Archive Page 2

16
Apr
13

Madness? THIS…IS…COMCAST!

3Update, I redacted the names of specific agents below because I’m not trying to get the foot soldiers in trouble for following orders.

Let me preface this by saying that i’m not a habitual bitcher. For the most part I keep a stiff upper lip and just deal with what life dishes out. Unfortunately, that’s bitten me in the ass here. Ironically, if I’d been more of a complainer all along, things might be going better than they are.

I posted the following on the Comcast Xfinity facebook page:

Comcast wants to charge me an $1100 disconnect fee to REMAIN A CUSTOMER and PAY THEM MORE PER MONTH! I’m currently a Comcast Business customer, but I don’t need the business features. What I really need is the bandwidth that Xfinity is offering for residential customers. They won’t let me out of my business contract so that I can upgrade my bandwith. Currently paying $70/mo for spotty 15Mbps service. Want to upgrade to Xfinity 50Mbps for $75/mo. Nope. Retention says I’m stuck with crappy speeds until 2015 unless I pay $1100 to buy out my business contract. They offered to bump my business account to the next speed which is 25Mbps @ over a $100/mo (introductory for 1 yr). Half the speed I want? Huge price increase? Yeah, sign me up!

Long story short, I signed a contract for Comcast Business service. The service hasn’t been very reliable as far as delivering promised speeds, but as I mentioned above I mostly just deal with the frustrating slowdowns and assume that they’re doing something to the lines and that it’ll be back up the next day…and it usually is. It happens a lot, but I don’t complain. Well…it’s starting to affect my ability to get things done. So I went looking for higher speeds, figuring that if I bump up to a higher speed, and still only get half of what I’m paying for, at least it’ll be a faster not-quite-as-promised speed.

I found an Xfinity offering that sounded attractive at around the same price point, actually a little more than I’m paying now. Xfinity=Comcast, so I didn’t think it would be a big deal to stay a customer, drop the “business class” and move to residential at a higher price point. Win/win. Right? WRONG. So very wrong. In order to switch from business to residential, you have to buy out the remaining term of your contract, then sign up again. The buyout price is not applied toward your new service. I can’t afford to just “eat” $1100.

You see, Comcast offers those same high speeds as a business class option at an exorbitant rate, far beyond what I can afford. And once they’ve got you locked into a business contract, there ain’t no way you’re ever going back to residential pricing.

They replied:

Chad, please email comcast_cares@comcast.com so that we can look into this for you. Thank you [name redacted]

So I replied to the address above, and copied in what I had posted on the Facebook wall so that they knew what I was writing about. Monday morning I received a call from Comcast corporate. The fellow I talked to offered nothing new. The only concession they would make is a temporary discount (Comcast LOVES these, introductory price, followed by a jaw-dropping increase) on upgrading to the next tier of business class service, which is still only half the bandwidth of the residential service I wanted. That was the same discount that the first person I spoke to had offered. Frankly, I have no idea why they bothered to call me and offer me the same thing that pissed me off in the first place. I guess they just wanted to opportunity to insult me, which they did. “Sounds like you have buyer’s remorse” was a good one.

Following this conversation, I replied again on the Facebook page:

 Just spoke with someone from Comcast corporate. No change at all. Everything I said above stands, and they’re practically gleeful that I’m stuck. Just posting here so that everyone will know that their public attempts to appear concerned are just for show.

To which they replied:

Hi Chad. I reviewed the notes here. We will not be dissolving the contract. I’m sorry the pricing offered by the rep was not acceptable to you. I would like to check into your service concerns. Are those speeds while connected directly to the modem? Can you email me a speedtest? [name redacted]@comcast.com.

Well at least their inflexibility is now public. That’s something accomplished. Let it be clear, I am absolutely trying to break a signed contract. Do they HAVE TO release me from the contract? No, they don’t. Would it be good customer service? I think so. I bend the rules all the time for customers because that’s more important than just upholding policy because I can. It’s also worth noting that Comcast has not kept up their end of the contract either, ie providing the promised speeds. Though because I didn’t call and complain and have them send out a van every single time, they won’t acknowledge this, nor will they grant me any sort of exception. My bad. I should have made more of a fuss all along.

