Posts tagged ‘Postscript It’

Google Fi Review, and (Finally!) International Roaming Rates May be Set to Drop

For years I have been frustrated with the costs of trying to take my cell phone on international travel.  Yes, one can buy cheap sim cards locally, but you obviously lose access to your domestic phone number for the duration (leaving aside dual-sim phones and some tricky and expensive forwarding tricks).  If you wanted to keep your phone number so people can still reach you on the number they already know, you were in for some crazy roaming charges -- particularly on data.  I use Verizon (mainly because my business takes me to out of the way places where Verizon is the last available carrier) but until recently their international rates were awful, charging one 50 cents per text and $25 per 100mb of data in addition to a $25 a month international plan fee.

I use a lot of data when overseas and outside my hotel room, so I really wanted a cheaper data plan  (Google maps is a lifesaver when one is walking streets with signs all written in Thai).  My go-to solution in the past was to have a T-Mobile account I turned on and off on an unlocked phone (an old Nexus 5).  T-mobile has plans that allow unlimited text and data without roaming charges in most countries, and it is still a good international solution, though I met with a few technical irritants in some of the countries I have visited.

A while back, I accidentally killed my old Nexus 5 and bought a new Nexus 5x with the intention of swapping in my T-mobile sim card from the old phone.  However, I saw an article that said the Nexus 5x was one of the couple of phones that would work with the new Google Fi service, so I signed up to try that.  $20 a month unlimited domestic calls and text and unlimited international texts.  Pretty cheap international calling rates and the phone defaults to calling by wifi if possible to save any charges.  Data at $10 per 1GB anywhere in the world, with any unused data credited at the end of the month (so the $10 is pro rated if you use less, essentially).

I used the phone in Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong, and not just in large cities -- we got out in the smaller cities well away from the tourist areas of Thailand.   Service was flawless everywhere with one exception (discussed in a minute).  Wifi calling worked fine and I had a good signal everywhere, even in smaller towns.  Charges were exactly as promised.  It was a very impressive service.  It uses the T-mobile network in most places, so I am a little reluctant to make it my full-time service because when I tested T-mobile several years ago, it just didn't reach far enough to the out-of-the way domestic locations I visit, but I plan to try again.  I would really love to be on this service rather than Verizon and believe it would save me a lot of money.

I only had two problems with it.  The minor problem was that I had some issues with wifi calling disconnects in one hotel, though this could easily have been due to the notoriously low-bandwidth of many hotel wifi systems**.  Switching off wifi and making a regular cell call worked fine.  Google says that the service automatically chooses between wifi and cellular based on bandwidth and conditions, but it may be this algorithm needs more work.

The more irritating problem was that the phone would simply not get a cellular data connection in Hong Kong.  I contacted Google service (this was a great process that involved sending them a message and them calling me back immediately, a better process in my mind when travelling internationally).  After some fiddling around, the service agent checked came back to me to say, "known problem in Hong Kong with internet access.  You will need to buy a local sim card.  We know this is a hassle, so we just credited your bill $20 to offset the cost."  It would have been better to not have this hassle -- I was switching sim cards every night to see if I had any texts at my domestic number -- but I thought they dealt with it as well as possible, and they were a hell of a lot more helpful than T-mobile was when I had an international roaming issue with them.

Under the T-mobile and Google Fi pressure (which really means due to T-mobile, since Google Fi is largely possible because of T-mobile), I am starting to see cracks in the pricing of Verizon.   They seem to have a new plan that allows one to keep their domestic data, text, and voice pricing and allowances while roaming internationally for a $10 a day charge.  This is still more expensive than T-Mobile and Google Fi but literally an order of magnitude, and maybe two, cheaper than what they were offering for international travel a year ago.

**Footnote:  I have way more sympathy for hotels and their wifi systems.  We installed a wifi system in a 100 site campground in Alabama.  That system has become a data black hole -- no matter how much bandwidth I invest in, people use more.  Every night it seems like there are 300 people on 100 campsites all trying to stream a movie in HD.  I am not sure it will ever enough, and we get no end of speed complaints despite having an absurd T1 bandwidth into the system.  I can't see myself ever investing in such a system again.

