Thursday, December 22, 2011

Come On, You Can Do Better Than This, Quicken and Intuit!

I thought I was a dinosaur. I started using Quicken back in the days of the Mac SE in the late 1980's, and even then I was astounded that it had so little functionality. It does very little besides being a checkbook register and generating reports.

Quicken has always been easy to use, but that's because it is so very basic. It has always had bugs and I've taken the time to write Intuit to have those bugs resolved, to no avail. One huge problem (unresolved over 20 years) is that sometimes trying to find a word string or client's name just won't work. At the end of the year, I combine Quicken accounts and some transactions are inevitably missed and passed over. I have to then go into every account and laboriously figure out what the missing transaction is.

I've tried Quicken for the PC to track my investment portfolio. Holy crap, what a waste of time that was. Quicken for the PC's investment and portfolio tracking registers and methods are incredibly frustrating to use.

There was a great web-based portfolio service called Intuit bought them early this year. A short time afterward, lost all my account information and became unusable.

Here's a recent notice from Quicken, force-fed to my mail inbox even though I opted out of all mailings from Intuit. Wow, big news -- Quicken 2007 might work for Mac OS Lion users by spring 2012!!!!

Hello, Intuit?! It is the end of 2011!! Isn't it time for you to make Quicken for the Mac and PC into something that better befits 2012? It has not been 2007 for a long time now. The iPhone came out in 2007 for the first time. There were no tablets. Blackberries were still cutting edge. Isn't it time that you made something that is bitching rather than a clunker?

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thanks, Comcast, for Making My Life Hell

Thanks, Comcast, for making me type all kinds of stuff and then just closing the chat session without answering my questions.

CHAT ID: 28B4ABB1-40F2-4F2A-99E0-556D4A5Fxxxx

The session below has been edited for privacy.

Norbert: My Issue: can't cancel autopay or make a one-time payment

analyst Ronald Louie has entered room

Ronald Louie: Hello Norbert, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Ronald Louie. Please give me one moment to review your information.

Ronald Louie: I understand that you have a concern about your autopay, I thank you for your time. You've reached the right department and I will be happy to help you with your concern.

Ronald Louie: For security purposes, may I please have the full name, phone number listed on your account?

Norbert: gives this information a third time.

Ronald Louie: Thank you for that, please give me a moment to pull up your account.

Ronald Louie: Thank you for waiting, I have the account now. To complete verification, may I have the last 4 digits of your SSN?

Norbert: last 4 digits is xxx

Norbert: I also am trying to figure out what my service plan and the monthly charge. I see the instructions on your website but they do not work!

Norbert: I signed up for $29.99 per month Performance and should not have been charged any kind of installation fee, yet my current bill is for $48.91. Lots of problems, I have had to call many people to get this account set up correctly.

Norbert: First, lets cancel the automatic payments and then let me pay off the current bill!

Ronald Louie: Sure. Please give me a moment to check on your autopay issue.

Ronald Louie: Thank you for waiting, try to remove cancel autopay this time and check.

Norbert: OK, I will do so and hope you can answer my other questions in the meantime.

Ronald Louie: Sure. What are your other issues?

Norbert: I also am trying to figure out what my service plan and the monthly charge. I see the instructions on your website but they do not work!

Ronald Louie: I'm really sorry for all the trouble, Norbert. I see here that your new Internet monthly rate is $29.99.

Norbert: That's great. Can you tell me what the speed is supposed to be? Also, if you check all the bills associated with the startup of this account, you will see a mess. But starting 12-9-11 to 1-8-12, the monthly charge should be only 29.99. Can you credit my account $18 so that this is correct? I believe the $18 charge is some kind of installation or other service fee that surely should not have been charged given all the trouble I have had getting this service started. I can give you a list of Comcast staff who I talked to and promised to resolve the issue but did not.

Norbert: I appreciate it. I have been able to cancel auto APS and am trying to make a one-time payment now.

Ronald Louie: Let me check on this, Norbert. Please give me a moment.

Ronald Louie: I'm sorry for the delay. I need more time, please give me 2 more minutes. Thank you.

The chat session has been closed

Ronald Louie: Analyst has closed chat and left the room

PS -- if you are trying to make a one-time payment on Comcast, it won't work on Safari for the Mac. Try Firefox if you are using a Mac.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Apple Aperture Software for a Great Deal

I'm still using Apple Aperture to organize my photos. Just spent a week really getting my digital photo library in shape. Spent time at God's Pocket doing this also. Big job, finally done.

They are now selling it for $79 at the App Store! folks who bought it recently for $199 are pissed.

I bought Lightroom but never have used it. Just started using my Canon full-frame body to duplicate photos. Both Canon and Lightroom have a utility ideal for this -- see the viewfinder, focus, take shots on your computer screen rather than at the camera. Holy moly, much easier.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

AT&T’s GoPhone plans offer mobile web and email, Canada and Mexico roaming

Folks -- sorry.  As of 4-22-12, AT&T changed their GoPhone plans.  The only way you can get data on a smartphone now is by buying a $25 or $50 package each month.  This means that I can no longer recommend AT&T's GoPhone service as a good, inexpensive choice for someone needing minimal data and voice. 

I am pretty impressed with the capabilities and reasonable rates of AT&T’s GoPhone plans:
Here's how it works. Buy a GoPhone (there are phones as cheap as $10 at the local department store, and you can see phones online). I myself have an old Blackberry that is unlocked. Any GSM phone that is unlocked should work on AT&T's network. If you buy a new phone from AT&T, you might want to consider a phone that has mobile web and email along with a full QWERTY keypad. These seem to start at about $50. The GoPhones in a local Fred Meyer were far less expensive than the phones in the AT&T store.
Next, buy $15, $25, $50, or $100 cards so you have time in your phone. The $15 card only lasts 30 days. The $25 card lasts 90 days. The $100 card is good for an entire year. I personally think that the $25 card is the best deal and works best for me.
If you buy another card and renew before the time expires (eg 90 days for a $25 card), then any unused amounts roll over.
Here’s what I did. This procedure will be the same for folks that buy a new AT&T GoPhone:
I already had an unlocked Blackberry that I bought last year on Ebay for $100 (an unlocked T-Mobile Blackberry, which is a quad-band phone that will work on GSM networks around the world). I went to the AT&T store today, and they confirmed that their GoPhone SIM card did indeed work in my old Blackberry. It cost $15 plus tax to activate the card. If I do not keep the phone active (eg buy $25 every three months), then the phone will become inactive, and I will have to pay this fee again.
With the $25 card, I have a choice of buying a data plan also. $5 for 10Mb, $15 for 100 Mb, etc. I chose the $15 plan. This comes out of the $25 prepaid card, leaving me with $10 for voice calls. I chose the $0.10 per minute plan.
If I roam and use the phone in Canada, my calls within Canada will cost $0.39 per minute. I see that there will be data roaming charges of $0.0195 per KB.

