The three esses or three short business stories from last week.

Liz Arden reports that a company that sells on that mega-online-retailer we all use wanted to know how she liked her new Aloe Vera Gel.

“I didn’t order, ever, any Aloe Vera Gel from them nor anyone,” she said, “and the product I did order [through that online company] hasn’t arrived yet.”

She didn’t respond.

Meanwhile, Blue Cross has been calling two-three times a day for a couple of weeks, usually at suppertime.

Since I have Blue Cross, I eventually gave in. It was a 15 minute telephone survey that boiled down to two questions: Would you recommend Blue Cross to your friends and How much of an increase in premium would cause you to jump ship?

Note to self: Stop answering the phone!

Service, I: A Brick a Day
The Windows 10 Upgrade bricked one of my laptops by trashing its Windows activation.

Here’s the back story. See, Windows 7 Pro was activated before I started this latest trip into Windows 10. Unfortunately, it got to about 88% and quit with an error message. One of the fora answers had me check the Windows activation which is when I noticed that these OEM ‘puters don’t have the product key built into Windows; they use a generic “OEM” key. This one has a label that is all but rubbed out so I couldn’t dig out the key.

I called Microsoft.

‘Splained that the upgrade had restored Win7 but trashed the product key. I talked at length with the obstinate first level tech in India. He simply repeated over and over that they couldn’t recover the Product key. I escalated. His supervisor repeated over and over that they couldn’t recover the Product key.

“Call Lenovo,” they both said.

Microsoft didn’t really refuse to help. Microsoft refused to admit there was a problem or that they caused it. How could they cause it if there was no problem?

Lenovo was actually worse. “We don’t know your product ID. It is generated automatically and burned to your motherboard.”

Horse puckey. If they can print it on the label, they know it, and you know they printed it in a file.

“Call Microsoft or buy a new copy of Windows,” they said.

Oh. I have a problem that you and Microsoft caused and your only solution is to wipe out everything on my computer, make me buy a new operating system, and spend six hours of IT time reinstalling everything?

“Yes. The disk is $69 with shipping but you can buy unlimited month-to-month software support for $19/month and that includes the disk. Ten month minimum. The full year package is $199.”

I told the Lenovo rep that he was solely responsible for my moving all my business to Dell. He didn’t care. I couldn’t even be arsed to escalate. I hung up.

I called Microsoft back and got a tech who was nice, articulate, and capable.

“I can’t recover your key,” Bidyut Konwar said, “but I can generate a new one.” So he did. He asked for permission to take control of the computer. I gave it to him. He ran two quick tests, grabbed the machine type and serial number, generated the key, generated a check code, entered all of them, and I’m back up and running.

Note to self: ask for Mr. Konwar the next time I have to call Microsoft.

Note to Microsoft: Give Mr. Konwar a raise. He’s one of the good guys.

Service, II
The price for !@#$%^Comcast went up “only” ~$5/month from $98-and-change but breaking the $100/month barrier is a milestone. $1,200/year.

Comcast has a monopoly on broadband service in both North and South Puffin. Up north, they charge “only” $56.95 per month for the preferred Internet service plus $10 per month to rent a modem. “Basic” cable is $26.50 more and they add $5 to that for “broadcast fees.” I thought tax was only a couple of bucks but it’s a couple bucks twice for the public, educational, and governmental local access channels.

Lordy Lordy™.

I bought a cable modem. That will help a little.

I was offline for a little over 17 minutes while a service rep in the Philippines registered it to my system.

The new modem seemed to work fine the first day until some sites displayed the Comcast Activate Now page. I finally did that when Netflix wouldn’t load; activation made it load again. It didn’t happen on every page, so the aluminum foil hat brigade’s idea that Comcast does it deliberately to punish certain sites has some merit.

One forum suggested that Comcast assigns DNS servers that redirect page requests. Another says Comcast’s activation redirect is crap (they should have set it up not to get cached).

Meanwhile, I had to return the modem to get Comcast to stop charging me rent.

I drove to the St. Albans office. The door was locked. People were inside. I banged on the glass with my key until a fellow opened the door. I handed him my modem.

“I can’t take that,” he said.

I pointed at the big “Comcast” sign on the building. “Your tech rep told me to bring it here.”

“We haven’t been a retail location for three years. I can’t take it.”

I asked, reasonably politely, where I could put the modem.

“You can take it to the South Burlington office,” an hour drive down the Interstate.

That’s not an option.

“You can call Tech Support and they’ll send me out to your house to pick it up.” Apparently he couldn’t take it because he “didn’t have a work order” when I talked to him.

The tech drove by the house a couple of times. On his return trip, he rolled down the window and I threw the modem in. He had the paperwork to pick it up but no way to print a receipt.

Looks like Comcast sends their techs into our homes doesn’t trust them enough to let them write up a receipt.

Note to self: convince Google to run fiber to North Puffin.

