that no one has responded to his inquiry, so he’s going to go ahead and do it.  A few seconds later, I get X+ for the earlier advertised price of X.  Schweet.

Effective savings:  >$300 off retail.  >$1000 off MSRP.
Cost:  3 phone calls and some schmoozing.
Totally worth it.

Copyright Oddities

Copyright is a weird animal.  It’s one of the few constitutionally-mandated personal rights and it serves as the basis for the vast majority of the things people do online and in their daily lives (everything from this blog to your tweets and FB status postings to anything you write as a result of your job…. to photos you take while on vacation).  Yet it’s so fundamentally misunderstood that it’s almost a joke.

Which is interesting given that the penalties for violating copyright are pretty severe.  Forgetting the civil penalties (those that can be levied against you by the actual person you harmed), the criminal penalties can go up to $250,000/copy + 5 years in Club Fed.

One of the nuances of copyright is that in order to have a copyright in something, you have to have created the work covered by copyright (and it has to be a work that can be granted a copyright) … or you have to have acquired the copyright rights from the person who created the work.

Which makes the situation around the photographer who had his camera lifted by a monkey … and who then proceeded to snap a wonderful self-portrait …. so damn interesting, especially to those of us interested in copyrights.

In fact, as soon as I saw this image, I went to make it my Facebook profile photo.  Which, of course, I shouldn’t do – I don’t own the image.  And it took Facebook reminding me of this fact for me to actually stop from doing it.  But the question is:  who holds the copyright to the image?

The ownership of the photograph itself is clear: it’s the photographer (and perhaps the wire news service that paid the photographer for the photo).  But copyright doesn’t automatically transfer with the ownership of the tangible item – again, copyright is a weird creature and unless you’re willing to dive down the moral rights rabbit hole with me tonight, just accept what I tell you as fact and look it up later.

Copyright, however, requires an “author” … and per US law (17 USC), an author can only be a “natural person” or a “juridicial person” (a corporation, etc).  A monkey (or other animal) doesn’t fit into either category and is thus unable to hold copyright.  The result is that there now exists a legal quandary.  Who (if anyone) holds copyright?

The law is pretty clear at the moment (and, in fact, is being used as yet another example of how copyright law is outdated and needs to be revised for the 21st century – but really, do picture-taking monkeys only exist in the 21st century?).  However, the news agency seems to assert that copying is at least uncool if not illegal.  Which is going to prompt someone to eventually sue.

This is one to watch, folks.  The outcome could get interesting.

More on Apple and customer service

About 2 years ago, I wrote a story about getting my PowerBook G4 fixed as a result of a hinge problem. At the time, I was indignant that Apple had a known defect in their product and wouldn’t repair it for me. I spent some time in the AppleStore in Durham, NC (this was before the one in Raleigh opened) trying to see if they would assist under warranty… and they didn’t. So my post was a result of my frustration at trying to get help for something I thought Apple should’ve taken care of, yet didn’t.

However, I didn’t lose my cool at the AppleStore, on the phone with Apple or anywhere else. If anything, I was mostly upset with myself and sad that I was going to have to pay a few hundred dollars for something I knew I was going to replace relatively soon.

Today I saw a post on Gizmodo about another guy who “Lost his S#?!” at the AppleStore in DC. It linked to a comic he wrote about the experience. (The comic is safe, but the comments afterwards are a little NSFW, so view this at home and away from young eyes).

Essentially, the guy had a very similar machine that I used to have… and he wanted to install a wireless card in it after purchase. He was upset that the screws on the machine weren’t “standard” (they’re TORX, which are, as you’ll see from reading the comments, standard) and that he says he had trouble finding them at various stores (which people in the comments refute). He was upset that Apple wouldn’t give him a screwdriver in the AppleStore to fix his own machine (for the same reasons that your auto mechanic won’t let you use their tools to fix your car).

He ultimately lost his cool at the AppleStore and wrote the comic as a way to vent.

Now, per my other missives above, I do understand venting. I also understand being frustrated by a situation that I believe is somehow unfair.