Here’s the web page explaining international roaming rates:

As usual, I knew more than the store representatives about their plans. The clerk who initially helped me stated that it was not possible to use a GoPhone in Canada or Mexico. I asked him to check the internet, then directed him to the above page. While he was browsing that page, I picked up a few brochures about the GoPhone. Every single brochure, as well as the very large poster on the wall, explained that roaming in Canada and Mexico was now possible!
I am thrilled with being able to have email and web access on a phone, using AT&T’s GoPhone service, at what could be as low as $25 every three months, which works out to $8.33 per month or $100 per year. I am also thrilled to have a phone that will work in Canada and Mexico at reasonable rates. Awesome!
Please note that I am using my old Blackberry as a simple smartphone for web and email, but at these rates and on this plan, I don't believe that I can use the Blackberry's email and web services. Instead, I am using Opera as my web browser, and Gmail for my email. I am not getting push-email, which is Blackberry's killer app. This is too bad, but for this budget, I am not at all unhappy.

Update 11-30-11:
OK, I've now had the plan for a couple of months, and I've learned the following.
1. Texting and voice calls while in Canada worked, both to and from my phone while in Canada (For newbies, this is "international roaming"). However, even though AT&T's website lists a rate per Kb of data while roaming in Canada, I was unable to get data while in Canada. It may be as simple as calling AT&T and asking them to allow my phone to have international access. I somehow doubt it will be that easy, however. I am sick and tired of calling phone companies and knowing more about their plans and services than the agent that I am talking to.
2. This really is a heck of a good deal for voice calls and email service in the US. There are many options, but this is how I am using and paying for this plan. I pay $25 and this keeps my phone active for three months. Out of this $25, voice calls are 10 cents per minute. I rarely make voice calls so this suits me. Also out of this $25, I purchased a $15 data plan that gave me 100 Mb of data. The first month, I used less than 10 Mb of data. I signed up to automatically purchase $5 worth of data each month, which gives me 10Mb of data each month. By doing this, the extra data that I purchased initially and did not use rolls over every month.
I now have a phone that I can use for voice calls and to check my emails everywhere in the US, for less than $100 per year. Awesome. I don't have the patience to use the Opera web browser much at all, so I am only using this for emails (web access is very slow and frustrating on this phone too).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

AT&T GoPhones Seem to Have Good Canada Rates

I've recommended prepaid, monthly, pay-as-you go cell phone providers and services in the past. I've been using Net10 prepaid phones and services for the past three years and have been pretty happy -- about $15 per month for 150 minutes each month has worked well for me.

It looks like AT&T has quietly introduced a 10-cent per minute prepaid plan. I am not sure, but it seems that you simply pay a flat 10 cents per minute, and the minutes don't seem to expire every month or two like Net10's do.

Another big plus is that the AT&T GoPhones seem to work in Mexico and Canada, offering reasonable rates. Here's a link:

The above link shows rates to use AT&T GoPhones in Canada and Mexico. The rates for Canada are 0.39 per minute. These are AT&T's prepaid phones, pay by the minute.

You can buy a phone for $20 and just keep it for your trips to Canada and Mexico. I think I am going to do so. I have an unlocked Blackberry that I used to use on the T-Mobile network, which is GSM, as is AT&T's network. I ordered a SIM card that will hopefully work on the AT&T GoPhone network in my old Blackberry. I'll post to this blog how things go in Canada with this phone.

My other recommendation for folks who want an inexpensive, prepaid plan with emails is to purchase a Blackberry at Walmart that works with the Virgin Mobile network. These cost $100 now, and the Virgin Mobile network will then work with the Blackberry for only $35 per month for unlimited data and 300 talk minutes. (To get Blackberry email and web browsing, you have to pay another $10 per month above this). Pretty good deal, but if you need to use your Blackberry internationally, you will have to go with AT&T's contract service (like most intl travelers that I know). As far as I know, the Virgin Mobile Blackberry service won't work outside of the US.

A perfect solution would be an AT&T GoPhone service that will work with my Blackberry, is prepaid, and works all over the world.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Showing the Present Folder Location of an Email in Thunderbird

Here's what I recently wrote my friend and computer expert Michael McFann:

"I have a question about Thunderbird that has been driving me crazy for a long time.

Tbird's find function works great. It will find all emails mentioning "shark" for instance.

But if I am actually within an email message -- I have it open, I can even see the thread (see screengrab) -- I can't for the life of me figure out how to see what folder that message is in. I can move the message to a folder, but I can't see the current folder.

Perhaps you can tell me what I am missing. "

Mike replied, and his answer works!

"The column header bar above the found messages allows customization of the columns displayed. Click on the little icon to the far right on the bar to show a drop-down menu of columns you can display. Choose the one called "Location" to display the folder the message is stored within."

Now this seems fairly obvious.

Thanks, Mike!

Extracting Pages from PDF Files

I have recently had to do a lot of work with PDF files. One of the jobs is to print emails to a PDF file, but then to separate all of those emails so that they are on separate PDFs.

I do my work on Macs, so the below procedures apply to Macs.

I use Thunderbird to get my emails, and I organize emails into folders. To print all emails in a folder, I have found that if I select a bunch of emails, Thunderbird only prints summaries of the emails. So I've been exporting all emails as a .mbox file, then bringing that .mbox file into Entourage 2004 (part of Microsoft Office for the Mac up to version 2008). Entourage then can print all selected emails as a PDF, rather than just a summary of the emails.

To extract separate emails from the long PDF, I use an old, old version of Adobe Acrobat. It still works on my Snow Leopard machine, which is kind of amazing, but it is old and clunky. Buying a new version seems wasteful since the program is expensive, I don't use the program all the time, and I know that there are alternatives out there. I try not to use or buy Adobe software if at all possible, because I have had so much trouble with their registration and activation of licenses for software, and in trying to transfer software licenses when I buy new computers.

My friend and computer expert Michael McFann suggested this instead:

"If the task is to simply extract pages from an existing PDF file, then OS X's built-in app "Preview" will allow you to extract one or more pages from an existing pdf.

For example, I have included a document on Facebook security and a second pdf that has just one of the pages from the original pdf file.

