Jeff Sexton

Friday, September 09, 2011

Qwest is Now CenturyLink

This is a follow up to my post about Qwest failing to apply an electronic payment...
http://jsexton0.blogspot.com/2011/07/qwest.html

To sum up, I received a bill showing the prior month's bill as unpaid.  I was told (by Qwest) that this was because I paid with my bank's (US Bank) bill pay service and Qwest can not always process these payment in a timely manner.  At the time, I was told to just pay the new month's bill (by check or via Qwest's website) and the "unpaid" amount would surely be applied in the next cycle.

So what happened?

Well, on that next cycle, the amount I paid by check was credited, but no other payments were.  I still "owed" a month's bill, plus the late payment.

Not feeling much like calling Qwest, which was also well into the process of transforming to CenturyLink, I just wrote a check for the full amount and sent it in.  About this time I also received a disconnect warning from Qwest.  I knew I didn't have to worry about being cut off, but it was disturbing just the same.

I have just received a new bill this week.  This one is the first that is actually from CenturyLink.  Oddly, this statement shows I owe nothing.  In fact it shows a balance of 4 cents in my favor.  So did that original payment get credited finally?  No, not as such.  This statement credits my previous "double" payment, and thus I owe nothing this month.  However there is no mention of the previous "owed" amount, nor the originally missed payment, nor even the late payment fee.  It has all simply vanished.

So to sum up:

Month 0: Bill received and paid electronically via US Bank.

Month 1: Month 0's amount shows unpaid plus a penalty.  I then pay for month 1 alone, by check, as advised by Qwest.

Month 2: The invoice shows the check payment, but still has the old unpaid amount.  I send in a check for the full amount of the invoice, essentially two months' service plus the late fee.

Month 3: The new statement is from Century Link.  It shows the amount owed from month 2, the amount owed for the current month, and the large payment from the last month.  The large payment is applied to both months 2 and 3 leaving a 4 cent credit.  There is no mention of either the original missing payment, the amount owed from month 0, nor the late fee.  They've all just vanished in a puff of billing system migration.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Google Music Beta

I've been trying to use Google Music for awhile now.  I want to like it, I really do, but it's just not working out.

When I first started using it, there was a bug in the mobile app (on my Droid 2) that caused the first song in a playlist, album or other sequence to repeat.  After advancing from that first song manually, one time, the sequence would continue normally automatically on to each track.

At some point this bug has gotten far worse.  As it stands now, the mobile app will not advance to the next song in a sequence automatically, at all, ever.  I always have to manually tap the forward icon when a song ends, as it just repeats the same song again.

Needless to say this pretty much renders the music application unusable.  It's too bad.  Music is a hot area, and Google, ever ADD, seems to have forgotten Google Music and moved on.  But if Google doesn't get it all working, one of the other services is going to capture the users.

UPDATE: Yesterday my phone updated itself to Android 2.3.3 and the Google Music problem went away.  It works fine now.  I'd be willing to bet this problem had something to do with the old built in music app previously included in the distribution.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Qwest

A couple days ago I received my latest billing from Qwest (paper mail, I don't trust them to accomplish any other method).

To my surprise, the prior month's amount showed unpaid, and so it was a double amount in total, plus a penalty.  I went to the bill section of my online bank service and was not surprised at all.  The bill was paid almost exactly a month ago.

So I get on the phone to Qwest.  The first customer service person just listened to the problem, then transferred me to a person that could deal with these issues.  There was a modest wait, not too bad.

The specialist listened to my explanation and also knew, or guessed, that I had used a bill pay service from my bank.  She explained to me that Qwest's posting of these amounts is backlogged.  She explained that Qwest has "millions of customers" in it's billing system and is unable to keep up.  Really.  She said this.  Too many customers...  That's the explanation.

She told me that the fee would be waived on my *next* billing and that I should pay the current month's bill (with the penalty) leaving off the last month's amount because that would be processed "'soon".  She also tacked on a couple weeks to my bill due date, pushing it into August.