But I do NOT take it out on others (Tina may disagree, since she hears me at home). So let me clarify… I don’t take it out on the customer service person who really doesn’t have much control over the situation.

[Update – about 3 seconds after hitting Publish]: OK… so I realize that by posting this little story, I’m probably perpetuating something that should just die. And, as Tina reminds me (man, I really love this girl) arguing with everyone I ever disagreed with isn’t productive. Which, in turn, reminded me of one of my favorite comic artists of all time. So I’m converting this post from a semi-rant to a positive suggestion for you all to read on a regular basis. Here’s one of Randall’s drawings, completely on point.

Knight Rider GPS

If you were born in the 70s, grew up in the 80s and were male… you LOVED Knight Rider. The Hoff wasn’t a dweeb yet (we had no idea he wanted to sing). KITT (the car) was awesome – and so was Bonnie. But I digress.

Mio just released their Knight Rider GPS – which comes STANDARD with William Daniels as the voice of this turn-by-turn speaking device.

Sweet! Hey Tina!!! I want one. My birthday is coming in a few months! 🙂

April’s Fools

I monitor/read about 100 blogs. Many are either technology or law-related – and these days, entire blogs consist of posting links to other posts on other interesting blogs. Of course, RSS has made this almost too easy – firing up one application that systematically checks them all for new posts. And, as one would expect, there are several posts that I see on a regular basis that “make” the rounds of a particular type of blog (for example, the Apple iPhone announcements are always seen on a dozen or more blogs, after each individual whisper from Cupertino).

I figured that most, if not all, would include some form of April Fool’s joke. Us geeks tend to like creative humor. A silly comment, a made up something-or-other.

What I didn’t guess is that several of them would report Google’s AF joke as a post on their own site. At least 6 have now commented on TiSP. Why?

Another 2 have commented on Crunchgear. Again, why? Do you think that we only read your blog to the exclusion of all of the others? Were RSS not available, I suppose that might happen. But really.

To Google and Crunchgear, good show. To the others – well, um, ah….

Volvo’s latest ads

So I’m sitting here watching the Duke/Clemson game with Tina. And in the span of two commercial breaks, there are three ads for the new Volvo S80. To summarize the three:

1. Driver of the S80 is rapidly approaching a car in its lane, apparently too fast. The collision detection system goes off, the driver of the S80 swerves around the other car (which appears to have been going the speed limit. The advertising voice says something about how nice it is to have a car that cares about you.

2. Driver of the S80 is rapidly approaching a car in its lane. S80 driver looks away from the road. The collision detection system goes off, the driver of the S80 looks back and sees the rear bumper coming up quickly, so they press on the brake. The advertising voice says something to the effect that “thank god that the S80 has this system to pay attention when you don’t”.

3. Owner of the S80 is walking towards their car, which is sitting quietly in a dark empty parking lot. The keyfob has a heartbeat sensor which lets the owner know that someone’s in the car so that the owner can know an intruder is in the vehicle.

OK… two quick questions. If this car is so friggin’ great, why didn’t the alarm system go off? And why should the car look out for inattentive drivers? Where’s MY warning that someone’s driving an S80?



I think all of the people who have been saying that they predicted the iPhone are pretty funny. It’s one of those things that, if you’re a geek like me, can kinda’ foresee simply by watching the available technology and wondering aloud “gee, I really think it would be cool for me to have my phone and mp3 player in one converged device”. In fact, it’s exactly what happened a few years ago right before the Treo and Blackberry devices came out – “It would be so cool to have my calendar and phone on one converged device.” Bingo.

So I went looking for anything that *I* had predicted on my blog. On 1/22/05, I predicted that someone was going to make an iPod-based media player for TiVo’d shows. I was right. Happened about six months later with the video iPod.


(there are times I really wish I knew how to program so I could self-fulfill some of my ideas)

Anyways… if there’s anyone reading this who has a lot of money to burn and wants to make a guy REALLY happy in the middle of the year, I would love an iPhone.

