Friday, March 2, 2018

No one ever reads emails or texts carefully any longer

I sell my old stuff on Ebay and Craigslist, and it's nice to get rid of my old stuff, and to free up space in my garage. 

But -- my god man.  The amount of emailing and texting involved in setting up an appointment to meet ANYONE these days is horrific!  Because I have a smartphone to see my emails and texts, as well as a desktop program for emails and text, I see every email and text about four times.  My system is not good when I get a bunch of texts from anyone, particularly a bunch of small texts that are unnecessary. 

I think that most people are in the same boat.  They are being barraged with texts and emails. 

The result is that no one ever reads emails or texts carefully.  No wonder no one can concentrate any longer:

Here's an example, where "Horacio" on craigslist contacted me about a hard drive that I had for sale:

On Mon, Feb 26, 2018 at 6:08 PM
Horacio: Still have the hard drive ? Also advertised as 2tb but you have written as 3tb

Me: Thanks for letting me know about the error in the listing.  It's a 2Tb drive.  It's still for sale.  I can meet between 9-5 at Juice and Java in downtown Pacific Grove if you are interested. 

Horacio: I get off work @4

2/27/18 4:13 PM
Me: Sorry, I just got your emails. Do you still want to meet? If so, 430pm at Juice and Java, downtown Pacific Grove. Let me know. I'm the guy with the hard drive on Craigslist. 4:05 PM
Horacio: I'm almost home I I live in Seaside.  Where?  4:06 PM
Me: Juice and Java is at 599 Lighthouse Ave. It's just to the left of the Bank of America in downtown PG. If not today, I can meet tomorrow but today is better. 4:06 PM
Horacio: I was just going to say tomorrow is better down there I'm almost home 4:06 PM
Horacio: You know I think I bought a hard drive from you before 4:07 PM
Horacio: It was good Touro 4:07 PM
Horacio: It was a Touro 4:08 PM
Me: Ha -- that was me. Do you want to try for tomorrow at 415PM? Same place. Glad to see you again! 4:08 PM
Horacio: Yes 4:09 PM
Horacio: By the way I love that little hard drive that I bought from you 4:09 PM
Me: OK, see you tomorrow. 4:10 PM
Horacio: Ok 4:12 PM
Horacio: I want it for sure 4:13 PM
Horacio: Thnx 4:13 PM

2/27/18 3:01 PM
Horacio: We still on for 415 3:01 PM
Me: Yes, I will be there. I won't be checking messages until then. See you there. Juice and Java, downtown Pacific Grove, to the left of Bank of America. Thanks! 3:03 PM
Horacio: Ok 3:17 PM

Norb gets to Juice N Java at 4:10PM, sits inside:
Horacio: Here 4:14 PM
Norb gets up, walks into J&J, sees no one.  Goes back and sits out front. 
Me: I dont see you. I am sitting out front.juice and java left of bofa:-) 4:16 PM
Horacio: Wait what's it called I'm near chase 4:18 PM
Horacio: Oh u said B of A 4:18 PM
Me: Dont see you. I am out front. Juice n java 599 lighthouse 4:19 PM

Number of times Norb stated that we would meet at Juice and Java: six
Number of times Norb stated that Juice and Java was to the left of Bank of America: three
Number of time Horacio went to Chase instead of BofA: 1
Total number of texts: something in the neighborhood of 60

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Boo On These Bad Websites and Marketing Emails, Part 2

My first post on this subject, "Boo On These Bad Websites and Marketing Emails", has had over 1000 hits.  Maybe more folks out there than just me are sick and tired of this kind of stuff.

Anthem Blue Cross sent me a particularly duplicitous email today.  Here it is:

This is classic corporate doublespeak, falsehoods masquerading as do-gooding.  I am sick of all the lies that I encounter every day, and this type of corporate lying is insulting.

"We want to make things easier for you, so...we're upgrading  you to paperless communications."  What a fabrication!  This company wants to save money -- that's the only reason they and other companies constantly exhort us customers to go paperless.

Don't agree to this stuff.  I ask for paper copies in every instance possible, and I've taken my business elsewhere when a company refuses to supply paper copies.  I like having my files on the computer as much as anyone else, but when I need to verify a document six years later, having paper files has proven to be essential many, many times.