Replying again in public, I wrote:

Downstream is spotty, inconsistent, rarely above 10Mbps. Up has the same issues, between .1 and 3Mbps, or sometimes doesn’t complete the test. 
Funny anecdote in speaking with the rep from corporate. He used an analogy on me that fell flat. He said “It’s like you bought a car last year and now you want us to just give you the newer model for free.” Actually, I never asked for anything for free. But to use his analogy, it’s more like I bought a car that doesn’t run that great and wasn’t really the right car for me. So I’m trying to trade in this 4DR SUV with crap mileage for a 2DR coupe that costs more but is a better fit, and Comcast is saying, “nope, you have to pay for the entire loan on the 4DR before you can do anything else”. I understand disconnect fees when you switch cell carriers because they’re losing a customer, but I’m trying to STAY a customer, and pay more. It’s mind boggling.

Their response:

I would like to ensure we get the service concerns address, but as far as the contract terms go, my hands are tied. I can’t speak to that, but I can see we get your service concerns resolved. Please email me at the address above when you have a moment. I’d really like to help with this. –[name redacted]

So at least they’re appearing to care about the fact that the service I’ve been paying for isn’t up to snuff, but there’s still no concession on getting me into the product that I’d like. While I was thinking about this, and wondering whether I was being unreasonable in wanting to break my contract, I realized why I had this nagging feeling that precedent was in my favor.

Here’s my last reply before I came over here to get this all recorded in my blog (just in case Comcast drops the ban hammer):

I just remembered another analogy, just sharing because these both demonstrate my point. He also brought up that cellular carriers have disconnect fees that involve buying out the term of your contract. This is true, but ONLY if you’re leaving the carrier and moving your business elsewhere. If I call up my cell carrier and want to change my plan, upgrade, downgrade or otherwise, I don’t have to buy out my entire contract period and then start over. I am free to choose the service that fits my needs, and the only penalty is that I might have to renew/extend my contract. Win/win. They keep a customer, customer gets the product that fits, contract is renewed. Wow, I never thought I’d be pointing to Verizon’s policies as an example of how to treat customers, but here we are.

So let this be a lesson to any potential Comcast Business customers. Comcast will not negotiate with you. There is no side-grade between business and residential service. They would rather keep you locked into an ill-fitting contract, even if it means missing an opportunity to make more money, just because they can.

09
Apr
13

Boss Fight, Argonaut, Valis at the Mirkwood and Shire in Arlington

***Most of this post is just me bitching about a weird experience playing a gig, but you should at least read the part next to the asterisks below.

Last Saturday night I drove out to Arlington to play a show with my band, Argonaut. We were scheduled to play at a former Spanish-style Methodist church since converted into a vegetarian restaurant called the Mirkwood and Shire Cafe. (In the same building there is also a Mordor tattoo/piercing shop and a Rivendell Hair Salon.) Being somewhat naturally skeptical of rock shows that take place in Tolkien-themed vegetarian cafes nestled in backwater towns, I did a little searching before I packed up my gear. I found the web page for the venue on Facebook and noticed that they had several other rock/metal/punk type shows booked. Seemed legit.

Fast forward through a few hours of driving…and we arrive at the Mirkwood. The bar staff was friendly and showed us where to load in. We ordered some drinks. Lots of drinks. Layered shots and cocktails with glowing green layers like the nuclear waste in the Simpsons. Cool. We decided to order some food as well. Matt and I ordered pizza, and Emily ordered a BLT. I noticed that “meat” was in quotes on the menu, so I avoided anything meat related. The pizzas were good, but the B in the BLT was the strangest fake bacon I’ve ever seen. It looked like a flat Play-doh wafer of extruded white and red stripes, somewhat reminiscent of what you’d expect in a Fisher Price kitchen version of bacon. It didn’t taste much better. I tried a bite and had to do some serious mental gymnastics to convince myself that it was even baconesque. I’ve had decent vegan bacon replacements  but this wasn’t even close. It was more like an aversion therapy device used to replace bacon craving with bacon revulsion. As we finished up our meals, the opening act took the stage.

***This goofy looking kid walks out on stage with a tight batman shirt and a pork pie hat, carrying an acoustic guitar. I had heard that the opener was going to be a guy doing Michael Jackson tribute stuff. Some of the guys were sceptical, but I put my money on it being incredible. Call it a hunch. I was right. This kid played through a set of MJ’s hits with an unbelievable amount of soul. Thriller, Billie Jean, Beat It, Dirty Diana, Smooth Criminal, and even Human Nature. He killed! He did the Vincent Price rap in Thriller and even sang Eddie Van Halen’s solo in Beat It. I couldn’t take my eyes off the stage. Cell phones came out. People were recording video left and right. All the guys in my band were looking at each other and saying “How are we supposed to follow this guy?” After playing through all the MJ stuff, he grabbed an electric guitar covered in eyeballs and an iPod and said he was going to do a couple originals. I thought to myself, “ok, this might be where the suck happens”. I WAS SO WRONG! He played a couple porno-funk/soul tunes that would have had panties hitting the floor at 35mph (if the women in the bar had been wearing any). You can hear them here: https://soundcloud.com/bossfight528 I have to say the live versions had more energy than the recorded versions. I sincerely hope that this kid gets snatched up by a label,  or invited to be on Americal Idol, or something because he’s star material. I would love to hear his music recorded with Minus the Bear as the backing band. He goes by the name Boss Fight.