Tired of Bad Service

In the last 48 hours, I’ve had two more instances of really bad customer service. I don’t know what’s going on, but service people must be trained to treat their customers like idiots, or push back just to make the bulk of them go away. I’m not going to tolerate either.

[A quick note: I was a Network Admin in a former life and I’m still very comfortable with technology and poking around to try to make things work.]

First was Vonage. I’ve had the VoIP service now for almost two years. Generally speaking, I’ve enjoyed it and it’s worked pretty flawlessly. But lately, I’ve had problems with dropped calls and “missing” dialtone. I’ve rebooted the Vonage “phone adapter”, reconfigured my network, even tried new phones. I’m also not using any interior home phone wiring (which can mess things up if not done correctly). Everything on the network is fairly new, too. At this point, I decided it was time to contact Vonage for assistance.

Their customer service site doesn’t include a phone number. You have to fill out a website form and click submit to wait for someone to respond. It’s pretty thorough, asking all sorts of questions about configurations, setup, model number, etc. So I was hopeful of a good response.

This wasn’t was I was hoping for:

Subject: [ #9236055] Other

Dear Jeffrey I. Gordon,

Thank you for contacting Customer Care.

We understand from your email that you are experiencing issue with call drop.

We apologize for any inconvenience may have been caused.

We recommend you to perform the steps given below to resolve your issue:

1. Simplify the configuration (Remove any routers, hubs, switches, or home wiring).

2. Please ensure that your devices are well ventilated and clear of any other devices that could cause interference.

3. If you use a Surge Protector, swap it out. If you aren’t using one, we suggest you to purchase one.

4. Make sure that you are using a DOCSIS 1.1 or later modem.

5. We request you to reboot all your devices by following the steps in the web link given below:

6. Check whether all wires and connections are solid and free of damages.

We hope these troubleshooting steps would assist you in resolving the issue. If you still experience the same issue then please revert to us with the following information so that we will try our extreme effort to resolve the issue soon.

We need you to run following tests on your side and send results to us via attachments.

1) THE BANDWIDTH TEST: Please run these test when the computer is connected directly to the modem and also when it is connected to the Vonage router. Please give both the results.

The bandwidth tests help us to ensure you are getting enough Upstream and Downstream bandwidth to use the Vonage service. Please click on UPLOAD SPEED TEST, then click on SMART TEST.

2) TRACE ROUTE (TRACERT): Trace Route is a utility that records the route through the Internet between your computer and a specified destination computer. It also calculates and displays the amount of time each hop took. Trace route is a handy tool both for understanding where problems are in the Internet network and for getting a detailed sense of the Internet itself. To run a trace route,

Click on START –> RUN
Type in CMD (For older windows versions, type in COMMAND)
Type the command tracert

3) Please let us know whether the phones are connected directly to the router or to the home wiring.

4) Please give us the vendor name and model number of all the devices that is connected in your network.

5) Please let us know how have you connected all the devices.

If you have any questions now or in the future Vonage Customer Care is eager to assist you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Please visit our help center at or send us an email from our Contact Us page at You can also call us Toll Free at: 1-VONAGE-HELP 1-866-243-4357.


Vonage Customer Care

> [ – Wed Jan 03 15:54:49 2007]:
> Phone Adapter:
> Linksys RT31P2
> ISP:
> Time Warner
> Router Make and Model:
> Motorola S85101
> Telephone Make and Model:
> Motorola MD7081
> Description of Network:
> Wall -> Router -> Phone Adapter -> Computers & Phone
> Description of Problem:
> I’m having random issues with the phone adaptor dropping calls.

So, you can first see that while they appeared to have read the subject line of my message, they never read any of the information that they actually already requested I send them.

I responded with a rather curt e-mail to each of their questions, mostly pointing them to where I’d already answered their questions and then repeating my request for more substantial assistance. Their subsequent response was to change the port on the adapter. Still doesn’t work. I guess I’m going to use that phone number they provided. Hopefully it’ll yield better results, but I’m not full of a lot of hope.

