Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Rule of law trashed

Don't like ruling?
Set fire to stores,
Attack police, firemen

For two nights in a row, Ferguson MO has been lit up by burning buildings.

Streets in major metro areas are blocked by mobs.


Because some rabble rousers did not agree with a Grand Jury's decision to return a No Bill (no indictment) against a cop who shot a criminal.

This despite the fact that the parents of the dead youth appealed for calm.

Did those rioters hear what the Grand Jury heard? Did they see what the Grand Jury heard?

In a word, No.

BUT, the rioters decided that, even sans evidence, the cop was guilty of murder and the cities must be punished . . . cities such as New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, and Oakland (CA).

Burn own neighborhood

In Ferguson rioters are looting and burning stores, stores on which they depend or, perhaps, "depended" upon in the past.

How many store owners will elect to collect their insurance payment and walk away, leaving an empty, burned out store. A store that perhaps employed people in the community, that served people of the community, that was part of their community.


There is no positive aspect to looting and burning stores in your neighborhood.

When the fire department arrives, some fool started shooting, Firemen are paid to risk their lives fighting fires, not dodging bullets. They packed up their hoses and went back to the station.

So far, the cops and Guard has shown considerable restraint in face of attacks on them, even when guns were fired. So far, no rioters have been killed or seriously injured, and no one has been sufficiently frustrated to run over protesters lying down in the street to block traffic - largely because the police, who are being maligned by these people, protect them.

This "taking to the streets" isn't new, but violent demonstrations are relatively new; from the Viet Nam era, although I am certain historians can find a few earlier occurrences.

Would people be looting and burning if a black cop had shot a white youth in the same circumstances? If a black cop shot a black youth? If a white cop shot a white youth? Seriously. Would the professional rabble rousers, the Al Sharptons, Jessie Jacksons, et al, show up for anything other than a white cop/black criminal confrontation.

The Ferguson youth was a criminal; there is a store video that proves this.

Was deadly force necessary to subdue the youth? The Grand Jury apparently, after hearing both prosecution AND defense evident - the latter unheard of in a Grand Jury, determined that deadly force was appropriate, albeit unfortunate.

Could the shooting have been avoided? Certainly; all the youth had to do was surrender to the cop. Instead he fought with the cop (no one argues that point) and in the process the cop shot the youth.

Unfortunately, the "facts are not important" idiots who are looting and burning Ferguson, who are lying in the streets of Washington, Philadelphia, and elsewhere are having a holiday for which - for most of them, anyway - there are no consequences.

Except that maybe, in Ferguson, some stores on which the rioters depended will be gone for good.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Flagging interest

This is
A Test

(& we failed)


This morning my Spouse was frothing at the mouth about something she saw on the Internet - her main source of information is Yahoo and that will explain a lot.

Seems a person - I was told a Jewish professor - was waving an ISIS flag on the UC Berkeley campus. The flag waver was getting some "at'ta boy"s from the passersby. Then someone waved an Israeli flag and the flag waver, she told me, was verbally abused.

As a former honest (=print) journalist I decided to find out what really happened. With a little help from Google, this is what I discovered:

The flag waving was a test to see reactions to the ISIS flag and someone promoting the organization.

The person waving the flag also was telling people that ISIS was a good organization, that all it wants is a nation of its own; can anything be wrong with that?

Most of the people walked by the flag waver without comment; most ignored him - just another kook on the known-for-radicalism campus. A few students - male and female - an a grown up or two gave literal or verbal "thumbs up" to the flag waver, but the majority simply "ho-hummed" their way to wherever they were going.

Watch the Ami Horowitz short, Berkeley student reacts to ISIS flag (Ami on the Street) at or at

The flag waver disappeared for a moment and returned waving an Israeli flag and challenging passers by that the problems between Gaza and Isabel are because of Hamas.

This brought more negative response from the passers by, but still not a significant amount of push back to the flag waver's remarks.


UC Berkeley went to pot in the 60s, so being "out of step" with the rest of the country is about par for the course.

The support for the ISIS flag waver was probably greater on campus than it would have been in downtown San Francisco across the Bay - and San Francisco has a well-served liberal reputation of its own.

The negativity toward Israel also doesn't surprise me. College age is the "against everything my parents stand for" age. ('Course in some places, that would mean some Jewish kids would be staunch conservatives and pro-Israel.)

What DID surprise me was the LACK of response. Most of the passers by seemed as if they were in another world - hopefully one with exams in the immediate future rather than ones bordering on hallucinations.

The nearly total lack of enthusiasm for either side tells me that America's future may be in the hands of a generation of people who simply don't care.

That attitude is not limited to UC Berkeley or even California. The "I don't care" attitude also is not restricted to collegians.

The "failure" to which I referred in the hed is not about either flag; it is about the lack of interest in the ever shrinking world. Some say ISIS already has landed on our shores; I don't doubt it. Something needs to be done to pull our young people from their apparent lethargy, to get them excited about the world around them. Will it take another Viet Nam - but this time in our cities?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Repairing America

Use foreign aid $$s
To fix infrastructure


I heard on 60 Minutes last night (November 23, 2014) that roads, bridges, air ports, and sea ports are outdated, inefficient, and in many places down right dangerous.