If you are a Qwest customer, do not use a bill pay service.  Qwest is unable to handle the volume of business it has sold.  Qwest's billing system can not process one month's electronic payments in 30 days.  Send them a check.

Qwest is not alone in issues like this.  Telecom companies in the US have for many years been over-selling their infrastructure.   It makes me laugh out loud when I get junk mail from Qwest offering me even more services.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Still More Buzz About Google+

Google's homepage in 1998Image via WikipediaIt's been a few days now since I got access to Google+.  It remains the case that no one I know has received this access inspite of my adding them to Circles and sharing items with them in Streams.   Yesterday I found out that one person I know does know someone else that has access - that's the first and only such person I have heard of.

I don't understand what Google is doing.  Google+ is full of crickets and the occasional tumbleweed rolling past.  It's a lonely place.  The "nearby" section of the Stream on the mobile app has looked the same for 3 or 4 days.  This isn't a slow roll-out, this is a no-roll-out.

At any rate, here are a few more observations...

1) As far as I can tell there is absolutely no functional difference between Buzz and the Stream in Google+.  Are these two going to become one?  If that is the case, why isn't my Buzz history in the new Stream?  The interface on Google+ for Streams is quite a bit better than the interface for Buzz via gmail.

2) There is also no difference between "+1" and "Like".  Why do both of these exist?

3) At first I thought I would really dislike the mobile app uploading photos automatically, but I've changed my mind. It's handy and allows for some cool functionality (now if only my real camera could do that!).

4) Google+ confuses your browser if you have multiple logins and one is a Googel Apps or Enterprise account (which is not supported by Google+, likely because those accounts do not have profiles).

I like the look of Google+ and I think I like what it hints at for the feature integration of Google features.  I also think people will like it more than Facebook - but I also think that's not the point.  Google is up to something much more with this.  Google is making application use flow from the user identity, rather than having users pick and choice from unconnected facility. 

But it sure is dull in Google+ so far. 





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Monday, July 04, 2011

More Google+

One thing I like is what they have done to leverage Picasa Web Albums (instead of reinventing something).  Google+ makes good use of Web Albums, and makes some slight changes to the way Web Albums works which I think are improvements.

When you get started with Google+ it's helpful to try a few things relating to photos and albums, then bounce over to your Picasa Web Albums and check out what it's doing.

In addition, the Google+ mobile application offers additional new, and much improved, ways to interact with photos in your albums.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Google+

I got into Google+ today.

Ok Google, let me know if I'm leaving anything out.  If I find something I think is interesting on the internet (that happens now and then), I need to:

1) eMail a link to people I know
2) Note the page in my shared items feed so people see it in Google Reader
3) Post the link to Google Buzz
4) If it's Google blog I need to "Friend Connect" it
e) "+1" it
6) Again if it's a blog, add the RSS feed to my Reader subscriptions
7) I'll just leave out Wave...
8) Post the link on my own blogger blog where it will show up in Reader for those that either Friend Connect or RSS subscribe
9) "Like" the page via Buzz or Reader or ...

And now I can also post it in Google+ !  Well, all this should only take about 10 minutes.  Much less if I practice browsing to all the various websites...

Oh but to do all this I will need to maintain groups in contacts for email and Buzz posts, and now Circles also since they do not interact.

I was also nothing less than astonished that Google+ includes a checkin feature (another checkin feature) that, yes, believe it or not, appears to have no relationship to Latitude, Places, Buzz or Offers.  Wow.

Google, these things are so obvious that they should not have to be mentioned, but here it goes...

A) I need to be able to add an RSS feed to Google+ so it can replace Reader, or I need to add Google+ items to Reader via an RSS feed (there's *no* RSS feed on Google+?!  Seriously?!).

B) I need to be able to add Google+ to the feeds I share into Buzz, or, well, see above...

c) why does gmail exist as a separate interface?  Why are not all the features (filters) of gmail implemented on  Buzz, Reader and Google+ as one unified service?

D) Google, you really and truly did not tie this together with Latitude, Places and Offers?  Really???

