Emergency Alert System

I didn’t feel the earthquake. I was in the car, having just picked Jaime for lunch. I first heard about it when we got home.

Even though the earthquake was centered over 500 miles from here, it was apparently felt in our area. In fact, we were told that it shook the historic district well enough that window blinds were banging against the windows on the seventh floor, and to temporarily evacuate the building.

It wasn’t major, obviously. But, as a historic city with an excessive amount of buildings constructed a hundred years ago or more, it is enough to make you briefly consider the integrity of the structures that surround you.

One thing that is abundantly clear, however, is that us folks on the East Coast have no idea what to do in the event of an earthquake. Do we stay put? …run outside? …stand in a doorway? …get under our desks? …duck and cover in the hall? …sit in the bathtub? …open all the windows? …run to the cellar? …stop, drop, and roll?

Most of us have no clue, myself included, and the advice I have heard seems counter intuitive. Animals throughout the animal kingdom instinctively know to increase the distance between themselves and their shelters in the event of an earthquake, but I should stay put in my house and hope that my 91 year old structure sitting on 91 year old brick stilts doesn’t fully collapse?

And finally, my main point. Where was the Emergency Alert System? Yes, it was a very minor earthquake. Should the EAS assume, however, that people on the Southeast coast do not consider a minor earthquake to be an emergency? I have even read that people in the Northeast, who obviously were subject to stronger effects of the earthquake, were not notified by the EAS until an hour after the earthquake had occurred.

As far as I can tell, the EAS exists solely to test itself, and to notify us that, were we to look out our window, we would see that the weather is bad.

No EAS alerts on 9/11. No EAS alerts when a quake hits. No EAS when the sugar factory explodes and shakes the entire city. No EAS alerts when!!!!######!##!#!#!###!#!#!#!##!#!#!#!###!#

!!!!######!##!#!#!###!#!#!#!##!#!#!#!###!#

!!!!######!##!#!#!###!#!#!#!##!#!#!#!###!#

!!!!######!##!#!#!###!#!#!#!##!#!#!#!###!#

WE INTERRUPT THIS BLOG POST TO LET YOU KNOW THAT IT IS RAINING IN JESUP, 70 MILES SOUTH OF WHERE YOU ARE, AND THAT IT ALSO MIGHT RAIN IN THE ENTIRELY DIFFERENT STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA

!!!!######!##!#!#!###!#!#!#!##!#!#!#!###!#

!!!!######!##!#!#!###!#!#!#!##!#!#!#!###!#

!!!!######!##!#!#!###!#!#!#!##!#!#!#!###!#

What the hell was that? I guess that is all.

It’s my money, and I need it now!

No, this isn’t a JG Wentworth, 877-CASH-NOW commercial. It is a little story about a local bank that forgot what it is like to be a normal person.

I order a lot of stuff online. I mean a lot. It wouldn’t come as a surprise to people who know me that I often order from overseas. I build guitar pedals, and some of the parts are only available / cheaper overseas. In the last year, I have ordered from Thailand, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Latvia, Lithuania, and a few more locales in far flung corners of the globe.

Last night, I placed an order. Well, I tried to place an order. Since, however, the company where I was ordering was located in a foreign nation, my transaction was declined. Fine, I’ll try again, and it will probably go through—I have plenty of money in my account. Oh how I wish it were that simple.

It turns out that 60 days ago, my bank changed their fraud prevention policies. Now, every single purchase you make is scored. If it scores too high, it is deemed fraud. The transaction is denied, and– get this– the card is deactivated.

That sounds great, right? You have to prevent fraud, right? Wrong, for when they improperly deactivate your card, it is nearly impossible to get your card reactivated unless you meet a specific set of qualifications. Yeah, they call you and have you confirm your purchases– or in this case, my local bank had a third party in Ohio call me– but that accomplishes little.

Once you have been deactivated, and confirmed that your purchases were not fraud, your account is left in a crippled state. Practically any signature/credit purchase (as opposed to a PIN/debit purchase) will be denied.

After I was told my card was activated, I was denied at the gas station. Then I was told it was reactivated again, and I was rewarded with the pleasure of having my purchase declined at the grocery store.

I spent 7.5 hours today, fighting with my bank in person, and over the phone, to attempt to get them to restore my card to its previous glory. I talked with the local bank president, an account executive, and the region bank manager.

It took a 7 hour group effort for my local bank to figure out what the non-local company they had hired to prevent fraud had done to my card.

I really appreciate that my bank is trying to work this out, but I am really not pleased with them. They advertise all across town that they are local. That is why I bank with them. Why is it, then, that a company in Ohio has my name, address, phone number, a list of my recent purchases, and the last four digits of my Social Security Number? Why is it that a company in Ohio– which last I checked is not local to the State of Georgia– has the ability to freeze my ability to use my bank card?