According to the program, the infrastructure is supposed to be maintained and expanded by user fees - a/k/a taxes on fuel, airplane cruise ship, and train tickets, and cargo passing through air and sea ports; my list probably is NOT "all-inclusive."

Several of the people interviewed claimed that they had been promoting an increase in gasoline taxes for several years, but the cowardly congress - both houses - refused to bite the bullet and put forth bills to raise the federal gas tax.

The vehicle fuel tax currently stands at 18.4 cents/gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents/gallon for Diesel. (See How much tax do we pay on a gallon of gasoline and diesel fuel?.)

The push back is that a higher fuel tax would hurt low-income families. It also would raise the cost-per-mile to move freight from point to point.

There is an alternative

The U.S. government has an interactive page titled Foreign Assistance by Recipient Country that identifies where U.S. tax dollars are flowing.

Everyone knows that Israel, Egypt, and Jordan get the lion's share of the foreign aid budget. Cutting back on the dole for these three countries might be possible, but given those countries' neighbors, this might be short-sighted. Still, there are those in Israel, at least, who would gladly forego U.S. aid dollars, thinking in the end Israel would be stronger.

But how many people know that Saudi Arabia (!) is on the U.S. dole. Granted for only a pittance, a mere US$10,000.

Is it really necessary to give

  • Afghanistan more than $1.5 billion

  • Cambodia more than $78 million

  • Pakistan more than $861 million

  • Turkey nearly $5 million

None of the above are particularly "pro-U.S."

India, which is taking jobs away from Americans, only wants a tad less than $88.5 million.

Almost $113 million is requested for Vietnam, but Vietnam to the U.S. is like Israel to Germany; it's reparations.

I'm certain someone somewhere - probably at the State Department - can justify the billions going overseas, but maybe it's time to let someone else pick up some of the financial load. Russia wants to be a superpower again; does Putin have the rubles to spare (or is he willing to further deprive his own countrymen)? China is buying up everything everywhere; surely it can assume some of the world's welfare load.

Not only is the U.S. infrastructure falling apart, we have people who, because they lack jobs, are homeless, people who are hungry, people who are in dire need of medical attention (including a number of military veterans). We need training programs to train people for real jobs - jobs that will be created by repairing or replacing the aging infrastructure. Any person who can work, should work; if the person cannot work, we need to provide for that person; if the person will not work then let the person fend for him/herself.

The U.S. government was the "employer of last resort" during the Great Depression (thanks largely to Eleanor Roosevelt); given the condition of the country today - aging infrastructure coupled with unemployment - perhaps the Federal government should once again become the employer of last resort.

Pay for this by cutting the amount of foreign aid. (Yes, I know some of the foreign aid really is to prop up U.S. companies making military goods; "We'll give you "n" millions providing that you buy U.S. military gear with some of that money."

It may be selfish, but the U.S. needs to take care of the U.S. first; if it fails to do this, it will not be able to help others.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Where are they

Loudest voices disappear
When criminal is black


A black lawyer enters a university library and starts shooting; wounding three people before committing "suicide by cop."

Black children and young adults shoot other black children and young adults.

Black on black violent crime is rampant in all major metro areas of the U.S.

But you don't see Al Sharpton, Jessie Burns (alias Jessie Jackson), or Barack Hussein Obama railing against blacks who commit crimes, violent or otherwise.

But if a white person insults a black person or acts violently against a black person, our heroes are both visible and vocal.

The other day a black man, a graduate of Florida State University and a graduate of a Texas law school, a practicing attorney, walked into an FSU library with a semi-automatic pistol and pockets full of extra ammunition and started shooting, apparently at random targets.

There is some suggestion that the shooter was deranged. Silence from the trio of "rush to condemn" leaders.

Black on black violent crime is rampant; there is not a day that a black person is not attacked by another black person, often the attack is with a gun and often there seems no reasoning behind the attack. Drive by shootings are all too common; innocent children - kids who have yet to reach school age - are wounded by wild shots from automatic weapons.

But the voices of Jackson, Obama, and Sharpton are quiet.

Maybe the daily events are not as newsworthy - that is to say, not as likely to get the trio as much ego air time on the tv news (and rehashing of same ad nauseam).

But let a white person shot a black person and suddenly there is a great gnashing of the teeth and wailing even before any evidence is available to explain WHY the incident occurred. Never let an absence of facts get between one of the trio and a tv camera.

It's a bit like the "Palestinians" in Israel. An Egged (Israeli bus company) hangs himself and the rock throwers hit the streets and the knife wielders go after Jews at prayer, never mind that even a "Palestinian" doctor witnesses the bus driver's autopsy and agreed that the cause of death was suicide.

I am NOT condoning white-on-black or Jew-on-"Palestinian" crime; I'm not condoning crime period.

I am criticizing the trio of mouths - they make Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali seem like a silent Cistercian monk by comparison - who seem to limit their comments to those issues that get the most tv time.

Since black-on-anyone crime is, alas, not a novelty, there is no tv fame to be gained by railing about the violence. (Likewise, "Palestinian" attacks on Jews in Israel usually are ignored by the UN and EU and misreported in the media, but let an Israeli act against a "Palestinian," then the world takes umbrage.)