I went to their website and opted out of paperless communication.  I don't believe that Anthem really has my best interests at heart here, despite what they say. 

Target Stores is pretty bad.  I placed an order on their website a few weeks ago.  I started getting a request to complete a survey, and it is IMPOSSIBLE to unsubscribe.  BAD, Target, BAD!  Even worse, they continue to send requests for customers to complete surveys if they ignore the first notices.  This is enough to convince me never to shop on Target online.

So, one email asking for a survey -- and every time I buy something now, I am asked to complete a survey?  These surveys are ridiculous -- a company should know if it is doing a good job or not.  Then I get a reminder email to complete the f***ing survey again?  I filtered out these emails, which is a task I don't like doing, but otherwise I'd be getting Target's survey requests every day or so.  Terrible.

I checked Target's website to see if there was any way to unsubscribe.  I checked their privacy policy also.  Here's what Target says:

If you do not wish to receive promotional e-mails from us, email or call 800-440-0680 to opt-out. You also have the ability to unsubscribe from promotional e-mails via the unsubscribe link included in each promotional e-mail. You may continue to receive program-specific marketing emails through a program such as, but not limited to, A Bullseye View, or Target Photo. You can unsubscribe from program-specific emails via the unsubscribe link located at the bottom of those program-specific emails.

This opt-out does not apply to operational emails (e.g., surveys, product reviews).

Hey Target -- surveys and product review emails ARE NOT operational emails!  They are marketing emails.  They do nothing for your or your customers' operations. This is the kind of stuff that ruins email for most people. 

I strive mightily to keep my email inbox clean, using filters and unsubscribing.  I do understand that most people just hit delete and move on.  However, I conduct most of my business via email, so companies that abuse emails waste my time and affect my business dealings negatively.  Time is everyone's most valuable asset -- and with all the electronic gadgets that we carry around these days, most of us have to read and delete multiple copies of every email sent to us, every day. 

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Costco Sucks So Badly Sometimes, and It is Surprising

I've been a longtime Costco member, and in general, I value the membership.  Sometimes the warehouses have great deals.  I've stopped looking at any of their online deals, because every time I see a deal that I am interested in, I discover that Costco has scoped out the competition and made the deal just a bit less of a deal than what's out there.  They will add a shipping and handling charge at, for instance.

Another bummer about Costco is that they don't really look out for their members.  I'd expect as a member, for instance, that Costco would stand behind all the products in their warehouse.  I found to my surprise that if you buy a phone or phone plan in a Costco warehouse, that Costco has nothing to do with the phone vendors.  The phone vendors are entirely separate, and they will make promises (that they will then renege on) and Costco is of no help.  I bought a phone and 2-year-phone plan a few years back at the phone booth in Costco, and the vendor told me that I could return the phone and cancel the plan within two weeks with no fee or penalty whatsoever.  I tried to do so, and the phone vendor said that I'd have to pay something like $70 as a penalty.  I took my situation up with the Costco front desk, and they were no help.  I was and remain disturbed that Costco would allow outside vendors in all of their stores that do not offer the best phones and phone plans for their members.  The phones and phone plans do not represent very good deals at all, and Costco could not care less. 

For instance, check out the phone plans at puppy wireless, which sells plans on the Verizon network.  I have a phone plan from there, that works on the Verizon network, and costs me $80 per year -- only $6.67 per month!  I use it only for voice calls, but I could use the plan for data also.  For my smartphone, I use a Freedompop phone that costs me nothing for 1Gb of data per month.  I've written about this plan in the past. 

Still -- getting gas at Costco is a great deal, and their returns policy (for their Costco items, not outside vendors) is generally great.

But sometimes, Costco's really crappy attention to customer service -- which is respect for their customers -- is surprising.  I have not encountered such poor customer service at Amazon, for instance, which seems totally dedicated to good customer service.  

A few months ago, I suddenly began getting emails telling me about the lame Costco Connection magazine (ad-zine).  I tried to unsubscribe.  It was impossible to do so.  I wrote them and got a response, from ""...yes, really. Here's the email that I got in reply:

Well, yesterday I got another email -- obviously my request to unsubscribe was not honored. I guess that the person who sends out the emails from "" only sends out canned responses!  I am not surprised.  