Now, how do you get the fraud alert threshold back to the normal level so you can go about your business the same as before the fraud alert? You must make purchases using the card as a debit card, PIN and all. The problem is that I do not use my card as a debit card. There is only one place that I use it as a debit card: Sam’s club– they don’t accept credit card. Otherwise, I never use my card as a debit card, since you are afforded much better protection as a consumer when you put ink on paper.

So after 7+ hours, the bank has lifted the fraud alert scoring altogether. They tried to get me to accept liability if my account is subject to fraudulent transactions, but that wasn’t going to fly. I’m not giving up my federally protected debtor rights—nor do I think I am capable of giving up those rights—just so my bank can expedite my departure from their lobby. In fact, my card has the Visa logo. I’m only responsible for $50 if it is lost or stolen, and someone else uses it.

At one point, the local president of the local bank was convinced my card was activated, so we walked to a local pharmacy to test it. He was sure it would work. I was sure it would not. I was right. That $1.75 bottle of Coke was surely fraud.

Anyway, to wrap this up:

- Don’t think that your local bank is local just because they list your county’s name in their title, and their advertisements say they’re local. Chances are, they send your information out of state to companies whose privacy policies are not disclosed.
- Don’t expect good service from your bank, even though you have had excellent service for nearly the previous decade.
- Don’t expect people at your bank to know their own policies, or how to navigate the red tape they have constructed.
- Your bank is watching you, or at least paying someone to watch you. They watch every transaction to see where you were when you bought something (and how far that is from your home), and how similar it is to your previous purchases, among other creepy things.

I’m looking for a new bank. My current bank lost my business when I found out they outsourced the maintenance of my account to a third party.

That is all.

Vancouver in Four.

Yeah, I’m still alive. No blogging since Christmas. Sorry about that.

Anyway, I hope Vancouver beats Boston in 4 games.

It’s not that I like the Canucks– I don’t– and it’s not like I hate the Bruins– I don’t.

It’s that I think the NHL has setup the crappiest possible schedule for their fans to watch the game.

They stuck game 1 on the Wednesday after Memorial Day. Why would they do that, starting a series in the middle of the week? Why would they not put the first game on a holiday Monday when a heck of a lot of people are off work? Stupid.

So the schedule is as follows:

Wednesday, June 1 at Vancouver, 8 p.m.
Saturday, June 4 at Vancouver, 8 p.m.
Monday, June 6 at Boston, 8 p.m.
Wednesday, June 8 at Boston, 8 p.m.
*Friday, June 10 at Vancouver, 8 p.m.
*Monday, June 13 at Boston, 8 p.m.
*Wednesday, June 15 at Vancouver, 8 p.m.

How stupid, right?

If this series only goes 4 games, they only get one weekend game. ONE…!

If it goes the full 7, they get a total of two weekend games. TWO…!

So yeah, with the NHL setting such a lousy schedule for their fans, I hope this series is very short and has terrible ratings.

My hope is for a 4-game Vancouver sweep with all games completed in regulation, and all games completely one-sided in favor of the Canucks.

And that, from a Blackhawks fan. Pfft.

That is all.

Christmas Cookie Time!

Well, it’s that time again. Jaime and I have a long weekend ahead of us, baking thousands of Christmas cookies. We expect to be finished by Monday afternoon, when they will begin their journey across the country to friends an relatives.

I did all the shopping yesterday, spending about $140 on such ingredients as 25lbs of flour, 25lbs of sugar, and 8lbs of butter. I tried to get a head start today, making dough for five different cookies. I used three pounds of butter today alone!

There will be no major changes from last year. 12 varieties of cookies, and a candy.

Chocolate Sprinkles
Kaleidoscope Cookies
Snickerdoodles
Candy Canes
Toffee Bars
Jan Hagel
Chocolate Pinwheels
Pecan Balls
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Choco-caramel Delights
Peanut Butter Kisses
Sugar Cookies
Peanut Brittle

Some of the cookies are more involved than others. For example, the pinwheels require quite a bit of technique that has taken me years to develop. The production of the candy canes– my favorite– has Jaime weighing out one gram of red dough and one gram of white dough in order to achieve the best candy cane cookies I have ever seen (sorry Mom). The choco-caramel delights require dough to be rolled in a ball, dipped in egg white, rolled in pecans, baked, pressed in the center to form a crater– which holds homemade caramel– and then carefully drizzled with chocolate.

Some of them, though, are slice-and-bake, piece of cake.

If you want to be on our list, I suggest you start lobbying us now for inclusion on the 2012 or 2013 list. It typically takes two to three years of lobbying before you make it to the list, which is currently approaching thirty people.