E) One, count them, one, mechanism for organizing contacts please.  I actually had to type in some names, even though my gmail contact list is all set and organized.  Why didn't groups I've created in gmail become circles?

F) Offer an RSS feed for publicly shared Google+ items so readers can read them in Reader.

G) There would appear to be no functional difference between "Like" and "+1", and even though here are sometimes both available, yet there are separate and do not completely overlap.  Does that make sense to anyone?

H) There's almost no functional difference between Buzz and Google+ posts.  Why do both of these exist?  At the very least items posted to Google+ should be available as an additional feed to Buzz followers.   People that follow items I post/blog/email/share will not check 4 different places for new content.

I) Related to Buzz...  Why does Buzz history, shared items and comments, migrate over to Google+?

J) I see there is a "chat" in Google+, is that Google Talk, or yet another and different chat/IM/XMMS/whatever?

There seem to be people that exist only and fully with both feet in Facebook and never look at anything else.  I think this is strange, but people like that do exist.  For those people, Google+ may be easier and more fun.  They might switch.  But for those of use trying to organize and control a more robust online existence, a service that is yet-another-service isn't going to help.

Thank you though Google, keep up the work.  And thank you for the de-facto additional space in web albums.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Google+

As everyone and their pets has heard, Google has introduced a new competitor to Facebook called Google Plus.  It sounds good.  They have an intriguing set of walk throughs up, and we all know a Facebook that isn't Facebook is long over due.  If anyone could do this, it would be Google.

But something doesn't add up here.

Within hours of "launching" this invite-only beta of Google Plus, invites were cut off citing "insane demand."  As I write this, invitations have not resumed.

I know a lot of techy people.  And they all know a lot of techy people.  But no one seems to know anyone that has access to Google Plus.  No one.  Not a soul got an invitation.   Google+ has created a huge "buzz" on the internet.  A "latest" results search on Google for Google+ reveals a steady stream of chatter.  But does anyone outside of Google employees and a few select journalists actually have access to the new service?

It doesn't make sense...  Is Google doing this just to generate that chatter?  They don't need to do that.  Anyone would know that anything that offers a Facebook alternative would generate a massive "wave" of interest.  Google does not need an artificial scarcity campaign to get attention.

So did Google get genuinely overwhelmed with a response their new system was unprepared for, and have to cut it off?  That makes no sense either.  Again, who wouldn't know that the sort of response this was likely to get?

Yes, I'm sure Google would want to be very cautious about this roll out.  No one would want to see them pull a Sony and have the system flat on the floor the first day, as the PSN was on its triumphant return.  But Google appears to have pulled the plug on signing up for Google+ almost instantly.  And not a soul I know, nor any they know got their foot in that door.

Fishy.

So I'm calling it, it's vaporware.  A social service no one can use, is a service that doesn't exist.

I very much look forward to something like Google+ could be, might be, whatever.  But at this time, it's definitely not there.  I'm sure they are working on it though.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Zombies Ahead

Tips from the CDC on being prepared for the zombie apocalypse...

http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/

"There are all kinds of emergencies out there that we can prepare for. Take a zombie apocalypse for example. That’s right, I said z-o-m-b-i-e a-p-o-c-a-l-y-p-s-e. You may laugh now, but when it happens you’ll be happy you read this" Get A Kit,    Make A Plan, Be Prepared. emergency.cdc.gov

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Google Music Beta

I received a Google Music Beta invite, and I've just set it up.
Here's a few initial observations...

1) It requires an application to upload files.  The application is only for "PC and Mac", but what they really mean is Windows and Mac.  It appears to be a real compiled application, not a Java program.

2) The web page shows all the music you have uploaded and you can play music and manage lists from there.  It divides it nicely by artist, album and genre.  However there is no way to upload music from the web application.

3) The web application works on Linux.

4) The Android app works fine too.  Both the web app and the mobile app saw the new music I added as soon as it was finished uploading.  The mobile app does not seem to have a way to delete music from your library however.

5) The system had no problem displaying cover art for the albums I uploaded.

6) I uploaded whole artists by placing my artist directory in "My Music" on Windows (you can use other locations).  The system had no trouble magically dealing with my directory structures.