Here's the email I received, and here are the utterly useless unsubscribe links in the email:

If you click unsubscribe -- or Update Email Preferences, here's the useless web page that you are taken to.  Yes, it is basically a blank page: 

If you click Update on that page, you will get the following utterly unhelpful email: 

Clicking the link does nothing.  

And here's perhaps the most irritating aspect of this unwanted email of all -- showing that the Costco web folks clearly don't give a crap about customer service and preferences.  If you click on "Manage your Costco Connection subscription" in the original Costco Connection email, here's the page you get: 

Note that you are not given an option to unsubscribe ANYWHERE.  The above only gives you an option to subscribe to this crappy "ad-zine."  

Hey Costco -- how about letting me unsubscribe from your crappy "magazine"?  
How about respecting your customers enough to allow them to remove themselves from spam marketing from Costco?  
How about firing the person in charge of these crappy email marketing tactics and terrible web practices?  

Saturday, December 16, 2017

How to Keep Logged onto an Xfinity Internet Hotspot Using a WISP or Wifi as WAN router

I am a Comcast customer.  Hey, when Comcast's TV and Internet service work here at my house, I am pretty satisfied.  But the fact remains that their customer service sucks big-time, and they are "America's Most Hated Company" according to this survey:

But I digress.  More on how to make things right when Comcast hoses you later. 

In this post, I'd like to point out one big benefit of being a Comcast broadband customer.  If you are a Comcast broadband customer, then you are able to login with your Comcast account to any Xfinity (same as Comcast) wifi hotspot that you can find.  These Xfinity wifi hotspots are everywhere, including residential neighborhoods.  This is because Comcast, when it rents a modem and wifi router to a customer, automatically turns on a publicly accessible wifi hotspot on that router.  The network name is Xfinity, and if you wander around any neighborhood  where Comcast supplies broadband to customers, then you will see these hotspots on your phone, iPad, laptop, etc.  If you have a Comcast account, then you can log into these Xfinity hotspots and get data over wifi.  Never mind that most customers do not realize that they are hosting a public wifi hotspot at their home; Comcast doesn't notify its customers that this is happening. 

This is great if you are traveling.  Even better, I have stumbled onto a device that can receive an Xfinity Internet signal (where I have no internet otherwise) and get internet thereby (not fast, but enough to get my email and browse the web).  Recently, a relative passed away, and I was asked to put in security cameras in the house, even when there was no internet or phone operational in the house. 

The device I used is called a Wifi as WAN, or WISP router.  A WISP router takes a wifi signal from one source, then creates its own wifi network.  There are many of these out there, but I've been using the TP-Link CPE210 and TL-WA7210N Outdoor Wireless Access Points/WISP routers.  They have been working astoundingly well at this vacant house.

The CPE210 is the newer and more reliable WISP router.  It receives an Xfinity signal from somewhere in the vacant house's neighborhood (at least 100 yards away) and rebroadcasts the signal as a wifi signal in the house.  It's been working, with no human intervention, since mid-September of this year -- over two months -- to send signals from a few IP security cameras in the house. 

The WA7210N unit is older and worked at the house for a month before needing a reset; it's happened twice, and having to reset the unit is a bit of a hassle.  Both of these units receive an Xfinity signal and will go for weeks and months without requiring someone to log in to the Xfinity login page again.

Again, to use the jargon I encountered while trying to find a device that could do this -- these TP-Link WISP routers are able to keep an Xfinity internet connection active without having to continually log into the Xfinity web authentication page. 

I did do the following items to ensure that the TP-Link WISP routers kept the Xfinity internet signal on as much as possible. 

I.  I did set up a Windows laptop in the house to automatically open up a web page every 24 hours using Windows' Task Scheduler:

I also set the laptop to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity. 

II.  I was concerned that there might be a time limit where Xfinity would disconnect from my TP-Link WISP router, as described here:

I therefore set the TP-Link CPE 210 router to ping the Google DNS server every 300 seconds (five minutes), to keep the Xfinity connection alive.  The TP-Link WA7210N router does not seem to have this capability.  I also set the TP-Link CPE210 to level 21 of radio power (it was set at the maximum 27 setting). 