The trick is to make sure you display the sidebar which displays the page thumbnails and simply drag/drop the pages. You can also combine pdf's this way. "

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Keeping Data Charges Down When Traveling With the iPad

I don't travel as much as I used to. When I was traveling six or nine months out of the year, then having a Blackberry with AT&T was an essential tool. You could get emails on the Blackberry all over the world. The AT&T network is GSM, rather than Verizon's CDMA, so it works in far more countries than Verizon.

It was pretty awesome and relatively inexpensive when I was overseas. I could get emails in the most remote places, like Sorong (eastern Irian Jaya) and off Komodo Island, Indonesia! I saw Eric Cheng do this and went and got myself one. The Blackberry was well-suited for getting emails, but not web browsing, so it was relatively easy to avoid huge data charges.

While I liked the Blackberry, I hated the commitment (I didn't use my Blackberry when I was home). I've been waiting for the last few years for a company that would offer a Blackberry plan with international capability that is around $35 per month (my old rate, but 2-year contract), would work overseas, and could go month-to-month. There's been nothing. Virgin Mobile sells a Blackberry, with a plan that is about $35 per month, but they use the Sprint Network -- which is CDMA and is unlikely to work overseas. T-Mobile is a possibility, but as far as I can tell (and their plans and rates are always changing, despite what the website says, and despite any promises their sales staff in their stores make) the cheapest Blackberry plan is $50 per month (T-Mobile's network is GSM, a good thing, and they do seem to offer prepaid Blackberry plans rather than only long-term commitments). AT&T's Blackberry plans seem to be all expensive and require long-term commitments.

So I am going to try my iPad (version 1) which offers AT&T's 3G network. I've heard that using an iPhone or iPad when traveling internationally can result in huge, surprising data charges. I've done my research and hope that the below might help minimize my data charges.

First, I will strive to use my iPad when overseas ONLY as an email device. I will try not to use the web unless I am using a wifi network.

The biggest problem with getting emails is if someone sends you a large attachment. From my experience with the Blackberry and reading about data charges, I can see that downloading a small photograph of my wife and dogs can cost as much as $20!! Therefore, finding a way to NOT download attachments is important.

Here's my step-by-step solution to this problem. I'm going to try this on my trip to Vancouver Island, Canada, coming up. I'll let this blog know if this works or not.

Summary of email settings when traveling with ipad.

First, having Gmail accounts is important. Gmail accounts will forward emails to other email accounts. All my accounts are Gmail accounts, even those that have my suffix/domain --- these are “Gmail for Apps” email addresses. Setting up an email address that uses a custom domain name like "" and is administered through Google Apps is great, but should be covered elsewhere.

Create a couple of Gmail accounts in addition to the ones you normally use. Let’s call them and Create these accounts on your iPad too.

1. Set your primary email address(es) to forward all emails to .

2. Set to filter incoming emails. Emails with attachments are immediately filtered, sent to the account archive, and therefore not sent to my ipad.

This is done under the Gmail settings menus.

Choose main Filters menu: matches: has: attachment and Do This: Skip Inbox.

Emails with attachments are also forwarded to

3. When traveling and using the AT&T network, check only the email account This email account ONLY shows emails that have no attachments.

In summary, here’s what happens. Any emails with NO attachments are sent to my iPad. Since there are no attachments, I will get only emails that don’t use a lot of data. Any emails with attachments are sent to the second email address that I will check when I have wifi.

On the ipad:

It is possible to turn off email accounts so they won’t check emails when traveling. Turn off your primary email account when traveling. Turn off the email account that is receiving attachments.

When overseas or when data usage is a concern, check only which will show ONLY emails without attachments.

There are certainly lots of other ways to do this. For instance, to check for emails with attachments:

The original forwarding email account will show both emails with and without attachments. I coud search for all emails with attachments using a web browser at the original forwarding email account. I could check’s Archive for emails with attachments only.

There are other things you can do, such as auto-notifications when you are gone, and setting your reply-to address to be your primary email account. You can even tell folks who send you attachments that you are traveling and may not get their email since it had an attachment.

The above is my plan. It has not been tested. I hope that this will help fellow travelers who wish to keep some of their hard-earned dollars from the greedy hands of the cellphone companies, but I must add this cautionary note: Do this yourself at your own risk. I have not tested the above overseas yet and do not know how it will work.

During my research, here’s a question and answer that I came across on the web:

Is there a way not to download attachments in emails in ipad? no, attachments over a certain size are automatically downloaded. Over a certain size, you have to click on the icon to download the attachment. General rule to avoid data charges: Only check using wifi.

Note that in Gmail’s filters, there’s a way to search for emails WITH attachments, but no easy way to search for emails WITHOUT attachments. This is why I had to go through the relatively convoluted process above.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

WATCH OUT for this phishing scam

I would like to think that I am pretty good about avoiding scams. If someone calls me up and tells me that my grandson Timmy is calling, and needs money sent to a Western Union right away, I won't be sending money anytime soon. Nor will I be sending money to the guy in Nigeria who keeps writing me. I have to check and see if I ever posted on my blog the scams based around counterfeit cashier's checks. Quickly -- if someone sends you a cashier's check, and even if your bank tells you that the cashier's check is fine -- don't believe your bank. Wait 3-4 weeks until your bank absolutely and definitely confirms that the funds are in your account. It's astonishing to me that I could take a counterfeit check to my bank (BofA) and that the teller would tell me that the check looks fine but she can't promise anything.

Here's another scam. I almost fell for it. I have a car listed on craigslist for sale. I got this in the email:

Is this your item? It has the same pics. Please check it:

Thank you.

I clicked on the link, and a page that looked like a normal craigslist page opened up. Except it wanted my login information. That's the only thing that stopped me. Normally, if I am viewing a link on craigslist, I don't need to supply my login information.

I then looked at the link that my browser was trying to open. It was something completely unrelated to craigslist.

SCAM! Watch out!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Is an Offer to the Mill Valley Film Festival REALLY Important Account Information That Customers Cannot Turn Off?

After reading the below, if any of you would like to call Chase to tell them that an invitation to the Mill Valley Film Festival does not qualify as important account information, here's the contact information:

Here's part of what Bonnie Casper, Email Customer Service Advisor, wrote me when I complained. Her phone is 1-800-436-7927:

Account emails advising account information or rewards
program information are not solicitations. These emails
are sent to notify you of important information regarding
your account. Unfortunately we are unable to stop these
emails from being sent. {Bold put in by Norb}


I keep tight control over my email Inbox. Therefore it really irritates me when companies that I do business with send spam, BS, marketing emails and try to tell me that these are important emails relating to my business with them. Most of the time, the companies take an arrogant attitude to spamming you, and won't even provide a way to unsubscribe from their "important account updates."