I don't see the trio of mouths taking to their soap boxes when a homosexual is abused, nor do I see Jackson and Sharpton standing on courthouse steps in support of illegal - let's not play semantic games and call them "undocumented" - aliens.

Not enough tv cameras around to tempt they preachers. (Obama can get the cameras on a whim; the selectively used perks of the office.)

FOR THE RECORD, I think Cassius Clay/Mohammed Ali still is the greatest boxer of modern times. Class act.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


If the mountain .    .


I have been trying, unsuccessfully, for some time to buy netTALK's DUO WiFi VoIP adapter via the company's online order form.

I tried a number of different ways to contact Customer Support - phone, web mail, trouble ticket, Chat - all to no avail.

It turns out that netTALK's operation in Miami Gardens, FL, is just a little more than 10 miles from my home in Hollywood FL. It's probably closer as that proverbial crow flies, but my Hyundai is neither a crow nor a helicopter.

Into the flivver, turn on the GPS (to supplement my written directions), and off to the netTALK "mountain."

The netTALK-in-Florida operation is bare bones; absolutely nothing fancy.

netTALK's Florida Operation

I was greeted, after ringing the doorbell (Windsor chimes if anyone cares) by a businesslike woman who challenged me, albeit politely, with "What do you want?"

I need to see someone in Marketing or Customer Service.

With that I was ushered inside and the Keeper of the Door went off in search of a customer support person. What seemed like a l_o_n_g few minutes later a fellow came around the corner and introduced himself as Customer Service. (I never did get the guy's name; in keeping with the barebones operation he lacked a business card.)

I handed him a written history of my attempts to buy netTALK's DUO WiFi.

Mr. Customer Service conceded there have been some communications hiccups lately, adding that a glitch between Discover and netTALK had prevented me from completing my order on line. He said I was not the only one who had problems using a Discover card for a netTALK transaction.

He took the card information to the order entry person who tried to enter the order using the Discover information; she had no better luck than this scrivener.

Interestingly enough, the card works fine with other vendors.

In the end, I bought the DUO WiFi with a different card (since this no longer was an "over-the-Internet" purchase and I had slightly fewer security concerns) and now I await its arrival in two or three days. (Apparently the warehouse and the building I visited are two separate locations.)

All my exchanges with netTALK's Technical Support folks, save for the last when I asked them to forward a message to Customer Support - I guess Customer Support hides from them, too - and my face-to-face with Mr. Customer Support today makes me feel better about the company and the product.

It is the only affordable VoIP option - and as far as I know the only WiFi option - that allows me to use all three of the home phones: two Uniden cordless (base and extension) and one corded phone. Since the VoIP adapter is wireless, the modem and router can stay in the home office along with the wireless extension, the wireless base can remain in the kitchen, and the corded phone can, connected to the WiFi device, stay in the bedroom. I'll have to forego connection to the telco, but I have a cell phone available if the power goes off (rare, Florida Power & Light is really pretty good) or if the ISP hiccups (as it sometimes does then it rains cats, dogs, and small elephants here in otherwise sunny South Florida.

One other benefit of my trip to the "mountain": I collected email addresses of the company's top executives as well as It's nice to know you can contact people who (ought to) care.

Will it work as I intend? Stay tuned.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Business not wanted

Technical support is great,
Customer support is not


It's a funny thing: a company with which I want to do business has an excellent and responsive technical support group.

But its Customer Service group must be non-existent.

The company is netTALK, located "down the street" from my address. It markets a product called the DUO VoIP device.

I'm interested in, and have "bugged" netTALK's tech support folks about the company's netTALK DUO WiFi. All my questions, submitted via email, were answered in good time.

But I can't seem to order the product.

The netTALK equipment seems to be the most economical device to do what I want done: a wireless network that includes

  1. Modem and wireless router
  2. Wireless VoIP adapter
  3. Corded (POTS) phone connected by wire to the adapter (#2)
  4. Cordless base unit (in kitchen)
  5. Cordless extension in the home office

The problem

Ordering the DUO WiFi VoIP adapter on line (online? on-line?) requires a credit card. I have one I use for on line purposes.

When I tried to use it with netTALK, the vendor's computer kept telling me the address for the card and the billing address I entered were at odds.

I tried a couple of times then gave up.

I tried again the following day. Same results, same message. I sent an email to netTALK Customer Support. So far, no answer.

I tried calling netTALK's number - the Live Chat was off line at the time.

I got the usual recorded Push this button for … The button for Customer Service routed me to an announcement to try Live Chat.

The following (third) day Live Chat showed it was on line. I tried it. After 3 minutes I gave up and sent a second email to Customer Support. Still no answer.

MEANWHILE, I ordered a product from a different merchant using the same card; that purchase went through without a problem. The suggestion now is that netTALK's computer hiccupped - repeatedly. (Is it just me or are all prospective customers blocked from buying?)

netTALK brags about its TECHNICAL SUPPORT with numerous customer testimonials, and that's encouraging. But if I can't get CUSTOMER support's attention, how can I order the VoIP adapter in the first place?

Customer support in general - not just netTALK, but many other organizations as well - seems almost non-existent. If I was trying to sell product, believe me, I would make it VERY easy for a person to contact customer service, and I would make certain that Customer Service provided service.