It’s going to be a long weekend!

A quick geography lesson for the First Lady

Yesterday, Michelle Obama traveled to the Gulf Coast to demonstrate that there are clean beaches, ready for tourists. During her visit, she made the following remark:

But the story today, since we’ve got the media here, is the piece that I think gets lost in the devastation, and it’s that there are still thousands of miles of beaches that have not been touched by the spill. And there are communities that thrive on tourism and on the economic power of beaches that have not been damaged. Source

Ummm… Mrs. Obama…?

Your very own EPA website states:

The Gulf of Mexico basin has been called “America’s Watershed.” Its U.S. coastline is 1,630 miles, it is fed by thirty-three major rivers, and it receives drainage from 31 States in addition to a similar drainage area from Mexico. Source

When I think “thousands,” I think multiple thousands, as in two thousand or more. If I have $1,630 dollars, I do not have thousands of dollars. I must exceed two thousand dollars to claim I have thousands of dollars.

Unless part of the whole hope and change agenda involved a claim of Mexico’s gulf coast– something that definitely would have been major news– her assertion is an impossibility.

That is all.

Hyundai Email Harassment

I own a Hyundai. I bought it in June of 2008. I have been completely happy with my Hyundai, but I do have to say…

Hyundai SUCKS.

They continually bombard me with email, trying to sell me a new car.

I have used their removal form dozens of times to try to get them to stop harassing me. It doesn’t work.

In January, I contacted Hyundai Consumer Affairs (Case #3797010). After politely informing them that I would not give them any personal information as they requested, beyond my email address– nice attempt to get more data from me– I was assured that I would not receive any future email from them. If only that were true.

I have since received eight email from them. I am sick of it.

If you buy a Hyundai– and I recommend you do if you are looking for a car– give them a fake email address. If you are getting service on your Hyundai, give them a fake email address.

If you don’t, you will NEVER get off the Hyundai-sucks-and-harasses-their-customers email marketing list.

If anyone from Hyundai reads this and wishes to address their pathetic opt-out system, or their overly-aggressive email marketing, feel free to comment below. Be sure to include a phone number so I may contact you because, as you can guess, there is no way I am giving you my email address.

That is all.

Just sell me the damn medicine

I hate this nanny state in which we live.

Last Tuesday I started to come down with a cold. It started as a scratchy throat, then my ears plugged, then my nose became stuffed, and then the cough set in. I haven’t been sick in years, but when I get a cold, it always follows that same formula. As a result, I typically treat myself. Cough drops, over the counter cough medicine, and plenty of fluids and rest.

Last week, I picked up some cold medicine from Kroger called “Mucus Relief DM.” This stuff made me feel like a zombie. I was totally out of it. I did some research on the two active ingredients. One is called Guaifenesin, an expectorant. It makes your cough more productive. The other is Dextromethorphan HBr, which suppresses your cough.

In doing my research, I learned that the Dextromethorphan is the ingredient in Robitussen that people abuse (thank you, shady websites for that little gem of knowledge). It makes you drowsy, and apparently makes you hallucinate if taken in high enough quantity. That was enough for me– I was done with it. All I want is a more productive cough, not to suppress the cough.

So today, I bought the exact same medicine from Kroger, but without the Dextromethorphan. Just to be clear– this is over-the-counter medication. It contains NO ephedrine of any kind. To my knowledge, the only active ingredient– Guaifenesin– is not on any sort of “watch” list or anything like that. There are no restrictions on its sale.

So why is it that I had to show my ID to purchase this stuff? I mean, come on– if I can buy the DM variety, which is regularly abused, without ID, then why do I have to show my ID to buy the ingredient that the abusers apparently try to avoid?

It makes no sense. I am an adult. I am sick. I am perfectly capable of determining what medicines I need to take. I do not need to be needlessly harassed by a grocery store just so I can buy some completely-legal, non-abused cough medicine.

A quick discussion with the manager and the pharmacist confirmed that there are no restrictions on this medicine. Kroger, for some reason, decided to police its customers use of over-the-counter, legal medicine, particularly when I bought some (awful) potentially-abused medicine without ID from the very same store just last week.

Why wasn’t I asked for ID for the menthol cough drops that I bought? How about the chicken soup?

Just sell me the damn medicine, Kroger. I’m a big boy. I can make my own decisions.

That is all.

DNC = Does Not Compute

Just got an email from the DNC, sent by “Brad Woodhouse”, their Communications Director. Here’s what it says (bolding theirs, not mine):

Yesterday, Republican Congressman Joe Barton, the top Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, issued an outrageous personal apology to BP and slammed the President for his efforts to hold them accountable.