Generally speaking, I have found that technical support assumes that the customer is a complete moron. I mentioned earlier that I was formerly a Network Admin not to sound cool, but to indicate that I know what I’m talking about when it comes to technology. So going down a flowchart of “possible” problems doesn’t amuse me when I’ve already tried them all and I’m looking for some serious help.

My experience in the last day with eBay is a prime example. I’ve been an eBay user, according to my profile page, since March 3, 1999 and I have a feedback rating of 195. So I’m not exactly a newbie with respects to the ins and outs of eBay. I noticed the other day, however, that I wasn’t seeing all of my auctions won on the “My eBay” page. Regardless of the setting (whether I looked for those completed last week, last month, etc, I would always be missing at least two of the auctions. So, being the geek that I am, I tried different configurations (as stated before), different browsers (Safari and Firefox), even different computers and underlying operating systems (Macs and PCs). Heck, I even tried once from the Apple Store to see if somehow some old setting was blocking things. Alas, I finally sucumbed to sending a request for help to eBay.

Again, like Vonage, there’s not an immediate way to call… you have to use their form.

Subject: My eBay isn’t working correctly
Date: Sat, 06 Jan 2007 19:23:55 PST

My Account, Registration, and Password > My eBay for bidding, billing, or selling > My eBay isn’t working correctly

Message: Hi! In the last few days, I’ve noticed that My eBay seems to not be working correctly. It’s not listing all of the items I’ve won (for example, items 190066036927 and 300066082398 are missing from the list, as well as several others).

Additionally, I received an e-mail notice today about a relisted item that I had neither bid on nor watched. I get the feeling that somehow “My eBay” isn’t quite tracking things properly.

Please help. (Oh, FYI, I’m on a Mac, using both Safari and Firefox and I’ve had this problem with both… and it shows up while using a PC and Internet Explorer, too).

Thank you!


I have to admit, eBay was quick to respond:

Date: Sat, 06 Jan 2007 20:48:34 -0800
Subject: Re: GS=C00315 My eBay isn’t working correctly [#US ?01 ] (KMM66898596V45289L0KM)
From: eBay Customer Support

Dear Jeffrey,

Thank you for writing eBay in regard to the items you won not appearing
in your My eBay.

In this case, please make sure that you are viewing the correct time
period for items sold in the “Won” section. I see that the viewing time
period for items is currently set to “Last week (Dec 24)”. This means
that the “Won” section will only display your transactions for the last
week. This can be easily corrected.

1. Click the “My eBay” tab located at the top of most eBay pages. You
may be asked to sign in.
2. Click the “Won” link on the left side of the page.
3. In the “Period” drop-down list to the right, click the down arrow and
select the period of time that covers the items that you’re looking for.

Make sure you’re viewing the correct time period for the item in
question. For example, if you sold an item 35 days ago, it won’t appear
if you are only viewing items that you sold in the last 31 days.
Currently, the longest period of time you can search is 60 days.

It is my pleasure to assist you. Thank you for choosing eBay.

Vincent K.

eBay Customer Support

But again, the response was essentially “you’re an idiot… change the settings and all will be hunky-dory”.

I’m tired of this kind of crappy, Tier 0 response. I wish there was a way to indicate to the customer support agent that you’ve got some level of technical training. A password or secret handshake that would let them know that you’ve got things setup correctly, tried all of the standard technical support procedures, and that you’re only calling because you’ve really hit a dead end. This password would bump you automatically to a second or third tier of support… heck, even Disney does this in a way that’s not offensive to everyone else [their call processing system simply asks whether you’ve visited recently, and if so, more than x number of times in the last specific time period – based on that, they route you to an agent ready to treat you with a commensurate level of care. People who are newbies get a LOT of suggestions and help in terms of planning and explanation. People who are experienced get great service, but it’s not tempered at all, and they make suggestions with the understanding that you’ve probably already “been there and done that”.]

Anyone wanna’ let me know the password?

Wireless Devices

I’ve been using a Palm-powered device for years. I started with a Palm III.

It was a cute little Palm, monochrome screen and I bought it at Fry’s in Palo Alto, CA on my first business trip of my life.