7) It appears to be able to suck music right out of iTunes.

8) The system seems to add free music to your available music based on what you upload, and also based on genre preferences entered during the initial setup.  The does not seem to be a way to edit these preferences later.

9)  Not surprisingly, there is no way to download files (aside from streaming music).

10) There's no "social" elements.

11) As far as I can tell, the mobile application includes no way to delete, thumbs-up or thumbs-down a song.

12) I like that the system counts the number of times a song has been played.  On the web page, when viewing items by song, the play count shows up. The data can even be sorted by play count.  Oddly though, this is only the plays via the web page.  Plays via the Android application are not included.

13) During playback on my Droid 2, using the the phone network not WiFi, songs occasionally abruptly end and it skips to the next selection.

14) I did not at first realize it, but the interface on the mobile app is significantly different, and better, in "landscape" mode.

The whole thing, including the mobile app, has a very much no-frills feel to it.   There's no fat or fluff on this, so on the one hand there's a lot it can't do, but on the other it's bonehead simple.

Seems to work so far, and the streaming audio quality is high...  This thing it a major bandwidth consumer, but this isn't Google's fault.   If this application catches on, and I think it will, the over-promising telcom providers are in trouble.

Things the new music system needs...

1) the mobile app should send play count data to the server so it shows on the web application.

2) There should be custom, configurable,"smart" automatic playlists so the user can control, perhaps with percentage sliders, the influence of various factors in "magic" playlists created by the system.

3) The "3D" interface element on the mobile app is fun.  I'd like to see more of that.

4) The modile app'a album view shows 3 rows of cover art, in sideways mode.  These images are too small on a phone. The size of the thumbnail should be configurable.

5) The WIndows/Mac only upload utility needs a bit more control - and a Linux version.

6) I'd like to be able to throttle back the playback bit-rate manually to save bandwidth in some situations.  Of course the system is said to do this automatically, but just the same there may be times when I went something less then the very best possible rate.

7) Playback can be set to WiFi only on the mobile app.  It would be nice to be able to set it to WiFi never as well.

8) Eventually it needs a method of buying music, if the media companies ever get out of suicide mode.  Or perhaps Google should simply launch a record label and deal directly with artists.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The World's Largest Model Airport

40,000 lights, 15,000 figurines, 500 cars, 10,000 trees, 50 trains, 1000 wagons, 100 signals, 200 switches, 300 buildings and 40 planes - now that's dedication!

http://singularityhub.com/2011/05/11/worlds-largest-model-airport-completed-in-hamburg-germany-150-square-meters-costing-4-8-million/

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Create an XMLGregorianCalendar for the Current Date/Time

Creating a XML calendar object suitable for use in SOAP messages, in Java, is simple enough.

    public XMLGregorianCalendar getXMLGregorianCalendarNow() 
            throws DatatypeConfigurationException
    {
        GregorianCalendar gregorianCalendar = new GregorianCalendar();
        DatatypeFactory datatypeFactory = DatatypeFactory.newInstance();
        XMLGregorianCalendar now = 
            datatypeFactory.newXMLGregorianCalendar(gregorianCalendar);
        return now;
    }


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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Healthcare in America

http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2011/04/09/number-of-the-week-u-s-spends-141-more-on-health-care/

"A new report finds that the U.S. spends far more on health care than any of the other 29 OECD nations, and gets less health for its money."

America provides the best healthcare in the world, for the wealthy...

Thursday, April 07, 2011

RIP Kermit

Fictional characters on the Hollywood Walk of FameImage via WikipediaNo, not that Kermit...   This Kermit:

http://www.columbia.edu/kermit/

"Unfortunately, Columbia has determined it can no longer continue to support the Kermit Project going forward. As of July 1st, 2011, development of any new Kermit software enhancements at Columbia University will cease, as will any ability of Columbia to provide ongoing maintenance and technical support for Kermit."