Worse, if the GOP wins back the House, Barton is the guy who could be in charge of regulating the oil industry.

I just want to point out a couple of flaws with this logic.

First, Congressional Committees don’t regulate anything. At all. They, via legislation, establish government agencies that are tasked with enforcing regulations that the Congress as a whole must pass and, in most cases, are signed into law by the President. Regulations may also be established by the Executive Branch agency established by Congress, if the Congress assigns that power to the specific agency. The Committee is tasked with overseeing the Executive Branch bureaucracy that actually enforces regulations.

Second, if Mr. Woodhouse’s logic is to be followed, then the blame for the regulation failures fall squarely on the shoulders of Henry Waxman, current Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee. The blame, still using Mr. Woodhouse’s incorrect logic, would also rest on the shoulders of John Dingell, the Chairman of the committee in 2008 when the permit for the Deepwater Horizon was issued.

In the email, Mr. Woodhouse also stuck out his hand and begged for $5, as most of the DNC email do. Pathetic.

That is all.

Photoworks.com– Incompetent, or enabling spammers?

I own my own domain. As a result, I can create my own email addresses for whatever reason I choose. A lot of times, I will create a special email address to use when conducting business with one specific company. I will often put the name of the company with whom I am doing business right in the address. This allows me to track which companies sell my information.

Waaaay back on January 19, 2004, I registered at Photoaccess.com. The email address I used was photoaccess@mydomain.tld. I ordered from them once, on January 20, 2004.

On March 18, 2005, Photoaccess.com emailed me to let me know that they were now Photoworks.com. They emailed me one more time in 2005 (a week later), and I never heard from them again.

Until today.

Today I received some spam to the account I used only for registration with Photoaccess.com/Photoworks.com. The “company” was trying to sell me “sunroom remodeling,” which is odd since I don’t have a sunroom.

So three things could have happened:

1. Photoworks.com sold/leased my email address to the spammer. I read their privacy policy. If they did sell/lease my information to a third party, they violated their own Privacy Policy, which reads: Your email address and financial information are used by PhotoWorks to conduct business with you and are not rented or sold to any other third party unless you explicitly give us permission to do so. I never explicitly gave them permission to share my information with sunroom remodelers, so if they did share my information, they are incompetent and enabling spammers.

2. Photoworks.com had a security breach, with the end result being that my company-specific email address was revealed to a third party. If this is the case, it is safe to assert that incompetence played a role in this breach of my privacy, unless Photoworks.com considers a breach of their customers’ privacy to be the result of a competent security policy. If incompetence is the cause, and that incompetence enabled a spammer, then Photoworks.com is incompetent and enables spammers.

3. Someone may have randomly guessed that I conducted business with Photoworks.com back in 2004– when they were Photoaccess.com. They may have also randomly guessed that I used the company’s name in the email address used for conducting that business. They then utilized that miracle of random chance to send me spam. That is so unlikely that I suggest it is an impossibility.

So, Photoworks.com– you will never get any business from me again. Ever. And anytime someone asks me where I get my photos printed– something that happens quite a bit considering that I am the free, on-call technology consultant for my entire (large) family– I will respond with…

“Whatever you do, don’t order from Photoworks.com. They are either incompetent, or enabling spammers, or both.”

I’ll forward this post to them and post any response I receive.

That is all.

Sometimes Savannah Sucks

Don’t get me wrong, I love the actual city of Savannah. It’s beautiful here, and I enjoy living among so much history. But man oh man, the people here lately have left me thinking that sometimes Savannah sucks.

Take this morning, for instance. I was driving downtown, which is a big tourist area. I’m on a road with a 25 mph speed limit, traveling the speed limit, and approaching an intersection with a traffic light. I have a green light, and so there is a do not walk signal for people who wish to cross my path. I get half way through the intersection, and some idiot twenty-something and his idiot girlfriend flat-out ignore the lighted sign directing them not to cross. They don’t even look as they stroll casually into the intersection, directly into the path of my vehicle. I apply the brakes and lightly tap my horn as if to say, “Hold up there, buddy– I have the right of way and if you go, there is a chance you’re going to get hit by my car.”

The response? Yeah, this prick gave me the finger. Come on, man– I have the right of way. You do not. You have the pedestrian equivalent of a red light. If you were even minimally observant, you would have seen the traffic signal requiring you to wait for a safe time to pass. If you were even minimally observant, you would have followed your mommy’s teachings and looked both ways before crossing the street. If you were even minimally observant, you would have seen the 2,000 pound chunk of metal and plastic less than twenty-five feet from you, headed straight towards you. Instead, you chose to put your life in my hands. And when I do the right thing and stop to wait for you, I am rewarded by having you give me the finger.