I'll be posting some examples.

Here's a letter I wrote to Chase:

Dear Chase:

I got this email from, attached and as text below. It is for the Mill Valley Film Festival.

Reading further, this email states:

This service message was delivered to you as a Chase Credit Card customer to provide you with account updates and information about your card benefits. Chase values your privacy and your preferences.

This is not fraudulent, but it is a serious abuse by Chase. I have gone online to try to turn off this kind of spam from Chase but cannot find a way to do so. There is no way to unsubscribe given in this email.

Please do not abuse your customer's emails and trust in your bank by sending marketing emails and labeling them as service messages or account updates.

If I remove my email address from my account so that I don't get these emails, then that means that I will miss really important emails from Chase.

Don't abuse your customer's email addresses!!

Signed, Norbert Wu

I got this reply from Chase. Hey folks out there, if you are outraged by this sort of thing, perhaps you can write this Chase guy and let him know what you think about spams.

Date: 09-02-2011 14:21:20
From: Credit Card Support
Subject: Re: General Comments
Dear Norbert Wu,
Thank you for contacting Chase about your privacy choices.
Your email address has been removed from receiving email
solicitations. However, if offers were prepared for you
before we fulfilled your request; you may still receive
those offers for up to 10 days from the date your request
was processed. If you change your email, you will need to
update your request to include your new email.
Account emails advising account information or rewards
program information are not solicitations. These emails
are sent to notify you of important information regarding
your account. Unfortunately we are unable to stop these
emails from being sent.
If you have any further questions, please reply using the
Secure Message Center.
Thank you,
Bonnie Casper
Email Customer Service Advisor
Account is owned by Chase Bank USA, N.A. and may be
serviced by its affiliates.
- Gain instant access to view and download your credit
card information.
- See and pay your bill online
- Transfer balances
- Change your address and much more....

Today is Septmeber 14. I got another email from Chase about the stinking Mill Valley film festival. But this time, there was a way to unsubscribe. We'll see if Chase really solved the problem or not.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Good on Gander Mountain (not really)! Cancel an Order and Then Send Marketing Emails!

Wow, the customer service and marketing at Gander Mountain is really good. Would you want to place another order with this merchant?

They advertise a good deal on the web, you place an order. The order is confirmed.
Two days later, they tell you that the price was a mistake, and they are cancelling your order.
Then they put you on their email marketing list.

Smart or not so smart?

These guys are not as bad as Staples, who took several orders of mine last year, cancelled all of them, but notified me of only 1 of 3 cancelled orders. They just didn't bother or care.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Your Order Wxxx
Date: Tue, 06 Sep 2011 17:21:57 -0400
From: Gander Mountain
To: xxx

Hello Norbert -

Thank you for your recent order with Gander Mountain. Unfortunately, the item(s) that you purchased were priced incorrectly on our website and, due to this error, your order for xxx has been canceled. Please click here for more details regarding our misprint policy.

If you would still like to purchase the item(s), please place another order on our website as the pricing has been corrected. Again, we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. If you have any questions, please contact us at 888-542-6337 or email Thank you.


Gander Mountain Customer Service
This email was sent to xxx by Gander Mountain
111 Red Banks Road, Greenville, NC 27858
Forward to a friend | NEW! Manage Preferences | Unsubscribe

Why Photographers Are So Tired of Donating Images to NonProfits Part 3

We photographers out here are trying to find time to do what we love and spend time in nature. We did not get into this to respond to rude folks who want something from us, want something in a rush, and are then incredibly rude and insulting if we say no.

In short, we did not respond to several messages from this nonprofit that they sent over the Labor Day weekend. I suppose William's response from our office was snotty, but being deluged by emails when we came into the office on Tuesday was a bit much.

But do I then deserve to be insulted by her reply? Here's her reply, which I consider to be way out of line:

"Many environmental photographers support our
efforts to conserve the species that they are photographing and making
money from. I sent 3 emails last night as I had sent an email to
'office' two days ago and had not had a reply and I am running out of
time to complete this report."

Yo, folks in nonprofits. You pay your printers, your electricity bills, your staff, your janitors, your garbage collectors, the post office for all your mailings. Why are you always asking photographers for free usage of their images? Why not just pay photographers like you pay yourselves.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: License this photo
Date: Sun, 04 Sep 2011 15:10:51 +0300
To: stock agent,

Roberta Dixonrequested license for this photo:

Knifetooth sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) saw used for burrowing
and stunning fish

Anoxypristis cuspidata

Please contact this user using this

User's comment:
The Wilderness Society are in the process of writing an icon report for
the North marine bioregion (Shark Bay, WA to NT/WA border) for use in
community consultation and to submit to the Federal Government's as part
of their bioregional planning process. As such, we are trying to source
some beautiful marine images for this bioregion and a photo of
Anoxypristis cuspidata specifically (one of the species we are trying to
protect). I was wondering if you have a special rate for non-commercial,

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: License this photo
Date: Sun, 04 Sep 2011 15:12:26 +0300
To: stock agent,

Roberta Dixonrequested license for this photo:

Knifetooth sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) saw used for burrowing
and stunning fish

Anoxypristis cuspidata

Please contact this user using this

User's comment:
Just sent you an email - I need the file size between 2-4MB. Thanks,

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Knifetooth sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) photos
Date: Mon, 5 Sep 2011 11:38:57 +1000
From: Roberta Dixon

Dear Norbert,

The Wilderness Society (Australia) are in the process of writing an icon
report for the Northern Australian bioregion (NT/WA border in the west
to the Tip of Cape York in the east) for use in community consultation
and to submit to the Federal Government as part of their bioregional
planning process. The Australian Federal Government are presently
trying to work out which areas in this marine bioregion they will be
protecting - we are trying to encourage them to protect more rather than
the less option they presently have on the table. As such, we are
trying to source some beautiful marine images for this bioregion.
Specifically I was after a photo of a Knifetooth sawfish (Anoxypristis
cuspidata) and found your one on animalsandearth. I was wondering if
you had a 2-4MB copy of this photo we would be able to use in this
report (with full accreditation obviously)? As with most things in this
life, we need it ASAP.