Something like 25 years ago I was working on a project in which we needed serial data transfer for an unusual computer - some sort mini-computer, I don't even remember.  We just picked the phone (yes, the telephone) and called (on the telephone) the author of Kermit, over at Columbia.  We gave him some specs on our system, and a few weeks later, just like that, Kermit supported our computer!

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Free Gun

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/07/us-guns-radioshack-odd-idUSTRE73644320110407

"A chain of electronic stores in parts of the states of Idaho and Montana are offering free guns to first-time subscribers of satellite TV services."
...
"There's no problem with it here; this isn't New York City,"



Thursday, March 24, 2011

Security

Seal of the United States Department of Homela...Image via Wikipediahttp://blogs.ajc.com/bob-barr-blog/2011/03/18/authority-to-strip-search-passengers-at-will-claimed-by-feds/ 

"In a breathtaking statement delivered in an official court proceeding, the federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) claims authority to strip search every airline passenger; and to begin such a practice without even soliciting comment from the public."
 

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Color

http://battellemedia.com/archives/2011/03/why_color_matters_augmented_reality_and_nuanced_social_graphs_may_finally_may_come_of_age 

I completely agree on this what this review says. Mobile, GPS equipped, internet devices are going to lead to an explosion of new stuff as big as the one created by HTTP. This Color thing is likely an example of this next generation of ideas.

"...if Color is used by a statistically significant percentage of folks, nearly every location that matters on earth will soon be draped in an ever-growing tapestry of visual cloth, one that no doubt will also garner commentary, narrative structure, social graph meaning, and plasticity of interpretation. Imagine if Color - and the fundaments which allow its existence - had existed for the past 100 years. Imagine what Color might have revealed during the Kennedy assassination, or the recent uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, or hell, the Rodney King beating?" 

Google needs to get on this idea...

I installed the Color application on my Droid 2, but it is no were near ready.  It immediately freezes up when launched.  I can't post a review of it since it appears it does not get far enough to be acknowledged as installed, I just see an initial screen, then nothing.  Wait for an update or two, or for another, more fully cooked, implementation of this fine idea. 

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Netflix Down

Image representing Netflix as depicted in Crun...Image via CrunchBasePart of Netflix web server system was down the other night, no streaming. I actually did try to get on it too, so I noticed the problem while it was happening. I was frustrated by two things when my PS3 couldn't connect to the service. One was that I was paying a monthly fee for this, and that implies that I should be able to use it at anytime during the month that I have paid for. But the other thing was that there was no simple way to know whether or not the trouble was at my end. On Netflix website that evening there was absolutely no sign of trouble. Couldn't they post some sort of status? Some acknowledgement that they knew there was a problem?

Netflix has offered an account credit to those impacted, via an email today. So that takes care of one of the problems I had with the whole thing...

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Panic

I took this image. It is of a sign directing t...Image via Wikipedia

This morning I received the following email, on the heels of the unfortunate explosions over the weekend at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station.




from: Trudie <+++++@gmail.com>
to: jsexton@agora.rdrop.com 
date: Mon, Mar 14, 2011 at 8:00 AM 
subject: ground containation
Dear Jeff
Please tell me as soon as possible, how to protect my family from  fallout on the Oregon Coast.  And how long should we not let the children on the lawns.
When will we be able to eat the fruits of our trees?
How long will the soil be  contaminated ?
How long should we not grow vegetables & fruit?
How long shall we keep our dogs inside ?
Please answer as soon as possible since the rdiation cloud will be here on Wednesday
Thank you so very much
Trudie
Normally I would assume this was some sort of spam. However, I do have these old webpages online:

http://www.rdrop.com/~jsexton/cd/

This material has been sitting out there since the '90s and still gets a fair amount of traffic. It's simply astonishing that someone would write to some random person via email rather than simply inquire with local authorities, if that's what this email is really about.
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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Friday, March 04, 2011

Yep, That's an MS Phone Alright

Historic Microsoft photo of Paul Allen and Bil...Image via WikipediaProblems updating the new Microsoft phones?

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/03/04/windows_update/

Shocking!
Shocking I say!
I am shocked that enough people own these phones that the update problem was even noticed....

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