Or how about yesterday in the grocery store. I picked up a pack of buns just a few feet from the end of the aisle, and continued on my way. I got to the end of the aisle and made a right. I’m stopped dead in my tracks by a big fat man who is walking on the left side of the aisle. He was wide enough that I couldn’t go around him with my cart. Yes, that’s right– this man was wide enough that a cart could not pass beside him. He was practically a walking fire hazard. The man said, “Slow down,” as if he controlled the traffic in the grocery store. Well, Mr. Fatman, your excessive fatness had in fact already required me to come to a complete stop. If I was going any slower, I would be going backwards. If he was walking on the appropriate side of the aisle, or if he was only two feet wide instead of three feet wide, there would have been no issue. But alas he was walking on the wrong side of the aisle and was spanning most of that aisle. And he had the nerve to attempt to criticize me for trying to shop.

Or how about the complete idiots who keep turning down one-way streets? Two days in a row this week, I have been presented by vehicles whose drivers, while trying to get to the post office, prefer to try to save thirty seconds of driving by going the wrong way down a one-way street instead of going around the block and approaching from the proper direction. One was a couple in a car, sitting right in front of the federal courthouse, waiting until they felt it was safe to recklessly drive the wrong way down the one way. Not that their behavior was excusable, but the other vehicle that did the same thing the day before had even less of an excuse. It was a huge post office truck. Shouldn’t an employee of the post office know that there is an alley behind the post office that allows safe passage to the loading area? Shouldn’t an employee of the post office know that they could go around the block and approach the post office while traveling the proper way down the one-way? Apparently not. Either the driver was an idiot, or I stumbled upon the one quasi-government postal employee who was so concerned with government waste that a thirty-second trip around the block was not a reasonable trade off with general public safety.

Or how about the tourists who stand out in front of Paula Deen’s restaurant, the Lady and Sons? These folks line up starting at about 8:30AM to put in their name to eat at Paula’s buffet. I appreciate that they are here as tourists, but that doesn’t mean that everyone here is a tourist. On an average day, there is a hundred or more people lined up on the public sidewalk. This herd, apparently, takes the old adage of safety in numbers very seriously, for they walk back and forth across the public roadway– speed limit 25 MPH– like they are grazing. Come on folks– don’t make me hit you or your kids with my car. I really don’t want to. But if it wasn’t for me paying much more attention than them, I would have already hit numerous tourists. I hope it never happens, but it is inevitable that a tourist will eventually be killed while carelessly wandering in the road while waiting in front of the Lady and Sons.

Or how about Paula Deen and her staff, who are seemingly perfectly content in disregarding the safety of their patrons by encouraging people to line up on the sidewalk, directly adjacent to traffic, without offering warning signs directing people to stay out of the road, or a rope line preventing physical access to the road. I have an idea. Granted, I am not in the restaurant business, but in the past I distinctly recall that most restaurants take reservations over the phone. Not Paula and company– they let you line up like cattle waiting for the slaughter, effectively closing the sidewalk for anyone trying to pass her restaurant in their vein attempt to get from point A to point B. I guess public safety takes a back seat to Paula’s desire to sell souvenirs to tourists.

Or how about the City of Savannah itself? They have allowed Georgia Power– the company who has let our downtown literally ignite TWICE due to poor infrastructure– to close down a ton of roads while working, making it difficult for locals to conduct business. This is nothing new for the city. They closed down a number of roads and local businesses for several years while they built an ill-conceived underground parking garage, less than a half-mile from the river (yes, it flooded, so they had to implement a pumping system). There are still damaged buildings and roadways directly adjacent to the parking garage, with the damage having been caused by the digging of the hole for the parking garage. Once the parking garage was complete– well behind schedule– they closed down the easiest access road to that parking garage for over a month so they could put a Christmas tree that was literally in the middle of the street. We have dozens and dozens of public parks, most capable of holding a Christmas tree. Why close down the road? And they didn’t even do a good job decorating the tree, only putting lights on the upper left quadrant of the tree.

Back to Georgia Power, though. At one point last week, they had closed down the two main one-way streets headed into and out of downtown, which made getting around a huge inconvenience. There are at least a half dozen lane closures– most without detour signs or people guiding traffic around the closed lanes (as required by law)– at any given time. Add to that the fact that Georgia Power vehicles are taking up at least a dozen prime parking spots in a downtown area that is severely lacking in parking (and quickly dying as a result), and we have a miserable situation for people trying to patronize downtown businesses. And I don’t even want to get started on the quality of the work done by Georgia Power itself. I’ll just say that after they tear up roads and complete their work, the patch job they do are visually unappealing and likely of substandard quality. It kills me to see how crappy of a job these guys do with the money they collect via the excessive energy rates they charge me.