Boss Fight

Meet the new sexy: Jacob Wikan aka Boss Fight.

The rest of the evening was a catastrophe as far as Argonaut was concerned. After Boss Fight finished, we went up and turned on our equipment, which we’d preloaded to the back of the stage. As soon as I hit my first chord to test whether all my gear was wired up, the sound guy starts freaking out “Whoa! Hey! Your stage volume needs to come down A LOT!” My volume was on 2 (out of 10). At an average argonaut show, I’m between 4 and 6. I turned down to about 1.5.  Now mind you this is a big room, with huge PA speakers on either side of the stage and a real sound board. It’s set up for loud rock. Matt fires up his first bass note and the guy has another fit about our stage volume. Matt grumbles. Dave  plays a Van Halen riff to test his gear. Another fit from sound guy about our stage volume. We all look at each other with disappointment, but decide to just go with it and start playing. We launch into our first song. I can barely hear myself over the natural volume of the drums. After the song, the sound guy is bitching at us through the PA again, but there’s nowhere left for us to go. The amps stop working somewhere between 1 and 0.  We play the second song, and when it’s over he says “You guys are gonna hate me, but you have to turn your volume down a LOT.” Matt said “Thanks, we were Argonaut.” And that was that. We packed up and loaded out.

Apparently, some patron of the bar who was having dinner and drinks at a table near the stage complained that we were too loud. Granted, we are a loud band. But in every club that you play, there’s usually the before-the-bands crowd and then the expecting-a-rock-show crowd. Usually the former filter out as the latter start to flow in. I have NEVER had a sound guy force us off stage because someone from the dinner-and-drinks crowd was trying to have a conversation at a table right in front of the stage. I don’t have a problem turning down, to a point, but at some point artistic integrity gets involved. There’s more to being a good band than just being a loud band, but loudness is a big part of the music style we play. You need to feel that thump in your chest and feel the wall of guitars wrapping around you…or else you’re not hearing Argonaut. And we can’t really turn down the drums.

Another strange side note. We had one person with us. They made her pay the cover, even after she said she was with the band. She came in with us and sat at the table with us all night, but when we went on stage to play, the door guy came over and said “Are you here for the music?” She said, “Yeah, I’m here with the band.” He replied “But you’re not in the band.” and charged her the cover price. They never asked us if we had a guest list, but still, anyone with half a brain would let 1 person slide. There shouldn’t have been any confusion. She was there all night, and there were only a couple dozen people in the place, tops. After she paid the cover, he gave her a tyvek bracelet, you know, because the six paying people in the room are a lot to keep track of. Maybe none of this makes sense to people who aren’t involved with small venue live music, but to anyone who is, this is pretty freaking bizarre. Most door guys make mental note of who comes in with the bands, or they stamp your wrist. Bracelets are for huge events or events where there are mixed crowds with minors.

I don’t know what the deal with the Mirkwood and Shire is. Van from Valis apologized for the problems with the sound guy and said that he’s seen much louder shows there. They didn’t seem to give Valis any grief during their set. Maybe they just didn’t like the cut of our jib, so to speak. It has great potential. Nice big room, awesome layout and you can get pierced and tattooed upstairs! But if they’re serious about rock shows, they should fire the sound guy. He can take his sweater down to the local tea shoppe and record the open mic nights. Anyway, we apologized to Van, who had arranged the show, and left in search of real bacon.

16
Feb
12

Wallet makers! What the hell?

It’s the 21st century. Why are wallets either hopelessly bulky or antiquated?

Here are my requirements:

  • Made of something indestructible, virtually. I’ve tried stainless “cloth”. It’s virtually indestructible, it’s also sharp, which means it cuts holes in your pants. How about whatever kepur straps are made out of?
  • Shitload of card slots! Everything has a card now! And until stores are ready to accept digitally stored cards directly from your phone, I need to carry them. Three is not enough. Six is not enough.
  • ID window. Quick ID access is super convenient. Do it.
  • Cash slot. Unfortunately I still sometimes have to deal with paper money. Until it goes away and we all get our subdermal microchips I still need this.
  • Not an aluminum box. I just don’t like the shape of the current aluminum offerings. Also, they’re a fixed size. Every once in a while something stupid happens, like a bar owner pays me in $1’s, I need a wallet with “give”.
  • No money clips! WTF?!? Why are these all the rage? Who are you trying to impress with paper cash in a clip? That’s ridiculous! Just carry one ATM receipt! That should be sufficient to impress anyone if you store your money in a bank like a normal person.
  • A little pocket for whatever else. I drop coins in the tip jar or the nearest ash tray, but I still sometimes have small things to keep track of eg. spare guitar picks, SIM card, those tiny little “keychain” cards that I don’t want cluttering up my keychain.
  • Modern looking. I realize that I could buy a thirty compartment nylon “tactical” wallet that looks like the first wallet I got when I was 9. I’m not feeling it.

Bring me this wallet and I will buy it.

24
Aug
11

Another Nevermind piece.

With the 20 year anniversary of Nirvana’s Nevermind upon us, everyone seems to be writing a nostalgia piece about how Nirvana’s album changed everything. This one is no different, really. It’s just my version.

I first encountered Nirvana when one of my friends asked if I’d like to come along to a show at Green River Community College in Auburn, WA. We went to see Skin Yard, and they were great! I remember Ben (RIP) filling the room with smoke from a portable fogger and jumping into the air and landing flat on his back while flailing wildly. I was used to massive arena shows, and frankly it felt a little dangerous being that close their manic energy. It was an incredible performance, but on the way home all I could think about was Nirvana. They had brooded, screamed and bludgeoned their way into my heart for all time.

I grew up in a sub-suburb of Tacoma in a totally normal neighborhood. I had been a metal kid. In rough chronological order my taste in music went something like this: Journey > Styx > Van Halen > Def Leppard > Ratt > Iron Maiden > Metallica > Slayer. Around 1988, I was aware that an underground music scene existed, but not much more. I was into a few lesser known bands like Bad Brains and the Accused. (When a friend slipped me a copy of Soundgarden’s Ultramega OK, my limited frame of reference told me that it sounded like a cross between G’n’R and Jane’s Addiction.)

When I heard Nirvana I completely lost my shit. They were playing a slightly heavier style then, but it was everything that Metallica wasn’t. Songs were short and visceral. In and out in 2 minutes, no exotic tempo changes, no extended solos, no “music theory”. This was everything that my friends and I had been banging out in our garages but didn’t have a name for yet. The other guys in my circle of friends were really excited about Soundgarden and Mudhoney, but for me it was all about Nirvana. I remember reading about their upcoming Bleach release in Seattle’s Backlash magazine and trying to think of any way to get up there and buy it. Unfortunately, when I got to Seattle no one seemed to have a copy. Every store knew about it, but no one had it in stock. I guess they had just sold out the initial pressing. I bought everything else that I could find with the iconic Sub>Pop logo and went home.

Eventually I got my copy and lived in my headphones for the next several weeks. This was *my* band in a very personal way. They were one of those bands that’s so special that you’re torn between wanting everyone to know about them, and wanting to keep them all to yourself. I scrawled their name on desks, walls, and my Vans.

Around this time, the “grunge” thing happened. Everyone grimaces at the word now, but at the time I was appreciative of the label. It was easier than saying “well…punk but not punk, and heavy but not metal, but with distortion…” I remember watching the infamous Soundgarden interview on Headbanger’s Ball and giggling as they sat there and took the piss out of a somewhat bewildered Riki Rachtman who didn’t seem capable of processing a band that didn’t answer the standard questions with stock answers. During this interview, the guys in Soundgarden name-dropped Nirvana as a band to watch.

The story of the release of Nevermind has been told a thousand times, but it was a FEELING I’ve never experience since…and I’ve watched a lot of my favorite bands break through to the big time. I remember friends calling and telling me that they heard Nirvana being played on mainstream stations, or that they heard an interview where some far off prince or unlikely celebrity mentioned that they were currently his/her favorite band. It was a very unique time, and I’m glad that I was in the right time and place to experience it.

And that’s really what the story of Nirvana comes down to, and this is the part that the rock critics generally get right. The stage was set by countless other bands. The music scene was literally a bunch of oily rags in a garage, just waiting to explode. If it wasn’t Nirvana it would have been another band. But they were just heavy enough to pick up the metal kids, and just punk enough for the punks. They were a little bit Aerosmith and a little bit Beatles. Kurt was like our Lennon and Petty and Jimi and Dylan. Didn’t much matter that his poetry was mostly incomprehensible, in a way I think this left it up to the listener to project their own subconscious onto the blood curdling screams. I’m sure we all have misheard lyrics that we liked better than the ones we eventually read.

