February 5, 2006

Dominica and I were up early this morning so that we could get to church for our book study on Max Lucado’s “Come Thirsty”. We are only going to Sunday School and not staying for church because John Stephens, The Surfing IT Wizard, is still at the house and because Dominica’s back is unable to handle sitting at church for such a long period of time. We learned that lesson last week when we stayed after Sunday School for the church service.

Dad remembered to bring along the new MiniSD cards that got shipped to him for Dominica and I. They will allow us to store 512MB of stuff on each of our cell phones. Pretty cool, huh?

Oreo hopped into bed with John and snuggled with him while we were at church. Isn’t Oreo a good dog?

We returned from church and Dominica, John and I ran over to the Omega Grill for some lunch. To give John the real SGL experience we went to the Omega at least once each day that he was here.

After lunch we returned to the house and John packed up and got ready to go and then he and Dominica went down to the theatre and watched one final episode of Firefly. I was going to join them but we just discovered that Verizon has disabled important features of our cell phones and I wanted to speak with them. When we had first purchased the phones they had come with the awesome capability of being able to play MP3’s which is really cool because I could play my podcasts on them. And since they have built in stereo speakers it is that much cooler. Well, when I recently took mine and Dominica’s cell phones up to Verizon’s tech to have them look at them to figure out why mine was not even beginning to meet their battery life expectations they did a software update for me. They said that it was so that we would be able to download music from their V-Cast service. I couldn’t care less about that. I just wanted a software update so that we would rule out the possibility of my cell phone having old software that was causing the problem. They didn’t warn me about any functionality loss at all. Well, as it turns out, lots of people are having problems with this process because it totally removes the ability of the phone to even recognize MP3’s much less play them. Apparently this is a “feature” as being able to play MP3’s was too confusing for Verizon’s customers. Now their argument is that the phone can still play music but now you MUST own Windows XP (not even Windows 2000 or ME) and you must update to Windows Media Player 10 and you must buy a USB cable from Verizon and after all of that you now have a really annoying and just about useless tool that allows you to load your MP3’s into Windows Media Player and then syncronize them over to the cell phone. What it does is it converts your MP3’s into WMA files which are locked down by Windows (even if you made them yourself and totally own them) so that you are unable to share them from the card in your cell phone. So, after all this, I have lost the ability to play MP3’s, I must down buy a cable, I must only use this “feature” in places where I have Windows XP installed AND have my files located that I want to move to the phone, I must wait for the computer to transcode the files (which is a quality loss regardless of the quality of the final format) and then have useless files on the phone that I cannot share because they are locked. All of this after having purchased MiniSD cards so that we could just share the MP3’s back and forth with my laptop. I can’t believe how much they screwed us. And when you call Verizon they just say “Oh, the store should be able to revert you back to the old version of the software” but when you call the store they say “No, the conversion is one way and you can’t go back. It is your own fault for having it done because we tell each and every customer ever that this happens and there is no possibility whatsoever that we missed someone.” But, of course, they do not have you sign something saying that you acknowledge that they told you something so they are setting up a situation where it is your word against theirs. They have a “policy” of telling you that Verizon is very adamant about but why would they have a policy with no way to enforce it? Oh right, because they don’t want anyone to know. I had two phones done that way and wasn’t told on either one. What are the chances that anyone is being told? Not very high, I think. There are an awful lot of people online trying to find out why their $400 cell phones no longer have nice features that they had paid for. Somehow I doubt that all of them agreed to give up their MP3 players and then realized later that they used them.

Needless to say, I am not really happy with Verizon right now. The MP3 functionality was a relatively minor feature for me as I own a much nicer dedicated MP3 player but I was looking forward to having two units and having the built in speakers and being able to use bluetooth and such. Of course, Verizon has currently had to face a class action law suit about intentionally disabling the bluetooth feature of some phones that they had advertised that they came with. Sound like their is a trend here? The thing that makes me the most upset about this is that Verizon did something very underhanded in the intention of locking you in to getting your music exclusively through their V-Cast service. Of course, you can buy hardware from them and get around it but that isn’t fair. I all ready paid for this functionality AND paid for expensive memory cards to enhance it. They STOLE that advertised functionality from me. They took it through deception and then lied about having done it. Then they “lied” about being able to switch it back although I told them that they couldn’t and they checked into it and admitted that they could not. Then they said that they would do some research into it and would get back to me tomorrow. We will see if they actually do that or not. I think that they were just blowing me off. Just like Time Warner did and then yelled at me for thinking that they blew me off. I am still waiting for that phone call. Do you think I should follow up with it yet? It happened in 2002!!