Anyway, I could go on and on, even more so than I already have. I, however, am sick, and need to sleep today. I’ll finish this post by reiterating my original point: Sometimes Savannah Sucks.

That is all.

Jonathan Toews: Murderous Gangster

I’m a big fan of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Apparently, The Vancouver Sun is not:


Click to Enlarge

Now, I know that Toews scored a hat trick during the Hawks’ most recent thumping of the ‘Nucks– one game after Dustin Byfuglien scored a hat trick against the very same Canucks– but calling our players ‘murderous gangsters’ is a bit harsh, don’t you think?

Looks like someone over at the Vancouver paper made a mistake. Heh!

Home Depot and Lowe’s– Competing for the most useless website

Home Depot and Lowe’s. Two stores that sell practically the exact same stuff for practically the exact same price.

How do you decide which should earn your business? Well, if you base it on their websites, you wouldn’t shop at either.

First up, Home Depot. I choose them because that is where I mainly shop for my home improvement supplies. Their website itself is ok. It’s fairly fast, which puts them waaaaaay ahead of Lowes. The problem is in some of the functionality.

I am currently building a new shed, and I wanted to put a window in it. I went to the Home Depot website and chose windows, $50 – $100, vinyl, sort by price. It pops up a window that looks good for me– 3′ x 2′ horizontal slider.

Under the window, the site says “Check your local store.” I click that link. It pops up a window telling me that before I can check stock at the local store, I have to use their Store Finder. I click the Store Finder link, and find that my store is already selected– I had selected it in the past. There is NO way for me to actually check the stock at the local store, and selecting a different store yields the same result. I end up in this endless loop where I keep selecting stores, and their site keeps telling me I need to select a store to check stock.

This is broken, unless by “Check your local store,”‘ they mean that I should use their form to find my local store, get in my car, drive to my local store, walk all the way to the window section, and check to see if they have a window in stock.

Another problem with the Home Depot website is the way they handle their weekly ads. I am on their mailing list, and once a week on Wednesday nights, they send me an email so I can check out the local ad. The problem? Half the time, there is no local ad.

For example, I just received an email from them a little while ago. “Preview Tomorrow’s Local Ad,” the email said. I click the link to view the ad, and what do I see? A page telling me there is no local ad for the week. Well then, why the hell did you send me an email telling me to check out the ad? It makes no sense. Someone in the marketing and/or IT department needs to be sat down and have it explained that annoying potential customers is not how you foster customer loyalty.

OK, time for Lowe’s. Lowe’s website– hands down– is more useless than Home Depot’s site. I have two big problems with Lowe’s website.

The first is that the site is slow. I don’t just mean slow– it is an excruciating experience to attempt to use the Lowe’s website. The average page load takes about 15 seconds according to my rough testing. Yeah, 15 seconds doesn’t sound like much, but it’s 2010. If your website is so slow that it sends me back to the dial-up days of the 90s, you need to fix it. If your current IT department can’t put together a website that loads fast, then it’s probably time to replace them. It shouldn’t be too hard– I hear there are a lot of IT guys who are out of work.

The bigger problem with Lowe’s is that, for the most part, their website is completely useless. It buries the user in useless information. Try it out for yourself. Go to Lowe’s website, hover over the “Shop By Department” button, and choose Vinyl Windows. Wait about 15 seconds for the page to load, and then select windows that are vinyl, wait fifteen seconds, and choose windows that are $100 or less. Wait fifteen seconds for the page to load. Choose to show 60 results per page, which should be just about all of the results, and wait fifteen seconds for the page to load.

Now, look at the results. If you have chosen your local store, you might notice something. Under some products, on my screen, it says “Unavailable” or “Unavailable at Lowe’s of South Savannah, GA.” Well, Lowe’s, if the item is unavailable, why are you showing it to me? Is it so I can order the item online? Nope, that’s not possible. What exactly is the point of showing me items that are impossible for me to buy?

By the way, when I do the search above for vinyl windows, under $100, I am returned 54 results Of the 54 results, only ONE– that’s right, ONE– window is available at my local Lowe’s. Over 98% of the items that Lowe’s website shows me are unavailable. I cannot buy them. So, Lowe’s, quit showing me them!

Expanding, next to the “Unavailable” tag is a question mark. If you click it, you get a popup that tells you to check other stores to see if the item is available. Ok, fine– but how do I do that? Well, I have to click the link to change stores. The link isn’t contained in the actual popup, though. I have to scroll way at the top to the change store link, search for stores, and select the store– each with a fifteen second delay between page loads. Checking other stores takes forever. Why can’t their site automatically check other stores and say, “Not available at your store, but we’re so cool that we checked all the stores within 50 miles of your zipcode, and we have it in stock at this other store that is pretty close you?” The answer is that it can– they just haven’t chosen to do it.