Maybe netTALK's building "down the road" is just a fa├žade; the tech support folks live elsewhere.

Funny way to run a business.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Sailors attacked in Istanbul

Where were Turkish cops?
Anchor at safer ports of call


Take your choice of Web sites that recorded America's - and Turkey's - loss of face.

    Newsbusters Nets Ignore Far-Left Agenda of 'Fringe' Mob's Attack on U.S. Sailors in Turkey -

    Washington Post In new video, U.S. sailors attacked in Istanbul by Turkish mob

    CNN U.S. sailors attacked in Turkey, have bags placed over heads

    Fox News US Navy sailors harassed, assaulted in Turkey

    Daily Mail (UK) 'Yankee, go home!': Moment US sailors were attacked by angry mob of Turkish nationalists who pelted them with rocks and put white bags on their heads in Istanbul

    Arutz 7Turkish Mob Attacks US Sailors

This wasn't a "flash mob" that just gathered at a moment's notice.


    a)   Where were the Turkish police?

    b)   Where was the U.S. Navy's Shore Patrol?

Given the nature of Muslim controlled countries, isn't an attack such as occurred in Istanbul to be expected and if it is to be expected, why did Turkey allow it to happen? (The only thing the Shore Patrol might have been able to do was show presence and call for civilian authorities.)

The USS Ross (DDG-71) is not a small "boat" that would go unnoticed.

USS Momsen, DDG-92
Similar to USS Ross, DDG-71

Do we REALLY need Turkish ports of call?

Istanbul may have been, at one time, a desirable port of call for U.S. interests. But since the rise in power of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the country has turned from a Western-oriented semi-democracy to a pro-Islamist near dictatorial state.

There are many other port-of-call options around the Mediterranean and Black Sea ports that would welcome U.S. sailors (and their money).

Mediterranean and Black Sea ports

Greece, given its relationship with Turkey, probably would be delighted to have a Ross-class ship dock at one of its ports. A US flag flying in Odessa's port - is it a Ukrainian or Russian port today? - might be problematic, but calling at Israel's Haifa would put the sailors at a friendly port. Egypt's Alexandria might be similar to Istanbul except that I suspect the Egyptian government would not tolerate an attack on American sailors as Erdogan and friends permitted.


A bit of trivia. The USS Momsen (pictured above) is named for Vice Adm. Charles Bowers "Swede" Momsen, the inventor of the Momsen Lung, a breathing device that allowed submariners to escape their boats when surfacing was impossible.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Random Thoughts

Of warranties
& global warming


We recently bought two things for the kitchen:

    1. A Samsung side-by-side refrigerator from BrandsMart

    2. A made-in-China no name coffee urn from Wayfair, a Walmart vendor

The refrigerator cost substantially more than the coffee urn - total price of the latter, including shipping, was just a tad more than $20.

The fridge has an icemaker that is supposed to dispense ice via the freezer-side door.

It failed to dispense ice.

I contacted BrandsMart via its web site and laid out the problem and solicited a call from tech support to set up a visit.

No response.

I contacted BrandsMart Customer Service via telephone. The Customer Service Representative (CSR) told me she could not enter my complaint into the computer since it was "being updated" - in the middle of the business day.

I asked her to take down my information and to enter it into the computer when the "updating" was completed. She assured me she would do this.

Since then, no response.

I tried again via the BrandsMart web page.

No response.

For the record, we have a three-year warranty on the box. Of course if BrandsMart won't honor a warranty within 30 days of purchase . . .

ON THE OTHER HAND when the coffee urn broke on first use, I called the number listed on the "DON'T RETURN TO STORE" card that came with the coffee urn, the one that clearly states on the reverse
For repair or replacement contact Customer Service
I was told to contact the retailer.

Is the retailer Walmart? It advertised the product on its web page and in smaller print said it was sold by Wayfair, or was the retailer Wayfair?

I had an email address for Wayfair so I started there.

I wrote an email setting forth my complaint and what I wanted from Wayfair.

Within short order I received an email from Julia J. (for) Wayfair on Walmart Marketplace telling me that she would take care of the matter and issue a refund for the purchase price and shipping. Walmart advised us this morning that our account had been credited for the full amount.

Will I buy from Wayfair in the future? If it has something I want at a decent price and the product is not made in China, the answer is "very likely." Based largely on Julia J. of Wayfair on Walmart Marketplace handling of my complaint.

Will I buy again from BrandsMart?

Maybe. Reluctantly. But only products that are warranted by the manufacturer.. As far as I am concerned, a BrandsMart guarantee is of no value.

Incidentally, I read the manufacturer's troubleshooting guide and fixed the problem myself. That does NOT forgive BrandsMart customer treatment.


There are those who contend that the earth warms up and cools down in cycles. I'm inclined to agree with that contention. Likewise El Nino and La Nina come in cycles.

As I look at the temperatures for November 12, 2014, I see that many places are unseasonably cold.

Butte and Livingston, Montana, have, as this is keyed, a temperature of 15 BELOW zero. Gillette, Wyoming, where I once lived, has a balmy minus 4, while Casper, in the center of the state, is a chilly minus 17, colder by 2 degrees than Butte and Livingston across Wyoming's northern border. Ely, Nevada, another place I once hung my hat, has an almost summerlike temperature of 16 ABOVE.