By the way, the TP-Link WA7210N router works, but after a month, it seems to need a reset.  Here are the instructions on how to reset the router:

TP-Link TL-WA7210N reset instructions:

If TP-Link 7210 stops working, here's the way to get back into the admin page:

1.  While the unit is powered on (using a good Ethernet cable), it will likely show all four wifi signal strength LEDs as on. 

Reset the unit -- use a paper clip and press in the reset button while the unit is on.  Press in for 10 seconds or more until all lights turn off.  Remove the clip and in a few seconds, all wifi signal strength LEDs will likely turn back on. 

Note that once I connected a PC or Mac to the LAN port on the POE injector block, the LAN light on the TP-Link turned on. 
Also, one Ethernet cable could not power the TP-Link on at all! 
Note that I had to use the TP-Link Ethernet to USB cable.  I had to unplug it and put it back in for the MB Pro to recognize that there was an Ethernet cable plugged in. 

2.  After reset, you need to manually assign your PC a static IP address, for example. It won't get IP address automatically because there is no DHCP service on TL-WA7210 by default.
I used the MB Pro and chose Location Untitled:
Configure IPv4: using DHCP with Manual address
IP address

3.  Then connect your PC to the TL-WA7210N via a cable, log into TL-WA7210N which is

I was then able to log in. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Don't Buy a Ryobi String Trimmer

For the first time since I was a teenager, I found myself weeding and whacking a yard this summer. 

At my place, I  used an old corded Black and Decker string trimmer and a new Black and Decker cordless string trimmer.  Both of them work great, and putting new line into an old spool, or replacing a spool, are easy processes.  I just spin new line onto an old spool, thread it through one hole, and I am done.  The line feeds out automatically on both the old and the new trimmer, and I rarely have to take the spool out unless I try to cut something that is too thick and tough, like a big blackberry vine. 

I also helped a friend in Portland weedwhack his yard this summer (hey, I am a nice guy) and used his corded Ryobi string trimmer.  He warned me ahead of time that putting new line in the Ryobi was a pain in the neck.  Sure enough, trying to put new line (as opposed to buying a pre-threaded spool) was incredibly difficult.  I had to thread the line both ways and put both ends through a hole in the spool.  I could not simply thread a bunch of line on the spool until it looked full -- no, I had to cut a length of about five feet of line in advance and guess whether it would be too long.  It took me a full hour to figure out and thread the line.  I would not recommend a Ryobi trimmer at all.

Here are directions on how to re-string a Ryobi weedeater, from:

You have to be sure to cut no more than 25 feet, or you will find yourself screwed.  With the Black and Decker, putting new string on a spool is so much easier!  Just wind on as much string as you want and until the spool looks full, then pop it in. 

Reel Easy String Head


Stop the engine of a Ryobi string trimmer that has a Reel Easy string head. Disable the machine by disconnecting its spark plug wire, unplugging it from an electrical outlet or removing its battery.


Cut a 25-foot-long piece of 0.095-inch-diameter monofilament trimmer line from a roll, using a utility knife or scissors for cutting.


Rotate the knob on top of the head until the arrow on the knob lines up with the arrows on the head. Feed one end of the 25-foot-long trimmer line through the hole on the side of the head, and pull the line through from the head's other side until you have two equal lengths of line, or string.


Wind the knob until only 8 inches of string are left on both sides of the head. Wind counterclockwise if your trimmer has a curved shaft, and wind clockwise if it's a straight-shaft model or a brush cutter.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Ditch Your Landline, Save $40 Per Month by Using Google Voice and an OBihai Adapter

I've been using Google Voice for years now, and it is a great, free service.  It used to be called GrandCentral.  Google Voice gives you a universal phone number.  Once you have a Google Voice number, you can give that one number to everyone, and your GV number will forward calls to your cell phones and landlines as you choose.  Google Voice also transcribes voice messages so you can get emails with a transcription of a voice message.  It has tons of other features like the ability to block phone numbers.  Folks can send texts to your Google Voice number, and you can send and receive texts using your email rather than your phone app.  All calls and texts using Google Voice to the US are free (and I believe Canada).  International rates are pretty reasonable. 