Yours sincerely,


*Roberta Dixon*
Marine Working Group Convener
The Wilderness Society
Tel: (02) 4385 9893

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Knifetooth Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) image
Date: Tue, 6 Sep 2011 15:07:56 +1000
From: Roberta Dixon

To Norbert,

The Wilderness Society are in the process of writing an icon report for
the Australian Northern bioregion (NT/WA border in the west to the Tip
of Cape York in the east) for use in community consultation and to
submit to the Federal Government as part of their bioregional planning
process (- they are trying to decide what areas of the commonwealth
waters in the NT are worthy of protection). As such, we are trying to
source some beautiful marine images for this bioregion. The Knifetooth
Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) is one of the species we are trying to
source for this report.

Knifetooth Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) saw used for burrowing and
stunning fish

I saw this image on your website. I need the image to be between
2-4MB. I also wanted to check on the use of photos for non-commercial
educational/conservational purposes by an NGO. Do you have a special
rate for use in these circumstances? We will be looking at a very small
print run (>600, mainly for politicians) and some PDF copies of the
report to be made available during the period of consultation. We will
also need it ASAP.

Thanks for your assistance,


*Roberta Dixon*
Marine Working Group Convener
The Wilderness Society
Tel: (02) 4385 9893

*Roberta Dixon*
Marine Working Group Convener
The Wilderness Society
Tel: (02) 4385 9893

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Knifetooth Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) image
Date: Wed, 7 Sep 2011 10:05:41 +1000
From: Roberta Dixon
To: Norbert Wu Productions Office

Dear William,

I did not ask for you to donate the image, I was just wondering if there
was a special rate. Many environmental photographers support our
efforts to conserve the species that they are photographing and making
money from. I sent 3 emails last night as I had sent an email to
'office' two days ago and had not had a reply and I am running out of
time to complete this report.

Thanks for your efforts,


On 7 September 2011 00:27, Norbert Wu Productions Office
> wrote:

please find another image. We do not donate images to nonprofits
and particularly not ones that bombard us with emails and are in a rush.

Sorry to be direct. We have a FAQ page that addresses this on our

Norbert Wu Productions
Pacific Grove, CA 93950

On 9/5/11 10:07 PM, Roberta Dixon wrote:

To Norbert,

The Wilderness Society are in the process of writing an icon
report for
the Australian Northern bioregion (NT/WA border in the west to
the Tip
of Cape York in the east) for use in community consultation and to
submit to the Federal Government as part of their bioregional
process (- they are trying to decide what areas of the commonwealth
waters in the NT are worthy of protection). As such, we are
trying to
source some beautiful marine images for this bioregion. The
Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) is one of the species we are
trying to
source for this report.


Knifetooth Sawfish (Anoxypristis cuspidata) saw used for
burrowing and
stunning fish

I saw this image on your website. I need the image to be between
2-4MB. I also wanted to check on the use of photos for
educational/conservational purposes by an NGO. Do you have a
rate for use in these circumstances? We will be looking at a
very small
print run (>600, mainly for politicians) and some PDF copies of the
report to be made available during the period of consultation.
We will
also need it ASAP.

Thanks for your assistance,


*Roberta Dixon*
Marine Working Group Convener
The Wilderness Society
Tel: (02) 4385 9893

*Roberta Dixon*
Marine Working Group Convener
The Wilderness Society
Tel: (02) 4385 9893

*Roberta Dixon*
Marine Working Group Convener
The Wilderness Society
Tel: (02) 4385 9893

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

If I ask a favor of someone, I don't try to take advantage of that person.

If I ask a favor of someone, I don't try to take advantage of that person.

As an example of a nonprofit organization requesting my office to donate an image, but then presenting my office with an outrageous contract, here’s an email exchange between myself and a photo editor at Conservation International. I am putting this here so that other photo editors at nonprofit organizations don’t make the same mistake.

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Request for use of image for non-commercial media use
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 11:52:51 -0400
From: Sarah Hoyt

I work for Conservation International’s Global Marine Division in media and communications. I am assisting in media outreach for an article to be published in PLoS ONE in the coming weeks titled “Global Conservation Priorities for Marine Turtles.” The paper is a unique global priority-setting analysis that lists the most endangered and the healthiest sea turtle populations in the world based on thousands of data points and input from dozens of experts.

To coincide with the release of the paper, we will be sending press releases and posting blogs and slideshows to raise awareness about at-risk populations of sea turtles and also to highlight conservation successes.

Ideally, this will include at least one image from each healthy and each endangered population. We would like to request permission to : 1) use the attached image on CI’s website to promote this story; and 2) make this image available to media for use in connection with this story.

The license agreement for the desired image is attached, along with a low-res JPEG of the image. I would be very grateful if we could get your and the photographer’s permission to use this image for the purposes described above. If the terms are agreeable, I would appreciate it if you could please send a high-res JPEG along with the signed agreement.

I look forward to hearing from you. And thank you for your support!

Sarah Hoyt| Global Marine Division
Conservation International | 2011 Crystal Drive | Suite 500 | Arlington, VA 22202
Phone: 703-341-2505


For good and valuable consideration, the receipt and sufficiency of which are hereby acknowledged, I, Norbert Wu, hereby grant to Conservation International Foundation, including all subsidiaries and affiliates thereof (hereinafter referred to singularly and collectively as “CI”), a royalty-free license, including the right to sub-license, to exercise all rights of whatever kind or nature now or hereafter protected by the Copyright Laws of the United States of America and all foreign countries in and to the photo titled “PNG0031_Hawksbill turtle”, for the sole non-commercial use to promote an online story of the published paper “Global Conservation Priorities for Marine Turtles” on Conservation International’s website and other press outreach.

I represent and warrant:
(i) that I am the sole owner of the Photographs;
(ii) that I hold the complete and undivided copyrights in the Photographs;
(iii) that I have the full right and power to make this license;
(iv) that there are no rights outstanding which would diminish, encumber or impair the full enjoyment or exercise of the rights herein granted to CI;
(v) that I have obtained any required releases from any person or for any property depicted in the Photographs; and
(vi) that I have no knowledge of any objection by any person or entity, or other third party acting on behalf of the depicted subjects, against the exercise of any of the rights granted hereunder; I hereby bind myself to advise CI immediately if any such objection comes to our knowledge in the future.

I understand and agree that if any of the above representations and warranties are found to be false or inaccurate, that I shall indemnify and hold harmless CI and its officers, directors, members, employees, and agents, from and against any and all claims of third parties, including losses, damages, legal fees, and all other expenses.

It is understood and agreed that CI, as well as any sub-licensee of CI, shall submit to me a copy of the specific application and credit me, Norbert Wu, as the copyright owner of my photos:

© Norbert Wu

I represent to CI that I am 18 years of age or older and legally capable of binding myself to this license and release agreement.