Postscript:  It is a good habit to point out data that is inconsistent with one's hypotheses.  I am incredibly skeptical of US anti-trust law, particularly since it seems to have morphed into protecting politically-connected competitors (e.g. cases against Microsoft and Google) vs. protecting consumer choice.  I will say though that the killing of the acquisition of T-mobile by AT&T seems to be a godsend for consumers in the cell phone business, as T-mobile has become a hugely disruptive force generally benefiting consumers.

Chip Card Transition, And Life as A Small Business Owner

Well, per the new rules, we replaced all of our old credit card readers (dozens) with new ones that can take chip cards (EMV).  Here is the bone pile of all the old technology, many of which were bought less than 2 years ago:


This illustrates both the best and worst of running one's own company.

The bad:  As CEO, I am actually futzing with distributing credit card terminals to the field and collecting the used ones to be recycled.

The good:  I have total control.  I was just in Washington DC, and in one meeting the National Park Service was there talking about some multi-year, multi-million dollar study to figure out their electronic payments "strategy" at their parks.  My payments strategy discussion went literally something like this:

Merchant guy:  Do you want to pay an extra $100 for the terminals to accept NFC payments (e.g. Apply pay, Android pay).

Me: Um, sure seems like the future.  Does it cost more to clear a transaction that way?

Merchant guy: no

Me:  They yes, I'll take it.

Now, we can take smart phone payments at dozens of public parks my company operates, all decided and implemented in about 30 days.

By the way, I am amazed at how many large companies like CVS appear to have the chip card readers but the store clerk tells me that they are not turned on yet whenever I try to stick my card in that slot (for those of you who don't know, the chip side goes head into a slot like an ATM slot on the front).  October 1 was the date that there was a liability shift, where merchants bear more liability for fraud if they don't take the chipcards.  Not sure how I was able to get this done in my little company but they can't manage it.

I was told by one person at CVS, a store manager but they may be off base, that they don't take the chip cards yet because they take longer than swiping.  This seems dumb.  First, many retailers for swipe cards waste time asking for the last four digits of your card, which is not necessary with the chip cards.  Further, CVS wastes a TON of time at the register with their stupid loyalty program.  Yes, I know it is a pet peeve of mine I rant on from time to time, but I have spent a lot of time waiting for people in front of me to try different phone numbers to see which one their account is under, or to waste time signing up for a loyalty card with 6 people in line behind them.  Makes me crazy.  If they can waste 30 seconds each transaction on stupid loyalty cards they can wait three extra seconds for a more secure credit card transaction.

Postscript:  It really should have been chip and pin rather than chip and signature

PS2:  Never, ever lease a credit card machine.  You pay about 4x its retail price, even present value.  I got roped into doing this for a few machines on the logic that this equipment transition was coming, and they would switch out my equipment.  But then they sold their leasing portfolio and the new owner wouldn't honor this promise, so I ended up overpaying for the old terminal (and having to pay $1000 each just to get out of the lease) and then buying the new terminals.  Live and learn.

Not Feeling So Good About Coyotes Today

This weekend our family dog, the world's largest Maltese at over 12 pounds but still a small dog, was attacked by a coyote.  They redid the golf course nearby into a links course and ever since we have had an enormous pack of coyotes out there -- the other night I saw a dozen hanging out together.

Yesterday the coyote got into a fenced area and grabbed Snuggles (please no name jokes today) in its jaws and was carrying her off when my daughter saw it and screamed and yelled until it dropped our dog and went away.   If my daughter had had a gun, that coyote would have been blown away -- my daughter was in total mama bear mode.

We took the dog to the emergency animal hospital, and eventually to their surgery center.  Snuggles was put on oxygen and an IV and within a few hours had a surgeon operate on her chest, stitching closed holes in her chest wall on both sides of her body.   So that is how we spent our weekend.

Today she is doing OK, but is still sluggish and won't eat.  We are hoping for the best, and that she will beat the odds (most dogs this size are DOA from coyote attacks).  Here she is with her pink bandages, still in the oxygen tent.