I've had one number for Google Voice for years now.  I've also kept a landline with my office number for 20 years.  This landline has been with AT&T for 20 years, and they kept increasing the charge on it -- the last bill was something like $40 just to have a landline, with "long-distance" charges and taxes extra!  I kept it so I could keep the phone number.  Also, with Google Voice, I could go to the GV website, select or enter a phone number to call, and GV would call my landline and place the call -- the call would be place by Google Voice but would ring my landline, and would be at no charge.  It was a good arrangement, until I could not take AT&T continued rate increases. 

I did some research and bought an Obihai adapter -- here's the official name: OBi200 1-Port VoIP Phone Adapter with Google Voice and Fax Support for Home and SOHO Phone Service. 

WOW!  The Obihai adapter was super easy to set up and works great.  I was and remain stunned at how easy this adapter was to install and how well it works.  This little box (about $50 from Amazon) connects via Ethernet cable to my router, and my usual landline phones connect directly into it. 

There's only one port to plug your phone line in.  Here's a tip: phone wires in most houses are two-way.  The source can be plugged into any wall jack, and the other jacks will get the phone signal.  I therefore simply connected the phone port from the Obihai to a phone jack in my guesthouse, and then plugged in my Panasonic's base station up in the main house into the home phone wires.  I've used a Panasonic cordless phone system with my landline for years.  Everything worked fine!

From the Obihai instruction pages:
Note: You do not have to plug the Obi device into the point-of-entry for the phone line; you can plug it into any phone jack in your home to connect it to your home phone network.

Now, I have one physical phone/base station (and the wireless handsets connected to it) that rings differently for three GV phone numbers coming in.  Line 1 is the GV number for my wife's phone.  Anyone ringing her GV number rings on this line at home as well as her cell phone.  Line 2 rings my GV number as well as my cell phone, and has a different ring tone so I know that it is my line.  Line 3 rings my office phone number and has yet another ring tone.  If someone leaves  a voicemail, that voicemail will be transcribed by Google Voice; and I will get those transcripts via email. 

If I want clients to capture and see only my office phone number, I dial "**3" before dialing the client's phone number. 

Everything works almost exactly as it did before, except I can't have GV connect my calls using a computer any longer -- I have to physically dial a number.  I am sure that if I care enough, I could figure this out. 

I wanted to save my work phone number, as clients still use it.  I therefore had to convert my office phone number from a landline to a Google Voice number.  It was a hassle, but a couple of websites described this process:
Google doesn't normally allow you to port a landline phone number to Google Voice. This step-by-step primer shows you how you can do it.
As of today we're saving $45 per month by using Google Voice and an OBi VoIP bridge for our home phone!

The process was a series of simple steps.

Check Phone Number Transfer Capability
Purchase pre-paid "burner" phone or sim card and VoIP bridge
Transfer your number to pre-paid phone
Transfer your number to Google Voice
Setup the OBi VoIP device
Configure Google Voice

I did run into a problem that was really just something where I could not wrap my mind around the concept. 

I have had a personal GV number, let's call it 831-375-5555, for years.  It is linked, as all GV numbers are, to a GMail address and also a Google Voice web page.  On the GV page, I could set phones that would receive calls to this GV number, such as my landline, a cell phone, and other options like Google Chat. 

My wife had her own personal GV number. 

In the past, if someone called my wife's GV number, the landline would ring.  The same if someone called me.  When I was gone on a month-long shoot, I'd go into GV settings and turn off call forwarding to our landline.  But I could no longer do this with the Obihai!  I wanted someone calling my wife's GV number to also ring the old landline number, just as before...Duh. 

I did an embarrassing amount of research on this.  My question was how to have a Google Voice number ring another Google Voice number.  It was generally deemed impossible. 

I finally figured out that even though the Obihai adapter had only one phone port, it could handle three GV numbers -- perfect for my situation.  Within the Obihai's setting page, calls to my GV line, my wife's GV number, and my old landline number (now a third GV number) would all ring the same physical phone handsets, but have different ring tones.   Like I said: Duh. 