The Jaycees of Ely, when I lived there, used to string holiday lights in early November, well before Thanksgiving, because it simply was too cold to install decorations after Turkey Day. For the Jaycees' sake, I hope they got the decorations in place before Halloween.

If this is "global warming," I'd hate to think about "global cooling."

Incidentally, and I DO enjoy "rubbing it in," the low temperature outside my door today was 65 while the anticipated high for November 12, 2014 is 83; not a bad day at the beach in Hollywood - Florida, that is.

Al Gore may be right, but it's hard to agree with him when I know my friends and acquaintances in the north (that means any state north of Florida's borders with Alabama and Georgia) are shivering or huddling close to the Franklin stove.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Made in China

One cup coffee maker
With 30-cup capacity


Our aging West Bend 36-cup coffee maker that we used as a hot water urn finally gave out.

The Spouse went on-line and found a 30-cup replacement unit apparently is

  * Imported by Buffalo Tools for its AmeriHome brand

  * Sold by Wayfair

  * Ordered via Walmart

The Spouse made the selection based solely on price - it was cheap.

It turns out that the 30-cup coffee maker was able to produce only one-cup.

After the first cup, the spigot handle broke and no more water could be released. I suppose that's better than having the spigot stuck OPEN, dumping 85o F water on my feet and the floor.

Broken spigot handle - failed after one use

A coffee urn has a hard life at our home. It sometimes runs 72 hours at a stretch.

The made-in-America West Bend not only survived the extended use, but was quiet about it. The replacement made-in-China unit not only failed at first use, but it also was noisy. The Spouse likes quiet.

An equivalent capacity West Bend unit costs roughly $12-$15 more than the Chinese urn. Target is listing a West Bend 30-Cup Polished Aluminum Urn - 58030 for $32 plus tax but with free shipping. Walmart is advertising the same unit, sold by one of its partners, for $43.30 plus tax and plus shipping. A West Bend 42-Cup Polished Aluminum Urn - 58002 at Target is $46 plus tax.

Somewhere along the line the made-in-China urn allegedly went through "QC" - Quality Control - there's a sticker on the bottom of the unit that says so.

What the bottom of the unit omits are

  * Name of manufacturer

  * Name of importer

  *  Underwriters Laboratories (UL) approval

Underside of failed urn

Back in the day, Japanese products had the same reputation that Chinese products have today - shoddy workmanship using shoddy parts to sell cheap and still make a good markup for the owners.

In 1970 I bought, for a $125 advance from my employer, a Honeywell Pentax H3v 35mm SLR. The camera was manufactured in Japan and imported by Honeywell. Because Honeywell's association was advertised, Honeywell inspected each Asahi Pentax camera before it was released to the retail market. The bare-bones camera served me well for many years; I gave it to a friend who used it for years than gave it to his son-in-law. No problems were ever encountered with the camera. (I later [c 1972] bought a brass Canon F-1 - with Speed Finder - and a used Canon FtB, both of which served me well until I reluctantly went digital due to the cost and environmental impact of buying and processing film.)

This is NOT to say that everything that comes from Japan today has the QC of my cameras, just as there are made-in-America products that are less than they could/should be (auto recalls for example), but China's reputation is well-deserved: dry wall, tires, and toys to name just three imports.

The next coffee urn we buy will be a West Bend; it's one of very few brands still made in the USA. Others include Colony Coffee Urn, and at least some Focus Regalware urns.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Of products
& warranties


We recently acquired some new "things," including a dish washer, a refrigerator, and a coffee urn.

The dishwasher is pretty simple and carries a lot of brand labels. It was installed by a guy who new his business and made sure everything worked before he asked me to sign off on the installation.

The fridge, a huge Samsung side-by-side that looks impressive - icemaker and water through-the-door distribution, yah-dah, yah-dah. It's bigger than the old unit, but, frankly, I don't think it's any easier to access "stuff" inside. I want to assume the box was made in Japan or in the US for a Japanese company, but I suspect most of the box came from China.

The coffee urn, made in China - only West Bend is made in the USA - replaced a West Bend that served us well for about 4 years. The new, cheaper than West Bend, urn was used for one - ONE - cup of coffee before it broke.

Of the three things, only one - the dishwasher - has served us well, although to be fair it's only used once-a-week or when we have company.

The coffee urn will go back Monday.

But the fridge . . . that's another story.

My wife and son bought the box from BrandsMart. It turns out that it is BrandsMart not, as I mistakenly thought, BrandSmart. The wife also bought a 3-year extended warranty.

When the box was first installed everything seemed to work OK.

Then the icemaker stopped making ice. This was discovered when the Spouse burned her hand I wanted to put ice on the burn.

SO, I dug out the warranty information and, since I am a Web-junky, I used the Web to contact BrandsMart to complain and ask to have a tech call me to set up an appointment.

No response.

Although I loathe the telephone, I called the BrandsMart warranty number. A woman answered and when I told her I needed tech support she informed me the computer was being updated.

Updated in the middle of a normal workday? Incredible. Unbelievable.