Postscript:  It was interesting to go through the process of getting emergency care in the veterinary world.   At each step of the process we got a detailed cost estimate in advance of the charges we could expect.  We were able to request her medical records at any time, and they were both detailed and impressive.  Every step was documented.  We saw her x-rays and got pictures and video from the surgery to show us exactly what damage had to be repaired and how they did it.  The two locations we have been to (the local hospital and the surgery center) both are part of VCA,  It has not been cheap, but the care has been impressive.

One odd conclusion to this is that there is something to be said for the old-style communal hospital ward vs. the private rooms of today. One of the reasons I feel good that they are keeping an eye on Snuggs (as the men of the household call her to avoid embarassment) is that all the critical animals are essentially in cages and enclosures in the same room, where someone always is there to see immediately if they are in distress.

Update:  Got the bill today for the surgery.  Pretty much exactly what they promised in advance.   Not cheap -- I think I am going to rename this dog Steve Austin

Update #2:  I don't really blame the coyote - nature red in tooth and claw and all that.  Anger at the coyote is just cover for my personal guilt that we did not make things safer for her.  We are making changes right now to give her a safer area to run around and do her business.


Official Announcement: Civil Rights Movement Can Declare Victory

The Civil Rights movement can officially declare victory, if this is the kind of racism being faced by African Americans today.  Seriously, if the harms are really this trivial, let's move on to other issues.  If there is still meaningful racism out there, let's stop clogging the courts and wasting our time with this kind of trivial BS and work the real issues.

Postscript:  It could be that I am just not hip to modern lingo.  I suppose that the words "please turn off your cell phones during the movie" is actually a well known code phrase meaning "back to slavery all of you" and I am just not aware.  If I am missing something, please let me know so I too can feel appropriately victimized next time I go see a movie.

Global Warming Alarmists Have Your Best Interests At Heart

Sent to me by a bunch of readers, from the Atlantic interview with Thomas Schelling:

I sometimes wish that we could have, over the next five or ten years, a lot of horrid things happening -- you know, like tornadoes in the Midwest and so forth -- that would get people very concerned about climate change. But I don't think that's going to happen.

This reminds me of a post from way back, when Kevin Drum wrote:

Seeking to shape legislation before Congress, three major energy trade
associations have shifted their stances and decided to back mandatory
federal curbs on carbon dioxide and other man-made emissions that could
accelerate climate change.

I responded:

Having some Washington lobbying organizations switch which side of this incredibly difficult trade off they support is not "good news."  Good news is finding out that this trade off may not be as stark as we think it is.  Good news is finding some new technology that reduces emissions and which private citizens are willing to adopt without government coercion (e.g. sheets of solar cells that can be run out of factories like carpet from Dalton, Georgia).  Or, good news is finding out that man's CO2 production has less of an effect on world climate than once thought.  Oddly enough, this latter category of good news, surely the best possible news we could get on the topic, is seldom treated as good news by global warming activists.  In fact, scientists with this message are called Holocaust deniers.

Postscript: It is particularly telling of a certain mindset that Schelling specifically wishes bad things to occur in the Midwest.   By most leftish standards, people in flyover country (except maybe Ohio since it is a key swing state) don't really count.

Historical Revisionism

I think regular readers know that I am not one to see Islamic terrorists hiding under every rock.  In fact, I am not sure I have written a single post on the current state of Islam or ties to terrorism.  I don't see the world primarily in terms of some great culture war with Islam.  Certainly a number of fundamentalist Islamic states suck in terms of human rights, and some of that is probably due to ties with Islam, but many other states suck nearly as much without any Muslim help.

That being said, I must say as someone interested in history that this argument from Dr. Mahmoud Mustafa Ayoub of Berkeley, as reported from the Canadian human rights tribunal by Andrew Coyne, strains credulity:

What is jihad? Article equates it with Al Qaeda: fighting,
suicide bombing etc. But word actually means, originally, "to strive,
to do one's best." Koranic sense is that religious struggle we must all
engage in within our souls against evil tendencies. There is also
"social jihad," the obligation to change things that are wrong. This does not mean violence. The Koran is not a book of violence.