Lowe’s and Home Depot, the competition that I have observed, in terms of your websites, is for which leaves a worse taste in the mouths of your potential customers. The competition is between which website wastes more of your potential customers’ time. The competition is for which website is most useless.

That is all.

Fast Food Frustration

One thing that frustrates me is when a company takes your business for granted. Lately, Jaime and I have been getting Subway before our show. They had the $5 footlong special going on.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve just had one annoying experience after another at a pair of local Subways. I attempted to call Subway to let them know, but apparently they don’t have a corporate phone number. So I tried to email them, but apparently they limit you to 3,000 characters. Is there some sort of limitation that prevents them from receiving or comprehending more than 3,000 characters, or have they randomly set a limit on customer comments?

Anyway, here’s the bulk of the email I tried to send. I don’t expect anything to come of it, but having put forth the effort to type it, and having Subway disallow any comments exceeding 3,000 characters, I figured I might as well post it here.

I went into my local Subway today, as I do most Wednesdays. I am disappointed with my experiences lately with this Subway, along with the downtown Savannah Subway, for several reasons.

First, today’s experience. A couple of months ago when Subway began heavily advertising that most sandwiches cost $5, I started getting the BMT instead of the Spicy Italian. Today, I went in planning to order two BMTs for $5 each. Unfortunately, the Subway was out of pepperoni. So, I ordered two Subway Clubs instead. I got to the checkout, and was told my total was $4 more than expected (40%!) because the special ended Sunday. I just saw the $5 footlong commercial on Sunday, and it didn’t mention anything about it being the last day for the sale. The employees didn’t mention anything about the special ending.

At the Subway, there were NO signs stating that the special ended, and no signs in the days leading up the the end of the special alerting customers when the special was to end. NONE. When you increase your price by 40%, even if it is after a sale, and especially after an extended sale that was heavily marketed, you need to let people know. Placing a simple sign at the start of the line that states that the “$5 for most footlongs has ended” should be a common courtesy to your customers. They could even use it as a great marketing opportunity, saying the special ended, but try one of these great subs instead.

I was not the first person, judging by the reactions of the Subway employees, to complain about the 40% price increase with no notice. I asked why there wasn’t a sign, and was told that no sign had been provided. When I asked why they didn’t make a sign to put at the front of the line, I was told that hand-written signs were not allowed (although they used hand-written signs when they ran out of cookies).

When you know what you want at Subway, there is no need to look at the menu. Had I known that the $5 footlong special for all sandwiches had ended, I would have ordered a different sandwich. Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to get the sandwich that I wanted, the Spicy Italian, because Subway was out of pepperoni, as ridiculous as that seems considering there is a huge sign encouraging you to add pepperoni to any sandwich, and that this Subway literally shares a sidewalk with a grocery store that sells pepperoni.

That is the second issue. Both Subways that I go to are perpetually out of at least one ingredient. This week, the Subway I went to had no pepperoni. The week before, the downtown Subway had ONLY white or wheat bread, and no Monterey Cheddar, Italian Herbs and Cheese, or any other type of bread. The week before, they were out of lettuce. It seems that every time I go into a Subway, they are out of a key ingredient. In fact, some Subways have certain ingredients that other Subways do not, like mozzarella cheese.

This makes no sense. Management should be trained to order proper amounts of supplies, and to bake appropriate amounts of bread. If they fail to order or prepare proper amounts of supplies, a system should be in place so that Subways can temporarily borrow ingredients from other stores. As a last resort, certain ingredients should be purchased locally. If none of these avenues are available, then a SIGN should be posted– even if it violates some arbitrary rule about hand-written signs– so that customers have an option to go elsewhere instead of having a negative Subway experience.

The last issue is that both of these Subways seem perpetually understaffed. Half the time I attempt to get a sandwich from Subway, I never even make it in the front door. When I see more than three people in line, and I see only one employee, I know that it is going to take at least ten minutes to get a sandwich. There are faster options.

I am not the only person who does this, either. If you happen to have a line form behind you while you are having your sandwich prepared, you can literally watch people walk up to the door, see the line, see that there is only one employee, and then leave.

Why does Subway not require that there be at least two employees staffing the counter at all times during the dinner rush, between 5PM and 8PM, and that all ingredients be fully prepared and restocked prior to that time? Long lines lose customers. Understaffed stores have long lines. The direct correlation is that understaffed stores lose customers; it is bad business.