Signature: _____________________________________

Name: _____________________________________

Date: _____________________________________

From: Norbert Wu Productions Office []

Sent: Wednesday, August 24, 2011 1:02 PM

To: Sarah Hoyt

Subject: Re: Request for use of image for non-commercial media use

Dear Ms. Hoyt:

I had a good laugh when I received your email and looked at the contract language (which I converted to a PDF and have attached). I am assuming that CI is not offering to pay for the use of this image. So my assumption is this: CI wants to use my image for free. CI expects me and my office to spend the time to peruse, understand, and approve the legal language in your contract. If I sign this legal document, it seems that CI then acquires the image and can license the image as it wishes.

Why in the world would I allow this? More to the point, why would CI ask for a photographer(s) to donate their hard-earned images (which have required thousands of dollars to acquire) and also saddle the photographer with a predatory contract that has this onerous legal language that might slip by less-informed photographers?

I am offended by this request and its accompanying contract. I've already sent it to a couple of colleagues. They've both found the contract language to be objectionable and disrespectful to photographers. I am bcc:ing a few more colleagues on this email. Perhaps some of them will chime in on this issue.

Here's the language that I find most objectionable (bold emphasis added by me):

...{I, Norbert Wu, hereby grant to Conservation International Foundation, including all subsidiaries and affiliates thereof (hereinafter referred to singularly and collectively as “CI”), a royalty-free license, including the right to sub-license, to exercise all rights of whatever kind or nature now or hereafter....

If I ask a favor of someone, I don't try to take advantage of that person. If I need a ride and ask to borrow a friend's car, I don't have him sign a document that then gives me ownership of that car or lets me make money by renting the car out to the end of eternity. If CI is going to ask photographers for their help in publicizing its causes, then CI will hopefully reconsider this sort of onerous, predatory contract and instead draft a simple, clear, easy document that will make a photographer happy that he/she has helped.

Sorry to be so direct.

PS -- the image that is on the PDF is not my image. The image that you attached to your original email to me is indeed one of my images.

Norbert Wu Productions
Pacific Grove, CA 93950

Subject: RE: Request for use of image for non-commercial media use
Date: Wed, 24 Aug 2011 13:09:33 -0400
From: Sarah Hoyt
To: Norbert Wu Productions Office

Hi Norbert,

I apologize for the confusion. I am not a legal expert and was given this release as a template to use. I will certainly take your concerns to CI’s legal department and see what we can do to fix these issues. We are incredibly grateful for any donation from photographers and of course do not want to upset you or the photographers we have built a
relationship with in any way. We do not sub-license, it was in the language that was approved by my superiors. We only use images for non-commercial and media uses to promote CI’s work and achievements. We never receive money for others’ images and we always credit the photographer. Where possible, we purchase rights to use images, however
we are a non-profit and have great budget constraints so we cannot always do this.

I appreciate your directness. I am sincerely sorry.

All the very best,
*Sarah Hoyt| Global Marine Division*
*Conservation International | 2011 Crystal Drive | Suite 500 |
Arlington, VA 22202*

Nonprofits Never Treat Photographers Well

Almost all of the wildlife photographers that I know are dedicated to their subjects, are strongly in favor of conserving nature, and are generally green in their outlook. Yet ask any photographer about the issue of nonprofits asking to use images for free for their uses, and just about every photographer will give you multiple stories of being abused by these nonprofits.

I'll post a few letters from nonprofits along with my reaction and some fellow photographers' reactions. Here are a few of my thoughts first.

> I am working on a non-profit endeavor, and I would like to use your images for free. Is that possible?

We make our living from photography, plus it consumes work time to administer and negotiate the use of photographs for nonprofit organizations. Therefore there are costs and considerations involved that must be negotiated and found acceptable for everyone involved.

Due to our staff time in tracking these kinds of permissions, we cannot carry on long, tortuous conversations about usages and images. When we donate our images to nonprofit organizations, these transactions generally take three times more time than our regular business. This is because folks at nonprofits and academic institutions usually do not understand standard business practices that graphic professionals do, and we end up having to spend significant time explaining such practices.

1. If we grant you the use of an image, particularly at no charge, then common courtesy and professionalism demands that we get a copy (a xerox copy or a scan via email is fine if that is all you can afford) of the page in which our image is used.

I will always remember a researcher whom I considered a friend asking to use one of my images. I allowed her to use it. She never sent a copy of the paper (we asked), never said thanks -- nothing. A few years later she wrote to ask to use the image again. I initially gave her the same treatment she had given to me -- no response. Her requests became more and more urgent. My office finally replied to her with a "no." She was upset and asked what she had done to deserve such treatment. The question that remains in my mind is why she assumed that we'd continue to allow use of the image in more and more publications, when she never even bothered to say thanks, and never sent us a copy of the use of the image, even though we asked several times.

This is a situation I encounter a great deal with scientists (and other photographers): they ask for favors, don't say thanks, don't follow up with a copy of the use of the image, and often don't even respond if I ever need something from them. Why should my office be the only party that responds and is professional enough to take care of all necessary details?

2. Publishers like these university presses fib routinely to get what they want. SCIENCE, the magazine of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, wanted to use my image on the cover of their magazine once. We asked if they normally paid for the use of images, and they said that they never did. I went to the library and looked up some past issues, saw an image by a stock agency that I knew, called them up and verified that they had been paid. I was appalled that an organization like the American Association for the Advancement of Science would lie about something like that.

3. It frequently happens that when we try to do a favor, the favor turns into a nightmare where we have to spend an inordinate amount of time with logistics of delivering an image, the publisher is not quite happy with the image supplied, the publisher wants exclusive rights to use our images for the rest of eternity throughout the universe, etc. Our patience for such situations has worn thin.

We will supply a JPG color image that we know works well for publication. It is up to the publisher to work with that image, and we hope that their level of expertise is professional, they don't leave things to the last minute, they don't ask us to sign 10-page-long contracts that give them the rights to use the image however they want in whatever media in the universe in perpetuity that their lawyers want. Faced with any kind of long or unreasonable contract, my office will have to withdraw our offer for the use of our images. We don’t have the time to review or approve such long and onerous contracts.

It is usually far easier for our office to work directly with someone from the publisher to negotiate the rights to use our images, rather than working through a researcher. We will always need the publisher to send a contract that outlines the terms needed, and to accept an invoice from us that outlines the terms needed.