Google Fiber isn’t available for this area
Enter your contact info to get updates.

The Google Service Plans and Pricing page is unlike any you’ll find on any cable or phone company site. Google actually tells you what they charge. Period.

Why do we let the other guys get away with this stuff?


We’re from the Government. We’re Here to Help

Last month, I talked about the best technique to handle spam/scam/sham calls. I.Don’t.Answer.The.Phone.

Unfortunately, my friend Missy answered the phone.

She Skyped me in tears.

Missy wears bling which dangles and jangles when she dips her minnows out of the bait tank so she’s always fun to watch. She usually prefers to talk about fishing and motorcycles and her job so I clicked out of my Facebook news stream and paid attention.

Sample Form 1040“The IRS called me,” she said. “They said I owed $3,841.60 from 2010 plus interest and penalties. The agent said he had the local cops on their way to my house arrest me for not paying.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“I called you.”

The FTC announced it will “crack down” on bill collectors. In fact, they announced 30 new law enforcement actions last week as part of a joint effort among federal, state and local authorities to crack down on troubling practices such as false threats that people would be arrested or have their wages garnished, and harassing phone calls. It even shut down a dozen “rogue” debt collectors who will spring up tomorrow under a new name. The 30 brings the total number of actions the group has taken against debt collectors up to 115 so far this year.

Meanwhile, Congress just gave bill collectors free rein. Nestled in the “emergency” budget bill (that would be emergency budget bill #8,752) were a few paragraphs that amended the Communications Act to exempt debt collection robo calls. This change will open the door to millions of Americans being targeted with automated debt-collection calls on everything from back taxes to student loans to mortgages.

On top of that, the IRS will go back to using outside collection agencies, despite the fact that previous programs failed twice. Plenty of people in and out of Congress oppose the use of outside bill collectors, but not Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) (Motto: “We’re from the Government. We’re Here to Help YOU!”). Also thinking they are “Your Voice at the IRS,” Sens. Grassley and Schumer snuck that one into the Highway Funding Bill.

And we think Congress can’t get stuff done.

Side note: According to data from the Council of Better Business Bureaus debt collectors have dropped to fifth place — out of 3,959 industries listed — among the most complained-about service providers by consumers. That places these collection agencies one step above used car dealers and two steps below cable companies and the U.S. Congress.
The FTC receives more complaints about debt collection companies than any other industry. Apparently the FTC doesn’t accept complaints about the U.S. Congress.

Go Chucks!

There is good news for Missy.

The IRS will never call you without first sending a letter. Usually several increasingly intimidating letters. At least not until now.

A collection agency will never call on behalf of the IRS. At least not until now.

Missy’s “IRS caller” was definitely a scammer.

If you get one of these calls and you do, in fact, owe taxes or think you might, call the IRS direct (800.829.1040). An IRS agent really will help you figure it out

If you get one of these calls and you know you don’t owe taxes, report the incident to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration who goes by the cool acronym “TIGTA” (800.366.4484) or visit

Sadly, thanks to the U.S. Congress, it will be harder now to tell the bad guys from the scammers.


Price Hike

Comcast CEO Says “You Can’t Keep Raising The Price Forever,” But Does It Anyway.

He’s not alone.

Federal Reserve officials continue to avoid raising short-term interest rates because inflation remains “stuck at exceptionally low levels,” according to the Wall Street Journal.

Say what?

Inflation: a sustained increase in the general level of prices for goods and services.

The Social Security Administration will to announce that there will be no Cost of Living Adjustment on Thursday, when it releases the Consumer Price Index.

Say what?

The lack of a COLA means that older people will face higher health care costs. Younger people already are.

The Unaffordable Care Act was passed based on per capita health care costs of $7,825 under the Bush Administration. Obamacare promised to save us money. So far, per capita health care has cost $8,054 in $2009, $8,299 in 2010, $8,553 in 2011, $8,845 in 2012, $9,146 in 2013, and it is expected to come in at $9,458 in 2014 and $9,800 in 2015, all under the Obama Administration.

“Oddly, I’ve been spending more and getting less for everything but driving around,” my roofer friend Dean “Dino” Russell told me. “Milk for my cats is up to $4.79 a gallon. I don’t even buy beef anymore.” Hamburger sold for about $2.19 per pound at his Publix in 2008; it was “on sale” for $4.79 this week. And gas may be cheaper than a year ago but it hasn’t come back down to the kind of prices we had for more than a decade.

Dino won’t even talk about how much his health insurance or windstorm insurance costs.

I ran the numbers for Dino’s neighbor, Ralph. Ralph is 38, single, lives in Miami, and earned $46,494 last year, so that’s the basis for his Obamacare premium. He paid $370.40 per month ($4,444.80 total this year). His insurance company received a 16% increase for 2016.