Anyway, I doubt anyone will actually read this, but sometimes just putting your thoughts down can be a beneficial experience. I’ll still go to Subway, just not as often, and probably not for a while so as to give them time to fix their problems (not that I expect them to change anything based on a stupid blog post, but sometimes companies stumble into improvement, or realize that quality has diminished and self-correct).

That is all. :)

Obama Audio Cutups

For those of you who are not aware (where have YOU been!?), Jaime and I host a little radio program called America’s Debate Radio, the complementary program to our main America’s Debate website.

From time to time, we create audio cutups. We’ve been doing it for several years now. We made about a dozen of them for former President Bush, and now we have set our sights on President Obama. And so, I present to you, the first two Obama cutups:

October 2009: Stream MP3 | Download MP3

SoTU 2010: Stream MP3 | Download MP3

If you don’t listen to the radio show, this is what you’re missing! :D

Mike

2010 State of the Union Chat, Simulcast, and Radio Show

I don’t know how many people actually read my blog, but for those who do…

Tonight is President Obama’s first State of the Union Address. It begins at 9:00 PM Eastern.

If you’re interested in politics, please join us over at America’s Debate tonight during the President’s first official State of the Union Address. We have hosted a lively State of the Union Chat every year since 2002.

Back in 2006, we launched America’s Debate Radio immediately after then-President Bush’s State of the Union Address, and have simulcasted every State of the Union since.

Immediately after the speech, we open up the America’s Debate Radio phone lines for 2-3 hours of your phone calls. We don’t screen calls, we give callers plenty of time to make their points, and we don’t silence people like the big boys of talk radio. We even pay for the call– 888.DEBATE.5.

Anyway, I hope to see a great turnout tonight for the America’s Debate 2010 State of the Union Chat, Simulcast, and Radio Show.

If you’re a regular ADer and you feel like helping us out, please spread the word! Please post about us on Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, and any of the other social networking sites I haven’t heard of yet. Thanks!

That is all.

Alternatives to Picasa?

Does anyone out there know any good alternatives to Picasa that run on Windows XP?

I’ve been using Picasa for years now. In the past, it has always been very good. Now, however, it has grown slow and bloated to the sacrifice of essential features, like easy transfer of new images, or scanning for the newly transferred images.

I’m open to all suggestions.

That is all.

Morning Uhh Meeting

Has anyone seen the MSNBC show “Morning Meeting” with Dylan Ratigan? Oh– you haven’t? Fair enough– there’s only about a dozen or so MSNBC viewers, and we can’t all watch all the time. Let me tell you, you aren’t missing much.

The host, Dylan Ratigan, is just terrible. He demonstrates one of my biggest pet peeves on a consistent basis. He constantly stalls by saying “uhh” as he attempts to think while speaking instead of following mom’s advice to think before he speaks.

Mr. Ratigan’s hedging is worse than the standard “uhh” though. His version is more “aaaaah,” as in “stick out your tongue and say aaaaah.” It drives me crazy.

Adding to that annoyance is his cast of characters, including Elliot Spitzer, the overly made-up former governor of New York who was reported to have spent thousands of dollars on prostitutes, and Contessa Brewer, who has been wallowing in overly emotional mediocrity for her entire tenure at MSNBC.

I would love to be able to predict that Morning Meeting won’t last long, but MSNBC seems to be perfectly content with their position as loss-leader in the cable news business. See: cable news ratings. They come in at the bottom of the ratings at the same frequency as Chris Matthews says “hah” or coughs on the air.

I highly doubt that Ratigan will spell ratings gain for MSNBC, apparently securing his job for life.

That is all.

Good companies: AAA and Budweiser

No, I’m not a AAA customer, and no I’m not a drinker, but I do have to say that AAA and Budweiser have gotten together to do a good thing on St. Patrick’s Day here in Savannah.

It seems they have teamed up and implemented a program called Tow to Go. The gist of the program is that if you are partying downtown for St. Patrick’s Day and you happen to be drinking, you can call for a free ride home– and they’ll tow your car home as well.

That. Is. Excellent.

Now, if the city could somehow increase the penalty for drunk driving for the period extending 24 hours in either direction of St. Patrick’s Day, I would be even more pleased. I’m thinking a mandatory 30-day impound, a fine equal to 10 times your annual vehicle registration, and about 2,000 hours of community service.

It’s time we put an end to drunk driving, and it’s time that drunk drivers are severely punished.

That is all.

Thanks for the heads-up!

I get a ton of spam. No surprise– I have a catchall account for my domain, and you can pretty much make up any address and I’ll get it.

Most of it is caught by my email client, but one came across today that just cracked me up. Here’s a screenshot:

Funny subject

Dude, my car is on fire? Thanks for the email. I appreciate it.

Hah!