4. Our normal rate for usage of photographs in books is on the order of hundreds of dollars for a 1/4 page use, with print run limited to 40,000.

All this kind of information -- print run, size on the page, etc is what our office routinely asks for when granting a license to use one of our images. We must ask and receive confirmation on all such details as we do keep track of such things. It's business. Our business is licensing the rights to the use of my images, and we have to be as meticulous in the licensing and rights granting as scientists need to be in collecting and analyzing data for their papers. Thanks for understanding.

5. For some researchers and nonprofits, we are willing to allow the use of up to three images for the fee of $75. We feel that this is generous and it barely covers the cost of our time in tracking rights and giving permissions.

6. I hope that the publisher and any folks who we are donating the use of our images for the low rate does not take this for granted, and word does not spread that our office is granting rights to images for the low rate of $75. This would destroy what existing business we have.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

TODAY ONLY - Adobe Lightroom 3 Software $149.99 (normally $299.99)

TODAY ONLY - Adobe Lightroom 3 Software $149.99 (normally $299.99)

Adobe is offering the full version of Adobe Lightroom 3 for $149.99 (normally $299.99) today only. Tax in most. [Compare Prices]
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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Asus WL-330gE repeater/access point/Ethernet Adapter: Buy One!

(Alert -- I describe this unit below. It is selling for $34.99 with a $20 rebate at newegg until July 31. Sorry for the short notice. )

I've had one of these sitting in my supplies area for a while, waiting for me to get around to testing it. I finally got around to trying it out yesterday, and I was well and truly impressed with how well it works and how easy it is to set up.

What exactly does this do? First, it can serve as a wireless router. Most of us already have a wireless router, which takes the internet signal from a cable or DSL modem, and then broadcasts that internet signal to your wi-fi equipped computers and printers.

This device also serves as an Ethernet adapter or bridge, where it receives a wifi signal from my existing wireless router, and serves up the internet signal to a computer without a wifi receiver. For instance, in the basement, I have a 10-year-old Mac that I use to create prints on an old but still good large-format Epson printer. This Mac has a wired Ethernet port to connect to the internet, but it does not have a wifi card that would allow it to connect to my wireless network. This Asus unit, when set up as an Ethernet adapter (which was as simple as connecting it to a computer and selecting a button telling it to work as an Ethernet adapter), receives the wifi signal from my router upstairs, and transmits the internet signal to my old Mac, through the wired Ethernet port. Voila -- the old Mac now has internet and is now part of my home network, so I can transfer files easily to and from it.

I've tried devices in the past to make wifi/Ethernet bridges work, and it would take hours and hours of my time to figure out. I'd figure the thing out, spend another two hours documenting every step of what I did, then the power would go out or the device would stop working. I'd have to spend another hour going over my instructions and getting the bridge to work again. Not with this unit -- it took less than two minutes.

This device can also work as a repeater, where it will accept your wifi signal and then transmit it again, extending the coverage of your wifi network.

It's selling for $34.99 with a $20 rebate at newegg until July 31. I just bought myself another unit. Sorry for the short notice.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Quick Guide to Using a Canon 7D in a Nauticam Housing

I’ve been shooting with a Canon 7D in a Nauticam housing for several months now. I am a longtime Nikon user, so using Canon gear has required me to relearn some habits. I’ve been very impressed with the Nauticam housing, as well as the prompt service and skilled and knowledgeable staff of Reef Photo. Being able to shoot video as well as stills with the 7D is wonderful.

Physical Setup:
Remember to remove the eyepiece from the camera (I am told by Reef Photo that this should not be necessary).
When mounting camera on the bottom plate: remember to align the pin on the bottom plate to the hole in the camera body.
Mounting zoom gear on the Tokina 10-17mm lens: the first piece, the plastic C-ring, goes on first. There is a lip on the front of this C-ring. The lip should face the front of the lens. Put the C-ring so it controls the zooming of the lens. Then put the zoom gear over the C-ring with the gears facing the back of the lens. The gear will stop at the lip of the C-ring. See the diagram and PDF from Nauticam.

When installing the port extension – turn CCW. BE sure to lubricate the O-rings so that they slide in easily and don’t get pinched.
Getting the extension ring off: use a strap wrench from an automotive store. If you have a strap wrench on the extension ring and are holding the larger dome face down on a table, you want to turn the extension ring CCW, until the dash on the extension ring aligns with the circle on the dome.

Camera settings:
Set color space to Adobe RGB
Set image review to 8 seconds

If shooting wide-angle subjects like whales and sharks in blue water, it is better to prefocus before the shot and to disable autofocus. Trying to focus on, say, a dark sperm whale in blue water can lead to a situation where the autofocus hunts back and forth, never able to lock on the subject. Deactivating the shutter-released-based autofocusing and setting prefocus at about 3 feet is the best way to get shots of big animals.
To do the above,: in custom menu, disable AF when shutter release is half-depressed. Remember to turn this back on for most other kinds of shooting, such as macro. .
Focusing on your fin sets the lens to 3 feet or so –and in 99% of situations, that focusing distance will be fine to photograph animals that are anywhere from 2 feet to 40 feet away. Look through the viewfinder and set your focus on your fin. Since you’ve disabled autofocus using the shutter release button, you must focus using the AF-On button. On the Nauticam housing, this is the first lever on your right. I prefocus when I am getting ready for an animal to approach, and I also use the AF-On lever to focus on an animal if conditions are right for autofocusing.

I strongly recommend autobracketing all images. With the Canon 7D, a custom setting allows you to keep the autobracket setting even after the camera is turned on and off again. I keep my camera set permanently so that it autobrackets my exposures.

Seeing the remaining shots left on your card is a bit difficult with the Nauticam, since you cannot see the upper LED panel on the camera body. In the viewfinder, you can only see remaning “burst shots” left, which is not an indication of how many shots you have left on your card (far more important to me, since I need to know how many shots I have left before I have to get out of the water and change cards).
There are two ways you can have an idea of how many shots you have left on your card. I use 8Gb and 16Gb cards in my 7D. I know that in general, without any video shooting, I have about 250 shots in an 8Gb card. If I do an image review, the image number shows up on the last image that I just shot. If I am on image 150, then I know that I have about 100 shots left.
The better way to see how many shots you have remaining is to activate Live View shooting. Just press the start/stop button to activate Live View shooting, and the number of shots remaining on the card appears in the lower part of the screen.