One last note from a forum:
One word of caution concerning the Obi ATA and Gmail. As I mentioned above, the forwarding phone called Google chat "drives" your Obi ATA and also the Call Phone feature in Gmail. However, only one of these services can be active at a time. If you notice that Gmail rings with incoming calls and not your Obi, log out of Gmail and that will allow the Obi to ring. Do the reverse if you want to use your computer as a phone in Gmail but your Obi rings instead.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Ordering from and using Store Pickup? Choose a Store with the Pickup Area in the Front

Ordering from and using Store Pickup?  Choose your store carefully if you don't want to wait in the back for an hour just to pick up a package!

Walmart is competing with Amazon for your online shopping business.  Walmart offers great prices sometimes, with significant discounts for store pickup.  What this means is that you can order an item online, and when you get the notice that your order is ready for pickup, you go to your chosen store and pick up the item. 

Sounds easy, right?  Wouldn't Walmart want to make this a painless experience for the customer?  Of course it would not.  It turns out that different Walmart stores have their online order pickup counters in different parts of the store. 

I ordered a set of IRIS 4" x 6" Photo and Craft Storage Boxes, that hold bare 3.5 inch hard drives perfectly (thanks, Jack and Sue Drafahl for this recommendation!).  Walmart sent me an email that the order was ready for pickup at the store I had chosen, which was close to my summer home in Olympia.  To be specific, this was the store on Martin Road in Lacey, WA. 

This particular store has its online pickup counter all the way in the back of the store.  I had picked up orders from this store, and the one in Marina, CA before.  Both stores had the online pickup counter in the back of the store, and without exception, every time I had gone there to pick something up, it had taken lots of waiting, asking passing Walmart employees passing by for help, pressing the "service" button at the counter numerous times, and wandering around the back of the store seeking help -- before I could get someone to help. 

This time, I set the stopwatch on my phone.  There was no one there.  I repeatedly pressed the "press this button for service" button over 15 minutes, to no avail.  I asked four employees passing by if they could call for help so that I could get my order.  No one came.  I noticed that Walmart had hidden the phone behind a wall, whereas it was previously on the counter, within reach of customers.  Obviously this was a known issue and the management had decided to move the phone out of reach of waiting, irate customers rather than to address the problem -- which had a very simple solution that I won't even bother to describe.  Nope.  Both Walmarts close to my homes have chosen to make the online pickup experience an excruciating exercise in waiting, isolation, and frustration by simply never having anyone in the area to help you. 

Did I mention that I set the stopwatch on my phone to see how long the process took to get my order?  It took 40 minutes before I was able to get my order and start my exit from the store.  In that time, I tried everything, even shouting in the store for service.  Three employees came in the back area and told me that I could not get the order myself (when I tried to point out the box with my name clearly printed on it); that I could not use the phone to call the manager or for help; etc.  Only the third employee could finally figure out how to work the cash register so that I could get a receipt and be on my way. 

Well, here's the surprise and the reason I tried and online store pickup again.  I happened to be in the Tumwater, WA Walmart, about six miles from my Olympia house (the Lacey Walmart is 4 miles in the other direction).  I noticed that the Tumwater store had online pickup in the FRONT OF THE STORE, right in the customer service area! 

I placed an online order soon after noticing this, and when I got the notice that my order was ready, I went to the Tumwater store to pick up my page.  WOW!  I had to ask someone to help me -- the folks at the customer service desk were so seemingly intent on repacking their items or something that they seemingly did not see me -- but once they got to me, I was able to get my order very quickly.  No frustration.  Almost no waiting. 

Have you noticed that every time you buy something or do something these days, the company ask you to fill out a survey asking how they did?  I never fill these out, because good customer service is so dead simple and easy to figure out most of the time.  In this case, it's pretty easy to figure out that you should order and use Walmart's store pickup ONLY if there's a store near you that has the online pickup area at the front of the store, near the customer service counters, where there are always employees ready to help you.  Avoid any store where the online pickup area is in the back, unless you like waiting in dead zones for 30 and 45 minutes at a time. 

PS If you order something from online, and you decide you don't want to go through the agony of waiting in the back to pick up from the store, you can just not follow through on your order.  From what I can find, you won't be charged if you don't show up.

Here's what Walmart's website says:

"Once your order arrives and is scanned in at the store, you will have 14 days to pick it up before it is returned to the distributor. If it is returned to the distributor, we will issue a full refund."