The notion of armed struggle, or violent jihad, is
mentioned in the Koran. "Permission has been given to those who have
been wronged only because they say God is our lord that they fight in
self-defence." (Sura 22.) So jihad is not limited to fighting "” it's just one type of jihad,
and should only be done in self-defence. The extremist, violent types
are an anomaly. "They are more a problem for us than for the west."

I have no problem with modern folks interpreting the Koran in this way for themselves.  But this is absurd from a historical context.  This portrayal of jihad as a sort of peaceful civil rights movement may be how moderate Muslims want to make the Koran relevant to their modern life, but it is outrageous in the historic context of if the 7th century.  People of all faiths in this era didn't have sit-ins to correct social wrongs -- they gathered up their friends and some swords and went out to try to chop up the folks who did them wrong.  Muhammad was a brilliant military leader, uniting disparate Arab tribes out of nowhere to carve out a huge part of the western world as their empire.  His (and his successors') achievement is roughly equivalent to an unknown set of tribes suddenly bursting out of the Amazon and taking over modern North America.

The concept of jihad as originally applied in the 7th and 8th centuries was bloody and militaristic -- and effective.  So much so that the Catholics copied many of the key parts for their crusades.  The 7th century was a totally different world in its outlook and assumptions.  Here is one example:  We have heard many times of the slave revolts in Rome, and most of us have seen Spartacus.  But not a single person in the 1000 years of the Roman empire, slave or not, is recorded to have ever advocated the elimination of slavery.  They may have wanted to be free themselves, or treated better, but everyone accepted the institution of slavery even while trying not to be a slave themselves.  We, with our 19th century anti-slavery movement, see the slave revolts of Rome as something they simply were not.  I believe a similar revisionism is at work here on jihad.

All that being said, I have no opinion on whether or not the militaristic concept of jihad animates any substantial number of modern Muslims or not.  I simply am not well enough informed, and currently find it hard to find any text discussing this issue that is trustworthy on either side.

Postscript:  It is true that the Muslims showed special respect in their lands to Jews and Christians  - in part for religious reasons and in part for practical reasons related to special taxes.  The Spain of three religions under Muslim rule was certainly more dynamic and tolerant than the counter-reformation Catholic Spain.  But this fact does not obviate the militaristic origins of jihad.  Islam respected Christians and Jews .... in the lands where the Muslims had taken over and ruled. Where Muslims did not yet rule but wanted to, all bets were off.

Vista Sucks -- Fact of the Day

I won't go into my bad experiences with Vista, nor into the story of my purge of Vista from all personal and corporate computers, but you can read here and here.

Here are some interesting Amazon sales rank numbers as of 10/16/07 for Vista vs. XP, which Vista supposedly replaced 12 months ago.  All the following are sales ranks in the Amazon software category, with a lower number implying higher sales:

XP Home Full Edition:  #19
XP Home Upgrade: #105
Vista Home Basic Full Edition:  #277
Vista Home Basic Upgrade:  #174

Obviously this is unscientific, because it is just one channel.  Also, Vista has more different segmented SKU's, so the product comparison is not exactly apples to apples.  But it is interesting, no?

The OEM market is going to skew towards Vista because that is what OEM's tend to load by default.  But even so, Dell, for example, is still offering Windows XP as an OEM option, a pretty unprecedented move this long after a new Windows launch.  But the Amazon traffic is probably 99% OS changes, since almost everyone with a PC gets an OEM version loaded.  Most of the Vista purchases are going to be upgrades from XP, and most of the XP purchases are going to be downgrades from Vista.  Does this mean Vista downgrading is outstripping Vista Upgrading?

Postscript: It has now been two months since I downgraded to XP on my kid's laptop, and we are still amazed at how much better everything runs now.  I was afraid I could not get all the drivers for XP but in the end I was succesful and everything, including the sound, is working great.  There are a LOT of websites nowadays to help you downgrade.  Or you can try dual booting.

Update:  The real indicator that this is Vista downgrade sales of XP is that the Full Edition is out-selling the upgrade edition, which is a reverse of history when XP was the lead product.  When I downgraded, I found I could not use the upgrade version of XP and had to use the full edition.  My guess is that others have the same problem, and that the very high sales rank of the XP full edition is very likely due to high downgrade demand.