Then came superstardom. Then a really weird sounding album that seemed slighlty schizophrenic, as if it was trying to please everyone and hated itself for it. Then he was gone, and that was that. There were countless copies. Some watered-down copycats calling themselves Radiohead eventually managed to redeem themselves. There was Bush, STP and then some teenager from Australia who was a virtual identical copy of Cobain. Then a shitload of absolutely worthless bands who took five percent of Nirvana’s look and sound and grafted it onto the same old boring formula hard rock and called it grunge. Those bands are still out there, and new ones are still coming. It’s a sad, sad legacy.

Hair metal bands came back with a different haircut and denim instead of spandex and claimed the name “grunge” for themselves. Slayer, Sepultura and a handful of lunatics in the cold, dark parts of Europe managed to keep the heavy stuff alive, though the near extinction experience that grunge provided seemed to infuse them with a new vitality.

The good news is that the true spirit does live on in a ton of great bands who are making amazing records completely under the radar. When the time is right maybe one of them will explode up the charts, or maybe the lesson learned by all this is that it’s better to stay small. Whatever you take away from it, Nevermind was a watershed moment, and I’ll always remember where I was when it happened.

18
Mar
11

Display quality of HTC Inspire 4G super LCD vs. Apple retina.

I spent a lot of time agonizing over display resolutions when choosing my latest phone, the HTC Inspire 4G.
I had seen an iphone 4 at the Apple store and was impressed with it’s nearly pixel free clarity. For reasons I won’t get into here, an iphone wasn’t an option this time, but I wanted to make sure I got the nicest looking display I could. I read a ton of reviews and really nerdy arguments about displays and competing technologies; qHD…s-lcd…amoled…WTF?
I’m here to tell you friends: It’s moot. These newer non-retina displays are beautiful. I could walk around on stage in a mock turtleneck being a pompous prick if it would help convince you, but trust me you would not be ashamed to take these ladies to the prom. All the things that I looked for and was so impressed with on the iphone are here. Text is nice and crisp with smooth curves. Corners of rounded app buttons are smooth, even when you look at them from up close.You’d have to get nose grease on the glass to be bothered by pixels.
My point is that while mathematically and intellectually you could argue the fine points of display tech and pixel density, even someone who spends a lot of time assessing visual quality doesn’t think there’s enough difference here to make this a factor on the pro/con list. You’d be wiser to consider whether you’d rather see videos and rich content or a blue brick when you visit a web site.

11
Mar
11

Weird is good.

Have you noticed those adds that say things like “Lose your belly fat with this one weird trick“? They’re usually for a product related to weight loss or “male performance” or hair growth or reducing the appearance of wrinkles or earning $5550 in a week. I’ve never clicked on one of these ads, but I always find it interesting when a new advertising device begins to emerge. Remember a few years ago when everything was “invented by a teacher” or “discovered by a mother” and advertisers seemed to be trying to trade credibility across professions? (Airborne, the makers of bubbling snake-oil tablets, was the first to catch my attention – though I’ve seen quite a few since.) I find it humorous that at this point credibility is no longer even desirable. Advertisers seem to think that bracketing their claims with “This is going to sound like a crock, but…” makes them more believable. I guess they’re trying to appease the part of your brain that detects bullshit by letting it smell their hand first. “See, I’ve already admitted that this doesn’t sound possible, so I can’t be trying to trick you, right?” Or maybe they’re just trying to tap into our curiosity click-reflex: Forget “proven”. Forget “tested”. This is not your grandfather’s ad campaign. This is some WEIRD shit I found in a dark alley of the internet, but you’re in luck because I’m willing to share it with you for $39/mo, plus $10 shipping (Refer 10 friends and I’ll throw in some açai berries!).

05
Mar
11

Super quick no frills wireless router shootout: Linksys E1000 vs. Netgear WNR1000v2

Are you ready? This is going to be a really quick one. Here goes:

Buy the Linksys E1000, it’s stronger* and it looks like something from Tron.

The End

*Ok, seriously. I loaded up Speedtest.net on the iPad and took multiple readings at different locations around the house. I repeated the test using both wireless routers. At the furthest corner of the house, the Netgear was delivering about 2-3 Mbps while the Linksys was delivering 6Mbps. At the point where data rate started to fall off with the Netgear (down to 15Mbps from 20), I was still getting full strength on the Linksys. Also worth noting; even though this is the bottom rung on the current ladder of Linksys home wireless routers (which run from about $70 to ~$200) I haven’t found anything that it doesn’t do well, from gaming to streaming Netflix movies. Downside: Comcast will give you the Netgear for free if you ask.