I am debating whether or not to bother getting the cable to be able to put WMA files on the cell phone. Once I am spending that much money I am 1/3rd of the way to another dedicated MP3 player that will work much better. And the dedicated MP3 player will just plug into any USB port and act like a little hard drive. So much easier to work with. And it won’t drain my cell phone batteries. Basically I think that Verizon has managed to turn their really cool integration device into an irrelevant piece of crap. Sure it HAS features but they are so poorly implemented that I have no idea why I would ever use them. It is like making a food replicatore (okay, too much Star Trek for me) but making it take hours of setup to use for each meal so that it is still easier to cook for yourself. Why replicate food when cooking is easier? Why use the cell phone when every other option is now a better one? I was so happy when I first got this cell phone but their has been too much non-disclosure about it. The battery only lasts if you are in a major metropolitan area because their is a battery draining “feature” that kills it if you are outside of Verizon’s main operations areas. And, of course, what feature is that? The feature that isn’t part of the cell phone service but is the service that is used to buy additional “features” from Verizon like ring tones, video games and, oh yes, V-Cast music. So my phone is not working as advertised (6.75 days of standby time) because they are draining my battery trying to make it ultra-convenient to buy music from them. And then they secretly disable my cool MP3 player capability so that I find it too difficult to use music I all ready own so that I will, once again, buy music from them. This is not encouraging behaviour. I foresee a rebellion. I will call it – the WiFi VoIP revolution. Sure, it will take a while, but I have all ready heard people starting to talk about it. Lots of people are starting to be in positions to be able to use wireless VoIP handsets and to take them all over the place with them and not need land lines OR cell phones. Now that will take a while to really catch on but not as long as people might think. It’s all ready happening. The baby bell’s time is coming. The writing is on the wall. Time for the ‘donkeys’ to face the music. The V-Cast music, I suppose.

Okay, enough of that. If it wasn’t such a huge portion of my day I wouldn’t talk for so long about it. I spend almost two hours on the phone trying to deal with all of that. Later in the afternoon a really nice girl from Verizon called and talked to me for a while about the problem. We discussed it from a really educated and intellectual point of view. I explained to her how the new service had made the phone irrelevant and how I had intended to use it. She was really interested in my take on new media and took a lot of notes. We even talked about how Verizon could even make better use of this poor decision to at least remedy the situation a little bit by adding in Audible books into the mix since the new system is perfectly set up for DRM’d content like that. (Audible really should be paying me for all of the promotion that I do – Verizon could easily become the biggest account ever for them!) She even asked me when I would be speaking in the area because she wanted to hear me give a seminar. My cell phone number is a Pittsburgh one so she thought that I was local. We did discuss the possibility of me speaking at Verizon because it is quite clear that Verizon is very focused on the teen/tween iTunes pay-per-tune crowd and are forgetting about the podcast/talk ‘radio’/book-on-MP3 crowd completely not even realizing that they are there. What a huge, upwardly mobile, educated, well paid audience they are ignoring.

Okay, so that was dealt with as well as it could be. John Stephens had to get going so that he could beat the bad weather that was coming so he headed off for Endicott around 2:00 or so. Dominica and I settled into the living room and watched more of season four of Star Trek: The Next Generation. We are making really good progress. We need to get through it soon because Andy just picked up season seven of Red Dwarf and we really want to borrow that.

While we were watching TNG I did a bunch of work learning how to install and work with the big VoIP Asterisk Server. We have been needing to implement one of them inside of the company for some time now but it has not become a priority. We are really starting to see a need for it so I am seeing just how much work is going to be involved in getting one working that will get us through for a while. It is definitely a set of features that we really need. Currently we just work off of one company line that is actually my home line. We can only take one call at a time and everything else goes to voicemail. The service that we currently get is really good but it just isn’t adequate for the business. So we want to put in a real PBX that can handle multiple extensions, have a digital receptionist, transfer calls, do conference calling, etc. That way it isn’t just me answering the phone when someone calls but they can actually select the person that they want to talk to and be put directly through to their extension. We will really start seeming like a real company once we have stuff like that! Also it will allow our phone lines to go with us with we travel. That will be really important this year if I am out on the road doing sales all year. I will be able to set up in my hotel room with broadband and the company line will connect to my laptop and ring me there just like I was in the office. Isn’t that COOL! Okay, only so cool. But when you are a small company every little step to the enterprise is a really cool one.

I didn’t manage to get the new server working tonight but I did learn a lot and I think that I am making good progress. Fortunately we are not in need of a lot of really big and difficult features yet (I think that features is my word of the day today) so it doesn’t look like it will be all that hard to get something running that should do well for us for a year or two.

Both Dominica and I were really, really tired today. So tired, in fact, that I went to bed at 10:00. I read for about an hour before actually falling asleep. Min stayed up until 11:00. I have to get up in the morning because I am going into Castile Christian Academy to help out with the classes and that is first thing in the morning.

Leave a comment