Speaking of price hikes…

Pants on Fire• I have the misfortune of contracting with “Citizens” Property Insurance Co. I don’t know how they came up with the name with a straight face. “Citizens” was established by the Florida Legislature as a not-for-profit insurer of last resort. It quickly became the largest insurer in the state and about the only place we can get windstorm insurance.

I paid !@#$%^Citizens $2,455 for wind storm coverage in 2008. The price has risen more than health care every year. I paid !@#$%^Citizens $4,489 for wind storm coverage in 2015.

“It’s the higher water damage claims in the Keys”, a Citizens rep said. “Otherwise we would have reduced property insurance rates for most homeowners here.”

OK. Wait. !@#$%^Citizens insures against wind storm damage. They refuse to pay for water damage, referring those to FEMA or your homeowner’s policy. And the last major hurricane to hit South Florida was Wilma in 2005. In fact, Fitch upgraded their bonds to “AA-” thanks to !@#$%^Citizens’ successful efforts to reduce its exposure to claims by lowering and transferring risk not to mention the small fact that there have been no hurricane losses over the past nine years.

Pants on Fire• I paid !@#$%^Comcast $742.59 for basic cable and Interwebs in 2008.

“Our rate hasn’t changed,” a !@#$%^Comcast rep told me.

OK. Oh, wait. I paid !@#$%^Comcast $1,169.10 for basic cable and Interwebs in 2015. I guess a 57% increase isn’t actually a rate change. The Baud rate has mostly stayed the same though.

Pants on FireElsewhere, Verizon says it will raise the price of its remaining unlimited data plans by $20. Again.

“Verizon will not increase the price on any lines with an unlimited data plan that is currently in a two-year contract,” the company said.

“When this happens, I will probably leave Verizon,” Liz Arden said.

Verizon has been wallowing in extra money from all the customers who own their own phones but pay full subsidized phone prices for service. “The only people left on unlimited plans are people like me [who own their own phones] so VZW’s been pocketing all that extra cash,” she notes.

We can leave !@#$%^Verizon. We’re stuck with !@#$%^Citizens. We’re stuck with !@#$%^Comcast.

Can you hear me now?

It turns out most companies raise prices for only two reasons: when they can do it without alienating their customers and when they don’t care about alienating their customers.

Verizon and Comcast and Citizens don’t care if they alienate customers. In fact, Citizens wants to drive customers away but it, like Comcast, is the only game in town.

Despite consistently ranking among the bottom ten companies in the world, Citizens, Comcast, and Verizon are breaking the banks financially. Citizens is a “non-profit.” They can levy 10% emergency assessments on nearly every policy holder in the state forever and in an unlimited amount to pay off bonds. Comcast reported $8.38 billion net income on $68.78 billion sales. Verizon reported $4.22 billion net income on $127.08 billion sales.

Wouldn’t it be loverly if we thought not doing business with these laughing stocks would change their behavior?

“It would work better to punish them,” Ms. Arden said.

Oh, and by the way? Gas prices will rise in January.


!@#$%^&^ Comcast

Asshole Brown or Comcast?

CBS News requested comment from Comcast Wednesday night but did not receive an immediate reply.

[Updated Feb. 6, 2015, just 8 days later]

Turns our “Asshole Brown” isn’t alone. Comcast has just added “Super Bitch” Bauer to the ranks, along with “Dummy,” and “Bitch Dog” Govan.

And those are just the ones we know about. Comcast has created a company culture where to lie, to cheat, to malign, and to malinger isn’t just common; it seems to us mere mortals to be company policy. I have a lot of trouble believing the fine hand of CEO Brian L. Roberts isn’t in here somewhere.

Super Bitch Bauer or Super Bitch Comcast?

We Go Fast, Part I

In a recent Comcast commercial from the Martin Agency, Dennis Farina looks straight at the camera and says “Xfinity has the fastest Internet and CenturyLink doesn’t.”

I had a little trouble with some downloads around the time the commercial aired. Many small podcasts took many big minutes. Skype kept telling us the connection was too slow for video (Skype asked if I had checked my dial-up service).

The following chart shows how long a file the size of that short podcast should take at advertised speeds. My !@#$%^ Comcast connection averaged 8 minutes.

download speeds
I ran an independent speed test.

speed test

Comcast provides a speed test that shows download speed, upload speed, and ping time. The Interweb fora are filled with reports that the Comcast results are, ah, less reliable than other testers.

(Just so’s you know, I showed the SPEEDTEST.NET results to a Comcast rep who said they were wrong, that I needed to use Comcast’s own servers to get a “valid” result.)

Alrighty then. Here are some more of !@#$%^ Comcast’s own servers, starting with the same date and time of the test above.

speed test

speed test

speed test

I understand what !@#$%^ Comcast does but did they have to make Dennis Farina do it for them?

For the record, it took only about 2.6 minutes for Mr. Farina’s 30-second spot to load and play over my fastest-in-the-nation Xfinity connection.

speed test