I insisted that the woman take down my information with pencil - maybe crayon - and paper and then, when the software was updated, transfer the information into the database. I several times asked if the Customer Service Representative "got" the information and the response always was "Yes."

And the response was: Silence. No calls from tech support to set a time to fix the problem.

I went back and read the box's troubleshooting guide and thought I found - and fixed - the problem.

Tried the ice maker. No change - no ice.

Waited an hour and tried again. No change - no ice.

Once again to BrandsMart's Web site and once again I defined my problem and what I did to resolve it, along with the notation that the ice maker STILL was not producing ice - neither chips nor cubes. Hit "Send" and continued waiting.

Three days later I STILL am waiting to hear from BrandsMart.

Mind, the box is less than a month out of the box. We are NOT talking about the end of the three-year extended contract so there is no question that BrandsMart is trying to stretch out the problem until the warranty expires.

AS IT HAPPENS, what I did to the ice maker eventually fixed the problem and I was - and still am - waiting for a call from BrandsMart to tell them to cancel my three requests for technical support.

I am, however, curious to know why BrandsMart sells a product with a guarantee it apparently has no intention of honoring. The warranty is very clear that it is with BrandsMart and NOT with Samsung. Perhaps BrandsMart is the "China" of warranties - looks good but has no value.

Extended warranty or not, if we have any more problems with the Samsung box I will contact BrandsMart and cc Samsung so at least the company that brands the box will know that it's vendor's warranties are not worth the paper on which they are printed.

What's happened to American pride? Does anyone take pride in their work any more? Does anyone even CARE any more? Based on the inaction of BrandsMart and the Made-in_China coffee urn, I guess the answer is a resounding "No, no one cares."

What did I expect from the importer of the Chinese urn? QUALITY CONTROL, sampling of incoming product. Is my defective urn one out of 10? One out of 100? One out of 1,000? My guess is that the importer has no clue and probably doesn't care - it's probably cheaper to refund a customer's purchase price that it is to do any QC on Chinese products.

Which is why we will order a new West Bend urn tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Cutting the cord

Trying to connect
On the VoIP line


It's been awhile since I first used a telephone. Phone booths, when not in use by Superman as a dressing room or Dr. Who as a pre-Star Trek transporter, used to allow me to make a call for a dime.

But I've "kept up." I reluctantly gave up - there was no choice - classy phone numbers that included words - Pennsylvania 6-1000 (PA6-1000), Cherry 9-1674 (CH9-1674), etc. At one point in my brief military career, I used a "plug board" - think of the great Lily Tomlin's Ernestine and you will see her with a plug board. Now I have, in addition to copper (landline), a cellular phone - just a "dumb" one, but mobile none-the-less.

Over the course of my tech pubs career, I documented PBXs for the Japanese (OKI) and the Israelis (Tadiran).

But "Voice over Internet Protocol," a/k/a VoIP, has been avoided.

CAVEAT: In reviewing customer comments on the MagicJack/Sentiment/Cons, at least one customer complained that the telco providing internet connectivity cut off internet access when the customer canceled the telephone service. It might be a good idea to either talk to the phone service provider BEFORE cancelling landline service or to have an alternate internet service provider (ISP) in place before cancelling the landline.

VoIP has its problems, especially if you need emergency services "stat" - right now! Until recently, there was no way for emergency services to locate a VoIP caller; it still can't be accomplished in many communities.

On top of the 9-1-1 problem, when the AC is interrupted, VoIP service in interrupted - unless the user has an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) providing backup power to a modem/router and the VoIP adapter..

But, since almost everyone now is chained to someplace with a cell/mobile phone, maybe the absence of a landline can be tolerated.

There are a couple of remaining problems.

Sometimes cell reception is "if'fy."

Worse, my wife prefers to use the cordless handsets or even the corded phone's handset, to the tiny cell phone. Gone are the days when a mobile phone either had a telephone handset attached or looked like a military PRC-6.

Still, the monthly bills seem to be inching up, cent by cent. It's a double hit. As the telco raises its rates, the tax bite also climbs. What started off as a reasonable rate for the time has now inched up sufficiently that we are considering VoIP.

We already have Internet connectivity (obviously) and daily overseas calls are via Skype - great when it works from point-to-point (meaning that all problems encountered could be the result of an ISP at either end, or the WWW, or Skype. There is an alternative - TinyChat, similar to Skype but accommodating many more participants for free at one time. It is a little less "user friendly" than Skype so computerphobes won't use it.)

There are several "click-n-go" VoIP systems out there. I've been looking at five:

  1. Axvoice

  2. BasicTalk by Vonage

  3. MagicJack

  4. netTALK

  5. VOIPo

My current phone population consists of:

  • Cordless base station

  • Cordless extension

  • POTS (corded) station

The POTS (Plain Ol' Telephone System) station is the odd-man-out, so to speak.

Each product has its pros and each has its cons.

Axvoice This company has several plans. All start off with a $20 initial fee to ship the free VoIP adapter, but then the annual fee kicks in. For the Axvoice basic plan, the user pays $118/year; this includes an $18 "911" levy. The company's world plan, which includes international long distance to select phones, comes in at $218/year. For most destinations - including the one we call most often, that is for landline (corded phones) only; mobile/cell phones are not included. Number porting is free. The service currently works only with wireless phones; corded phones are not supported, nor is there a WiFi option currently offered.