It’s predecessor was a Sharp Wizard that I’d been using all throughout law school.

It was filled with calendar and contact information. I thus taught myself Graffiti by manually entering the data into the Palm III in the hotel room and while riding in the car.

The III lasted from about 1998 until almost 2000, when I got a Palm V.
When I saw the Palm TungstenT in 2002, though, all bets were off. The T was so cool, with a sliding mechanism that allowed the screen to become larger when needed.

I finally upgraded to the Tungsten T3, a slimmer, more powerful version of the same concept.

But I’ve been lusting after the Handspring (now Palm again) Treo for a long time. The Treo was one of the first “converged” devices, one that combined the Palm organizer with the benefits of a cell phone. EVERYTHING was finally on one device. But the original Treo was a bit bulky. I had the chance to play with one early on in their release, so I knew that this would eventually be great… it just wasn’t quite what I wanted (besides, it had a monochrome screen again).

The Treo kept a pretty brisk release schedule.
First the 180,

then the 270

(and in keeping with a “degrees” theme, they released a 90 that didn’t have the phone capabilities).

And when they released the 600, I KNEW it was ready. By the time of that release, however, the Blackberry had taken the world by storm, and I had already owned two Blackberries by the time Nextel and Cingular both combined the Blackberry wireless e-mail system with phone features. Now there’s the 650.

So now anyone that wants a converged device has a dilemma… Treo or Blackberry. Of course, in the last 2 years, Microsoft has added their $.02 worth, too – with a slew of Windows Mobile (remember its predecessor, WindowsCE?) powered devices by Sanyo, Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, etc. So the dilemma is compounded by these Windows-based devices, too.

But I’ve been using the Palm for a long time and like that OS. It’s been completely designed as an organizer – which is exactly what I use it for. Easy to use, cleanly defined… almost simplistic. Perfect for me. Thus, even the addition of all these extra players really didn’t cloud my judgement.

What IS a problem, though, is the wireless CARRIER differences. And all of this has been setup to talk about these differences. THIS is where the real decisions need to be made – THIS is where you can make a deal or go broke – THIS is where you need to pay attention. So let’s look at the carriers for the Treo devices (there are 2, almost 3, now available: the 650, the 700 and now the 680 – not yet quite released). Know in advance that the 700 has about 4x the memory of the 650, a faster data transmission capability (EVDO rather than 1XRTT) and a little bit better camera. Everything else is about the same, but you can read a lot of reviews elsewhere. The 680 will be out soon, but it’s not yet available, so we’ll not really talk about it here.

There are 4 carriers in my market that supply the Treo. In alpha order: Alltel, Cingular, Sprint/Nextel and Verizon. First, forget who your current carrier is (mine’s Alltel) and look just at device costs and wireless plans.

Alltel is selling the 650 for $249 (after all discounts) with a 2-year service plan. You then can pick any of their national freedom plans for voice, and you pay $29.99/mo for unlimited data. The limiting factor here is slower data speed (the 1XRTT standard rather than EVDO), but as a CDMA phone, it’s good almost everywhere.

Cingular is selling the 650 for $299 (after all discounts) with a 2-year service plan. You then can pick any of their voice plans and you pay $39.99/mo for unlimited data. Cingular offers XPress Mail (similar to the Good Technology product) to connect you with your office e-mail system. Cingular has a decent network, but their data network isn’t as robust as others.

Sprint/Nextel has the 700 for $399 (after all discounts) with a 2-year service plan. You pick any of their voice plans and pay $39.99/mo for unlimited data. The trouble here is that you’re limited to Sprint/Nextel’s network. If you walk off their network, you lose connection.

Verizon also has the 700 for $399 (after all discounts) with a 2-year service plan and you pick a voice and data bundle. Verizon’s data network isn’t super, either… and they aren’t able to do anything with data separately from voice (although the bundles are a good idea).

All in all, given the fact that I’m with Alltel, I decided to take the slower device and stay with Alltel. Got one for Tina, too.

God I love my Treo. The lust was worth the wait.