When shooting large animals in blue water without flash units, I usually set the camera to shutter priority mode, with the shutter speed 1/125 or more. I set the exposure to –1/3 stop, with autobracketing set around this point, so that exposures range from –2/3 stop to 0 stops from the automatic exposure recommendation. This generally renders blue water a nice rich, deep blue and slightly reduces the tendency to overexposure in blue water shooting. In clear tropical water, with the sun out, I’ll set the ISO speed to 160 or 320 rather than using the automatic ISO mode, since the 7D’s sensor has been proven to have much less noise when set at multiples of 160 rather than intermediate settings such as 250. I’ll review what I just shot to make sure that the exposure looks fine, and that my aperture is generally being set to f5.6 or higher. I do all these settings through the Q menu, which allows all these settings except changing the mode from, say, S to M.

I use a Tokina 10-17mm lens behind a 100mm Zen glass dome to shoot large animals. I’ve been pleased with the results. Note that you do not need an exension ring to use the Zen dome with the Tokina 10-17mm lens; I bought my Zen dome from Reef Photo and they made the dome with the Tokina lens in mind. They have a different model of the Zen dome that is customized for other lenses like the Nikon 10.5mm fisheye lens. Ryan Canon at Reef Photo writes about this: “We have a different model for 10.5 that uses a shorter extension ring. If you were to switch back to Nikon we could convert the port back to the correct length for 10.5, but it is more difficult than you'll want to do yourself. “

When shooting video:
I first set focus by using the AF-ON button while in “stills shooting mode.” When video is working properly, a live view mode will come on. If you are recording, be sure that the red dot in the upper R-hand corner of the frame appears. This is difficult to see when the camera is in the housing. .

When shooting video, AF works, but it takes a good three seconds. Make sure when pressing the AF-ON button that the AF sensor is focused on a good point. See the manual for an explanation.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Nikon and Canon refurbished stores

Here's a link to the refurbished lenses section of the Nikon store. Some good deals, some not-so-good deals. I just bought a 14-24mmf2.8 lens for a good deal.

The Canon refurb store has good items for Canon shooters:

I am buying a lot of refurbished stuff these days, from to the Canon refurb store, to other places. Never a problem except perhaps for my Western Digital media players. I would recommend against buying refurbished hard drives.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Book recommendations part 1

A good book recommendation is a great gift. There are so many bad books out there. Here are some of my favorite authors and books:

Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite authors. He is revered by SF fans but is much more than that, more of a historian with a science bent. A quick read (very much SF) is Snow Crash. Cryptonomicon is an absolute masterpiece. I've not been able to get through his later very dense three-part novels. Not sure if his newest, Anathem, is good either.

Mystery/crime novels, not serious reading: anything by Michael Connelly. Start with The Poet, and you may likely want to read the rest of his books.

Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barret: History of the Franklin expedition but actually interesting.

Anything by Michael Lewis (Moneyball) or Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers). They write nonfiction about things that you would normally take for granted or not think about.

I like the books that I’ve read by Cormac McCarthy: All the Pretty Horses, The Road, and No Country for Old Men (which the movie follows very closely).

Get iPhone-like service everywhere less expensively than through AT&T or Verizon's commitments

If you want to save money on cell phone service and still get Iphone-like service, here’s an inexpensive option.

cell phone: Net10 service at $15 per month if you don't talk too much ($15 will get you 150 minutes per month under their $30/300 minutes/2 month plan).

Buy any old iPod touch. This will run your iPhone apps, the same as an iPhone but no voice calls. It will run on wifi. For instance, $150 for Refurbished iPod touch, 8GB (previous generation) at the Apple Store now!

Then buy a Virgin Mobile USB modem from Walmart (must buy from Walmart to get their special one month, 1Gb data plan) which will work on your laptop. It also works with a Cradlepoint portable wifi router.

Plug the Virgin Mobile USB modem in the Cradlepoint, and you get a wifi signal! $20 per month for 1Gb of data. You can use your laptop, ipod touch, an ipad, etc on the wifi router. It's portable and has a battery that lasts three hours.

monthly charge:

Net10 cell phone $15

Virgin Mobile data 20

Total monthly only $35 per month!!!!

Upfront costs:

ipod touch $150

Net10 phone free, from Norb, or I can point you to the website

Cradlepoint router $65

Virgin USB modem 70

Total upfront equipment costs: $285

No early termination fees. Month to month, prepaid. Out of town for a month -- no problem. Just don't pay, and restart the service when you are back.

I am using the above, and have been extremely happy with the Virgin Mobile service. It is just about anywhere I have been.

Another option to the above is the Virgin Mobile Peel, which attaches to an iPod touch and provides a wifi signal to the iPod touch, thus transforming it into an iPhone. Add voice capabilities with a Skype application.

You can also buy a Blackberry from Walmart for $99 and get unlimited data and voice from Virgin Mobile for $35 per month.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Google Maps Takes Me on a Ride in Seattle

When the sun comes out in Seattle, all these pear-shaped, shabbily-dressed, pale white people come outside from their caves. Some of the men take their shirts off, which is not a good thing to see. The city becomes crowded with people who walk in the streets instead of the sidewalk. Folks who should not be driving decide to take their car out for a spin. Perhaps even the computers that serve up directions on Google Maps get a little heady. I was the recipient of this stuff from Google Maps.

I asked for directions from Google Maps, from a friend's house to the Seatac airport. Attached are the resulting directions.

The directions aren't bad at first glance. I drove following the first 8 lines just fine. When the directions said "turn L at Mercer Street" then I started to get into trouble. Mercer Street was closed for repairs. I don't blame Google Maps for this, and the city had posted detour signs.

However, trying to follow the detour, I ran into a huge traffic jam. Seattle drivers do not know that they should leave intersections open with their cars. As a result, even if a light turned green, no one could move. I threaded my way for about an hour to get to a street where I could finally get onto I-5.

I had been to Seatac several times before, but I was not confident, so I followed Google Maps. If you look at the directions, you will see that Google Maps must have wanted me to see different parts of the city before arriving at the airport. It had me get off I-5, get onto I-90 East, then exit at Rainier Avenue and then take a leisurely loop tour in the North Beacon Hill area. This took another hour or so. I went through all kinds of small streets, having no idea why.

I was finally directed back to I-5 after this side trip, and I made it to Seatac airport, about 2 and a half hours after leaving my friend Dave's place near Ballard Locks.

I checked the same route for Google Maps today, and I could not re-create the route it gave me yesterday. The directions put me on I-5 and kept me on I-5 until I reached Seatac, very direct, very easy, 30 minutes rather than 150 minutes. WTF?

Thanks again to my friend Dave for inviting me to his wedding party, the only social event I've been invited to in about 4 years.