BasicTalk One of the two well-advertised companies, BasicTalk is $10/month ($120/year) plus taxes and is paid monthly by credit card. According to BasicTalk tech support, the equipment works with both corded and wireless phones. However, there is one caveat: The telco line (the wire from AT&T, Verizon, etc.) must be disconnected if BasicTalk is to work with a corded phone. If DSL is the connection to the Internet, then the options are:
(a) toss out the corded phone or
(b) dump DSL and get Internet via cable; wireless (dish) Internet service is not recommended.
If your home setup is similar to mine, the modem and router are on one side of the house and the corded phone is on the other. Number porting is free.

I thought BasicTalk had a WiFi version similar to netTALK; BasicTalk support reports that it does NOT have a WiFi option.

netTALK There are two - actually 3, but two are almost twins - versions available: Duo WiFi and Duo II.

According to netTALK tech support, Duo WiFi solves the corded phone issue (see BasicTalk, ibid.) by allowing the user to put the WiFi adapter wherever convenient; in my case, next to the corded phone. My TP-Link router reaches all corners of the relatively compact residence. Since the corded phone is plugged into the adapter, not the phone line, there is no problem with keeping DSL. netTALK Duo WiFi has the second highest up-front cost of $65, but that includes one year of service ($30 for the least expensive plan). By comparison, Duo II is $35 for the equipment and first year, with three months free, then $30/year thereafter. Number porting is free.

netTALK won't let me automatically route my international long distance calls via Telna, my LD service. Now, with AT&T and Verizon, when I dial 011 (the international gateway code), AT&T/Verizon routes the call directly to Telna. Convenient; out of sight, out of mind. The cells, with free long distance in the U.S. and Canada are programmed to dial Telna's toll number, pause, then dial the destination number. Worst case, with netTALK, I will program Telna's toll number into the handsets and wait for Telna's prompt, then manually dial the destination number. (For all that, netTALK's international rates are competitive.)

MagicJack probably has been around the longest in the residential market. While it seems to be the least expensive option, it has it's "got-cha's."

MagicJack will port (transfer) a current number for a fee: $20 the first year and then $10 every year thereafter. That's on top of its $35 annual fee. That seems to me unreasonable since a "Number Portability Fee" (tax) is included in my monthly phone bill. Moreover, why an annual porting fee - it is a one-time process? It "does not compute."

MagicJack connects directly to a computer, modem, or router; as with all but netTALK, there currently is no WiFi option.

MagicJack is not without its detractors. (None of the VoIP candidates are "complaint free.") WikiBooks MagicJack/Sentiment/Cons lists a litany of woes.

VoIPO At an initial fee $150, VoIPO has the highest up-front costs and the second highest ($150) annual cost, but it does offer 60 minutes-a-month free international calling … but, like netTALK, calls to most mobile phones are excluded from the free minutes.

VoIPO tells me I can connect the corded phone to the adapter, but the phone must be within cable distance to the modem and router; there currently is no WiFi option. I suspect that, as with BasicTalk, I must either forego the corded phone or switch to a cable ISP. As with netTALK, Telna is not a (direct) option.

There are a number of other VoIP options, but almost all have higher initial or operating costs than the ones I've researched in some depth.

Is it worth giving up your corded phone?

Two things to consider:

  1. What will you do in the power is off and there is an emergency? The corded phone will work, but so will a charged cell phone - assuming your area has good reception.
  2. Do the math (and don't forget taxes and 911 charges). How much does the landline cost per year, without long distance. (You always can get a long distance carrier such as Telna to lower your long distance charges.)

We did the math. Our cell phone reception is reliable.

One extra item to consider, but this has only peripheral interest to VoIP: a small Uninterruptable Power Supply, a/k/a UPS. Affordable ones won't keep you talking for more than a few minutes, BUT they help protect the connected equipment - computer, modem, router, VoIP adapter - that is plugged into them from power dips and spikes; very little offers 100% protection from lightening strikes. Let calls to the VoIP system go to the provided voice mail and get them when power is restored.

Monday, November 3, 2014


I'd like to see . . .


I spend a fair amoount of time in a car, and as I meander around "things" cross my mind.

Things such as

  • Oil pressure gauges
  • A windshield wiper control that ALSO turns on the vehicles' headlight and tail lights
  • A special frequency on the vehicle's radio that over rides all other frequencies when a siren is detected

In the "olde days," when Hector was a pup and I was driving my first car - a 1950 Oldsmobile 76, yes, "76" - cars had oil pressure gauges. Back then oil was supposed to be changed every 3,000 miles. Both oil and the vehicles in which it is poured have improved since, and now the recommend time-between-change is roughly 7,500 miles - long enough that many people "forget" it is time to change the oil AND the filter.

The last car I had with an oil pressure gauge was a 1990-something Jaguar XJ40 The car burned oil and I could watch the pressure drop as the oil was consumed. At a certain point, I had to stop and "top off" the oil with an additional quart (or two). (This was a "pre-Ford" Jag; Ford actually improved the vehicle during the few years it owned the brand.)

IT DRIVES ME NUTS to be driving in the rain when it's hard to see other vehicles because the vehicles lights are off. Most states' traffic laws require that headlights (and tail lights) be turned ON when visibility is reduced - such as when there is rain or fog. The lights may not help the driver see anything, but it helps others see the driver's vehicle.

I'd like to see a link between the windshield wiper switch and the light switch. When the wipers are activated (other than a quick swipe to clear the windshield from the morning dew), the lights automatically come on - and stay on until the wipers are turned off.

I'd also prefer that the wipers come from the top of the windshield rather than from the bottom. They could be tucked under a "lip" to protect the blades from sun damage and from snow/ice build-up in the winter. It would be really great if there could be a heating element under the lip to help melt off rime, but maybe that's asking too much.

SIREN OVER-RIDE We're driving down the road with the A/C (or heater) fan blasting and the radio or CD or whatever the media and coming upon your vehicle is an emergency vehicle, lights flashing and siren wailing.

Maybe the ambulance or fire truck is coming down a cross street as we near an intersection; it's out of sight, and since we can't hear it over the ambient noise in our vehicle, we go sailing into the intersection.

If our vehicle's sound system had a siren over-ride, when the siren was detected, say within a block of our vehicle, the siren's sound would over-ride anything coming from the sound system. The 1812 Overture - or Lead Zeppelin - would be over-ridden by the shoop-shoop of the siren of the approaching emergency vehicle.

Sirens would need to be tuned to a specific frequency (or frequencies) that the car's sound system would be designed to receive and initiate the over-ride.

Any one remember when different emergency vehicle types - police, fire, ambulance - all had unique-to-the-vehicle sounds? There was a time . . .

It would help if all traffic lights would go green in the direction of the emergency vehicle - in other words, if the emergency vehicle was travelling north, all lights on the north-south road would turn green (and all lights on intersecting roads would turn red). That already is being done in some communities.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fort Lauderdale FL

No home, no food law:
More than meets the eye


The headline: Fort Lauderdale passes law to prevent feeding the hungry

The tv report, titled Fort Lauderdale passes law outlawing many from feeding homeless starts off The city of Fort Lauderdale last week passed an ordinance that effectively outlaws several humanitarian groups from feeding the homeless in public with a penalty of up to 60 days in jail. The law kicked in Friday, setting up a potential showdown between those groups and police.

It then interviews Micah Harris is co-founder of the Peanut Butter and Jelly Project, which feeds the homeless of Fort Lauderdale. "A dollar a meal -- a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, water, pretzels and a banana," said Harris.

"Literally, they are literally starving on the streets," said Harris.

Not one word in the tv report as to WHY the Fort Lauderdale nasties passed the law.

Now, as the late Paul Harvey would intone, "the rest of the story."

When I first heard the report on the tv "news" I was both angered and embarrassed.

It's bad enough to be homeless, but to prevent do-gooders from giving these people food . . . cruel but, sadly, not unusual. We are a nation that does not take care of its poor.

Why did Fort Lauderdale pass yet another law against the homeless?

According to a Fort Lauderdale (nee Hollywood) Sun-Sentinel article headed Homeless advocates say new Fort Lauderdale laws won't silence them, Commissioners had heard years of complaints about homeless people hitting up drivers for money, defecating on sidewalks in front of stores, camping out in city parks and giving the downtown a bad image.

Mayor Jack Seiler said many of the advocates come in from western suburbs and go back to homes where they don't have to deal with the issues caused by a large homeless population. The city has supported a variety of homeless programs, but also has a duty to its residents, he said.

NBC - not affiliated with the tv station previously cited - notes in an article headlined Fort Lauderdale Latest City to Restrict Feeding Homeless actually gives a pretty fair report, although it omits some of the complaints expressed by the Fort Lauderdale commissioners.

Panhandlers are a plague on every city, but the sunshine cities get more than there fair share. It's nicer to be down and out where it's warm, like Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy:

I'm goin' where the sun keeps shinin',
Through the pourin' rain.
Goin' where the weather suits my clothes.
Bankin' off of the northeast winds,
Sailin' on summer breeze.
An' skippin' over the ocean like a stone.

(Theme from Midnight Cowboy)

The problem is, as I see it, that we - as a nation - don't care for the people who NEED care and we tolerate the people who don't need the care, the people too lazy to care for themselves.

There are people who, for one reason or another, simply cannot care for themselves.

Sometimes it's simply a matter of lacking skills for available jobs; sometime there simply are no available jobs.

Sometimes people are unable to work due to injuries - physical and mental - incurred while serving their country often in conflicts they don't comprehend.

People lacking job skills can be trained and with help, relocated to places where there are jobs. It may mean giving up life "where the sun keeps shinin'," but it’s a small price for dignity. (For the record, I have "spent time" where 0 F is all too common. I didn't like it, but it had to be done.)

I have no problem helping people who want to help themselves, but I have to agree with the city commissioners: I don't want people defecating on the city sidewalks or panhandling every passerby.

I suppose it is "unconstitutional" and "inhumane" to jail those too lazy to work and put them to work for the county in exchange for meals, clothing, and healthcare; a true "work for food" arrangement.